Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Priuses: Battle Formation! The Implacable Left Reads Obama the Riot Act

This week marks a milestone in the deteriorating relationship between President Obama and "the professional Left" former press secretary Robert Gibbs once disparaged. In his debut article for New York magazine, Frank Rich said that Obama's core problem is that "he is an elitist of a certain sort. For all the lurid fantasies of the birthers, the dirty secret of Obama's background is that the values of Harvard, not of Kenya or Indonesia or Bill Ayers, have most colored his governing style. He falls hard for the best and the brightest white guys." A lot of those guys work on Wall Street, and Rich believes that locking them all up would avenge the 2008 financial meltdown.  (Rich assumes but never demonstrates that such vengeance would restore prosperity. The logic and evidence argue it would make matters worse.) 

According to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, Obama declined to discipline the malefactors of great wealth not only because he likes the kind of people he met at Columbia and Harvard who wound up on Wall Street, but because he was compromised by all the campaign contributions he received from the financial industry. In 2008 Taibbi was one of those who "thought that Obama might be that rare, once-in-a-generation-type political talent who could help the country rise above itself." Even then, however, Taibbi wondered whether Obama was, more simply, "full of s--t," and now concludes that the president's failure to hoist taxes on capital gains, dividends and hedge fund managers confirms his darkest fears.

Obama has also dismayed the historian Michael Kazin, who laments that Obama "appears to have no strategy for creating a long-term majority--either for his party or for the progressive causes he believes in." Obama's sins are those of omission, Kazin argues. The president supposes that "solving immediate [policy] problems is the key to political victory." In reality, the political transformation people expected him to catalyze requires "a compelling vision of what kinds of policies Americans need and a set of powerful institutions that can motivate and mobilize voters," a vision Obama can't or won't offer.

These were the charges filed before the stories Thursday that the president was open to, even promoting, the inclusion of cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in a deficit-reduction deal. In the aftermath of that development, Granolageddon is now upon us, as the liberal commentariat heaps abuse and contempt on Obama. Putting Social Security on the table, according to Michael Tomasky, "reveals yet again, and more starkly than ever before, what's most important to [Obama]. It's not to lead. It's not to fight. It's not even to win. It's to be the most reasonable and unflappable person in the room. Obama will not be a transformational president unless the transformation starts in his own DNA." Tomasky reckons that the politician who made liberals swoon in 2008 has the skills of a successful college basketball coach, but ones which "are serving him and the Americans who want to believe in him very poorly."

Tomasky was the composed person at the table.  Paul Krugman, who expressed deep misgivings about Obama during the 2008 nomination contest with Hillary Clinton, is now writing, "It's getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama's motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right.... Watching Mr. Obama and listening to his recent statements, it's hard not to get the impression that he is now turning for advice to people who really believe that the deficit, not unemployment, is the top issue facing America right now, and who also believe that the great bulk of deficit reduction should come from spending cuts."

Salon's Glenn Grunwald is also resigned to the assessment that Obama really "believes in the corporatist agenda he embraces ... If it means 'painful' entitlement cuts for ordinary Americans at a time of massive unemployment, economic anxiety and exploding wealth inequality, so be it." Not only is this Democratic president prepared "to lead the way in slashing programs that have long been the crown jewels of his party, defense of which is the central litmus test for whether someone is even a Democrat." Grunwald argues that Team Obama has also calculated, cynically but shrewdly, that they'll get away with triangulation for the same reason Bill Clinton did: The bitter, betrayed Left has nowhere else to go. "White House aides will just utter Michele Bachmann enough times like some magical spell and snap more than enough people into fear-induced compliance. The last thing the White House is worried about - the last thing - is its 'base.'"

Top Prize in the venom competition goes to Jane Hamsher, proprietress of the Firedoglake asylum. Obama has always been the kind of neo-liberal happy to scale back entitlement programs, she contends, and the Democrats who imagine themselves "progressives" have always pretended to be defiant - right up to the moment they fold like a lawn chair. They did it during the health care debate on the public option, she writes, and they'll do it again on Social Security. For Hamsher, a Democratic president amenable to cutting Social Security is the last straw, the "breaking point." 

