Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


What Was That About "Sustainability"?

Europe slashing subsidies for renewable energy, because of budget deficits.  But wait--I thought all those subsidies made us richer, right?
Categories > Environment


Making Citizens

Lindsey Graham is making noise by proposing an amendment that would deny U.S. citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

Such an amendment might not, in fact be necessary. The Fourteenth Amendment says that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside." The Supreme Court, if memory serves, has not ruled on whether illegal immigrants are "subject to the jurisdication" of the U.S.

Moreover, as scholars like John Eastman have noted, the Supreme Court was mistaken when it declared that the Fourteenth Amendment awarded citizenship to the children of foreigners. 

When pressed about whether Indians living on reservations would be covered by the clause since they were "most clearly subject to our jurisdiction, both civil and military," for example, Senator Lyman Trumbull, a key figure in the drafting and adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, responded that "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States meant subject to its "complete" juris­diction, "[n]ot owing allegiance to anybody else." [4] And Senator Jacob Howard, who introduced the language of the jurisdiction clause on the floor of the Senate, contended that it should be construed to mean "a full and complete jurisdiction," "the same jurisdiction in extent and quality as applies to every citizen of the United States now"[5] (i.e., under the 1866 Act). That meant that the children of Indians who still "belong[ed] to a tribal relation" and hence owed allegiance to another sovereign (however dependent the sovereign was) would not qualify for citizenship under the clause. Because of this interpretative gloss, provided by the authors of the provision, an amendment offered by Senator James Doolittle of Wisconsin explicitly to exclude "Indians not taxed," as the 1866 Act had done, was rejected as redundant.

Eastman gives a good account of the broader argument.  It is well worth reading his full essay. The Supreme Court need only apply the law that the people ratified in order to do what Graham wants to do with an amendment.

Categories > Courts


Told Ya So

What?  The media exaggerate the oil spill?  Whodathunkit.  Not just Time, but also the Washington Post this morning, the New York Times yesterday, and even ABC News.  (Wonder if Chris Matthews will catch up with the news.)

Just as Ken Green and I predicted more than a month ago: "Still another cause for optimism is the location of the oil. The novel conditions of this spill have created a unique and previously unforeseen situation: rather than mostly rising and moving to shore, most of the oil is remaining dispersed in solution in the ocean. While that oil is bound to cause significant damage to marine life, the damage would likely have been much worse had more of the oil made landfall along Gulf-coast shores. Indeed, it is possible that the conditions of the Deepwater Horizon spill may cause the bulk of the oil to stay in less vulnerable ecosystems, where resilience is highest and recovery is fastest."

Actually what is notable here is not media second thoughts--that was inevitable--but the speed with which it has occurred.  
Categories > Environment

Health Care

The Slow Retreat

One of the many ironies of the current situation is that, on the right, there is a mismatch between the stridency of rhetoric and the radicalism of policy proposal.  The more established conservative media figures often have an unusual relationship to policy.  Their policy bark is more radical than their bite.  In Liberty and Tyranny, Mark Levin is highly critical of Social Security and Medicare as bankrupting statist projects designed to tie down the people.  His main policy proposal is to fight against nationalized health care.  In  Arguing with Idiots, Glenn Beck took a similar path.  He bashed the NHS, Michael Moore and pointed out how Medicare's actual costs have far outstripped the initial cost projections.  As a positive program, he mentioned some information technology and productivity enhancing developments but there was little on policy.  


Neither guy came out for the actual repeal of Medicare (though Levin seemed to make an implicit argument for allowing younger people to somehow opt-out of Medicare.)  The focus is less on undoing the resented past, than to prevent the next state intrusion into medicine.  Medicare isn't going away, but we can learn from the problems of Medicare to stop nationalized health care.  The result is a combination of rhetorical maximalism and policy stand patism. The result is also a ratchet effect in which conservatives resentfully acquiesce to the last expansion of state power over health care and do battle against the next one, and then, when that fight is lost, throw up new defenses against the next statist proposal.  The result seems to be the super slow motion government takeover of health care.


I'm not singling out Levin and Beck.  This strikes me as having been the general position of most conservatives since at least the mid-90s.  I'm irritated at hearing liberals argue that Obamcare's (at least it's current iteration) combination of individual mandates, coverage mandates, and subsidies was the conservative position on health care reform because similar proposals had been floated by some guy at Heritage, Orrin Hatch and Mitt Romney.  Just because a position was taken up by some think tank guy I never heard of, an FOTK (Friend of Ted Kennedy) Senator I didn't care about, and a politician I never trusted didn't make it the conservative position.  I knew what I thought, what the other conservatives I talked to thought, what I read, and what I heard and saw in the broadcast media.  The conservative position was that government involvement had gone too far already and , minus some tweaks like tort reform and (later) interstate purchasing, the government should leave the private health care system alone.  


This defensive mentality creates a situation in which whenever liberals move policy closer to government-run health care, they win and when they fail, they don't lose - because policy doesn't go backwards.  This has implications for the future of Obamacare.  There are structural reasons to think that Obamacare won't be repealed anytime soon (though Republicans should try.)  The danger is that, five or seven years from now, conservatives will have come to a resentful acquiescence of Obamacare and thrown up a new set of defenses that will be worn down over time as the current iteration of Obamacare makes existing problems of medical inflation worse. Based on the experience of Massachusetts, it is reasonable to expect that Obamacare will lead to an even faster increase in insurance premiums.  This will, over time, lead liberals to advocate for some combination of price controls and a government-run insurance option that will crowd out private health insurance.  Conservatives will point to the problems caused by Obamacare as a reason not to go further in the direction of government-run health care.  They will be right, but a merely defensive policy position will be overrun.  The premium increases really will be unsustainable and liberals will only have to win the policy battle once.  A mere repeal of Obamacare strategy will also be problematic because with premiums much higher than at present, people will be terrified of losing guaranteed issue and government subsidies in the hope of declining insurance prices that might never happen.


If conservatives really want to stop a government takeover of health care, they (and I don't just mean some think tank nerds and Paul Ryan) are going to have to go on the policy offensive and popularize the arguments for a more free-market driven health care system and a series of policies that will help people of low income and preexisting conditions participate in such a system.  It means more than just undoing Obamacare, it means creating a more free market health care policy than we had before Obamacare.  This strategy will have to be specific.  It will have to offer real world benefits and be constructed in such a way that it can be implemented a little at a time with victories here and there that increase the number of health care consumers that act like health care customers and are better off for doing so.  We should move to a strategy on health care in which winning means more than temporarily not losing. 



Categories > Health Care

The Civil War & Lincoln

Refighting the Civil War?

I wonder if any of our Civil War experts have any thoughts about how yesterday's injunction barring Arizona from enforcing U.S. immigration law relates to the personal liberty laws of the antebellum era.  Both touch upon the same issue, albeit from opposite directions.


A Center-Right Nation After All?

The last two election cycles called into question whether, as many conservatives comforted themselves, the U.S. is fundamentally a center-right nation, and had taken temporary leave of its senses in electing Obama and a Democratic Congress.  I was skeptical; it seemed to me that Arthur Schlesinger's theory of political cycles--a version of realignment theory--might be coming true.  

But it looks more and more as though what is really happening is that moderate voters need to be reminded every now and then how much they don't like liberalism (see: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton in 1993, etc).  Bill Galston dilates on the latest Pew survey data online in The New Republic today: "the ideological gap between the Democratic Party and the mean voter is about three times as large as the separation between that voter and the Republican Party.  And, startlingly, the electorate places itself a bit closer to the Tea Party movement (which is well to the right of the Republican Party) than to the Democratic Party. All this represents a major shift from five years ago, when mean voters placed themselves exactly halfway between their ideological perceptions of the Democratic and Republican parties."

For Democrats in November this means: Look out below!
Categories > Elections

Political Philosophy

Let Us Eat Cake

In celebration of Alexis de Tocqueville's 205th birthday, today, July 29.  Standing against the French Revolution, the author of Democracy in America wrote what is likely the best book on modern democracy, the character it gives rise to, both virtues and vices.  Whether it is the greatest book on America is problematic.  Does not Tocqueville fail to appreciate the profundity of the American Founding, the danger of hard (as opposed to soft) despotism, and the significance of the Civil War and hence a common citizenship in combating the racial divide?  Does he misleadingly conceive of equality as primarily a historical force and not a description of man's in-between status, his suspension between beastiality and divinity?  Yet his appreciation of the strengths of civil society--in particular religion, associations, and the family--stands out among students of America. 

My reservations concerning Tocqueville notwithstanding, Harvey Mansfield's brief book provides profound guidance about the primary source.

Political Philosophy

A Swift Lesson in Self-Refutation

Now this really makes me laugh out loud: Deepak Chopra, one of those self-levitating frauds so common in our age, gets schooled in about 15 seconds.


Things Making Me Smile Today

So I'm spending the next month at the beach in California; today's itinerary included a three-mile run before breakfast, a five-mile hike up Bishop's Peak near San Luis Obispo, and then relaxing at the beach late in the day.  But high on today's worthy amusements are the Jane Austin Fight Club, and the newly hirsute Jon Stewart on the Breibart-Sherrod imbroglio, where the Obamanauts come out the worse for wear.  As they should.
Categories > Politics


The Unfair Tax?

