Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Foreign Affairs

Cairo's Chaos and Us

While the United States has in the past pressed the dictatorships of the Arab nations to pursue freer civil societies and more liberal economies, we have nonetheless tepidly supported these leaders because they kept Islamic radicalism at bay and were key allies in issues such as Iran and the War on Terror. One of the fundamental challenges of pro-democracy movements in the Middle East is that they are usually combined with violence, anti-American rhetoric, and radical Islamists. This can be seen with great example in Turkey and Iran. Historically, the military junta that ruled over Turkey was secular and relatively open to liberalizing their nation-- including allowing for free elections. However, over time Islamists get themselves democratically elected (usually by the rural poor and uneducated) and begin to try to implement Sharia law, leading the secular military to intervene in the democratic process now and then (with the increasing Europeanization of Turkey, though, this is becoming less frequent). Similarly, the movement to overthrow the Shah of Iran was led by pro-democracy students and ultraconservative Islamists-- a movement that led to what is a repressive and dangerous theocratic dictatorship masquerading as a republic. Like Turkey, most of Ahmadinejad's popular support comes from the rural poor and uneducated.

This radical Islamist danger exists most prominently with the democracy movement in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood is attempting to take advantage of the chaos for their own benefit-- and if the (secular) Egyptian military does not take efforts to restore the rule of law, agree to allow political reform and a representative government to take place, and halt repressive measures like the unprecedented severance of all Internet communications in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood may only become stronger. While this is a worrisome prospect, there are more immediate dangers for us coming from the chaos in the Arab world. The timing of these protests will no doubt severely hamper our efforts to diplomatically muscle Iran into abandoning its nuclear aspirations-- at the negotiating table, nations like Egypt are some of the most influential.

Additionally, there is the clear danger that the protests in Yemen pose. The small nation is impoverished and its government already weak, and a sect of Al Qaeda has been gaining power there. Some of the most recent terrorist threats have originated from Al Qaeda in Yemen, and we have been working extensively with their government to fight this sect. Whereas the protests in Egypt and Tunisia could have the unfortunate consequence of strengthening some Islamist agendas, the collapse of the Yemeni government could bring about a new stronghold for Al Qaeda. This, of course, leaves the United States in a bit of a quandary concerning its past, present, and future relations with these nations. What is clear, however, is that the current policy in the Middle East is not working, and we need to change it drastically if we are to figure out how to contain the dangers that instability in the region pose while encouraging them to cultivate liberal governments.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Media Bias

From the Wall Street Journal this morning:  "Coyotes Establish Residency in Chicago."
Categories > Journalism

Foreign Affairs

Egyptians Aren't Reading This

Egypt's ruling class is circling the drain. President Mubarak has shut down the internet and cell phones and ordered the military to crack down on democratic reform protestors. Just a few minutes ago, Mubarak asked his government to resign and promised to appoint a new government within a few hours. Perhaps one of the fundamental problems with Mubarak is his ability to dissolve and reassemble governments at a whim.

Egypt joins Tunisia in facing public revolt over corruption at the highest levels. Is it coincidence that these nations are considered the most pro-American in the region, whereas anti-American countries such as Iran have thus far entirely failed to achieve political reform?

Obama's distance on this matter is understandable - Mubarak has been friendly toward the U.S., but his democratic credentials are suspect, at least. On the other hand, the democratic reformers could easily be usurped by the military or Islamic radicals if control of the government is up for grabs. Any formal endorsement of a specific outcome would embroil America far too deeply into Egyptians affairs.

UPDATE: While cautioning demonstrators to avoid violence, Obama has pretty clearly taken their side in the reform movement - without, however, advocating their greatest demand: the resignation of Mubarak. This speech was a pretty hardy and commendable pro-democracy speech for Obama.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Three Reasons to Remember

There's always a good reason to remember a fine speech but there are at least three big ones that come to mind today making this fine speech from Ronald Reagan on the Challenger disaster required and salient reading (or, better still, viewing):

1.  It is the 25th anniversary of the disaster and it is a fitting tribute to the memory of the dead.

2.  Next week will mark the centenary of Ronald Reagan's birth.

3.  In this speech, it seems to me, is a soaring tribute to both the freedom and daring of Americans that answers Obama's anxious talk about a "Sputnik moment" with manly eloquence.  "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave."  
Categories > Technology


Doing Time for the Sake of Education?

