Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Peggy Noonan on Aliens and Alienation

If there is a better way to say what Peggy Noonan says here about the current struggles over illegal immigration and their connection to the larger questions of people and their sense of alienation from a government that will not do obvious and needed things, I don't know what it is and I don't imagine that a lifetime of writing and trying would help me get any closer to it.  Do take the time to read it and digest it and, in so doing, especially consider these words: 

In the past four years, I have argued in this space that nothing can or should be done, no new federal law passed, until the border itself is secure. That is the predicate, the commonsense first step. Once existing laws are enforced and the border made peaceful, everyone in the country will be able to breathe easier and consider, without an air of clamor and crisis, what should be done next. What might that be? How about relax, see where we are, and absorb. Pass a small, clear law--say, one granting citizenship to all who serve two years in the armed forces--and then go have a Coke. Not everything has to be settled right away. Only controlling the border has to be settled right away.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Redrawing Europe

The Economist at its best: "The European map is outdated and illogical. Here's how it should look." (Do read the article's explanations.)


Among my favorites, for personal reasons: "The rest of Italy, from Rome downwards, would separate and join with Sicily to form a new country, officially called the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (but nicknamed Bordello). It could form a currency union with Greece, but nobody else."

Categories > Foreign Affairs



The Federalist Society has launched website "to collect in one place the key news and documents, as well as commentary from across the legal, political and philosophical spectrum, regarding the upcoming Supreme Court nomination."

It's a useful accumulation of information on the topic - the blog roll, news feeds and potential nominee profiles will keep you busy for some time.

Categories > Courts

Foreign Affairs

Iran Elected to UN's Women's Rights Body

"How could a country that stones women to death for adultery possibly be chosen to serve in a leadership role on the U.N.'s Commission on the Status of Women?"

So asks Anne Beyefsky, reporting Iran's selection to the UN's Commission on the Status of Women - the UN's "principal global policy-making body" on women's rights. Iran ascended to the body alongside the Dem. Rep. of Congo, Liberia and Zimbabwe, and will join current members including Belarus, China, Cuba, and Libya.

Beyefsky asks when America, which foots 22% of the UN's budget, will finally turn off the tap.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Political Philosophy

How the Other Side Thinks

In a condescending article riddled with contempt, Newsweek decisively concludes that tea-partiers are racists. The evidence relied upon is instructive - not with regard to the tea-party, but liberal ideologues intent on disparaging political opponents. 

Newsweek cites a survey which proves "racial hostility" and "resentment" by the tea-party. A sample (but read the 9-question survey and learn of your inner racism):

Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without special favors. Agree? You're a racist.

It is likely that recent immigration levels will take jobs away from people already here? Agree? You're a racist.

Revealing tea-partiers as "whiter, older, wealthier, and more well-educated than the average American," Newsweek finds that they aren't themselves suffering from the economic conditions they protest. Hence, they must be lying to conceal their true motives, which Newsweek quickly reveals as fear of racial shifts away from an all-white America (no evidence is produced for this conclusion). Only liberals blindly devoted to identity-politics would assume that someone not suffering from social conditions necessarily lacks the personal integrity to demonstrate passionately and sincerely against such conditions.

Newsweek also helpfully informs readers that there is "no evidence" that Obama is "radical," opposes gun ownership, has abdicated border security or takes a dim view of states' rights. Questioning Obama's "patriotism" or likening his policies to "socialism" is also "coded language" for racism.

The article is a glimpse into the mind and prejudices of liberal zealots. Their slanders are reasonable from their self-reflective and elitist point of view: people generally don't help those unlike them (i.e., people are not driven by principles, but class interests) and only liberals break this trend - conservatives who seem to oppose Obama's economics because they hurt other people must really oppose Obama because he is black. The irony is that such a view is ridiculous, insulting and deeply racist (merely being white, remember, is a main indicator to liberals that tea-partiers are racists).

What Obama (Still) Does Well

Most Americans probably do not know who Dorothy Height is, but her patient activism in the civil rights movement--not to mention her signature hats--made her one of the iconic figures of the modern struggle on behalf of black Americans and women's rights (background-woman in hat):


The fact that she was one of the few remaining leaders of the Movement, and whose death represented the passing of an era, was manifested by the number of Administration officials (including the POTUS) who attended her funeral today:

30heightspan-cnd-articleLarge[1].jpgBut to my point: read Obama's eulogy to remind yourself of his greatest strength, and why, I hasten to add, the Republicans do not have not a mountain to climb but the entire Alps to traverse before they get more black Americans to take them seriously as a political party.

Foreign Affairs

So Hard to Say "I'm Sorry"

In the wake of the unprecedented tragedy endured by Poland, Russia has released documents concerning the World War II massacre of 20,000 Polish officers at Katyn in 1940. The act is significant, although the papers had already been published in 1992, because any admission of guilt or compromise on the part of Russia's is historic.

Of course, Russia is refusing to release the full cache of papers, including the names of those who ordered the massacre. Poland has graciously invited further forthcomingness. Europeans seem to be reacting with a mixture of gratitude at the gesture and fury that Russia is still withholding and acting ... well, as they've come to expect from the Evil Empire.

I would not advise high expectations that Russia has yet decided to join the Free World as a force for good - but each little step is commendable.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Hanson on "Obama's Nuclear Naivety"

Victor David Hanson reflects on the debacle of Obama's nuclear strategy - including a nuclear summit excluding the most dangerous nations and any meaningful conversation about them, a focus on eliminating nuclear weapons (an impossibility) rather than restricting who has them, the abandonment of a global push for democratization (the only non-military option we might have had in Iran), the abdication of methods of deterrence and defensive technologies, and "a bad habit of talking tough and bullying friendly constitutional states while reaching out to hostile and bad-acting dictatorships" - which Hanson deems, in "nuclear politics," as "dangerous beyond belief." 

UPDATE: Obama today opposed a bipartisan U.S. bill to sanction Iran by penalizing companies doing business with the rogue state, citing the need to exempt Chinese and Russian interests from the bill's scope.

Opposing sanctions to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, in order to appease Russia and China. Unbelievable from an American president.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Dying Languages in New York City

This front-page news story on Dying Languages in New York City ("the most linguistically diverse city in the world")  is worth a read, despite the bows toward political correctness.  Languages I have never heard of: Mandaic, Vlashki, Massalit, Garifuna, etc., exists here.  "It is the capital of language density in the world," said Daniel Kaufman, an adjunct professor of linguistics at the Graduate Center of the CUNY.  "We're sitting in an endangerment hot spot where we are surrounded by languages that are not going to be around even in 20 or 30 years."  Of course, endangered language programs are being organized at local universities.  Let's just assume that the city is like a museum....

Categories > Education

Pop Culture

And Now for Something Completely Different

The world's smallest horse was born last week in Barnstead, N.H. (video and slideshow here).


Categories > Pop Culture


A Passing Hope...

"I don't accept second place for America. I want us to be first...." Thus began President Obama, in a sincere and robust tone which actually stirred a bit of patriotic confraternity within my heart. I was surprised to hear Obama speaking so openly in favor of American exceptionalism. My ears perked and I smiled ... until I heard the rest of the sentence.

"... in wind power, first in solar power and I want us to be first when it comes to bio-diesel...."

If only Obama could find the same pro-American enthusiasm he has for global warming and environmentalism in the context of U.S. military conduct, foreign relations, historical legacy, moral tradition, economic power and cultural excellence.

Well, I suppose then he wouldn't be a Democrat.

Categories > Presidency

Shameless Self-Promotion

Propostion 13, 32 Years Later

I have an article in today's Los Angeles Times on California's Proposition 13, the Bunker Hill of a tax revolt that, after 32 years, is still striving for its Yorktown.  It is an abbreviated version of an essay in City Journal's Spring 2010 issue. I'll put up a link here when that becomes available, too.


Stick a Fork in Him. . .

Gordon Brown is done.  How does a supposedly experienced politician forget he is live-mic-ed?  Assignment for the class: Does this confirm standard stereotypes of presumptuous liberal elitism?
Categories > Elections

Political Parties

Infanticide Horrors

Adding to Julie's post below, it bears reminding that President Obama - along with many Democrats and the abortion industry - opposed the "Born-Alive Infants Protection Act," a law requiring physicians to provide medical care to infants born alive during an attempted abortion.

It is only human to express horror at Julie's story from Italy. So bear in mind that Obama repeatedly voted that such an abandonment of a newborn child for days to die of hunger and exposure would not constitute a crime. Perhaps he would have called it, "post-birth abortion."

I believe any dictionary and reasonable person would confirm the definition of intentionally leaving a living newborn child to die as infanticide. Thus, the President of the United States and Democratic Party have repeatedly voted to legalize infanticide. There are a number of objective standards by which to judge a person and society - surely this is one.

Categories > Political Parties


Abortion Horrors

I bring your attention to this awful story of a child in Italy who survived for two days after a botched abortion (though without any medical attention, he later died) as a reminder--not only of the poignant horror that is the reality of abortion--but also as a reminder of what is really lost in the often too political discussion of abortion.  What is really at stake in this debate is a question of hearts and minds.  One side is guilty of rationalizing the thing to the point where the heart is perverted by the false reasoning of the mind.  The other side is guilty of forgetting that in every appeal to right reason, there are competing interests of passion and heart.  However valuable or important they may be in and of themselves, I don't believe that the abortion issue is ever going to be resolved by rational arguments about a "right to life" or lengthy discussion of the relative merits of a Constitutional "right to privacy."  It will only be resolved (in a way satisfactory to friends of life) if and when the vast majority of the American people can look at a story like the one described above and see no excuse for it in a civilized country.
Categories > Bioethics


Crist on the Outside

Fox is "tweeting" (?) that Florida governor and Senate hopeful Charlie Crist will run as an independent. This will be remembered as another indicator of the political mood of the time - a mainstream, recently popular governor was swept aside in the primary by a "tea-party" Republican to his right.

It seems unlikely that a 3-way race would hand the election to a Democrat, as happened in New York's congressional race, as Democrat Kendrick Meek presently polls in the low 20's. But Crist is still a solid second behind Rubio in the general election polling.

Crist is rowing against the stream as a 3rd party candidate. The outsider has just claimed the high-ground after a successful siege of the establishment. The internal revolution is over, and Crist lost. Now the wider war begins - and Crist's odds don't seem much better.

Categories > Elections


UPDATED: This Will Screw Up Our Flag

UPDATED: Naomi Lopez Bauman provides a strong counter-agrument against Puerto Rican statehood.


During my years of foreign domicile, I've been asked several times about the status of Puerto Rico. What is it, why do we have it and what are we doing with it? Sometimes it's proffered as evidence that America is secretly imperialistic, but more often it's an honest question born of confusion. If we are a nation divided into states ... what's with those "territories?" Europe gave (most of) those back years ago. Why do we still have them?

It's a rather profound question that Americans are rather happy to ignore. Puerto Ricans enjoy a strange division of Constitutional rights - they are "natural born citizens," but not residents of the U.S. and only possess only "fundamental rights," not full enfranchisement.

But all that may change soon. From NRO's Corner:

"We shall continue to encourage the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in its political growth and economic development in accordance with the wishes of its people and the fundamental principle of self-determination." So said the Republican party platform in August 20, 1956.

For over 50 years, every Republican president and every GOP platform has supported the right of self-determination for U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. A bill that would turn that GOP commitment into law is currently moving through the House with 57 Republican co-sponsors. As soon as this Thursday, Congress could decide whether the 4 million citizens of Puerto Rico have the same right as other Americans to determine their own fate.

The short article divulges a few surprising statistics about the Republican-ness of the island, but also raises a very great question about America's conception of self-determination. Left unasked is whether there is a certain outer boundary of American-ness beyond which we are not presently willing to self-identify - and whether the borincano, like so many Italians, Irish, Germans, etc. before them, fall on the wrong side of that line. 

Categories > Politics


Why Liberals Flunk the Churchill Test

My peeps at AEI have breached the Weekly Hayward's Standard's subscriber firewall, so you can now read my review of Paul Johnson's new short biography of Churchill.
Categories > History

They Cried Racism

Andrew Breitbart is rightly furious at attempts to paint the Tea Partiers and Obamacare opponents as racists, but I think he misunderstands the purpose of the slurs.  Breitbart writes that "The Democratic Party and the political left cannot use the race card to shut up its opponents based on pure fabrication any longer."  That is very true, but also beside the point.  Those kinds of accusations of racism are much, much more likely to infuriate self-identified conservatives than intimidate them.  They also won't do much to win over white persuadables who haven't bought into the Paul Krugman theory of political history. Really, how is this supposed to work?

Persuadable Voter: Well I'm not sure if I support cuting Medicare to pay for a new entitlement, and I don't like the idea of a mandate.

Democrat Flack: The people who are out protesting the President's health care plan are racists. 

Persuadable Voter : Oh, well then I'm for it.

So why use this strategy at all?  Well we shouldn't totally discount an element of sincerity in some cases.  It isn't a stretch to believe that Janeane Garofalo and Keith Olbermann are shallow and insular enough to actually believe that protests against Obama's policies are driven primarily by racism.  A more cynical reason for this strategy is that the attempt to paint Republicans and Obama critics as racists is an attempt to consolidate the African American (and to a lesser extent Latino vote) around the Democratic Party. 

It is shrewd long-term strategy.  Democrats arn't going to win over many conservatives without major policy changes they don't want to make.  White persuadables have been trending Republican (as we saw in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts), and probably won't be won over by November unless the labor roars back to health far faster than anybody expects.  But the racist slurs will quickly be forgotten by persuadables (conservatives will nourish a bitter resentment, but they weren't voting for liberal Democrats anyway, so no loss.) Those  same white peruadables will still be there and still be persuadable in 2012.  They will be open to vote for either party depending on the arguments and conditions of the moment.  Not a lot of white persuadables are going to vote against President Obama or Senator Debbie Stabenow in 2012 because of what John Lewis or some liberal journalist said about the Tea Party protests in 2009 or 2010.  But reinforcing the identification of Republicans as racists among African Americans and maintaing the huge margins Democrats enjoy among African Americans (and hopefully keeping the 2 to 1 margins Obama won among Latinos) is crucial for the long term health of the Democratic Party.

This PPP poll demonstrates the importance to Democrats of winning huge supermajorities among African Americans and broad majorities among Latinos.  Obama's approve/disapprove numbers are under water at 46% approve and 48% disapprove.  But the racial crosstabs tell a slightly different story.  Obama's disapprove among whites is 59% but his approval numbers are 17 to 1 favorable among African American and 3.5 to 1 favorable among Latinos.  And that is with a lousy labor market.  If anything, the numbers paint an even more depressing picture for 2012 when one looks at history.  As Henry Olsen pointed out in the Claremont Review of Books, Republicans have not won 59% of the white vote in a presidential election since 1988.  Based on experience, the huge current Republican margins among whites are probably unsustainable if conditions improve even a little - and that is with a demographic in relative decline.  But the Democratic margins among African Americans and perhaps Latinos are quite sustainable for the foreseeable future unless something changes.  

The demonization of Republicans and tying them to racial incidents has become a routine part of left-of-center politics in the last twelve years.  My first clear memory is of the the 1998 radio ad that slyly tied Republicans to church burnings. There was the James Byrd ad in 2000, the attempt to turn the Katrina into an example of Republican racism rather than incompetence (the incompetence of the Democratic state and local authorities not being racist of course), and now this feeding frenzy about Tea Party racism.  These are just the attempts to demonize Republicans as racist that have made their way into the mass media.

The strategy has worked so far, but the fact that Democrats feel that they have to take such loathsome efforts to maintain their huge margins indicates that their hold on those margins might be more fragile than one would think. 


Inroad for Conservatives with the Youth Vote?

First they came for the trans-fats . . . next it was salt.  Now they're coming after your Happy Meal toys . . . ?
Categories > Politics


The Powerpoint Presentation Has No Clothes

Why I am not surprised that it took a military man to point this out?  I can only hope we all take our cue from them and listen . . .

"PowerPoint makes us stupid," Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

Notable exceptions to the contrary notwithstanding . . . you all know, in your bones, that there is more truth than its opposite in this! 
Categories > Technology

Pop Culture

Go Spell it on the Mountain

Private donations save the Hollywood Sign.
Categories > Pop Culture


The Culture of Finance

Robert Samuelson notes that the most interesting thing about the charges against Goldman Sachs might not be the case, but rather what it tells us about how Wall Street has changed.

Once upon a time, Wall Street's leaders saw themselves as arbiters of capital, helping allocate society's savings to productive uses. By contrast, Wall Street's major firms now see themselves as captains of "the market," navigating it -- for themselves and sometimes their clients -- for maximum gain. This is a distinction with a difference. . . .

A court will presumably decide the legal issues. But the moral question is more insistent. Goldman abdicates some of Wall Street's role as arbiter of capital, deciding what should be financed and traded. It adopts a strict market standard: If buyers and sellers can be found, we'll create and trade almost anything, no matter how dubious. Precisely this mindset justified the packaging of reckless and fraudulent "subprime" mortgages into securities. Hardly anyone examined the worth of the underlying loans.