The Standard links to Paul Ryan on Hardball.  Matthews is banging the table, as are his fellow Democrats, and Democratic operatives, that it is fair to raise taxes on people who make more than $250,000 per year.  In the abstract that rings true.  Ryan replies by noting that those taxes, in fact, hit small businesses because of how our tax system works. 

Would it be worth noting that the tax rate for such people will be raised to roughly 40%>  (In 1995, Americans said that taxes should top off at 25% for people making $200,000 per year Here's some recent related polling.)   I suspect that pointing out that the effective tax rate for the wealthy in places like New York is getting close to 60% would be worth noting.

Categories > Politics


Lind v. Voegeli: This Time It's Theoretical

Here's the plot, so far:

First, I wrote a book, Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State.

Second, George Will devoted a column to discussing Never Enough, endorsing its central argument.

Third, Michael Lind devoted one of his columns in Salon to attacking Will for recommending Never Enough.  It is a successor to a column Lind wrote earlier in the year, prior to the publication of Never Enough, which accused Straussian scholars of lending their credentials to the malign theory that modern American liberalism is ominous rather than wondrous.

Fourth, National Review Online posted my reply to Lind, "Why Liberalism Is Dangerous."

That brings you up to date.  I'll let NLT readers know if there's a sequel.
Categories > History

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Indonesians fear losing language (and soul)

From today's New York Times.  Fascinating problem for the Indonesians and for their language, Bahasa Indonesia.  The Philippines have a similar problem (Marcos tried to revivify Tagalog at the expense of English; hard to do, leads to a different kind of disadvantage for the country).  Also see the just published Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language (I'm only half through it), as well as McWhorter's too critical review (and too "scientific" understanding of language) in The New Republic.  I have profited from the thread conversation on the previous post.  Thanks.

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Get another soul, study another language

Lera Boroditsky ruminates on these questions: "Do the languages we speak shape the way we think? Do they merely express thoughts, or do the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express?"  She says that "a flurry of new cognitive science research is showing that in fact, language does profoundly influence how we see the world."  Now, I'm not going to say there aren't some interesting (even fascinating) pieces of info in this op-ed, but really, all this emphasis on the "empirical work" that needs to be done on language is just boring. ("To demonstrate the causal role of language, what's needed are studies that directly manipulate language and look for effects in cognition.")

When I was in college I was told that studying a second language would be good for me; it would get me another mind. Our students are no longer told that. I argued with a Spanish professor once that it is good for human beings to study another language (or more, if possible) because than that person can think about different things, and even think differently.  For example, we don't have a working idea for hombre in English.  I asked her to play around with that for a while, but she claimed that wouldn't be useful; only the useful matters.  But when I made a reference to a different culture, her ears perked up (without understanding). It seems not possible for a human being to be without language, but is it correct to say, as Boroditsky does, that "human natures too can differ dramatically"?  This is imprecise on the big things, while searching for precision on the lesser matters.  Is this where the empirical leads?  I like the authors' mention of Charlemagne statement: "To have a second language is to have a second soul."  It may be better thinking about why so many native (Bulgarian, German Spanish, et al) poets learned English just to be able to translate the Poet into their language.  Never mind Heidegger and such thinking about thinking, in a language.


The Best Comments On The Sherrod Affair

are by Carl Scott in this thread over at Postmodern Conservative.

On a related note, while I think that it is perfectly predictable for conservatives who feel offended by cynical accusations of racism to seek to respond in kind, I don't think it is effective except as a form of therapy.  The cries of racism (to the extent they are insincere) have two purposes.  The first purpose is to change the subject.  This excerpt from Journolist gives some idea of the mentality at work.  Even if it doesn't totally work, it creates a kind of secondary conversation that puts the Left's critics on the defensive.  It is designed to produce news programs structured  like this: "Up first tonight, why is Obama's health care plan not popular? And later, exactly how racist are President Obama's opponents?"  The second purpose is to reinforce Democratic margins among African Americans (and to a lesser extent other nonwhites.) 

Responses that accuse liberals, Democrats, Obama supporters etc of racism just don't work.  They are mostly aired on conservative-leaning media so the target audience for the original racism accusations don't really hear them.  It doesn't lead to deterrence.  Cynical liberal activists and organizations would much rather be talking about who is and isn't racist than about how Obamacare (based on the experience of Massachusetts) will tend to increase premiums. Conservative accusations of liberal racism don't hurt the feeling of liberals, don't make it less likely that they will engage in this behavior in the future, and don't win over new people to center-right politics.  It does seem to make some people feel better.

The idea isn't to stop these kinds of accusations.  It isn't up to us to stop them.  It isn't our choice to make.  The idea is to defeat the people who make them and then let them rant as they please.  The best way to defeat them is to stigmatize those accusations as defenses for policies that hurt Americans of all races, as defenses for politicians who are hurting Americans of all races, and to offer specific alternative policies that offer real life improvements to people of all races.  And find ways to make those arguments to people who don't consume much right-leaning media.  Of course this means (as a necessary but insufficient condition) that you have something real to say - so don't look at the folks running in Arizona Republican senatorial primary for guidance. 

Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

Boston Globe Endorses GOP and CRB

According to The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce, "admiration" is "Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves."  Let me politely express, then, my admiration for Neil Gabler's op-ed in today's Boston Globe, "The Best and Brightest Redux."  Gabler says the president and his closest advisors have one important thing in common: they are "onetime middle-class overachievers who made their way into the Ivy League and then catapulted to the top levels of class and power."  The problem is that "in elitism as in religion, no one is more devout than a convert, and these people, again like Obama, all having been blessed by the Ivy League, also embrace Ivy League arrogance and condescension. On this, the Republican critics are right: The administration exudes a sense of superiority."

Gabler is making a point close to the one I advanced in the Spring 2010 Claremont Review of Books on "The Meaning of the Tea Party."  In it, I contended, "Our new meritocratic masters have been more conspicuously smart than wise. They know a lot, but don't know what they don't know. Their self-regard as the modern Americans who are the 'natural aristocrats' Jefferson looked for has left them with an exaggerated sense of their own noblesse, and a deficient awareness of their corresponding oblige."  I agree with Gabler that hyper-competence is not inherently contemptible, but that leaders whose estimate of their own analytical and executive abilities far exceeds what the facts would justify always cause trouble - for themselves and their country.  As I wrote, "A leadership class that actually improved ordinary Americans' security and opportunities would be forgiven condescension worse than Obama's. It's when the people running the country are both disrespectful and ineffectual that folks get angry."


The McCain-Hayworth-Deakin Debate

So I got around to watching the Arizona Republican senatorial debate on youtube.  Whoa.  Here is my snarky summary,

Moderator:  Have at it gentlemen.

Hayworth:  I'm a consistent conservative

McCain:  I'm a Reagan conservative

Deakin:  Neither of you are conservatives.  Get back to the Constitution.  And repeal the Sixteenth Amendment.

Hayworth:  You were for amnesty and are making mean personal attacks.

McCain.  I was never for amnesty and you appeared on an infomercial for free government tax money.

Deakin:  Hi.  I'm Jim Deakin.

Hayworth:  You sponsored earmarks.

McCain:  No you sponsored earmarks.

Moderator:  Senator McCain, didn't you sponsor an amnesty bill in 2007?

McCain: These are not the droids you're looking for.

Hayworth:  McCain's amnesty will cost 2.6 trillion dollars in health benefits for illegal aliens.

Moderator:  So health care.  Whats up with that?

Deakin:  Get government out of Medicare and make it state-by state [so help me God thats what he said].

Hayworth:  I love Medicare.  Vague, one sentence mention of market based reform that is totally incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't have a very clear memory of the bill establishing Medicare Part D.  John McCain's amnesty is bad for Medicare.

McCain:  Obamacare will destroy Medicare.  No cuts in Medicare.

Moderator:  And specific policy proposals for improving health care policy?

Crickets: Chirp, chirp.

Moderator: So what about working across the aisle?

Hayworth:  You won't see me at any Georgetown cocktail parties hanging out with network news anchors.

McCain:  I'm really against earmarks.  I'm the anti-Ms. Congeniality sheriff of being against earmarks. That will get us the trust of the American people.

Deakin:  Both of you guys voted with the other party to impose capital gains taxes on songwriters and bring light rail to Arizona.

Moderator:  So what about taxes and the deficit?

McCain:  I was against the Bush tax cuts because I wanted spending to be under control first.  Spending isn't under control and I'm against repealing the Bush tax cuts.  Also cut corporate taxes and hold off [presumably cut] payroll taxes.

Hayworth:  McCain is a Bush tax cut flip flopper.

Deakin:  They both love the PATRIOT Act better than the Bush tax cuts and that is why the tax cuts aren't permanent.  Cut taxes more and get rid of free trade agreements.

Moderator:  So what about defense cuts or other cuts to reduce the deficit?  What would you cut?

Hayworth:  Here is what I won't cut.  Fight terror, especially on the southern border.  Stop Obamacare, and use unspent TARP and stimulus funds for the deficit.  And no amnesty.

