Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The World Cup Runneth Over (or, going, going, Ghana)

I am never happy to see the U.S. lose, but on the bright side the early exit of the U.S. from the final round will put soccer back into its place in American culture.  If the world truly is diverse, there's no reason why soccer should be the most popular sport everywhere, or, even that it be played everywhere. Isn't that what multiculturalism is about?
Categories > Sports


Tragedy and Politics

Instapundit links to a story detailing how regularory excess, among other things, has slowed U.S. reaction to the oil spill in the Gulf.

Three days after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, the Netherlands offered the U.S. government ships equipped to handle a major spill, one much larger than the BP spill that then appeared to be underway. "Our system can handle 400 cubic metres per hour," Weird Koops, the chairman of Spill Response Group Holland, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide, giving each Dutch ship more cleanup capacity than all the ships that the U.S. was then employing in the Gulf to combat the spill.

To protect against the possibility that its equipment wouldn't capture all the oil gushing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the Dutch also offered to prepare for the U.S. a contingency plan to protect Louisiana's marshlands with sand barriers. One Dutch research institute specializing in deltas, coastal areas and rivers, in fact, developed a strategy to begin building 60-mile-long sand dikes within three weeks. . . .

The U.S. government responded with "Thanks but no thanks," remarked Visser, despite BP's desire to bring in the Dutch equipment and despite the no-lose nature of the Dutch offer --the Dutch government offered the use of its equipment at no charge. Even after the U.S. refused, the Dutch kept their vessels on standby, hoping the Americans would come round. By May 5, the U.S. had not come round. To the contrary, the U.S. had also turned down offers of help from 12 other governments, most of them with superior expertise and equipment --unlike the U.S., Europe has robust fleets of Oil Spill Response Vessels that sail circles around their make-shift U.S. counterparts.

Why does neither the U.S. government nor U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe? Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn't good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million -- if water isn't at least 99.9985% pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

When ships in U.S. waters take in oil-contaminated water, they are forced to store it. As U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the official in charge of the clean-up operation, explained in a press briefing on June 11, "We have skimmed, to date, about 18 million gallons of oily water--the oil has to be decanted from that [and] our yield is usually somewhere around 10% or 15% on that." In other words, U.S. ships have mostly been removing water from the Gulf, requiring them to make up to 10 times as many trips to storage facilities where they off-load their oil-water mixture, an approach Koops calls "crazy."

The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer -- but only partly. Because the U.S. didn't want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels. And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.

This is not a new problem:

When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker accident occurred off the coast of Alaska in 1989, a Dutch team with clean-up equipment flew in to Anchorage airport to offer their help. To their amazement, they were rebuffed and told to go home with their equipment.

The U.S. government seems to be trying to follow a few imperatives at once: take care of the spill, and maintain enviornmental and worker regulations.  The result has been unfortunate, but not surprising.  The quest for a policy with no down-side, like the desire to create a world where there is no need for prerogative power in the executive, however much to be wished for, is, in fact, a sign of extremism.  The world ain't like that.  There will always be competing goods, and there will always be times when action beyond the letter of the law is necessary.

Categories > Politics



The witnesses for the Kagan SCOTUS hearings feature NLT contributor Robert Alt and a few other friends, including Ed Whelan of NRO's Bench Memos, an indispensable source on next week's follies.

The left has Jon Stewart, but the right has Jeremy Rabkin.  Watch him entertain (and inform) on Kagan and international law (aka the practices and laws of barbarians) at Heritage, where he is introduced by Robert Alt.  Commenting is former Clarence Thomas clerk Carrie Severino of Judicial Crisis Network.

Categories > Courts


One Good Decision, but Questions Remain

It is hard to be critical of Obama's handling of McChrystal. He did what had to be done, and he explained it in the way a President should. (Never mind that his friends at had to do a little re-writing of history to make it look like they have been supporting Petraeus all along.) His approval rating even went up a couple points, but it is on its way back down already.  Even though Obama got this decision right, my favorite political commentator, Michael Ramirez, reminds us that the larger questions about him remain:

Categories > Presidency


Blowout of a Different Kind

Bad windmill, bad bad windmill.  I think this scene can use caption contest.  Extra credit for working "Al Gore" into the cutline.

