Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Some Post Potpourri

George Will refers in passing to the late Peter De Vries, "America's wittiest novelist."  He was overlooked in this top ten list of American conservative novelists.  That was a terrible oversight.  I like especially Sauce for the Goose, Slouching Toward Kalamazoo, and The Prick of Noon (a reference to a line in Hamlet).

A letter to the editor replied to this story, from earlier in the week:  "Colleges call in the big guns to combat drinking."  This must rate as the worst headline of quite some time, and the WaPo finally realized it, as the head in the on-line edition differs.  The college that comes under analysis is Virginia Tech, scene of that awful massacre.  Readers, please nominate your own favorite horrible headlines. 

This blunder reminds me of the odious Daniel Schorr, on NPR, once saying that Hamas would "stick to its guns" on a particular issue.  Yes, I'm sure it's a general policy.  Here's an account of Hamas University.  And there's this inspiring story on the assassination of the Hamas leader in the Dubai hotel.  A civilized nation that recognizes its enemies and knows what to do about them is a light unto the world. 

Health Care

The Man Who Could Save the Country

And the Democratic Party, too, from the health care disaster:  The Parliamentarian of the Senate, who could rule that the Senate may not use reconciliation to pass the health-care bill.   That would give everyone an out. 

The "win-win" way out would be for Republicans Paul Ryan of the House and Tom Coburn of the Senate to develop a health care bill and bring it to a passing vote, with Obama coaxing it along and then signing it.  Democrats might choke or commit hara-kiri, but enough would vote for it; the rest could campaign on passing a real bill.  Republicans would finally have a positive domestic agenda, though they would likely lose their chance for a legislative majority in 2010.  Obama would avoid a disaster.  The fact that Obama is not interested in such a scheme or too weak to muscle it through indicates his lack of statesmanship, low or high.

Categories > Health Care

Health Care

Alot to Lose

National Review's Reihan Salam writes about what he calls the "Affluence Trap" in which we have much to lose but are not wealth enough  to afford the consequences of bad policies. I take Salam to mean unsustainable entitlements and growth weakening industrial policies, but I think that the idea of the affluence trap is useful in understanding the political constraints on conservative reformism. 

Over at NRO's health cate blog, John R. Graham  writes that "Establishment Republicans are loathe to remove the discrimination against individual ownership of health insurance for employed people because their backers in Big Business support the status quo."  I think this is more wrong than right.  I think that Graham especially understates the role of public opinion in moving very quickly to a system dominated by individually bought health insurance.  Every opinion poll that I have seen indicates that the vast majority of Americans are happy with the level of health care services that they receive.  They might have problems with the rate at which premiums are rising and being stuck in jobs they might not like, but the standard of health care services they do like breeds an intense risk averseness.  Tax changes that destroy the market in employer-provided insurance plus a tax credit for buying individual policies seem like a bad deal.  The tax credit doesn't seem to buy as much insurance.  There are all kinds of questions regarding preexisting conditions. 

You can argue that expanding the individual market will stimulate all kinds of innovation that will both bring down cost, improve quality of service and increase take home pay.  But those are speculative gains and I can see why people might not want to let politicians and policy wonks play "we bet your family's life" with changes in the health insurance market.

Graham argues that McCain's health care plan to transition to an individual insurance policy system ran into a "buzzsaw" of interest group opposition.  That is true, but it also ran into a bunch of Obama ads that told the general public that McCain's health care plan will take away your employer-provided insurance and force you to buy inferior insurance on the individual market.  This isn't to say that interst group politics aren't important at the margin, but the biggest obstacle to Obama's (and before that Clinton's) health care plan has not been Big Business, but public opinion that thinks that the changes will injure their quality and affordability of care.  

Any conservative reform that actually happens will have to take account of both economic and political reality.  And the politcal reality is that the biggest problem with simply changing the tax code to destroy the market in employer-provided private health insurance is not that Republicans are big business stogges, but the force of public opinion. 

Categories > Health Care


Everything That's Wrong With Al Gore in One Sentence

From Al Gore's extended rant about climate change in today's New York Times:

From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption.

There's lots more looniness in Gore's article, but this takes the biscuit.  Walter Russell Mead's summary of Gore bears repeating:

I think Al Gore failed the climate change movement and that his negligence and bindness has done it irreparable harm.

That's exactly why I hope Big Al keeps talking; he's the best weapon climate skeptics have going for them.
Categories > Environment


A George Wallace for the 21st Century

The ever-insightful Jonathan Rauch has some intelligent things to say about Sarah Palin in the National Journal.  While some have compared her to Barry Goldwater, the more useful analogy might be George Wallace.  Although, unlike Wallace, Palin is no racist ("Nothing in this article," Rauch is careful to add, "implies that the GOP is a racist party."), the nationalism, anti-intellectualism, and provincialism of her rhetoric bear striking similarity to that of the Alabama governor.  As Rauch points out, her brand of populism isn't really conservatism, let alone any sort of libertarianism.  Moreover, it's incapable of winning at the national level.
Categories > Politics


Prognosticator of the Milennium

The award goes to Clifford Stoll of Newsweek, who in 1995 confidently predicted that the internet was merely a passing fad.  His best line:

...Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.

Or how about this?

We're promised instant catalog shopping-just point and click for great deals. We'll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet-which there isn't-the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

Today, Stoll is a stay-at-home dad who, in his spare time, makes bottles.

Categories > Technology


"TR the Socialist?"

With this head in the print edition of the WaPo, Michael Gerson's column scorns Glenn Beck's attack on Theodore Roosevelt for his Progressive policies.  The former Bush 43 speechwriter should have followed the lead of our Roger Beckett

In his "New Nationalism" speech at John Brown's home in Bloody Kansas, Roosevelt sees progress in history as arising from "this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess."  

Gerson objects that conservatives should no more go after TR than they should denounce Lincoln.  TR claims the legacy of Lincoln.  But Lincoln viewed human history as strangers becoming friends, not one of class conflict.  Moreover, TR pushed centralizartion of power far further than circumstances justified:  "The right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted. Let us admit also the right to regulate the terms and conditions of labor, which is the chief element of wealth, directly in the interest of the common good."  Even Gerson has to allow that TR's "progressivism could sound a bit like socialism." 

In claiming TR as a forefather of "reform conservatism" Gerson simply shows his allegiance to big-government conservatism and his lack of understanding of founding principles.  His speeches for "W" cited the Declaration of Independence often but without understanding the limited government principles within his founding document.

Glenn Beck's mentor on Progressivism, RJ Pestritto, has written these books so you can decide.

Categories > Conservatism

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Go Ahead, Make Obama's Day

After his Health Care Seminar (brief astute comments), Professor Obama awarded the National Medals of Health Arts and of Humanities to 20 honorees, among them Clint Eastwood, Bob Dylan, and former Kennedy speechwriter Theodore Sorensen.  Like Dirty Harry, Dylan was a no-show.  Is he still a Barry Goldwater fan?

Pop Culture

Scouting the Future

Today in the Wall Street Journal, Tony Woodlief  (who writes this excellent blog and many good things about fatherhood) examines the Boy Scouts of America through the lens of their own manual and that book's continued "evolution."  He begins with a bit of healthy skepticism about whether the organization can be as worthy as it used to be given these changes--some of which, no doubt, are more deserving of contempt than simple skepticism.  But the thing I always admire in Woodlief's writing is his gallant striving toward the point of good common-sense.  He takes stock of the deteriorating situation, admits the problems, and in good conservative form, he laments the passing of a more rational era and the coming into being of an age that appears to have lost its sense . . . but he stands back again in the distance and reconsiders his initial inclinations.  And, as he does that, Woodlief invariably comes up with little gems of paragraphs like this one:

I suppose a handbook won't determine whether my sons have an enriching Scout experience. Their troop's leaders will. And I will. "Troops," says an Eagle Scout friend, "are like churches." You get some good and some bad; it depends on who's doing the work. This reliance on local community is, more than stances on gays or the environment, what makes the Boy Scouts of America conservative in the most wise and American sense of that term.

Those Woodlief kids are some very lucky little boys.   Whatever their troop turns out to be like, they've already got what's more important:  a father who is teaching them the proper way to scout the future.
Categories > Pop Culture

Foreign Affairs

Can We Run This Guy Somewhere?

Wow.  Some Brit dude named Nigel Farage delivers a beatdown to the incoming president of the EU, who is naturally another no-name Belgian.  I don't really know what the European Parliament does except provide an excuse for expense-paid gabfests in Strasbourg.  Expect Farage at next year's CPAC.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

The Family

Soul-Deadening Sex Ed

Three decades of prophylactic-centered sex-ed were supposed to have produced a healthier and happier population of young people.  Our new acceptance of the fact that "they're going to do it anyway" we were assured, would facilitate the dawn of a new age that was relatively free of STDs, witnessed reduced rates of teen pregnancies (either through prevention or abortion) and, above all, produced a generation of young people with unprecedented self-awareness especially as it relates to their sexual natures.  Moreover, we were promised a more liberating, more mature, and more open public attitude toward sexual activity.  What has been the result?  Well . . . how's one for four?  And can we give that "one" back, please? 

This article suggests that we'd do better all around if we could give it back.

Written by a concerned pediatrician, Michelle Cretella, in The Providence Journal, it comes in response to the news of a disturbing uptick in teen pregnancy rates, and argues that, besides teen pregnancy, there are additional serious consequences resulting from increased sexual activity among adolescents and young people that are too often ignored.  Some key points from the article: 

1. "Sexually active adolescents and young adults under age 25 account for 50 percent of the 19 million new cases of STIs annually." [Sexually Transmitted Infection]

2.  "
One in five Americans over age 12 is infected with genital herpes, and one in four sexually active girls over age 13 is infected with at least one STI."

"America has failed to achieve levels of condom use among teens high enough to eliminate those STIs for which condoms are most preventive, (chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV), let alone those for which condoms are least preventive (herpes and human papillomavirus, or HPV)."  I'd add that this last type of sexual infection, HPV, is the kind most likely to infect young girls and that its consequences for them are quite serious.  It is the virus that leads to cervical cancer.

4. "
Sexually active girls are three times as likely to report being depressed and three times as likely to have attempted suicide as compared with sexually abstinent girls."

"Sexually active boys are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression and seven times as likely to have attempted suicide as compared with sexually abstinent boys."

What I like best about this article, however, is not that there is anything especially new or surprising in it.  It is, rather, that in addition to actually brokering the question of mental or "soul" health, it also has a common sense physician's approach to the question of abstinence education.  I think this question is too often polarized and, as a result, even the best of the opinions on both sides are caricatured and used as a cudgel in debates between right and left. 

My problem with both sides in the often fiery debate between conventional sex-ed advocates and abstinence-only advocates is that in their extremes they both tend to insult the intelligence and capacities of young people.  One side wants to assume that self-control is an impossible goal completely beyond young people with raging hormones and, sometimes (one suspects), they appear to suggest that self-control is something akin to cheating oneself out of a rockin' good time, (i.e., something only for the brain-washed or "dorky" kids not likely to have the opportunity for sex anyway).   The other side, for all of their lamentations over the sexualization of the culture and the detrimental effects this has had on morality, appear at times to present simple-minded and stubborn solutions.  The whole, "It is wrong; just say no" argument has much to be said for it, but it fails by itself (and on the whole, miserably, I'd suggest) to appeal when put up against the siren song of the opposite view--appealing as that alternative does to very natural--and, yes, legitimate--urges.  Also missed, too often, by abstinence advocates is the extent to which the culture (including many abstinence advocates) has accepted delaying marriage until late in the 20s and even 30s.  Most people are not designed to have the fortitude of a nun or a monk . . . and there are good and natural reasons for this that ought to be addressed before an appeal to "abstinence-only" can be taken with as much seriousness as it deserves.

H/T:  Anchor Rising 

Categories > The Family

Health Care

Ramirez's Latest Offering on Health Care Reform

Michael Ramirez in today's Investor's Business Daily.
Categories > Health Care

Foreign Affairs

Europe ... to Hell in a Handbasket

I previously mentioned the woeful plight of Greece's economy, which will require a European bail-out if Greece isn't to default into utter bankruptcy. I suggested that, despite aggravation and reticence, Europe (read: Germany) would furnish the loan in order to avoid a collapsed economy in the Euro-zone.

Of course, that was before Greece reacted to Europe's hesitation by spurning the Germans as NAZI thieves, condemning Italians as mutually corrupt and rolling up the entirety of Europe's "very poor quality" leadership as having botched the economic crisis and being "not up to the task" of "managing the fortunes of Europe." Greece...lecturing Germany...on fiscal management. In response, the NYT this morning writes that banks have begun to "bet" in favor of Greece's default (severely harming the chance of a recovery). Greek unionists are, of course, still rioting in the streets in opposition to any budget reform.

And now it seems that Socialist Spain is likewise circling the drain. Spain has posted 7 consecutive quarters of negative growth as Spanish GDP fell 3.6% in 2009, has the highest unemployment in the EU at 20% and an exploding deficit causing credit raters to degrade its standing. But as children will do, the socialists are blaming everyone but themselves. Particularly (you can't make this stuff up) they're blaming an "international conspiracy" by George W. Bush, Western newspapers and those pesky free-markets.

I wonder if this means Spain will soon be asking the U.S. for a bail-out? And I wonder if they would find a sympathetic ear in the Obama administration?

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Economy Hell in a Handbasket, Part 2: Nationalizing the 401(k)

Next in our cheery run-down of recent news, Obama has begun to think the unthinkable and suggest that the government nationalize private 401K accounts.

First, this plan is only half (if that) motivated by a sense of necessity to protect retirees. The true motivation is egregious spending and unsustainable entitlements - and the fear that China and foreign countries will abandon the dollar, stop buying treasury (junk) bonds and leave us too far in the red to sustain our indebted economy. One cannot but see the similarities to cash-strapped Argentina's recent banana-republic-style nationalization of retirement accounts. Have we sunk so far that socialist tyrants are our role-models?

Also, Obama's "option" seems to have all the fixings of a true hustler's scam. In return for 5% of your wages, the government offers a mere 3% interest return. Compared to the 7%-11% average enjoyed in the stock market, that seems a shabby deal. Of course, the government promises an assured dividend for life - but consider the plight of Social Security before buying into such a proposal.

Americans don't need more low-return options for investing their money - they need more money! This proposal reeks of the same government-entitlement, unfunded-mandate syndrome which presently plagues our economy. Just as was done with Social Security, Congress will immediately spend the accumulated wealth and press for higher taxes (or beg foreign buyers to bolster our exponential debt) in order to recover shortfalls down the road.  

The Social Security crisis has apparently taught the Euro-socialist Democrats nothing. I could quote him almost daily, but this issue truly deserves Einstein's observation: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Categories > Economy


The Powers of the Senate and the Filibuster

As the arguments about whether the legislature may pass major health care reform via the reconciliation process, rather than the regular legislative process, I keep hearing comparisions to this debate with that of 2005, when republicans conisdered ignoring Democratic filibuster threats aimed at blocking nominees to various courts.  Two points, for starters seem to be worth making.

It is lamentable, though not surprising how common this comparison is. As a short glance at the U.S. Constitution reminds us, we are talking about two different powers.  Health care is legislation, as such it has to do with the Senate's powers under Article I of the Constitution. By contrast, the power to advise and consent is under Article II, and is one of the cases where the Senate partakes of the execuive power that is, for the most part, loged in the President of the United States. Whether filibuster is proper for and Article II process is very much open to question. Invoking the filibuster over nominees was unprecedented in 2005.

The second point is that the current debates vindicate the "gang of 14" who "saved the filibuster" by negotiating a deal whereby the Bush administration withdrew some nominees, and the Democrats in the Senate agreed not to filibuster the rest.  Even though there is a very big difference between using the filibuster for Article I powers than for Article II powers, it would have made no difference. Unfortunately, our political debate is too ill-informed nowadays for such things to come into play.