What has the state of public education in certain parts of Ohio come to when a single mother living in the projects is willing to risk jail time in order to assure that her daughters do not become lost statistics in a failing school?  Needless to say, this woman ought to be on the top of John Kasich's list for pardons but, more important, the newly energized Ohio GOP needs to use this case as exhibit A in the opening arguments of what ought to be an epic (and public) fight with Democrats and the teacher unions over school choice and other issues.  When parents are motivated to this level of civil disobedience, even the most cowardly of politicians ought to feel emboldened to act on behalf of the right.
Categories > Education



Nick Schulz interviews me about RR on AEI-TV.  More of this to come over the next couple weeks, needless to say.
Categories > Presidency


Running Out The Clock

Steve Manacek explains how Obama's turn toward the center is mostly show.  Keep in mind that Obama's immoderation is less in what he does over the next 2-3 years than what he can prevent from happening.  As Reihan Salam has pointed out, the status quo is structurally center-left.  I would argue that the combination of Obamacare and the looming entitlement crisis move the status quo farther left every year health care policy and entitlements remain unreformed.  Congressional Republicans can start by working with Republican governors and state legislators (and Democrats too!) to increase the number of Americans on consumer-driven health insurance policies as quickly as possible.  Yeah, I know it is inadequate in itself, but it would make a full government takeover of medicine (or even the full implementation of Obamacare) that much more difficult and would increase public awareness of the existence and benefits of market-oriented health care reform.  There is also framing the issue.  Republicans should focus on Democratic obstructionism as trying to force the American people to choose between bankruptcy on the one hand or higher taxes and less (and lower quality) government-run health care on the other.  Republicans should argue that their policies will lead to greater take home pay, lower taxes (well, as compared to the Democrats' plans), higher quality health care and a more stable, more sustainable safety net.
Categories > Politics


Mike Pence Moves On

So Mike Pence has decided against running for President.  I think he would have had a shot at the GOP nomination.  I had my concerns about the guy, but I like him better as a candidate and a potential President than any of the 2008 Republican presidential candidates who have been mentioned as looking at another run.  I'm still hoping for at least one presidential candidate from Indiana.   
Categories > Politics

End of Color-Coded Fear

No more shall the late night comedians and those of us frequently in airports be able to chuckle about the oft-ignored announcements over the loudspeakers that we are endangered by the colors Yellow or Orange. The Department of Homeland Security has ended the program, opting to replace it with an approach that is hopefully more sensible; there are certainly better ways to do this. Alas, we will still be subject to intrusive security measures in the airports-- and, despite the president's attempted tongue-in-cheek comment to encourage his railway plans in the State of the Union ("For some trips, it will be faster than flying - without the pat-downs."), the long arm of the DHS is intent on extending its intrusive reach beyond the airports. Hopefully they will follow the colors to the dustbin of bad policy soon, for "tis too much prov'd that with devotion's visage and pious action, we do sugar o'er the devil himself."


Acronyms that Fit and Words that Do Not

This today from Sarah Palin reminded me of that great moment when she spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention and of why, after she stirred the affection of the skeptical, the election had a sudden burst of energy and shift in momentum.  But it also reminded me of how quickly that momentum dissipated as she kept talking.  The twelve-year-old in me wants to rejoice in the zinger . . . and she does rejoice in it and she loves Sarah Palin for giving her that sometimes desperately needed satisfaction--like a tall drink of something better than water.  But then I remember that I am no longer twelve, that twelve-year-olds shouldn't drink like that anyway, and that real political persuasion consists of more than zingers.  Still . . . they are sometimes useful and lovely--in their way and in their place--as is Sarah Palin.  I am hoping that her willingness to speak like this indicates that she has happily figured this out, too.  
Categories > Politics


Birthrights and Wrongs

Drudge is having fun again with the ongoing quest in Hawaii to find the President's birth certificate. 

The irony is that the only reason there are "birthers" is that our Courts created the idea of "birthright citizenship."  But soil ought not to determine citizenship, and the Constitution, as amended, ought not to be read to require it--as the dissenters in Won Kim Ark noted.  English law made soil fundamental, they noted: "The tie which bound the child to the Crown was indissoluble. The nationality of his parents had no bearing on his nationality. Though born during a temporary stay of a few days, the child was irretrievably a British subject."

