Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Statistic du Jour

Michael Lewis' essay-review of Louis Menand's Marketplace of Ideas in the February, 2010 Commentary (not available online) points to a 2007 survey of the political opinions of America's university professors:

The percentage of social-science faculty members at elite colleges and universities who voted for George Bush in 2004 was--statistically speaking--zero percent. Likewise among their colleagues in the humanities: zero percent.

Lewis comments: "This is the sort of results that usually sends worried statisticians scurrying back to their data  to see what went wrong." The proble, I fear, ain't the quality of the survey.

Categories > Education


Howard Zinn, RIP

The historian and polemicist Howard Zinn died this week.  Bob Herbert of the New York Times believes, as Zinn did, in the urgent need to address "the plight of working people in an economy rigged to benefit the rich and powerful."  It's no surprise that he eulogizes Zinn as "an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it."

It was a surprise, however, to learn from a link in the Matthew Yglesias blog that six years ago Dissent magazine featured a thoroughly critical essay on Zinn's most famous book, A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present.  In that article Michael Kazin wrote, "Zinn reduces the past to a Manichean fable and makes no serious attempt to address the biggest question a leftist can ask about U.S. history: why have most Americans accepted the legitimacy of the capitalist republic in which they live?"  The vast majority of people are good, and the ruling elites are wicked, but the virtuous majority gets hoodwinked and intimidated by the rich and powerful at every turn.  There are only black hats and white hats for Zinn, so he winds up dismissing Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the New Deal, among many others, as frauds that pretended to help the common man but really did nothing more than strengthen the oligarchs.

Zinn was politically active since the 1930s, Kazin notes, and used his writing to make sure that the past "did its duty."  Torturing the facts until they confessed meant, "By Zinn's account, the modern left made no errors of judgment, rhetoric, or strategy. He never mentions the Communist Party's lockstep praise of Stalin or the New Left's fantasy of guerilla warfare."  As a result, his political legacy is "fatalistic vision [that] can only keep the left just where it is: on the margins of American political life."  Zinn is gone, but conservatives can take comfort in the knowledge that by leaving disciples like Bob Herbert behind, he ensures that leftists will continue to be self-marginalizing for decades to come.
Categories > History


Corporate Fascism?

I've been enjoying visiting left-wing sites to see the outrage over the Supreme Court's recent Citizens United decision. I'm particularly struck by one recurring trope--that the decision places the country squarely on the road to fascism; see, for example, the Huffington Post, but an internet search using the terms "Citizens United," "Supreme Court," and "fascism" yielded some 86,000 hits. Yes, I know that the whole "fascism-as-capitalism" theme was pushed hard by the Communists in the 1930s and 1940s, but it surprised me that marginally intelligent people believe it today. In fact, big business barely existed in the semi-industrialized economy of Mussolini's Italy, and it didn't fare well at all in Hitler's Germany. In fact, a couple of recent economic histories of Nazi Germany--Adam Tooze's The Wages of Destruction and Goetz Aly's Hitler's Beneficiaries--show how corporations were subjected to bureaucratic micromanagement, constant threats of expropriation, or imprisonment of their managers, and, in particular, crushing taxation. Aly points out that, from 1933 to 1939, the only tax that the Nazis significantly increased was the corporate income tax, which reached 60 percent by the final years of the war. Much of this, it should be added, went to fund a cradle-to-grave welfare state.

So where is the line about "corporate fascism" coming from? It seems that many of them have hit on this alleged quote by Mussolini: "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."

On the surface this would seem to be pretty damning; however, there's no evidence that Mussolini ever said it. A reading of his most important writing, "The Doctrine of Fascism", yields all sorts of references to a "corporative" system and a "corporate" state, but he clearly wasn't talking about business organizations. Rather, he was claiming that the role of the state was to play a harmonizing or balancing role among the various interests in the nation. In other words, fascism looks a lot more like progressivism than it does anything the Roberts Court mentioned in Citizens United. At the very least, the willingness of the Left to make such breathless claims gives the lie to the accusation that Tea Party-types are uniquely prone toward hyperbolic Hitler comparisons.

Categories > History


From Clerk to Dean to General?