What we're watching is the death of the Democratic Party. Or, at least the Democratic Party as most of us have known it. The one that has taken its identity in the modern era from FDR and the New Deal, from Keynesianism and the social safety net. Despite any of its other shortcomings (and they are myriad), the Democratic Party has stood as a symbol for commitment to these principles.  As recently as 2006, Democrats retook the House in a surprise wave election because the public feared that George Bush would destroy Social Security, and they trusted the Democrats over Republicans to secure it. Just like George Bush, Obama now wants to "save" Social giving those who want to burn it to the ground the the very thing they've wanted for decades.

Any member of any party who participates in this effort does not deserve, and should not get, the support of anyone who values Social Security and cares about its preservation. The amount of damage that the Democrats under Obama have been able to do has been immeasurable, by virtue of the fact that they are less awful [than] George Bush. But where George Bush failed, Obama will probably succeed....

We'll fight this, because it's the right thing to do. We will probably lose. But we will make it as painful as possible for any politician from any party to participate in this wholesale looting of the public sphere, this "shock doctrine" for America. And maybe along the way we'll get a vision of what comes next. Because what we believe in as Americans, and what we stand for, is not something the Democratic party represents any more.

Barack Obama, a state senator running for an open seat in the U.S. Senate, became an overnight sensation and a national political figure with a speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, which proclaimed "there is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America." Liberals and conservatives remain disunited in many ways, but Barack Obama has helped more and more of them agree on at least one thing: he can't do the job during the daytime after a good night's sleep any better than he can at three in the morning.
Categories > Progressivism


Scandalous, Fast and Furious

The scandal surrounding the secretive Operation Fast and Furious continues to grow and reach higher and higher to the top of President Obama's Department of Justice. This entire disaster is a glaring example of how many of our premiere crime-fighting (and terrorist-stopping) agencies--the DOJ, FBI, DEA, ATF--are still not sharing intelligence or communicating effectively, placing internal politics above national security interests. Operation Fast and Furious, a secret part of Project Gunrunner administered by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was an illegal gun trafficking sting started in 2009 in which ATF officials released at least 2,000 guns into Mexico with the intention of tracking these guns down in order to indict cartels in the ongoing Mexican Drug War. Apparently overlooking the fact that giving guns to these ruthless murderers was a bad idea, we quickly lost track of many of the guns; only 600 are known to have been recovered by the US and Mexican governments. These weapons that we gave to the cartels have been used in at least 150 shootings, and were used in the murder of US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry last December.

After Terry was killed, Congress opened an investigation into this covert operation, with Congressman Darrel Issa (R-CA) holding hearings last month. The investigation has so far discovered, thanks to whistleblowers, that ATF knowingly allowed over 2,000 guns to be sold illegally, that ATF leadership forbade its agents from arresting these individuals, and that ATF agents who raised objections to the program were threatened with job retaliation if they spoke out. Indeed, one of the whistleblowers, Vince Cefalu, has been given termination papers. Cefalu had been complaining about what he thought were illegal ATF wiretaps for years, and, though he had a spotless service record for over 18 years, received his first unsatisfactory evaluation when he complained about the wiretaps in 2005. After taking part in uncovering this ill-conceived gunrunning operation, his job has been terminated by the ATF.

Testifying before the Judiciary Committee some time ago, Attorney General Eric Holder declared that he knew absolutely nothing about the existence of this program. Acting ATF Director Ken Melson said that he did not know of its existence until after Brian Terry was murdered, and it has increasingly looked like the Administration was setting up Melson to take the fall for this scandal. However, on July 4th, Melson appeared before Congressional investigators with his own private lawyer (rather than a government one) and said that the Department of Justice was actively trying to cover up Fast and Furious and make people stay silent about the operation, and said that it was the DOJ that ordered ATF officials to remain silent-- that it was the DOJ calling the shots in the operation. If this is true, Congressman Issa asserts, then it is very likely that General Holder knew of the operation's existence at least in the weeks before Congress opened its investigation, meaning that Holder lied to Congress. Members of Congress are also complaining that the Justice Department is actively attempting to obstruct its investigation.

Congress should continue to press its investigation into this issue. This illegal and ill-conceived operation has armed thugs as they murder both Mexican and American governments officials and innocent Mexicans caught in the crosshairs. If Eric Holder knew of the operation beforehand, and if he lied to Congress about his knowledge, then he needs to be held accountable. Hopefully the whistleblowers are protected as well. Shameful scandal, this.
Categories > Congress


Not Mr. Nice Guy

So I was listening to the audio feed of FOX NEWS in the car and they did a story about how the Pawlenty campaign was failing to gain traction.  They circled around to the explanation that Pawlenty was too "Minnesota nice."  I really hate that meme.

