Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


William Voegeli on California's Woes

You may recall that I mentioned Bill Voegeli's interview with the LA area powerhouse radio station, KFI.  Here is a link to hear it in podcast form if you missed hearing it live yesterday. To hear Bill's segment, go to "Tax Revolt 5PM Hr (11/13)" under PODCASTS in the right-hand column.   
Categories > Politics


Ajax and Philoctetes

In Thursday's New York Times (The Arts section, that's why I just got to it) Patrick Healy reports on an interesting program that uses stage readings from Sophocles; it is called a "public health project" to "help service members and relatives overcome stigmas about psychological injuries by showing that some of the bravest heroes suffered mentally from battle."

The founder of Theatre of War said: ""Sophocles was himself a general, and Athens during his time was at war for decades.  These two plays were seen by thousands of citizen-soldiers. By performing these scenes, we're hoping that our modern-day soldiers will see their difficulties in a larger historical context, and perhaps feel less alone."  A soldier is quoted after a reading: "I've been Ajax.  I've spoken to Ajax."

Categories > Education


Supermodels Take It Off for Climate Change--Huh??

I don't get this video where supermodels disrobe to protest global warming.  Seems to me the message is exactly backward: shouldn't we cheer global warming if it makes supermodels disrobe??

Then there's this: Miss Earth 2009 Contest.  Glenn Reynolds thinks their bikinis should be smaller.  Surely these efforts are both arguments for more global warming.  Say "No" to excessive packaging indeed! 
Categories > Environment


John Thune

David Brooks' homage to Senator John Thune ("the perfect boy from a Thornton Wilder play") is good and useful.  He reminds us that there are some thoughtful (perhaps too quiet, too modest)  conservative politicians out there who might make a splash at some point.   Mitch Daniels, the Governor of Indiana, might be another such worth eyeballing.  I do think, in passing, that Brooks' is a bit too careful about criticizing Obama.  While it is true that he is talented, it has also become obvious that he is not as talented as his supporters thought he was (or for that matter, as he himself thought).  I am beginning to conclude that Obama lacks what Aristotle called "authority," but more on that at another time.

Categories > Politics

Health Care

Bad Poll Numbers

Michael Barone runs through some poll numbers for Senate races in Ohio and Connecticut, not good news for Democrats. He asks: "Is the health care issue hurting Democrats in key Senate races? Sure looks like it."  And the proof is the latest Gallup Poll: "More Americans now say it is not the federal government's responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage (50%) than say it is (47%). This is a first since Gallup began tracking this question, and a significant shift from as recently as three years ago, when two-thirds said ensuring healthcare coverage was the government's responsibility."
Categories > Health Care

Ashbrook Center

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for October

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

Robert Cunningham
Elizabeth Garvey
Dan Rosenburg
Corinne Sammartino
James Clark

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 November's drawing.

Categories > Ashbrook Center

Pop Culture

You've Got A Lot of Nerve, Bob Dylan

Prior to last evening I thought Andy Ferguson's recent characterization of Bob Dylan fans as "the battered wives of the music industry" might have been over the top.

His voice gets worse with every track. You wonder whether someone left the karaoke machine on in the emphysema ward at the old folks' home. He doesn't sing notes so much as make exhausted gestures in their general direction, until at a break he falls silent and is rescued by the backup singers, who reestablish the melody in the proper key. But then he starts singing again.

I had just read his Chronicles and thought his remarks on Thucydides and Machiavelli, and his praise of Barry Goldwater might reflect deeper strains in his many marvelous lyrics. And so they may. But the Dylan I heard last night at George Mason University was a caricature of himself at his best (nothing up yet on Youtube).

The evening's consolation was my Beatrice (an ex-rock music journalist who is now an aspiring theologian) who led me through the Night of Hell with her witty commentary. She thought he was imitating Maurice Chevalier.

I thought he sounded like John Belushi's Samurai grunting out barely recognizable lyrics from his past. In this apotheosis Dylan was the Unreal Presence--someone who looked like the 20-year old named Dylan plus about 50 years (grinning all the way) but sounded nothing like him.