John Eastman enters the battle for Attorney General of California, following his resignation this coming Monday as Dean of Chapman University School of Law.  John has made his mark as a scholar, teacher, legal activist, and public servant, having worked on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, run for Congress, and served as a clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas.  John has long been a force in the Federalist Society.  He holds a Ph.D. in Government from the Claremont Graduate University and a J.D. from the University of Chicago.  Now, should those blogs of his on NLT be erased?
Categories > Politics


The Best Line of the Day

Delivered by William Galston: "Last week, [Barack Obama] told Diane Sawyer that he'd rather be a successful one-term president than a mediocre two-term president. Unfortunately, there's a third possibility."
Categories > Politics

Political Philosophy

"Democracy in America" at 175 (UPDATED)

Can't let January pass without noting that this is the 175th anniversary of the publication of Alexis de Tocqueville's enduring classic, Democracy in America.  It may well be the best book on democracy and the best book on America ever published, as Harvey Mansfield has argued.  (I dispute the second claim.) 

A recent re-reading affirms that Mansfield's edition is by far the best.  So far as I know it is the only one that catches Tocqueville's altering of Madison's words in Federalist 51 from "popular form of government" to "tyranny of the majority" (p. 249).  Other translations simply adopt the text of the Federalist.  The attractive Penguin edition commits politically correct atrocities such as translating "sauvage" as "primitive people"--he means savages!  The readable Lawrence translation just makes passages up.  Now comes James Schleifer's beautiful, four-volume bilingual edition of Democracy, published by Liberty Press--indispensable for the serious Tocqueville student. 

Noteworthy too is Jim Ceaser's essay on Tocqueville on China, part of AEI's Tocqueville on China project.

UPDATE:  I found this CSPAN Tocqueville Tour program, featuring Mansfield, the late Delba Winthrop, our own Peter Lawler, Schleifer, Dan Mahoney, and some other characters, engaging in Tocquevillean meditations with Brian Lamb.   


The Failure of Head Start

That's the conclusion of the latest and most comprehensive study of the program ever conducted, writes Andrew Coulson, "This study used the best possible method to review the program: It looked at a nationally representative sample of 5,000 children who were randomly assigned to either the Head Start."   The conclusion, "by the end of the first grade, children who attended Head Start are essentially indistinguishable from a control group of students who didn't."

Yesterday in the State of the Union address, President Obama suggested we use "common sense" in reforming our laws and instutions.  According to Coulson, "the president already raised spending on the program from $6.8 billion to $9.2 billion last year."  In light of the latest, peer-reviewed science, perhaps he should call for ending Head Start, and using that same money for voucher and charter school programs that have shown more promise for improving our schools.

Categories > Education


The Crisis of the New Order (Cont.)

There are two prevailing interpretations of the recent financial and economic unpleasantness.  Liberals tend to blame the Reagan/ Conservative order which, they say, has prevailed since the 1980s.  The financial collapse shows it to be a failure, they say.  Others suspect the true cause is that the New Deal Order, which Reagan et al did not really change, is no longer viable.  Walter Russel Mead has some intersting thoughts on the latter thesis.  In the 1970s, he says, the private sector side of that order fell apart:

As the old system dissolved, companies had to become more flexible.  As industry became more competitive, private sector managers had to shed bureaucratic habits of thought.  Lifetime employment had to go.  Productive workers had to be lured with high pay.  The costs of unionization grew; in the old days, government regulators simply allowed unionized firms to charge higher prices to compensate them for their higher costs.  The collapse of the regulated economy (plus the rise of foreign competition from developing countries) made unions unsustainably expensive in many industries.

But the government side did not.  It is crashing now.  It simply costs more than we can afford, and does not deliver goods and services nearly as well as do private companies. (Perhaps I should say truly private companies, and not ones that are overly regulated, like health insurance companies).

The collapse of a social model is a complicated, drawn out and often painful affair.  The blue model has been declining for thirty years already, and it is not yet finished with its decline and fall.  But decline and fall it will, and as the remaining supports of the system erode, the slow decline and decay is increasingly likely to bring on a crash.

Meanwhile, Arnold Kling argues,

that there is a discrepancy between trends in knowledge and power. Power in the United States is remarkably concentrated. We are creating increasingly specialized knowledge, which means that the information needed to make good decisions is located outside of Washington, D.C. And yet we have a central government attempting to do for 300 million people what governments in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark, and Switzerland do for many fewer people. . . .

These days, most of the people who complain that the U.S. is ungovernable are looking for solutions that would allow progressive technocrats to be even more powerful. I believe that the solution is to decentralize government.