Pawlenty isn't nice is the sense of being weak.  As governor of Minnesota, he took on the spending interests in a Democratic-leaning state over and over again.  He won more times than he lost. 

He isn't even nice in the sense of being nice.  In his first post-2008 election CPAC speech, he suggested that conservatives take inspiration from Elin Nordegren's alleged golf club wielding attack on spouse Tiger Woods.  Aside from being buffoonish, that wasn't very nice.  Pawlenty's next CPAC speech was less overtly hostile. It featured the (pseudo) emotional high point of Pawlenty saying "And, Mr. President, stop apologizing for our country." like he was auditioning for the WWE.  

Pawlenty went on a Sunday talk show and talked about "Obamneycare" and then flinched from repeating the term to Romney's face at a debate later that week while failing to articulate a coherent critique of either Romneycare or Obamacare.  I can think of several things to call that behavior, but "nice" doesn't come to mind. 

The thing is, Pawlenty isn't failing to gain ground because he is being to nice and he can't gain ground by trying to seem ruff and tuff.  Where is there to go?  Is he going to tell conservatives to imitate cannibals and then rip off his own shirt?  Is he going to compare Romneycare to some genocide? 

I think back to Pawlenty in the first Republican presidential debate (the one where Bachmann and Romney weren't there to outshine him.)  He gave an answer on the Bin Laden killing that vaguely implied he was in favor of enhanced interrogation and maybe waterboarding.  Then the moderator asked directly about waterboarding.  Pawlenty danced around and didn't give a definitive answer.  Then the moderator asked for a show of hands for who would authorize waterboarding.  Pawlenty raised his hand.  After that debate, the evasive Herman Cain got credit from a Frank Luntz focus group for giving real answers.  Compared to Pawlenty, he was.  Pawlenty's problem is that he hasn't got a compelling message, hasn't got a compelling critique of his rivals and hasn't demonstrated an authentic-seeming personality. 

But despite all of Pawlenty's missteps, I still think he has significant political upside given the current state of the Republican field.  

Run Bobby Run.    

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs


As the violence in Syria continues, it might be worth noting that US Ambassador Ford visited the opposition stronghold of Hamma: "Hundreds of thousands of Syrians poured into the streets of the opposition stronghold Hama on Friday, bolstered by a gesture of support from the American and French ambassadors who visited the city where a massacre nearly 30 years ago came to symbolize the ruthlessness of the Assad dynasty."  Olive branches and flowers were thrown on his car by grateful Syrians. The Syrian government, of course, was not amused. Could this be the start of the engagement policy promised at the start of the Obama administration?
Categories > Foreign Affairs



The new job creation numbers are appalling.  It looks like another recovery summer. 

Someone has to win the forthcoming presidential election. 

Run Bobby Run.  For President.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

End the UN Disarmament Conference

While I am sure that removing the "Disarmament Conference" from the title would no doubt bring about great benefits as well, the Conference is, like the Council on Human Rights, nothing but an utter joke and an insult to those who wish to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Seeking to improve upon such things as allowing Cuba and Libya guide the United Nations discussions on human rights issues, North Korea has now been handed control of the UN Conference on Nuclear Disarmament for a temporary term. North Korea, like many gangster tyrannies around the world, should not even be allowed to participate in the United Nations let alone laughingly head its disarmament discussions. Their participation in the body is insulting enough, as it says that a thug like Kim Jong Il is equal in sovereignty to legitimate governments around the world, but this is just ridiculous. Of course the Iranian delegation, peace-loving as ever, praised the ascension of their allies in villainy to the head of the conference.

Follow the thinking of the Canadian delegate: end the disarmament conference. It has not done anything in years and likely will not do anything. The body is pointless and just (perhaps unintentionally) lends further legitimacy to the nuclear-seeking despots of the world.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Debt Ceiling And Our Debt Problem

So I guess most people interested in politics have read David Brooks' freakout that the GOP won't move on increasing revenues in the debt ceiling negotiations.  I can't say that I blame the GOP on this one.  I can very easily see where the GOP moves on some kind of tax increase, the Democrats use that to erode the Republican brand as the party of lower taxes and then sandbags them on spending cuts.

The thing is I don't see much of a (positive) substantive endgame in this whole debt ceiling standoff.  The best case scenario is that Obama and the GOP pull off some kind of spending cut deal that does little to address our long-term fiscal situation and who cuts are incomprehensible to, and quickly forgotten by, the American public. 