Categories > Congress


Great News, Bad News

John Judis calls our attention to a Pennsylvania poll that shows Pat Toomey with an eleven point lead over Arlen Specter.  If Specter makes it out of the Democratic primary (which is no sure thing), it is tough to see how Specter makes this up.  Its not like people are going to learn to like him more.

The crosstabs of the Franklin and Marshall poll that Judis cites are similar to the PPP polls before the Scott Brown race in Massachusetts.  Toomey beats Specter by more that 2 to 1 among whites, but Specter beats Toomey by over 20 to 1 (yes, you read that right) among nonwhites.  Specter also has a tiny lead over Toomey among young voters.  The last PPP poll of Massachusetts saw Scott Brown winning whites by 12 (thats alot anyway, but huge for Massachusetts) but losing nonwhites by large margins.  The good news is that there seems to have been a stampede of white persuadables towards Republicans in two Senate races and potentially in others where there is a credible Republican candidate.  The bad news is that this Republican surge seems based on winning whites by margins that I doubt are sustainable past the conditions of 2010.  The margins by which Republicans are losing nowhites are, I fear, all too sustainable if something does not change in Republican strategy.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs Hell in a Handbasket, Part 1: Nanny States and Nuclear Iran

Glossing over the news of the past few days, I've noticed that everything is bad, it's all wrong, and I ought to have just stayed in bed.

First in this series of woe, Mark Steyn is unassailable in his recognition that Western nanny states are happy to regulate everything joyous in life - except actually keeping us alive. Point in case, Iran is openly, defiantly and aggressively charging ahead toward nuclear weapons. "When President Obama took office," Steyn notes, "the Islamic Republic had 400 centrifuges enriching up to 3.5%. A year later, it has 8,000 centrifuges enriching to 20%."

Running other people's lives is simple when it's as easy as passing a law or issuing a regulation, but dealing with foreign (especially rogue) nations who flaut international law and aren't much impressed by fancy rhetoric calls for qualities of statesmanship and leadership not particularly common among au pair politicians.

Steyn concludes: "It is now certain that Tehran will get its nukes, and very soon. This is the biggest abdication of responsibility by the western powers since the 1930s." Let us pray that the consequence is not so dear. All our hope may now rest on Israel's willingness to save the Western world.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Pop Culture

Operation Petticoat?

From screwball comedy to official policy in fifty years.
Categories > Pop Culture


Ambinder Spins

Mickey Kaus likes to call the Atlantic Monthly's Marc Ambinder the dreidel  because of how easily the Obama White House spins him.  Here is Ambinder doing some freelance Democratic spin. 

Ambinder argues that the tea party folks are mostly right-leaning independents and that this is a least as much a problem for the GOP as the Democrats.  Ambinder argues that these voters are unlikely to vote for a Democrat in any case so that if they are unsatisfied, they will either back splinter candidates or stay home.  So if you count the tea partiers as already Republican votes, the best that the GOP can hope is to not lose (if the tea partiers show up and vote Republican) or just plain lose (if they stay home or vote for splinter candidates.

This makes several, almost certainly alse assumptions.  It assumes that the tea party participants and their sympathizers were already in the Republican bag.  National Review did a survey of tea party sympathizers and found that 68% of them supported had McCain.  Thats alot, but that 32% shows room for growth over 2008 if those voters an be mobilized.  That would qualify as a potential gain for the GOP I think.

Ambinder also ignores how the upsurge of tea party activism has brought thousands of Americans into a form of spontaneous(ish), decentralized, right-of-center political activism and creates the potential for expansion of right-of-center GOTV, fundraising, candidate recruitment and other forms of political involvement beyond voting.  The tea parties are much to be preferred to the combination of apathy and despair that greeted that McCain campaign - Palin aside. 

There are ways that the tea parties could lead the Republicans into error, but not in the ways that Ambinder describes.  Where the Republicans nominate a credible candidate who is not an outright liberal, there is no evidence that the tea partiers will cause trouble.  They might even have inspired some people to vote, donate or volunteer.  Where Republicans nominate a Dede Scozzafava, they deserve what they get.  My worry is that Republicans will confuse the voice of the tea partiers with the voice of the median American voter, who, when he or she looks back on the last eight years of Republican presidential administration, might not look at increased domestic spending as the biggest or worst error of Republican-led government. 

Categories > Politics


Michael Burlingame on Lincoln

Here is Michael Burlingame's Colloquium on Lincoln from last Friday.  You should, if you don't already, know about his comprehensive two-volume bio of Lincoln, which you can also now get on Kindle for only $81.00 (per word, not a bad price!).

Categories > History

Lay off Scott Brown, already!

So Massachusetts' newest senator has taken office, and has cast a procedural vote in favor of the $15 billion "jobs" bill backed by the administration and the Democrat leadership.  Now he's getting bashed as a "turncoat" for breaking ranks with the Republican leadership (along with four other GOP senators, including, needless to say, Ohio's own George Voinovich).  I say give the guy a break.  After all, he's a Republican from Massachusetts, a state with twice as many Democrats as Republicans.  Assuming he'd like to be reelected in 2012, he's going to have to show that he doesn't march in lockstep with the rest of his party.  Obviously the "jobs" bill is silly legislation, and it isn't going to create any jobs; it's predicated on the idea that a break on Social Security taxes is all it will take to make employers start hiring again (although, it must be said, it's hardly sillier than the notion that another cut in the marginal income tax rate will cause employers to do likewise).  But it's only $15 billion, which is chump change compared to the equally futile stimulus bill, not to mention the health care abomination.  So if Brown wants to use this as an opportunity to prove to Massachusetts voters that he's his own man, then I say let him.  As long as he opposes Obamacare, and cap and tax, I'm willing to forgive a great deal.

Pop Culture

Those Hitler Videos

The WSJ gives some background on their rise. The coarsening of our culture is seen in SNL's 1982 firing of the writer who composed a Hitler in the Bunker sketch parodying the head of NBC.  Of course the current videos (e.g., this one on Scott Brown) are intentionally over-the-top.  Three-Penny Opera (Pirate Jenny) shocked German audiences as well, even as the 1928 Bertold Brecht play (and 1931 film) delighted them.  Here are Acts 1 and 2 from a Northwestern University production, with George Grosz sketches as a prelude.

The principle underlying Machiavellianism is playing itself out, in more vulger form.  The author of the Prince wrote comedies

Categories > Pop Culture

Political Parties

Glenn Beck at CPAC

I had the pleasure of hearing Glenn Beck's speech at CPAC last Saturday. (A transcript is here, but I would recommend watching the video, as the delivery is as good as the speech itself.) It was a great speech and well worth listening to. Beck is a really smart, self-educated fellow, so there is a certain clarity to what he says that all of us as citizens can understand. In the speech, he talks about the principles of the American founding as well as the progressive movement's efforts to critique and transform those principles, and he talks about these things in ways that are clear and effective. One part of the speech, however, seems to have created a small stir:

Dick Cheney, a couple of days ago was here, and he says it's going to be a good year for conservative ideas. That's true. That's very true. ... It's going to be a very good year. But it's not enough just to not suck as much as the other side. ... I have not heard people in the Republican Party yet admit that they have a problem. And when they do say they have a problem I don't know if I believe them. I haven't seen the come-to-Jesus moment of the Republican Party yet. I've voted Republicans almost every time in - every time I've gone. I - I don't know what they even stand for any more. And they've got to recognize that they have a problem. Hello! My name is the Republican Party and I've got a problem. I'm addicted to spending and big government.

Bill Bennett, writing over at NRO, says Beck's rhetoric is "dangerous":

[F]or him to continue to say that he does not hear the Republican party admit its failings or problems is to ignore some of the loudest and brightest lights in the party. ... [T]o say the GOP needs to hit a recovery-program-type bottom and hang its head in remorse, is to delay our own country's recovery from the problems the Democratic left is inflicting. The stakes are too important to go through that kind of exercise, which will ultimately go nowhere anyway -- because it's already happened.

I generally find myself agreeing with Bill Bennett, and he makes some valid points about Beck's message. I would have thrown in Beck's comment about the purpose of government, where Beck says, "As I read the Constitution -- as I read the words of the founders, really, the only job of the United States government is to save us from bad guys." Of course, that is only partly true, and founders nicely summed up the pupose of government in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: to secure our natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But this is getting nit-picky, but so is Bennett. He is beating up Beck around the edges and on some minor points, and he is missing the big ones.  

The Republican party has a couple problems: (1) making sure the Tea Party movement doesn't fracture the party and (2) preparing to not only win elections this fall but also after the elections, preparing to lead in a way that helps build a stronger Republican majority (or as Beck might put it, to do more than just sucking less than the other guys). These two things are very closely related. The Tea Party movement's fast growth is a clear message that there is something lacking in the rhetoric or actions of many in the Republican Party. Whether or not you support the Tea Party movement, it is something to pay attention to, and for Republicans, it requires some action. 

Writing today over at the WSJ, John Fund suggests that Members of Congress should be mindful of Beck's message. I agree. Nothing in Beck's speech suggested splintering the Republican party. His speech was clearly friendly advice for those in the party for what to do and how to talk about it. Giving Bill Bennett the benefit of the doubt that the "loudest and brightest lights" of the Republican Party are already practising what Beck is calling for, the Tea Party movement proves that Republicans are not getting their message across. Beck offered up some good and effective ways for Republicans to talk about themselves and what they believe, and more importantly, advice for how to teach and talk about the principles upon which our country was founded. Republicans shouldn't view Beck's speech as an attack. If they want to avoid a third party being created and work to build a larger Republican majority, they should listen to what Beck is saying and learn from the rhetoric in his speech.
Categories > Political Parties


Choirs or Guitars?

The National Council of Churches' 2010 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches reports the continuing trends of growth in traditional, conservative churches and decline in mainline, liberalizing churches. Catholicism, the largest church in America several times over, grew 1.5%, while mainline Protestantism - Methodists, Baptists, and particularly Presbyterians (down 3.3%) - heavily declined.

The reasons for membership flux are diverse - including immigration, birth-rates, conversions / newcomers and disaffection - yet the aggregate of such factors has long favored faiths which do not sail smoothly with the drift of society.

Of interest, Catholicism is accompanied by relatively unorthodox faiths (Mormons, Assemblies of God) in boasting growth. These denominations share comparatively strict moral standards and demand a great deal from parishioners. That is, they are far more burdensome than mainstream alternatives. And yet they flourish while others fail. To wit, Jack Haberer, editor of Presbyterian Outlook magazine, lamented:

Baby boomers who are also Christians, in general, have been drawn more to churches that are more informal, less institutional and more rock 'n' roll-ish. Presbyterians and other mainline denominations have been very slow in reading those trends and thinking through a way to accommodate without compromising the theological integrity.

They've mastered the first prong - accommodation - though maintaining integrity may be a feat which no amount of thinking will accomplish, if the first prong is inviolable.

Perhaps it is that the very lure of religion is the mysticism and trial involved. In the immortal words of Jimmy Dugan: "It's supposed to be hard. ... The hard... is what makes it great." Further, the spiritual rewards of a profound faith are more likely to retain practitioners than one offering mere regurgitations of Sesame Street, feel-good lullabies. Religion requires leadership, and while pandering to modern mores may pacify lukewarm C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christians, it rather offends the principled convictions of the passionate believer.

Categories > Religion


Partisanship and Political Competition

Byron York's post about Evan Bayh's retirement is spot on, and gives us much to ponder.  Bayh, York notes, complains that:

The Senate just ain't what it used to be. "While romanticizing the Senate of yore would be a mistake, it was certainly better in my father's time," Bayh writes.

My father, Birch Bayh, represented Indiana in the Senate from 1963 to 1981. A progressive, he nonetheless enjoyed many friendships with moderate Republicans and Southern Democrats.

One incident from his career vividly demonstrates how times have changed. In 1968, when my father was running for re-election, Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader, approached him on the Senate floor, put his arm around my dad's shoulder, and asked what he could do to help. This is unimaginable today.

One reason that scene is unimaginable today is that in the 1960s Washington was a one-party capital in ways that it is not now. When Dirksen put his arm around the elder Bayh's shoulder, there were 64 Democrats in the Senate. The session before, from 1965 to 1967, there were 68 Democrats. In fact, for the decade from 1959 to 1969, there were never fewer than 64 Democrats in the Senate. The party controlled the House by similarly huge margins (in 1966, there were 295 Democrats in the House), and of course occupied the White House from 1961 to 1969. Beyond that, media coverage of politics was controlled by the Washington Post, New York Times, CBS and NBC -- outlets mostly friendly to the party in power, with no talk radio, no Internet, and no Fox News. There wasn't just one-party rule in Dirksen's and Bayh's time; there was one-party domination. Republicans mostly went along, not making a lot of trouble.

Democrats still long for the days when the Republicans were like the Washington Generals, the team whose job it is to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters every day.  Since 1980, when the GOP took the Senate back for the first time in decades, and, even moreso since 1994, when the GOP took both houses of Congress for the first time since the 1950s, that has ceased to be the case.  The Democratic leadership is, I fear, still lost in the sixties.  As a new generation arises, that was raised after 1994, that might, finally, start to change. Until then, things will remain nasty in Congress. 

Categories > Politics


George Washington

Today is George Wahington's birthday!  Here is his Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, to remind us the things for which we stand: civil and religious liberty.  Allow me to bring this good book on Washington to your attention, A Sacred Union of Citizens.
Categories > Presidency

Political Parties

Two Be, or Not Two Be

Frank Fleming's flamboyant rant on third (and fourth) political parties at Pajamas Media is both fun and instructive:

The problem with third parties is that they always take from the extreme ends, weakening just one of the parties and leaving the party with the opposite views of the third party the strongest. Just listen to liberals whine about Ralph Nader for his part in the 2000 election. Also, third parties attract all the crazies -- all the people who give up on the social niceties (read: "sanity") -- needed to be a member of one of the major parties. For instance, libertarians have seemingly rational stances of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism, but who does the Libertarian Party nominate? Candidates who dye themselves blue and like to have their promotional pictures taken with ferrets. The only real way a third party could be viable would be to steal the moderates out of both parties, which would basically be a repeat of Obama promising some ephemeral hope and change and no specifics (specifics and principled stances scare moderates).

Naturally, I have a certain sympathy for multi-party systems - as I've been thoroughly indoctrinated during my years abroad and daily eye the cool-aid with mounting thirst. However, the paramount problem with a third party in America is our presidential, rather than parliamentary, emphasis. Dividing a consequential, winner-takes-all, one-shot election is suicide. The Tea Party, for example, could command serious reform (on the right, at least) if they controlled a dozen votes in the House and a couple Senate seats. That's the foundation of coalition government, and it lobbies well for compromise from the establishment.

Everyone would know that Tea Partiers were simply schismatic Republicans - and that would be fine. If seen as a sensible, mainstream alternative, they'd give the GOP an interesting diversity, allow unrest to flow somewhere other than the Democratic party and give the right a bi-partisan, open-to-compromise-and-new-ideas gloss. But, unlike the Green and Libertarian parties, the Tea Party and GOP would need to be seen as embracing one another as worthy allies and adversaries.

Of course, the better idea would be for the GOP to usurp the Tea Parties main themes. But the GOP has been giving lip-service to those ideas for decades - and no one believes them any longer! 

Categories > Political Parties

Literature, Poetry, and Books

"O for a Muse of fire"

Hie thee to Washington, DC and delight in the Shakespeare Theatre's Richard II and Henry V (both playing until April 10). The two contrasting kings are played by the same actor, Michael Hayden (No, not the former CIA Director!).  The staging is in the more traditional mode (quite in contrast to the Theatre's As You Like It) but with considerable ingenuity in the Harfleur siege, the execution of Bardolph, and the slaying of the Fench hostages (lamentably omitted in the Kenneth Branaugh movie), among other scenes.  Some of the directors' decisions are disputable (Agincourt battle--more arrows, please), but the actors do justice to the Bard's portrayal of this "mirror of all Christian kings." 
The parallels of the English monarchy with Israel's kings in Samuel and Kings becomes abundantly clear:  Just as Israel's fulfillment was to be found in the New Testament, so England's would be found in Abraham Lincoln.