Categories > Environment


Dodd and Man

Senator Dodd's comments about the latest legislative behemoth, largely about banking and finance, going through Congress are quite revealing: "This is about as important as it gets, because it deals with every single aspect of our lives."   That's the problem.   No doubt is makes Seantor Dodd and the rest of the governing class feel important that they can do such things, and I'm sure they think that they're helping.  From another perspective, however, they're often self-important busibodies.

P.S. The article also notes that "government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain a multibillion dollar drain on the U.S. Treasury, and largely untouched by this proposal."

Categories > Congress


The Party of Big Business

RealClearPolitics links to a video of a speech by Democratic Congressman, Hank Johnson saying that if the government does not limit campaign contributions, more Republicans will be elected.  Why, because "Republicans favor big busines and big business favors Republicans."  It amusing that his two examples, BP and Goldman Sachs, were both big Obama donors.

One good thing about the web, particularly now that video links are so easy, is that it makes it easier for us to see just how unimpressive so many of our elected officials, of both parties, are.  An argument for having them responsible for fewer things, if you ask me.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

What Would Lincoln Do?

About McChrystal?  Someone who wrote a great book about leaders and generals, Eliot Cohen, says he has to be fired.  Doris Kearns Goodwin implies that you can't win a war without the right person in charge.  Prudence over principle (as is always the case).  "Anybody will do for you," Lincoln said, "but not for me. I must have somebody."
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Ideas In Tension

Here are some thoughts,

1.  The GOP's big domestic policy weakness lies in crafting a specific economic agenda that can plausibly offer higher living standards and at least somewhat greater security (especially in health care.)  It does not follow that to make progress on economics, Republicans need to move left or default on the social issues.  Alienating social conservatives makes the job of crafting a winning coalition that is geared to economic reform harder rather than easier.  It is possible to stick to social conservative principles while running an economy-focused campaign.  Which is to say that while Virginia is not America writ small, Mitch Daniels might have something to learn from Bob McDonnell.  One of the lessons of the McDonnell campaign: if you have an appealing economic message and a principled but nonabrasive stand on the social issues, it is to the conservative Republican's advantage to have the Democrat run a "divisive" culture war campaign.

2.  Except in the very short term (as in 2010) the GOP cannot win consistently without expanding its demographic base.  There is also no chance of a winning and decent conservative politics absent those self-identified conservatives who make up the Republican base.  There are two temptations to avoid.  The first is the assumption that conservatives can win by bringing the Reagan-era coalition back together and assuming that inroads with demographic groups outside that coalition will happen without special effort.  The second is to triangulate against conservatives by moving left in order to win over persuadables who consume mostly left-leaning media and hoping that conservatives will stick with you because they have nowhere else to go.  Both roads lead to California.  The worst thing is that a lousy center-right politics will tend to alternate between these two approaches as each one, in turn, fails to combine electoral success with good policy outcomes.  There is no practical alternative to crafting a policy agenda and message that appeals to conservatives and those who do not think of themselves as conservatives, have not bought into the conservative narrative of the recent past, and who do not consume much if any right-leaning media.  That is an enormous challenge because it involve simultaneously threading multiple policy, cultural and media needles.

Categories > Politics


Is "Enough!" Enough?

Although I am very much enjoying Bill Voegeli's Never Enough, I'm not talking about that fine book just now. 

Rather, I point to today's National Examiner, wherein Hugh Hewitt writes that given the many and varied ways the Obama administration has demonstrated itself to be in over its head, "Enough!" will probably be enough of a slogan for the GOP this fall.  This is true, argues Hewitt, despite the best efforts of Dems to conceal the depths of their hole digging.  The deficit hole--forget all their other holes--begins to make the Deepwater Horizon drilling project look like a day at the beach with a pail and shovel.  Voters are on to this, however, and it seems unlikely that in an age of flip phones and new media, old-style smoke and mirrors will provide enough cover to the disingenuous. 

But will "Enough!" provide enough cover to a GOP inclined to pursue an easy return to power?  It might be "enough" for that limited purpose.  But it seems unlikely to be enough to make the country switch gears and begin an effective turn around.  And it gives little comfort to the heart to read Hewitt's closing line and final justification for the slogan, "'Enough!'  is enough of a slogan. Not even the Republicans can screw that up." [Emphasis mine.]  Great.  Can't wait to watch what a one note band does when they get to run the production.

