Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Literature, Poetry, and Books

No Nobel for Tolkien

We know how amazing and well-considered the Nobel peace prize choices are. If you've ever wondered how the Nobel prizes in literature are awarded, note the discovery that J.R.R. Tolkien was blackballed, despite a recommendation by C.S. Lewis.  Tolkien was denied even a nomination for consideration, because his work "has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality."


The Real Class Elite

I think of all the couples with advanced degrees who have remarkably successful children, and I wonder how other kids can enjoy such success.  Charles Murray has long made this a theme of his. The full account can be found in The New Criterion.  "Many [in the new elite] have never worked at a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day, never had a conversation with an evangelical Christian, never seen a factory floor, never had a friend who didn't have a college degree, never hunted or fished." Here is the excerpt from today's WSJ:

The members of America's new upper class tend not to watch the same movies and television shows that the rest of America watches, don't go to kinds of restaurants the rest of America frequents, tend to buy different kinds of automobiles, and have passions for being green, maintaining the proper degree of body fat, and supporting gay marriage that most Americans don't share. Their child-raising practices are distinctive, and they typically take care to enroll their children in schools dominated by the offspring of the upper middle class--or, better yet, of the new upper class. They take their vacations in different kinds of places than other Americans go and are often indifferent to the professional sports that are so popular among other Americans. Few have served in the military, and few of their children either.

Worst of all, a growing proportion of the people who run the institutions of our country have never known any other culture. They are the children of upper-middle-class parents, have always lived in upper-middle-class neighborhoods and gone to upper-middle-class schools. Many have never worked at a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day, never had a conversation with an evangelical Christian, never seen a factory floor, never had a friend who didn't have a college degree, never hunted or fished. They are likely to know that Garrison Keillor's monologue on Prairie Home Companion is the source of the phrase "all of the children are above average," but they have never walked on a prairie and never known someone well whose IQ actually was below average.

From the full article, his conclusion:

The upper middle class in general, and the new upper class in particular, will continue to do well. But they will no longer be living any resemblance of what used to be called the American Way of Life. They will be the class on top in the same way that all complex societies have had a class on top, with nothing exceptional about it. We are perilously close to being in that world already....

Categories > Education


Obama's Risky Defense Policy

Naval War College Professor Mac Owens reminds us in the WSJ today that "any war plan that depends on the cooperation of the enemy is likely to fail."  The Obama Administraton's defense spending cuts assume principal threats from Asia.  This departure from the "strategic pluralism" designed to account for uncertainty of threats instead invites enemies to exploit our weaknesses.
Categories > Military


Civil Liberties Betrayed?

Joel Mathis has had it with Barack Obama. Mathis voted for Obama to end torture, Guantanamo detentions, and warrantless wiretapping. Not only has the Obama administration tabled those agenda items, but the president's decision to sign the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last week was, for Mathis, "the final betrayal." After threatening to veto the bill, President Obama signed it into law, despite warnings from fellow Democrats that it would "essentially authorize the indefinite imprisonment of American citizens without charges." The New York Times editorialized against its "terrible new measures that will make indefinite detention and military trials a permanent part of American law."

Mathis has company, then, in feeling that Obama has "actively betrayed," with this decision and others, 2008's hopes for "a new dawn for civil liberties and due process rights." As he notes, however, most of the American political spectrum feels differently. A liberal Democratic president has taken a position on correctly calibrating civil liberties in light of national security imperatives that affirms more than it repudiates his conservative Republican predecessor's policies. Mathis notes that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell voted for NDAA - as did Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

An alternative interpretation of this quasi-consensus in favor of giving the government the power to circumvent normal criminal procedure and circumscribe peacetime civil liberties is that national security is a hard, grave business. Candidates who spoke as glibly as bloggers and editorialists about respecting boundaries regardless of the consequences become far less categorical when they're in important positions of national power and must confront just how horrific those consequences might be.

Drawing the lines and rightly understanding the nation's exigencies is not merely a post-9/11 problem. The most famous example is Abraham Lincoln suspending the writ of habeus corpus - first by executive order, later according to congressional enactment - as secession and civil war consumed the nation in 1861. He defended his actions in a message to Congress: "The whole of the laws which were required to be faithfully executed, were being resisted, and failing of execution, in nearly one-third of the States. Must they be allowed to finally fail of execution, even had it been perfectly clear, that by the use of the means necessary to their execution, some single law, made in such extreme tenderness of the citizen's liberty, that practically, it relieves more of the guilty, than of the innocent, should, to a very limited extent, be violated? To state the question more directly, are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated? Even in such a case, would not the [president's] official oath [of office] be broken, if the government should be overthrown, when it was believed that disregarding the single law, would tend to preserve it?"

This argument has always struck me as an application of a basic principle of Thomistic metaphysics: The first attribute of essence is existence. Before an entity can be this or be that it must, first, be. Preserving attributes in ways that jeopardize the entity's existence is, as a result, indefensible. As Lincoln put the point in 1864: "My oath to preserve the constitution to the best of my ability imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government--that nation--of which that constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution? By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation."

Of course, a president may mistakenly or cynically claim that the preservation of the nation mandates otherwise unconstitutional government actions. In 1944 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of sending over 100,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps after Pearl Harbor, a policy implemented by two of the great liberal heroes of the last century, President Franklin Roosevelt and Earl Warren, later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court but at the time the governor of California. Eight years later, however, the Court ruled that President Harry Truman had exceeded his constitutional and statutory authority when, during the Korean War, he issued orders nationalizing the steel industry to prevent a strike by the United Steelworkers from shutting down the mills.

