Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Tempus Fugit

Yesterday President Obama endorsed building the Cordoba House, an Islamic mosque and cultural center, in lower Manhattan, two blocks from where the World Trade Center towers stood, and fell.  The Washington Post's Greg Sargent called the speech "one of the finest moments of Obama's presidency."  Sargent contrasts Obama's "forceful" and "powerful" argument with the "clever little dodge" employed by many opponents of Cordoba House: "They say they don't question the group's legal right to build it under the Constitution.  Rather, they say, they're merely criticizing the group's decision to do so, on the grounds that it's insensitive to 9/11 families and will undercut the project's goal of reconciliation."  By contrast, Obama made a sweeping rather than a narrow endorsement of Cordoba House because he understands, in Sargent's words, that the controversy "goes to the core of our running argument about pluralism and minority rights and to the core of who we are."

The thing about moments, even finest moments, is that they don't last very long.  The New York Times headline on the story covering the president's speech at yesterday's White House dinner marking the start of Ramadan was "Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site."  The headline on the story about the president's remarks today during a visit to the Gulf Coast is "Obama Says Mosque Remarks Were Not Endorsement."  According to the more recent story, Mr. Obama said that in yesterday's speech he "was 'not commenting on the wisdom' of [building the Cordoba House so close to the World Trade Center site], but rather trying to uphold the broader principle that government should treat 'everyone equal, regardless' of religion." 

What do you think, Mr. Sargent?  Does that qualify as a "clever little dodge"?


Bloodline Libel

Presumably in response to John Eastman's fine work on the history of the "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" clause of the 14th Amendment, in his latest column, Michael Gerson says that those who oppose "birthright citizenship" are "Advocates for bloodline citizenship."  Does Gerson think so little of those who disagree with him on this issue?  There are a few nativists out there, but I don't think they are representative.  I am fairly certain that the vast majority understand that it is Gerson, not those who oppose birthright citizenship, who want to make birth the key characteristic in determining who is a citizen of the U.S.  Most people I know who think birthright citizenship is a mistake belive the U.S. ought to allow a good number of immigrans to come to the U.S. and become citizens.  The key disagreement between Gerson and someone like myself is that he does not think that we the people should be able to choose who may join us as citizens.

Getting to the evidence, he writes:

Civil War America did not lack for unpopular immigrants. The 1860 Census found that 13.2 percent of the U.S. population was foreign-born. The figure today is 12.3 percent. During the debate over the 14th Amendment, Sen. Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania complained that birthright citizenship would include Gypsies, "who pay no taxes; who never perform military service; who do nothing, in fact, which becomes the citizen." Others objected that the children of Chinese laborers would be covered. Supporters of the 14th Amendment conceded both cases -- and defended them. Said Sen. John Conness of California: "We are entirely ready to accept the provision proposed in this constitutional amendment, that the children born here of Mongolian parents shall be declared by the Constitution of the United States to be entitled to civil rights and to equal protection before the law with others."

He does not quote some of the other parts of Conness's speech:  "The Chinese are regarded also not with favor as an addition to the population in a social point of view . . . they are not regarded as pleasant neighbors; their habits are not of a character that make them at all an inviting class to have near you, and the people so generally regard them."  And, he noted, Chinese workers tend to return to China.  "They do not bring their females to our country but in very limited numbers."  (Scanning over the debates quickly, I did not see anyone say they agreed with Conness.  The debate turned to other questions. But I read quickly, and may very well have missed the discussion).

In the sentence after the paragraph quoted above, Gerson notes, "The Radical Republicans who wrote the 14th Amendment were, in fact, quite radical."  Conness had been a Douglas Democrat and then a Union Republican.  To what degree he then became a radical, I don't know. He did vote to impeach President Johnson. 