To push things a bit further.  Reagan did what was politically feasible in the 1980s. As a result, he gave the New Deal Order an extra twenty or thirty years.  Finance became an industry in and of itself, rather than the industry that supports and enables the others.  Manufacturing in the U.S., meanwhile, remains difficult thanks to a regulatory structure that is out of date. The goal should not be simply to scrap these anachronistic regulations, but rather to change them to make them less onerous. Obama is right, we need a new politics. The trouble is that the "new" politics he wants is an extension of the the old politics that got us in trouble in the first place.

Categories > Politics


Foreign objections?

Justice Alito's disagreement with President Obama's interpretation of the Citizens United case is drawing much comment.  The consensus is that Alito is correct.  Even a Lefty like Linda Greenhouse thinks so.  I'm not so sure, however.  The question is whether the case, by overturning the restrictions on independent expenditures by corporations and unions, also overturns the prohibitions on like expenditures by foreign corporations.  My question is this: for several years now, the Court has been collapsing the distinction between U.S. citizen and foreigner, (and, to a lesser degree, between U.S. law and foreign law).  By what logic can U.S. law discriminate between U.S. corporations and foreign corporations in elections, when it can't discriminate between the two in so many other ways?

Categories > Courts


Obama's Second Joe Wilson Moment

Ben Boychuk does a nice job both of examining the political event of Justice Alito's muttering "Not true," during the SOTU speech last night and of citing the truth behind Alito's comment--whether rightly uttered or not.  
Categories > Courts


Obama's Same Game with a French Bath

Jonah Goldberg's latest great line:  "In fairness, the president took a French-bath of Clintonism before he took to his beloved TelePrompTer. He doused himself with the scent of the deficit-fighter and trade-promoter. He unveiled a slew of small, easy, applause-gathering proposals and populist appeals that he knows will go nowhere."  This is Goldberg's way of saying that there's no there there in Obama's promise of change, primarily because the one most incapable of change in Washington is Barack Obama!

Goldberg notes, too, the President's propensity to blame the inadequacies of others for his failures.  He blamed Bush (of course) and, with special relish, he blamed recalcitrant Republicans in Congress for their "partisanship" and general unwillingness to let him do whatever he wants. What about the mass of public opinion that is opposed to his policy proposals?  Is that completely meaningless?  To the extent that it got a mention, it was buried beneath the only part of the speech where Obama seemed to attempt to shoulder some blame for the failure of health-care.  That is, he claimed that he and his administration did not do enough to explain health-care!  What!?  We needed yet another speech?  One more would have done it?  Yup.  That's it.  We needed to hear some more from him . . .
Categories > Presidency


Chris Matthews' Stubborn and Revealing Memory

Chris Matthews, famous--among other things--for his case of the tingles upon once watching  Obama take a room, now tells us (and later defends it on Rachel Maddow's show) that he "forgot [Obama] was black for an hour" while watching the SOTU.  Whatever his explanation, I find this a strange and a revealing thing to be compelled to say.  His point, I guess, is to continue or, really, to re-introduce the whole "post-racial" meme that Obama is supposed to represent.  But isn't it interesting that Matthews and people of his political persuasion, are the folks who seem continually to be the ones bringing up the question of Obama's race?  Well, maybe them and a few wingnuts from the American Nazi Party or the KKK.  But that's not company I'd be proud to keep . . .

The thing is, it isn't really Obama, per se, who is post-racial.  If anything, it is America.  And I'm rather tired of the argument that Obama is anything but the beneficiary of this fact.  He didn't make it so (and he's not old enough to have had anything to do with it); it just is so.  I think the thing that really shocks Chris Matthews is that most of America--that is, the only important or meaningful segments of America--really doesn't care about Barack Obama's race one way or the other.  He is accepted or criticized by most Americans in much the same way that any other president has been or would be.  The only outliers, as I say, are the knuckle-dragging and last remaining racist hold-outs (of no significant political importance) and the self-important, guilt-ridden, condescending, liberals of the Matthews variety.   Matthews can't seem to wrap his mind around the concept that America is not the frightful racist bogey man of liberal nightmares.  It's constantly surprising and shocking to him, especially when he finds himself forgetting the default position of his ideology--that America is an intensely imperfect place forever guilty of great injustice and in need of constant reminders of that imperfection. 