There is, obviously, no tidy formula that defines the circumstances under which otherwise unconstitutional may be rendered permissible. In the absence of such a formula, the position of civil libertarian absolutists is that the only way to avoid a slippery slope is to insist that there are no circumstances, ever, where grave national threats legitimate ordinarily unconstitutional government actions. This may not be Representative Ron Paul's belief, exactly, but does seem to animate some of his supporters. A more holistic but less clear-cut position is that the idea of eternal vigilance being the price of liberty works two ways: First, we must be vigilant against all enemies, foreign and domestic, whose threats may sometimes require the government to preserve the nation by taking actions that would ordinarily be impermissible. Second, we must be vigilant against the government, especially when it claims that grave dangers justify extraordinary actions. There are no guarantees, but the continuous exercise of both kinds of vigilance gives us our best hope for preserving our freedoms, and the political order in which they are embedded.
Categories > Presidency



Even though the outcome doesn't seem surprising because the polls
started revealing the likely outcome a few weeks ago, yet we should be
surprised that Romney won.  We should also be surprised that Santorum rose so high,
but in my opinion, he is just picking up left-over votes in
Iowa. No one expected this outcome, including Romney's people, a month ago.
Romney's campaign was, rightly in my mind, until about four or five weeks
ago, willing to give up Iowa. Then they saw an opening, in part
created by the Gingrich decline, and moved into it whole hog, a great
tactical move that will allow him to take New Hampshire by storm. And he should continue to grow in strength from now on. His last real battle will be in South Carolina, where Santorum will give him a bit of a run, but he then will fade, for he can only get so far
picking up Huckabee voters. And Ron Paul will fall into his more or
less natural 10 to 15 percent. The only surprise now will be if Romney
doesn't become the Republican nominee.  I also do not think it is a wise
argument to assert that Romney has a low ceiling problem. That ceiling will 
be overcome as the focus turns to him and he is allowed to make the case that he is a conservative; because he is, that shouldn't be difficult.  If I were him I would now focus entirely on Obama and how he differs.  The only real problem in his rhetoric is health care.  He should come out squarely against Obamacare, explain why he wants to repeal it, and stay away from talking about his Massachusetts program.

There is plenty of good commentary on the Iowa outcome and what it means. Go to NRO and 
Categories > Elections


Dave Barry's 2011 Year in Review

I sincerely hope he needs no introduction (since his glorious "God is a Republican; Santa is a Democrat" exegesis), so here's Dave on 2011.
Categories > History


The Power of the Declaration

Don't forget or underestimate the appeal of the Declaration of Independence.  Romney wins over Ms. Poe, an evangelical minister fearful of his Mormonism.  See the last two paragraphs:

"This is an election not just about replacing President Obama, it's an election about the soul of America," Romney said, as Poe gingerly climbed a chair to get a better view. As Romney cited the Declaration of Independence, Poe nodded in agreement. "They said that we had been endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. And as you know, those rights came not from the state, not from the government, but from our creator."

"He did great," Poe said as Romney walked around the room shaking hands. "If he were the chosen candidate, I could support him, yes."

Categories > Politics


2011's Major Media Malfeasance

Poking the left-wing mainstream media is a hobby of many conservatives - myself included - though it's so easy to find examples of liberal bias that the effort could easily become a full time job. PJ Media has done us all a service by assembling a top ten list of 2011's most extreme examples of major media malfeasance.

Beyond the list itself, PJ Media provides context and rationale for 2011's increasing "malfeasance" as compared to 2010.

In 2011 ... the leftist legacy media seemed to almost completely abandon any pretense of objectivity or fairness left over from its disgraceful collective performance in 2010.

Why did this happen? Beyond the normal factors, 2011 saw White House thuggery directed at a press corps already inclined to reflexively parrot its positions reach previously unseen heights.

To name just three examples:

  • In March, Orlando Sentinel reporter Scott Powers, sent to cover a fundraiser involving Vice President Joe Biden and Florida Senator Bill Nelson, was confined in a closet "to keep him from mingling with high-powered guests." Sentinel editors "dropped the story."
  • In April, the White House banished San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci "for using a video camera to capture an event." The paper was "threatened with more punishment if they reported on it." Chronicle Editor at Large Phil Bronstein called the White House's subsequent attempt to deny it all "a pants-on-fire moment." Press coverage elsewhere was scant.
  • In May, the White House Press Office "refused to give the Boston Herald full access to President Obama's Boston fund-raiser" because it objected "to the newspaper's front page placement of a Mitt Romney op-ed." The shutout was virtually ignored.

In a mid-May editorial, Investor's Business Daily called out the press for failing to stand up for it own, and correctly characterized the White House's actions as baby steps "toward state control of the media, using the carrot of access against the stick of exile."

Nothing has changed. In December, a Washington Post item noted that "when a reporter gets something wrong or is perceived as being too aggressive, the pushback is often swift and sometimes at top volume" (including heavy doses of profanity). What do you guys expect when you just sit there and take it -- something you would never do under a conservative or Republican administration?

The list is a walk down memory lane for conservatives - and likely an eye-opening revelation for anyone depending upon MSNBC and the like for information. And, in case you're thinking it can't get any worse, the prognostication is grim.

As bad as this past year was, there's every reason to believe that 2012 will be worse. The press has to figure out a way to drag a president who is very unpopular despite their best efforts to date across the November finish line while the White House continues its "oversight."

Categories > Journalism