If there is a debt ceiling-related train wreck in which Social Security benefits, military salaries, and reimbursements to Medicare providers are cut until a deal gets worked out, I don't see how the GOP doesn't get at least half the blame. The best that can be hoped for in that event is that the whole Washington atmosphere gets poisoned and people become more open to a pragmatic, detail-oriented businessman/technocrat - which just happens to be Mitt Romney's latest incarnation. It is at least as likely that Obama would emerge from such a confrontation with increased stature as protector of responsible governance against Republican irresponsibility.

The real Republican problem is that they haven't come up with a politically prudent plan that will bring the long-term budget down to a sustainable level.  The Ryan Path To Prosperity is a worthy effort and does bring the deficit to a sustainable level without raising taxes. The problem is that it probably expects to save too much from Medicare and Medicaid too quickly to be either good politics or very wise policy.  One can picture a Republican budget with a more realistic cost projections for Medicare spending, but I don't see how it gets there while being strictly revenue neutral.  That doesn't mean tax rates have to go up, but if tax rates don't go up, then tax expenditures will have to be cut to find the money. There is a space (and even more a need) for a Republican who can make the case for moving the tax code in both a higher revenue and pro-growth direction, reforming health care in a consumer-driven direction, and bringing spending down to a sustainable level.  The thing is I haven't seen any such Republican running for President.

Maybe things are just as tough on the other side.  Michael Kazin worries that Obama lacks the vision and toughness to pull American politics to the left in an enduring way.  I disagree. 

Categories > Politics


The Debt Ceiling

With less than a month ago until the United States of America reaches its debt ceiling, lawmakers are scrambling to address the crisis. President Obama is addressing it by comparing Members of Congress to schoolgirls and complaining about the rich being rich, Congressional Democrats are screaming about the impending doomsday, and Congressional Republicans are sticking to the "Just Say No to Taxes" mantra (for now). Meanwhile, the Obama Administration and some intellectuals are looking into the silly notion that the 14th Amendment allows the president to do whatever he wants to ensure that the public debt of the United States is not defaulted on. This follows an even worse vein of logic than the "I don't need to talk to Congress about Libya because dropping bombs on human beings is not being hostile" argument of late.

Apart from the idea that the 14th Amendment allows the Executive Branch to bypass the Legislative Branch's power of the purse being totally ridiculous, the United States is fully capable of paying off the interest on its debt if we needed to. As the Washington Examiner points out, defaulting would be a purely political choice. We would have the money to pay our interest payments if it came down to it; the debt ceiling just means that the government cannot accumulate anymore debt. By the law of the 14th Amendment, the President would be forced to pay off the interest on our debt with the monies regularly collected by the Treasury Department; he is not legally allowed to let us default on the debt if those funds exist. However, this would mean an instant end to almost all programs and offices of the federal government in order to pay our interest on the loans. We have the money to pay our interest, but then President Obama would have to choose between things like paying senior citizens their social security checks or paying for dropping bombs on the people in the not-war of Libya. We will not go into default if we hit the debt ceiling; the federal government would just stop most of its work.

And make no mistake on the severity of hitting the debt ceiling. Some people think it will be like when the government cannot pass a budget, as in the 1990s and as was recently threatened earlier this year-- this is false. In those instances, only nonessential parts of the federal government stop working immediately. If we hit the debt ceiling, everything stops. The FBI, the military, the TSA, Social Security, Medicare, the courts, federal prisons, IRS refunds, and every single employee of the federal government would instantly be forbidden from working. We will have $306 billion in expenses for the month of August, and only $172 billion in revenue. That means $134 billion worth of government programs and offices would instantly need to be shut down-- and not just tiny ones, but major services that Americans are now used to. If we hit the ceiling, then come August 3rd we will have an instantly balanced budget by the pure fact that we have no choice but to just lay off millions of federal employees.