It has been suggested to me in the past that, perhaps, I should cut guys like Matthews more slack because this is, in most ways, a generational thing.  People who lived through a time (as I have not) when race relations were abominable might justly be entitled to feel more surprise than I feel at the absence of racism.   But I'd like to suggest that its time for them to cut America more slack.  It's time to recognize victory, proclaim it and accept it.  This is, in the end, the only real way to assure that it remains one.   Scratching old wounds tends only to make them sore. 
Categories > Race


DADT--Yeah, That's the Ticket

Okay, so Obama pledged to overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and allow gays to serve openly in the military.  I am sure he sincerely believes in this, but I suspect he is making an issue of it now to throw a bone to the disappointed left.  With health care deform, card check, and cap and trade doomed, at the end of the year, or even at the end of the first term, lefties will be left saying, "You mean repealing DADT is all we got???!!!"

And I'm not sure they'll even get that.  I believe repealing DADT requires a vote of Congress.  Think all those Blue Dog Democrats from red-leaning districts want to cast this vote?  Pat Moynihan famously remarked that Clinton's promise to "end welfare as we know it" was "boob bait for Bubba."  There must be a gays-in-the-military equivalent phrase for Obama's rhetorical flourish, but I'm not sure I can post it on a PG blog.
Categories > Politics


Stick with Zinfandel

I never had any use for Howard Zinn, who died yesterday; I always said I preferred zinfandel when someone asked.  But check out what he has to say about Obama in the latest issue of The Nation!  Key sentence:

I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president. . .
Categories > History


How Low Can Obama Go?

While extraordinarily partisan, even demagogic, Obama's SOTU still does not approach FDR's 1944 SOTU (aka his "economic bill of rights" speech), which likened conservative Republicans to Nazis (see fifth paragraph from the end).  And people wonder why Nixon (et al.) relished linking Democrats to Communists.
Categories > Presidency


SOTU Thoughts

Over at The Corner, Kevin D. Williamson has some interesting thoughts on the political ritual of The State of the Union speech that are worthy of consideration.  Hint:  he's not a fan.

Regarding this specific SOTU, there's not really much point in talking about the content of a speech that has yet to be delivered.  On the other hand, if anything David Axelrod says is to be taken as a clue about the likely tone of the thing, I am willing to bet that what he describes as Obama's "feisty" mood causes the President to continue his finger-wagging, misguided attacks on the values and opinions most Americans still hold dear.  I am moving closer to the opinion that Obama is actually incapable of being persuasive--perhaps because he mistakenly believes that Americans fully understand and support the ideas that he champions.  Or perhaps it is something more cynical, as some have suggested, and he really does think that the force of his own personality is all that is needed to persuade them. 

On the other hand, as they watch our feisty President try to box himself out of a corner, I hope Republicans don't get so caught up in the spectacle that they imagine the rest of America is as cheered by it as they might be.  This isn't a time for sneers, and hoots and hollers . . . it's an opportunity for Republicans to show that they can be persuasive where the President is not.  It's a good time to remember that whatever their basic values and opinions, the American people are not full on board with Republicans just because they're disappointed in the Democrats.  There's a lot of work to be done between now and November.
Categories > Presidency


For Dems "Much Deeper Trouble" Than in '94

This is what Michael Barone is saying the numbers currently suggest about the Democrats and their prospects in 2010.  Moreover, he points out that in '94 he wrote his first column suggesting the possibility of huge Republican gains in July.  In case you haven't noticed . . . this is January.  Of course, what makes politics so interesting is that anything can happen.  Scott Brown climbed 30 points in December, after all.  But, as Barone--an analyst not given to hyperbole--puts it:   "I have not seen a party's fortunes collapse so suddenly since Richard Nixon got caught up in the Watergate scandal and a president who carried 49 states was threatened with impeachment and removal from office."
Categories > Elections

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Conservative Fiction or Fictitious Conservatives?

John Miller has compiled a top ten of contemporary conservative fiction writers--the usual suspects are there, such as Drury, Dos Passos, Wolfe, McCarry, and Helprin, but not always for the novels you might have urged.  I have no particular quarrel with this list (though Tolkien deserved a mention), but compare it with the greatest novelists (or poets) at hand--Henry James, to name one.  Or just consider some from the 19th century:  Austen, Dostoevsky, Tolstoi, and Trollope.   David Lodge would have been a daring choice for this list.  Whom would you have picked?