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Psychoanlyzing Gollum

The Volokh Conspiracy on Smeagol/Gollum's character, via "Pass the Biscuits" at WheatandWeeds.  (By the way, the reader of the Books on Tape versions of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Rob Inglis, brings out his repulsiveness.)


Cold Water

Ron Paul may have won the CPAC straw poll, but from what I saw, Marco Rubio got the best reaction.  The crowd didn't just love him, they wanted to love him really badly.  But there were parts where his message and his thinking could have been sharper.  Here are some thoughtful criticisms by David Frum that bear some thinking about and some hyperbolic criticisms by Daniel Larison that are worth answering, if only as a prelude to coming up with a governing conservatism.  I generally share Rubio's perspective and I sure favor him over a glad hander like Charlie Crist, but the George W. Bush years taught us something about the potential pitfalls of careless rhetoric and thinking.   
Categories > Politics


The Continuing Climate Follies

I sounded off again in the New York Post yesterday about the continuing collapse of the climate campaign. Among other observations, it is increasingly apparent that the climategate e-mails have done for the climate change debate what the Pentagon Papers did for the Vietnam War debate 40 years ago--changed the narrative decisively.  All of Al Gore's horses and all of of Al Gore's men can't put this Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

Meanwhile, I have fled to Montana to escape the snow and ice and cold in Washington DC (so how freaky is that?), and the Bozeman Chronicle gave a nice write up to the lunch talk I gave to a property rights group in Bozeman on Thursday about the climate collapse.  Though this was a property rights group, a lot of them seemed equally concerned with the Second Amendment, judging from some of the hardware a few of them were packing.  The story leaves out my suggestion that the US should make any climate assistance to the developing world agreed to at Copenhagen contingent on the recipient nation establishing secure property rights for individuals (Bangladesh rates a measly 20 points on a 0 - 100 scale for property rights protection on one transnational index, for example).  I'm sure if we make this our position at future climate negotiations, heads will explode at the UN.

On tap today: Skiing in Big Sky.  No shortage of global warming snow here.

UPDATE (already):  Absolutely do not miss Walter Russell Mead's latest beatdown of the climate campaign over at The American Interest.  Mead has been writing some great stuff on this, but today he is on fire, and makes me look like a squish.  He says the climate campaign is "doorknob dead."  Small sample:

Now they are just another piece of roadkill on the heartless historical highway-an unforgiving place for people who seek to change the behavior of the world through comprehensive treaties, like the nuclear freeze proponents before them and like the advocates of the Grand Global Treaty Against War in the 1920s. . .   This phase of the climate change movement was immature, unrealistic and naive.  It was poorly organized and foolishly led.  It adopted an unrealistic and unreachable political goal, and sought to stampede world opinion through misleading and exaggerated statements.

Mead harshest words are reserved for that distinguished Nobel Prize winner, Al Gore.
Categories > Environment


Meritocracy without Merit

David Brooks has no regard for the old Establishment and admires the new meritocracy based on equality of opportunity. 

Yet here's the funny thing. As we've made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We've increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower.

It's not even clear that society is better led.

The elites of finance, government, and journalism, for example, have not produced better policy than before.  Brooks proposes some interesting possibilities for these lousy results:  there is too much transparency (and therefore less trust) in government, there is less mutual trust within each elite, merit has been ill-defined, and quick results count more than steady growth. 

But Brooks is describing what Progressives have wanted from their new vision of government.  See Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, a century ago.  The character of elites in fact reflects the perversity of meritocratic education.  (See Plato's Gorgias or recall the foul-mouthed Ivy League-educated traders at the beginning of Bonfire of the Vanities.)  Moreover, Brooks avoids discussing the effects of feminism and its peculiar place in the pathology of elites and meritocracy.  Racial preferences would seem to play little role, but the power of sex does.  One observation:  Consider women who started their careers as public school teachers and wound up in powerful Washington positions.  Were their former teaching positions occupied by people as talented?  The women who rose doubtless went to more satisfying positions but at a social cost.

Consider as well the abolition of the draft.  It is hard to imagine Professors Seth Benardete, Harvey Mansfield, or James V. Schall as army privates, but there they were.  The professionalization of the military made it more effective but again at a social cost. 

We observe one of the problems of a free society:  the individual good frequently clashes with the social good.  Statesmanship seeks to harmonize the two, but no one is rushing to fulfil this obligation.  

Categories > Education


Tax Reform, Human Nature, and Big Government

If I recall the thesis of Cass Sunstein's book Nudge correctly, it argues that people are irrational in predictable ways. It notes that if the default option is to buy into a pension system with one's employer most people will do so, but if they default goes the other way, most will not, and other such quirks of human behavior.

Would this apply to taxes?  When there is automatic witholding, people don't notice how much money our government is taking from our paychecks. That's probably too strong.  People certainly notice, but I suspect that it doesn't have the same impact as it would if the money were in hand first.  The current system, I suspect, makes it easier to allow taxes to rise and government to grow.  It thus lowers the threshold for deciding when a government progam is called for to solve a particular problem.  If, however, we changed the system, and ended witholding, would that change things?  Having to pay up every April 15th, rather than waiting for a refund every spring (as so many do, since they withold too much), might change the bias in our system?

Perhaps it would make no difference, but I suspect not. At the very least, it would make our system more transparent.

Categories > Economy


Worth the Nonsense

So I'm reading John Kenneth White's Barack Obama's America and it is worth the time.  I've rarely read a book whose virtues and vices are so well illustrated by its back cover blurbs.  The praise of pollsters Stan Greenberg and Richard Wirthlin gives some idea of the book's power in explaining demographic trends.  White demonstrates how quickly many communities have changed and the consequences of so many new voters who have little or no personal experience of the 1970s and 1980s.  This puts some perspective to Mike Pence's question to Obama in which he compared Obama's job creation tax credits to failed Carter-era policies.  How many Americans, because of recent arrival or youth (or both) had no clue what Pence was talking about?

White does a good job explaining  the consequences of the Republican party's failure to win over new constituencies and how California is a preview.  The Orange County based California -47 district didn't just send a conservative Republican to Congress.  It sent the cartoonish Robert Dornan.  Now it is a reliably Democratic district represented by the liberal Loretta Sanchez.  He also highlights the expansion of Latino populations in places like Geogia and Virginia.  White is correctly relentless in explaining the consequences of a Republican party that loses nonwhites by huge margins.  One of my worries is that the rhetoric and institutions of the American Right (conservative talk radio, Fox News, the tea parties, even the Scott Brown campaign) are having trouble connecting or even talking to  large segments of the American public and missing out on making many converts and allies.  White lays out gives some sense of the scale of the challenge.

The endorsement of the foolish and shallow Kathleen Kennedy Townsend  gives an idea of the distorted liberal mythologizing that mars the book.  White just can't bring himself to describe why people ever voted for conservative candidates without smugly writing off their concerns and principles and substituting 1980s vintage liberal rationalizations.  The reader will be enriched to learn that Americans voted for conservatives because the New Deal made them wealthy, selfish, anti-tax skinflints, and that Reagan "spellbound" them with nostalgic appeals to an idealized past.  This was the same whiny nonsense you could have gotten from a bitter and not-too-bright Mondale staffer after three drinks.  Its good to know that people had no valid concerns about staglation, unemployment, bracket creep, crime, or the structure of the welfare system.  Otherwise, White might have had to rethink his prejudices.  White isn't as bad as Paul Krugman when it comes to mythologizing away liberal defeats, but it gets bad enough that he can't produce a clear picture of Reagan (and late 1900s conservatism's) appeal.  It is just a fairytale for liberal interested in self-congratulation.

White's judgement is off in other ways.  While he mentions the Iraq War,White attributes Rick Santorum's defeat to chaning opinions about gender roles and cultural liberalism generally.  You won't learn the Democrats knocked Santorum off when they nominated a pro-lifer. He attributes Arlen Specter switching parties due to evidence that a Republican could not win satewide in Pennsylvania. I seem to remember it had more to do with polls showing that Pat Toomey was crushing him in the race for the Republican nomination.  Its not like Specter was reticent  about why he switched parties. 

I came away from White's book wondering how much the challenges for conservatives in post-Reagan era America resembled the challenges of pre-Reagan era America.  In 1964, we had just been taught that if the parties were ever ideologically polarized, liberal Democrats would always win and conservative Republicans would always lose.  Conservatives faced the difficult task of making inroads among constituencies that revered liberal icons and were suspicious-to-hosile to conservatives.  We did it before and we can do it again.        

Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

Ashbrook Award at CPAC

C-SPAN ran George Will's talk at CPAC last night (begins at about 14th minute) as well as the annual Ashbrook Award (begins at about 46th minute) to Roy Innis.

Why global warming is bad

It apparently causes acne, melanoma, kidney stones, and asthma; it confuses birds, threatens Buddhist temples, robs Italy of pasta, causes giant squid to migrate, affects the sex life of crocodiles, pushes poor women into prostitution; brings infestations of spiders, toads, vampire moths (but apparently no locusts--yet); extinctions of bats, turtles, pandas, koalas, orangutans; UFO sightings, and much, much more!

NOW HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY?  Don't answer yet....


Outreach and Diversity

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of my favorite liberal bloggers.  I think he often gets it wrong (but then again I would), but I also thinks he makes an honest effort to be fair, and that is all I can really ask of anybody.  We also seem to have alot of nerd interests in common.  Here is Coates writing about Michael Steele's election as RNC chairman.  It is worth a read.  I'll still be here when you come back.

One thing that strikes me is Coates writing that making Steele RNC chairman is the begining of something.  I disagree, and I still would even if Steele had turned out to be less gaffe-prone.  The GOP's problem with African-Americans (in its modern form) has never been that it has been too slow to promote African-Americans into its party elites or appoint African-Americans to high office.  It has been an inability to win over African-American voters beyond that 10% of African-Americans who seem to have bought into some version of the conservative narrative of the recent past.  Since the problem is not the lack of inclusion of African-Americans into highly visible party elites, it can't be the answer - or at least not the crucial first part of the answer.  In fact, to the extent that pursuing outreach primarily by expanding the role of African-American Republicans in visible positions might actually give the false impression of progress when none is really happening, one could just be wasting time.  The sad truth is that Republicans would not do much better among African-Americans if they nominated an all African-American presidential ticket.  This doesn't mean that Republicans should not try to recruit African-American candidates and office holders, it just means that hopes for political returns in the form of higher vote totals among African Americans should be kept modest.

So what to do?  The first thing is to figure out what you need in order to win over a constituency the majority of whom are deeply suspicious of your party.  It starts with an understanding of the dominant narrative of the past within the constituency. That means understanding how the dominant narrative of the role of the federal government, the history of freedom, and American exceptionalism (among other issues) might, if one is not careful, alienate conservatives even from those African-Americans who might share their policy preferences on taxes, abortion, cap and trade, health care or whatever.  This is a huge rhetorical problem because it means examining virtually every word from a perspective of the past that most conservative have not internalized.  The second is crafting a policy agenda that is compelling enough to win people over even when, by history and sentiment, they would be inclined to vote for the other party.  This is a huge problem too, and there are no easy answers.  My first tentative suggestion is that it is unwise to focus too much on any one issue.  The third is the commitment to investing the time and other resources needed to get your message out and convince people that you are serious about representing thier interests and principles and getting their votes.  Coates was right when he wrote, "your persistence is more important than your [expletive]."  If you don't get those three things right, it doesn't matter what else you do or don't have. 

One thing Coates wrote did rankle.  It was when he wrote about the modern Republican party "celebrating its own homogeneity".  I think the idea of the modern Republican party being homogenous (or having an identity as homogenous) is literally an optical illusion.  The Republican party that emerged from the 1970s had more religious, ethnic, and regional diversity than the its earlier incarnation.  Its just that we aren't used to thinking of adding white Southerners, evangelical Christians, Boston Irish-Catholics, and Wisconsin Polish-Americans to a group as adding diversity.  But it is.  This history of the Republican party both moving to the right and expanding its demographic base, should provide some hope that the Republican party (which is of course the country's more conservative party) will have a chance to prosper within the country's changing demographics - even if it will take alot more wisdom and skill than its leaders have shown lately.    


Categories > Race

Political Parties

Resentment and Populism

George Will is at his best with this column on Sarah Palin.  Good paragraph:
"America, its luck exhausted, at last has a president from the academic culture, that grating blend of knowingness and unrealism. But the reaction against this must somewhat please him. That reaction is populism, a celebration of intellectual ordinariness. This is not a stance that will strengthen the Republican Party, which recently has become ruinously weak among highly educated whites. Besides, full-throated populism has not won a national election in 178 years, since Andrew Jackson was reelected in 1832."

Categories > Political Parties

Pop Culture

Has the Final Countdown begun on Countdown?

Nick Gillespie of Reason wonders how long Keith Olbermann's show can remain on the air, and notes the similarities between the hysterical talk-show host and first, a certain dramatic chipmunk (actually a prairie dog), and second, Captain Queeg.

And, in case you're questioning the value of an armed populace, consider this.

Categories > Pop Culture

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Django Reinhardt

Will Friedwald reminds us of a great jazz guitarist some of us still listen to.  Here is J'attendrai Swing from 1939; you can not only hear him (and his band), but also see him playing.


Obama's Nuclear Option

Rarely have I enjoyed the opportunity to praise the Obama administration, and I would hardly have thought the chance would present itself in the context of environmentalism and energy policy. However, Obama "seized a key Republican energy initiative as his own Tuesday, promising $8.33 billion in federal loan guarantees for a pair of Georgia [nuclear] reactors."

The nuclear initiative serves the president's agenda on a number of fronts, from climate-change and clean-energy to job-creation and lessening U.S. dependency on foreign oil. Further, it is a practical compromise on Obama's part. Having achieved little to nothing of his presidential agenda by way of unilateral force, Obama realizes that he needs to pass something - anything - before the November elections. A bipartisan compromise offering talking points on jobs, national security and energy is a blessing.

Of course, the devil's in the details. Obama can still wreck the proposal by refusing to loosen burdensome regulations which have stalled the nuclear industry for 30 years. Government loans are only necessary because government regulations make nuclear energy unprofitable - Obama's gesture will prove just another fiscal black hole unless the industry is untethered from environmental oppression. This will infuriate the left - but that might serve Obama's interests among moderates.

Republicans would be wise to seize on this gesture and ensure voters that they are happy to compromise on reasonable, bipartisan legislation. But they must restrain Obama's inevitable impulse toward liberal excesses, which will appear in the form of cap-and-trade proposals to accompany the nuclear initiative. Supporting nuclear energy while opposing cap-and-trade as an environmental tax hike, Republicans can emerge as both bipartisan and fiscally responsible.

But that's a price Obama should be willing to pay for a demonstrable accomplishment at this point. If he'd taken this approach with health-care, he would likely be touting a Clintonesque, bipartisan victory (however partial, from his perspective) rather than the humiliating and self-destructive defeat which he orchestrated. 

Categories > Technology


Apolitical Journalism as Spin and Ideological Journalism as... Journalism

Are the New York Times' Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee-Brenan on some kind of Democratic spin mission (h/t to liberal blogger Jamelle Bouie)?  Do they actually think it is more relevant that Obama polls better than congressional Republicans and George W. Bush than Obama's sinking job approval and his even lower approval on the issues?  It is amazing that Nagourney and Thee-Brenan build three anti-Republican, anti-filibuster, pro-Obama paragraphs around cherry picked poll respondent quotes, but couldn't find room to mention Obama's horrible 35/55 approve/disapprove split on the issue of health care.  It reminds me of when Sean Hannity used to argue that Palin was a viable general election presidential candidate because she polled better than Nancy Pelosi.  Well part of Hannity's business is spinning things for his side and comforting his audience.  Nagourney and Thee-Brenan too I guess. 