These discussions on the debt ceiling are important, and they merit our close attention. Whatever the outcome on August 2nd may very well decide who will have power after 2012, and may have other far-reaching implications. I have a feeling that the Republicans will likely blink first in this fight (that is, probably agreeing to modest tax increases or the ending of some tax cuts), but not after continuing to advance their cause for fiscal discipline as much as they possibly can. While I am sure there are many out there and even those among the Tea Party Caucus in Congress that would like to force the Obama Administration to implement unparalleled cuts to the federal government, I just don't think that Speaker Boehner and many of the other Republicans are going to let it get that far. It's certainly a possibility, and would certainly change everything, but I just think it is unlikely at this point. We should watch closely just to make sure.
Categories > Congress


When Equal Treatment is Unconstitutional

In a 2-1 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down on Friday an amendment to the Michigan Constitution (Proposal 2, the "Michigan Civil Rights Initiative") which provided that the state may not "discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting." The amendment was passed by a successful ballot initiative following the Gratz and Grutter decisions which allowed racial preferences in law school admissions.

Perversely, the majority opinion relied upon the Equal Protection Clause to conclude that Michigan's law prohibiting unequal treatment based on race was unconstitutional. According to the court, "Proposal 2 reorders the political process in Michigan to place special burdens on minority interests." Apparently, taking away an unconstitutional advantage is a special burden which trumps the Constitution.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he will appeal for a rehearing en banc. I expect the full court will overturn this decision. If they fail to do so, this would be a ripe issue for the Supreme Court.

Kirk Kolbo, who represented the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court's racial quota and preference cases, writes an essential article for Power Line criticizing Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Regents of the University of Michigan.

Categories > Courts


Hayward on The Tax Game

Hayward is on his game today with a Power Line post which asks, "Is There a Conservative Case for Higher Taxes?"

If you aren't compelled to read the whole thing yet, allow me to lift the curtain just a bit and reveal that his answer is, "yes."

My theory is simple: if the broad middle class of Americans are made to pay for all of the government they get, they may well start to demand less of it, quickly.

...if you want to limit government spending, instead of starving the beast, serve the check.

And only Hayward can formulate a strategy whereby "a debate on how to raise taxes might actually be fun to have with liberals."

Categories > Economy

Political Parties

The Zombie Party

Bob Hope on the Democrats.

Categories > Political Parties

The Founding

The Blessings of Liberty

From an apartment balcony this Independence Day I watched for an hour or so fireworks exploding all up and down the Potomac, and then had my eyes drawn across the skyline to the colorful explosions taking place beside the Washington Monument, the tallest building in the area named for that great father of our country. I entered into conversation with someone on these exhibits of patriotism and the praise of our Founders for what they built-- which she, in turn, described as exhibits of nationalism and the worship of a bunch of dead white men. This is not unlike I conversation I recently entered into with a letter in the Los Angeles Daily News taking issue with the claim that our Founders are the benefactors of hindsight bias, receiving unworthy praise for the accident that was the success of our experiment in human liberty.

It is true that those men who pledged to each other their lives, their property, and their sacred honor in 1776 had differing views on the most suitable form of government. It is true that they who gathered to frame our Constitution years later engaged in some of the most difficult and testy political debate ever seen in the world until that time (and arguably after). You had those who sought to protect the interests of themselves and their neighbors, and others who let their heated debate lead to the destruction of existing relationships and tensions among peers. However, one thing that our Founding Fathers did all find agreement on was the need to secure the blessings of liberty by trusting in the ability of individual human beings to govern themselves.

There were indeed disagreements over how to secure those blessings, and of course there was the great problem of chattel slavery looming over the entire endeavor like the mark of Cain. But these men who fought against the greatest empire in the world at that time, and who bled for the cause of liberty, understood that in order to secure what so many had fought and died for, hard compromises would need to be made-- but not at the expense of sinking the entire endeavor. They knew whatever they tried to establish would not be perfect, especially with slavery still looming large over them, but through study of history and an understanding of liberty they sought to do the best that could be asked of them and establish a more perfect union. Its basis was the idea that government service or administration is not itself an end of politics, but that self-government is. The American people were to be a people who had the right to pursue happiness in however way they saw fit. For many people that was and continues to be just living their lives how they want to, happiness perhaps being as adventurous as rock climbing or a simple as sitting along the river with a fishing pole in hand. For others it is the realm of public life where they find happiness and satisfaction.

The Founding Fathers did understand this, and so sought to establish a government that would best secure the blessings of liberty by allowing the human spirit to thrive freely. So long as the government is doing what it is intended to do and not bothering the people too much, most go about their lives in their pursuit of happiness. They may care about politics come election time, but many are happy to, even if they lose, just shrug it off until the next election. The Founders did envision, and did plan, a society where people would not need to have their happiness tied to the whims of political life. "I must study politics and war so that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music," wrote John Adams. They wanted to secure these blessings of liberty for all Americans for all time, and by writing that Declaration and crafting that Constitution set upon the task of doing so.