In the American revolution, they add, "Manifestly, when the sovereignty of the Crown was thrown off and an independent government established, every rule of the common law and every statute of England obtaining in the Colonies in derogation of the principles on which the new government was founded was abrogated."

According to Justices Fuller and Harlan (Harlan signed onto Fuller's dissent. Not coincidentally, it was two years after Plessy.  The decision turns on the same principles.  The same idea of equality that made segregation problematic, also made compact the basic of American government and, the foundation for our ideas of citizenship.")  As they noted, those elements of the common law that could not be reconciled with the "principles on which the new government was founded" were abroated.

According to the principles of the compact, once someone becomes a citizen, any child born to him is also a citizen.  The dissenters noted, "it seems to me that the rule partus sequitur patrem has always applied to children of our citizens born abroad."  That maxim could be reas narrowly, suggesting the citizenship follows the father.  But since we no longer discriminate on the basis of sex, t is reasonable to say that the child of any American parent is a citizen.  In short, it is only the deeply problematic argument that soil is the foundation of citizenship that lets Druge and others amuse themselves with the question of Obama's birth certificate.

Categories > Courts


About Last Night...

Some thoughts on the State of the Union Speech,

1.  Let's get something straight about where there is controversy and where there isn't.  There is little controversy (within the mainstream of the two parties) on some government role in funding basic scientific research on subjects like energy production.  There is controversy on whether the government should subsidize energy producers that would otherwise be uncompetitive under the guise of producing jobs.  Since Obama likes to use the internet as an example, let's try to explain it in internet terms.  The government should have funded the basic research that made the internet possible.  The government was right not to offer open ended subsidies to  Obama was right when he said he doesn't know which companies and industries will succeed.  What he said was right, but he didn't believe what he said.

2.  Dave Weigel described Obama's approach in the SOTU as "He used conservative language to sell liberalism with few limits."  That is fair enough.  It seemed like every third word was investment, innovation, private, companies or competition.  It could have been Steve Forbes on his Saturday morning FOXNEWS show.  You had to listen closely to hear that he was making an argument for the government direction of capital through various kinds of subsidies.  Ross Douthat described Obama's speech as "a reasonably eloquent case for center-left technocracy and industrial policy, punctuated by a few bipartisan flourishes"  That is also fair enough but the relationship between the speech yesterday and Obama's agenda is similar to the relationship between the ice above the waterline and the iceberg (probably not an original formulation.)  The biggest and most damaging part of the Obama agenda is just to keep us on the present course.  The course involves Obamacare strangling the functioning private options for health care (except for the wealthy) and letting the entitlement funding crisis come ever closer until sudden and terrible choices necessitate far higher taxes and far greater government allocation of goods.  Obama might sometimes sound like a left-of-center technocrat (and he does have bit of that in him on issues like primary and secondary education) but on the whole, he is ideologically much closer to Nancy Pelosi than Mark Warner.

3.  Conservatives who are panning the speech as boring and uninspiring are right but are missing the point.  Obama's goal wasn't to inspire.  It was to make him seem like an unradical, unthreatening, pro-business kind of guy. I think he probably came across that way to the uncommitted who don't otherwise pay all that much attention to politics.  It is a much easier trick to pull off when you aren't trying to get Congress to pass an enormous expansion in federal government spending or an enormous expansion of government power over the health care sector.  He was able to pull off the nonideological act in 2008 because he wasn't really responsible for anything and he could promise everything to everybody - including a net budget cut.  The combination of the ideological aggressiveness of his own program and the lousy labor market prevented him from playing the nonideological pragmatist role in 2009 and 2010. But even then his Real Clear Politics job approval rating hovered in the not-so-bad 44-46% range.  He will be much tougher on the defensive ("hey I'm for a spending freeze and let's fix some of the problems with my health care reform - like the Medicare cuts!") and even tougher if the labor market improves - however slowly.  He is clever, determined, principled, and has a rock solid political base.  Absent a further economic slump (which is not to be hoped for), he is a damn tough political opponent.