We heard none of his new Christmas album. But Ferguson is likely right about it too:

It's not a misstep. It's not a gag. It's an affront, a taunt. He's giving us a choice. He's saying, Okay, this is what it's come to: You've got two options. You can cover your ears and go running from the room in horror, or you can call me an enigmatic genius who's daring to plumb heretofore unexplored archetypes of the American imagination. But you can't do both.

Addendum: Here's a clip from the November 11 concert. The WaPo's description of his concert is as reliable as Pravda's Cold-War reporting on the West: Reading between the lines brings the truth to light, for example:

Dylan tours endlessly, turning up at a half-full arena or a minor league ballpark near you again and again, as if to prove he's no sage, just an itinerant song-and-dance-man. Though late-period albums like "Time Out of Mind" and "Love and Theft" have evinced a creative renewal, he's often been erratic, even indifferent onstage. Still, there's something noble in his doggedness, singing on even though thousands of shows have curdled his voice into a viscous, gut-shot croak.

Categories > Pop Culture


Reaching into Your Shower . . .

Scott Johnson of Powerline recently reminded us that "Bill Buckley used to characterize a liberal as someone who wanted to reach into your shower and adjust the temperature of the water." 

Today's Wall Street Journal reminds us that they also want to adjust the water. Since the 1990s, the federal government, under what provision of the constitution I'm not sure, has claimed the right to regulate our showers. "Tthe 2.5-gallon-per-minute shower head remains the legal standard."  Having lived in Southern California, I can understand the need to manage the water supply.  The question is how. Should it be a one-size-fits-all regulation like this?  How about (in those communities where there's a shortage) charging a fixed price for the first x gallons, and then y for every gallon above that.  That way each of us can decide for himself.  Those who want large lawns can pay for watering them.  Those who wish to take longer, stronger showers may do so.  Those who wish to save money by doing one, but not the other, may do so.  Etc.

Some of us may recall that Dave Barry got angry when Congress reached not only into our showers, but into our toilets as well. (The follow up column is available here).

What happened was, in 1992, Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which declared that, to save water, all U.S. consumer toilets would henceforth use 1.6 gallons of water per flush. That is WAY less water than was used by the older 3.5-gallon models -- the toilets that made this nation great; the toilets that our Founding Fathers fought and died for -- which are now prohibited for new installations.

As Mr. Barry notes, the result has not been pretty:

Unfortunately, the new toilets have a problem. They work fine for one type of bodily function, which, in the interest of decency, I will refer to here only by the euphemistic term "No. 1." But many of the new toilets do a very poor job of handling "acts of Congress," if you get my drift.

All kidding aside, there's a political cost to such regulations teach us to have contempt for the law. "I checked this out with my local plumber, who told me that people are always asking him for 3.5-gallon toilets, but he refuses to provide them, because of the law."  I know many people who quite willingly pay cleaning people cash and don't report social security.  I know others who have simply ignored building codes, or, worse, filed false renovation plans for their homes when they deemed the regulations to be unreasonable.   When regulations get out of hand, more and more of us become criminals because they start to force us to choose between cowing before petty authority and living comfortably.  The more regulations we have, the more citizens will ignore them.  (Part of the reason why President Clinton got sympathy during the impeachment trial, I suspect, is that many Americans thought he was being pursued under an unreasonable law. That he signed the very sexual harassment law that made the case possible into effect only compounds the irony).

Finally, as Philip Howard notes in his latest work, the excess of law keeps us from being free, responsible adults. 

P.S. Would it be fun to create a list of things the government won't let us do in our own homes?

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

The British Sense of Fair Play

Is alive and well, at least in some places, thank God.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Shameless Self-Promotion

Progressivie Bigotry and Natural Law

The Washington Post recently saw fit to censor Kenneth Cuccinelli, now the Attorney General elect of Virginia, for believing that there is such a thing as natural law.   Father forgive them, for they know not what they do, I suggest in a reply now posted on the Ashbrook website.