Our Founders were not perfect and did make mistakes. There were problems they could not solve. They were not gods; they were mortal men with all the ailments and vanities that afflict mortal men. But this only makes what they accomplished so much more impressive and important. Our nation was not the result of accident and force, but a clear and conscious decision by mortal men to create a tool for the advancement of human liberty. For 235 years what they created has overcome tremendous obstacles and, though with legions of problems facing it still and threats to freedom always looming, continues to generally provide the best security for the blessings of liberty than any other nation, past or present. For this we should be proud, and for this our Founders merit praise and understanding. It is right to continue to cheer Mr. Jefferson's document and the cause of our Revolution on the day of the nation's birth, and to look with proud eyes upon the colorful glows reflecting onto the monuments we have constructed to remind us of what we mortal men are capable of. May we continue to enjoy the blessings of liberty, and may the Declaration of Independence forever continue to be an expression of the American mind.
Categories > The Founding


Newfound Originals

The Washington Post has a good article on the divergence of "originalist" thought in Justices Scalia and Thomas' respective opinions in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (the violent video game case). (Opinion, briefs and coverage at SCOTUSblog.)

Of course, one could deride WaPo for failing to have previously discovered that all originalists are not alike and that the philosophy of originalism is profound and diverse. But the article is clear and blessedly free from snark and derision, so I'm thankful for the attention to a critical debate in Supreme Court jurisprudence.

On the other hand, I can't resist sharing the articles parting words:

Originalism is still a relatively young theory of constitutional interpretation....

That is a shame.

Categories > Courts


Star Trek Was Right

I hope this is a glimpse of the future.


Categories > Technology

Foreign Affairs

Anti-Semitism Sets Sail

As a post-script to my last post on anti-Semitism among liberals, a group of left-wing American activists (bios here) attempted to violate Israel's blockade of Gaza this weekend aboard a flotilla ship named, "The Audacity of Hope." CNN was able to scoop the story, since they had an activist/reporter on board the ship.

The CNN article never gets around to considering the meaning of the ship's coincidental name, or the reason these activists assumed it articulated their anti-Israel intent. I'm sure the name "Decision Points" had already been taken.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Anti-Semitism at Yale and Beyond

I previously noted the perverse hostility bleeding-heart liberals have toward Jews, the perennial minority-victim of world history. Ron Rosenbaum writes well on this hostility within the Ivory Tower of liberal academia, noting the recent hypocrisy and (continuing) anti-Semitism in "Yale's New Jewish Quota":

Who killed YIISA? It's a kind of academic murder mystery. YIISA--for those who have not caught the scant coverage of this deeply disturbing development--stands for the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism. Or should I say stood for that, till Yale, in a cowardly, clumsily-executed maneuver, abolished the program in the first week in June.


Yale cited several reasons for killing YIISA, a program devoted to the cross-cultural examination of anti-Semitism that had been in operation since 2006. But many observers suspect the turning point was a YIISA conference last August called "Global Anti-Semitism: A Crisis of Modernity" which, while featuring 108 speakers from five continents, dared acknowledge the existence of anti-Semitism in some Islamic cultures. ...

But while the backlash against YIISA's conference included predictable protests from the official PLO representative and the group's supporters in America, the more subtle--and yet ludicrous--objection to YIISA's conference and YIISA's work came--as Ben Cohen pointed out in the Forward--in the charge of "advocacy," leveled by some YIISA opponents on campus. The charge that the program exhibited too much "advocacy" against anti-Semitism, as opposed to academic analysis of anti-Semitism. It seems unlikely that Yale tells its cancer researchers not to engage in advocacy against the malignancies they study, doesn't it?

David Greenberg also notes the Yale controversy as a starting point for a broader consideration of liberal and academic tolerance of anti-Semitism:

How did a concern with anti-Semitism, whether scholarly or political, come to be seen as the province of the right? How did liberalism--historically the philosophy of toleration and equal rights--come to be so squeamish about confronting Jew-hatred in its contemporary forms?

In the last decade or so, noxious attitudes toward Jews once voiced only on the far left and far right have gained a curious acceptance--indulged or explained away, if not actively promoted, by mainstream liberals. Remarks that can be charitably described as disturbing emanate from left-liberal icons ... doing no visible damage to their reputations.