4.  The Republican response by Paul Ryan was very good.  I would have leaned a little harder on the argument that if politicians don't make prudent cuts now that allow us to transition to a more sustainable system, then those same politicians are going to end up making sharp and sudden cuts that people (especially the elderly) will have a very tough time adjusting to.  Prudent cuts aren't austerity.  Austerity (and huge tax increases and "death panels") is what is at the other end of all these budget deficits.  I've seen Ryan make this argument before, but I think it should have more prominence

5.  Ryan isn't Reagan and he shouldn't try to be Reagan.  Ryan has his own (all too rare) set of virtues that combine limited government principles with hunger for policy detail.  That doesn't mean that Ryan and Ryan enthusiasts don't have something to learn from Reagan.  Reagan was usually able to punctuate his arguments with the telling detail, the eye popping statistic or the example drawn from everyday life.  Reagan worked really hard to make his arguments relatable to his audience.  This isn't a criticism of Ryan's response per se.  He managed to say a lot in ten minutes, but more Reagan-style argument crafting combined with Ryan-style detail work might be the ticket.          

6.  Oh by the way, the projected federal budget deficit for this is year is 1.5 trillion dollars. 



Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

The Way Back

Scott Johnson at Powerline brings to our attention the movie "The Way Back", based on the book The Long Walk:   "The film has many flaws -- it's too long, it's not big on character development, it tacks on an absurd ending, the characters' accents are distracting -- but it is worth seeing."  Not many films about the Gulag coming out of Hollywood, of course.
Categories > Pop Culture


Save the Filibuster!

The "reform community" is pushing to curtail the filibuster in the Senate.  I defend this obstructionist device over at
Categories > Politics


Big Things v. Hard Things

This morning as I cleaned out the spam folder in my email box, I glanced at a message from team Obama with the subject line:  "We Do Big Things."  Yep.  No doubt about that.  Unfortunately--like a lot of things the Obama Administration says about itself--"big" can mean a host of different things to different people.  We've got big government, big and sweeping changes to health care, and big symbolic speeches with lots of big talk.  Talk about misreading the moment!  By now, I don't think it's out of place to wonder aloud about the strength of the American people's taste for "big" things. 

Yuval Levin is wondering too.  For all their talk of "progress" he thinks the Obama team gave strong indication of their intention to set up camp in the past--at least when it comes to understanding public mood and, what's even more important, public need.  Obama's speech--with its talk of solar panels, high speed rail, and high speed internet--seemed like a re-tread of all the silly bits from Clinton and Bush SOTU speeches.  Is that really what we need to hear right now?  This is 2011.  We have a debt crisis looming.  We can't afford to buy this kind of big thing, Mr. President.  Now is not the time to live large.

In striking contrast to the President's speech, Paul Ryan's words spoke to us of "hard" things.  We have to face up to hard truths and hard realities.  These are the kinds of things that loom large in the minds of Americans today--this is the stuff that is "kind of a big deal" as the kids like to say.  And it had better be big on our horizon.

Yet all the coverage I saw last night about Ryan's speech focused on really, really small things.  Were his eyes bloodshot?  Is he too young to be taken seriously?  Mark Shields and Michael Gerson seemed to want to make a big deal out of what they called the "contrast" between Ryan's "5 minutes till midnight" kind of conservatism and Obama's "5 minutes till dawn" and Reagan-esque (gag!-ed.) approach in the SOTU speech.  This latter, they suggest, is the more politically salient and savvy presentation.  I think, like Levin, that this remains to be seen.  Moreover, I don't think speaking hard truths, as Ryan did, necessarily means that you are full of doom and gloom or that you are off your game and forgetting that the American people like a can-do positive attitude.  They seem to forget that there is a thing the American people hate more than they love a sunny disposition:  BS.  If there is something that we "can do", please--for God's sake--tell us what it is! 

For all his talk of a "Sputnik" moment, Obama seemed to me to be more of a piece with the mindset that created Sputnik than that which created Apollo.  Sputnik, in one sense was a big thing.  But, in fact, Sputnik was the size of a beachball . . . and it, what, circled the earth?  It was not, in fact, a big thing because it was not a thing born out of freedom--the hardest of all things.  Yet because we were free and because we were inspired to do hard things, we landed on the moon.  That was both a hard and a big thing.  But it did not come because we were obsessed with looking big.  It came because we knew we had to be harder if we wanted to preserve our liberty. 

I will note, also, that unless I am mistaken Obama said not a word about liberty and its connection to innovation last night.  Indeed, his single reference to "freedom" came in a throw-away paragraph about the on-going wars:

"And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. And America's moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity. And because we've begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America's standing has been restored."

Of course, "freedom and justice and dignity" (like "big") can mean a lot of things in this context; none of which need have anything to do with liberty properly understood.