CORRECTION:  As per Richard Adams' comment #2, below, my mention of the Europeans is inappropriate; John clearly intended this to be an Americans only list.  An even greater blunder on my part was to omit Melville and Twain from my list of 19th century authors. 


The Family

Marriage on Trial

The Wall Street Journal reports on the Proposition 8 prosecution tactics of David Boies, who wants California not just to ignore but to condemn common sense and human nature.  The article on the same-sex marriage trial mentions the scholarly work of Ken Miller (now safely tenured) of Claremont McKenna College.  His book on direct democracy in California is invaluable for conservative activists in every state with the initiative or referendum.
Categories > The Family


Focusing on Jobs

According to this morning's Wall Street Jounral President Obama "will make small-business hiring the centerpiece of" his "jobs agenda."  Question: does anyone have confidence that there is a politically feasible way, in current circumstances, for the federal government to foster the creation of jobs in the private sector?

Part of me wonders whether that explains the turn to health care.  If the administration concluded that it could do little, other than get out of the way and wait, as the economic crisis runs its course, then why not try to do something else in the mean time.

Categories > Economy


Obama is Right

When he says that "the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office." The trouble is a good deal of that anger is aimed at the very things that he, even more than President Bush, represents. 

Here's what I wrote on this subject in June, 2008.  So far, it's looking fairly accurate:

If Senator Obama becomes president, and if the Democratic party has control of both houses of the legislature in 2009, as seems quite likely, governing might be a rude awakening. The benefit of being in opposition is that one needn't be specific. The trouble with governing is that one must be so.

If part of the reason why President Bush has had such a rough time of things is that Americans are tried of the modern administrative/ bureaucratic state (even as they don't want their own benefits cut, or many regulations eliminated), and if Democrats think that the reason why Bush is unpopular is that he's been governing as a conservative, they could be in for a rude awakening.

Bush turned his back on the limited government/ leave-us-alone side of the conservative coalition.  Now that the party of government is fully and obviously in charge blame is being placed where is more properly belongs.

Categories > Politics


Obama's Belly Flop in Graphic Form

Brought to you by John Judis (another straight-shooting lefty) at the New Republic website.
Categories > Politics


Cohen on Edwards

I've noted in the past that Richard Cohen frequently departs from the liberal party line (unlike, for example, E.J. Dionne, who is no longer worth reading), and today he delivers another sparking commentary on the Edwards business.  A number of people have observed that the same folks who decried McCain's selection of Palin as a running mate have been strangely silent about John Kerry picking Edwards in 2004.  Cohen steps up:

I have been particularly harsh on McCain for his irresponsible choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. I withdraw none of it; the better we got to know Palin, the more egregious a choice she became -- astonishingly unprepared and unsuited for the presidency. She proves, if anything, that McCain was, too.

But what, then, can we make of Kerry's choice of Edwards? It is not quite in the Palin category, since Edwards had been in the Senate for one term and had made a career for himself as a stunningly successful trial attorney. Still, not only did he lack legislative achievement, but, in retrospect, it's clear that little was known about him. He dazzled as a political matinee idol -- a profile, a speech, a mirage of a marriage.

But along the way Cohen raises doubts about Barry Obama, too:

I will also throw Barack Obama into the mix, not because I know something nefarious about him but because I realize more and more that I know so little about him.
When, for instance, the call goes out to let Obama be Obama, I'm not sure what that is. For the moment, it's a tendentious populism, but the sound of it is tinny and inauthentic, a campaign tactic, nothing more. When, however, we were asked to "let Reagan be Reagan," we could be certain it was a call for a hard-right turn.
Categories > Politics


TR on Financial Panics

I ran across this comment from Theodore Roosevelt, made around time time of the 1907 panic, that applies to the current rage against banks and Bernanke:

When people have lost their money, they strike out unthinkingly, like a wounded snake, at whoever is most prominent in the line of vision.
Categories > Economy


Am I Missing Something Here?

Or has post-modernist ambiguity come to the news pages of the Wall Street Journal?  The following "Corrections and Amplifications" note does nothing to correct or amplify:

Corrections & Amplifications:

Passage of Measure 66 would increase Oregon's personal-income-tax rate by nearly two percentage points for the state's richest taxpayers. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said it would increase the rate by almost 2%.