Greenberg cites several causes for this shameful liberal legacy. First, liberals granted Islam - the grand perpetrators of anti-Semitism in the modern world - a "free pass" following 9-11.

Liberals (and many conservatives), anticipating an outbreak of nationalistic anti-Islamic feeling in an angry and wounded country, admirably took pains to fight negative depictions of Islam. But those laudable demonstrations of toleration sometimes became muddled, leading some liberals, as Leon Wieseltier put it, to start "granting Muslims a reprieve from the rigors of liberalism."

Greenberg also indicts the left for succumbing to their deranged "blame Bush" mantra.

The Bush administration's ideology-fueled agenda abroad made many liberals feel that either they were with the president or they were against him--and who would want to be with him? Clinton-era liberal internationalism fell from favor after several of its prominent adherents short-sightedly backed the Iraq War. As the Bush administration grew tight with the Likud governments in Jerusalem, sympathy for Israel came to be equated with a "neocon" position.

Finally, Greenberg notes that the great barrier to anti-Semitism over the past half century is beginning to fail.

As these developments opened the door to the frank expression and reflexive rationalization of anti-Semitic views, another, longer-term trend was eroding the cultural taboos against that expression: the vanishing memory of the Holocaust.

Stanley Fish ... wrote with self-awareness some time ago about his sensitivity to anti-Zionism. It was magnified, he said, by two factors: the time he spends on campuses, "where anti-Israel sentiment flourishes and is regarded more or less as a default position," and his age (now 73). Unlike friends just 10 years younger, Fish remembered World War II--as do his peers everywhere. For decades those memories chilled anti-Semitism and extended the world's concern and protection to the Jewish people. Now they are fading.

Rosenbaum and Greenberg write on serious matters with great thoughtfulness and clarity. Liberal anti-Semitism is an anomalous abomination, and its wide-spread presence within universities adds insult to injury. (I fully trust that Ashland University - or at least its Politics and History departments - does not descend into such barbarity.)

Categories > Religion

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Louis Armstrong

There is a new book on Pops, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years, by Ricky Riccardi.  I like it.  Combine this with Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, by Terry Teachout, and you have a whole view of the great man.  Here are a few cuts from Louis Armstrong plays W.C. Handy (1954) and then his great West End Blues (1928).  Ted Gioia (in The History of Jazz) on the propulsive momentum of the piece:  "Armstrong leads off 'West End Blues' with an unaccompanied introduction that has justly been praised over the years.  It lasts a brief twelve seconds, but what an amazing twelve seconds!  Armstrong's singular mastery of the horn is packed solid into those few bars of improvisation."  Someone accused him of making the horn sound like a clarinet, of just showing off. Le Corbusier said this of Satchmo: "He is mathematics, equilibrium on a tightrope.  He is Shakespearean!"

This open-hearted man, this always happy man, didn't speak about his music in musical terminology, but in terms like these: "I seen everythin' from a child comin' up. Nothin' happen I ain't never seen before."  "When I blow I think of times and things from outa the past that gives me an image of the tune.  Like moving pictures passing in front of my eyes.  A town, a chick somewhere back down the line, an old man with no name you seen once in a place you don't remember."

"I'm playin' a date in Florida years ago, livin' in the colored section and I'm playin' my horn for myself  one afternoon. A knock come on the door and there's an old, grey-haired flute player from the Philadelphia Orchestra, down there for his health.  Walking through that neighborhood, he heard this horn, playing this Cavalleria Rusticana, which he said he never heard phrased like that before, but still to him it was as if an orchestra was behind it.  Well, that what I mean by imagination.  That the way I express myself because I read that story and I just put it in spade life--colored life--where this guy in the story, he fooled around with this man's wife and this cat finally picked up on it and stuck him in the back with a knife or somethin' like that."

Pops claimed that he was born on July 4, 1900.  He always claimed this, including in his two published memoirs, until the day he died.  In 1988, a researcher located an entry in Latin for "Armstrong (niger, illegitimus)" in the handwritten baptismal register of New Orleans's Sacred Heart of Jesus Church.  According to that record, Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901.  I say poetry is finer and more philosophic than history, and not only because lovers are given to poetry.

The Founding

Happy 4th!

Here is The Ohio Farmer's letter for the 4th, Novus Ordo Seclorum, trying to think the thoughts which the Founders thought and then  Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, on Lincoln and the Declaration.  And here is Steve Hayward (at Powerline) reminding us of the cause of conservative thinking, the force of merit.  Happy Birthday to us, God's almost chosen people.
Categories > The Founding

The Founding

An Adams Monument

In the Washington Post, Alexander Heffner suggests that John Adams should be honored with a monument on the Mall.