McCain:  Stop overruns on defense programs.  And there will be lots of jobs for defense industry firms in Arizona.  Just say no to pork.

Deakin:  Don't have military bases in countries just because it feels good to have them there [I'm not kidding.  He said that.].

Moderator:  So what about unemployment and job creation?

McCain:  Extend unemployment benefits based on a clean bill.  Cut corporate taxes.  I'll make sure Arizona military bases and defense industry firms get plenty of federal money.

Deakin:  Don't extend unemployment benefits.  Cut regulations [no specifics] and end free trade agreements.

Hayworth:  Did I mention that I voted for the Bush tax cuts?

This debate was really sad.  McCain's positioning on domestic policy is utterly cynical.  He barely even bothers to come up with plausible explanations for changing his positions in whatever directions his consultants tell him to go.  He is ripe for a populist, principled conservative challenger.  The problem is that you can listen to Deakin and Hayworth and have no clue how, in any specific way, their policies (drawn from their principles) will improve people's lives in any meaningful way.  How much (if any) would their tax plans save you?  What policies will slow the growth of health insurance premiums?  How much does McCain plan to cut corporate taxes and how will that change corporate behavior?  It is all cliches, buzz words, and signaling to people who are already broadly familiar with the conservative narrative.  The problem is that it is just patter (Reagan, tax cuts, earmarks, Obamacare etc.) and McCain can deploy it too.  About the only place the debate got down to the human level, was when McCain was talking about bringing home government bucks to Arizona bases and defense companies.

Ross Douthat wrote last week that one of the great vices of the contemporary right is the "blithe conviction that "true conservative" good intentions trump policy substance and deep expertise."  I'm not totally on board with that.  I would say that a great vice is too many politicians who market themselves as conservatives tend to try to win over voters far more by posturing and trying to show cultural affinity (I'm a Reagan conservative, I'm a consistent conservative) than by articulating relevant policies that are based on shared principles in a way that the consequences of those policies are understandable to the average somewhat-but not-very-involved voter who isn't just looking to cheer on a team.

Categories > Politics


A Warrior Retires

If Gregg Jaffe's (WaPo) characterization of McChrystal's retirement ceremony is honest (I assume it is) it reveals much good about our military, civil-military relations, and, of course, McCrystal's character (never mind the character of the country as a whole).  Although the wit and humor, and pith and eloquence (and McChrystal's long speech on his wife)  are relevant, note this from the Defense Secretary.  Gates called the general "one of America's greatest warriors," and then said this: "We say goodbye to Stan McChrystal with pride and sadness.  No single American has inflicted more fear or more loss of life on our country's most vicious and violent enemies."  Not a bad epitaph.
Categories > Military


Flannery O'Connor as Medicine

As an antidote to recent  vacuous moralizing about race, read Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge."  Racial attitudes are a sign of deeper, more fundamental passions of the human soul.  It's also one hilarious short story, which uses the coming of racial integration in the South in its setting.  Get the collected O'Connor writings.
Categories > Race


Country Party Versus Ruling Elites

At length, Angelo Codevilla explains America's deterioration (and, I would add in passing, the dynamics of this agriculture dept. official's treatment).  If you're in the mood for further lamentations, and have the stomach for it, look up his work for the Claremont Review of Books.
Categories > Politics


College completion rates

A New York Times article notes that the College Board warned Thursday that the growing gap in college completion rates between the United States and other countries threatens to undermine American economic competitiveness. The United States used to lead the world in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. Now it ranks 12th among 36 developed nations.
Categories > Education


Sen. Webb on race matters

Virginia Sen. James Webb (D) writes this op-ed on race, or maybe better put, class.  It is an odd article, not perfectly clear, I think.  I wouldn't mind seeing him in one of those light-headed CNN interviews with Anderson Cooper.  Reactions to it would amuse me. Perhaps the chairman of the DNC should be asked to opine on it, never mind the White House.

Categories > Race


McChrystal Retires

Gen. Stanley McChrystal's retirement ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. Friday at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. It will be hosted by Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the Army, and
Defense Secretary Robert Gates will also be there and is scheduled to deliver remarks.  Only three reporters will be allowed to be present: Greg Jaffe from the Washington Post, Julian Barnes from the Wall Street Journal, and Gordon Lubold from Politico.  Here is Mac Owen's take on the McChrystal affair and the broader issue of U.S. Civil-Military relations.
Categories > Military


Maybe Something For the A Students

One of my worries about the problem of center-right communication is that I'm not sure that conservative ideas are well communicated to those who do not consume the populist right-leaning media like talk radio and FOX News.  This problem takes many forms.  One of those is the problem of reaching nonwhites generally, but another is reaching the people (of all races) who will pass through the country's top colleges or those who will graduate at the top of their classes in less exclusive schools.  This is the problem of winning over (or at least making marginal gains) among the country's A students.

As Ross Douthat writes, alot of these kids are going to end up in influential positions in society, and their cultural formation is probably pushing them to various kinds of left-of-center politics.  Douthat worries that the Ivy League schools taking in more students from white working-class and rural backgrounds will only assimilate those students to the dominant values of the left-leaning establishment.  Maybe, but I don't think losing those kids is so inevitable.  I also don't think that conservatives are doing a very good job of talking to those kids.

My own experience with really bright, hard working, ambitious, and politically engaged (but not obsessive) kids is that conservative messages rarely get to them in a detailed or friendly form outside of major election campaigns.  There are exceptions, but those kids are a minority and usually have to find conservative media on their own.  That means that, for most of these kids, their perceptions of politics are framed by media institutions that are liberal-leaning to various degrees of intensity and openness.  They are also going to go to colleges where their professors will be varying degrees of liberal.  This makes a generalized friendliness to liberal politicians and policies the default position.

The populist conservative media isn't really much of a help.  The vast majority of these kids don't listen to the radio for politics (neither talk radio nor NPR.)  They aren't going to watch Hannity or Beck.  Those shows aren't really designed for them anyway.  Those shows work best for those who have already bought into the conservative narrative and they don't really take on the best arguments of the other side.  But these kids will have heard the best arguments that liberals have to offer and they are smart enough not to forget them.  It does no good to argue that these kinds of shows might lead kids to Hayek.  They won't because most of them just will not watch that long.  I remember Roger Ailes explaining one of the reasons that FOX News was such a success was because he was producing a product for a niche market underserved by liberal-leaning media.  The niche market was "half the country."  Well it wasn't half the country, but it was tens of millions of people.  The problem is how to communicate to the audience that isn't part of that (not quite) half of the country and whose average member Charles Murray described as being a "bright reasonable person who doesn't agree with me but comes to my text ready to give me a shot."    

While reading Kevin Smant's biography of Frank Meyer, I was struck (but not totally convinced) by James Burnham's vision for National Review as a conservative magazine for the broadly educated public, a magazine on the desks of "politicians, professors, bureaucrats" and not just ones who were self-consciously conservative.  Burnham was picturing a media institution that could shift the uncommitted (or even the liberal) a little in the general conservative direction or even only on one issue, but also got the educated class to constantly take conservative ideas seriously.  This isn't to endorse every prudential judgment made by Burnham or to deny that elements of Burnham's vision are dated. For instance, it probably won't be any one institution that that manages to improve conservative communication with the most highly educated fraction of the public.   

 The communication problem with this group is tough.  We need a set of institutions that speak to an audience that will have heard many of the best (or maybe second best) liberal arguments for this or that liberal policy. As Murray pointed out, if conservatives "take a cheap shot" or "duck an obvious objection" to their arguments, they will lose this audience.  All of which is to say that for conservatives to do better among this group, they will have to get the personalities and arguments of Yuval Levin, Reihan Salam, Peter Lawler and Jim Manzi (among others) into the faces and heads of more of our valedictorians and Ivy League graduates.     

Categories > Politics


Very Bad Poll Numbers

Politico reports that President Barack Obama's approval rating has dropped to its lowest point yet.  Only 44 percent of registered voters surveyed said they approve of the way Obama is handling his job, while 48 percent disapprove of the president's performance.  And then this: "All of the bad polling data for the president is reflected in the fact that a plurality say they would vote for an unnamed Republican challenger over the president in 2012."  Here is the Qunnipiac Poll.
Categories > Presidency

Foreign Affairs

Secrets III

The third WaPo installment on "The Secret America Project."
Categories > Foreign Affairs


A Cool Look at the Cold War

My review of Norman Stone's new book, The Atlantic and Its Enemies, is in the latest issue of National Review.  It's a quirky or idiosyncratic take on the subject--one might almost say "Eurocentric"--but worth a read.
Categories > History


Geography of a Recession

Watch unemployment spread across the landscape.

Hat tip: Labor writer LaToya Egwuekwe.
Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

Secrets II

This is the second installment of the WaPo series on intelligence.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Unknown President

My often favorite liberal columnist, the WaPost's Richard Cohen, neatly knocks down the Obama-Reagan parallels popular on the left (and keep in mind that Cohen hated Reagan back in the day).  This is worth an extended sample:

The comparison to Reagan may give Obama cheer, but it is not really apt. For even in Reagan's darkest days when, according to Gallup, six out of 10 Americans reported that they did not like the job he was doing, an astounding six in 10 nevertheless said they liked the man himself. He was, of course, phenomenally charming, authentic and schooled at countless soundstages in appearing that way. Just as important, the public had faith in the consistency of his principles, agree or not. This was the Reagan Paradox and it helped lift his presidency.