I'm alarmed to learn, after half-a-century of speaking and writing English, that there is an important distinction between "nearly" and "almost" that no one has ever explained to me.

Categories > Journalism

Pop Culture

Great Nations Can . . . and That's Who We Are

On Friday, when I along with the rest of Southern California, was subjected to the breathless and non-stop television coverage of this rescue of a dog from the rushes of a bulging LA River (the result of our recent storms), my first reaction was to be a little bit disgusted.  It's not that I don't like dogs or don't admire the selfless work of rescuers.  I'm a big fan of both dogs and rescue personnel.  But here we were at the end of a week in which the human tragedy of a natural disaster in Haiti was palpable--where people died because there were no tools or emergency personnel available to prevent it--and Los Angeles was gripped and, then, elated by a (no doubt outrageously expensive) helicopter rescue of . . . a dog.   And then, just for good measure and because no good deed goes unpunished, the darn dog bit and severely injured his savior.  Perfect.  "Don't people see the horrible and sad irony here?" I indignantly asked myself.  Aren't the lives of those people in Haiti worth more than the life of a dog?  What an extravagant and ridiculous people we have become, I mumbled to myself. 

But what a silly, self-righteous prig I was in that moment.  Still, everyone's entitled to a momentary lapse of rational judgment in the face of life's inequities.  This was (one of) mine.  As I thought about it or, rather, groused about it, I began to wonder and to re-think.  Is it fair to suggest that there is something off in my fellow citizens because they were so interested in the fate of a dog that they were willing to invest their tax dollars, the lives and safety of their rescue personnel, and their good wishes and captivated interest in seeing him rescued?  Was it really taking anything away from the horrible scope of the tragedy in Haiti for rescue workers in Los Angeles to attend to this matter?  In the end, I think the answer to both questions is "no."

Of course, such a daring rescue of a dog would be an unlikely event in a place like Haiti.  And one can't blame them for that.  The animal/human distinction is a good thing to remember and a thing that too often gets blurred in a rich country like ours.  Of course, it gets blurred in poor countries too . . . though in the opposite direction. 

Really, it says something wonderful (if not entirely rational) about us as a people that we CAN do this and that, when given the opportunity, we do it as a matter of course.  We have the luxury to worry about a dog to the amazing degree that we can call out a rescue team to assist it!  How does a nation get to that point?  It is not because it is a bad or a degraded place, that's for sure.  And it ought to be assuring, too, in contemplating what a natural disaster in a country like ours would look like versus what it is in a place like Haiti.  Say what one wants about the worst of the response to Katrina . . . it looked nothing like the tragedy of Haiti and that's not only because the earthquake was more violent than the hurricane.  Badly governed nations are poor and poor nations aren't known for their efficient rescue operations--even when the hearts of their people yearn for the freedom and prosperity that allows them.

Almost as if he sensed it the glaring inequity between what went down in the LA River and the efforts in Haiti, the man who rescued the dog (and, for his efforts, was willing to get bit) explained in an interview that his concern, ultimately, was less about the dog and more about the safety of the public.  Good sense mixed here with compassion.  You see, he knew what kind of people we Americans are.  Someone, if not the rescuer, would have tried to save that dog and, likely, that someone would then have been in need of rescuing.  Sometimes our hearts are bigger than our brains . . . but that's just who we are as Americans.  Anyway, we're all entitled to a momentary lapse of rational judgment in the face of life's inequities--particularly when we are so blessed.  Very often, we do some good . . . even if we sometimes get bit.

Categories > Pop Culture


Bubba's Not a Boob Man Anymore

In a smart column today, Michael Barone notes that the elite among the Democrat party--though mainly attracted to the big-idea, left-wing, and sexy issues like equal justice for terrorists, gay rights, and global warming policy--have always supported big government programs (even when they mean higher taxes and more expensive private-sector services for high income elites like themselves) because these programs are, "in the words of the late Sen. Pat Moynihan, 'boob bait for the bubbas.'" In other words, this is the price they are willing to pay for the right to rule.

If the election in Massachusetts last week signifies anything, the trouble for Dems appears to be that Bubba's not much of a boob man anymore.  There are two demographic facts from this race which lend credence to Barone's assertion.  The first has to do with a surge of high to middle-income suburban voters opposed to these intrusive and expensive proposals.  The second has to do with the old standby constituent of Democrat politics:  lower income and minority voters. Barone notes, "In a race where the Republican promised to be the decisive vote to kill the Democrats' health care bills, working class and minority voters did not rally to save them."