Samuelson notes that there were problems with the old way of doing business.  But what's most interesting to me is the change he describes.  It seems to apply to many other walks of life.  The idea of using liberty responsibly, an idea that always central to the argument for a free society, is less present now in the broader culture than it used to be. 

Categories > Economy


Obama Down On The Farm

The "White House to Main Street" tour is back on the road. Obama is in the Midwest, campaigning again (if he ever stopped) for middle-America's votes. But the president is not sharing the stage with vulnerable candidates - an indication that, while far more popular than the poor shmucks in Congress, the Obama brand has lost a bit of its sheen.

"President, heal thyself," may be the motto of this trip (from both voters and candidates). The greatest benefit for which Democrats can hope is a resurgence of Obama's popularity. Dissatisfaction with both Obama and the government in general predicts a perfect-storm scenario for congressional Democrats. They need a life-line, and none is yet visible.

Maybe Obama should try speaking at a Tea-Party rally ... or at least attending one.

Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

Iran & The UN: A Parody From Hell

"Iran has confirmed it will no longer run for a seat on the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council. Instead, it aims to become a member of an international women's rights body."

You simply can't make this stuff up.

UPDATE: Ahmadinejad calls UN veto power "satanic tool."

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Pop Culture

South Park and the decline

Ross Douthat in today's NYT: "In a way, the muzzling of "South Park" is no more disquieting than any other example of Western institutions' cowering before the threat of Islamist violence. It's no worse than the German opera house that temporarily suspended performances of Mozart's opera "Idomeneo" because it included a scene featuring Muhammad's severed head. Or Random House's decision to cancel the publication of a novel about the prophet's third wife. Or Yale University Press's refusal to publish the controversial Danish cartoons ... in a book about the Danish cartoon crisis.....
But there's still a sense in which the "South Park" case is particularly illuminating. Not because it tells us anything new about the lines that writers and entertainers suddenly aren't allowed to cross. But because it's a reminder that Islam is just about the only place where we draw any lines at all.....
Our culture has few taboos that can't be violated, and our establishment has largely given up on setting standards in the first place.

Except where Islam is concerned. There, the standards are established under threat of violence, and accepted out of a mix of self-preservation and self-loathing.This is what decadence looks like: a frantic coarseness that "bravely" trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force"

Categories > Pop Culture

Foreign Affairs

China's "far sea defense" and the "signal drama of the age"

This New York Times story from a couple of days ago is worth noting.  The discussion about China and its navy, is becoming a bit more public and a lot more interesting.  Despite China's continentalist past, it looks like China has embarked on a genuine maritime transformation. NYT:  "Now, Chinese admirals say they want warships to escort commercial vessels that are crucial to the country's economy, from as far as the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca, in Southeast Asia, and to help secure Chinese interests in the resource-rich South and East China Seas.  In late March, two Chinese warships docked in Abu Dhabi, the first time the modern Chinese Navy made a port visit in the Middle East"  Also note this article, "China Sets Sail,"  by Ericson, Goldstein, and Lord, in the current issue of The American Interest (subscription required), as well as Robert Kaplan's "The Geography of Chinese Power" in the current issue of Foreign Affairs (Subscription required).
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

On Aliens - And Not The Mexican Variety

Stephen Hawking, in his paternal way, warns us not to talk to aliens. He thinks they're likely out there, and expects they may be of the Independence Day sort that you wouldn't want to meet on a bad day. And, they'll likely all live together on massive ships - a sure sign that they're probably a bunch of socialists! We've got enough of that sort of thing already - no need to encourage the Democrats further.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Palin Brand

New York has a lengthy piece on Sarah Palin, stressing the commercially lucrative brand she has managed of her persona. The article casts most of Palin's decisions, particularly following the 2008 election, as having been motivated by fiscal considerations (which is understandable, given her $500,000 "trooper-gate" legal defense debts).

The story provides a rather balanced (or, admittedly slightly-left-of-center) portrait of the political star. It's worth-while to keep up with Palin, as she'll likely continue as a dominant presence in America's political life for the foreseeable future. And the public's reaction to her recent activities - eschewing political responsibilities in favor of, well, making an incredible amount of money - should provide an interesting lesson in America's democratic sensibilities.

Categories > Politics


My Favorite Political Theme

What links Barack Obama and Clarence Thomas.  From James Chen, who served under Obama at Harvard Law Review and clerked for Justice Thomas:  "It's just weird; I think we ought to acknowledge that."  Chen maintains that "The defining trait for both would not be race, but religion. Chen said he does not know two more 'profoundly religious people' than Barack Obama, a Protestant, and Clarence Thomas, a Catholic."
Categories > Religion


How to Balance the Budget

The conventional wisdom about balancing the federal budget is that it will require both tax increases and speding cuts. 

That's simply not true.  The 1992 Clinton campaign argued that the budget could not be balanced.  They put the budget on Compuserve or one of those old-time online services, and, to demonstrate the truth of their assertion, challenged perspective voters to balance the budget.  I had it balanced in 2 or 3 years, and the computer program wouldn't let me cut many things I wanted to cut.

In short, the question is not what is possible in theory, but what we have the political will to do.  The more readily we accept the conventional wisdom, the harder it will be to cut back the size and scope of government.

Categories > Economy

On Not Getting Started

On an earlier thread discussing how conservatives might make gains among African Americans, Ken Thomas mentioned several Reagan speeches in which Reagan spoke out against racism and bigotry and explained that his politics was based on the inalienable rights of all individuals.  Those were the right things to say, they were important to say, and Reagan had been saying similar things since the mid-1960s.  They were especially important because the destruction of Jim Crow, inflation, rising crime, riots, the Vietnam War and other events had blasted tens of millions of loose from the Democratic Party.  There was an active competition for those voters and some were fighting for those votes on racialist grounds.  Reagan was making it clear that his brand of conservative politics would be based on antiracism and equal justice under the law.  It was the right thing to do, but sadly it was no start to healing the breach between conservatives (or Republicans) and the African American community.  I don't hold that against Reagan.  Nothing since then has been a start either.

A big part of it is the depth of the breach between conservatives and African Americans.  The best introduction is problem is our William Voegeli's essay on movement conservatism and the African American community.  It isn't the whole story because that would take a book (or two) but you get a sense of the roots of the suspicion that so many African Americans have for conservatives.  The relationship of the Republican Party with African Americans was damaged as a result of this breach between conservatives and African Americans.  As the Republican Part came to be seen as the political vehicle for movement conservatism, many (if not the vast majority) of African Americans identified the Republican Party as indifferent or hostile to the rights and interests of the African American community.  The links between the perception of movement conservatism as hostile or indifferent to African American interests and the identification of the Republican Party with movement conservatism are the keys to understanding the huge margins by which the Democrats have won African Americans since 1964.  As Voegeli pointed out, the Republicans won 40% of the African American vote in 1956, but only 6% in 1964 and have only made the occasional marginal and temporary gains since then. 

It is 2010 and, after forty-six years later and Republicans are still at square zero among African Americans.  Which is not to say that there have not been attempted "starts."  There was Ken Mehlman talking to the NAACP.  There was George W. Bush meeting with African American preachers and appearing in mostly African American schools and calling education the new civil rights issue.  There was Jack Kemp and enterprise zones.  There was picking Michael Steele as RNC chairman and his promise to try to win over African Americans, young voters and Latinos. Part of the problem is that these gestures were not followed up on, but a bigger problem is that those making them misunderstood what making a "start" at making large, sustained gains among African Americans meant.

All of those gestures seemed to be based on the assumption that if you showed up (once in a while) apologized, for past misdeed, talked about a few select, urban-oriented issues,  and integrated some African Americans into Republican Party elites, the road to substantial gains would be opened.  Even if the above gestures had been followed up on, even if they had not been scattered across decades, they would still not have yielded better results.  Even if those gestures had been an integrated strategy, the strategy would still suffer from being soft, narrow and cheap.

It would be soft because it overestimates the gains to be made from easy gestures like showing up from time to time, making the occasional apology, and such.  It isn't that those gestures are worthless, just that they don't mean much by themselves.  When a community is suspicious because of long historical experience, those gestures are easily discounted unless they are, among other things grounded in a rhetoric that can authentically integrate conservative principles and policies within the African American and broader American historical experience.  And I don't mean bootstrap, self-help bromides.  Constructing such a rhetoric will be a brain frying task.

It would be narrow because it would not treat the African American community as a group with a full spectrum of interests.  Improving inner-city schools is a terrific idea, but there are alot of things to worry about in life, and anyway, millions of African Americans aren't sending their kids to failing schools.  Talking about how pro-family tax reforms and market-oriented health care reform will help the average African American family alongside education is just a start of what a broader issue agenda will look like.  Talking about abortion and eminent domain abuse and how each tie into deep  concerns about the government's requirement to protect people's basic human rights and the need to restrain government from dispossessing the weak at the hands of the connected (anyone remember urban renewal?) could be a beginning of creating an agenda of shared principle.  The list is not exhaustive.

It would be cheap because it would not commit to the hundreds of often unpleasant conversations in front of suspicious audiences, to rebutting attacks speedily, powerfully and in detail, to the tens of millions of dollars that will have to be spent on media with largely African American audiences who don't consume much of the alternative conservative media.  Until conservatives and Republicans come up with and commit to a realistic strategy for making substantial gains among African Americans, there has been no start no matter what else they do.  There is only wasted time, and enough has already been wasted.  And what is worse than not starting is the comforting illusion of starting, which only encourages the wasting of more time, even as gains are expected. 


Populist Politics - In Living Color

Why can't the RNC put together anything with the impact of this? I'd pay to see the movie - if I weren't paying for it already.... 

The RNC should be asking these guys how much dough they need to get 12 more clips just like this one on the air at prime time? From now until November . . . 2012.

Categories > Elections


Don't believe the hype

Ed Whitacre, chairman of General Motors, is patting himself on the back for paying back $5.8 billion in loans extended by the U.S. and Canadian governments.  Meanwhile, the Obama administration is claiming that this vindicates the decision to throw a "lifeline" to the struggling automobile industry.

But, as Shikha Dalmia points out in Forbes, things are not as they seem.  The government actually pumped in nearly $50 billion to help finance GM's bankruptcy, although for political reasons the administration extended only $6.7 billion of this in the form of an actual loan.  The rest involved purchase of GM stock, so that the government owns a 60 percent share in the corporation.  This has not been repaid, and unlikely never will. 

However, even Whitacre's claim to have paid back the direct loan is misleading.  The funds did not come from GM's profits.  Those are nonexistent; indeed, the corporation has yet to break even.  The $5.8 billion came out of an escrow account containing $13.4 billion of--wait for it--government bailout money. 

Why is GM playing this shell game?  Because what the corporation has applied for a $10 billion low-interest (5 percent, as opposed to the 7 percent interest that was being charged on the $6.7 billion) loan from the Department of Energy.  What better way to show its worthiness of another bailout than by ostentatiously "paying back" what had previously been owned?

In other words, General Motors will remain Government Motors for the foreseeable future.  As the General Accountability Office concluded last December, "The Treasury is unlikely to recover the entirety of its investment in Chrysler or GM, given that the companies' values would have to grow substantially more than they have in the past."

Categories > Economy


What do GM and California have in Common?

Both are still being killed by pension obligations to unionized workers.  As Kaus notes, GM's claim to have repaid its bailout is bogus, as there's still the $50 billion that the U.S. and Canadian governments put into the companies to save it from being sold for scrap.  He comments, "If Sarah Palin told a propagandistic whopper this big she'd be doing run back up to Wasilla by the press."  Meanwhile, he notes that because unions refuse to renegotiate pension obligations, we the taxpayers might be on the hook for another $10 billion.

As for the state of California, it's total due to its workers is staggering.  The NY Times reports that "an independent analysis of California's three big pension funds has found a hidden shortfall of more than half a trillion dollars."

Unions have their place, but the laws we have regarding unions are an anachronism. There's no reason to think that the model of union law created in the 1930s is proper today.  Unions, working the system that exists today, combined with inept management, bankrupted GM and Chrysler.  They are doing the same to California.  To save both governments and industrial companies, we might need to change the underlying rules of the game.

Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

Lessons In Campaign Pledges And Actual Governance, Part 583

"As a candidate, Barack Obama repeatedly promised to refer to the almost century-old massacre of Armenians in Turkey as a genocide. But since becoming president, Obama has twice passed up opportunities to do so."

My purpose is not merely to castigate the President for failing to uphold another campaign promise, but to question his purpose in so doing. Has he learned the foreign diplomacy implication for America's international military and civil interests? In this case, good for him - but was he truly unaware of Turkey's strategic importance months prior to being sworn into office?

Does this indicate a newfound realism, or is it just another example of throwing friendly countries under the bus in favor of those with a more turbulent relationship with the U.S.? Does negotiating with Turkey (as with Russia, Iran, Palestine, etc.) simply inspire the only form of trust-building known to Obama: the betrayal of Armenia (as with Poland and Czech, Iranian protestors, Israel, etc.)? 

And, of course, where is the outrage on the left over Obama's truth-deficit and refusal to speak truth to power?

Categories > Foreign Affairs


SCOTUS Prediction: Napolitano

I think the pick will be former Arizona Governor Napolitano, and the Arizona illegal immigrant law is the tie-breaker, if any were needed.  Just the political angle:  The nomination will show the right at its worst--its sometimes irrational screeds on the serious problem of illegal immigration--and Napolitano will be able to present a credible case that she has had a centrist record on immigration reform.  She will also persuade some conservative Republicans that she is up on the terror issue (based on classified info), and that they should have confidence in her to make prudent decisions on national security law.  Her comments on the Christmas bomber can be explained as attempts to minimize panic.  This cancer survivor is of Italian ancestry but is a Methodist.  The fact that she was on the Anita Hill legal team doesn't hurt either--this is a crew that loves to hate Justice Thomas.

Categories > Courts


Predictable Consequences and Progressive Policy

In the ongoing dust up over bank regulation, President Obama complains that GOP leaders are deploying a "cynical and deceptive assertion that reform would somehow enable future bailouts -- when he knows that it would do just the opposite."

As I read him, President Obama thinks that is it out of bounds to talk about bills in light of what unintended consequences they might have.  Assuming the President is acting in good faith, the goal of the bill is certainly to end such bailouts.  But if we have learned one thing about legislation over the years, it is that if often, perhaps always, has unintended consequences, often perverse ones.  And there are intelligent people of good will who think that the banking bill will, in fact, lead to more bailouts.  Perhaps they are wrong, but they, and those who think they may be right, are not merely being cynical.  By suggesting they are, the President is being needlessly divisive and petty.

Hence the only way to resolve this argument is to consider what the bill will, in fact do, and not what it is, in fact, designed to do.  In other words, we're dealing with plausible guesses.  But such humility about our ability to solve problems with legislation is bad for the political class, and for the people who get paid to support and write about them.

Categories > Presidency


All the News that's Fit to Spin?

Mark Steyn posts a fasciating 1994 speech from Punch Sulzberger, the father of the current publisher of the NY Times.  Reflecting upon the rise of the internet, Suzlberger commented:

When you buy a newspaper, you aren't buying news - you're buying judgment. Already in this low tech world of instant communications there is too much news. That's the problem. Raw news will do just fine if you're a computer buff and want to play editor. But I, for one, would rather let a professional take the first raw cut at history and spend my leisure time fishing.

Judgment, serendipity and something left over to wrap the fish, all neatly folded, in living color, and thrown at no extra cost into the bushes. All for just a few cents a day. It's called a newspaper. And when you add a wee bit of ink for your hands and top it with a snappy editorial to exercise your blood pressure, who needs that elusive interactive information superhighway of communications.

As I read Sulzberger, he's saying that the job is not simply to report the news, but rather to digest and shape it, informing readers about what is and is not important.  That's an aristocratic or technocratic view of the newspaper business--experts judge what is and it not news, and manage how it is reported.  (The cynical bit about the purpose of an editorial being to "exercise your blood pressure" is similar. It is not about providing quality analysis. It is about moving the emotions).  Personally, I prefer a more democratic view of the news business--the job of reporters is to present information to readers so that they may think about the issues for themselves, and the job of editorials is to provide informed judgment.

For quite some time, I have found it frustrating that articles about important pieces of legislation usually present opinions about the legislation, rather than quoting the proposed bill at length, and talking about the actual meaning of the actual bill.  I always assumed it was because reporters would rather call up a couple of Democrats and Republicans, or liberal and conservative think take guys, and quote them, rather than spending the time actally to read pending legislation.  Perhaps my judgment was too charitable.  Perhaps the Times trains reporters to think that the common citizen ought not to worry his pretty little head with such things.

Categories > Journalism

Health Care

Conservatives Have Shifted Right On Health Care...Or Have They?

This is an interesting chart (though a bit blurry) from National Review in 1993.  It lists the health care "parties" from left to right with single-payer health care on the extreme left and consumer-oriented reforms on the extreme right.  What jumps out is that a combination of mandates, guaranteed issue and subsidy (the building blocks of Obamacare after the public option was taken out) is positioned as the moderate conservative position.  One way to read the chart into the present is to argue that conservatives have gone far to the right on health care since what was moderate conservative in 1993 is now socalized medicine. 