 No one is accusing Obama of being likable. He is not unlikable, but he lacks Reagan's (or Bill Clinton's) warmth. What's more, his career has been brief. He led no movement, was spokesman for no ideology and campaigned like a Nike sneaker -- change instead of swoosh. He seems distant. No Irish jokes from him. For the average voter, he casts no shadow.

Reagan, by contrast, had been around forever. He was not defined solely by gauzy campaign ads but by countless speeches, two contentious and highly controversial terms as California governor, and a previous race for the presidency. There was never a question about who Reagan was and what he stood for. Not so Obama. About all he shares with Reagan at this point are low ratings.

What has come to be called the Obama Paradox is not a paradox at all. Voters lack faith in him making the right economic decisions because, as far as they're concerned, he hasn't. He went for health-care reform, not jobs. He supported the public option, then he didn't. He's been cold to Israel's Binyamin Netanyahu and then all over him like a cheap suit. Americans know Obama is smart. But we still don't know him. Before Americans can give him credit for what he's done, they have to know who he is. We're waiting.

Categories > Politics


Praising Booker Washington

Here is my favorable review of Robert Norrell's Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington.
Categories > History


On Pork

Kevin Williamson writes that Republican politicians like Mitch McConnell aren't serious about restraining spending. He specifically cites bits of pork that McConnell is pursuing through the legislative process.  Ramesh Ponnuru says not so fast, or at least that conservatives shouldn't focus too much on pork and instead use what influence they have to push reform on more important fiscal issues.

I tend to agree more with Ponnuru.  I'm no fan of pork, and I think that it probably redirects federal resources in inefficient ways.  I also don't think pork is the most pressing fiscal issue and it is not nearly as effective a political issue some think.  I keep hearing McCain blathering on about earmarks and Obama noting that earmarks were only a small part of the federal budget.  McCain kept trying to plug back by talking about this or that federal project (he seemed especially upset about some kind of light bulb in Illinois), but, in the midst of a financial crisis and a recession, most people recognized that the kinds of grants McCain was talking about weren't the biggest problem in their economic lives.

There is a school of thought that says that if we can't stop the kinds of federal spending that go to bike paths, bridges to nowhere, and such, then we will never get a sustainable federal budget.  I wonder if the reverse isn't true and pork fighting is getting in the way of more important priorities.  Maybe talking about pork is a way for politicians to seem fiscally conservative without having to actually vote for entitlement reforms or explain market-oriented health care reform .  There might, in some circumstances, be a direct conflict between solvency and pork fighting.  One can imagine a close vote on entitlement reform (means-testing, raising retirement ages, whatever) that might pass only in return for funding some local project (or fifty local projects).  In any case, the public's attention is limited, and conservative writers and populariziers and Republican politicians would be better off focusing their energy on the kinds of policies that offer people higher living standards in the short and medium term and a program that puts the federal government's books somewhere in the neighborhood of balance.  Reducing domestic discretionary spending on local projects should be part of that project, but the political energy spent on fighting pork should be proportional to the kinds of savings to be gotten as compared to the savings that might be gotten from other cuts or reforms.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs


This substantial Washington Post story (a product of a "two year investigation") on our intelligence agencies post-9/11will become consequential, of course.  It will merit study.  Here is how it begins: "The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work."  It goes almost without saying that intelligence gathering in our terror war--in the end--is not really distinguishable from the fight.  Worth reading and filing for future use.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Cups of Tea

Military/political strategy in Afghanistan (but not only), is affected by many surprising and unusual thing, including obscure (at first) books that had no such original intention.  Many things are worth contemplating in this short note, not the least of which is the influence of generals' wives.

Categories > Military


Revisiting Holmes

So part of my summer reading list is the Oliver Wendell Holmes--Harold Laski Letters (abridged by Alger Hiss!!), which offer an interesting and not always conventional window into Progressive thought.  Laski is mildly surprising in places, such as his comment that "I think on the whole that it really is doubtful, once you regard liberty as a process and not an emotion, whether Rousseau didn't do more harm than good."

But I especially like this joke from Holmes: "Two old friends meet--'What are you doing now?'  'I'm in the legislature, but don't tell my dear old mother.  She thinks I'm a bartender.'"
Categories > History


Hard Economic Times And Big Government

Jonah Goldberg writes that recent events seem to be disproving the "rule" (by which I think he means conventional wisdom) that "hard economic times make big government more popular." Obama took over during an economic crisis and expanded the size and reach of government, but the idea of more and bigger government doesn't seem any more popular now than it did five years ago.  I think that the "rule" is mostly wrong and I suspect Goldberg does too.  I think it is closer to the truth to say that the popularity of the public philosophy of those in power when hard times strike, tends to decline and the popularity of the public philosophy of those in power when things get better tends to increase. The irony is that, depending on how events go, the idea that "hard economic times make big government more popular" may seem more plausible (without actually being more true) in 2012 than now. 

The historical record when it comes to "big government" and economic downturns seems pretty complicated even if you simplify by only looking at the downturns and who the public voted for in response to those downturns.  As Goldberg well knows the post-WWI economic downturn under Wilson was immediately followed by the election of the lower taxing and lower spending (and quite popular) Harding/Coolidge regime.  Now as Reihan Salam might say, there are causal density issues here.  There were lots of reasons for voters to repudiate the Wilson administration and liberals have their own self-serving narrative of pro-business stooges being elected by isolationist bumpkins, but the record is clear for those who want to see.  The voters, during a severe economic downturn, replaced a high spending and high taxing administration with one that sharply cut both taxes and spending. 

FDR would seem to prove the rule that people turn to big government in hard times, but it is more complicated than that.  The role of the actual performance of the economy and the assigning of praise and blame to public philosophies for economic events is important to understanding how FDR's administration made his expansion of government so popular and so enduring.  FDR's taking office coincided with the resumption of economic growth and increasing employment (though both from much reduced levels.)  This surely had something to do with his popularity and the popularity of his program.  Bigger government seemed to be making economic life better.  This is also a reason why liberal intellectuals worked so hard to portray the progressive Republican Herbert Hoover as a doctrinaire economic noninterventionist.  If limited government (personified in Herbert Hoover) could be tied to the Depression and big government (in the form of FDR) could be tied to the recovery, then liberals would have a rhetorical weapon whose usefulness would outlive both Hoover and FDR. 

Reagan broke the rules.  He was elected during economic hard times (stagflation) and in some ways, things got even tougher in his first year as President (inflation declined but the economy went into a deep recession and unemployment spiked.)  Reagan sharply cut taxes, slightly cut the growth of domestic discretionary spending, and supported the Federal Reserve's anti-inflation policies.  If you believed the theory that voters want big government during hard times, Reagan experience in 1982 would seem to prove you right.  Reagan's job approval rating fell to 36% by the end of 1982 (Source: "The Reagan Presidency and American Public Opinion" by James Ceaser in The Reagan Legacy: Promise and Performance.")  He fought the rules and the rules won - except they didn't.  The economy recovered, Reagan got a great deal of the credit and he won a huge reelection victory.  Once again, the perceptions of what seemed to fail and succeed mattered, which was why liberals in the late 80s and early 90s invested so much time and energy arguing that the Reagan recovery didn't really happen or that it was only a blip or that only greedy people noticed.  To the extent that the economic difficulties of the late 70 - to early 80s were blamed on high taxing, high spending, pro-inflation politics, and to the extent that the resolution of those difficulties were tied to lower taxes, lower spending (mostly notional here), anti-inflation politics, the terms of the debate shifted rightwards for decades.

Obama seems to be combining the experiences of both Reagan and FDR.  Taking over during the worst recession since the Great Depression, Obama got Congress to pass both a huge stimulus bill and the first step in the government takeover of the health care sector.  He took over two of the Big Three American auto companies.  He petitioned Congress to pass a combination of taxes and subsidies that would increase government power over the energy sector.  The result has been a slow and steady decline in his job approval rating.  Even though Obama has tried to act like a junior FDR, the labor market's performance has more closely resembled what happened in the first half of Reagan's first term.  Reagan's job approval rating in the July of his second year was 42%.  Obama's job approval in Real Clear Politics polling average has been between 46.3% and 48.0% for the July of his second year.  FDR's party gained seats in Congress during his first midterm elections.  Obama's party (like Reagan's in 1982) will almost certainly lose seat in 2010.

But that doesn't mean that Obama and the conventional wisdom that  "hard economic times make big government more popular" won't both make a big comeback.  If the labor market recovers even a little (down to the low 7s) by the summer of 2012, we can expect, absent some kind of unforeseen disaster, for Obama's job approval ratings to rise.  Perhaps more importantly, there will be a powerful narrative pushed by the Democrats and liberal-leaning media to ascribe the improvement in economic conditions to the stimulus, Obamacare, etc. and establish that big government is what people want during tough economic times, and that even bigger government will lead to even more growth and that the next economic downturn will require even bigger big government.     
Categories > Politics

Health Care

It Wasn't Rand

Reihan Salam points us to an old column by Mark Thompson post in which Thompson argues that conservatives usually failed to offer effective health care reform proposals because they were in thrall to the radical antistatism of Ayn Rand.  I think that is false and could lead to confusion about the course of the debates (over decades) that led to Obamacare.