It seems to me that Senator Trumbull's comment that "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" means "subject to the complete jurisdiction thereof" and "not owing allegiance to anybody else" is a better reading of the text.  Even so, Gerson does have at least one Senator on his side. (To be fair, Trumbull's comment was in the context of a discussion of Indians. Indian nations were not truly independent. They were captive nations.  But if an Indian mother gave birth one U.S. soil, rather than Indian lands, and her child was not a U.S. citizen, it would seem to imply that a person born in the U.S. to parents who had not become U.S. citizens, and who were from truly independent nations, would not be citizens).

Ulimately, it does not seem to me to be a coincidence that Justice Harlan dissented in both Plessy and in Wong Kim Ark (the birthright citizenship case).  The underlying principle, that an accident of birth is not to have ultimate importance in American law, is consistent.  After all, the principles of 1776 suggest that race is an arbitrary category in law.  Similarly, they suggest that the republic is a compact.  The parties to that compact have the right to decide who joins, and under what conditions.  Enshrining those principles more clearly in American law was, after all, the purpose of the 14th Amendment.  Trumbull and Harlan understood that.

Note: I updated this from the original post.

P.S. I recommend the opinion, both majority and dissenting in U.S. v Wong Kim Ark.  Very illuminating.

Categories > Courts


Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Union

Even Unions are anti-Union:

Callaghan said he personally told Mulgrew on June 9 about his intention to try to organize nonunionized workers at UFT headquarters.

"I told him I want to have the same rights that teachers have," said Callaghan, 63, of Staten Island. "He told me he didn't want that, that he wanted to be able to fire whoever he wanted to."

The UFT has long strenuously resisted city efforts to make it easier for school administrators to fire teachers.

"This is the exact antithesis of what they preach, and Michael Mulgrew is the biggest hypocrite out there," Callaghan fumed.

Callaghan said he's planning to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against the UFT for illegally blocking his unionizing effort, and he added he would slap the union with an age-discrimination lawsuit.

Categories > Economy


Fighting An Emerging Democratic Strategy

Harry Reid is a despicable jerk and his retirement from the Senate can't come quickly enough.  But I'm not sure that the Republican/conservative response to Reid's "I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican" comment has been as effective as it might be.  The main Republican/conservative reaction seems to be spluttering outrage and looking around for right-leaning Latinos who will say that gosh no, it is totally okay for Hispanics to be Republican.  This approach might work okay with white swing voters who don't like racialist politics.  It isn't clear to me why politically unaligned Latinos should care that Reid's comment hurt conservative feelings or care that some activist that 99.9% of Americans never heard of thinks the GOP is A OK for Latinos.  Reid's comment was in the context of an argument.  He was arguing that all Latinos had certain overriding common interests that were represented by the Democrats and opposed by the Republicans.  We can expect to see this argument from the Democrats in future campaigns (though perhaps not made with such brazen malice) and this argument (and it is a terrible argument) will have to be answered. It will have to be answered with an explanation as to why it is wrong in its presumptions that all Latinos have the same voting interests, but just as importantly, it will have to be answered by showing how Republicans offer (most) Latinos a better deal on both principle and policy.  Reid's comment is a preview of Democratic attempts to make voting for Democrats an integral part of Latino political identity so that non-Democratic Latinos become utterly marginal.  Just calling moral fouls when Democrats use this tactic won't be good enough.

That doesn't mean conservatives shouldn't be outraged or express outrage.  Marco Rubio had the best reaction so far.  The outrage at Reid's comment should be expressed within an answer about why Latinos (and people of every other racial and ethnic group) should vote Republican.  The substance of the answer makes contempt for Reid's presumption more meaningful.  Rubio hit all the right themes of free enterprise, sacrifice, family, work and intergenerational upward mobility but he was still only halfway there.  The problem is that these themes become easily tuned out sloganeering if they are not combined with specific policies that can plausibly offer tangible outcomes.

A better answer to Reid would be that Latino (and non-Latino) voters should vote Republican because of tax policies that will decrease unemployment and make it easier for working parents to raise their children.  A better answer would include arguing for health care reforms that will improve the quality and security of care while increasing take home pay. A better answer would include arguing that Republicans won't use limited and hard earned tax payer dollars to fund abortions.  And then it would make sense to conclude that the reason Harry Reid doesn't know why any Latinos would vote Republican is because he is an arrogant and prejudiced Washington hack who thinks he is entitled to people's votes based on their surname.  It also wouldn't hurt to put this message in Spanish language ads. 