But "voters in middle-income suburbs -- some with many college graduates, some with only a few -- who mostly work in the private sector" largely have been unimpressed with the offerings of Democrats since sleeping off their hope and change hangover.  These voters, "took a different view" of the boobs and baubles offered by the Democrats, Barone suggests, because in the end they lack the faith of their betters in the elite Democrat ranks.  They lack faith either in the ability of experts to "re-engineer" institutions in workable ways or, perhaps, in their own ability to navigate through the muck once the abstract theories of their betters are in place.   Although elites, confident in their own capacity to master and manipulate words to their advantage, may not fear the tangles of bureaucratic maze, people who do not pontificate or theorize for a living apparently believe that they have cause for concern.  "They surged to the polls in far larger numbers than in off-year elections and cast most of their votes, often more than two-thirds, for Scott Brown."

This, combined with the lack of enthusiastic support from "working class and minority voters," ought to present a telling moment for Republicans contemplating strategy in 2010 and beyond.  In the long run, it will not be enough to keep these middle-income Americans dissatisfied with the Democrats.  Dissatisfaction will drive you to the polls . . . once.  And it would be pathetic in the extreme to merely hope that working class and minority voters remain unenthusiastic Democrats.  It would be cynical in the extreme to work to keep them so.  Why can't they be enthusiastic Republicans?  There is no logical reason for Republicans to continue running from this fight.
One place to start might be to stop with all the "Bubba" nonsense.  How about, instead of all this talk of "Bubba v. the elite," Republicans move on to something a little more high-minded and focus their minds on the question of self-government and what is required for its perpetuation?  Self-government requires habits and virtues on the part of all people--not just the elite--and, at least until now, Americans have always assumed that we are a people worthy of the assumption that we were capable of it.  Do Democrats with their policy prescriptions now suggest something different?  This is a fair and a serious question and it is one that Republicans should be asking.  But they should also remember to remind voters of the virtues and the work that is required for self government.  They may have to sacrifice some security and they may have to work harder for their bread . . . even as they earn the self-respect and confidence of the self-governed.  Give Americans that fair choice and make sure that they understand the consequences.  Republicans ought to remember that the GOP has always stood for (and they should continue to insist that it keep standing for) the notion that all Americans--regardless of education, race, background, or perceived disadvantage--can make themselves capable and competent judges of what is best in their own lives.  The wisdom of an "expert" is no argument for his justice.  And the justice of the American people is no guarantee of their perfect wisdom.  It is likely that we cannot have both (or, really, either) in perfection.  So which way do we, as a people, prefer to lean?

Further, why don't Republicans start talking about how much more success Americans are likely to have when they own it?  Why don't Republicans start assuring voters who find themselves at sea inside a murky washtub of bureaucratic rules and regulations (passed for the ostensible purpose of making their lives better), that they can ACTUALLY make their own lives better by pulling the cork on this tub?  Why don't we start talking about all of the great things Americans can do and have done (for themselves) and begin building the confidence of an electorate that, in the end and with respect to the greatest principles and traditions of our country, rarely disappoints.  Eighty years of Progressivism won't be undone in one election cycle, certainly.  But the self-perpetuating myth of American incompetence that has been the driving force of Progressivism's political success is beginning to unravel in the face of the astonishing incompetence and failures of their own experts.  It is time for the opponents of Progressivism to remind Americans what it means when we recite the pledge for "Liberty and Justice for all."

Categories > Politics


Buyer's Remorse Syndrome

That a lot of independent voters are having buyer's remorse about Obama is setting in as a meme of his still-young presidency ought to be an ominous sign for Democrats, because even if it is mistaken in some ways, it can establish an unshakeable hold, as was the case with Jimmy Carter's perceived weakness and "incompetence" (that term was used a lot about Carter) in his single misbegotten term.  Today comes news that Obama used a teleprompter a few days ago--to speak to a sixth grade class.  Not a good sign.  And if you like good polemical writing, see Conrad Black's scorching takedown of Obama in the National Post, which also centers around the question of Obama's basic competence.  Haven't seen scorn this lively since R. Emmett Tyrrell's serial demolitions of Jimmy Carter 30 years ago.