I'm going from my personal experiences both as a consumer of right-leaning media and from conversations with conservatives over the last twenty years, but my impression is that the reason radically reforming health care has not been a huge priority for most conservatives (as opposed to some wonks and members of Congress) is because most conservatives were mostly happy with the existing system.  It seemed like a private system.  You worked for a private company that contracted your insurance to a private insurance company.  You went to your doctor who was not a government employee.  The system of tax subsidies and regulations that made this somewhat unnatural system  the default was mostly invisible.  You had access to timely and very high quality care.  You heard stories about lines and waiting lists in the socialized medical systems of Britain and Canada.  America had a system of private health care and it was the best system in the world.  Rand had little or nothing to do with it.  In fact, if you were to try to get all Randian and eliminate the tax subsidy for employer-provided health insurance for most conservatives and also Medicare for their parents (not replace them with other, more consumer-driven systems that include government subsidies, just get rid of them as Rand would want) most of these same conservatives would try to tear you apart - politically of course.

The system had problems.  For one thing, premiums seemed to be going up to quickly.  Both the left and right had explanations and likely suspects for the rise in premiums.  The suspects included greedy insurance companies, greedy trial lawyers, greedy pharmaceutical companies, illegal immigrants, and uninsured people who were clogging up the high-cost emergency rooms.  People mostly weren't told by conservative popularizers and mostly didn't want to hear that much of the spike in premiums was inherent in the system of comprehensive employer-provided health insurance that conservatives were defending from liberal attempts to "socialize" medicine.

That  isn't to say that conservatives weren't in favor of some changes or that the changes weren't worthwhile.  They were in favor of tort reform, regulatory changes to make it easier for small businesses to work together to buy insurance at lower rates, and regulatory changes that would allow people to buy a wider range of insurance products (including high deductible/lower premium plans) and bypass state-level regulations that were driving up the cost of health insurance.  I remember some mentions of Health Savings Accounts, but not in any detail.  But the conservative reforms weren't really the priority on health care policy.  Stopping the liberal Democrats from destroying America's best-in-the-world private health care system was the priority.  Oh, the Democrats are filibustering health care reform?  That just shows that the Democrats are in the pockets of the trial lawyers and don't really care about real health care reform.  Lets move on to cutting marginal tax rates.

In any analysis of how most conservatives acted on the health care issue from 1993-2010, I don't think you can overstate the investment of most rank-and-file conservatives to the existing system.  There were good (or at least understandable) reasons why the Republican congressional leaders offered a plan of tort reform and interstate purchasing of health insurance rather that the Ryan health care plan as their alternative to Obamacare.  That is where most conservatives probably are, and any plan that will destroy the system of employer-provided health insurance (which the Ryan plan would) will face intense public skepticism - including from conservatives who now get their health care through their employers.  And this gives some idea of the demands of finesse and public education that conservatives wonks and politicians will face in advancing the cause of free market-oriented heath care policy.

Categories > Health Care

The Family

Natural Purposes v. Inherent Preferences

You can't miss this powerful (and powerfully sad) account of one man's realization that though his homosexual yearnings were (and, probably, are) innate and, therefore, part of his particular "nature," they are not "natural" in the sense of serving his deeper, higher, and more compelling nature as a man.  That is to say, he made a decision--at some point in his life--to nurture feelings, inclinations and preferences and, from that habit of mind and of body, he lived as a homosexual and became one.  A realization concerning the nature of true love, however, shakes his very core and stirs long neglected and uncultivated longings in his heart.  As he takes note of the love between a father and a son while in a barber shop one day, a painful absence overwhelms him.  He realizes that however we artificially alter the inconveniences of the universe, this kind of love will elude him on his current trajectory.  Without Utopian expectation of his own fortitude (though perhaps with some overestimation of connection between deserving reward and also getting it) he vows to change.  I wish him well--though I am more grateful that he opened up his painful story to public view on the off chance that it might serve as a cautionary tale to those who imagine happiness can be achieved when Nature is ignored.  No matter how stubborn your own "nature" . . . Nature is an even less retractable and stubborn mistress.
Categories > The Family


Hey, Lefty . . . You Ain't All That!

Imagine you're a true-believing lefty who, since your "enlightenment" at university, has been laboring in the trenches of left-wing American politics for a good while.  Maybe, like Al Gore, you've got friends (and, perhaps, benefits) among the beautiful people.  And, of course, in general you've got friendly allies in the press.  But in your heart of hearts you know these people don't really understand anything.  Though useful to your purposes at times, they aren't reliable in a pinch.  As for the American people in general, you know . . . they're fickle and unsophisticated and, mostly, you don't much like them.  They don't know what is good for them. 

None of this, of course, precludes your perverse interest in being loved by these people.  You're not popular . . . but, gosh, you want to be.  Still, taking that as more or less impossible, you've contented an consoled yourself by clinging to a group of like-minded and similarly situated individuals who enjoy self-congratulation.  Then, wonder of wonders (!), one of your number breaks out!  He begins making strides toward that elusive popularity you've been after.  You hitch your wagon to his star and, for once, you permit yourself to imagine the impossible.  Maybe the American people are not as impossibly backward and stupid as you've been taught to believe.  They love him!  (Or, at least, they did . . . for awhile.)  Will they, in turn, love you?

It turns out the answer is, uhh . . . "no." 

Jonah Goldberg writes a compelling account of the Democrats' "lament."  But, for a spectacularly entertaining version of the thing at work and in action, you can't miss this extended whine from left-wing commentator, Bill Press.  That is an even more tasty morsel for this conservative's appetite for Liberal woe than the implosion of David Axelrod I discussed here.  In it you will see, especially, the predictable wannabe's response when rejected by the popular kids, to wit: "You ain't all that, anyway!"  Yeah.  Sure. 

The trouble with that resent-laden response is that this isn't high school and the object of American politics is not to stroke the self-esteem of the unpopular.  In American politics the American people are all that.  Public sentiment, as Lincoln knew (and lefties--at least since FDR--never have understood) is everything.  Short of force, you cannot make other people think as you think or act as you think they should act.    One has to persuade them and that entails more than a few pretty words and the fawning adulation of the beautiful people.  The American people have never been a cheap date . . . at least not for long.

Yet, tasty as these morsels are, they don't yet sit well.  Goldberg hints at the reason for this in his closing paragraphs when he suggests that Republicans ought to contemplate the long-term benefits of trimming a little at the margins of sweeping victory this November by calling Obama's bluff and offering a real (which is to say, difficult) choice.  They need to remember that the object of American politics is persuasion and they ought to take advantage of Obama's crisis by recognizing the opportunity it presents for this project.  A sweeping victory won't mean anything if it is hollow.  There ought to be a real and fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans in this:    Republicans ought to love the American people enough to understand that winning their momentary affection is not the same thing as earning their love.  Love is born out of respect and respecting the right of self-government demands governing by persuasion rather than by deception followed by scolding.  
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Iran and Missile Defense

We don't have a missile defense that can handle threats from Iran.  So warn former CIA Director James Woolsey and Rebeccah Heinrichs.  The Bush Administration was building one, but Obama scrapped it, replacing it with one that "offers no added protection for the U.S. until 2020. That's almost certainly too little too late."   Moreover, might the new Obama strategic arms agreement with Russia limit our sovereign right of self-defense?

Rebeccah Ramey Heinrichs is a former Ashbrook Scholar.   A former manager of the House Bipartisan Missile Defense Caucus, she is now an adjunct fellow of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.   (She is also officially a DC  beautiful person, a status she indeed holds by nature.)

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Was THIS guy ever any good, either? Axelrod & the Dems' Strange Strategery

Sunday evening, while out to dinner with the family at a local cafe, I happened to catch David Axelrod attempting to mount a defense against the coming electoral tide with CNN's Candy Crowley.  That the cafe's television was tuned in to this sad demonstration made for a hazardous dining experience as, the longer I listened, the more choking became a danger.  It was not that I was having difficulty swallowing Axelrod's spin.  I've tasted that spin before and I know better than to pretend it's edible, forget nutritious.  Even so, I could not help but savor the edges of his "argument,"--because, like a cheap gum one takes when offered but never bothers to buy--it hinted at a flavor that promised to resemble something tasty even though it would quickly lose all taste and I'd have to spit it out.  In this case, Axelrod's flavor was double-down lefty mint--touting the causes of Obama's coming electoral nightmare as reasons he should be celebrated. 