What's the case for Adams? Before the revolution, he was the nation's first attendant to the American legal tradition of due process, defending British soldiers who fired on colonists during the Boston Massacre. One of Massachusetts's representatives to the First and Second Continental Congresses, Adams was a champion of separation from England and the fiercest advocate of Jefferson's declaration. Without his persuasive speeches in the Philadelphia chamber, the document wouldn't have been signed. While Jefferson was silent during what he considered the convention's editorial debasement of his work, Adams defended every clause, including an excised call for the abolition of slavery. Jefferson called Adams "a colossus on the floor" of the Congress. . . .

Heffner goes on to note Adams' services in the American diplomatic corps during the revolution and his Presidency (noting the lamentable Sedition Act as a rare mistake).  I'm not sure I'd put it quite that way.  I would, however, stress Adams' constitutionalism.

As the principal author of the Massachusetts Constitution, and in other writings, Adams, more than any other single figure, is responsibe for the U.S. having a constitution featuring an executive with a qualified veto, a bicameral legislature, and separations among the legsilative, executive, and judicial branches (separations which were not full and complete, so that each branch had to defend its turf against the others).  By paying tribuite to the author of the Massachusetts Constitution, we also, by implication, pay tribute to the people of Massachustts who are responsible for the idea that constitutions should be created by special conventions and ratified by the people.  Not coincidentally, the Massachusetts Constitution has the best concise explanation of the reasoning behind that process of any document of the era:

The end of the institution, maintenance and administration of government, is to secure the existence of the body-politic; to protect it; and to furnish the individuals who compose it, with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights, and the blessings of life: And whenever these great objects are not obtained, the people have a right to alter the government, and to take measures necessary for their safety, prosperity and happiness.

The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. It is the duty of the people, therefore, in framing a Constitution of Government, to provide for an equitable mode of making laws, as well as for an impartial interpretation, and a faithful execution of them; that every man may, at all times, find his security in them. 

I am not sure, however, that a neo-pagan temple in Washington would be the bests tribute to Adams.  John Adams is more than a founder of the American republic, he is also the patriarch of one of the most extraordinary families in American politics and letters. Adams also dwelled upon the importance of education.  He put a strange clause in the Massachusetts constitution on the subject:

Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislators and magistrates, in all future periods of this Commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools, and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humour, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.

That being Adams' view, I would say that the most fitting tribute to Adams would be to create an Adams library of American letters, dedicated to the study of American politics, with politics and literature both understood in the classic fashion.  Such an institution, which I am not the first to recommend, would be a proper legacy for John Adams and his extraordinary family. What better tribute, and what better form of civic worship, than study.  As Adams put it in the Massachusetts Constitution:

A frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty, and to maintain a free government: The people ought, consequently, to have a particular attention to all those principles, in the choice of their officers and representatives: And they have a right to require of their law-givers and magistrates, an exact and constant observance of them, in the formation and execution of the laws necessary for the good administration of the Commonwealth.

A library, dedicated to the study of those principles, and their continuing relevance to our politics, would be the best way to honor this founding father.

Categories > The Founding

The Family

The Sham Vow

At a Bar-b-que yesterday, I found my self talking with a family law expert.  I asked him a question which has been troubling me for a while: what prevents two people who are otherwise unattached, and not closely related from marrying for tax purposes, and then divorcing.  He said, nothing.

Transfers between husband and wife, or perhpas we should say between Partner A and Partner B are tax free.  Hence it is possible for two businesspeople who wish to sell a business to marry, transfer cash for stock, and divorce.  Voilla, a tax-free sale.

Such actions were, of course, always possible, but with the rise of gay marriage, they become much more possible, perhaps even more likely.  There are many more people who are now eligible.  In addition, now that the definition of marriage is now in play, the social pressure to view marriage as anything other than a status in positive law is reduced.

On what grounds would such marriages be illegal?  We can't say that love is essential to marriage. In fact, marrying for money is an ancient tradition.  (And how would we test it anyway?) We can't say that the desire to have children is essential, since that idea has already been rejected, at least in states where gay marriage is legal. Etc.

For the time being, the Defense of Marriage Act might mitigate the federal tax element, but I fear that law is not long for this world.

Categories > The Family