Then there is Rich Lowry on how the polls might understate the problems of swing-district or swing-state Democrats.  Lowry notes that Obama's job approval numbers are worse among white voters than among the population in general and that Obama's approval numbers on policy are even worse than his job approval numbers.  Lowry correctly notes that this kind of data should give Democrats that represent constituencies with few nonwhite voters plenty of reason to worry.  Yea, Lowry is a political guy, but it is solid analysis and not spin.

I also note that the circumstances of Obama's fairly low job approval are also subject to change, and not in ways conservatives should like.  Lowry later publishes an email from a friend who argues that the economy will probably recover faster than most conservatives assume and that conservatives had better be ready for the changed circumstances.  I'm not optimistic.  I also think that Republicans should get back to reminding the voters in every speech about what was wrong with Obamacare (the tax increases, the premium increases, the mandates, the Medicare cuts) rather than process stuff.  If Obama's job approval were a stock, I would say that it might not have quite hit bottom, but it is a buy and hold. 

Then again, I'm one of the last people you should go to for stock advice on actual stocks. 

Categories > Journalism

Health Care

The American Prospect's Evolving Thoughts on Political Compromise

Pete Spiliakos calls our attention to Paul Waldman's uncompromising ideas about a health care compromise.  Writing for The American Prospect's blog, Waldman rejected the idea that Democrats should even consider anything beyond token concessions to get some Republican votes for a health care reform bill. 

"Democrats are the ones in charge," writes Waldman. "They won the last election. The starting presumption ought to be that they have a right to implement their agenda. If there's compromising to be done, Republicans ought to be doing most of it. After all, they're the minority, not the majority. They're the ones who lost the last election. Why is that so hard to understand?"

Well, there are at least two reasons for the world's stubborn refusal to see what's screamingly obvious to Waldman.  One of them is noted by Ross Douthat of the New York Times.  Waldman, he says, is writing as though the political situation in February 2010 is indistinguishable from the one in February 2009.  It isn't.  Barack Obama's approval ratings have dropped below 50%, Republicans have won big victories in the blue states of New Jersey and Massachusetts, and public opinion polls show the Democrats' health care proposal has more opponents than supporters.  All of these signs argue the mid-term elections are going to be unpleasant for the Democrats.  It's easy for writers to tell politicians to ignore the next election and think only about the mandate conferred by the last one.  The problem is that the sort of politicians who take that advice either don't get elected to Congress, or don't stay very long once they arrive.

The second problem is Waldman's magazine had a less sweeping view on the prerogatives of the majority in the ancient days of 2005.  In 2004 a Republican president won a second term; Republicans gained three seats in the House of Representatives, securing a 232-202 majority; and four seats in the Senate, where the GOP held a 55-45 majority.  I don't recall lots of liberal journalists looking at those numbers five years ago and saying that if there are any compromises to be made, Democrats ought to be the ones making them.

Instead, the American Prospect was applauding the evidence that Senate Democrats have "already been very impressive in using their leverage to make points and cause a little mischief when the opportunity arises," and that they discovered this capacity because they "resisted the myth that 'obstructionism' is politically deadly and to be avoided."  When some Capitol Hill Democrats did indicate they might look for a compromise on Pres. Bush's Social Security reforms, the Prospect was contemptuous: "Democrats are winning this fight, and should accept nothing less than surrender."

In February 2010 Republicans believe that the Democratic approach to health care reform is fundamentally flawed as a matter of policy, and unalterably disliked by a majority of the people as a fact of politics.  They believe, in other words, that they are winning this fight and should accept nothing less than surrender.  Why is that so hard to understand?

Categories > Health Care


The Tea-Party and Imperial Traditions

Richard Samuelson, an American historian at Princeton's Madison Program this year, relates today's tea parties to the protests of the 1770s and also today's Progressive administrative state to the Imperial government suffered by the colonists.  Samuelson's conclusion:

Now we can see how today's tea parties resemble those of yesteryear. As more and more government operations are taken off the books, popular frustration rises. Similarly, and ironically, bureaucracies often serve the industries they regulate rather than the public good. When the government is unresponsive to the views of the people, and, beyond that, when our administrative and judicial branches restrict the scope of the people's legislative rights, protest rises. President Obama, an heir to the Progressive tradition, wants to strengthen this unaccountable, administrative state. The response has been altogether fitting.

A further comparison of some major Obama policies (such as its handling of terrorists) with the first grievances in the Declaration is also appropriate.

Categories > History

Political Parties

Good Politics

The news of the day and the week and the month is a dysfunctional Congress, a hyper-partisan Congress, a broken system without leadership, even brain-dead politics.  John Podesta, a Democrat and an Obama man, said to a British paper that the health of US politics "sucks".  Evan Bayh agrees.  This, of course, is wrong.  This WSJ Editorial is closer to the truth: We are in the middle of the fourth Liberal crackup and the so-called mess is not unprecedented in American politics. 

Equally pregnant with meaning, a student said something interesting to me yesterday.  He said he now understood why the first book we read as Freshmen is Xenophon's "Education of Cyrus"; the class is Understanding Politics.  Other things aside, men are hard to govern, X begins.  Then the student said that American men may be especially hard to govern.  I said, yup, not bad, that's why you to try to understand the American mind and read the Constitution the second semester; the class is clalled Democracy in America. Our current politics isn't brain dead politics at all and the system isn't broken.  It's working exactly as it should.  It is supposed to be messy and inefficient; it's supposed to be difficult to form a majority and even once formed, it should be difficult to govern. That majority had better be a constitutional one, or the people will not be amused. The people prefer self-government to being pushed around by haughty lefties.  Yet they are open to being persuaded, they are willing to have conversations about things; but they are unwilling to be called names, or to have "the system" decried. 

Now--over the next year or two--we will find out if the Republicans can explain to folks why this is a good thing, and why politics is much more than "public policy" and "problem solving" as the progressives would have us think. If Republicans can do this--use these interesting times to make a powerful argument for limited constitutional government and why it is a fine thing--they will prosper, as will the American way of self-government.  In the meantime, those Democrats who claim to be in the majority (and claim to be representing the interest of the people) but continue to whine about how they cannot get anything done will continue to suck pond water.  

Categories > Political Parties


Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Shrove (or, colloquially, Fat) Tuesday has sadly concluded the spectacle of Venice's carnival (Latin: farewell to meat), and today, Ash Wednesday (the Dies Cinerum: Day of Ashes), marks the commencement of the 40-day Lenten season of fasting and penance preceding Easter. Before the altar, faithful around the world will be marked by the ashes of last year's Palm Crosses as priests exhort: "Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent, and hear the Gospel."

It is traditional to "give up" something for Lent - usually smoking, chocolate or some other annoying habit. I overheard someone comment that Barrack Obama would be giving up free-market capitalism. Whereas my usual custom is to give up whale meat, arctic swimming and big game hunting in Africa during Lent, I'm thinking of something more spiritually fulfilling this year - perhaps a cover-to-cover Bible reading (it's about two books / day). I'd welcome any suggestions from our fair readers.... 

Categories > Religion

Health Care

Health Care, Costs, and Progress

This article caught my eye:

"Patients interview you," said Dr. Cadeddu, a urologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "They say: 'Do you use the robot? O.K., well, thank you.' " And they leave.

On one level, robot-assisted surgery makes sense. A robot's slender arms can reach places human hands cannot, and robot-assisted surgery is spreading to other areas of medicine.

But robot-assisted prostate surgery costs more -- about $1,500 to $2,000 more per patient. And it is not clear whether its outcomes are better, worse or the same. . . .

It is also not known whether robot-assisted prostate surgery gives better, worse or equivalent long-term cancer control than the traditional methods, either with a four-inch incision or with smaller incisions and a laparoscope. And researchers know of no large studies planned or under way.

The reason why I found this story interesting is because of the problem it presents for nationalizing health care.  Given such studies, it seems likely that a government panel would refuse to fund the robotic surgery.  The trouble is that, it is entirely possible that in five years, given continued funding, practice, experimentation, and technical development, that could change.  And it's probably that the cost of robotic surgery has come down over time. Would a technocrat, looking at this study conclude that it's best to save money by not funding such (potential) innovation?  After all, it is possible that, in this case, there will be no further progress or cost savings.  When there's one big, unified system, there's much less room for innovation.  Sometimes, the civil servants guess which technology is the way of the future, and then we're stuck with it, whether it works or not.  The less unified the system, the more room there is for trial and error, argument, innovation, and competition, for both trying new things, and for deserting failed experiments.  This is the sense in which it's proper to say that the market is more efficient than the alternatives.  It is terribly inefficient in the narrow sense, since so many experiments fail.  But the pace of innovation is usually much more rapid. 

Categories > Health Care


Apropos of nothing, of course, it would appear that Lake Erie has frozen over for the first time in fourteen years.

In the world of fashion design, heavier fabrics--even fur--have been making a comeback.  The fabulous Olympic skater Johnny Weir has, however, decided to switch to fake fur after receiving death threats from animal rights activists.

We continue to learn more interesting tidbits about the personality of Amy Bishop.

Finally, today marks the one-year anniversary of the day that we got our little girl


Stop Crying

Paul Waldman is upset that "compromise" between Democrats and Republican would involve liberal activists losing large chunks of their dream for state-run health care.  I mean if winning two straight elections based on a mismanaged war and a banking collapse doesn't entitle you transform health care, then what does?  I mean after all, elections have consequences right?

The problem is that the Republicans have, for the moment, won the public argument over whether the versions of Obamacare passed in 2009 were good policy.  That meant that Republicans had little to lose in opposing those plans and swing-district House Democrats and swing-state (which I guess now includes Massachusetts) Senate Democrats risked everything to support them. 

The unpopularity of Obamacare is really the story of the Senate Republicans' party discipline on the issue.  It ain't majic.  The Republican Senate moderates like Snowe and Collins are unprincipled and publicity-hungry, just like Ben Nelson, but have a keener sense of their political interests.  They would sell out Mitch McConnell for pez if they thought it would increase their approval ratings at home and get them the first segment on the 6:30 network news shows.  If Obamacare were polling in the mid-50s, at least one of the Maine Senators would have found that Obamacare + a big federal check for Maine (Moose moolah) = The Bipartisan Change America Needs.

That means that winning Republican support for a health care reform plan will involve substantive concessions.  All the whining about how the Democrats having won the last two elections obligates the Republicans to support Obamacare in return for some policy crumbs won't change the political incentives at work.  The Democrats have come up with two plans that alienate the vast majority of Republicans on substantive grounds.  The bills are unpopular, so the opportunistic "moderate" Republicans can't be bought off with some home-state bucks - heck they were so unpopular that the Democratic congressional leadership could barely buy off its own members.    

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Africa and the West

The New York Times reports that colonialism is alive and well:

In neighboring Uganda, the homosexuality issue has become front-page news after a lawmaker with the governing party proposed executing gay people. Most people in Uganda support criminalizing homosexuality, and an anti-gay bill is being debated by the cabinet. But in recent interviews, many people said they thought imposing the death penalty was going too far.

The anti-gay bill has catalyzed a firestorm of criticism, with many of Uganda's foreign aid donors voicing concern and some even threatening to cut off much needed help. In recent weeks, the Ugandan government has indicated that it may water down the bill or scrap it all together. Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's powerful president, who has been in office for 24 years, recently expressed apprehensions about the bill because it was becoming a "foreign policy issue."

"The prime minister of Canada came to see me, and what was he talking about? Gays," Mr. Museveni said. "Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to see me, and what was he talking about? Gays. Mrs. Clinton rang me. What was she talking about? Gays."

Andrew Wasswa, a gay activist in Uganda, said he attended a meeting on Wednesday between several gay rights activists and high-ranking government officials, but it still was not clear what the government was going to do.

"They kept asking us, 'Why all this criticism, why all this pressure?' " he said. "They seemed more concerned about the foreign pressure than anything."

Categories > Foreign Affairs


PC Soldiers

Drawing on his military experience, the Sage of Mt. Airy points out the dangers of the political correct (on environment, religion, sexuality) military to mission effectiveness.  Peer pressure

works by forcing those soldiers whose principal concern is military effectiveness (and thank God there's still plenty of them) to simply accept the PC codes as part of the "given" in any problem they face. Political correctness is, with a "can do" shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders, simply accepted as one more obstacle to be overcome. The effective officer figures out a way to work around it.

But the way around it is always inefficient, sometimes dangerous and far too often dispiriting. My son is a U.S. Army First Lieutenant currently serving in Iraq. When I asked him about his training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi immediately prior to his deployment he answered with this: "Dad, I'm not sure how we'll perform in combat, if and when we engage the enemy, but one thing I do know, we'll sure as hell not sexually harass them."

Now I suspect some of you may think I'm overstating the case. If so, ask yourself this question, or better yet, ask it of anyone you know (male or female, straight or gay, white or not) who holds a position of command in the military, at any level of responsibility: Is their duty of disciplining a poor performing soldier complicated or simplified if the individual in question is a straight white male? We all know the answer to this.

Categories > Military


Evan Bayh Quits

ABC News is reporting that Sen. Evan Bayh (D) will not run for re-election.    Dan Coats has announced that he will run for the seat.
Categories > Elections


Stop Calling It "President's Day"!

Unless you want a day to honor William Henry Harrison.  It remains Washington's Birthday, George Washington scholar Matthew Spalding insists.  (See his book, co-authored with Patrick Garrity, which remains the best book on Washington's ideas.)

The Monday Holiday Law in 1968--applied to executive branch departments and agencies by Richard Nixon's Executive Order 11582 in 1971--moved the holiday from February 22 to the third Monday in February. Section 6103 of Title 5, United States Code, currently designates that legal federal holiday as "Washington's Birthday." Contrary to popular opinion, no action by Congress or order by any President has changed "Washington's Birthday" to "President's Day."
Categories > Presidency

Pop Culture

My Stinky Valentine

Nothing says "I love you" like poop!
Categories > Pop Culture


I mean, seriously, could it?

Et tu, Phil Jones?

UPDATE: I just got off the phone with my parents, who live in southern Florida, near Naples.  The high there today is in the low sixties.  I am now more firmly convinced than ever by the reality of global warming, because 1) when we went to visit them in January, the highs were in the fifties, and 2) it wasn't snowing, either then or now.

Or wait--is it lack of snow that means there's global warming, or excessive snow?  I'm having trouble keeping that part straight.

Categories > Environment

The Founding

Was the Founding Christian?

This NY Times Sunday Magazine article strains to get it right but doesn't quite get there.  Using the Texas textbook adoption controversy as a hook, author Russell Shorto reports on the Christian Right's attempt to link the Declaration of Indendence (with its multiple references to God, in various forms) and the Constitution.  Shorto (and probably many of the activists he interviewed) could have noted the pairing of American time and Christian time at the end of the original Constitution.  It is retained even today in presidential proclamations, as in this latest one, for American Heart Month:  "done in the year of our Lord 2010."  If one protests that this expression was merely a convention of the time, that actually strengthens rather than weakens the Founding as Christian argument:  Conventions such as that have weight in our original understanding of the text.

One should consider the constitutional commands ("shall") that public officials shall take oaths to support the Constitution but that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."   This summarizes the issue well:  There was a public expectation of reverence or piety (the oath requirement) but without demanding a sectarian commitment.  

Contemporary secularists have grotesquely expanded the private sphere to shove religion out of the public sphere.  As religion fights its way back, its adherents need to consider all of the language and argument of the Declaration of Independence and thus unite spirit and reason. 

Categories > The Founding

Men and Women

Valentine's Day Advice: Marry Young?