More Evidence of a Possible Right Turn in Ohio

Rob Portman now appears to be leading both Fisher and Brunner in the polls.  No . . . those elections last week didn't mean anything . . .
Categories > Elections


New York House-23

It may the case that the battle over NY-23 is not over yet: "Conservative Doug Hoffman conceded the race in the 23rd Congressional District last week after receiving two pieces of grim news for his campaign: He was down 5,335 votes with 93 percent of the vote counted on election night, and he had barely won his stronghold in Oswego County.  As it turns out, neither was true."

The whole article is worth reading in part to show the chaos of vote counting, in part to show the technical complications of absentee ballots and what happens when they can come in after the day of the election (some aren't in still, and some not counted), why it's unwise to concede before knowing all the facts, why Pelosi was in a rush to swear in Owens, and what all this had to do with the big vote in the House.  Amazing stuff, actually. It is possible that Hoffman could come out ahead.

Categories > Elections

Shameless Self-Promotion

Media Alert

This is not, exactly, self-promotion . . . but I am promoting the work of one of my friends and, since the quote from Cicero on my tea bag this morning reminded me that "a friend is, as it were, a second self" I guess the category works well enough. 

For those of you in the Los Angeles area, our own Bill Voegeli will be appearing today on the highly-rated (1 million plus listeners) KFI 640's John and Ken Show during the 5:00 p.m. (Pacific Time) hour to discuss his recent articles on California's troubles that appeared first here and then here.  For those of you NOT in the Los Angeles area (e.g., those of you wise enough to live in places with a lower tax rates and better public services) you needn't miss out on the fun.  You can listen here via the KFI's live feed over the internet. 

UPDATE:  KFI has moved Bill's interview to tomorrow (Friday) at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time.  That's 8 p.m. for all you Ohioans. 


Rahm Smackdown

Wow.  This is good.  Bill Galston, a very thoughtful liberal who served in the Clinton White House, smacks down Rahm Emanuel's criticism of the Brookings Institution and other critics of Obama's absentee landlord approach to health care form in a very provoking way.
Categories > Politics


Is Ted Strickland the Jon Corzine of 2010?

According to Jim Geraghty's reading of this Quinnipiac poll, the answer may be yes. By the way, John Kasich is speaking at the Ashbrook Center next Monday.

Categories > Politics


Veterans Day & Marines

Happy Veterans' Day.  I also note that today is the Marines' birthday.  I once read that General Krulak (I think it was he) was once asked why the Marines think they are better than everyone else?  How did this thinking start?  Krulak said, "We lied."   In the beginning we just asserted we were better and ever since we have tried to live up to it.  Not bad.  Happy Birthday Marines!
Categories > Military


"We Are Doomed!"

Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis give us another thoughtful and entertaining podcast--this time with John Derbyshire, author of We Are Doomed:  Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism.  As always, Ben and Joel manage to probe a bit deeper into the subject and to engage the mind of the author in a way that draws him out better than have the majority of radio and television shows that I have seen attempt to interview him.  

Qualifying what I say with the strong caution that I have not yet read the book, I will suggest that I found the message Mr. Derbyshire wants to convey to be a worthy--if not entirely compelling--corrective to the flabby sort of "rah! rah!" and sunny conservatism that too often takes in the most eager (or youthful) among us.  No one wants to fight for a losing team . . . but it is good, always, to remember the limits of politics.  Taken in the right spirit, Mr. Derbyshire's message is less a pronouncement on the inevitable failure or hopelessness of conservatism (though he does seem, in my view, to lean too much toward the retreat unto your own blessed garden approach) as it is a cautionary message about the sweet tragedy of human imperfection and imperfectability. 
Categories > Conservatism


Climate, Again.

Another shoutout is due to George Will, who cites my research again in his latest Newsweek column.
Categories > Environment


New Poll Numbers

A new Gallup Poll of registered voters, for the first time this year, found more would vote for the Republican candidate than a Democrat if elections for Congress were held today, 48-44%.