The symbolism of last night (though, I suspect, something that DID play well in most places and Peoria) was a fitting testimony to the confused jumble of nothingness that is the Obama Presidency.  Black and white ribbons (thank you, John Boehner for at least displaying yours with a devil-may-care indifference); Democrats and Republicans holding hands; fewer and seemingly only half-hearted standing ovations and the ever-present vignette of some poor son-of-a-gun used as punctuation when no salient point could be mustered.  Take away from it what you will.  The meaning is yours to determine . . . or not.

In any event, welcome to the opening salvo of the 2012 election.  It's old school Obama: the Disarming Dissembler. Hope and Change will be replaced with Hope and Progress--or something like that.  And Change was never more needed.
Categories > Presidency


Larding the Lean Earth as He Walks along

Noemie Emery writes in favor of Christie and pudgy Valentine and the election of 2012.  Clever and amusing.  I wish he were fatter.
Categories > Politics


More Wisdom from Eisenhower

Ken Thomas notes the president's invocation of Eisenhower in last night's SOTU address.  It's worth mentioning Ike's Farewell Address in this context as well.  Last year I wrote a very short piece for the newsletter of our Masters in American History and Government program regarding how everyone remembers Ike's warning about the power of the "military-industrial complex," but ignores what he said about the danger posed by a "scentific-technological elite."  I'm pleased to see that Pat Deneen has addressed this, in far more depth and detail, in the current issue of the paleocon journal The American Conservative.  He writes:

No section of Eisenhower's address gives more compelling witness to this fear than his warning that the military-industrial-scientific complex's demands would require the transformation of the university. His prophecy--which has become history--not only portended the death knell of "free ideas," but the demise of the university's historic role in providing reflective cautions about the pursuit of forbidden knowledge. Instead, the academy has given itself over to forms of inquiry with the ultimate aim of overcoming human nature.

Read the whole thing, keeping in mind Heather Wilson's recent lament regarding the narrowness and superficiality of even today's best and brightest college students.

Categories > Education


On Rhodes Scholars and Education

John Moser directed us below to Heather Wilson's article in the Washington Post, but I wanted to add my two cents on the subject as well. Wilson writes about how "superficial" Rhodes Scholar applicants have become. The problem is not that the candidates are frivolous or unintelligent: just the opposite--they are ambitious and serious and know a lot about their very specialized area of study.

But, Wilson says, "our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study. This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism." For example, "[a]n outstanding biochemistry major wants to be a doctor and supports the president's health-care bill but doesn't really know why. A student who started a chapter of Global Zero at his university hasn't really thought about whether a world in which great powers have divested themselves of nuclear weapons would be more stable or less so, or whether nuclear deterrence can ever be moral."

The students are, in short, not being asked to dig into the big, permanent questions of human life and society. They don't get anything like a liberal education--one designed to cultivate free human beings who can think for themselves about the great questions. They are what David Brooks once called "The Organization Kid".

Here at Ashland we're trying to do things differently with the Ashbrook Scholars. It starts the day they arrive as freshman, when they have a seminar with Peter on a great text from a statesman (Churchill's My Early Life this year). They talk about big questions like "What is education?" "What is justice?". It continues through their education in US history, Western Civilization, ancient and modern political thought, and American political thought. And it culminates in their senior year, when they write a thesis on some important question that really matters to them as a person and a citizen.

Wilson says that the Rhodes Scholarship is "looking for students who wonder, students who are reading widely, students of passion who are driven to make a difference in the lives of those around them and in the broader world through enlightened and effective leadership." Whatever others do, we at least are trying to cultivate just that kind of student.

Categories > Education


We Like Ike

From the President's SOTU:

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

The GOP House should use the Ike standard (Obama wants to be FDR's Ike, preserving his neo-New Deal) to eliminate all federal agencies since the Ike years that merely provide pass-through money to typically leftish groups  (sorry, NEH).  That would gut Labor, Education, and Transportation (among others), end HUD, and shrink the federal government. 

Paul Ryan gave an effective response (though I am in principle opposed to partisan responses to what should be the President's non-partisan speech).  For a brief statement he expressed the principles of constitutionalism well:

We believe, as our founders did, that "the pursuit of happiness" depends upon individual liberty; and individual liberty requires limited government.


Limited government also means effective government. When government takes on too many tasks, it usually doesn't do any of them very well. It's no coincidence that trust in government is at an all-time low now that the size of government is at an all-time high.