Regular readers of NLT know that one of my favorite questions to explore is the extent to which that which we call "common knowledge" is really just received opinion.   While I often argue that people would do better to listen to the dictates of "common sense"--too often, what happens instead, is that people mistake "common knowledge" for "common sense."  This slavish habit of mind is the result of societal intimidation and the fear we then develop to question widely held positions.  It is a habit of mind in which this young gentleman, to his credit (and probably to his lasting felicity) will take no part.

Is there is any more "common knowledge" or any opinion more universally subscribed to than the notion that it is best to delay marriage until later on in the 20s or, even, until the 30s?  If there is, I don't know what it might be.  It seems to be a point upon which there is broad bi-partisan and ideological agreement--though if there are dissenters, I suppose they are more likely to come from the conservative camp.  Most every casual conversation upon the subject of love and marriage is sure to include the admonition from some would-be sage on the dangers of marrying too young. 

I think the reason this argument has so prevailed has, in part, to do with what seems on the surface to be an appeal to common sense.  There are many things that it is dangerous to do when when one is "too young."  Clearly, no one should do anything that he is "too young" to do!  But what does it mean to be "too young" to marry?  "Too young" to love?  Our culture and our habits--both of mind and of heart--have a lot to do with our thinking about these questions.  And perhaps we've developed some pretty lousy habits, as a culture, in that line.  But it is useful to recall that there was a time when marriage out of high school and during college was regarded as a pretty sound way to go.  It was considered "common knowledge" then, that people should marry young and begin their lives together before they got too self-absorbed, too selfish, and too accustomed to thinking only of what would make themselves happy.  Love, people used to understand, is as much a habit as it is a feeling.  And young people tend to do better than older people at adopting new habits.

Today is Valentine's Day and Valentine's Day always reminds me of my parents who share their own wedding anniversary with the holiday.  They were ages 19 and 20 when they were married . . . 40 years ago.  I'm not saying--and would never say--that getting married young is a good idea for all people.  No one should get married when he is "too young" to do it . . . but I will say that for some people, "too young" has nothing to do with the number of years that they have lived.
Categories > Men and Women


Lincoln (et al.) in Czech

In my continuing education on all-things-Czech, I happened upon the 1918 Declaration of Czecho-Slovak Independence and was delightfully surprised to find an eloquent tribute to America's patrimony of modern democratic principles. Having declared "the Hapsburg dynasty unworthy of leading our nation," denying "all of their claims to rule in the Czecho-Slovak Land," and declaring "a free and independent people and nation," the Declaration continues:

We accept and shall adhere to the ideals of modern democracy, as they have been the ideals of our nation for centuries.  We accept the American principles as laid down by President Wilson; the principles of liberated mankind - of the actual equality of nations - and of governments deriving all their just power from the consent of the governed.

We, the nation of Comenius, cannot but accept these principles expressed in the American Declaration of Independence, the principles of Lincoln, and of the declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen.  For these principles our nation shed its blood in the memorable Hussite Wars 500 years ago; for these same principles, beside her allies, our nation is shedding its blood today in Russia, Italy, and France.

Categories > History


Could it be?

I simply offer this, without further comment.

Categories > Environment


Larry Summers, Call Your Harvard Office

Okay, at the risk of setting off Armageddon on NLT, I'm going to wade into this awful story out of Alabama yesterday about the biology professor who went postal over being denied tenure.  No doubt everyone who sits on tenure committees is a little more nervous today; negative tenure votes are one of the most un-fun parts of academia, and we might be better off without tenure entirely (though not for this reason).

I want to raise an issue that will likely not be mentioned in the MSM or by most academic commentators on this matter.  The new stories say the woman professor was "Harvard-trained." On the surface you'd think that would mean she was highly qualified, and an unlikely candidate to fail the tenure process at the University of Alabama.  Maybe--perhaps obviously some will say--she has "anger management issues."  Perhaps, but I also wonder if she wasn't passed through Harvard according to the gender version of affirmative action.  Maybe she wasn't that good, and the tenure decision was quite correct.  We all recall the Larry Summers fiasco over his comments on the short supply of females for advanced science.  And I know confidentially from some physicists at one of America's top science research universities that they are under a mandate from the administration to try to fill all science faculty openings first with women, because of the whole "discrimination against women in science" nonsense.

Ask yourself this question: why are there more stupid men than stupid women?  It can't be because of sexism.  Because, for probably evolutionary reasons that no one wants to think much about, the bell curve for IQ distribution is flatter for men than women, with larger tails at both ends for men than women.  More dumb men also means more smart men.  But since only the top one or two percent of the IQ distribution can truly master advanced math and science, the push to have equal numbers of men and women in the advanced sciences mean the system will be pushing less qualified and less able women into the fields, with predictably bad results.

That may not be the case here.  The crazy woman may be a top 1-percenter, but with some of the usual quirky personality traits (Aspergers) that come with that rarified IQ that turned her violent in a bad moment.  But it is certain the the refusal to talk candidly about the underlying cognitive issues Larry Summers raised means this problem is going to fester for a long time, with more controversies (but hopefully less violence) about tenure for women in the sciences.

UPDATE:  This story gets weirder and weirder.  Now it turns out the woman shot and killed her brother back in 1986, but the episode was ruled an "accident" and charges were never filed.  According to some news reports a local DA, now Congressman William Delahunt, intervened to have the charges dropped.  And there are additional reports that the woman is perhaps a radical lefty.  All of this needs to be taken with a large grain of salt, as early media reports get things badly wrong, but certainly there should be vigorous follow up by the media.

Back in December out in Seattle there was a rash of murders of police officers.  The culprit, when finally apprehended, turned out to be a fellow who had been passed out of the University of Washington under the usual academic "victims studies" programs that inflame grievances but impart little knowledge.  Wonder if we will find out something similar in this case, or whether, as was the case in the Seattle shooter, the media even bother to ask.
Categories > Education


The Complicated Conservative Populism

John Judis is a smart guy, but I think he goes partly wrong in his description of left and right working-class populism - at least when in the context of 2010 politics.  Judis describes left populism as resentment of speculators.  Fair enough maybe, but his description of right-wing working class populism as targeting primarily "out-groups" who are "seen as trying to deprive workers of their jobs and earning." falls short as a description of conservative working-class populism at the moment.

On the drive home, I sometimes listen to Howie Carr.  He is kinda the voice of conservative working-class populism in Eastern Massachusetts.  There are alot of digs against illegal immigrants, but not all, or even most of this populist resentment is directed downwards at "out" groups.  At least as much hostility is directed at Washington politicians, public employee unions, ideologically biased journalists at prestige outlets like the New York Times and the major broadcast networks, and businesses that stand to benefit from cap and trade.  The greatest targets of criticism are upper middle-class liberals - or as Carr constantly calls them, "the beautiful people".  They are portrayed as eager to remake society to their liking, but confident in their ability to escape whatever negative consequences their plans produce. 

There is alot to criticize in Carr's worldview, but he has found an audience.  The expansion of government has created an expanded governing class and ever more client and allied groups - many of them much more connected to power than your average working-class voter.  And they too are targets of current populist conservative resentment.


Categories > Conservatism

Political Philosophy

Lincoln v. Obama or Liberty and Justice v. "Fairness" and Power

Allen C. Guelzo writes a compelling essay today for First Things in which he examines Abraham Lincoln's own understanding of justice and what it means to be an American and then contrasts it to the understanding of these things now advanced by the current occupant of the White House--now veiled by the suggestion that he is, indeed, Lincolnian.  Guelzo, one of the country's most respected Lincoln scholars, finds no deep point of agreement between these two Presidents on these central questions. Indeed, Guelzo suggests that Obama's failure to see the difference between his own views and those of Lincoln gives those of us who do know Lincoln an "uneasy sense that Barack Obama has wrapped himself in some other man's coat."

Our president is fond on taking note of what he calls the "cynicism" of those who will not embrace or bend to his notions of "fairness."  On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, Barack Obama elaborated upon his notions of justice and fairness by saying that it is the, "sense of shared sacrifice and responsibility for ourselves and one another," and, further, that this is "the very definition of being American."  As Guelzo notes, this may be "a" definition of American justice--but it is decidedly NOT Lincoln's. 

President Obama likes to suggest that those who stand in the way of his proposals to advance this particular variant of "fairness" (which, I have no doubt, are well-meaning and generous from his point of view) do so out of a kind of base attachment to power for power's sake.  They are opposing him, at best, out of stubborn adherence to an "outmoded" ideology or,  at worst, out of nefarious alliances with "special interests" whose greed feeds their power jones with campaign contributions and God-knows-what-all. 

Obama, on the other hand, is the opposite of cynical--at least to his own understanding.  He pushed for "Hope" and "Change" because politics had become what he considered to be a bastion of cynics where anyone with eyes could certainly see that progress demanded "fairness" but old habits left Washington without leaders who had the will or the force of personality to insist upon it . . . at least until Obama came to town.

But Guelzo wonders if every instance of "unfairness" is, thereby, also an incidence of injustice.  There are many things in life that are "unfair" but it does not always follow that they are "unjust."   To use an example that Guelzo does not cite, but may be said to apply, consider the following:  It may be "unfair" that a mind as fine as Lincoln's was born into poverty and, instead of having access to a first rate education with ample leisure to digest the knowledge that he had the capacity to master, was forced by his family's circumstances to turn his attentions to back-breaking and mind-numbing menial labor.  But was it unjust?  Lincoln did not appear to think so.  While he certainly desired to get himself out of that line (and, when given the opportunity, he did get out of it) the only thing he came close to describing as "unjust" about the experience was his resentment over his father's penchant to take from him the entirety of the fruit of his labors.  Justice demanded that this money should be put toward the cause of his own advancement . . . his own efforts to strive to be equal to his potential.  The taking of his earnings could be seen to be standing in the way of Lincoln's efforts to rise to that level of equality and, therefore, it could be called a form of injustice.

But even this injustice may not rise to the level of equality with the law--that is to say, it may not be worthy of redress by the law in every circumstance--perhaps especially not in a case where the "victim" is a minor who remains within the custody of and the responsibility of his parents.  The liberty of parents first would have to be taken into account.  And this is another crucial difference between Obama and Lincoln--respect for the power and majesty of law and its impartial application to all citizens, regardless of the "fairness" of the outcome. Laws can be altered, of course, but real respect for justice demands that such changes be guided by the principles of liberty born out of our undeniable equality and because of which so many have sacrificed their own comfort for the sake of protecting in our Republic.

As Guelzo puts it: 

Not every complaint about fairness is really a protest against injustice; and not every complaint about injustice can be satisfied without running some risk that its real motive is the will to power. "Inequality is certainly never to be embraced for its own sake," Lincoln admitted. But that was no sanction for "the pernicious principle . . . that no one shall have any, for fear all shall not have some." Two hundred and one years after Lincoln's birth, it might be well to remind ourselves that the real enemy of both fairness and justice is not weakness of will or an unwillingness to bear "shared sacrifice," but the seeping gas of power.


This Was a Man

Tomorrow, February 13, is the birthday of legendary Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson, who died in 2007.  The winningest Division One inspiration had coached 56 years at that historically black college, from 1941-1997.  More than 200 of his players went to the pros.  The Eddie G. Robinson Museum opens tomorrow.
Categories > Sports

Political Philosophy

Lincoln at 201

One way to celebrate Father Abraham's birthday is to memorize the Gettysburg Address.  This time first read the 90th Psalm (in the King James version) to appreciate the power of Lincoln's verses and to allow yourself to discover why Lincoln measured America's time in units of "scores."  Douglas Wilson gives a fine account of the different drafts of the speech.  Of course you need Harry Jaffa's books to appreciate all the details Wilson gives.


The Sweet Spot

When it comes to the Ryan Roadmap, I'm with Ramesh Ponnuru (but then thats where you can usually find me).  The Ryan Roadmap shouldn't be the GOP's economic platform for 2012.  The attack ads practically write themselves, "They'll tax away your employer-provided health insurance, and for when you are older, they'll cut your social security and medicare.  But at least they will get rid of the capital gains tax" 

Ponnuru is right that people will only swallow so much change.  They are also going to want some up-front show of competence from the people who want to reform middle-class entitlements.  How about moving the tax code in a more pro-child, pro-parent, pro-jobs, pro-growth direction or making incremental improvements in the health care market.  Either of those policies would be the biggest federal level conservative policy change since welfare reform.

The key will be to put together a package of policies that are big enough to matter, but digestible enough not to scare people who know that things have to change, but have alot to lose.

Categories > Politics

Ashbrook Center

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for January

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

Rae Jeanne Cunningham
Josh Werner
James W. Eilert, Jr.
Kevin B. Barker
Robert Whitright

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 February's drawing.

Categories > Ashbrook Center


Don't mention the weather.

No doubt everyone reading this blog knows about the fun that conservatives have been having with the recent snowstorm and its implications for the climate change debate--note, for instance, the igloo constructed by Senator James Inhofe's family as a future home for Al Gore.  This is probably inevitable, given the sheer amount of snow that has fallen in recent months, and in such unusual places as Dallas and Baghdad.  But it's also unwise. Climate change alarmists are right in distinguishing between "weather" and "climate."  Moreover, turnabout is fair play; skeptics may be having their day now, but what happens if we get a few days of hot weather this summer?

If we want to have an intelligent conversation over global warming, we need to ask what it would take to falsify it; after all, what cannot be falsified cannot be properly termed science.  And while one can make a strong case that an increase in global temperatures can make snowstorms more likely, what are we to make of interpretations to the contrary?  Last year environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. complained that, thanks to global warming, "Snow is so scarce today that most Virginia children probably don't own a sled."  A study done at Columbia in 2005 noted a marked reduction in snowfall over North America over the past 150 years.  The National Resources Defense Council points out that "[s]ince the early 1950s, snow accumulation has declined 60 percent and winter seasons have shortened in some areas of the Cascade Range in Oregon and Washington."  And while Great Britain is in the midst of the coldest winter in thirty years, the Daily Telegraph helpfully suggests that "the surprise with which we have greeted the extreme conditions only reinforces how our climate has changed over the years"; after all, during the 19th century "extreme weather" used to occur "every five years or so."

In other words, global warming produces more snowfall and snowstorms, except when it produces fewer of them.  Of course, the climate change establishment will respond that climate is highly complex, and not subject to such simplistic analyses.  I'm certain that it is, which is why I'm not building an igloo in my front yard.  But the American economy is complex, too, and I sure don't want to see it thrown into further confusion, and a deeper recession, on the basis of claims that are not apparently falsifiable--and not, therefore, science.

Categories > Environment


The Case Against Gays in the Military

The WaPo headline reads "At war, quiet support for openly gay troops," with a subhead "Tolerance rises with new generation of officers," and would seem to signal a story advocating an end to the ban.  In fact, the account, datelined Baghdad, presents argiuments quite to the contrary.  Mac and others (with update here) are right that the ban helps preserve military discipline.  The response is, we know of gay soldiers who are superb at their job. 

But this response, however truthful, does not answer the objection.  The WaPo story provides further evidence to the contrary.  What happens in the army with high-achieving gay soldiers is what happens with high achievers in any profession who have significant flaws:  People cover up for it or look the other way.  One officer whose "gaydar went off the screen" concerning one soldier under his command:  "I don't think his orientation became an issue, because he maintained a professional appearance and performed like any other soldier." 

A senior commander objected, "Are we all going to have to submit to annual gay sensitivity training?"  (A Russian emigre who underwent racial sensitivity training at a military base described it as like "life under the Soviet Union.")

Moreover, the WaPo story cites a 2006 Zogby poll concluding that only 26% of the military supported lifting the ban.

Finally, the sentiment about rights or being allowed to be yourself completely misses the key military discipline argument:  In the military, contrary to prevailing societal norms, service always comes before self (duty before rights).  That drab uniform is a symbol and a reality of conformity, anti-individualism, and professionalism.  That is why the Army retained that professional soldier, who was gay. 