A new Quinnipiac Poll finds John Kasich (R) and Gov. Strickland (D) in a dead heat, 40-40%. Strcikland had a 10% lead in September.
Categories > Politics


UPS Union Goons vs. FedEx

Our pals over at ReasonTV have posted this fabulous video parody of the UPS ad campaign to illustrate the union thuggishness directed at FedEx right now.  Nice work Nick!
Categories > Politics


The Shut-'em-up Coalition

What do the United Nations and the SEIU have in common?  Both shut up their critics.
Categories > Politics



Professor Bainbridge alerts us to the latest development in the Kelo case. Pfizer is abandoning the property that the City of New London, CT took from Suzette Kelo and others and gave it to develop.  Bainbriadge provides excellent analysis, including a surprise appearance by Russell Kirk.  Liberal jurisprudence in action.

Categories > Courts


Dunn, Da-Dunn Done

White House spokesperson Anita Dunn leaves her job to return to consulting. During her brief, interim tenure she fought Fox News and praised Mao Tse-Tung before prep school students. WaPo passes on WH source who says that Dunn was a kind of suicide bomber against Fox; having made the point, her departure can restore a semblance of normalcy.
Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

Well . . . you knew this was coming

. . . or, at least, you should have known.  I'm assuming that the tape was meant strictly for heterosexual purposes . . .
Categories > Pop Culture


Hayward on Reagan, to teachers

Steve Hayward conducted a three hour or so seminar on Reagan with about ninety high school teachers a week ago.  You can lsiten to it all, it is divided into two sections, each about an hour and a half; the first section is Reagan's life and work up to the presidency.  I should say that many teachers told me after the event that they were struck by Steve's ability to get inside the subject (Reagan and his time) and to talk to us from the inside.  I agree.  It was a very fine talk, the kind that, unfortunately, most historians find very difficult to give.  They always sound like they are talking about something, rather than of and in the thing.  Not so with Steve, history at it's best.  Much thanks to Steve.

Categories > Conservatism

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Tocqueville's Letters Home

A scholar got the clever idea of collecting Alexis de Tocqueville's letters home from his nine-month stay in the U.S. Here's a sample that will make you want the whole volume.

I'd like to see someone turn Democracy in America into an opera. And evidently Tocqueville was quite a dancer, too. (No, I don't think the late Michael Jackson would have made the best Tocqueville.) But shouldn't this description of his shipboard amusement, from the new collection, be put into song?

One moonless night, for example, water began to sparkle like an electrifying machine. It was pitch black outside, and the ship's prow slicing through the sea spewed fiery foam twenty feet in either direction. To get a better view, I shimmied onto the bowsprit. From that vantage point, the prow looked as if it were leaping at me with a forward wall of glittering waves; it was sublime and admirable beyond my ability to evoke it. The solitude that reigns in the middle of the ocean is something formidable.

And like foreign visitors today, Tocqueville marveled at the huge amount of food Americans consume and complained about the lack of wine at meals. Toward the end of his journey he writes to his future wife: "If ever I become Christian, I believe that it will be through you. What I write here, Marie, is not an improvisation; these are thoughts long harbored…" Did this English woman read Jane Austen?

Concluding his love letter, the Frenchman presents himself as more a man of Mars and thus a better man of Venus:

I don't know why, Marie, men are fashioned after such different models. Some foresee only pleasures in life, others only pain. There are those who see the world as a ballroom. I, on the other hand, am always disposed to view it as a battlefield on which each of us in turn presents himself for combat—to receive wounds and die. This somber imagination of mine is home to violent passions that often knock me about. It has sowed unhappiness, in myself no less than in others. But I truly believe that it gives me more energy for love than other men possess.