Republicans would do well to recall that we remain a divided country.  (This Ohio race--in a dead heat--is a good barometer for measuring the nature of the problem.)  The part of the electorate that the GOP is after are not simply fooled and disillusioned Democrats grasping for the only available alternative to disaster.  A good number of them are irritated and frustrated Republicans (or otherwise center-right folks) hoping and expecting something more from the GOP than "Enough!" and "I'm not a Democrat."  But there is also a vast population of voters now awakened to politics--perhaps for the first time--because of this demonstration of political incompetence on the part of Democrats.  They know now what they DON'T believe about American politics.  Will Republicans offer them something they can believe?  Will they take advantage of a once in a political lifetime opportunity to persuade and build their party? 

I agree with those commentators here (Pete and others) who have argued that Republicans really need to get their political act together on policy and offer principled, constructive alternatives to government take-overs, bail-outs, and massive spending programs.  But I remain skeptical of even THAT as a strategy.  It's good as far as it goes.  But its weakness is that it tends to assume a fundamentally sound understanding of the nature and purpose of American politics . . . and I just think that's an assumption we can't afford to make.

Republicans have this ONE chance to get THAT right.  It is safer to assume that policy will follow principle than it is to assume that principle will follow policy.  Republicans need to be out there making strong and principled arguments about American civics that can appeal to voters who have demonstrated a hunger for it.  And this can play into the "Enough!" meme because it is easy to demonstrate the ways in which the work of the Dems is NOT in compliance with basic American civics.  But Republicans have to also remember that at the same time Americans have demonstrated a hunger for American civics, they remain--because of a wildly ineffective and twisted education system--terribly confused about it.   GOP candidates for office would do well to bone up on their own understanding of American history, civics and politics as it is fair to expect that much of the questioning they're going to get on the campaign trail is going to hearken back to it. 

While it's too much to expect that Republicans can correct decades of misinformation in one election cycle (indeed, it's probably too much to imagine that any significant number of the candidates themselves possess any coherent understanding of it) the country as a whole needs to begin this re-awakening. For it will never be "enough" to shout "Enough!"

Categories > Elections


The World-historical Cup

The World Cup reminds us of the greatest game ever played, featuring the Greek versus the German philosophers, Nature versus History.
Categories > Sports

Political Parties

How Soon They Forget

Democrats complain about their lack of party unity in Congress.  In particular, they are blaming Rahm Emannuel "Democrats have not stood behind the president in the way Republicans did for George W Bush, and that was meant to be Rahm's job."

It's always amusing to see people who believe their own spin.  Consider the major items of President Bush's domestic agenda, excepting tax cuts (an issue on which the GOP was unified).  No Child Left Behind passed the House with 198-6 among Democrats and 188-33 Republicans on board.  The Senate vote was similar.  (No surprise, given that Ted Kennedy's staff drafted the bill, if memory serves).  The vote on the prescription drug benefit was more partisan, but by no means was it a party line vote. (9 Democrats and 207 Republicans voted for it, and 195 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted against).

And let's not forget just how hard a time Bush had with his party on immigration reform, among other things.  In that case, Bush pushed something that divided his party, and the result was division.  Similarly, the TARP vote was fairly bipartisan (although it had more Democratic than Republican support in the House).

Why, despite having larger majorities than any Republican President has had since before World War II, are Democrats having a hard time getting their agenda through?  Perhaps it has something to do with the contents of the bills? 

(On the other hand, Democrats have passed several of their major priorities--a giant stimulus/ save unionized government jobs bill and an expansion of government's role in medical care, among other things.)


Categories > Political Parties


They Bravely Ran Away . . .

Democrats are starting to cancel town hall meetings.  Brave, Brave, Brave, brave Congressmen. When danger reared its ugly head, they bravely turned their tails and fled . . .
Categories > Congress

Political Philosophy

Justice, Justice Shall you Pursue . . .

Antonin Scalia's advice to graduates:

"[A] platitude I want discuss comes in many flavors. It can be variously delivered as, 'Follow your star,' or 'Never compromise your principles.' Or, quoting Polonius in 'Hamlet' -- who people forget was supposed to be an idiot -- 'To thine ownself be true.' Now this can be very good or very bad advice. . . .

More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly. Nobody -- remember this -- neither Hitler, nor Lenin, nor any despot you could name, ever came forward with a proposal that read, 'Now, let's create a really oppressive and evil society.' Hitler said, 'Let's take the means necessary to restore our national pride and civic order.' And Lenin said, 'Let's take the means necessary to assure a fair distribution of the goods of the world.'

In short, it is your responsibility, men and women of the class of 2010, not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being: Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, will you be headed in the right direction.