Categories > Military


A Possible Right Turn in California?

George Will mulls the possibilities.  
Categories > Elections


The President's Deaf Ear for Small Business

Caroline Baum notes that in Washington there is broad agreement--or, rather, there is seeming broad agreement--for the notion that small business is the engine of the American economy.  After all, it is responsible for creating more than 60% of American jobs and generates at least 50% of our GDP.  When ordinary people look at statistics like that, they probably walk away with the sound opinion that folks who are capable of this sort of accomplishment probably know a thing or two about what makes for a sound business climate.  People who have the gumption to create a business, take the necessary risks and responsibilities of operating that business, manage to generate profits and sustain that business and, in the process, provide livings for countless numbers of Americans--those people probably have richly informed opinions about the economy that are worthy of the attention of policymakers and, certainly, of a man who happens to be President during a recession and claims to be doing what he can to reverse it.

Yet Baum's story notes the frustrations of small business owners who, not without good reason, believe that Washington and, in particular, the President is only paying them "lip-service," actually looks upon their ideas with derision and condescension and, instead, offers a litany of head-pats and unsatisfying pacifiers.  For example, the proposal from the Obama administration for a $5,000 tax credit for hiring new workers does not impress most small business owners.  As Baum, through chief economist for the National Federation for Independent Business, William Dunkelberg notes, "Employers aren't about to pay a new worker $40,000 to earn a $5,000 credit unless that worker generates $35,000 of revenue . . . That's Econ 101 (see 'marginal revenue product' or 'profit maximization'), a course most of our elected representatives seem to have missed."  Alternatively, consider it in another light, as I heard Rush Limbaugh do it yesterday, "These guys are smarter than you, Mr. President," he (rightly, in my view) opined.  What, Limbaugh asked, is to prevent a business owner from laying off workers for 60+ days, promising to keep them above water, and then re-hiring them in order to get these tax credits without actually creating any new jobs or creating any additional expense for themselves?  When you set up the playing field like a game of Candyland, it shouldn't surprise anyone if it's too easy for Washington to get played.

But the thing that ought to concern Washington and the President more than anything else is the record pessimism coming from small business owners.  According to Baum, the NFIB index which tracks this pessimism has not been this low--and then, for only one quarter--since the back-to-back '80 and '82 recessions.  We're now at a record consecutive seven quarters of this pessimism.  Is it time to listen yet?

Anecdotal evidence from this story seems only to support the hard evidence that the answer from the President is, "no."

Pat Felder, who co-owns Felder's Collision Parts Inc. in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, went to the White House in October, along with members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Obama came in, talked at us, shook a few hands and left," Felder says. "I was foolish enough to think small- business owners would have some sort of dialogue." [ed.--emphasis mine]

Categories > Economy


Bailout Nation

It seems to have become common to say that the government has bailed out Wall Street, but not main street.  Is that really true?  I was thinking about this as I was looking at house prices.  I was thinking about buying a few years ago, but I thought that prices were way too inflated.  I was waiting for prices to reach their natural level.   They have yet to do so. The problem is something like what businessmen and economists sometimes call "regulatory risk."  House prices have declined, and millions of homes are in or near foreclosure, and yet, things would be far, far worse had the government not thrown billions and billions of dollars at the banks.  

As a matter of scale, it's clearly very different to prop up the price of a $300,000 home than it is to keep big banks solvent.  But in effect, it's the same thing.  Countless people who used to work on Wall Street now can't find jobs there. The financial industry has shrunk.  We see the big banks that survived, and forget that several large institutions are no longer around.  The government clearly played a role in saving several of the banks that are still with us.  But the same is true of millions of homes. Without those very same bailouts, home prices probably would have declined much further, and even more people would have lost their homes.  (To be sure, home prices may fall further, but they have stabilized for now. The same is true for banks.  More of the major banks might yet fail). 

In short, we have met the enemy, and he is us.  Just as the government saved several big banks, so too has it helped countless home-owners stay in their homes.  Without the bailouts the decline of both would have been worse.  Personally, I think that would not have been all bad, and I suspect the cost of bailing out American home-owners will be slow economic growth, and an expanded American state for years to come.  But it's simply not true that the government bailed out banks but not home-owners. 

P.S.  I'm talking about TARP, and the other financial bills, for the most part. The stimulus bills of spring 2008 and winter 2009 are a different story.  The former gave a tax cut to many Americans, and the latter did the same, plus sent money to states to save unionized, government jobs, plus other things.

Categories > Economy


Immigrant Attitudes

I've written before on the gratitude immigrants especially should have toward America.  Priscilla at The Happy Mean expresses her own immigrant gratitude and presents a moving example of another successful immigrant.  Priscilla does reproach this success story for his failure to express appreciation for American generosity and practices.    Priscilla's website seeks to be a unique concoction of the ideals of classical political philosophy and practical suggestions on how to fight contemporary Islamic terrorism.  She knows something of this from her native Philippines.
Categories > Race

Health Care

The View is Breathtaking

Walter Russell Mead on restructuring health care. I'm not sure if things will work out the way Mead says, but we should try to structure the health care market so that these kinds of business model innovations can take place and win in the marketplace. On the other hand, any reform in that direction will have to be gradual enough so that people who basically like their employer-provided coverage (though not necessarily the rising premiums) don't feel like they are being thrown into the deep end. The two goals are in tension, but not, I think irreconcilable.

I think that in the short term, the Levin-Capretta plan is the best strategy, but the next step for market-based reformism will have to focus less on destroying employer-based coverage, than on creating the space for the creation of alternatives that work better for the consumer and thereby pull customers out of employer coverage.

Categories > Health Care

Hello All

Hi, I'm Pete Spiliakos, but folks who read the NLT comment threads know me as the longtime commenter Pete. John Moser and Peter Schramm were kind and generous enough to offer me a spot to blog on NLT, and I thank them very much. I won't forget that I'm blogging among people much more and better educated than myself.

I hope to contribute something of value, but I can only promise typos, lousy grammar and recycled Simpsons jokes.

Pop Culture

Say it ain't so, Cap.

Thanks to longtime commenter "Brutus" for alerting me to this gem about what's currently going on in the pages of Captain America.  As anyone who's heard my talk on this subject knows, Cap has long been my favorite superhero--mainly because I find him far more interesting than the run-of-the-mill crimefighters.  In the late 1960s he ceased to be a New Frontier-style Cold Warrior and became a defender of American ideals such as liberty and justice, even (or perhaps especially) when these ideals came under attack from the U.S. government.  I stopped reading Captain America sometime in the 1980s, but my understanding was that the character had remained about the same.  From what I'd heard about the "Civil War" arc, he stood up in opposition to a post-9/11 effort by the Federal Government to force all individuals with superpowers to register with the state.  Not exactly the old Nazi-fighting Cap (let alone his 1950s incarnation as Captain America: Commie Smasher), but still a character worth admiring.

So now my hero turns his attention not to Nazis, or communists, or terrorists, or the Red Skull, but to...tea partiers, who in Marvel's hands are portrayed as angry racists bent on overthrowing the government.  I'm glad I don't read comics any longer; if I had paid money for that issue I would've been livid.

A few weeks ago I gave my Captain America talk at a high school in Florida (and, in case anyone is interested, I'll be giving the talk yet again early next month at OSU-Mansfield), and I prefaced it by asking the students if they'd ever heard of the character.  I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, at how few hands went up.  Now I'm glad.  It's now fairly common knowledge that Marvel killed off the character in 2007, but like most such deaths this one was temporary--they brought him back last year.  I wish they hadn't.

Categories > Pop Culture


The Pope and Nancy Pelosi

Forgive me, I promise not to do this too often - but I thought I'd share this little gem:

The Pope and Nancy Pelosi are on stage in front of a huge crowd. The Pope leans towards Mrs. Pelosi and says, "Do you know that with one little wave of my hand, one flick of the wrist, I can make every person in this crowd go wild with joy? This joy will not be a momentary display, like that of your followers, but go deep into their hearts and they'll forever speak of this day and rejoice!"

Pelosi replied, "I seriously doubt that. With one little wave of your hand? Show me."

So the Pope slapped her.

Categories > Politics


Climate Gotterdammerung

National Review has a nice succinct editorial up about the end of climate mania that is worth a look because, um, well, I might have had a little something to do with it.
Categories > Environment


Europe's "Subprime Mortgage Syndrome"

Greece is about to be the recipient of a massive European "bailout." Upon converting its economy to the stable euro currency, Greece took advantage of its newly-padded credit rating (propped up by the reliability of northern neighbors such as Germany) in order to borrow heavily and spend freely. Of course, the economy seemed to flourish as Greece poured funds into the pit of an ever-widening, union-dominated public sector. But then the bills came due, and Greece was found to have spent a shocking 13% of its GDP - more galling still because the government released false financial statements to hide its soaring debt.

Even with a European bailout, Greece's long-term survival "involves painful structural reforms that may mean significant belt-tightening.... To that aim, Greece's new Socialist government is moving to increase the retirement age, cut competition for state workers and overhaul the broken tax system." However, as of today, Greek labor unions have begun to strike in protest of reforming the unsustainable status quo.

Anyone who doesn't see the parallels is not keeping their eye on the ball. Greece is both a subprime mortgage home-buyer and a union-bullied, overspent California. It has dolled out cash on projects it couldn't afford, and likely always expected that someone else would eventually foot the bill. The European nations are just beginning to learn the unpleasant lessons of single-state governance with irresponsible bedfellows - a reality shared by many red-state Americans. 

P.S. Europe's PIGS! Beppe Grillo's take on Greece and public debt mentions the derisive acronym "PIGS" being circulated in Europe as a reference to Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain - the defaulting nations which are pulling down the rest of Europe.

Whether out of a sense of self-interest or self-preservation, some are calling for Greece's expulsion from the EU. I doubt that Germany and France would concede to such a financial risk and European embarrassment - but it is interesting that Europeans still see their union as open to disbarment.  

Categories > Economy

Men and Women

A Valentine's Primer on Foods

What foods produce aphrodisiac effects?  Presumably tongue-in-cheek, so to speak, the NY Times surveys the scientific literature.  Science (of a sort) casts doubt on traditional favorites but confirms other things we always knew.  One study claims it would take 25 pounds of chocolate to produce a euphoric mood in a woman.  Homer Simpson to the contrary, donuts won't arouse a man--unless combined with licorice.  "For women, first place for most arousing [odor] was a tie between baby powder and the combination of Good & Plenty candy with cucumber."  Grilled meat was a turn-off for women, but expect a lot of football season births from all that guacamole consumed during the Superbowl.  Anyone have a recipe for a raw oyster and fig appetizer?

For a serious meditation on the meaning of food, see The Hungry Soul, by scientist, MD, and professor of philosophy Leon Kass.

Categories > Men and Women

Men and Women

Marrying Down

Sometimes the NY Times is beyond parody.  This months "Life-form of the Month" in the Liberal "paper of record" are ciliates.  The article tells a fascinating story about these one-celled organisms.  That's not what caught my eye, however.

What stood out was how the Times chose to frame the story for its readers.  The paper focuses on sex.  Here's the lede paragraph:

When it comes to sex and reproduction, mammals are ultra-orthodox and, frankly, rather dull. Individuals are either male or female, no one changes sex and there are never more than two sexes in a species. No mammal reproduces asexually -- by budding off a small piece of itself, say, or by splitting down the middle and growing a new individual from each half. Nope: among mammals, offspring are always produced by sex. That is, an egg fuses with a sperm to produce a child that is genetically distinct from both parents.

By contrast with mammals, ciliates are more interesting.

Ciliate sex is peculiar in several ways. For one thing, reproduction and sex do not happen together. When a ciliate reproduces, it does so asexually, typically by splitting in half and growing a complete new individual from each piece. So: where there was one individual, there are now two.

In and of itself, asexual reproduction is not especially strange -- many organisms, from aphids to sea anemones, do it at least from time to time. The weird stuff happens when ciliates get sexual.

In ciliate sex, two individuals arrive, and two individuals leave: no eggs are fertilized, no offspring are produced. But by the time the two individuals go their separate ways, a massive change will have come over both of them: they will both have acquired a new genetic identity.

Fascinating stuff in and of itself.  Let's leave aside whether it is proper to call it "sex" when we're talking about one-celled organisms.  The way the story is framed, both on the home page and in the story seems to suggest that we humans are missing out on something because, like all other mammals, we have only two sexes, and we reproduce in a routine way.  In other words, it's better to be a lower species than a higher one.  Writers and editors for the Times, it seems, are not comfortable being human. 

Today's lesson in societal decay.

Categories > Men and Women

Shameless Self-Promotion

Talk Radio, Without the Radio

I was recently interviewed by Steven Spierer on Talk Radio One, a web-only gab buffet.  You can listen to the discussion here.  In the course of the interview we discussed my forthcoming book, Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State.  Readers of this blog will be interested to know that Never Enough is a wall-to-wall NLT production, with a generous and lucid foreword by Steven Hayward.


The Necessity of Bowing to Political Realities, When They're the Right Kind of Realities

One of Megan McArdle's readers unearthed a 2005 New York Times editorial, "Social Security Follies."  It derides Pres. Bush for continuing his fight to make private savings accounts available within Social Security, rather than conceding that not even Republican congressional majorities could avert that plan's political defeat:

Congressional Republicans have begun talking with top White House aides about an exit strategy -- not from Iraq, but from the winless quagmire of President Bush's campaign to privatize Social Security. Mr. Bush has responded to this new political reality by, first, insisting that the American people do not yet understand the virtues of privatization, and second, blaming the failure of his deservedly unpopular plan on Congressional Democrats.

That's absurd.

After listening to Mr. Bush talk of little else during his second term, the American people understand quite well what he is proposing for Social Security, and by wide margins reject it. In fact, the polls show that the more they learn about privatization, the less they like it. And with good reason. The very real risks of privatization -- in terms of retirement security and the enormous budgetary cost to the country -- far outweigh the potential rewards.

So when Congressional Republican leaders tell the president that Social Security private accounts are a nonstarter, they are conveying the informed views of their constituents.

Mr. Bush has reacted by railing against Democrats for obstruction -- as if Democrats are duty-bound to breathe life into his agenda and, even sillier, as if opposing a plan that the people do not want is an illegitimate tactic for an opposition party. 

Here is the corresponding 2010 New York Times editorial, which you need not rush to your computer to read:

Congressional "Blue Dog" Democrats have begun talking with top White House aides about an exit strategy -- not from Afghanistan, but from the winless quagmire of President Obama's campaign for sweeping health care reform. Mr. Obama has responded to this new political reality by, first, insisting that the American people do not yet understand the virtues of health reform, and second, blaming the failure of his deservedly unpopular plan on Congressional Republicans.

That's absurd.

After listening to Mr. Obama talk of little else during his first year in office, the American people understand quite well what he is proposing for health care, and by wide margins reject it. In fact, the polls show that the more they learn about Obama's plan, the less they like it. And with good reason. The very real risks of the proposed comprehensive reforms -- in terms of the quality and availability of medical care, and the enormous budgetary cost to the country -- far outweigh the potential rewards.

So when Congressional Democrats tell the president that key elements of his plan are nonstarters, they are conveying the informed views of their constituents.

Mr. Obama has reacted by railing against Republicans for obstruction -- as if Republicans are duty-bound to breathe life into his agenda and, even sillier, as if opposing a plan that the people do not want is an illegitimate tactic for an opposition party.

Categories > Politics


Why NOT to Repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell

In response to the volume of discussion (including a fair number of objections) to Mac Owens' Wall Street Journal op-ed on DADT from last week, Mac again takes up the question and answers the objections in an article we post today.  Again, Mac insists that repealing the DADT policy in the armed forces would be to work against unit cohesion and military effectiveness as it undermines phila by presenting the opportunity for it to be confused with eros but he also addresses those critics who would conflate this observation with simple-minded prejudice and refutes those who suggest that there is no evidence in support of his claims.
Categories > Military

Political Parties

Whigging Out?