Taxes, Texas and California

Last week I mentioned here that an article of mine contrasting the Californian and Texan approaches to public finances has been published in the current edition of City Journal.  Prof. Kenneth Anderson of American University's law school brought the piece to the attention of Volokh Conspiracy readers, then invited me to reply to some of the discussants' remarks about the article and insinuations that my mother and father were acquainted only briefly.  He posted that response earlier today.
Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

American Politics Conference at Berry College

Next April 15, we're going to have a one day conference on the general topic of the teaching of American politics.  Here are some possible themes:  the relationship between civic education and liberal education, the use of literature and film, the heroic approach (Washington, Lincoln, MLK), the use of our friendly foreign critics (Tocqueville, Chesterton), the uses of teaching technologies, and the place of the Constitution and constitutional law.  We're open to any and all proposals, although we can't guarantee acceptance.  Due to the economic downturn and the instability of the climate, it's highly unlikely that we'll be able to fund travel. But the good news is that there will be no registration fee and we'll feed you while you're here.  It's highly likely that selected presentations will be published in the outstanding journal PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE.  Berry College is right next to Rome, GA and about an hour and a half from the Atlanta airport.  Contact me with ideas or if you need further [email protected]


It Was 20 Years Ago Today. . .

. . . that the Berlin Wall came down.  As you may have heard.  Lots of good commentary (and some really bad commentary) about the event today, though nothing from the White House (for which perhaps we should be thankful; in fact, I'm glad the next Nobel Peace Prize winner didn't go, as it would cheapen the presence of fellow Nobelists in Berlin today, Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa.)  Meanwhile, here's a fragment from the epilogue of The Age of Reagan:

            The abrupt fall of the Berlin Wall caught the West by surprise.  At the White House, President George H.W. Bush was wary of inflaming a potentially unstable situation and issued a statement so low-key it made people wonder if he was on valium.  "You don't seem elated," Leslie Stahl said to Bush.  "I'm not an emotional kind of guy," Bush replied.  With the time difference between Europe and the U.S., the American news media scrambled to catch up to the story.  Naturally the TV news shows began looping Reagan's call to "tear down this wall!"  ABC News reached Ronald Reagan at home in Los Angeles, and he agreed to go on ABC's PrimeTime Live, where he appeared to be as astonished as everyone else.  Sam Donaldson asked Reagan, "Did you think it would come this soon?"  Reagan, subdued throughout the interview, replied, "I didn't know when it would come, but I'm an eternal optimist, and I believed with all my heart that it was in the future."  Like Bush, Reagan didn't wish to embarrass or humiliate Gorbachev, so Reagan denied to Donaldson that he'd ever directly spoken to Gorbachev about the Wall, though we know from subsequent transcripts that he had. 

            Mostly Reagan repeated some of his better known public themes from his Cold War diplomacy ("trust, but verify"), but he did take a mild shot at his critics: "Contrary to what some critics have said, I never believed that we should just assume that everything was going to be all right."  Asked to revisit his "evil empire" comment, Reagan said," I have to tell you--I said that on purpose. . .  I believe the Soviet Union needed to see and hear what we felt about them.  They needed to be aware that we were realists."  A nice turn, suggesting that it was the anti-Communist "ideologues" who were the true realists all along.  Prompted to revisit his 1982 prediction that Communism was headed to the "ash heap of history," Reagan ended the interview with the short observation: "People have had time in some 70-odd years since the Communist revolution to see that Communism has had its chance, and it doesn't work."

            But it was the end of more than a 20th century story.  Some of the East German protestors in the streets of Leipzig in early November carried banners that read, "1789-1989."  The storming of the Bastille in 1789 could be said to have marked the beginning of utopian revolutionary politics; now the storming of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked its end.  As Timothy Garton Ash observed, "Nineteen eighty-nine also caused, throughout the world, a profound crisis of identity on what had been known since the French revolution of 1789 as 'the left.'"  The deep unpopularity of the Communist regimes revealed by the peoples of Eastern Europe in 1989 was an embarrassment to moderate liberals and value-free social scientists who regarded these nations as stable and legitimate forms of governance, and it was a source of faith-shaking crisis for the far left that openly sympathized with these regimes.  On the intellectual level the death of revolutionary socialism has found a successor in "post-modern" philosophy that preserves some aspects of decayed Marxism.  But its obscurity limits its power to convince, and as such is unlikely to advance beyond the barricades of academic English departments.  Those artificial intellectual walls will take longer to come down.