Axelrod proudly noted the bailouts that have produced economic stagnation, prolonged the recession, and prevented job growth; the passage "after 100 years of trying" *choke!*--ed. of health care reform; and, most important *really? MOST important?!*--ed. Obama is going to put an end to DADT and after that he's going to push for "comprehensive" immigration reform.  Now, this is not my regular fare, to be sure, but it was surprisingly tasty in this context.  Why?  Because it tells me which voters Axelrod means to impress.  And why is it that Axelrod--this late in the game--is worried about impressing . . . who, exactly?  Lefties?  He's worried about bleeding lefty votes?  The chef is focused on cooking for the regulars because his problem right now is not so much that he's not bringing in new customers (though he's certainly not), the real danger is that he's losing the old ones.  He can't be bothered right now with seasoning the dishes in ways that appeal to the masses.  Right now he's got to focus on making sure that what he's been serving up all along is cooked.

Axelrod's menu appeared to be reduced to the caveman-like proportions:  find meat, kill meat, cook meat.  No sauce, no flair, no sweeteners or sides. 

Indeed, the leftward tilt of Axelrod's defense of Obama was something to behold.  For in addition to revealing their desperation, it also revealed something of their anger and complete lack of understanding when it comes to the mood of the national electorate.  His message seemed to simmer down to this:  we've set a full table--laid out our whole menu here for your eyes to behold and your tongues to taste . . .  Why don't you like it?  It seemed to me that Axelrod's attitude was more one of anger and disbelief with the electorate for their ingratitude and, of course, lack of appreciation at Obama's great culinary efforts over the course of many hot days in the kitchen when, after all, everyone knows that George W. Bush broke the air-conditioning. 

I've heard some other commentators speculating that the frustration of those on the American Left these days--especially from within the Obama Adminstration--is stemming from the realization that they've got their fingers on all the right buttons now and, yet, things aren't working out as they imagined they should.  Their ideas do not yield the results (particularly not in the economic realm) that their ideology has taught them to anticipate.  That may be true as far as it goes and with respect to a defined group of practitioners on the Left and in the Administration.  But I think that's over-thinking the thing and does not explain the broader phenomenon.  More likely, it seems to me, is that they really did not anticipate the kick-back coming from the American people.  It is not enough for the American Left to win some elections and set their pet projects into motion--they are still pining for the energy, affection and excitement they experienced during the courting phase of their relationship with voters in the 2008 campaign.  In its place they are finding a demanding, nagging, results-oriented  spouse who is repeatedly asking pointed questions about what they've been doing with themselves all day. But the Left is beyond trying to please these voters at this point.  Their anger has moved them to the point where they shout back, "You don't understand what I've been dealing with!" and "You never appreciate anything I do for you!"  This resent-laden self-defense that they're now mounting can only appeal to the most far-gone among the infatuated.

So for now, I'm chewing on this gum and enjoying the show.  I don't expect this flavor to last for very long, however.  They can't be this self-destructive, can they?
Categories > Politics


Even a Brit Gets It: Will GOP Senators?

Accumulating Lincoln quotations, Tony Blankley spotlights Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's dismissal of the inalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence for understanding the Constitution.  Will indignant Republican Senators rally around the principles of their Founder?   Alas, what makes one think they will this time? 

Blankley:   "Without those rights, the body of law is a corpse - a soulless, purposeless, manipulable, disposable, dead, material thing. If Ms. Kagan does not know that, then she knows nothing of our law."  Again, the same condemnation can be made of politicians of all parties.  Moreover, does any law school teach the proper respect for the Declaration of Independence?  In that sense, former Harvard Law Dean Kagan has a bipartisan following.

Here's a poignant cinematic reminder of an earlier Brit's Lincolnian devotion to American principles.  (Charles Laughton's Ruggles is a British servant won by a Westerner in a poker game abroad.)  

Categories > Courts


I'll Have What He's Drinking

I don't know what has got into Walter Russell Mead, but whatever he's having I want it.  Today he delivers another thunderous beatdown of the climate campaign.  Sample:

Not since the incident at Chappaquiddick derailed the Ted Kennedy for President boomlet of 1969 has a political movement imploded so fast and so messily as the green crusade to stop global warming. . .  The greens, it is increasingly clear, bet the ranch on the Copenhagen process.  That horrible meltdown, perhaps the biggest and most chaotic public embarrassment in the history of multilateral summits, turned climate change from global poster boy to global pariah.

Add to this Newsweek's story out yesterday that "Green Is Not Longer a Surefire Political Winner," and the Washington Post article yesterday that "Historic Oil Spill Fails to Produce Gains for U.S. Environmentalists," and it looks like my long-predicted rout of the greens is on, big time.

By the way, where is Al Gore?  My AEI colleague Ken Green yesterday suggested: "He must have reached his Tipper point."
Categories > Environment

Ross Douthat

is on fire today. 

Was This Guy Ever Any Good?

E.J. Dionne continues to indulge in spin and New Deal nostalgia in his latest column.  His analysis that the problem is that people are tired of the fighting in Washington (rather than persistently high unemployment, a gigantic debt, an unpopular health care bill, and a stimulus that does not seem to have stimulated) is about as sound as his solution that the President ought to focus blame on Republican obstructionism by listing Republicans whose last name begins with B.  Is there anything in Dionne's column that could not have been written by an intern at any liberal-leaning message shop?

Literature, Poetry, and Books

The Pox and the Covenant

I was prowling around a bookstore on my way to Philadelphia yesterday and spotted Tony Williams' new book, The Pox and the Covenant: Mather, Franklin, and the Epidemic that Changed America's Destiny.  I've known two people who gave up perfectly good teaching careers to devote their time and effort entirely to writing; they have both succeeded.  The other was Jerry Pournelle (see also this one.)  Well done Tony!


Owens on Mattis

Mac Owens has written an op-ed praising the nomination of Gen. James Mattis to USCENTCOM. He articulates very clearly the general's many virtues.
Categories > Military


Less time studying

New research shows that over the past five decades, the number of hours that the average college student studies each week has been steadily dropping.  The average student at a four-year college in 1961 studied about 24 hours a week. Today's average student hits the books for just 14 hours.  The decline apparently infects students of all demographics. No matter the student's major, gender, or race, no matter the size of the school or the quality of the SAT scores of the people enrolled there, the results are the same: Students of all ability levels are studying less. 

While the whole of it is worth contemplating, even though some of the facts may be disputed (did I really study about four hours a day as a freshman in 1965?), my eyes hit upon these three points: 1) "What might be causing it, they suggest, is the growing power of students and professors' unwillingness to challenge them."  2) about a third of students said that what interferes most with their academic success is that "they simply did not know how to sit down and study."  3) "Instead of a dynamic where a professor sets standards and students try to meet them, the more common scenario these days, is one in which both sides hope to do as little as possible.  No one really has an incentive to make a demanding class."
Categories > Education


Gen. James Mattis to CENTCOM

Dog my cats if Marine Gen. James Mattis hasn't been chosen to replace Gen. Petraeus as chief of U.S. Central Command!  Good move, thinks Victor Davis Hanson, as does Mac Owens.  I had the pleasure of having a beer with the general at the Mudville Pub a month or so ago.  He joined Mac and his students for one of their weekly evening "seminars" (the pub is next to Cardines Field, the oldest baseball field in continuous use in the US; it's in the heart of Newport, a terrific place).  It was a broad ranging seminar, almost two hours long, in which Mattis revealed himself for what he is: thoughtful and witty, it is clear he is at home living in the arena, and knows what's worth fighting for.  In short, an entirely American man.  Godspeed, General.
Categories > Military


Paved With Good Intentions

George Will has really been on top of his game lately.  His most recent, on Prohibition, is particularly well done.  Here's a sample:

By 1900, per capita consumption of alcohol was similar to today's, but mere temperance was insufficient for the likes of Carry Nation. She was "six feet tall, with the biceps of a stevedore, the face of a prison warden, and the persistence of a toothache," and she wanted Prohibition. It was produced by the sophisticated tenacity of the Anti-Saloon League, which at its peak was spending the equivalent of 50 million of today's dollars annually. Okrent calls it "the mightiest pressure group in the nation's history." It even prevented redistricting after the 1920 Census, the first census to reveal that America's urban -- and most wet -- population was a majority.

Before the 18th Amendment could make drink illegal, the 16th Amendment had to make the income tax legal. It was needed because by 1910 alcohol taxes were 30 percent of federal revenue.

Workmen's compensation laws gave employers an interest in abstemious workers. Writes Okrent, Asa Candler, founder of the Coca-Cola Co., saw "opportunity on the other side of the dry rainbow." World War I anti-German fever fueled the desire to punish brewers with names such as Busch, Pabst, Blatz and Schlitz. And President Woodrow Wilson's progressivism became a wartime justification for what Okrent calls "the federal government's sudden leap into countless aspects of American life," including drink.

Categories > History


The Rap against Kagan

The SCOTUS nominee's pro bono work, in her short stint as a lawyer, included a brief on behalf of Two Live Crew, recounted by Luther Campbell:  Kagan "wrote a brief that argued [their] album 'does not physically excite anyone who hears it, much less arouse a shameful and morbid sexual response.'"  Campbell then quotes an offending passage, which I won't even attempt to cite with bleeps. H/T James Taranto via Richard Reeb.This is a woman who claims to re-read Pride and Prejudice every year

"Shameful" and "morbid" are liberalism's contributions to the coarsening of everyday life.  That's the liberals' First Amendment, an understanding which makes it all the easier to fail to recognize when it is truly threatened, as in "fairness doctrines" and campaign finance restrictions. 