Henry Olsen offers a thoughtful analysis of the political landscape now before us.  He sees a 25-30 year development of trends in our politics that suggest parallels between today and the collapse of the Whig party in the 1850s.  While Democrats are not without significant problems of their own as a result of these trends, Olsen suggests that Republicans may have more to lose as a result of them and that complacency in the face of these developments is something well beyond stupid and closer to the verge of self-destructive. 

In particular, Olsen notes:

". . . a growing distrust of conservative and liberal ideologies, a growing movement away from the two parties and toward political independence, increases in the racial-minority (which usually means Democratic-voting) share of the population, and a growing inability of the Republican party to bridge the gap between its populist and elite wings."
Categories > Political Parties

"Serving the Goals of Al-Qaeda"?

The president's top advisor for homeland security claims that at least some critics of the administration's anti-terrorism strategy "serve the goals of Al-Qaeda."  More evidence that "dissent is patriotic" only when a Republican is in the White House.


Miss Him Yet?

Thumbnail image for Miss Me Yet.jpgAlong I-35, near Wyoming, Minn., one finds a billboard of George W. Bush - and the question: "Miss me yet?"

Liberals are apparently steaming mad and on a witch-hunt to find the anonymous sponsor. Such a humorless lot, those liberals.

Yet it may be a relevant question, given that Obama has just hit the lowest approval rating of his presidency. (44% approval, 47% disapproval, with crucial independents breaking heavily against him by 29%-57%).

The answer, by the way, is 44% of Americans say "yes."

Categories > Presidency

Men and Women

Only Abstinence-Only

A University of Pennsylvania study of sexual behavior published in The Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine has caused quite a stir by concluding that abstinence-only education is the most effective means of delaying teen sexual activity, preventing unwanted pregnancy and avoiding STDs. Even long-time critics of abstinence-only education are conceding that that extensive study (shockingly, the first of its kind) is "game-changing" and provides thorough, scientific evidence that skepticism of abstinence-only education was misguided.

The four educational approaches studied, and the percentage of participants who began having sex within the next two years, are listed as:

Abstinence only education: 33%
Abstinence / safe-sex comprehensive education: 42%
Healthy lifestyle education (i.e., eating well and exercising): 47%
Safe-sex (condom-use) education: 52%

So, the more young people hear the message of abstinence, the more likely they are to choose a healthy, moral lifestyle - and an abstinence-only message reaps dramatically superior results. Even talking about health food and exercise (i.e., not teaching kids about sex at all) proved more efficient than teaching a safe-sex / condoms-use approach. The "comprehensive" and safe-sex message, promoted with disastrous results over the past few decades, is a sexually permissive approach which merely has the effect of portraying sexual activity as entirely innocuous and granting a license to sexual promiscuity so long as condoms are plentifully employed.

The more radical leftist groups are circling the wagons in protest. They have no evidence on their side, but they see abstinence as conservative, religious conduct in opposition to progressive, sexual liberation, and hence oppose such programs out of ideological prejudice - regardless of the collateral harm caused by their recklessness. To wit, Obama has defunded abstinence programs of $170 million, routing the money to "safe-sex" programs. Whether new evidence alters the administration's decision will be another indicator of Obama's alleged commitment to science over ideology.

Categories > Men and Women

Men and Women

A Century of Scouts' Honor

The Boy Scouts of America are celebrating 100 years. The Scouts have always struck me as a sure standard by which to measure the character, decency and sanity of other elements in society. That is, if you don't like the wholesome, upstanding, impeachably-square Boy Scouts - well, it's probably you, not them.

Despite constant attacks by politically-correct liberal groups (the Boy Scouts don't admit girls or atheists, nor gays in leadership roles), they've stuck true to their foundations through thick and thin. They are a shining example of patriotism and faith working in perfect harmony toward personal and social good.

So, here's to the boys for a job well done! And in case you aren't as savvy as you'd like on all things Scout, here's a primer for a good and decent upbringing:

Scout Oath:

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country;
To obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

Scout Law:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Categories > Men and Women

Political Philosophy

Snow State of Nature in DC?

If you clear snow for a parking space at your apartment complex, do you have a right to it?  Even in socialistic DC, residents seem to demand Lockean justice:  labor creates a title to ownership--but for how long?  And what about the obligation to clear streets in front of a shop?  In front of your house, where you have been holed up for days?  Does Tocquevillean self-interest properly understood help us here? 

In the California gold rush, such common-sense rules prevailed on staking claims.  I am not a "spontaneous order" libertarian, but human nature does point us in a certain direction.  Perhaps the snows may teach the Obama Administration a lesson:  it's the pitchfork attempting to drive out nature, even more than the peasants with the pitchforks, whose lesson they should heed.


The Sage of Mt. Airy

That's right, from a farm in Mt. Airy, North Carolina (aka, Andy Griffith's Mayberry):  Read his posts on Governor Palin and his reflections on how the Federalist-Anti-Federalist debate enlightens the consensus celebration of Ronald Reagan's 99th birthday.  The author was a 20-year flier in the Air Force (F-4s), a Ph.D. in medieval political philosophy, and long a professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy.  If the idea of a blogger as a contemporary Christian knight and a native of the small-town South appeals to you, you will want to visit the Sage of Mt. Airy regularly.
Categories > Conservatism


More Evidence That It's So Over for the Greens

What's more over than Mark Sanford's marriage or John Edwards' reputation?  The environmental movement, that's what.  In case you are sharing a cave with bin Laden and missed the Super Bowl, then you might have missed the Audi "Green Police" ad. It's getting a lot of attention today.  Is it mocking environmentalism?  Um. . . yeah.  Your moral authority is pretty thin when a major advertiser finds it safe to take this approach.  Think anyone would ever try something like this about the civil rights movement?  Or the feminist movement? 

Tip for Republicans: Whatever you do in the way of a Contract with America this fall, I'm guessing a winner will be a repeal of the forthcoming ban on incandescent lightbulbs.  I know I'm running out of space stocking up on them for 2012 or whenever the ban goes into effect.
Categories > Environment

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Grit and Mother Wit and the Rest of It

Stanley Crouch talks about Ralph Ellison's just published Three Days Before the Shooting: The Unfinished Second Novel (edited by Callahan and Bradley), a compilation of Ellison's efforts toward his never-finished second novel, published in part as Juneteenth, also compiled by Calahan.  Crouch considers why Ellison was unable to write another novel.  In doing so, he covers much ground, most of it good and true.  Some of his formulations are very good.  Take these two paragraphs:

"That sense of the importance of improvisation beyond measure was written into the founding documents and appeared over and over in the national life and the national response to need or threat. If the chaos is sufficiently epic, so must the improvisations be if anything close to an actual "solution" is to be achieved. That is the fundamental tension at the center of the national life, and Ellison's fundamental sense of American life.

Ellison's basic idea was that human frailty determined what happened far more often than human idealism, but that idealism continued to live because--whenever it actually came through!--the results were so monumental that a naive optimism grew. The speed with which clarity is obscured or misinterpreted is Ralph Ellison's favorite blues because it is so old that it remains forever new."

I would have said it a little differently, maybe something to do with how "precious" and "sacred" (also, "the original script" and "ground of assumptions upon which our social values rest") the Declaration and the Constitution are in Ellison's thinking (maybe even more on "the moral imperatives in American life" that are implicit in them).  Indeed, Ellison calls the Constitution a "mysterious binding force" and maybe Crouch should say more on that and on what that has to do with "culture" (not race) and "individuality" and with "a tragicomic attitude toward the universe"  that seems both a necessity and a good and what that has to do with improvisation.  Still not bad, and of course Three Days Before the Shooting  will have to be read.

The Family

Pornography and a Misplaced Morality

Family Research Council has published a report on the effects of pornography upon individuals, marriage, family and community. (PDF here)

Along with drug use (recreational drugs) and sex trafficking (prostitution), pornography is often labeled a "victimless crimes." Of course, this assumes that, if the perpetrator and victim are the same person (or family unit), there is actually no victim. Such thinking is a natural consequence of the substitution of an actual morality ("you shall love your neighbor as yourself") with a useful, but limited axiom ("you shouldn't hurt other people"). When self-harm (which will invariably also harm all those who love the "victim") is not seen as an evil, half of morality has already been ceded - and the remaining ground is left defenseless.

FRC's report is good reading for the oft-overlooked consequences of a particular "victimless crime," but its greater worth is in reminding us of the damage caused by well-intended but flawed moral reckoning. One cannot love another until they have loved themselves, and personal degradation will find expression well beyond the privacy of one's own dehumanization.

Categories > The Family


The Superbowl and the Supremes

The President demagogued the Supreme Court's campaign finance decision, asserting that the floodgates would be open for massive corporate influence in elections.  Here's an account of how much money was spent on tv advertising for the Superbowl.  (And don't believe what some people have been saying about this ad until you've seen it yourself.)  The Obama presidential campaign raised and spent record amounts.  But given Superbowl ad revenues in excess of $200 million for one day is even $1 billion spent on a presidential campaign an outrageous amount?  How candidates need to raise it is the problem, and this Justice had the right idea about taking the ax to even more of the campaign finance law.
Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

Is Obama Continuing the Bush Policy on Detainees?

The Obama Administration now argues that its treating war criminals like 7-11 robbers is a continuation of the Bush policy.  After all, the argument goes, the Bush Administration tried "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, a few miles from the Pentagon.  But the Bush Administration realized its mistake, when the court returned only a life sentence and not the death penalty.  They had banked on a conservative jury doing full justice.  Evidently the Obama Administration does not see what a blunder the Bush policy was.  The Bush people grasped it, just as they gradually figured out what to do in Iraq.  One despairs of the Obamans ever getting it.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Snowmaggeon 2010 Videoblog

Okay, I'm finally dug out, got the power back on, the coffee ground and brewed, so I can get round to posting my two-minute videoblog of Snowmaggeon 2010 here in McLean, VA.  Extra credit if you can identify the obscure soundtrack (no fair using one of those iPhone music ID apps, either).


Sins of Emissions

If, as the EPA recently declared, greenhouse gasses may be regulated under the Clean Air Act, and if methane is a greenhouse gas, then may the EPA regulate our diets?  May it tell us not to eat beans and sauerkraut?

I am speaking, partly, tongue in cheek, but I don't see where the flaw in the logic is.  Once the principle is established, by statutary construction and not by statute, that the EPA may regulate greenhouse gasses, the right to regulate all activities that produce greenhouse gasses necessarily follows.  As Churchill said, we're just haggling over price.

In the recent "Citizens United" case, the Supreme Court threw out a good deal of campaign finance regulation because, in partt, it was impossible to decide who is, and who is not a media organization. Everyone agrees that it would be bad to regulate the ability of news organizations to comment on ongoing political campaigns.  The trouble is, that exemption was not, in the language of statute,a matter of right. It was an exemption written into the statute. Once again, it was a matter of haggling over price.  Once it is established that the government may tell companies that they may not comment on campaigns, there's no way, in practice, to exempt media organizations, other than the government's arbitrary say so.  Hence that part of the statute fell.

Ultimately, I am reminded of Hayek's comment in The Road to Serfdom suggesting that "the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans."

Categories > Politics


Global Warming Note

Margaret Wente has a good summary of the downward spiral of the climate change movement, even as the Netherlands rebukes the UN IPCC for factual inaccuracies related to the country's susceptibility to global warming, India forms its own climate change body after concluding that it "can't rely" upon the UN IPCC and a BBC poll shows that Brits are becoming increasingly skeptical of man-made global warming (74%) and global warming in general (25%).

Oh yeah - and DC is presently suffering the heaviest snowfall since 1922. Just mentioning.

Categories > Environment

Foreign Affairs

Ominous Thoughts from Lech Walesa

Lech Walesa, the iconic leader of Poland and the Solidarity movement which played such a pivotal role in the collapse of Communism, recently spoke on the state of America's global leadership.

The United States is only one superpower. Today they lead the world. Nobody has doubts about it. Militarily.  They also lead economically but they're getting weak. But they don't lead morally and politically anymore.  The world has no leadership.  The United States was always the last resort and hope for all other nations.  There was the hope, whenever something was going wrong, one could count on the United States.  Today, we lost that hope.

Alongside the likes of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II (who was particularly vital to Walesa) in the free West, Lech Walesa and others such as the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel in the communist East comprise the handful of heroes who delivered the world from communism. Walesa saw moral bankruptcy face-to-face in Soviet-controlled Poland - let us hope his vision of America, if correct, is a fleeting decline which Americans will be sufficiently diligent to correct.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Reagan Tribute

Today is the 99th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth. I'm inadequate to the task of offering a proper tribute to the Gipper, so I merely direct attention to Paul Kengor's post at NRO's Corner and invite readers to offer their own links or thought on the legendary leader. 
Categories > Conservatism


Brothers-in-Arms and Prodigal Sons

One year after his election as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has commented that while Orthodox and Catholic Churches "have similar positions on many problems facing Christians in the modern world," he noticed "growing differences with Protestant denominations."

"Pope Benedict XVI has taken a stance close to the Orthodox one," the Patriarch noted, whereas "the Russian Church has seen less Protestant communities cooperating in the cause of preserving the Christian legacy" due to "the relentless liberalization of the Protestant world.

"Alas, not only have [Protestants] failed to conduct a real propagation of the Christian values among the secular society, many Protestant communities prefer to adjust to its standards."

Since the Great Schism in 1054 AD, Catholics and Orthodox have been a single church in imperfect communion - it's sort of like brothers in a thousand year family feud. Protestantism, on the other hand, broke communion with the ancient churches in the 16th century and now exists as a separate religion. As Catholics and Orthodox have recently made gestures toward reconciliation, the gulf between these faiths and Protestantism has continuously widened.

Comprising one-third of the world's population, these faiths constitute the dominant intellectual and moral force of Western history. The great question remains whether they are presently striving to guide Westerndom in the same direction.

Categories > Religion


Compromising with Socialists?

According to a Gallup poll, "a majority of Democrats and liberals say ... they have a positive view of socialism, compared to a minority of Republicans and conservatives."  Thankfully, members of both parties respond positively to "small business, free enterprise, and entrepreneurs."  The terms polled are noteworthy--Walter Lippmann invented the term "big business" as derisive, just as Marx (or his contemporaries) did for "capitalism."

Democrats today appear to be very much in the spirit of the man FDR called "their commander-in-chief," the future president who declared that socialism and democracy are in principle the same.

While Dems (apart from the outbursts of a silly staffer, of which the Hill is full) will likely not begin appealing explicitly to socialism, its functional equivalents of community, civil society (of a certain sort), and solidarity may appear more often in their rhetoric.  They would be better off heeding Bill Galston, who tries to dispute Harvey Mansfield's assault on Obamacare. 

Over 20 years ago the late John Wettergreen loved to call out liberals who labelled themselves "civic republicans" or such, in the spirit of the founders.  He once got a prominent American historian to admit that her talk of "republicanism" was simply a "chicken word for socialism."  Gallup seems to confirm that more on the left have gotten the courage of their convictions, or at least of their feelings.

Categories > Conservatism


Liberalism and Its Discontents

UVA political scientist Gerard Alexander exposes the liberal mindset by analyzing case after case of attributing conservative success to a failure of reason, on either the left or the right.  To an almost pathological extent, liberals can't seem to admit that it's the conservatives who might have reason on their side.  After they dig out of the snow, DC-area denizens can hear Gerard expound further at AEI this Monday evening.
Categories > Conservatism


We the People ... Continued

A young researcher in Philadelphia's "Historical Society of Pennsylvania" has reassembled an early draft of the U.S. Constitution penned by James Wilson in 1787.