I don't think such a reading would be correct, because the chart left out an important category.  For one thing, most conservatives could rightly argue that they never supported mandate/guaranteed issue/subsidize and never considered such a policy either moderate or conservative.  In 1993, I sure didn't.  Mandate/guaranteed issue/subsidize might have had a following among some conservative policy analysts and Republican politicians, but I don't remember that such a policy (and especially not mandates) was popular among the mass of conservatives.  My sense from listening to and watching, (and later reading through the right-blogosphere) conservative media and my conversations with conservatives over the last seventeen years is that neither mandate/guaranteed issue/subsidy nor consumer-oriented health care was the dominant position among most self-identified rank-and-file conservatives.  The dominant position seemed to boil down to several propositions:

1.  America had the best health care in the world and the health care system was basically functional.

2.  Socialized medicine was a menace that must be defeated.

3.  Premiums were rising too fast, but tort reform and making it easier for small companies to pool to buy health insurance would reduce frivolous lawsuits and defensive medicine, increase the supply of doctors, and make it easier for employers to offer affordable health insurance.

The first two propositions were the most important.  This position was oriented more toward protecting the then-existing system from radical change (understood, almost by definition, as coming from the left) than in its suggested reforms.  This helps explain the fairly low priority that health care politics took among conservatives between the defeat of Clintoncare and the credible threat of Obamacare.  Tort reform would have been nice, but conservatives had basically won in preventing socialized medicine and there were always other, more pressing issues. 

Ignoring this conservative position on health care (which I suspect is still the dominant one among conservatives as a whole) would continue to distort how we look at the politics of health care.  While the opposition to mandate/guaranteed issue/subsidize is much more intense now than in 2008, the change among conservatives is probably smaller than it appears.  Most conservatives are where they have always been, they are just more active and the priority of the health care issue has increased.  I also suspect that there is less change among most conservatives than might appear regarding consumer-driven health care reform.  Conservative policy analysts, conservative journalists, and more and more Republican politicians have come out in favor of various versions of consumer driven health care reform, but I wonder what the majority of conservatives who showed up at the town hall meetings and Tea Parties think?  My best guess is that they would be quite happy with a total repeal of Obamacare, plus tort reform, plus allowing employers to buy health insurance policies across state lines, and getting that, would be quite happy to move on to other issues.  I also doubt that they would be very enthusiastic about consumer-driven health care policies that would destroy the private, employer-provided coverage that gives them access the world's best health care system.  Which is to say that I suspect that supporters of consumer-driven health care (of which I am one) should take some, but not too much solace from the movement of policy analysts, conservative journalists and Republican politicians to their side, and that they have a huge job to do selling their ideas to their fellow conservatives - to say nothing of persuadable nonconservatives   

Update: I got the chart from this Stephen Spruiell post over at NRO's Corner.

Categories > Health Care


Africa's Guilt?

Good for Henry Louis Gates for boldly noting, in a NY Times op-ed, that most American slaves were captured by Africans in Africa before being shipped to the Americas.  He is not saying whites are free of guilt, but only that blacks aren't free of it themselves.  The issue, like most such issues, is complex.  Good to see a Lefty doing nuance on an issue that is usually demagogued.  Here's a sample of his reasoning:

While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. . . .

How did slaves make it to these coastal forts? The historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University estimate that 90 percent of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders. The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred. . . .

For many African-Americans, these facts can be difficult to accept. Excuses run the gamut, from "Africans didn't know how harsh slavery in America was" and "Slavery in Africa was, by comparison, humane" or, in a bizarre version of "The devil made me do it," "Africans were driven to this only by the unprecedented profits offered by greedy European countries."

But the sad truth is that the conquest and capture of Africans and their sale to Europeans was one of the main sources of foreign exchange for several African kingdoms for a very long time. Slaves were the main export of the kingdom of Kongo; the Asante Empire in Ghana exported slaves and used the profits to import gold. Queen Njinga, the brilliant 17th-century monarch of the Mbundu, waged wars of resistance against the Portuguese but also conquered polities as far as 500 miles inland and sold her captives to the Portuguese. . . .

African monarchs also sent their children along these same slave routes to be educated in Europe. And there were thousands of former slaves who returned to settle Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Middle Passage, in other words, was sometimes a two-way street. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to claim that Africans were ignorant or innocent.

The real story is that what was novel in the West in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was the moral argument against slavery.

Categories > History

Foreign Affairs

Foriegn Policy Week in Review

Do read James Corum's short Telegraph article on President Obama's recent foriegn policy decisions toward Israel, Poland and Honduras (as well as his disinterest in foriegn policy overall). Corum begins:

Last week was a really bad week for nations that are friends and allies of America. Three nations that have long been close friends and allies of America received humiliating treatment from the Obama administration.

Power Line's John Hinderacker concurrs, but notes "it's actually a bit worse than that":

Not only is Obama mostly uninterested in foreign policy, but his instincts are bad because at bottom, he doesn't believe in advancing America's interests. Moreover, perhaps because of his own jaundiced view of American history, he seems to be instinctively contemptuous of people and nations that are pro-American. The results of Obama's foreign policy are therefore worse than could be obtained through sheer laziness or disinterest.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Best Liked By Those Who Don't Know Him

President Obama topped an international popularity contest among world leaders, with Hillary Clinton coming in third (bisected by the Dalai Lama at #2).

Whereas those over whom he actually governs have taken a far less favorable view as of late, Obama's charm endures amongst the Europeans.

Leader of the Free World, indeed.

Categories > Presidency

Foreign Affairs

Lest We Hope Too Soon...

In case my previous post on Britain's (and perhaps Europe's) re-evaluation of "decentralization and limited government" inspired some sense of hope, let this curb your enthusiasm:

The EU has declared "vacations" a human right - and they are taking measures (i.e., taxing) to subsidize them under a new (international) government entitlement program.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Health Care

Predictable Consequences, part IV

Democrats claimed that one of the virtues of the health care legislation passed last month is that it will reduce health care costs.  Surely few of them actually believed it, as evidenced by the fact that they refused to wait for a complete analysis of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office before pushing for a final vote.

Now that the CBO report has been released, we find that health care costs will continue to rise, and that Americans will spend more than $35 trillion between 2010 and 2019.  But someone, please help me with the math.  According to the same report, Americans are currently spending $2.5 trillion for health care each year, for a ten-year figure of $25 trillion.  It then says that the increase will amount to only "nine-tenths of one percent."  Really?  From $25 trillion to $35 trillion?

But, of course we've been told that increases in cost (or at least the government's part of it) will be offset by reductions in wasteful spending in Medicare.  But the Department of Health and Human Services warns that the proposed cuts--to take effect this fall--could drive as many as fifteen percent of the nation's hospitals into debt.  The elimination of the Medicare Advantage program will also mean increased out-of-pocket expenses for senior citizens.  All of which means that it would be political suicide for Congress to authorize these cuts during an election year.

Categories > Health Care

Foreign Affairs

The Americanization of British Politics

The most striking feature of Britain's up-coming election has not necessarily been any substantive issue, but rather the adoption of "American-style TV debates." While perfectly comfortable haranguing and harassing one another in the cozy quarters of Parliament, it is quite another thing to clean-up and present one's self between the evening news and re-runs of Monty Python skits.

Yet U.S. influence is not restricted to procedure. May 6 seems likely to usher in a (somewhat) new age in British politics, as David Cameron's Tories are set to oust the ruling Labor government. Ross Douthat's NYTimes op-ed argues "Cameron is campaigning on a vision of government that owes a great deal to the American conservative tradition," noting promises of decentralization and limited government. (NRO's Deroy Murdock dissents.)

Should Cameron prove successful, a ripple effect could lead to a center-right revival across Europe. To our discredit, however, Douthat observes that "the American experience is not encouraging. From Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, almost every modern Republican president has pledged to decentralize government and empower local communities. But their successes have tended to be partial, and their failures glaring."

The world continues to look toward America for inspiration and ideas. It's a shame that U.S. conservativism, like Chesterton's famous lament of the Christian ideal, "has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

Categories > Foreign Affairs

So naturally the answer is to give them MORE power

CNN reports that in the past five years thirty-three highly-paid employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission visited porn sites on taxpayer time, using taxpayer-owned computers.  Apparently one senior SEC attorney "downloaded so much pornography to his government computer that he exhausted the available space on the computer hard drive and downloaded pornography to CDs or DVDs that he accumulated in boxes in his office."


Washington's Books

Last week, American historians were stunned as their most distinguished character was embroiled in scandal. President Washington, it has been learned, failed to return two books to the New York Society Library. A newfound ledger records that, in 1789, Washington was brushing up on Emmerich de Vattel's Law of Nations and debates from the House of Commons. However, he-who-could-not-tell-a-lie failed to return the books - raking up a $300,000 late charge!

Mount Vernon, on a related theme, is finally opening a library dedicated to the first president. A WaPo story calls it an "ambitious and noble project that will fill an astonishing void. At a time when presidential libraries are monuments to legacy and ego, it is surprising that the first president of the United States doesn't have one." I find it illuminating, rather than surprising, that successive presidents have seen to their own "legacy and ego," whereas the greatest and humblest of their fellows has gone ever-more neglected and forgotten.

Perhaps the Father of the Nation deserves a bit of clemency on the fine. 

Categories > Education


Calvin Coolidge, the last non-progressive president

John Moser and your humble servant conducted a colloquium on Calvin Coolidge last Friday.  It was fun.  We both wrote chapters for a book on Coolidge to be published next week (I think; it has been delayed by a year or so).  The book, Why Coolidge Matters, has some interesting contributors: Amity Schlaes, John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, Ward Connerly, Robert Ferrell, and a dozen others.  See if you enjoy the colloquium; I'll blog on the book at another time.
Categories > History


Happy Earth Day!

Happy 40th anniversary of Earth Day everyone!  What's that--you mean it isn't on your calendar?  You haven't been anticipating this for months?  

UPDATE:  I also sound off in a second piece over at The Weekly Hayward's Standard's blog here.

Finally, over at NRO's Corner, a little cognitive dissonance, just for the fun of it.
Categories > Environment


Earth Day: The End Is Near

If Islamic extremists hijacked Islam, can we also conclude that environmental extremists hijacked environmentalism? Who doesn't want to get behind Earth Day, after all, ensuring we make informed decisions about pollution, air and water contamination and the preservation of species and habitats? It's the Earth, after all - who hates the Earth?

But the opening sentence of the Official Earth Day 2010 website reads: "Forty years after the first Earth Day, the world is in greater peril than ever." Really? First it was global cooling, then global warming, now it's climate change and tomorrow ... whatever will scare you the most.

Earth Day is the environmental equivalent of that crazy, Apocalypse-obsessed guy with the big sign that reads, "The End is Near." Couldn't we have just been satisfied with happy, cozy, snuggly Arbor Day? 

Categories > Environment

Foreign Affairs

Europe's Liberal Tolerance

Belgium is soon to become the first nation to ban the wear of Muslim veils in public (there are already laws against the fully covering burqa and niqab). France and the Netherlands are considering similar laws, and Quebec (European as it is) is set to ban veils among public employees.

The liberal MP who sponsored the Belgian bill explained: "We cannot allow someone to claim the right to look at others without being seen. ... Wearing the burqa in public is not compatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society."

Only in Europe may openness, liberality and tolerance be invoked in the context of the government dictating, by force of law, what clothes a person is permitted to wear. I recall Muslim girls who were not allowed to attend school in France (due to a headscarf ban) holding signs that read: "Thanks for sending us back to the 14th Century, France."

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Quinnipiac Poll and the Fight for the Court

Of course, it is interesting to note that President Obama's approval rating continued its decline (now only 44%) in the latest Quinnipiac poll.  But if I were inclined to be cheered by this number and I were also thinking about how to drive it even lower for November, I'd also find in this poll a reason for pause:

Obama gets another selection for the Supreme Court this year, and voters trust him (46%) more than they do Senate Republicans (43%) to make the right choice. More (47%) believe that only qualifications should be considered by senators when voting on a nominee, while 43% believe political views should be a factor. Fifty-two percent approve of his first selection, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Considering the momentum of the Tea Parties and the massive unpopularity of Congress (they only get 20% approval) there seems to be a disconnect between the mood of the electorate on these matters and their inclination to trust Obama more than Senate Republicans to make the right choice when it comes to the Court.  

What might explain it? 

And, further, what does it suggest about the coming debates this summer over the Constitution?  A Supreme Court nomination ought to be a prime opportunity for conservatives in Congress to showcase their understanding of the Constitution and to lay the groundwork for a principled defense of their policy ideas for this November.  

But consider this suggestion from Obama today that when it comes to selecting a nominee he will not seek to impose a "litmus test" on abortion rights although, clearly, his language about "privacy rights" and women's rights suggests that he not only means to do precisely that, but that he intends to seek to lay down the terms of debate about his nominee in precisely these terms.  Conservatives should not be fooled.  This is a preemptive move on the part of Obama and the Democrats to turn the discussion surrounding his nominee away from the one thing that would be most helpful to Republicans--a substantive discussion of the meaning and purpose of the Constitution and what that may mean for understanding the limits on federal powers in the Constitution--and instead, to pretend that the central focus of any debate about the Constitution and the Courts interpreting it is the question of "privacy."

The "leave me alone" sentiment of the Tea Party movement, combined with the inability to effectively make a persuasive political case for conservative social policies (and their ties to the Constitution) make this an interesting--and not completely unpromising--choice for a last ditch effort on the part of the Obama people.   Interestingly, "privacy" seems only to interest Progressives like Obama when it comes to the consequences surrounding things people do in their bedrooms.  They aren't particularly keen about "leaving people alone" when it comes to things like . . . well, eating or voicing an opinion (especially if that opinion makes them look bad), or even in keeping the things that people do in their bedrooms private. 

But to take up this discussion borders on falling into a trap.  Obama would like nothing better in this political climate than to focus on the still highly volatile question of abortion and all other divisive social questions surrounding the meaning of "privacy" and a supposed right to it in the Constitution.  Although it is not saying much, it is the strongest hand he's got at the moment.  

This could work if conservatives lose focus. 

When Obama makes public his pick for the Court next month, I do not suggest that conservatives ignore what is sure to be a very bad record and indications about the inclinations of the nominee with respect to Roe v. Wade.  But I do suggest that there is no amount of wishing or pushing that is going to make the nominee any less bad in this respect.  It would be far smarter politics for Conservatives to take this tip of the hand Obama's giving us and pull out some stronger cards of their own.  Refuse to engage in the fight they want to have and show your Constitutional chops on questions other than this one.  It will go a long way toward reversing the only numbers Obama's got going in his favor right now. 
Categories > Courts


Blaming Bush . . . Tea Party Style

Jonah Goldberg went to tea last week in Cincinnati, Ohio.  It is interesting to note what he didn't see there and that is racist rants directed at President Obama or his supporters.   But it is even more telling, perhaps, to note the target of a good bit of the anger that he did see . . . it wasn't all directed at Obama and the Democrats.  A great good bit of it was directed at . . . well, George W. Bush.   

This confounds the "expert" observers who like to suggest that Tea Partiers are simply partisan Republicans acting out against their recent defeats or, worse, that they are secret racists and haters drudging up "limited government" as cover for their agenda to undermine America's first black President. 

It also suggests that wishy-washy (or lazy) Republicans who think the Tea Party movement is a ready-made wave designed by the political gods for them to ride regardless of the quality of their preparation, training, and serious commitment to the idea of limited government may find themselves eating sand.  It no longer seems prudent policy to these Americans to hold back--even when calling out one of their own. 
Categories > Conservatism

The Founding

In the Year of Our Lord 2010

Is "In the year of our Lord" an expression of religious bias?  At a Texas college those protesting its inclusion on their diplomas think it is.  Does no one at that school read the Constitution or Presidential proclamations?  The original Constitution ends with "Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth..."  Presidential proclamations even to this day conclude thus. 

Supporters of the expression need to voice their arguments in the American political tradition, not in their own sectarian preference.  In turn, supporters of constitutional government need to press their advantage in public and private life.  Civil freedom and religious freedom are mutually reinforcing. 

I might edit those diplomas, adding in the year "of the independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth."  Hopefully that would not offend any Texans!  

Categories > The Founding


Don't Expect Praise Or An Easy Road

So Charles Blow went to a Tea Party and was disgusted that he saw so many nonwhite speakers.  He compared it to a minstrel show.  What is more interesting than his casual assumption of racism on the part of the audience was the demonization of the nonwhite speakers as race traitors for speaking in from of the enemy.  This highlights some of the problems that conservatives will face if they should ever craft, commit to, and resource a strategy for making serious gains among nonwhites.  It will be difficult, often unpleasant and unthanked.

