Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


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