I fully concur with the assessment of the find as the discovery of a national treasure, but more endearing still is the wonderful nerdiness of the researchers at the unfolding of the discovery: "This was national scripture, a piece of our Constitution's history. It was difficult to keep my hands from trembling." As other researchers "realized what was happening, there was a sort of hushed awe that settled over the reading room. One of them said the hair on her arms stood on end." Bless their little patriotic socks.

Categories > History


Owens on Obama's Pandering to Homosexual Interest Groups

"There are many foolish reasons to exclude homosexuals from serving in the armed services," writes Mackubin Thomas Owens in today's Wall Street Journal, but ". . . this does not mean that we should ignore the good ones."  The trouble with too much of the debate over the proposed revoking of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, is that it does precisely that.  Those in favor of permitting the service of openly gay individuals in the military are guilty of conflating opposition to the change with simple-minded anti-gay prejudice and they have never confronted (let alone answered) the serious arguments against them.  As Owens explains, the central and most imperative function of a military in a liberal society is to win the nation's wars.  All questions having to do the organization and regulation of that military must, of necessity, be subordinate to that over-arching aim.  There is no other (good) reason for us to maintain a military if it is not for this purpose.

Serious people--who otherwise have demonstrated no particular animosity to homosexuals and who have unquestionable experience in understanding what it takes to build a military capable of performing this function-- have argued, persuasively, that the presence of open homosexuals in the military is a problem for unit cohesion and, therefore, is a distraction from that all important function.  Their objections deserve a fair and open hearing, free from cheap cries of "homophobia" and simple-minded comparisons with racial bigotry from the peanut gallery.  The problem for cohesion, in this instance, has nothing to do with personal dislike on the part of soldiers or their commanders; it has to do with inherent and unchanging understandings of the nature of warfare and friendship.  We cannot insist that these things change just because we would like them to comport with some more "progressive" understanding of "fairness."  Well, I suppose we can petulantly "insist" upon it . . . but we do so at our peril; for nature is an even more stubborn thing than a liberal interest group. 
Categories > Military

Pop Culture


I'm reading into Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokesand I have been amused for at least ten minutes.  I was reminded of Ronald Reagan's definition of liberalism:"If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it."  Or this, about West Virginia: "What do a hurricane and a divorce in West Virginia have in common? Somebody's gonna lose a trailer."  There are more, but I practice self control.  OK, maybe not; just one more: "A woman gets into a cab and says, where can I get scrod?  The cabbie says, Gee, I've never heard it put in the pluperfect subjunctive before!"
Categories > Pop Culture


Abortion in Prime-Time

Tim Tebow and his mom are causing a circus of flurry among liberals with an anticipated 30 second pro-life ad during the Superbowl. Pam Tebow contracted dysentery while a missionary and was advised to abort her son rather than risk fetal defects. She refused, and Tim turned out to be not only one of the greatest athletes in sporting history, but likely one of its most worthy role-models.

Abortion groups immediately condemned the ad, which hasn't been released and apparently never actually mentions abortion, favoring the theme: "Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life." NOW described such a message as "extraordinarily offensive and demeaning." Even some pro-choice advocates have been stunned by the hypocrisy and venom of their movement, leading a pro-choice WaPo column to scold that these fraudulent feminist groups "aren't actually 'pro-choice' so much as they are pro-abortion." Even the presidents of Planned Parenthood and the serpentine Catholics for Choice are alarmed by the vitriol (the pro-choice article contains useful statistics).

In case you were doubtful as to the need for moral advertisement, the WaPo also reports on the newest twist in broadcasting innovation: a "faux-reality Web-based docudrama featuring actors trying to decide whether to have an abortion." Viewers will be asked to cast votes - American Idol style - to decide whether the mothers abort. Tim Tebow, how we need thee now!

Categories > Bioethics

Health Care

Is Mandatory Health Insurance Constitutional?

Akhil Amar v. Rob Natelson

Categories > Health Care


Hayward Celebrates Earth Day

Just in time for the upcoming celebration of Earth Day and the pending release of a new edition of the perennial favorite, Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, our friends over at Infinite Monkeys, again feature our own Steve Hayward in their always entertaining "Ben and Joel Podcast."  In this edition, Steve discusses the impact of recent media events and discoveries on the public discussion of environmental issues.  How has the debate changed?  In what direction is it likely to move?  In what ways do both the right and the left need to be moderated in their understanding and approach to questions concerning the environment?  Is there any real potential for moderation and reason in the near future?  What is the most significant environmental challenge facing our planet today and why haven't you heard about it?  And, as a bonus, how will the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United affect the ongoing debate?
Categories > Environment


DOJ's Injustice Moderated

Concluding a threat which was somewhat close to my heart, the Dept. of Justice has cleared Bush administration attorneys targeted for memos they authored on interrogation techniques. In an act of unprecedented malice and intimidation, Obama initiated a witch-hunt on Bush officials who enforced policies with which he disagreed. Specifically, he directed the DOJ to investigate attorneys who had provided legal opinions confirming water-boarding and other enhanced interrogation measures were consistent with Geneva Convention requirements.

The President brought the power of the Department of Justice against attorneys of the former administration for providing a legal opinion with which he happened to disagree. I can imagine few examples of a more tyrannous and unprincipled assault on free-speech and democracy. Obama, through Attorney-General Holder, sought to punish civil servants for thinking differently than him (and the thinking was very plausibly correct on the substance).

DOJ originally concluded that the lawyers violated professional rules of conduct and sought disbarment (though the left demanded imprisonment). However, a final reviewer seems to have softened the conclusion to a mere reprimand. DOJ didn't explain the reversal, but noted the reviewer was "a highly respected career lawyer who acted without input from Holder." I'm certain the latter statement was meant to protect Holder from the reckless wrath of the bloodthirsty left, though it only serves to prove his truancy from the actual administration of justice.

Categories > Courts

Health Care

Now Why Would He Go and Do That?

Danny Williams, premier of Newfoundland, has arranged to travel to the United States for heart surgery.  His decision "has raised eyebrows over his apparent shunning of Canada's health-care system."  I imagine it has.
Categories > Health Care


Obama's Budget Boost for Unions

It's not just in the modest 5% increase from 2009 in the Department of Labor 2011 budget--it's also where there's no increase at all for the Department's agencies--as in the Office of Labor Management Standards, which is responsible for making sure that unions are transparent in their expenses and don't violate workers' rights.  (In 2010--a bonanza year for the Department and for most DOL agencies--it got a cut of about 10%.)  See the last page of the linked document, top line.
Categories > Presidency


The Esoteric President

Esoteric writing, I hardly need remind many NLT readers, is a form of writing in which the writer appears to be saying one thing, but in fact, is saying another.  This technique often involves writing in such a way that the words, on the surface, suggest one conclusion, even as the underlying logic, if we follow it, suggests another.  Most people, experience shows, don't bother following the logic closely. It's too much work.

This post by Roy Cordato on Obama's energy policy reminded me of that idea. The President proposes to elimate "'subsidies' for fossil fuels."  Cordoto notes that that's open to question. The "subsidies" are not exactly what they seem. "In reality, to allow expensing of these payments is not a subsidy. It avoids the imposition of a tax penalty on oil drilling and is an example of how all production costs should be treated by the tax code."

"The immediate expensing of costs," Cordato argues, "puts all investment spending on an equal footing and ensures that the tax treatment of investments is consistent with sound economic principles of taxation."  And he summarizes. "So Obama, in proposing to eliminate expensing of these drilling costs, is not abolishing a tax subsidy, but is imposing a tax penalty. And, given his often-articulated disdain for fossil fuels, he is probably quite aware of this fact."

I am reminded of Obama's comment, when he was a candidate about his policy with regard to coal power.  There, his pride seems to have gotten the better of him, and he let the mask slip: "So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted."

In light of his clear preference for a single-payer health system, it is not unreasonable to speculate that he favors health reforms of the same sort.

Categories > Politics


The Pussilanimous GOP

Here is Ken Thomas' take on Obama's meeting with the GOP a few days ago.  He thinks Obama came out on top; the Republican Congressmen gave him legitimacy.  I like this paragraph: "The Republicans don't seem to realize that Obama's fall was the exposure of a student body president as a schoolyard bully. Republican deference to him enables him to play his former stellar role (albeit minus the Greek columns). This is seen most clearly in the whining of two members that the Democrats don't take their ideas seriously and that they are dissed as the party of No. Why treat Obama as though he has moral authority to grant legitimacy? Is he going to denounce Gramma Pelosi in front of them? (He didn't.)"
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Only Tocqueville Can Go To China?

A global prophesy upon which a growing consensus across the political, social and economic spectrum agree is that an emergent, dynamic China will vie for super-power status in the not-too-distant future. Roger Cohen finds his "mind wandering, fast-forwarding to 2040," and contemplating China's potential usurpation of America as the world's dominant nation. The contention is neither radical nor dependant upon radicalism - all things being equal, it is a potential (some argue, probable) consequence of present events. The physics of history dictate that forces in motion continue upon their trajectory absent a counter-force. As China is unlikely to encounter external opposition, the only question regards its risk of implosion.

In an attempt to analyze the nature of democracy in China, the American Enterprise Institute has used China as a test-case for the application of Tocqueville's political science in the modern world. The folks at AEI regard China as having entered a democratic social state governed through authoritarianism (as opposed to its opposite, liberal democracy). Tocqueville foresaw the advent of absolutism as the consequence of preferring equality above freedom. Liberal democracy requires a particular set of laws and mores (which Tocqueville recognized in America and found lacking in the French Revolution). I believe it would require a very discerning eye to detect them in China today.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

How Did Hugo Find Out...?

That America has a secret "earthquake weapon!"  Chevez, speaking truth to power, has blown the lid on the secret that "the 7.0 magnitude Haiti quake was caused by a U.S. test of an experimental shockwave system that can also create 'weather anomalies to cause floods, droughts and hurricanes.'" 

You can't make this stuff up.

I remember this technology from my childhood, and ironically, it seems Hugo was also a closet G.I. Joe fan, because it was called the Weather Dominator - and it was awesome. But, assuming we didn't use the weapon to target Haiti, wouldn't it be great if a group of American scientists locked away in an underground weapons lab were really nervous for a few moments as they waited to see if the world took Hugo's accusation seriously...? Al Gore, eat your hat.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Beyond Political Dispute

Harvey Mansfield thinks that we ought to take Obama's claims to "post-partisanship" more seriously.  Obama's critics have been quick to point out the many ways in which Obama's method of being beyond partisan politics seems only to be a cover for advancing the opinions an interests of his own party.  Fair as that critique may be on its surface, it seems that Mansfield does not think that it goes far enough.  Perhaps Obama's critics would be well-advised to stop pointing to what they take to be the President's cynicism and hypocrisy and, instead, focus their attention on the thing that Obama appears to take as an unquestioned "good."  What is post-partisanship and is it a thing worthy of citizens in a democratic-republic?  Perhaps Obama's critics give too much credit to the apple of his desire?

In keeping with the view that one always learns more about a person if he understands the man first as he understands himself, Mansfield eschews the easy course of looking for ulterior motives beneath the President's stated self-understanding.  Obama's claims to be "post-partisan" and to desire a kind of "post-partisanship" are serious ones that deserve more investigation and analysis.  But are they ends that are worthy of the dignity of America?  

In the first place, one can only think that "post-partisan" is a term of approbation if one is already, in fact, beyond politics.  In other words, one only admires those who are beyond politics if one exists in the realm where perfect reason (or, what's more likely, what one takes to be perfect reason) rules. One can only admire the attempt to takes things off the table if one is closed off to argument and political dispute or, quite literally, beyond it.  In this realm, one need not discuss such arcane questions as the goodness or the badness of more government involvement in the administration of health care.  The only questions for such people are when and how we are going to get government involved and how effective it can/must be when it does get involved.  It's a kind of "how to" rather than a "why" politics.  

But this is unworthy of Americans.  In a regime where the people (rather than a monarch and his minions) is sovereign,  trying to occupy heights where the big questions of justice are beyond politics or political dispute is no special or particular kind of virtue.  As Mansfield shows, this kind of "politics" in Obama (if one may call it that) is responsible both for his successes and his failures.  There is something in his certainty that both appeals and repulses and there is much in our constitutional order that does not permit his ultimate success without a serious fight.  Those who reject Obama's "politics" would do well do work harder at understanding this apparent contradiction in the souls of Americans, to say nothing of the constitutional order that has--up till now, anyway--kept us free from the worst of this electoral schizophrenia.

Mansfield notes another seeming contradiction in discussing Obama and what makes him tick:

He lets us know that he admires Abraham Lincoln, yet his speeches could not be more different from Lincoln's in respect to argument. Lincoln used argument to transcend momentary feelings. Obama avoids it by recourse to vacuous words like "change" and"hope," never saying toward what or for what.

This strikes me as an especially keen insight into the political soul of Obama.  There can be no doubt that he is an admirer of Lincoln's . . . but why?  What is it about Lincoln that he purports to admire?  During the campaign he suggested that it had something to do with Lincoln's ability to unite discordant political elements in the pursuit of a common and higher purpose--a la Doris Kearns Goodwin's fine work, Team of Rivals.  But how well did Obama understand Lincoln in this?  Lincoln certainly did unite some discordant elements to achieve that higher purpose--and he did it with a seeming kind of Solomonic wisdom impossible not to admire (I suspect, even, if one was only his "worthy" opponent).  But he also--as many of our Confederate sympathizing friends will be quick to point out--was not afraid of an argument that might divide.  I suspect that Obama views himself in something of a similar position to Lincoln's--which is revealing in itself--and that the idea of Progress takes the place of Union in this metaphor.  Obama is also not afraid of potential division, but he appears to be afraid of a genuine argument.  But if Obama wants only to compare himself by way of method and forms to Lincoln, he ought to examine Lincoln's a little more carefully.  How did Lincoln manage these political movements that Kearns Goodwin and so many other have rightly admired?  What was his appeal or method of persuasion?  (Oops, I already said too much in saying "persuasion.")  Surely, Lincoln was a shrewd political actor.  But he was more than that and, if we are to keep to our admonition that we learn more about men by understanding them as they understand themselves, then we ought to consult Lincoln more than Barack Obama in order to discover that thing that Lincoln considered the real demarcation of human improvement and progress--and therefore, the thing above all other things that an American statesman ought to strive toward when speaking to his fellow citizens.  Lincoln appealed to the minds as well as to the hearts of his fellow citizens.  He didn't consider anything--except the truth of human equality in rights--to be "off the table."  And his understanding and respect for this ultimate principle made it imperative, for him, to be willing at all times and everywhere to give account of it. 

Lincoln did not consider that progress was simply a collective movement of souls dragged along in history's path by their betters--whether willing or unwilling to follow. True progress--if it is to come to a people--must come by the slow process of individual growth toward natural and higher ends--which suggest limits even as they proclaim possibilities.  Progress is a thing that must be achieved again and again--by individuals and communities--as human generations come into and go out of being.  Progress is not, necessarily, a cumulative thing--though it appears from the context of the lecture here delivered by Lincoln that he suspects that it could be imperiled equally by a false "over estimate" of human reason as it once was by a "false underestimate" of it.  In Barack Obama's case, it is hard to tell whether it is an over estimate or an under estimate of human reason--or some combination of the two--that is more responsible for his failure in the first year of his Presidency.  I suspect that it is some combination of the two things.  For he under estimate's the capacity of the American people (perhaps, deliberately so) to handle debate about the ends and purposes of government and, sensing that, they call him condescending and arrogant.  At the same time, he over estimates the capacities of those he considers the enlightened (or "progressive") few to govern with necessary wisdom and he has relied--perhaps fatally--upon his own political shrewdness to gloss over their inadequacies.  One can call this approach to American government many things . . . but Lincolnian is not one of them.

Categories > Presidency


A Threat from Tehran

Could this be what Joe Biden was talking about when he said that Obama would be tested by America's enemies?
Categories > Politics