I disagree with most of this Ta-Nehisi Coates post defending Blow, but when Coates writes that winning over new groups is "a long-term, ongoing process, one that rarely includes merit badges from your friends or foes" he is exactly right.  I would go even farther and argue that any serious attempt by conservatives to make gains among African American will include many of whatever the opposite of a merit badge is.  There will be some suspicion among many members of the African American community who have bought into the idea that conservatives are racist or at least indifferent to the interests of African Americans.  Many of the most active African Americans who have ties to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party will play on those suspicions.  In fact liberals and the Democratic Party in general will escalate thier attacks on conservatives and Republicans as racists in order to protect the Democratic Party's huge margins among African Americans.  For evidence, one need not look any further than the James Byrd ad.  It is tough to remember now, but George W. Bush won 27% of the African American vote when he ran for reelection in Texas in 1998.  If those margins had translated to the presidential election of 2000, it would have been almost impossible for the Democrats to win the presidential election.  The margins had to be protected.  The despicable Byrd ad  and its use of atmospherics to tie Bush to lynching and white supremacy is a taste of what will be faced by Republicans and conservatives who make a serious effort to win over African Americans.  Any African Americans who take a public stand in favor of political conservatism will be met with Charles Blow-like attempts at marginalization as traitors to their race.

But thats life, and conservatives don't really lose much.  Here is the thing: Any conservative attempt to win over African Americas will be met with an escalation of racialist politics, but so what?  Liberals and Democrats already resort to these tactics when they get in a jam - exhibit A is the reaction to the Tea Parties.  These tactics have had the intended effect of protecting the Democratic Party's margins among African Americans.  So the best strategy is to come up with a good plan, work hard, and hit back hard.  The James Byrd ad/Charles Blow-type attempts to demonize white conservatives as racists and nonwhite conservatives as race traitors will abate when it becomes obvious they are not working (defined as major and sustained Republican gains among African Americans) and not a moment before.  So if conservatives and Republicans aren't liking what they are hearing, they need to come up with a plan to win over African Americans and then get to work. 

Categories > Politics


Stevens Meets Holmes at 90

Justice Stevens, decked out in a bright red-bow tie, turned 90 years-old yesterday.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is the only other justice to have reached his 10th decade while still sitting on the Court. Holmes famously took account of his increased age by noting, "Old age is fifteen years older than I am."

Categories > Courts

Political Parties

Where Are They Getting All That Cash?

Despite being trounced by 10% in a generic congressional ballot poll, Democrats are still spanking Republicans at fund-raising! By nearly a 3-1 margin! And the GOP is celebrating this as a relative victory - last year by this time it was almost 5-1!

And, despite abysmal approval rating, Obama is raking in the dough!

Who's funding these guys? During a fiscal crises, after spending trillions of dollars on suspect projects and, due to record low approval ratings, looking forward to massive losses in the next election, the Dems are literally wading in contributions?

Do the Dems rock, or does the GOP just really, really suck?

Categories > Political Parties


The Supreme Court's Free Speech Bonanza

The Supreme Court is in the midst of a relative deluge of controversial free-speech cases at the moment. In January, the court pricked tempers by ruling in Citizens United that corporations and unions have a right to spend funds on political ads targeting specific candidates. Yesterday, the justices shocked America by abandoned "man's best friend" as they struck down a federal ban on videos for commercial gain of animal cruelty. Yet the decision rests on rather firm free-speech foundations (the ruling was 8-1), and the opinion conceded that a more tailored law might be permitted.

Earlier this week, they heard arguments from a Christian student group claiming free-speech violations when they were banned by a university for excluding those opposed to Christian sexual morality (read: gays) from leadership positions. And next week, the court hears arguments on a law requiring publication of the names of signatories on a petition opposing gay-rights. The NY Times filed a brief in support of the state, while the ACRU is defending the signatories (and likened gay activists to NAZIs). These cases are being interpreted as the precursors to an climatic gay-marriage case on the horizon.

Interesting times in the halls of justice.

Categories > Courts


Michael Ramirez

From today's Investor's Business Daily:

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Long Live the King of Italy

The New York Review of Books has an amusing and rather informative summary of "The Corrupt Reign of Emperor Silvio," attempting to provide some explanation for the grand circus which is Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

If you are not cognizant of current Italian politics, you are missing a unique delight and tragedy in the history of politics. As the article notes: "Berlusconi has transformed the political life of a major nation into a kind of reality TV show in which he is star, producer, and network owner."

Worthy reading.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


The States of Bankruptcy

In Slate, Christopher Beam describes why California cannot declare bankruptcy:

 Chapter 9 of the U.S. bankruptcy code allows individuals and municipalities (cities, towns, villages, etc.) to declare bankruptcy. But that doesn't include states. (The statute defines "municipality" as a "political subdivision or public agency or instrumentality of a State"--that is, not a state itself.) For one thing, states are said to have sovereign immunity, as protected by the 11th Amendment, which means they can't be sued. In other words, they don't need any protection from angry creditors who would take them to court for failing to pay their debts. As a result, states can simply borrow money ad infinitum.

If I follow the logic, states do not need bankruptcy.  They can simply repudiate debts at will. That's what sovereign immunity means.  Here's my logic. Law, by its nature, seeks to balance problems and remedies.  Clearly, states may sometimes borrow more money than they can repay.  What, therefore, is the remedy in such cases?  If not bankruptcy, and if the states have sovereign immunity, that suggests to me that the states may simply repudiate debts as they choose.

If states may do that, why would anyone lend them money, or sign a contract with them?  The same reason that people lend money to the federal government (which also has sovereign immunity), or lend it money: they expect to be repaid.  As a general rule, in other words, it is a terrible and dangerous thing for any government to repudiate its debts.  That does not mean it is illegal, and it does not mean it would never be necessary. Indeed, the threat of repudiating debts could be used to renegotiate contracts and debts.

Categories > Politics


Left-wing violence in New Orleans

While the Democrats and their pet media continue to fixate on the possibility of violence from Tea Partiers--you know how dangerous those stay-at-home moms and senior citizens are--a case of real political violence is going virtually unreported and uninvestigated.
Categories > Politics


Theodore Roosevelt, 1912

I have been meaning to bring to your attention a colloquium on Theodore Roosevelt by Sidney took place in March.  Good stuff, covering his serious book, Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy.  You should listen to him and read the book.

Categories > History

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Authors being bitchy

The Examiner compiles the fifty greatest examples of authors insulting other authors.  A few of my favorites:

Noel Coward on Oscar Wilde: What a tiresome, affected sod.

Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner: Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You're thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes -- and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he's had his first one.

Samuel Johnson on John Milton: 'Paradise Lost' is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.

And the very best, Mark Twain on Jane Austen: Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.


Censorious Census

Rob Schwarzwalder of the Family Research Council reminds us that the census was politically necessary to count slaves, so the South could build up an electoral advantage in the House.  (See our Richard's earlier post.)  In taking a shot at Karl Rove, Rob points out the difference between today's census and the original ones.  And John Judis notes how wrong Barack Obama was to record himself as black on the census form:  "he ... confirmed an enduring legacy of American racism."


Categories > Politics

Political Philosophy

A Dialectic of Web Musings

I've had these stored up for a while: 

  • At Post-Modern Conservative some thoughts by Peter Lawler on a recent conference on French Catholic thinkers in America.  Don't overlook the thread of comments.
  • The Sage of Mt. Airy discourses on the VAT, telling you Vat's VAT, and even brings Washington's Farewell Address (on just taxation) into it.
  • And, speaking of Pomos, Stanley Fish notes that the Marxist theoretician Juergen Habermas acknowledges the centrality of religion to completing the task of reason.  Habermas:  "Among the modern societies, only those that are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions which point beyond the merely human realm will also be able to rescue the substance of the human."  Habermas engaged in a dialogue on these subjects with this currently controversial figure, who might be said to have forced Habermas to his knees.

The liberal state, Fish observes, recognizes only instrumental or secular reason.  But would an Aristotelian reason thus?  In reviving religion (surely not merely instrumentally), must we not revive Aristotle as well?  Hence back to the first item above, then on to the next.   

The Complicated Path of Ideas

Ross Douthat has written an interesting blog post about how new policy ideas are working their way through Amercan conservatism - and how they aren't.  Douthat divides American conservatism into three groups:

1. The "elite" intelectual world of the think tanks, policy journals, and the conservative political magazines like National Review, Weekly Standard, and National Affairs

2.  The broader world of the conservative movement to include Fox News, conservative talk radio. the Tea Partiers, pressure groups like the NRA and activism-oriented websites like RedState.

3.  The institutional Republican Party that is made up of office holders, staffers, fundraisers consultants and such.

I have a quibble with Douthat's description of the first group as elite, because all three groups include political elites of different kinds - it is tough to think of some think tank guy as an elite but Sean Hannity or some Republican governor as not an elite.  Maybe it is because there is no good word to describe the first group.  Lets call them policy intellectuals (I'm open to other nonobscene suggestions.)

Douthat writes that conservative policy intellectuals like Yuval Levin, James Capretta, Nicole Gelinas, Ramesh Ponnuru and others have come up with some promising ideas for dealing with isues like health care and taxes under current conditions and generally updating the policy agenda of the Right.  He is also concerned that the institutional Republican Party (minus some exceptions like Mitch Daniels and Paul Ryan) and the "movement" organs haven't shown much interest in those ideas as compared to bashing Obama.

I agree with Douthat's first point about conservative policy intellectuals having come up with some worthwhile ideas, but I think his complaints need some qualification.  It takes a while for ideas to work their way from the think tanks and policy journals into the world of electoral politics.  Douthat mentions the period of conservative intellectual ferment in the early 1970s with journals like The Public Interest and Commentary.  He is right about the ferment, but it was also a period in which a Republican President imposed wage and price controls.  It took years and sometimes decades for those ideas to be taken up by large groups of politicians.

This is linked to Douthat's complaint about the failure of these ideas to be taken up by the "movement" institutions with their wider audiences.  I don't like it either, but I don't know how to apportion blame and I think that Douthat's favored tactic would tend to be counterproductive unless used with great tact and heavily supplemented with other approaches.  Douthat would like conservative think tankers and magazines to call out Republican politicians and conservative momement figures who offer easy answers.  Well that is sometimes a good idea, but there is friendly and unfriendly criticism.  I think David Frum is a pretty good example of how not to go about it with his shots that virtually guarantee that much of the conservative audience will be closed to what he has to say.  On the other hand, Ramesh Ponnuru is often critical of conservative suggestions like the FairTax, the Ryan Roadmap and the recent conservative meme that it is a big problem that much of America pays no income taxes and yet Ponnuru doesn't end up generating the same hostility from conservatives.

But more than being better at criticizing the populist conservative media, policy intellectuals should be looking for ways to join it from time to time.  It is great that they do so much thinking, but it is crucial that they get their ideas out into media with large audiences.  I don't know how the booking process works for shows like Hannity, Mark Levin's radio show or Fox and Friends, but there is alot of time to fill out there.  I'd love to see (or hear) James Capretta explain a health care reform policy built around switching to renewable health insurance policies and state-based reinsurance pools or Robert Stein explaining pro-family tax reform.  if it sounds boring, it is worth remembering that one of the early themes of conservative talk radio was how cutting capital gains taxes would help people who didn't own any stock.  Building an interesting segment around how to have increased health care security and lower health care costs or how tax changes could make it easier to raise your kids and increase jobs shouldn't be an impossible sell. 

Conservative policy intellectuals getting on those kinds of shows would also mitigate the problem of the Republican Party's slowness in adopting new policy ideas.  Millions of people would be exposed to their ideas.  It isn't everybody, but it is alot and if people are interested in the ideas they hear, they might share them with their friends who don't consume much conservative media.  This might make it easier for some Republicans in right-leaning districts to adopt ideas that might sound too radical even to people who self-identify as conservative.

The last reason for conservative policy intellectuals to go on those kinds of programs is because the spread of political ideas is not about simple top-down distribution.  The audience will have questions about how policies will impact their lives and whether those policies match up to their values.  It will be, among other things, a testing process, and the reaction of the broader conservative audience will tell us some important things about the political viablility of those policies.  So lets us get started.     


Booker T. Washington praised

The outgoing president President of Tuskegee regrets that he didn't get a chance to set up a center to study the "life and times of Booker T. Washington, who founded the university in 1881."  While I understand why he may have wanted to do something like that (and he hopes that his successor will), it is a little odd that a center should be set up at the place that BTW built and ran.  Maybe it is nothing more than an attempt to reconstitute the heart and purpose of the institution by studying and honoring BTW; maybe someone finally noted that this monument is not enough. See Robert J. Norrell's fine new biography of Mr. Washington to find out how he navigated through the "severe American crucible" all the while knowing that everyone, black and white, must live up to "the American standard."  Also see my chapter on BTW in this book.
Categories > History


Tea Party Commentary Worthy of a Curtsy

It is telling, isn't it, that Democrats and liberal pundits in the wake of a week of Tea Parties and general bad press for their side, spent the weekend speculating about what, exactly, made so many people become unhinged enough to disagree with them?   Instead of asking themselves what it is about what they are doing that has so many of their fellow citizens irritated enough to take time off of work (or, more sadly, time off from looking for work that is still too hard to find) and protest the big government policies they've created, these liberals worry about the "violent" tendencies in the Tea Parties and the "irrational" longings they stir.  Don't "these people" know that they are biting the hand that feeds them?

But, truthfully, there is not much to learn from people who refuse to learn--or, even, to make cogent observations about the realities around them.  So, if you are looking for some sensible commentary about the phenomenon from an observer who can actually think as well as talk, Michael Barone today fills that gaping media hole quite nicely.

Barone notes that the Dems are doing a huge amount of missing the point as they observe the Tea Parties if they think this is really all about taxes.  The American people are so far beyond having a problem with taxes--though many of us, of course, still feel the injustice of tax code and dread the coming abuses that bigger government must bring.  But that's only one piece of the puzzle, and not even a coveted corner piece.  And being able to acknowledge the minor role that taxes by themselves are playing in this movement is one reason why I think the Tea Parties have the political potential to make the Tax Revolts of old look like an offering of crumpets and scones to the Democrats. 

Far more significant to the American people, is the extent to which Democrats and big government policy appear to be turning our country over to a culture of dependence.  Americans are holding up a mirror to themselves and to their country and they are in the beginning stages of that realization we all have from time to time that something has to change.  They no longer like everything that they see in that reflection--things are sagging and lumpy where they once used to be fit and svelte.  We note times where we lumber along and remember when we used to sprint.  We want to get in shape again and we're ready to fire this trainer . . . the one who would let us eat cake (just as long as there were no trans fats or salts in it).

Americans are tired of government by the elite, for the elite and of the rest of us.  We want to reassert our belief in our capacity for self-government.  The only question is whether Republicans will be sharp enough to understand and articulate that so as to make it politically meaningful.  They had better be . . .

In case you haven't had enough of Barone after reading this piece (and, honestly, is there such a thing?) then you might want to check out this link to a talk he gave last week at the annual meeting of the Philadelphia Society which is on the same theme.

Oh yeah . . . some guy named Schramm was also there.  I understand that he might have had a few cogent thoughts to offer as well.  

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Insult to Polish Injury

I don't want to criticize everything the man does, but Europeans are not amused that the American President - who wasn't able to attend the funeral of the Polish President for completely valid reasons - nonetheless took advantage of the occasion to play golf.

And I don't want to criticize everything the media does - but they suffered ludicrous meltdowns even when Bush wasn't playing golf! (So far, Obama has played golf 8 times more often than Bush - which is utterly fine by me, but I'm waiting for the media outrage.)

Clinton and Biden, at least, took time to visit the Polish embassy.

While a petty matter in the grand scope, such intentional slights or shows of discard for foreign allies has becoming widely-observed as ... well, par for the course with Obama. Poland, a staunch ally which all of Eastern Europe feels was betrayed by Obama following his revocation of a missile shield as a concession to Russia, is the last country in the world which should be shown the cold shoulder.

If only they were a Middle-Eastern dictatorship, a Latin American junta or a de facto soviet menace, surely then, they are well aware, they would be treated with respect. 

Categories > Foreign Affairs


National Day of Prayer Ruled Unconstitutional

A U.S. District Judge has ruled that the statute declaring a National Day of Prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment. The statute, inspired by Rev. Billy Graham and introduced by Congressman Percy Priest (no less) in 1952, reads:

The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.

Last month, Judge Crabb issued a ruling (here) that the Freedom From Religion Foundation, having suffered "concrete injury" due to the proclamation, had standing to sue. The Obama administration defended the statute as mere "acknowledgment of the role of religion in American life." The American Center for Law and Justice, representing 31 members of Congress,filed an amicus brief defending the statute.

Judge Crabb's opnion (here) conceded that, "government involvement in prayer may be consistent with the establishment clause when the government's conduct serves a significant secular purpose and is not a 'call for religious action on the part of citizens.'" While allowing "that some forms of 'ceremonial deism,' such as legislative prayer, do not violate the establishment clause," she found that it was violated when government "engages in conduct that a reasonable observer would view as an endorsement of a particular religious belief or practice." An executive call to prayer was deemed as belonging to the latter class.