Categories > Courts

Pop Culture

Why Feminism is So Yesterday

I had noted that some whining feministas had complained that The Daily Show is sexist.  For a great example of why feminism is such a loser's creed these days, check out the response of the Women of the Daily Show.  
Categories > Pop Culture


Some Late And Unoriginal Thoughts On The Tea Parties

Some thoughts,

1.  The Tea Parties and the well wishers of the Tea Parties are not an uprising of the American people in any majoritarian sense.  Tea Party supporters are conservative Republicans and right-leaning independents who consume more right-leaning media than the average American. 

2.  The Tea Party movement (tendency?) is somewhere between skeptical and hostile to the Republican Party establishment and candidates who are identified with the establishment.  This is mostly a good thing.  We might get Charlie Crist anyway, but I'm glad Florida conservatives stood up to him and his anointers within the Republican establishment.  American needs a decentralized, broadly conservative (as opposed to single issue groups like the NRA) activist movement that is organically tied to neither the Republican Party nor any particular campaign.  There was a big outpouring of center-right activism in Bush's 2004 GOTV operation, but since it was run by the Bush team, it basically disintegrated and McCain had neither the competence nor the personal interest to reconstitute it in 2008.

3.  But the distinctly conservative and antiestablishment tendencies within the Tea Parties can produce political problems.  In his autobiography, Richard Brookhiser uses the term "rightworld" to describe the interlocking network of conservative journalists, activists, thinkers, and politicians.  But there is another rightworld too.  It is one in which you get most of your media from right-leaning sources and never had to compete with sharp liberal opponents for the allegiance of persuadables or thought much about how to do so.  This rightworld is much bigger and many Tea Partiers are part of it.  Rightworld can be a more forgiving place than the broader American political space.  There is the guy who would no more discriminate against an African American customer or job applicant than he would write a check to Bin Laden, but who doesn't want the government telling him who he can or can't hire or serve.  We know what he means and don't get high and mighty about his seeming lack of empathy for the specific situation of pervasive government and private collusion (backed by violence) that African Americans faced.  The problem isn't even that this person is wrong on the merits, it is that they aren't comfortable dealing with the critique, and sure as heck aren't comfortable dealing with it in an environment where the audience is not inclined to take it easy on him because he is one of us.  The saddest part of Rand Paul on the Maddow show was his slow, helpless realization that he wasn't in rightworld anymore. 

4.  Things sound different in rightworld than they do in the rest of America.  Sharron Angle has been getting hit for statements that, in rightworld, sound like common sense, tough-minded realism, and good natured hyperbole.  The first two sentiments have been expressed by guys like Paul Ryan (somewhat) and Reihan Salam, but Angle's mode of expression (which would have drawn cheers from some audiences) was probably a barrier to communication for others. As Ta-Nehisi Coates might say, hers are the kind of expressions you use "when your're talking to people who already have your back."  The problem is that in the modern media environment, a candidate running for high office is accountable to both the people who already have their back and the persuadables.

5.  Hopefully Angle and Paul will manage to win in this seemingly Republican-friendly environment, but longer term, conservatives are going have to find leaders, policies, and messages that can appeal to both right-leaning constituencies, and persuadables who don't consume much right-leaning media - and do it under less favorable circumstances.  It means connecting with the best ideas of conservative policy intellectuals.  It means working hard to imagine how the things you say sound to people who have not yet committed to your worldview. It isn't impossible to talk to both your ideological compatriots and the general public.  Obama started his career in corners of leftworld where Jeremiah Wright's ravings and Bill Ayer's past were not considered toxic.  He managed to break into the mainstream and has moved the country's politics in a leftward direction, but he put a great deal of effort into crafting a message that could appeal outside the borders of leftworld.   

Categories > Politics



The Aerocycle is not much to look at (maybe this is the new way of saying "fully dressed"), but it does get 200 miles to the gallon. And here is an electric racebike!    But none compare to Isabella (here is a sister, not dressed, of course).
Categories > Leisure

Health Care

The Health Care of the State

As this post on the Corners notes, it's amazing what's in the Democrats' health care law. Now that it has passed, we can find out what's it it. For example:

 If a self-employed individual makes numerous small purchases from an office supply store during a calendar year that total at least $600, the individual must issue a Form 1099 to the vendor and the IRS showing the exact amount of total purchases," the IRS release said.

The rule applies to all businesses and charities too.

Categories > Health Care



Barbara Boxer kicks off her campaign in California, with only a three point lead (47 - 44%) over Carly Fiorina (not long ago she was ahead by 30 points), according to a Field Poll.  Only 42% of registered voters approve of her job performance, and 52 percent of likely voters hold an unfavorable view of her.  Tough times, these.
Categories > Politics

Literature, Poetry, and Books


From Yeats:

The Balloon of the Mind

Hands, do what you're bid;
Bring the balloon of the mind
That bellies and drags in the wind
Into its narrow shed.

Literature, Poetry, and Books

A Conservative Hero

According to this review Richard Reinsch's new book on Whittaker Chambers is well worth reading.

I have long thought that if the politics cut in the opposite direction there would have been several biopics of Chambers by now.  You have the story of a great writer, the years in the Communist underground/ spy world, the great confrontation with the Washington establishment, the question of traditional religion in the modern world, and the problem of homosexuality.  The only trouble, from Hollywood's perspective, is that Chambers saw the evil of Communism and turned against it, testified against a Lion of the liberal establishmet, and exposed him as a Communist spy (and beyond that showed that a certain part of the Democratic coalition was, indeed, soft on Communism, to say the least), and turned away from modern, secular humanism because he saw how shallow and hollow it is. He became a leading writer for a hip, new magazine that challenged the pieties of the day (the magazine, of course, was National Review). And, finally, was able to turn away from the homosexuality that he took to be sinful, and lead a normal life as a married man.  Not the kind of story that today's Hollywood would like.


The Metaphysics of the Debt Crisis

With considerable detail, on NRO, Tiffany Jones Miller explains the origins of the debt crisis in the Progressives' rejection of natural rights, which meant that the collective good obliterates individual rights.  

Our debt crisis, in sum, has everything to do with the transformation of morality and government effected by the late-19th- and early-20th-century Progressive movement. Far from being largely ineffectual reformers, the Progressive academics who articulated the new conception of Freedom and the "positive" State, outlined above, were also the initiators of the entitlement programs that lie at the core of our crisis today. 

Categories > Progressivism


La decepción de Obama

Now that Obama's favorable rating among independents has dropped below 40% for the first time ever (and it's down from  69% to 57% among Latinos), it may be a good idea to push obligatory "comprehensive immigration reform."  Rich Lowry's  take on the Justice Department suit against Arizona is right on the money.
Categories > Politics


Culture War and Liberty

James Poulos on how the cultural elements of the struggle between the sets of policies favored by say Obama and those favored by say Mitch Daniels are implicit but central.  It also illustrates why "liberaltarianism" is, at most, likely to play the role of courtier and minor advisory figure to social democracy.
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

One Cheer for Hillary

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has delivered a significant speech on the importance of civil society in American foreign policy. ( See Anne Applebaum's positive appraisal.)   Commentators on American success (see in particular Tocqueville) have always noted the significance of the informal, non-governmental institutions of civil society. 

Now, markets and politics usually receive more attention. But civil society is every bit as important. And it undergirds both democratic governance and broad-based prosperity. Poland actually is a case study in how a vibrant civil society can produce progress....

Now, not every nation has a civil society movement on the scale of Solidarity. But most countries do have a collection of activists, organizations, congregations, writers, and reporters that work through peaceful means to encourage governments to do better, to do better by their own people.

There is mischief in the address, for example, the idea that Progressivism was implicit in the founding:  "In fact, our founders were smart enough to enshrine in our founding documents the idea that we had to keep moving toward a more perfect union." 

But the worst problem is that Clinton downplays the role of religion in civil society (one reference to "congregations").  A valid reason for such reticence would be that many of the nations present at this conference held in Poland have not resolved the issue of religious toleration.  In such societies a dominant religion might be destructive of civil society, along with a market economy and democratic institutions.  (That in turn forces us to acknowledge the centrality of natural rights for any serious political discussion.)  But speaking in Poland, of all countries, she really needed to underscore the role of John Paul II and the Catholic Church in the fall of Communism and the rebuilding of civilization in post-tyrannical regimes.

To be fair, Clinton does conclude the speech with a rousing reference to the Declaration of Independence.  Yet her comments on American civil society are a kind of Tocquevillean understanding of America without a mention of religion, and thus a virtual caricature of American history.

The speech is also a good means of assessing the difference between Clinton and Obama--between a neo-Progressive/liberal and a post-modern post-nationalist.  Clinton still believes America is exceptional, though she wouldn't be able to explain why.  

Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Mind Of Mitch Daniels

Mitch Daniels talks about five books that influenced him.  He actually seems to have read the books he is talking about.  The list also seems authentic in that Daniels doesn't seem to be trying to please and impress everyone ("From A Theory of Justice I learned ...and from the Summa Theologica I learned..."