Categories > History


To His Health

It's 8 a.m. here, am trying to write a short about Lincoln's idea that writing is the great invention of the world.  Then my cell phone rings.
I haven't talked with my son John in almost a month.  He called just now and said he didn't have time to talk but he needs to know how to say "to your health" in Hungarian.  This was very important because he is with his Marine buddies in a bar in Japan and they are all saying "salud" in Italian to his friend being toasted and this just wasn't good enough.  I told him it is "egeszseggedre" and he thanked me, told me he loved me, and said he would call again.
Back to writing.
Categories > Education

Health Care

How to Lose a Political Argument

Why did House Democrats approve an unpopular health care bill?  Rich Lowry reports that it is because they think it was the right thing to do: "it was clear that Democrats considered it a moral and ideological obligation to pass this bill -- consequences be damned."

The real question is why they think that way.  The main arguments against the bill seem to be that it expands government control over our lives, that we can't afford it, and that it quite probably will slow down medical innovation.  Some also note that it's probably unconstitutional (or would be if our governing class believed in the constitution and not a "living constitution"--i.e: whatever they want it to be).

The reason why this bill cleared the House, in other words, is the same reason why our national government has been creating new hand outs since the 1930s: there does not seem to be a moral argument on the other side.  Unless and until that changes, Washington will continue to grow, at ever-rising cost to our liberties.

What might such an argument look like?  It would probably emphasize liberty and responsibility.  When President Obama speaks about responsibility, he seems to mean the responsibility of the rich, the connected, and the well educated for the rest of us.  (Our friends in Washington no longer want to make laws that allow and encourage us to be free. On the contrary, they want to take care of us.  All the name of a redefined liberty--liberty from responsibility).  That's not the only way to think about it.  On the contrary, I would suggest that by taking away from citizens the obligation to care for their necessities, the government encourages us to be irresponsible.  That has been the tragedy of Washington hand outs since the New Deal.

Cass Sunstein, President Obama's regulatory czar, suggests that government ought to nudge people to do the right thing.  But what incentive do people have to be responsible when Washington takes away from the people the obligation to care for themselves?  Charity ought to be as local as possible--that way it can be specific, and, hopefully, reduce the "narcotic" effects of it (to use FDR's term for the dangers of hand outs by government).  When our national government (it is hardly a federal government any more) pays our medical bills, it almost inevitably will encourage us to exercise and eat right by law.  That's not something I'm looking forward to.

Categories > Health Care


The Divider Who's a Uniter

The best news about the health care bill is that only one Republican voted for it and most moderate Democrats voted against it.  Even the few moderate Democrats who were persuaded to push it over the top are saying apologetically that, of course, compromise with the Senate is bound to improve it.  It's also good, of course, to see Speaker Pelosi, someone most Americans deeply distrust, gushing about her personal triumph.

What we have here, as with the stimulus package, is a failure of presidential leadership.  Obama's deference to Congress has pushed his party too far to the left for its own good, united the Republicans, and pushed independents and moderates in the GOP direction.  As Yuval Levin pointed out in NEWSWEEK, the Republicans are now far more united against the president than are the Democrats united with him.  The moderates from the swing districts fear losing their jobs.  The unapologetic liberals from the safe districts are complaining loudly that our liberal president ain't boldly liberal enough when it comes to both social issues and additional stimulation.

Now the Republicans clearly don't need to moderate themselves to get with the tide of History.  They need to distinguish themselves clearly to give a real choice to voters anxious about a tide they don't really remember voting for (although in a way they did).  Even genuinely left-of-center moderates don't fear right-of-center, socially conservative candidates at this point.  The point now is to elect savvy antidotes to the president and especially Pelosi.  Let's hope that this great opportunity--partly the result of unforced errors by our president--brings forward Republican leaders worthy of it.   

Categories > Politics


Stop the Hate!

President Obama speaking to Congress yesterday: "Does anybody think that the teabag, anti-government people are going to support them if they bring down health care?"
Categories > Politics