Judge Crabb stayed her ruling - meaning that it will have no effect - until appeals have been exhausted. The case is a good candidate for Supreme Court review, where I expect it will be overturned. However, the rationale for upholding the statute will be the true issue. The Court will almost certainly find that the proclamation serves the secular (or, ceremonial) function of acknowledging American religiousness.

Far more appealing, and truthful, would be a ruling which acknowledged a call to prayer as a religious act on the part of government - as it was understood by the Founders - rather than pretending that the intention is mere historical observance. Such may be true in other countries, or among certain people, but it is not, I think, the prevailing sentiment of most Americans when called to prayer by their leaders. A decision as to whether James Madison, who drafted the 1st Amendment, violated his own craftsmanship when he proclaimed a day of prayer as president in 1812, would indeed be a bold and worthy opinion.

Categories > Courts


NYC Closing Public School "Rubber Rooms"

NYC is finally ending the insanity of "rubber rooms." For those unfamiliar, rubber rooms are facilities to which teachers are sent when removed from work due to incompetence or (often sexual) misconduct. Teachers' unions, the bane of public education, have ensured that they cannot be fired and receive full pay for years while doing nothing ... just as long as they do nothing somewhere other than around children.

The New Yorker profiled rubber rooms last year. I learned of them while writing a pending article on the bias in media coverage of child sex abuse and the Catholic Church. While about 1.5% of priests have been accused of child abuse (a rate about equal to society at large), the abuse rate in public schools is estimated at about 5%. These are some of the fully-paid inmates of NY rubber rooms. The author of a Dept. of Ed study remarked:

So we think the Catholic Church has a problem? The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.

And to give a sense of the cover up, California public schools reported a deluge of heinous child molestation, and yet, as National Review observed:

during the first half of 2002, the 61 largest newspapers in California ran nearly 2,000 stories about sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, mostly concerning past allegations. During the same period, those newspapers ran four stories about the federal government's discovery of the much larger -- and ongoing -- abuse scandal in public schools.

The delay in redressing this phenomena of rubber rooms (costing NYC $65 million / year) is nearly criminal, but the AP doesn't report where these teachers will go when the rooms are closed - one hopes not back to their old jobs as usual!  

Categories > Education


And Now For Something Completely Different

A Croatian teenager has awoken from a 24-hour coma speaking fluent German - and having forgotten her native Croatian!

And this isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened!

To think of all the alcohol-induced comas occurring right now on college campuses across America. Such wasted (no pun intended) opportunities! If only we could discover the secret of this spontaneous linguistic knowledge, frat houses could become unrivaled centers of learning!

Categories > Education


Re: MSNBC Frothing at the Mouth

Justin, I made the same mistake of flipping to the Mathews Show, too, and couldn't avert my gaze, sort of like a car crash.  I kept thinking it had to be a Saturday Night Live parody of a mainstream media panel trashing the Tea Partiers, it was so unhinged from reality.

But the real shocker was that Kathleen Parker, supposedly a conservative, said not a thing against any of these ridiculous rants.  She really does appear to have chosen moderation, Beltway-style, in the service of career.  
Categories > Politics


MSNBC Frothing at the Mouth

I've just caught 5-10 minutes of MSNBC's Chris Matthews Show tying the Tea Party to terrorism and condemning any and all energy on the right as (very) potentially terror-inducing. There is a panel of about 5 folks, all of whom absolutely agree with one another without a single conservative, moderate or dissenting voice.

Highlights: the media is right-wing, opposition to Obama is racist, 70% of Republicans who feel their rights are being eroded are "sick," the Tea Party should be viewed from the perspective of Timothy McVeigh, Palin will be responsible for the next Hinckley, right-wingers don't want guns to hunt but to fend off the government (this was supposed to be so self-evidently ridiculous as to need no commentary) and MSNBC's Rachael Maddows show will be devoting an entire show to the McVeigh/Tea Party/Right-Wing-Terrorism theme later this week.

That's less than 10 minutes.

I honestly wonder if the vast majority of Americans do not clearly recognize these hatchet jobs as liberal hysteria and desperation on the part of the media in anticipation of a looming public disavowal awaiting Democrats in November. Matthews was noticeably distraught by rising GOP fortunes. I'm not bemoaning his, or MSNBC's, discretion to air opinion commentary - but is this sort of frenzied discourse, and are Maddows, Olbermann and Matthews, truly the summit of liberal thought?  

Categories > Politics


The Empire Strikes Back

Andrew Breitbart reported several weeks ago of meetings and conference calls between John Podesta, Bill Clinton, and other old Clinton hands with the purpose of formulating a strategy for the Tea Party movements. At the time I thought it was funny, but now, after Clinton's speech last night at the Center for American Progress dinner it seems they will press the theme of radical rhetoric leads to violence. As reported on Drudge, Clinton made several claims, or rather claims of guilt by association, refusing to draw direct lines between any actual violence that has occurred and actual rhetoric made at Tea Party rallies. Clinton flagged the term "gangsta government" used by Rep. Michelle Bachmann as one instance of out of control rhetoric that "could" lead to violence. This ignores the origin of the term which speaks to the wholesale intimidation of secured creditors of Chrysler who received less than they should under normal bankruptcy procedures. This wholesale devaluing of the bankruptcy process by Obama's administration remains hard to ignore. A charge of arbitrary and capricious behavior is necessary and needs to be made.

The thrust of Clinton's talk is mostly warmly baked Thomas Frankism whereby we are treated to the lonely, alienated American who finds a strange release and connection with aggressive conservative arguments. And thus the Right channels anger away from real problems. Clinton walked through his own strange challenges and how Gingrich, et al, channeled this anger against him throughout the 1990s. Times haven't changed much observes Clinton. The anger, however, is at a fever pitch and 'could' pose violent eruptions within America. Clinton disclaims that he is charging anyone with hate speech or that he believes in censorship. Of course. Then he launches into his own emotion-laden observations of the Ok city bombing. It was the best of America, Clinton states. McVeigh, himself an extreme example of the alienated American, is tied by Clinton to talk radio, Gingrich, even old Dick Armey, all by association of white-hot political speech. Clinton intersperses the speech with several 90s Gingrich quotes.Things had gotten too hot, Clinton said. That Clinton gave a talk last night trafficking in guilt by association might be an understatement.

It seems the racist tag isn't working. The easy fix is to charge the Tea Party movements with the unprovable offense of inadvertently promoting violence through their rhetoric. Said rhetoric, Clinton informs, is illegitimate because it emerges from alienation, anger at change, dislike of immigrants (Clinton specifically cited this), frustration with the economy, etc. There are no real arguments here folks is Clinton's hanging message. The strategy is now making the case of separateness, as in, you listening to me are normal, well-adjusted, employed, reasonably happy. If you aren't, you should be, you can be.The last thing you want to do is identify with or find yourself agreeing with Bob the Tea Party protestor at work or down the street.

Of course, that might be just the point Clinton can't counter. The disaffection and angst is too broad and too deep to be repelled. The Empire has no moves left.



Categories > Politics


Drill for Oil Here--What a Concept

Didn't know I was going to end up on the cover of the Weekly Standard again this week, but here it is, with the bold idea that perhaps we could get more of our oil from right here in the U.S.  I was startled to find that the U.S. is now back to the level of production it experienced in 1947.  This is pathetic.
Categories > Economy


The Errors of Big Government

First. He said VAT?  The TaxProf makes a section of Irwin Stelzer's recent op-ed on the VAT available.  Stelzer shows why the VAT is no way to reduce the influence of lobbysts:

The tax sounds simple, but don't be fooled. Because both upper- and lower-income families pay the tax at an equal rate, the VAT is considered regressive; that is, it hits the poor harder than the better-off. So it is the practice in countries such as Britain to exempt food, which lower-income families spend a greater proportion of their income on. The technical term is "zero rating," meaning that exempt items are taxed at a "zero rate."

However, wait until the folks at the IRS get their hands on the regulations for the application of the new tax. They will undoubtedly turn to their more experienced British counterparts for guidance. ...

Clothing also presents a problem for the British tax man. Two problems, actually.

First, what is clothing? Well, sailors' lifejackets are clothing because they "have the form and function of clothing," but "buoyancy aids" are not. Second, since children's clothing is zero-rated, what fits into that category?

Bras up to and including size 34B; body stockings that measure no more than 27½ inches shoulder to crotch; babies' shawls but not "mother-and-baby shawls intended to wrap around both mother and child." There's more, lots more, but you get the idea.

Then there's "Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink," Andrew Ferguson's fine discussion of the official regulatory philosophy of the Obama administration.  The whole essay is worth reading, but I'll highlight a couple of paragraphs near the end:

You can see how useful the notion of irrational man is to a would-be regulator. It is less helpful to the rest of us, because it runs counter to every intuition a person has about himself. Nobody sees himself always as a boob, constantly misunderstanding his place in the world and the effect he has upon it. Surely the behavioral economists don't see themselves that way. Only rational people can police the irrationality of others according to the principles of an advanced scientific discipline. If the behavioralists were boobs too, their entire edifice would collapse from its own contradictions. Somebody's got to be smart enough to see how silly the rest of us are. 

Traditional economics has always been more modest. Assuming the rationality of man was a device that made the discipline possible. The alternative--irrational people behaving in irrational ways--would complicate the world beyond the possibility of understanding. But the modesty wasn't just epistemological. It was also a democratic impulse, a sign of neighborly deference. A regulator who always assumed that man was other than rational was inviting himself into a position where he could exert a control over his fellow citizens that wasn't proper for a true democrat. Self-government demands this deference. It won't work otherwise.

It seems to me that either the ways people are predictably irrational apply to all people, including regulators, or they don't. If not, then why, we should ask, does it apply to everyone else.  If it applies to regulators, on the other hand, behavioral economics might offer some insight into why regulations so often have "unintended consequences" and might suggest that we should distrust our regulators--for they have their biases to.  Now we're back to the familiar arguments of the founding.  Having studied John Adams closely for some time, I have been saying that "people are irrational in predicably ways" for years.  It is the idea at the heart of Adams' call for a government of checks and balances.  As Adams knew, but as modern scientists sometimes forget, the purpose of a system of checks and balances it to keep the people who staff the government in line--making it more likely that they serve the public interest, rather than feathering their own nests with money, power, prestige, or other goods.  The modern regulatory/ administrative state, which delegates legislative, executive, and judicial power to bureaucrats, tries to deny that such checks are necessary.  In short, behavioral economists, although they try to pretend otherwise, are simply the latest generation of Progressives.

Categories > Progressivism


Conservatives and Confederate History Month

I've been trying to find the language to talk about Bob McDonnell's Confederate History Month Proclamation and what it means.  I don't for a second think that McDonnell was being racist or intended to stoke or profit from racism, but I do think he was trying to play an identity politics game and got caught.  My read is that the Proclamation was designed to make white Virginians with roots in the mid-1800s and earlier feel good about their ancestors.  The problem was that the history Proclamation, in the interest of constituency group flattery, left out too much history that was too important.

McDonnell recovered well and manfully but the original Proclamation showed obstacles for conservatives in making sustained gains among African Americans.  One problem is the tendency not to look at how statements look through the lens of African American experience.  It is a habit of mind to ask oneself "How would this statement sound to someone whose family history (or if not of their own family history, that of the majority of the group they affiliate with) includes slavery and Jim Crow."  A second problem is having to navigate the tensions between constituencies that might have overlapping policy preferences, but deeply felt differences about history and identity.  Most white Virginians with roots in the mid-1800s or earlier might see the Confederacy and Confederate soldiers one way, and most African Americans another way.  This disagreement about the past (which is about justice and honor among other things) can, if kindled, become much more salient than any agreement the two groups might have about abortion or taxes. 

So what can we conservatives do?  I think that the first step is to come up with an interpretation and rhetoric that accommodates what is true in both narratives.  Many Confederate soldiers did feel themselves to be fighting for their homes and families and not for slavery as such.  Slavery was (as McDonnell told us) the cause of the war.  The Confederacy was an attempt to preserve chattel slavery and it is a blessing that the institution was destroyed and our nation preserved.  Such an answer will not satisfy everyone, but it might satisfy enough to get people talking about shared principles and the issues of the day, and have the added virtue of being true.  When one combines McDonnell's original Proclamation with his apology, one can perhaps see an outline of what such a rhetoric might look like. Though maybe, if he had it to do over again, McDonnell would not have issued the Proclamation in the first place.  But even if he hadn't issued the Proclamation, issues of this sort could well come up unbidden. 


Categories > Politics


Worse Than I Feared

Steve, good comments on the Tea Parties, but some of the other reactions were appalling in their stupidity.  The worst comments were by Rick Perlstein because he could have done better.  His Before the Storm is one of the best books about modern American conservatism, though Nixonland was a major disappointment.  It is as if the following things happened:

1.  Perlstein fell into a coma the day after Obama's election.

2.  He woke up on April 14, 2010 and was told that there was a right-leaning protest movement opposing Obama's policies.

3.  He was kept away from all media and personal contact that might have given him specific knowledge of the Tea Party phenomenon, except for being informed about somebody saying something about keeping the government off their Medicare, something about Glenn Beck on the cover of Time, and some cliches about Democrats being wimps.

4.  He was ordered, on pain of lots of pain, to recycle the least thoughtful, most partisan tropes that had appeared in his earlier work and to treat his subjects as a group of homogenous, dehumanized, villainous caricatures.

In one sense it wasn't the worst of the essays.  It was more a confession that partisan passion had crippled his ability to think about contemporary center-right politics.  The award for worst comments might go to Paul Butler, who is able to find racist attitudes in the racist things Tea Partiers don't say because, "This is how educated right-wing people talk about race in the age of Obama - by not talking about it."  They didn't say racist stuff, which just shows how racist they are.  I won't say that this is how educated left-wing people talk in the age of Obama, because I don't doubt that many left-wing people have kept their sanity, integrity, sense of proportion, and appreciation for robust public debate.  The inability of Paul Butler and Rick Perlstein to comment about an opposition protest movement without despicable insinuations and mindless dismissals reflects personal failings.  I'm glad they worry about paranoia, extremism and bigotry.  If they paid better attention, they would see an example of how those awful vices can twist a human mind every time they looked into a mirror.


Categories > Politics



President Obama laughs at tea party protesters and remarks that the they ought to say "thank you" to him and his administration for all of their great work in the area of tax-cutting.  Classy on top of entirely missing the point . . .
Categories > Presidency



Okay, so a few days ago I flagged this spectacular YouYube video of a citizen taking down Republican Congressman Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey for his obvious ignorance of the Constitution, along with the update from Michelle Malkin that the person in the video was supposedly a 9/11 Truther or somesuch nut.  Uncharacteristically for Michelle, who is a good journalist, she did not offer any links behind her claim that this guy is a nutjob, but I passed it along relying on her post. 

Well, this person has a name: Christopher Weber, and he has his own YouTube account, hpprinter12345, where you can see all 16 of his videos, some of them very good.  Nothing about 9/11 Trutherism.  But this guy does know how to speak well and compellingly.  And he did me the kindness of calling me on the phone to ask, essentially, what the hell is going on?  I'm not that guy!

He's right, he isn't, and I owe him an apology as well as this correction.  Unfortunately, there is another Christopher Weber with a Youtube account, thepenrev, and this other Weber has more than 1,300 YouTube videos posted.  Looks like he posts several a day.  And it is THIS OTHER CHRISTOPHER WEBER who has the nutty 9/11 Truther videos and lots of other stuff.  Unquestionably what happened is that Michelle, or someone, saw these other videos--these two Webers look a little bit alike--put 2 and 2 together, and got 22.  And now the original Mr. Weber is being besmirched across the net.

The Christopher Weber who schooled LoBiondo is a retired schoolteacher raising three children with his wife in southern New Jersey, and is attempting to run against LoBiondo as an independent because LoBiondo is untouchable in the GOP primary.  But Mr. Weber is now having trouble getting anywhere because the internet legend has taken hold that he's a nutjob.  He's been done an injustice by us blogging internet rangers.  He hasn't been able to get anything through to Michelle Malkin.  Once something is on the internet it is hard to get it corrected--I know; Greenpeace is still accusing me of attempted bribery, but no one cares about Greenpeace and I'm not running for anything.  But Mr. Weber is, and we owe it to him to try to correct the record.

P.S.  I told him my offer to buy him dinner still stands; it will be pasta and chianti, rather than steak, however.  Good luck to him.

ADDENDUM:  Got hold of Glenn Reynolds, who it turns out didn't link to Michelle's follow up post.  My bad--memory at least. 
Categories > Politics


Party On (Tea Party) Dudes

Busy, busy, busy week, with another coast-to-coast trip, last minute tax filing (grrr) and another feature article coming out in the Weekly Standard tonight or tomorrow morning, but the New York Times asked me to contribute to their "Room for Debate" blog about the results of their long poll about the Tea Partiers.  You can find my brief reflections here.

I am hopeful of getting back to more regular blogging this weekend.  Or not, depending on the weather.  Plus the garage that needs cleaning out.
Categories > Politics


The importance of taxes

On this April 15, I cite the wisdom of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."  Two thoughts on this:

1) In defending the forced sterilization of the "feeble-minded," Holmes also said that "[t]hree generations of imbeciles are enough," so who the hell cares what he thinks?