I wonder whether rule of law, constitutional government, or self-government aren't better terms than "limited government."  His point after all is that big, bureaucratic government is ineffective and in fact weak in vital areas (e.g., national security).  Big government violates the rule of law because it doesn't protect the individual rights that are the basis of any legitimacy it might have.

The models for effective speeches explaining crises are FDR's map speech and his fireside chats, especially his speech on banking.  These go to the most elementary level.  (I like the Map Speech, because it makes demands on his audience--"Look at your map," he orders.)

Treppenwitz:  On this "Sputnik moment" talk, keep in mind the disastrous first American satellite attempt following Sputnik.

Categories > Presidency


Using Fear Of China To Make Us Stupid

I was home with a sick baby today and I caught a little bit of Democratic congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on FOXNEWS.  I get the feeling that she is quite bright, but she seems to have taken upon herself the role of popular narrative builder and issue framer for social democracy.  I've seen her do this same act several times now.  She goes out with the most audacious left-of-center focus group-tested lines and repeats them relentlessly and with no interest in their inherent truth.  She is better at it than most. 

Today she was talking about the Republican Study Group's plans to cut domestic discretionary spending.   Wasserman Shultz argued that the spending cuts represented a " white flag" (I remember those words pretty clearly) in competition with China.  Now depending on how the RSG's cuts are structured (and it probably won't get that far because no way is this proposal clearing both houses of Congress), this proposal could have multiple negative consequences, but it is tough to see how eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and cutting subsidies to Joe Biden for his post-Vice Presidential Amtrak rides will prevent us from competing with China.  I know those only represent a tiny fraction of the proposed cuts, but that is the point.  Wasserman Shultz doesn't tell us which cuts to which programs will inevitably lead to nightfall in America and why.  Wasserman Shultz's purpose was to trade on what she (and I suspect much of our political class) perceives to be the pervasive public fears of decline, defeat and humiliation at the hands of China.  Her entire argument was based on the premise that people would react mindlessly whenever those fears are inflamed.  Therefore expect to hear a lot about how government "investment" (including investments to make sure that there is an Amtrak stop near Joe Biden's house) will make America competitive.

Republicans need a (hopefully more rational) counter narrative.  This narrative will have to include an explanation of how government debt at all levels is creating a burden that will both crush the economy under enormous new taxes and lead to sudden, sharp and stupid cuts to government services if we don't start making some prudent spending decisions right now.  Nobody is better than Paul Ryan at making that argument but Republicans need more.  Republicans need a populist growth agenda and could do a lot worse than a pro-family, pro-growth tax reform that increases the take home pay of most working parents and frees up money for investment through the market rather than having members of Congress and unelected bureaucrats choosing winners and losers based on a combination of ideology, cronyism, and political horse trading.  Republicans also shouldn't talk too little about what the government should be doing.  As Henry Olsen has pointed out, the voters expect the government to deliver some important public goods.  That means that Republicans will have to be credible on issues like education (which doesn't necessarily mean more federal money), transportation and health care policy.  Republicans need to be able to point to examples where Republican policies have maintained (or even improved) core government services while balancing the books.  The best examples of such a responsible pro-solvency, pro-effective but limited government agenda would be governors like Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal and Bob McDonnell.         

Categories > Politics


What to look for in Obama's Speech

Bill Galston (a Clinton man) has "compiled a list of the key rhetorical choices that Obama must make in the economic portion of his address."  Worth a look.
Categories > Politics


A Lincoln Pardon Altered

Today's WaPo has this article on how a Lincoln document was altered; the date was changed on a pardon signed by Lincoln, from 1864, to 1865 (April 15), apparently to make it looked like it was the last thing he signed before he went off to Ford's theatre.  This was done about 13 years ago, when the document was first discovered, by one Thomas Lowry, now 78 years old.  Too bad.  I remember reading about this fellow (and his wife) in an Akron paper over ten years ago, and how these two amateur historians were digging up interesting slips of paper signed A. Lincoln, and most of them were notes of pardon; it turned out that he pardoned more people than we thought, even though we already knew that he was notoriously soft-hearted when it came to pardons.  The stories of their discoveries were deeply moving, and I would sometimes make note of this in class.  Sad that Mr. Lowry thought he had to change one, not sensing that Lincoln's great spirit, his liberality, were already carved in marble.  As one friend said about this sad revelation, this is what happens when you have a small man studying a great one, and the contrast between this man and a great one could not be clearer.
Categories > History


A Companion to the SOTU 2011

Since this blog is associated with a center which is associated with a college, I'll beg your forgiveness for offering this companion exercise for today's state of the union address: The State of the Union Drinking Game.