But since the list seems to truly represent Daniels' mind, it should be taken seriously.  For reasons I can't fully articulate, the list left me a little uneasy about Daniels as a potential President.  The list seems to tilt towards different kinds of libertarianism (though thankfully not liberaltarianism.)  I'm not so sure about a President whose mind runs the gamut from Hayek to Postrel but maybe not much farther.  Though we could do worse...and we are.   

Categories > Politics


Catching Cheaters

This NYTimes article highlights the trickery--both amusing and frightening--used at the University of Central Florida to stop students from cheating on exams.  The point, of course, is this:  "The extent of student cheating, difficult to measure precisely, appears widespread at colleges. In surveys of 14,000 undergraduates over the last four years, an average of 61 percent admitted to cheating on assignments and exams."

Categories > Education


I'm Convinced

Political scientists and all around smart guys Carl Scott (in this thread) and James Poulos make the argument that Michael Steele should be fired regardless of procedural and public relations obstacles.  I agree, but let's add up the costs and benefits of firing Steele.

If Steele is fired he might well become a critic of the GOP and go on liberal-leaning media to peddle whatever anti-Republican narrative puts him in the best light and plays to the prejudices of those running those media outlets.  So from that perspective, it might make sense to have Steele making a fool of himself inside the tent than causing trouble outside.  But as Rich Lowry points out, even if Steele isn't fired, he probably won't be reappointed when his term expires in 2011 and he "will be sorely tempted to run to MSNBC to tell the world how awful his party is."  So not firing Steele now doesn't so much avoid the risk of criticism from Steele as much as shift it from now (or next month) to next year.  Maybe there is good reason to want to risk that criticism next year rather than later this year.  But what are the costs of keeping Steele?  Those costs include a) more Michael Steele gaffes and b) losing out on whatever good an effective RNC chairman could accomplish.  It would seem to me that the costs of keeping Michael Steele far exceed the costs of dumping him.  I know that this analysis partly depends on the assumption that Steele's replacement would be competent.  A guy can hope. 

Categories > Politics


Can a City Get the Measles?

No, but it can almost look like it on GoogleMaps.  This is a slice of the west side of Las Vegas (where I am today)--the more recently developed part of town (the 1990s and this decade) out to Summerlin.  Each red dot represents a house in foreclosure.  And this surely understates the number of homeowners behind on their mortgages.  Add to this the likelihood that a high percentage of all the homes in this area have negative equity (because many were bought in the last few years during Las Vegas's rapid growth, and where the housing bubble got blown up larger than other places), and you can probably get good odds here in a betting house that there is a lot more trouble still to come, and you begin to have a sense that the Great Reset, or whatever we're calling this economic cycle, is going to take a long time to work itself out.  What happens if these neighborhoods never come back?  See: Detroit.

Las Vegas Measles.jpg

Categories > Economy


Realism or Pessimism

Ross Douthat argues that "a clear-eyed realism about the challenges facing the United States can gradually inflate a pessimism bubble." He sites "pessimism bubbles" of the past to try to prove his point that things will not necessarily get worse.  My sense is (never mind decline in construction spending, factory orders, the labor force contracting by about a half million, consumers not spending, etc) that people are worried and skeptical, and hence the markets are down (despite  corporate profits increasing for the fifth consequitive quarter). In good measure the origin of this is a lack confidence in the current administration and this "pessimism bubble" will not abate until after the November elections.  There is a lot of money out there not being spent, both by the consumer and by companies (not replacing equipment, hiring, etc.); at some point, perhaps after November, the flood gates will open and the bubble will burst.  Also at some point the GOP can help things along by arguing against this new malaise.

Categories > Economy

Literature, Poetry, and Books


A Happy Fourth!  In between celebrations and riding Isabella I have been reading Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, that much ignored poet of the young Union, one of those "unacknowledged legislators of the world" (Shelley).  I once asked an "academic poet" (read, austere and cold and boring, a literary theorist, in short, one who would rather talk about himself than the poet) what he thought of Longfellow and he said something like "too simple, too accessible, too petty."  That he is accessible is true, and there is nothing wrong in that (unless you think that all poets should be like T.S. Eliot; I don't).  Longfellow should be popular still, and should be praised for many things, including his wonderful sense of the sounds and rhythms of words; see his (of course) Paul Revere's Ride, and also, The Building of the Ship.


The Economy, Stupid, and Other Saturday Rants

Splendid week last week at Ashland teaching in the summer MAHG program, but that left little no time for blogging.  Now to catch up. 

The Friday jobs number sucked.  Does it mean we're heading for a double-dip?  I don't know.  But John Hussman thinks so, and the dense account at the link seems pretty persuasive, even if it is hard to follow in a few places.  (I had lunch with Hussman once many years ago in New York, were he walked me through a pile of charts demonstrating complete command of the economic scene.)

Meanwhile, this jobs chart presents a much simpler picture of why this recession is worse than than even the Reagan recession of 1982, the previous champ.  The almost-always sensible liberal Bill Galston notes in The New Republic yesterday numerous below-the-headline reasons why things are so bad, including this telling note: "Today, 46 percent of all unemployed workers have been out of work for more than six months, versus 26 percent at the height of the Reagan recession."  

Driving back to DC yesterday on the back roads of Ohio and Pennsylvania and West Virginia I saw lots of signs of stagnation and decay, which contrasts sharply with the view that one sees as one approaches the Beltway: lots of gleaming new office buildings, and many more expensive cars on the road.  No wonder the DC establishment doesn't get it.  Or maybe it does: Washington prospers now because, like imperial capitals of old, it sucks the wealth of the periphery to itself.

Oh yeah, one last rant.  It was not lost on me that I transited West Virginia yesterday on the same day as Robert Byrd's funeral.  One line from President Obama's eulogy jumps out for its unintentional indictment of Byrd: "Making life better here was his only agenda."  How nice for West Virginia.  What about the rest of the nation?  I thought senators (and House members) were supposed to have some notion of the national interest in mind at some point, and not just view their jobs as maximizing their raids on the federal treasury to bribe voters back home.

P.S.  Oh yeah--I see the state of Illinois has stopped paying its bills, and California has started paying state workers minimum wage (which might be what most of them are worth).  But at least the once-Golden State is still charging ahead to build high speed rail.  Yeah, that's the ticket out of the rut.
Categories > Economy


Failing U.S. History

Apparently, over a quarter of Americans don't know from whom we declared independence in 1776.   Gee, even if Americans got their history from Bugs Bunny they should know that. (Sorry about the commercials in the link).  And there's always School House Rock.

On a related topic, President Coolidge's speech in honor of the one hundred fiftieth aniversary of the approval of the Declaration of Independence always bears rereading.  Too bad it's seldom taught in our schools.

Categories > History


Just Go Away

The foreign policy wisdom of Michael Steele. It isn't so much that he seems to be against the Afghanistan counterinsurgency plan (though it would be weird for an RNC chairman to take a position on an issue that divides his party with most of the party's leaders being mostly on the other side of the issue), it is his suggestion that the war was some kind of Democratic Party creation.  I think I get what he was driving at in his incompetent and bombastic way.  He wanted all the American losses in Afghanistan to be blamed on Obama.  But he can't even get that right, and ends up sounding as if he thinks that the war in Afghanistan started in late January 2009. William Kristol wants Steele to go.  Me too, but for slightly different reasons.  Though it is disgusting to see him try to turn the Afghanistan War into a political footbalI and try to extract political profit from American suffering and (potential) failure, I don't think Steele has done any real damage to the American war effort in Afghanistan.  I think that nobody (or almost nobody) takes him seriously enough for his opinion to matter.  The greater problem is that he won't stop saying foolish things.  He seems to have neither the self-knowledge nor the self-control needed to improve his performance.  He should quit quietly and let some more competent person take over the job of RNC chairman.  But the same flaws that make him such an embarrassment as RNC chairman might also prevent him from doing what is best for his party.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Petraeus Rules

This New York Times story is just the latest--and in some ways the most explicit--explanation of what Petraeus got in return for taking this almost thankless job; perhaps ironically, Obama also got the same great good out of it: the overlapping responsibilities (never mind their "substantial personalities") of Eikenberry and Holbrooke will have to end, and that means that Eikenberry will soon be out, and Holbrooke made less and less relevant. If Crocker comes back in some form (especially as Eikenberry's replacement), the irony will fall toward Bush, since Obama will have replaced his own wise (McChrystal was also an Obama man) team with that of the unwise Bush.  In any case, it is Petraeus that is calling the shots in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) and Obama cannot fire him.  And one more irony, it doesn't matter who gets to be CENTCOM Commander (technically Petraeus' boss) because, of course, he will not direct Petraeus.  Although I prefer Gen. Mattis, it is more likely that Gen. Allen will be raised to director from acting: because he worked under Petreaus there will be no possibility of Allen trying to give directions to him.  On the other hand, it's hard for me to imagine that a guy like Mattis would be allowed to retire in these hard times.  Good men are hard to find.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Kagan Agrees With Scalia

And it's not to conservatives' advantage--left-wing legal positivism is no better than right-wing, on this most important question, the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  This came out in exchanges with Al Franken and Tom Coburn.  

UPDATE:  Coburn-Kagan exchange over natural rights and the Declaration.

Categories > Courts