2) I'd be happy to pay a sufficient amount in taxes to support a federal government of the size and scope that existed in 1904, when Holmes made that quote.  I suspect that, in terms of actual civilization, we're not getting much bang for our buck these days.  

Categories > Progressivism


Re-Assassinating Lincoln

Today is the 145 anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.  (Interesting that he spent Good Friday attending a comedy.)

In their zeal to find a cause of unjust big government, some conservatives turn against Abraham Lincoln.   Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo shows why this makes no sense.  Guelzo notes how government and its expense shrank after the extraordinary circumstances of the Civil War.  Of course if one thinks rebellion and secession (let alone slavery) can possibly be principles of constitutional government, then all bets are off.

Such seekers of the cause of our current discontents would be better off blaming either George Washington (which would show the absurdity of their historical understanding) or, actually on-target, the bipartisan duo of Progressives Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.  Read political scientists Sidney Milkis and RJ Pestritto, who know well the Progressive roots of current government.  (RJ, I'm told, has been featured on Glen Beck's program, which I've never seen.)

Categories > Conservatism


Spengler on Obama

This piece is getting renewed attention in the past week. Even though it stands two years old. Its resonance appears due to several elements of the reign of Obama. John Podhoretz was not amused, but, he he seems more to disagree with certain observations rather than the overall spirit of the essay. Then see Spengler's response.

Categories > Politics


United States = Kazahkstan?

According to President Obama we are in the same boat with Kazahkstan in the sense that we are still "working on" our democracy . . .

A senior director in the National Security Council, Mike McFaul, reported in a press conference that President Obama's oft-touted skills in diplomacy and persuasion came in very handy as he discussed the nature and meaning of democracy with the Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev.  Because of Kazakhstan's record of human rights abuses, many observers have raised their eyebrows in response to its chairmanship of the 56-nation Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe--which is often charged with the task of overseeing elections in emerging democracies.  But Obama was able to reach agreement with the Kazakh President, according to McFaul, because "[b]oth presidents agreed that you don't ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy."

To his credit, the Wall Street Journal's, Jonathan Weisman asked McFaul whether this kind of talk wasn't painting a picture of moral equivalence between the United States and Kazahkstan.  McFaul responded, ""Absolutely not ... There was no equivalence meant whatsoever."  Apparently, this ought to be clear to us because (in McFaul's words), "[Obama's]  taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States."  Before Obama, though, perhaps we were less impressive?

But what does Obama mean by saying we are still "working on" our democracy? He appears, really, to believe that this language is in keeping with the language of "a more perfect Union" in the Constitution and Lincoln's "standard maxim" (never perfectly attained, constantly labored for, etc.) . . . but is it?   Democracy, Obama forgets, is but a means to an end--NOT an end in and of itself.   (Though in Obama's defense, I'd add that Bush seemed to forget that quite a lot too . . . though not so much in relation to our country!)  This is why the results of democracy are always imperfect.  Democracy, by itself, tells us virtually nothing about the ends of government--except insofar as it implies the equality of men with respect to their right of consent. 

Given the Obama administration's and the Congressional leadership's recent inability to grasp the fullness of that concept of consent, perhaps Obama is correct.  We are still "working on" our democracy . . . though, I think, it won't be long now before we get it back.

Categories > Presidency

Literature, Poetry, and Books

More Fun . . . but with Poetry this time!

Perhaps some of you regular NLT readers do not have the pleasure of also listening regularly to the Hugh Hewitt radio show.  If not, that is a shame which you can correct by visiting his website (linked above) and by subscribing to his podcasts.  If you do, one of the very great pleasures you will no doubt come to enjoy, is his regular rotation of outstanding (and sometimes highly amusing) guests.  Some of these guests (like John Eastman) are probably already familiar to you, and for good and serious reasons.  But one of my favorite of Hugh's regulars is a poet who goes by the name of Tarzana Joe

Sample some of his offerings--starting with this recent gem and then, as graduation approaches, look too at this amusing suggestion for newly-minted college grads.  These are fun and, of course, very political.  But TJ can tackle subjects with a more serious and straightforwardly beautiful (sometimes, even, profound) bent too.  Bookmark, dig through the archives sometime, and enjoy!


Alot of Fun with Grammar . . .

. . . can be found here.  This is meant especially to entertain those poor souls I know who may be in the midst of grading papers.  On the other hand, if you are a student who is writing papers and you are really more accustomed to texting and tweeting . . . do ur profs a favor & t8k sum X 2 read this!
Categories > Education

Mmmm... Thats Good Blogging

I can't do enough to recommend Megan's McArdle's post on the partly structural and party self-inflicted problems that conservative thinkers are having in getting their ideas listened to by that fraction of the public that doesn't already identify with conservatism.  It rambles a little, but is worth the ride.

Political Philosophy

"A Dopey Nostalgia for a Nonexistent Past"

Paul Beston of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, writes a very good review in today's Wall Street Journal of what looks to be thoughtful and entertaining book--The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves by Andew Potter.  Beston clearly enjoys the flair with which Potter pokes holes in the "authenticity" of the all-too-earnest seekers of authenticity and he appears to relish in Potter's ability to expose the vanity underlying so much of what passes for public sincerity; particularly as it applies to those of an anti-modernity and environmental bent. 

Authenticity, Mr. Potter writes, is "a positional good, which is valuable precisely because not everyone can have it." By competing against one another to see who is more authentic, he says, we just become bigger phonies than we were before. The local-food trend illustrates what Mr. Potter calls "conspicuous authenticity," by which the well-heeled embark on a "perpetual coolhunt," whether it is for authentic jeans, pristine vacation spots or mud flooring, part of the "natural building" movement. The overarching goal is less to possess the thing itself than to make a claim to refined taste and moral superiority.

So much of what motivates human beings--and not just the kind held up to ridicule in Potter's book--is really just vanity; that vain (and, usually, futile) wish to hold oneself apart from the crowd.  But as is so often the case, this wish can result in its wisher simply joining ranks with another crowd and taking part in just another form of this folly.  Thus, the subtitle, "How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves."  We get lost, probably, because we rarely ever do find anything more "authentic" than the life we are already living.

What we're really after, it seems to me, is judgment.  And the trouble with developing judgment is that there is no shortcut to it as there can be in joining the "right" crowd or supporting the "right" movement.  There are also no easy targets for blame, such as "modernity" or "capitalism" or, dare I say it, even "progressivism," to substitute for difficult thinking about the tragedies of life.  

Of Liberaltarians and the Declaration of Independence

      In thinking about the post regarding Wilkinson and Lindsey and their attempt to build a liberaltarian bridge to Progressives so as to make their political project more viable and also to liberate themselves from the Right, I was reminded of Pelosi's floor speech made before the vote approving Obamacare. Pelosi's comments were infuriating given her bastardized appropriation of the Declaration of Independence in the service of the healthcare reform bill. She stated that our Founding begins with the individual's pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With hc reform each individual would now be liberated from the most pressing of concerns, i.e., securing healthcare, and consequently would be better able to pursue the Declaration's triad of objectives. This is, of course, a deeply flawed reading of the text and its history. However, upon reflection Pelosi acutely reveals the mind of Progressivism and the manner in which it takes up the dreams of liberalism proper into its overall project. Pelosi's real argument was that the autonomous individual rather than finding their freedom in emancipation from the state would actually find it in the state's common provisioning of healthcare. There would be one less thing to worry about, and that's a good thing, Pelosi implies. Thus the pursuit of autonomistic liberty's goals could be better made. 

In a basic sense, this is also the project of Wilkinson and Lindsey, both men deeply in communion with the individual emancipated from seemingly everything but self-interest and contracts freely entered into and freely broken. The rub, I think, and where Pelosi's position gathers steam is the absolute foundation and final purpose of the unencumbered individual to liberal and free government that she actually shares with these two gentlemen. If this is the summum bonum of existence, then why not cross over to modern liberalism and embrace certain statist objectives that will better achieve this end. After all, it seems, if autonomistic emancipation is your goal, why not bring the services of government in pursuit of that objective. What matters is the will and the pleasing of its needs. I think this concept is what unites the Wilkinson, Lindsey position with Progressivism in a far more enduring way than any momentary alliance that might be formed with conservatives on a specific policy. Ultimately, their desire is to live in a manner wholly unconducive to the givenness of the human person, and his attachments and relationships that are necessary to his flourishing. That welfare states devalue family and local attachments are none of his concern. He left these relationships, philosophically speaking, a long time ago. Big government, of course, becomes logical and needed once these contexts for liberty begin to dissolve.   


Is the Census Still Necessary?

Of course it is. I was just trying to get your attention.  But is it necessary to have such an extensive census?

The U.S. Constitution requires it, in order to apportion representatives to Congress among the several states.  So long as we had a 3/5 clause, it was necessary to count slaves separately.  Is anything other than a headcount (perhaps a count of citizens--we can argue about who is supposed to count) necessary?  Beyond that, may the government require it? Or is the degree of the mandate that the constitution imposes upon the citizen limited by its purpose.  To be sure the Court has ruled otherwise. But was it correct?

Beyond that, my friends who use census data to study U.S. history and public policy say that the census is an invaluable resource in helping them to understand the U.S.  In that sense, the longer form may be a "necessary" tool for policy in the sense that Hamilton argued that the Bank of the U.S. was "necessary."  That brings me to my real question.   Is that still true?  Is the statistical account of the U.S. given by the census still much better than that which is available elsewhere?  Or has the proliferation of survey research and other such endeavors rendered it less essential?

I suppose one could say the same thing about varous economic forecasting bureaus.  Given the proliferation of economists in the private sector, the Fed, and our Universities doing the same thing, do we need to have so many economists working for the U.S. government.

In short, might these jobs be one place where we can look to save some money in the future.  If the need for the job no longer exists, perhaps the job should no longer exist.  Change happens, sometimes leaving government behind the times.

Categories > Economy


Leah Ward Sears Joins SCOTUS Short List

Along with Diane Wood, Elena Kagan and Merrick Garland (as well as the less likely mentions of Janet Napolitano and Hillary Clinton), it seems that Leah Ward Sears has made Obama's short-list of replacements for Justice Stevens' seat.

While too early to narrow excessive focus on any one candidate, Sears would earn Obama a diversity accomplishment (the first female, African-American justice), breaks the unanimous pattern of selecting justices from federal appellate courts (Sears was elected to lead a conservative state's supreme court and is currently in private practice) and promises to deliver liberal rejoinders to Scalia without seeming so liberal as to fuel a 3-ring circus in a Senate confirmation hearing (she preserved a self-styled "moderately progressive" label during a 20-year judicial career). Ironically, her most contentious feature may be an enduring friendship with Justice Thomas

Her judicial philosophy regarding the hot-button social issues so dear to the hearts of conservatives is probably most clearly evident in her Powell v. State concurrence. Clearly lecturing social conservatives, she praises the majority's "inspired" and "courageous" decision to strike down laws prohibiting sodomy while sneering at the "moral indignation of a majority (or, even worse, a loud and/or radical minority)." Moral enlightenment, in Sears' view, clearly rests with the judiciary, rather than the people.  

Sears isn't presently touted as the front-runner for Stevens' seat, but I suspect her star is still rising. Conservatives will have plenty of red-meat for a mid-summer confirmation row (costing Dems further losses in November), but I suspect she would overcome a filibuster. 

Categories > Courts

Pop Culture

Pope Forgives Beatles

At last, I can dust off my white album and listen to the gently weeping guitar without the pangs of moral incertitude.

(This is only my second post within the Pop Culture section - and both dealt with the Beatles. Did my pop cultural references expire so long ago...?)

Categories > Pop Culture


Did Congress Destroy Its Medical Care?

In Federalist #57 (about half way) Madison argues that the House of Representatives will be restrained from passing "oppressive measures" since it will have to live under the laws that it passes.  There is not one law for legislators and another for the people as a whole. It seems Obamacare violates that principle in that it may have removed current and future congressional members and staff from medical care coverage.  As the NY Times put it, "The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?"

Once American politics becomes divorced from enlightened self-interest, the political process will violate rights.  In this odd way, Obamacare proves this principle.  It couldn't have happened to a more deserving group of people.

Second thought:  Of course it's entirely possible that Congress exempted itself, because it thinks it can get a better deal through other means.  In either case, debate over extending coverage will prove most revealing.

Categories > Congress

The Futility of Liberaltarianism

Championed by Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, liberaltarianism is an attempt by a few libertarian intellectuals to create a "progressive fusionism" within the American center-left and to bring the center-left more in line with free market principles.  But it seems like more of a rationalization for affiliating with secular, cosmopolitan liberals even when alliances with conservatives (even if those alliances might be wary and conditional) might make more sense.

This doesn't seem like a great time for libertarians to seek an alliance with the liberals on economic issues.  Liberals just gave us a corporatist health care plan that is bound to be unstable and with the next step from the left of center being a single-payer plan.  The cap and trade plan would corrupt our energy sector (more so!) and move energy policy in a more statist direction and our spending commitments are unsustainable even as a new entitlement was added amid both record deficits and an impending fiscal pinch.  It is difficult to see what the center-left political coalition has, at the moment, to offer libertarians on the economy - aside from a slice of power. 

Liberaltarians might argue that liberals are educable on the economy - and they might be right to a point.  Liberaltarians could point out that much of liberal opinion has moved more in the direction of supporting charter schools and merit pay for teachers.  That is true, but it is also true that liberaltarians had little to do with it.  The liberal upper middle-class technocratic opinion on teachers can be seen in shows like the West Wing where the first season focused on hiring new teachers and the last season focused on a pre-Obama candidate who wanted to fire bad teachers.  An even better example of a place where the left-of-center has moved in a more libertarian direction would be on the Second Amendment.  Even with a Democratic President and Democratic congressional supermajorities, there is no movement to expand gun bans.  But once again, our liberaltarian friends had nothing to do with it.  The libertarian (or as many would call it rightwards) movement of Second Amendment politics had much more to do with election results in rural and suburban areas and the appointment of right-leaning Supreme Court justices.  The center-left political coalition repositioned itself in response not to liberaltarian arguments, but in response to gains by the center-right coalition.

You would think that liberaltarian intellectuals would take their allies where they found them.  That might mean allying with the center-right on opposing Obamacare (and working with the more creative conservative free market-oriented thinkers on alternatives) and working with a different (but partly overlapping) coalition on gay marriage.  But that might sometimes mean associating with those horrible tea people with their God, overt patriotism and general trashiness and that just won't do. The trajectory of liberaltarianism is to respond to the imposition of across-the-board wage and price controls with liberaltarians patting themselves on the back because they got their liberal senior partners to institute merit pay for park rangers.


What it really means to rein in spending

To listen to certain talk-radio hosts, cutting spending is simple--cut a few silly grants here and there, stop some subsidies, and suddenly we have a balanced budget.  But this post from the Cato Institute's blog suggests the fundamental problem.  Poll data suggests that the American people are willing to make cuts in certain areas; in fact, a majority would be happy to see foreign aid slashed.  But foreign aid makes up only a tiny percentage of the budget; eliminating it entirely--and most would probably balk at cutting all funds to Israel, Afghanistan, and Iraq, which together represent more than a third of foreign-aid spending--would make virtually no difference to the bottom line.

So where does all the money go?  It's not hard to figure out.  The Department of Defense and Social Security alone add up to well over a third of the total budget.  Medicare and Medicaid make up nearly 20 percent more.  Of course, those things will never be substantially cut; on the contrary, they will undoubtedly grow tremendously in the next twenty years. (I realize that the health care bill calls for cuts to Medicare, but a) I don't believe that Congress will really make those cuts, and b) all of the resulting "savings" would simply go into another government pot.)  Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are, unfortunately, popular, and Republican control of Congress would probably lead to increases in defense spending.

In other words, to quote John Derbyshire, "we are doomed."

Categories > Congress

Obama as a Sacrament of Humanity

James Ceaser observed in a recent piece in the TWS that Obama sees himself as a sign pointing towards the unification of an international humanity that is stripped of the pathologies that typically accompany most men and nations. The significance of Ceasar's point, which strikes home as to Obama's self-knowledge, I think, is that Obama must avoid at a basic existential level the questions of power, force, and national interest. America must be substantial only to the extent it helps achieve higher planes of understanding, i.e., nuclear weapons policy revision and retrenchment, or shaming of Bibi because he pursues the peculiar and particular interests of the Jewish state. The pursuit of American interests is to exit  from an Obama-perceived zone of progress through a closing of the gaps of divided nations, regions, religions, etc.

The irony reeks given that many were falsely excited about an Obama-Clinton foreign policy that would pursue American interests and leave behind the enumerated embarrassments of grandiose Bushism. However, we are now seeing what Obama's vision entails literally around the globe. There seems, however, an absence of voice on the Right articulating this flawed understanding and practice and what a competent American position must be. One can't help but wonder where are the voices on the Right that will do the acts of persuasion, argument. Numerous public conservative intellectuals are present and counted for in this debate but politicians and men in the arena will need to step forward. There seems no one in the scrum at this point for the Right.

"People would do it if we got like five bucks."

If you were under the impression that people who failed to return their census forms were all paranoid militia-types, you should check out this NPR report.  Apparently the "hipster enclave" of Williamsburg, Brooklyn has one of the lowest rates of compliance in the country.

I must admit that the thought of New York City being underrepresented thanks to low returns of census forms doesn't bother me much.

Foreign Affairs

Slouching Toward Obfuscation

Michael Anton writes an extensive review of the Obama Administration's 2010 Nuclear Posture and Review and concludes that while it is much less bad than it might have been (thanks, in very large part, to Bush holdover and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates) it still moves in the direction of obfuscation as defense policy.  Lest we begin to wonder at what may be Obama's purposeful "strategic ambiguity," Anton takes up the task of considering those purposes.  Mostly, it appears, there are none . . . or, rather, that there are too many and contradictory purposes at work.  Nearly all of them suffer from the problem of stemming from defective assumptions or from not adequately considering or understanding past policies that have, whatever else may be said, resulted in an amazing run of deterrence.  Anton illustrates his argument with a multitude of examples that resonate with a chill.  Consider, foremost, that Iraq's failure to use chemical or biological warheads in the 1991 Gulf War has been tied directly to their fear that the United States might retaliate with a nuclear response. 

Those who note that the US already has enough nuclear weapons or who argue that appearing less willing to use those weapons would result in goodwill and peace and a similar disarmament on the part of other nations may be right (or, of course, they may be whacked) . . . but even granting that, do they ever consider what a more supine posture toward nuclear armament might mean with respect to the use of other means of hideous and insidious weaponry--the kinds that are, of course, much easier to obtain?

Read the whole thing. 
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Memo to GOP: Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

So says our pal Hadley Arkes, in the new issue of The Weekly Standard.  All the pieces are in place for a historic GOP smackdown of the Democratic Party--if Republicans keep their nerve between now and November.  Well, okay, they are Republicans, so keep biting your nails.  

While many speak of a repeat of 1994, and Michael Barone points to 1946 as an analogy, Hadley goes one better, examining the parallel with British party realignment in the 1920s, which smashed the Labour Party for almost a generation.  I'll take any and all of the above.

I'm already thinking of an over/under line for the House and Senate.  If the Democrats only lose 25 House seats, they can count themselves lucky, and remain more or less in business.  The GOP needs at least a 35 seat pickup to claim a solid victory, a number I think is highly likely at this early point.  I think the upper bound of what is possible is as high as 60 seats, at which point Obama will have to follow Clinton's model and call up Dick Morris if he is to survive in 2012.  For the Senate, my over/under line is 7 seats right now.  I can easily see the GOP getting 10 or more.
Categories > Elections


Two Questions for Obama's SCOTUS Pick

What are the unamendable portions of the Constitution? Why did the Framers make them unamendable?  Answer to the first--see Article V, last two clauses. 

Hint:  In other words, why is federalism a central American political principle (and what is its relationship to majoritarianism) and was the founding racist?  I doubt that any senator of either party has any interest in posing the questions, but I have to have hope.

For the other questions I would have had them ask of nominee Sotomayor, see here.

Categories > Courts

Throwing out the Ruling Class

     At the end of a provocative essay entitled "Why We Don't Win" featured in the current Claremont Review, Angelo Codevilla raises the hollowness of strategic thinking about projecting power that has been displayed by the denizens of the ruling class ensconced for several decades in Washington in positions of military and diplomatic power. Codevilla is specifically referring to America's political class whose many failures over the past 10 years have occurred because of a basic inability to understand the necessity of projecting force in prudential and effective ways. This means, observes Codevilla, divorcing the use of power from grand political narratives like nation-building or constructing central political institutions. This might have meant doing relatively unsavory things like buying off tribes or clans or villages to hedge against the re-emergence of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban in the provinces. He notes with a dry sadness, it seems, the case of Major Nidal Hassan as another glaring instance of a basic refusal to think about barbarism and the need to locate it and destroy or diminish it irrespective of larger concerns.

   Codevilla's piece, however, raises the not insignificant larger question of why these failures are made over and over again. The logical culprit is a shared deficiency amongst policy elites, who lurk strangely in both Republican and Democratic circles, about the nature and uses of power.  Of course, Obama has raised these failures even more so with a host of foreign and military policy decisions. Codevilla notes that tossing out a ruling class is difficult. With Obama we may have finally reached the tipping point that ejects them from power. Who better has been formed under the power of their Humanitarianism, intellectual privileges and prejudices, and courted their favor and ideas throughout his adult life and political odyssey to power. The difference is that with Obama, the protective coating is off, he is too pure for disguises as he repeatedly told us in his autobiographies. We now see the sheer refusal to think about the arts of statecraft concretely embodied in the mind and will of one ruler. The larger question is assuming the return of something like conservatism to power in Washington, do we now move beyond the cadre of elite policy makers in the State Department, the Pentagon, and even within the military, and begin to apply the pressure that leaves our enemies "stupified," as the Prince counselled, before their destroyed dreams.


Air Force One and a Free People

Yesterday, our family took advantage of the waning days of the kids' Easter break and made our maiden journey to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.  Of course, the highlight of the trip (for kids and honest adults) is the opportunity to tour a decommissioned jet that served as Air Force One for Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton and (very briefly and as backup) W. Bush. 

I say that it was the highlight, but it was not so for the reasons you might expect.  To see the plane from the outside and sitting in that massive hangar--surrounded, as it is, by exhibits paying tribute to Reagan's impressive achievements in diplomacy all of which helped to bring about an end to the Cold War--all of that, of course, inspires exactly the sort of awe that it should.  But when we got to what we expected would be the climax of the experience--the point at which we actually got to board the plane--an initial wave of disappointment washed over me.  The plane projected greatness, but inside it was rather ordinary.  The exterior sparkle and flash of it are not matched in the interior which could be described more as serviceable than grand. I have seen RVs that were more plush and, no doubt, a rock band might have a plane that is embellished with more luxury.  This impressive and powerful machine is designed, mainly, to do a job and it is intended to facilitate a man who is doing the job of a nation of free men who are not beholden to some grandee. 

By the time we made our way to the galley and the White House Press Corps section of the plane, a deep sense of satisfaction washed over me, replacing my initial disappointment.  I realized that this plane is entirely American.  It did its job in simplicity and efficiency--projecting both power and humility.  We were touring the movable office of the President of the United States . . . not a gilded palace of Europe or, even, a grand and cushy carriage of a monarch.  And the funny thing was that everybody on board with our group (children excluded, of course) was remarking about it and they all had pretty much the same reaction.  There was a kind of modest pride--if such a paradoxical term can make any sense--or maybe it was a pride in our modesty.  The other thing that I though remarkable was the kind of spontaneous cheer that erupted from the crowd as the docent explained that the press corps traveling with the President is chosen by a lottery and, while they are accommodated with exactly the sort of meals that the President, First Lady and staff receive, they (or, rather, their news organizations) have to purchase their fare at the going rate.  They don't eat or fly on our dime.  Someone behind us made the remark that this much expectation for people to pay their own way stood in contrast to recent trends . . . and the docent smiled broadly as she made a fair point about what true freedom of the press means. 

Would that we all understood our own freedom in that way and guarded it as jealously. 

Still, moving away from the highlight of the plane, the broad and general sentiment of the day gathered from being in that place and among so many who lost no opportunity to mutter remarks under their breath by way of comparison and contrast with today's politics (and gradually took to making loud pronouncements upon the times) reminded me that bad as things may seem, there is plenty of reason to remain optimistic and cheerful.  Things have always been thus.  All of our politics is a story of imperfection and a striving to make us a more perfect Union.  It will NEVER be perfect, but we cannot despair in the realization.  We continue to have the freedom to reflect, to learn from our amazing past, and act upon what can be our amazing future.  Perfection may not be possible, but as for the continual effort at approximation:  It Can Be Done.

Oh, and by the way, Steve . . . you owe me.  I sold at least a few of your books with my proselytizing in the bookstore.  
Categories > Presidency


Great Quote, But Dubious Sourcing

Okay, so the following quotation from two months ago is zipping around the blogosphere, attributed to a columnist named Burt Prelutsky in the Los Angeles Times.  Except no one has been able to find it at the Times website or anywhere else.  But it is too good not to pass along (as an exiled Californian):

Frankly, I don't know what it is about California, but we seem to have a strange urge to elect really obnoxious women to high office. I'm not bragging, you understand, but no other state, including Maine, even comes close. When it comes to sending left-wing dingbats to Washington, we're number one. There's no getting around the fact that the last time anyone saw the likes of Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi, they were stirring a cauldron when the curtain went up on 'Macbeth'. The three of them are like jackasses who happen to possess the gift of blab. You don't know if you should condemn them for their stupidity or simply marvel at their ability to form words.
Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

Great Movie Lines

A classic, from Bob Hope.
Categories > Pop Culture


Why I Like the Tea Partiers

I hate meetings and town halls, especially in the evening when I want to be grilling or baking and quaffing a good bottle of (still lightly taxed) California central coast wine and rough-housing with the kids, but God bless the Tea Partiers and others who show up to speak their mind as citizens to Congresscritters.  And I'd like to buy an expensive steak dinner for the do-ragged dude in this YouTube clip who totally schools an idiot Republican congressman (I'm in danger of repeating myself here) about the Constitution.  Notice this fellow's complete command of the text of Article I, Section I, and of the First Amendment, and the embarrassing ignorance of the Congressman, and the necessity to shut down the speaker at the end before the embarrassment turns into a complete rout.

Dude--whoever you are, I salute you.  I think we've just found the next Joe the Plumber.

UPDATE:  Michelle Malkin passes along the strong possibility that the dude I've offered dinner to is a nutty 9/11 Truther.  Oh dear; I hope not.  Could make for an awkward dinner.  On the other hand, it makes LoBiondo out to be even more pathetic and useless.

UPDATE 2:  I mean, maybe I should have known better.  If you really want to make a congresscritter squirm, ask them to discuss the meaning and boundaries of Article I, Section 8.  Right?
Categories > Politics


Stop looking for a Golden Age

As a libertarian--or at least a fellow-traveler--I was pleased to see this piece by the Cato Institute's David Boaz.  The tendency to focus on all of the liberties we've lost in the past hundred years or so really can cause us to forget about the ways in which we are more free today than at any point in U.S. history.

There's been some negative reactions to the piece coming from, shall we say, predictable quarters.

UPDATE: Boaz responds to his critics, both friendly and unfriendly.  I particularly like this part:

I am a great admirer of the Founders, as I write on many occasions. When I talk about the progress we've made in expanding freedom for blacks, women, gays, and other once-excluded groups of people, I often say that we have "extended the promises of the Declaration of Independence -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- to more and more people." I love and respect those promises, I appreciate the extent to which the Founders made good on them immediately, and I am glad that they have indeed been extended.

Why, if I didn't know better, I'd think he was a West Coast Straussian.  Or is that East Coast?  I can never keep them straight.

Categories > History


Some Free Advice For Chairman Steele

So the RNC and chairman Steele are getting some heat over this.  But as relationship gurus will tell you, its never just about the expenses at bondage clubs.  I don't know much about the internals of the job of national committee chairman.  I don't know how good Steele is at the care and feeding of donors, recruiting candidates or dealing with state and Washington party leaders in private meetings, but I do get the feeling that Steele would be in a better position if he improved his public presentation and especially how he presents his party.

Much has been made of Steele's gaffes, but alot of them have one thing in common: Steele ends up selling himself by selling out his party, its candidates or institutions.  There was the time he agreed with a radio host when the host called Republican House leader John Boehner "an absolute freaking joke,"  There was the time he said Republicans were afraid of him on account of his race.  There was a time when Steele said he faced internal Republican opposition because "I'm a tea partier, I'm a town haller, I'm a grass-roots-er"  And now he whines that he has a "slimmer margin for error" because he is African American.  In every one of those ill considered statements, Steele was playing up to some audience (usually his interviewer, but sometimes populist conservatives) and trying to make himself look good, even if it made his party look worse.  When combined with reports of making paid speeches while RNC chairman, these gaffes can create the impression that Michael Steele is only out for Michael Steele.

To these I would add my personal impression that Steele is sometimes underprepared in his public remarks and therefore wastes his talents as a speaker.  I remember seeing him on CNN talking about health care and feeling he was terrified that any follow up question would reveal his shallow understanding of the issue.  Bobbly Jindal was on a few segments later and you could see the difference it makes to have really studied the issues.

I don't want Steele to quit or be fired.  I'm not sure the next RNC shair would be any better or that the process of removing and replacing Steele wouldn't leave the party bloodied and dealing with a public relations disaster.  But I do have some suggestions about how Steele could improve his public presentation, and perhaps his position in the party.

1.  Sell the party, not yourself.  That doesn't mean not admitting to past mistakes, but it includes taking ownership of those mistakes.  The Republicans have a problem with winning over African Americans.  Steele didn't create the problem, but asserting that he inspires fear from Republicans due to his color hasn't helped.  You represent the party.  So when admiting mistakes it is "we" who spent too much or whatever.  Then pivot really hard toward your positive message and what is right with GOP principles.  If you do a good job selling your party, people will notice that you are doing a good job.  Thats not a bad way to sell Michael Steele.

2.  Better to be overprepared than underprepared.  If you are ging on CNN to talk about Obamacare for ten minutes, first talk to Yuval Levin for an hour or more.  It is good to know more than you will be able to get across.  The audience will pick up on your confidence and be more likely to listen to what you actually do get to say.  This sense of confidence and mastery is one of Obama's greatest assets as a speaker.  You have charisma and are likeable, but you can't fake knowing more than you really know.  Thats okay.  You could still be one heck of a great speaker.

3.  A party out of power will naturally be more united on what it is against than on what specific policies to enact.  Be clear on the negatives, and when presed to offer a positive alternative, offer two or three strategies being used by various Republican governors.  This gives the impression that there are Republicans out there doing good things, while avoiding seeming to establish an official, unified Republican postion on how to reform health care (or cut taxes, or reform entitlements, or whatever.) 



Categories > Politics


Great Classroom Prank

If Schramm used Powerpoint in class (Yeah, right--maybe by the middle of the 22nd century-ed.), someone should set him up like this video.
Categories > Education

Foreign Affairs

It's Good to be Home (metaphorically speaking)

Business and travels over the past month have focused my attention upon two rather diverse destinations: Africa and the Czech Republic. 

Africa, for all of its beauty and charm, is a rather bleak tapestry of failed states dominated by corruption, impoverishment and hopelessness. A sampling of headlines from the past 24 hour news cycle includes: "Terre'blanche killing exposes South Africa's old racist divide," "Lord's Resistance Army Continues Killing Spree," and "Africa at 50: Tiring of Democracy Experiment?" Uninspiring.

Artificial national boundaries, inharmonious ethnic and religious diversity and powerless states unable to govern beyond the periphery of urban centers give rise to easily transferable loyalties and desperate social movements. All of this lends to a unique African conception of nationalism. In pre-colonial Africa, rulers governed over people, not territories. Popular dissent was expressed through migration and adoption of / submission to a new ruler. Such sentiments have survived into the post-colonial age, which partially explains the potency of charismatic demagogues. Europeans love to hate their national identities, but very few actually doubt their nationalities (eco-hippy "citizens of the world" notwithstanding). Among Africans, nationality may rank #2, #3, #4 or lower in the priority of identifiers and allegiances.

On the other hand, while in the Czech Republic I convinced my lovely Czech lady to escort me through Prague's Communist Museum - a truly unique experience. It made me wonder. It made her sick. And owning that her country yet has a robust communist party in the legislature, she increasingly laments that her countrymen seem willing to countenance a certain degree of corruption among politicians as simply par-for-the-course. Indeed, Europeans seem to expect such behaviour and respond with a somewhat resigned "boys will be boys" dismissal. I live in the playground of Berlusconi, after all.

All of this simply reminds me that Americans, whatever their faults, are a fortunate people, still proud and righteous, jealous of their patriotic honor and swift in their justice. We acknowledge our identities within the context of states (at both levels of federalism) and have not succumbed to the enervating despair of political apathy.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Petraeus And Biden

This is a lengthy but worthwhile profile of General Petraeus and as a bonus, we get a devastating takedown of the vain, partisan, dishonest, and ingratiating Joe Biden.


The Next Hundred Million

Joel Kotkin's book The Next Hundred Million could prove to American conservatism what Kevin Phillips' book The Emerging Republican Majority offered nearly 40 years ago. Kotkin's book however is not a political prediction book. Early reviews reflect the book's argument that blue-style politics are dominant in Obama's age but are being undercut by the actual choices that American families are making. On offer is that Texas and its major cities are now leading economic and governance indicators of what citizens actually prefer in their lives. The South as a whole comes in as a region of growth, but Kotkin notes with particularity the rise of the Texas' economy. Texas is something like our leading state now. The book also indicates a reluctance in many young families to divorce family life from the pursuit of a vocation. This is leading and contributing to the rise of the telecommuting phenomenon and the homeschooling and charter movement, which Kotkin notes is just another a way of naming what is in fact the village school. Millenials are reporting much higher levels of intent to marry and raise children as a fundamental aspect of their lives. This is to say that marriage and children aren't just an option that one picks up along the way to what is more central in one's life, namely career success.