Of course, I only recommend reading the instructions for the humor of the "Every time he says...." list.


Categories > Presidency


Il Vino Apprezza Mozart

Some winemakers in Vienna have started playing Mozart while their wine is fermenting, claiming that it makes the wine better (apologies for the Italian-language links; here is an English translation). Their claim is supported by an official study by the University of Florence a few years back on one Tuscan winemaker who would play Vivaldi and Mozart while he grew his grapes; according to the study, the vines that were subjected to the classical music ended up 50% healthier and freer of parasites than their counterparts. The wine appreciates Mozart, they claim. The wonders of winemaking!
Categories > Leisure

Better And Worse

Regular NLT commenter Art Deco brings some perspective to the subject of American violence and the attempt of certain people to pin the recent Arizona attack on their political opponents. 


Enlarging Congress to Make Government Smaller?

I was amused to read Jonah Goldberg over at NRO talk about expanding the size of Congress. While I had not read his nor George Will's previous musings on the issue, I've wondered before if enlarging Congress would be a good way to make government smaller. Here is how it could work: The federal government does so much that Congress relegates a great deal of its legislative duties to the bureaucrat-filled Executive branch. It has gotten so bad that the former Speaker of the House said that we have to pass a bill to find out what is in it. How can the people get back control from these progressive-expert bureaucrats? Make Congress bigger. Make the legislative branch big enough to compete with the Executive branch. Make it so we have enough legislators that they can become the experts in the issues. Then you can scale back on the number -- or at least stop the constant expansion -- of experts in the Executive branch. And at least then we could vote out someone who makes a bad decision, something we cannot do when a federal agency makes one. 

In 1789, Congress sent 12 amendments to the original Constitution to the states to be ratified. By 1791, the 3rd through 12th amendments were ratified by the states, and they became the Bill of Rights. The second amendment that Congress sent had to do with Congressional pay, and it was not ratified until 1992, becoming the 27th Amendment. The first amendment that Congress sent had to do with the number of representatives, which given the population of the United States now, would call for one representative for every 50,000 people. That amendment has never been ratified. While that would give us a U.S. House of Representatives with 6,140 members in it, maybe Jonah will want to start a movement to ratify the original first amendment.
Categories > Congress


Gipper Groping

Even Barack Obama gets in on Reaganpalooza (or Ronaroo, as I'm also calling it) in USA Today today, but Jacob Heilbruun takes the cake in the Los Angeles Times with a column arguing that Reagan was not a Reaganite!  Think I exaggerate?  Here's the money quote: "Reagan, in other words, couldn't be counted among contemporary Reaganites."

Liberals who couldn't defeat Reagan in his time or his growing popularity since then are reduced to trying to pull off a Brinks job and make Reagan into a crypto-liberal.  I'm calling this gambit "Gipper Groping," since it is an obvious molestation of the truth.  Fortunately, I'm on the case, with the cover story in the latest National Review debunking this nonsense.
Categories > History

Health Care

Founders Favor Mandated Health Insurance?

Rick Ungar (writing in Forbes) claims: "In July of 1798, Congress passed - and President John Adams signed - "An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seaman". The law authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service and mandated that privately employed sailors be required to purchase health care insurance.  Keep in mind that the 5th Congress did not really need to struggle over the intentions of the drafters of the Constitutions in creating this Act as many of its members were the drafters of the Constitution." and concludes:

"Clearly,  the nation's founders serving in the 5th Congress, and there were many of them, believed that mandated health insurance coverage was permitted within the limits established by our Constitution.  The moral to the story is that the political right-wing has to stop pretending they have the blessings of the Founding Fathers as their excuse to oppose whatever this president has to offer.  History makes it abundantly clear that they do not."

Well, what do you think?