This is much bigger than a Nevada Senate race.  I want Reid gone, but I'm not sure Nevada Republicans have a Senate candidate that can articulate and defend a relevant agenda in English, never mind Spanish language media.  Angle might win anyway based on the horrible condition of the Nevada labor market, but that won't stop Democrats from trying to consolidate the Latino vote based on racialist arguments.  This is a good moment for Republicans to work out their counterarguments (and policies) so as to block the Democrats from slowly gaining overwhelming margins among a large fraction of the voting population.

Categories > Politics

The Race Card Has Been Maxed Out



The Paul Ryan Watch

Check WheatandWeeds for its frequent postings on the Wisconsin Congressman's speeches and deeds, along with the regular thoughts on theology, culture, and family.
Categories > Politics


On Mitch Daniels - Again

So I'm back from the family road trip and used YouTube to watch Mitch Daniels' performance on FOX News Sunday.  Some thoughts as they came to me,

1.  The optics were pretty bad. I couldn't tell if he was standing very awkwardly or slouching into a very uncomfortable chair.

2.  His "trickle down government" line on government stimulus was pretty good.  I know it isn't original to Daniels but the line has more credibility coming from a governor who managed to keep the state budget under control while preserving key government services and doing so without major tax increases, than if it had come from some congressional blowhard.

3.  The idea of a congressionally granted presidential impoundment power might have some merit.  Chris Christie seems to have used it to some good effect in New Jersey. My only question is, if Congress is unwilling to vote for budget savings, why would they be willing to grant the President the power to make cuts Congress doesn't want?  Is it realistic to hope for a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for such granting the President such a power?  I'm not sure, but I think it is a worthwhile campaign issue.

4.  Daniels takes on the entitlement issues honestly, but he will need to up his game in the explanations department.  His answers will have to be more detail-oriented and be in plainer language.  Those two imperatives are in tension, but not irreconcilable. On the details front, how will increasing retirement ages impact people who work physically demanding jobs and how will means-testing be designed in such a way that it doesn't destroy incentives to save and invest for people in their forties and fifties?  On the plain language front, what fraction of the public understood what Daniels was talking about when he mentioned "changing the indexation formula?"  Entitlement issues cut really close to people since they involve question about when people can retire, how much they will be able to afford in retirement, and how they will get health care in their old age.  It is scary enough to talk about cuts in entitlements, but when the explanations are incomprehensible, it gets even scarier. In fairness to Daniels, the format didn't really allow for much detailed talk, but if he runs for President, being able to say alot about the entitlement issue in short bursts that are comprehensible to the layman will be a key to winning elections and then getting reforms through Congress.

5.  Daniels is still lost on the social issues and he put on an especially obtuse performance.  The social issues won't be primary on a day-to-day basis, but there won't be a truce for the sake of Mitch Daniels or anybody else.  To pick just one example, there won't be a truce as long as federal judges try to impose their preferred social policies.  This means that a President Daniels will have to make appointments that either advance, check or (we can hope) roll back these judicial aggressions.  And where did Daniels ever get the idea that not talking about popular positions on social issues will make it easier to pass Social Security cuts?  Obama might be a good example here.  It isn't like appointing two liberals to the Supreme Court has gotten in the way of taking a big step towards government-run health care.  Would Obama have made more progress in advancing his social democratic and corporatist economic agenda if he had appointed Robert P. George to the Supreme Court? 

Categories > Politics


Boring Gray Lady

Let's say you were asked to write about 800 words on why you no longer read the New York Times.  How would it come out in clean, crisp, and true, English words, such words that everyone would understand, if not agree with?  The words used would have to smell both new and good. As each word was written it would seem as though you are seeing or hearing each for the first time, and combined they would "articulate sweet sounds together" (as Yeats said).  Joseph Epstein has done this as explains why he cancelled his subscription.  True.
Categories > Journalism


My Trip to Vermont

Got back safe and sound (and dry) from my 1,400 mile ride to Vermont. Had a fine time at Plymouth Notch, watching Governor James Douglas cut the ribbon to the new Coolidge Museum and Education Center (he also gave a good talk on Coolidge's character). There were many interesting folks there, including Bernie Sanders, Amity Shlaes and George Nash. George introduced me to Jim Cooke--at first sight looked much like Calvin--an actor turned performer of Coolidge, Everett, Daniel Webster, J.Q. Adams. I begged him not go into his Edward Everett mode (I didn't have two hours plus!), no problem he said, he was doing Coolidge all that day. I asked President Coolidge a few questions and he knew all the answers, made specific reference to speeches, etc. Pretty impressive. In the conversation, Coolidge said we should "think the thoughts," that the Founders thought, George Nash pointed out that it was President Harding who first used the term "founding fathers." I didn't know this.

Isabella, see her pretty self here weighed down like a pack-mule at the end of the trip, loved the ride and she did everything that was asked of her. She loves the slow pace of the mountain roads as well as the fast-paced interstate. Best thing I ever did for her (and me!) was to put on a Corbin saddle. Long ride without pain of any kind, just pleasure. She's a great ride.

Categories > Presidency


More Bodies Found at Ground Zero?

So reports Andy McCarthy:

In late June, CBS -- in a barely noticed story that is no longer available on its website -- reported that 72 sets of human remains had just been recovered and identified as a result of new construction work at the Ground Zero site. The CBS report is cited in a synopsis at a compendium site called 9/11 Research. The synopsis explains: "Although a CBSNEWS article stated that 'some' [of the remains] 'have been matched to previously unidentified Sept. 11 victims,' it did not provide further details." Obviously, this implies that some of the newly recovered remains are actually newly identified victims. Mind you, that's June 2010 -- only a few weeks ago.

This new discovery happened because, all these years later, some of the WTC complex has been inaccessible until recently. A stepped-up effort was started in October 2006, following the discovery of remains at a Con-Ed location within the WTC perimeter. In late June 2010, at the time of the aforementioned news report, Mayor Bloomberg was informed of the bracing news that "1,845 potential human remains" had been recovered thanks to this intensified search.

Read the whole thing.

Categories > Journalism

Ignoring a Deluge of Isolated Incidents

The choice is simple, writes Paul Krugman.  It is "between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation's foundations to crumble."  Noting that some state and municipal governments are saving money by turning out street lights, replacing paved roads with gravel ones, or firing teachers and shortening the school year, he argues with contempt bordering on fury that "a large part of our political class" has chosen crumbling foundations over higher taxes.

Krugman implies that higher taxes engender sturdy foundations - bright lights, paved roads and good schools.  It's not clear, however, that tax increases are either necessary or sufficient for those purposes.  America kept the street lights on, roads paved and schools open with the tax rates passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1993.  It also did so with the even lower rates passed by a Republican Senate and Democratic House that President Reagan signed in 1986. 

Explaining the failure to maintain infrastructure and perform basic public functions in terms of a single cause - too little money - neglects the possibility that some state and local governments are in fiscal trouble because they have spent their money badly.  It is not the case, however, that the relationship between the size of the public revenue stream and the quality of the public services is direct, simple and reliable.  If it were, high-revenue states would always have good roads and schools, and low-revenue states would always have bad ones.  California's roads, schools and public services are not, in fact, markedly superior to the ones in Texas, despite the fact that only a few states secure more money for state and local governments than California, and only a few secure less money than Texas.  "Twenty years ago, you could go to Texas, where they had very low taxes, and you would see the difference between there and California," Joel Kotkin, executive editor of and a presidential fellow at Chapman University in Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times last year. "Today, you go to Texas, the roads are no worse, the public schools are not great but are better than or equal to ours, and their universities are good."

It would be generous to say that this other consideration, how capably and honestly states and cities spend their money, gets left out of Krugman's equation.  It would be more accurate to say that it gets kicked out.  It's not just that Krugman, and liberals generally, don't want to talk about the possibility that public funds are spent badly.  They don't want anyone else to talk about it, either.  Thus, Krugman endorses Jonathan Cohn's argument that "public employees are the new welfare queens."  That is, the problem of over-compensated (and usually unionized) government workers is, in Krugman's words, "a phony issue," just like excessive welfare payments to able-bodied adults.

The phoniness of these phony issues is not self-evident.  Phony as in non-existent?  It's not as though examples of government spending money badly are hard to find. 

  • New York City teachers, who routinely get lifetime tenure after three years on the job, can spend years receiving six-figure salaries for doing nothing while the school board and union wrangle over complaints that they are unqualified and should be dismissed. 
  • The Milwaukee teachers union, which has "one, constant focus - putting children at the center of education," has also found the time and money to sue the school district for discriminating against male employees by excluding "Viagra and other drugs that treat erectile dysfunction from its health insurance plans." 
  • In California, 12,201 retired civil servants and public educators receive pensions of more than $100,000 per year.  "Retired" is an approximate descriptor here, because California laws that allow public employees to retire in their 50s mean that many of them pocket their pensions while going on to work for other government agencies, or get hired as consultants by their former employer. 
  • Public officials in Illinois are virtuosos in the art of "pension-spiking," piling bonuses, overtime and extra assignments onto the paycheck of an employee who is just about to retire, causing his pension to leap dramatically.

Isolated incidents?  As the "isolated" incidents keep piling up, it's harder and harder to keep from wondering if there isn't a deeper problem at work.  The plural of "anecdote" is "data," as the saying goes.  Adjusted for inflation and population growth, California's state and local governments spent 21.7% more in 2006 than in 1992.  I'm still waiting to meet the first Californian who thinks the state's public services and infrastructure are 21% better than they were 18 years ago.  It would be easy to stand in line at the DMV, however, and find one who thinks they're 21% worse.

Rather than address the problem Krugman wants to deny the problem, and disparage anyone who treats it seriously.  This is not a novel approach.  Liberals have a long history of insisting that it is not just mistaken but illegitimate to challenge their enterprise by dwelling on inconvenient facts.  Today it is extravagant compensation of public employees and the ineffectual, wasteful expenditure of public funds.  In years past it has been the excesses of the welfare system or the ways school busing exacerbated racial tensions.  Liberal efforts to rule discussion about rising crime out of order were so strenuous that conservatives were forced to ask, if "law and order" is a code word for "racism," what's the code word for "law and order"? 

Before being stampeded into raising taxes or increasing deficits to prop up failing governments, conservatives today want to know when the accumulation of data about governmental malpractice becomes a legitimate issue, one that engages rather than enrages liberals who say they care about making government work.  Is there nothing more to that caring than seeking more and more money for government?  Doesn't using the money well and wisely have a claim on our attention, too?


The Worst Kind of Anti-Business

Ezra Klein's suggestion that President Obama is pro-business reminds me of this classic exchange in When Harry Met Sally:

Harry Burns: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.

Sally Albright: Which one am I?

Harry Burns: You're the worst kind; you're high maintenance but you think you're low maintenance.

Sally Albright: I don't see that.

Harry Burns: You don't see that? Waiter, I'll begin with a house salad, but I don't want the regular dressing. I'll have the balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side. And then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side. "On the side" is a very big thing for you.

Sally Albright: Well, I just want it the way I want it.

Harry Burns: I know; high maintenance.

So too does the President want business to do things his way.  He's happy to work with big businesses if they play ball.  But that's not what the market economony, or economic liberty is.

Categories > Economy

Ashbrook Center

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for July

Congratulations to this month's winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Robin Fought
Debbie Shelley
Christy Mays
Sarah Marallo
James Heimer

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn't win this time, enter the next drawing.

Categories > Ashbrook Center