Other "red" demographic and lifestyle choices abound in the facts of the book. We might see a generation of millenials who are strangely conservative and family-oriented but who are reluctant to actually be publicly conservative given the relativist spirit that has pervaded much of their educations. One senses that this will change under the crush of circumstances. The future could be far more conservative than we have thought. In a quiet Hayekian fashion people could be making decisions on a local level whose full impact will emerge in time but in the manner of a tidal wave. Also interesting in the book are the demographics of Utah, i.e., it resembles the 1950s in many ways.

Categories > Conservatism


Nostalgia For the Golden Days When Responsible Liberals Demanded Rhetorical Restraint

Newsweek's Ellis Cose not only accuses Tea Party movement conservatives of venomous rhetoric, but says the conservative establishment is complicit in their excesses.  By contrast, he says, when the wild rhetoric 40 years ago came from groups like Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Panthers, "respectable liberals denounced the radical fringe. Now the Republican establishment quietly acquiesces. And the right-wing media egg it on."

I'm eager to learn more about those respectable liberals and their denunciations of the radical fringe. I graduated from high school in 1972, and was nerdy enough to read a lot of political journalism in those days, but young enough to have been capable of misunderstanding much of it.  So maybe it's just me.  But the thing is, I don't recall any clear examples of respectable liberals in politics, journalism or academia standing up to the various left-wing extremists of that era and saying, forcefully and unequivocally, "What you people are doing and saying is ugly, and stupid, and wrong.  You should be ashamed of yourselves."

The fact that I don't know any clear examples of the brave stands taken by the liberal establishment in those days doesn't mean there aren't any.  NLT readers with better memories or research skills than mine are invited to submit entries in the Stalwart Liberal Rhetoric Competition. I would be glad to read and know of them.

I would be especially glad because my memory and research skills are up to the task of finding strong entrants in the Feckless and Craven Liberal Rhetoric Competition. The historian Arthur Schlesinger, to take a leading example, spent a long career as a public intellectual, one whose pronouncements on any controversy or politician were widely regarded as the best indicator of the liberal consensus. His denunciations were not the type to keep the radical fringe up at night, wondering if they had gotten it all terribly wrong.  Schlesinger's take on the student protests that shut down some of the nation's most famous universities in the 1960s was even-tempered: "Both Berkeley and Columbia will be wiser and better universities as a result of the student revolts."

This is the tone of the liberal establishment I remember - not rebuking the crazies for their excesses, but sympathizing with their aims, grievances and "idealism."  Rather than play the part of the grown-ups, admonishing young activists for indefensible words and deeds, liberals in that era could be counted on to cozy up to the angriest factions of the New Left.  The rebukes, in fact, were often delivered to young people who weren't radical enough.  In his biography of Robert Kennedy, Schlesinger recorded approvingly that Robert Kennedy lashed out in 1967 at some college students who wanted the U.S. military to try harder to win the Vietnam war his brother had escalated: "Don't you understand that what we are doing to the Vietnamese is not very different than what Hitler did to the Jews?"

Similarly, a 1970 review of a book on the Black Panthers in The Nation would have embarrassed your run-of-the-mill sycophant:

The Black Panther Party is, by any definition, a revolutionary group, one which is attempting to find - and to a surprising extent has succeeded in finding - revolutionary political theories which are applicable to the condition of black people in America today, particularly in urban America.  Its synthesis of Mao and Malcolm, Fanon and Lenin (with the important addition of [Eldridge] Cleaver's and [Huey] Newton's own contributions) is no street hoodlum's hodgepodge but a careful winnowing of political thought. Their analysis of the role of the police in white repression is accurate and brilliant.

It was a privilege, apparently, to be terrorized by such erudite thugs.

Conservatives should indeed denounce fellow conservatives who say ugly, inexcusable things.  Our guide for doing so will not be, as Ellis Cose imagines, the brave and admirable actions of liberals 40 years ago.  Instead, it should be the brave and admirable actions liberals never took when it counted, but are proud to fantasize about having taken decades after the fact.
Categories > Progressivism

Health Care

The President's Numbers Racket

In his long, rambling answer to a question the other day, President Obama said, "Number one is that we are the only -- we have been, up until last week, the only advanced country that allows 50 million of its citizens to not have any health insurance."

"50 milion of its citizens"?  Is that accurate? I thought part of the reason why Obama started speaking about 30 million uninsured, (rather than 47 million) last summer, is that he cut illegal immigrants from his head-count.  A Freudian slip perhaps.

P.S. Should we call hand-outs to non-citizens "immi-grants"?

Categories > Health Care


"The Laugh that Proved Terminal to the NRA" and other stories

Hadley Arkes, in his inimitable way, tells us how the first New Deal was, literally, laughed out of court. (Go to the clip at roughly 9 minutes for that part of the video).

That, and much else from the C-Span archives, are now available for free on the web.  I have been known to use a portion of this lecture, along with readings taking the other side, in my constitutional history classes. I imagine that there are countless other lectures now available that are equally useful for the classroom.  If readers here remember other such talks on C-Span, please note them in the comments.

Categories > Courts

Pop Culture

Bed and Circuses

Sex week: how one of our most prestigious institutions of higher learning educates the leaders of tomorrow

Categories > Pop Culture

Foreign Affairs

Obama and Israel's Domestic Politics

I have been reticent to criticize President Obama on foreign policy, but his stance toward Israel's government is troubling.  I think that Obama has gotten Iraq and Afghanistan mostly right, and to the extent that I disagree with his policies towards those countries, I am not confident that he is wrong and I am right.  He has been much more responsible with the Iraq drawdown that I feared.  I wish that he would be willing to push for a longer term American presence in Iraq (even if it involved small numbers of American troops) as a way of balancing Iran's influence in the country, but I can see a whole bunch of good arguments on the other side.  I'm glad that Obama defied his base and adopted and resourced a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.  I'm not a fan of his announced drawdown timetable in 2011, but Obama has often showed that he believes that artificial deadlines and timetables are needed to push players to get anything done.  It doesn't mean that if the war isn't won by 2011, the US will quit.  In the health care debate, Obama announced deadline after deadline, and when those deadlines were blown, he kept pushing forward until he won.  We can hope that he will show half as much tenacity in defeating our country's enemies.

But Obama's policy toward Israel is puzzling if one assumes that its purpose is to bring together the current Israeli government and the West Bank based Fatah government together for meaningful negotiations.  Obama's public standoffishness and demands for unilateral Israeli concessions guarantee paralysis.  The Israelis could be expected to balk at a demand to give up something in return for nothing, and the Palestinians could boycott talks until Obama extracted Israeli concessions.  The Palestinians could then come in with their own set of demands.  The Politico notes Dennis Ross arguing within the Obama administration about the political constraints that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu faces in obeying Obama's demands to stop Jewish building in East Jerusalem.

I suggest that Obama understands Netanyahu's political constraints quite well and that Obama's Israeli policy has a stategic purpose - though not one that I approve of.  I think that Obama has concluded that Netanyahu will bever be the negotiating partner he needs and that Netanyahu must first be replaced with a more pliable Prime Minister.  Obama's Israeli policy makes sense if one thinks of it as designed to bring down the Netanyahu government and bring in a "pro-peace" Prime Minister. 

The Obama administration's leaked and public displays of hostility toward Netanyahu are a signal to the Israeli center that Netanyahu is endangering Israel's alliance with her most valuable ally. Obama's demand for unilateral Israeli concessions on building in East Jerusalem (and delivered in such a way that it would be a  public humiliation for Israel to comply) is designed to cripple Netanyahu's support from the right.  If Obama can get Netanyahu to cave, Netanyahu will lose support on the right and gain no credit from the center.  If making concessions on West Jerusalem des not break the Netanyahu government, then there can always be other demands on other issues. 

Netanyahu has evaded this trap so far because Obama has chosen lousy ground on which to pick a fight.  Netanyahu's resisting a total building ban in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem seems to have broad support on both Israel's right and center.  Netanyahu can defy Obama on this issue without fearing erosion of support from any group that might be at all inclined to vote for him. 

Aside from the moral problem of trying to bring down an allied country's democratically elected government, Obama seems to misunderstand the area's dynamics.  Israel is a different place than it was fifteen years ago.  America can't produce a peace process by seeking to replace a Shamir with a Rabin.  Too many Israelis remember how the last peace process worked out - with huge Israeli offers of concessions followed by a string of suicide bombings.  Any Israeli government will have to take into account of the public's skepticism that unilateral Israeli concessions will bring peace any closer.  This public skepticism will either restrain or bring down any Israeli government that seeks to do Obama's will.  Any real peace process will involve state-building and economic growth in the West Bank and a focus on reciprocity.  And it probably will not conclude while Obama is President, even if he serves two terms. 

So what are Americans who want to see our President succeed (which is not the same thing as always getting his own way) and who are friends of Israel to do?  In one sense there is little that anyone can do.  The President has most of the leverage in conducting foreign policy (there are all kinds of things Congress could, in theory, do but I see them as unlikely).  A few first steps would be to recognize what Obama is doing and to bring it to the public's attention that he is using an unwise tactic in pursuit of a reprehensible strategy and hope that some measure of public opposition (possibly inflamed by an outraged sense of democratic fair play) will lead Obama, against his will, to adopt a more sensible approach.   


Categories > Foreign Affairs


People who live in glass white houses . . .

President Obama is now saying that we should tone down our rhetoric.  A fair point.  But is he the proper person to deliver that message?  This from a man campaign organization riles up doners with rhetoric like:

"Don't think for a minute that power concedes without a fight," Obama reminds his fundraising targets. "Please donate to Organizing for America's campaign to win this fight and ensure that real health care reform reaches my desk by the end of this year."

And we ought not to forget, as John Hinderaker notes, comments like: "if they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun," and who exhorted his supporters to "get in their face."  Unfortunately, a "community organizer" may not be a good candidate for calming the waters.

Categories > Presidency

Health Care

More Government, Less Liberty

Welcome to the federal menu mandate:

Davinni's a local pizzeria-sandwich restaurant with 22 locations around the Twin Cities, will now have to comply with this mandate.  A caller to my Saturday show (who wished to remain anonymous) told my radio partner Mitch Berg during a commercial break that it will cost Davanni's approximately $200,000 to comply with the new mandate -- just to start.  Every menu change will require Davanni's to have the new or modified items re-analyzed, which means that Davanni's will probably resist adding new options for their customers.  Meanwhile, larger chains with more economy of scale for such efforts such as Pizza Hut can do the tests once for all of their locations, keeping their prices lower for their customers -- which they already do, thanks to consumer demand for the information.

Under those circumstances, will Davanni's feel compelled to keep the extra three locations open, or to scale back to 19 to avoid the mandate?  Even if they do keep all of their locations, that $200,000 will now get spent on something other than new jobs for teenagers and adults, and customers will pay higher prices for their food.  Local and regional chains with 15-19 locations have a big economic disincentive to expand any further. I don't know much about Davanni's bottom line, but I'm pretty sure that even though they make some of the best pizza and hoagies in the area, they don't have $200,000 lying around the pizza sauce to blow on lab analyses this year, or any other.

Categories > Health Care


Reading Up on The Right

My long review essay about conservatism in the latest Claremont Review of Books is now available online.

Jonah Goldberg adds his perspective here.
Categories > Conservatism

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Cormac McCarthy and the Weekend

The Sage of Mt. Airy reflects on the meaning of this weekend and the Cormac McCarthy novel (and movie), No Country for Old Men.  "McCarthy's novels are uniformly dark, foreboding, and deeply serious. Whether you like them or not, enjoy his style or not, if you read them you will be forced to deal with profound questions of good and evil, life and death...."


Germans Say "Alles Is Kaput" on Global Warming

Don't miss this huge report from Der Speigel about the collapsing credibility of catastrophic climate science. Far from parroting the "settled science" canard, Der Spiegel points to many "open questions" of the science, and says "Anyone who speaks with leading climatologists today will discover how many questions remain open. The media, politicians and even scientists often talk about changes to the weather with a certainty that does not in fact exist." The authors are even willing to raise the ultimate heretical question: "Will the situation on the planet truly spin out of control if the average global temperature increases by more than two degrees Celsius?"
Der Spiegel is the Time magazine of Germany. Wonder when our Time magazine will get around to reporting fairly, or will they simply continue their long line of harem-scarum covers, like this, this, this, this, and this

UPDATE: Meanwhile, you can check out my latest meditation on the latest Malthusian turn of the green over at the American Enterprise blog, which comes complete with a Steve Martin reference.

Categories > Environment


Liquidating the Meaning and Bad Precedent

     I was perusing through a new edited volume of essays on the legendary American Founding historian Forrest McDonald and noted with delight discussion given to one of the more difficult concepts contained in The Federalist. This is the idea of "Liquidating" the meaning of the provisions of the Constitution as discussed in #s 37, 78, and 82. Specifically the discussion in #37 is most apt to our current distressing situation where Publius discourses on the difficulty ascertaining the boundary between federal and state powers. He states, "Here then are three sources of vague and incorrect definitions; indistinctness of the object, imperfection of the organ of perception, inadequateness of the vehicle of ideas. Any one of these must produce a certain degree of obscurity. The convention, in delineating the boundary between the federal and state jurisdictions, must have experienced the full effect of them all."  Elsewhere Publius notes in the same paper, "All new laws, though penned with the greatest technical skill, and passed on the fullest and most mature deliberation, are considered as more or less obscure and equivocal until their meaning be liquidated and ascertained by a series of particular discussion . . ."


      This leads directly to a fear I have  that the State AGs may ultimately do more harm than good in their suits on the individual health insurance mandate being a commerce clause violation. Granted that this mandate does seem to breach the clause by the letter and spirit of the thing but is that going to be enough for the courts who with one ruling could gut the commcerce clause almost indefinitely? The courts, if they uphold the purchase mandate as fitting within commerce clause power, which I think is likely, while probably not stating it as such, will likely defer to something like the "liquidation" process Publius observes. The people through discussion over the years will have regarded this as constitutional and we must recognize the process that has occurred would be the reasoning underlying the more technical analysis. 

      The notion of "liquidating" the meaning might force us to repair to the fundamental equality of the federal branches of government and the equal claim they have on the Constitution. Thus, through public debate the "the cool and deliberate sense of the community" might be reached and the mandate overturned in this fashion. Might the responsibility rest with the democratic branches, at least as first movers, to effect the determination that this purchase mandate, if allowed to stand, recognizes no limits to federal power. At the least, such an attempt by a conservative president and congress might fall a few votes short, but it is better than the constitutional precedent that seems likely to follow from the AG suits.



Categories > Courts

Convention Momentum?

Thanks to Peter Schramm for forwarding this WSJ opinion piece from Virginia Republican James LeMunyon.  I include it here as a follow-up to an earlier post in which I argued that the states should move to amend the Constitution by calling for a new convention under Article V.  

Whereas I suggested that Republicans should target the constitutionality of the health-care bill's individual mandate, LeMunyon points more broadly to the problem of a broken Congress, citing the need for solutions long championed by federalists, such as a line-item veto and congressional term limits.  LeMunyon's approach strikes me as a winning one, for it would allow constitutional reformers to avoid sounding like one-trick ponies on health care and instead zero in on the real source of popular discontent: a "runaway" national government driven by modern progressives and their zeal for elitist authoritarianism.  


Ohio's Turning Red . . . but it Needn't Blush

The results of these polls and the accompanying analysis from Real Clear Politics ought to be cheering to my friends in the bellwether state of Ohio.

I particularly like this bit: 

Five of thirteen polls [i.e., only five] taken since last July have shown Ted Strickland leading or tied with John Kasich.  Four of those polls are Quinnipiac polls [demonstrated earlier in the article to tilt Democrat] (see also, Ohio Senate, supra).  Regardless, Quinnipiac has Strickland leading Kasich by only 43% to 38%.  An incumbent below 50% falls into the "vulnerable" category, and an incumbent below 45% starts to fall into the "needs a freak circumstance to win" category.  Strickland hasn't broken 45% since October.

Overall, however, the RCP average has Kasich ahead by 4.2 %.  In the Senate race, Portman leads both of his Democrat challengers by 2% . . . but RCP still contends that the Senate race in Ohio presents the, "toughest open seat for the GOP to keep."  Based on the analysis provided (in particular, Portman's ties to the Bush administration) and given the conditions of an ordinary election, everything RCP says makes perfect sense.  But the evidence seems also to be suggesting that the 2010 midterms are going to be anything but an ordinary election.  It seems to be suggesting that there are far more embarrassing political ties than Bush (Obama, Pelosi, Reid) for a politician to have or to promise having  . . .    

Categories > Elections


A new environmental crisis

Here's a big NLT "thank-you" to Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) for alerting us to the potential danger of Guam tipping over.  And no, this is not an April Fool's Day prank.
Categories > Environment