Categories > Health Care


Why we need liberal education

Former congresswoman and Rhodes Scholar Heather Wilson has for the past twenty years served on selection committees for Rhodes Scholarships, so she's come into contact with some of the nation's best and brightest students.  What she says about the one's she's encountered in recent years will surprise few who frequent this blog.  "Even from America's great liberal arts colleges, transcripts reflect an undergraduate specialization that would have been unthinkably narrow just a generation ago."  One wants to fight for the recent health care legislation, another for eliminating nuclear weapons, another to serve his country abroad, but cannot offer an adequate response when asked why.  And consider this:

When asked what are the important things for a leader to be able to do, one young applicant described some techniques and personal characteristics to manage a group and get a job done. Nowhere in her answer did she give any hint of understanding that leaders decide what job should be done. Leaders set agendas.

In other words, the nation's elite colleges and universities are producing graduates with vast technical knowledge, but no appreciable wisdom.  In a way this has been the dilemma of the entire modern age, but it grows steadily worse.

Categories > Education


Slaves in Ohio

The historical premise of Dolen Perkins-Valdez's novel Wench:  "The land for Ohio's Wilberforce University, the nation's oldest private historically black college, where [W.E.B.] DuBois had once taught, at one time had been part of a resort - a place called Tawawa House, where wealthy Southern slaveholders would take their slave mistresses for open-air 'vacations.'"

Categories > Race


Politicization and Incompetence at DOJ

Former attorney general Michael Mukasey's views on his successor, Attorney General Eric Holder, are laid bare in a Weekly Standard interview with Jennifer Rubin. Murkasey "candidly asserts that Holder's conduct in several key respects has been 'amazing.' That's not meant as a compliment."

The imagined abuses of the Bush era DOJ were relentlessly pursued by the media (to little credible effect), whereas brazen violations of ethical boundaries in Obama's DOJ have garnered scandalously little attention. Witch-hunts for conservatives, negligence in the war on terror, reverse discrimination and political interference in individual cases have marked this administration's Justice Department. There is shame in such abuses, as well as insight into the character of the abuser.

Categories > Courts


Don't Be Fooled, Be Careful

Ramesh Ponnuru lists some of the ways that Obama has moved to the center since the midterm election.  Obama isn't really moving to the center.  He is moving into a consolidationist phase.  Obama talked about how he admired Reagan because the Gipper "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.  He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it."  Well Obama has changed the trajectory of the US, and unless the trajectory changes, the center-left is in a good position to control the terms of debate.

The knowledge that he has already won the biggest fights and that he has put in place a set of political institutions and incentives that will tend to strengthen his side even after he has concluded a second term gives Obama a lot of room to move.  It isn't that tough to sound and look moderate if you aren't actively trying to get Congress to pass bills that will shift the policy environment to the left.  So you hire the Daley fellow as your White House Chief of Staff and you get some nice words from the Chamber of Commerce.  You agree to extend the 35% top marginal income tax rate for a couple of years and you refuse to blame the opposing party for a madman's shooting rampage.  You get some good headlines and you haven't given up anything important (and Obama has a much better sense of what is important in advancing left-of-center politics than many of his allies.)  Obama is building fortifications around his biggest policy accomplishments.

Categories > Politics

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Political Disharmony and our Ancient Faith

George Will writes a good, if somewhat clunky, column (using Sam Huntington) to remind us that we have had four "periods of creedal passion" (returning to first principles) and that we are now in the middle of our fifth, and that this has to do with liberalism (in its original sense rather than post-progressive sense); freedom demands from us a distrust of government and authority.  Indeed he says that this is constitutionalism, setting limits to that authority, and it is also why we are a "disharmonic society."  I think this is pretty good, but I also think that an emphasis on other things are needed: first, we need to be reminded of the substance of our ancient faith and what that has to do with constitutionalism, as we need to emphasize consent more than ever, and we need to remember that we might be less attached to the institutions we have inherited, and therefore need to be reminded of both their purposes as well as their ordinary functions (after all, given one hundred years of the progressive assault on constitutionalism, we shouldn't have been that shocked when then Speaker Pelosi, in responding to a question last October regarding the health care bill's constitutionality, said "Are you serious?").  We therefore need arguments that, once again, revive our ancient faith--that we are a people because we are dedicated to them--which then will remind us of our obligations in a constitutional order that demands our consent. Now, that is serious. This sense is what motivated the people to rise up politically last November.  In a way their constitutional political dignity was offended, and so it should have been. It is because of this that the Tea Party folks, as far as I can tell, are dedicated to educating themselves in the most serious way, trying once again to understand what it means to live under our form of government, best described as government of, by, and for the people.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge