Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


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.