UPDATE:  Apparently Obama thinks his personal popularity will shield Democrats from the voters' wrath in November.  I know this guys thinks well of himself, but really. . .
Categories > Politics

Men and Women

Girls' Room Insights on Health-Care

The Hill reports that there is footage of a female Democrat describing Capitol Hill girls' room chatter, wherein a female Republican suggested the whole health-care package could have been resolved if they just sent the boys home and let the women handle taking care of the family. The statement was received with bipartisan applause and a general accord that women know more about caring for their own.

I really don't see a scandal here - my better half is an angel when I'm sick, whereas I'm reduced to asking if she can stop being sick long enough to remind me where we keep the medicine and heating pad. I'm actually delightfully surprised that ladies of both parties still make jokes about men in the bathroom! That's encouraging.

The episode reminds me of perhaps the most controversial passage in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, wherein he mentions, as a defense of the traditional role of men as the head of the house, that women are too willing to abandon justice in the defense of their families. Women, Lewis observes, harbor an "intense family patriotism" and are the trustees of the family's interests, whereas the function of the husband is to moderate the family's "foreign policy" so as to protect other people from this natural preference of the wife.

Categories > Men and Women


Obama Loses WaPo on Terror

Describing Obama's decision-making following the attempted Christmas Day bombing as "myopic, irresponsible and potentially dangerous," WaPo retracts its original support of federal prosecution. Powerline has the story and commentary here, as well as a good perspective on the overarching failures here.

Such language from the WaPo editorial pages was par-for-the-course during the Bush years, but if Obama is losing this bastion of liberal talking-points....

Categories > Military


Winesburg, Ohio

I talk a lot, and not just in the classroom.  I average giving one or two talks a week, next week it will be four.  I almost never turn down an invitation to give a talk and accept even the formal ones, although I insist on bringing those down a notch or two, to a popular level.  I try to say things so that everyone around me understands what I am saying, including me.  This has the healthy effect of encouraging conversation, with minimal pretense.  Sometimes this surprises folks, because after all I am a professor, so they expect me to obfuscate (make things less clear).  I sometimes flatter myself in thinking that this is the way Twain or Lincoln would talk, if they were around.  The topic chosen for me doesn't matter, because I always say the same thing: I talk about what talking has to do with self-government.  I mention all this because I spoke at Winesburg about ten days ago (three days after a talk in Colorado).  The group calls itself a Community Roundtable, and they are after self-improvement and education. There are Constitution booklets at the door and a basket for donations, from the able and the willing, to pay for the hall and the coffee. The town's a little-bitty place, not even a stop sign in it.  They said come to the building across the street from fire station, on Main Street (of course).  I found it and discovered a useful hall with just under a hundred folks there, from bearded Mennonites to austere Calvinists to Baptists, with maybe even a few Catholics, with a half dozen kids and mothers and even a few teenagers.  The atmosphere was Lyceum-like, friendly and respectful, but busy.  I talked for an hour and then conversed for another, then lingered with folks for yet another hour.  Wit and humor were our constant companion and I was comfortable from the first minute.  After all, these are the folks who practice honest industry, have some rational foresight, and know something about how restraining the passions leads to not only wealth and happiness, but also self government.  In other words, these are not Harvard PhD's, but are simply Americans.  I am at home with them.  I don't have to persuade them of anything and there is no pretense.  I merely remind them of something they already know.  I toss around the idea of natural rights and right and the Constitution, bring in Madison and the boys as needed.  So heads nod as I talk, and hands go up (or not) as they (rightly) jump in with observations and comments, sometimes with questions.  But mostly, we just talk with one another.  I mention this in passing because sometimes the educated-sophisticated class gives us the impression that we are on a downhill slide toward collapse and degradation and are about to give up governing ourselves.  I actually don't need election returns from distant states, or a good Supreme Court decision, to remind me that we are still capable of governing ourselves.  I just have to go to places like Winesburg (and they are everywhere).  By the way, one of the organziers of the group gave me a hand-made rocking chair as a present.  A gift from some friends, he said.  He placed it gently in the back of Clarence for me.  I didn't get a good look at it until I got home, when my moist eyes were clear once again.  It's lovely and very comfortable and I am grateful.
Categories > Conservatism


For God's Sake, Blog!

So say's the Pope! Just wanted to point out (as I always knew) that we here at NLT are but pious pilgrims under the imprimatur of the Holy Father to carry out the Lord's good work....

Categories > Religion