April 30, 2003
Senate Hearing on the Filibuster
Next week, May 9, marks the 2nd anniversary of President Bush's first round of nominations to the Courts of Appeal. Despite the fact that these nominees are some of the most qualified lawyers, judges, and legal academics in the country, 5 of the initial 11 (9 if you exclude the two Clinton nominees re-nominated in a futile show of good will), have yet to receive a vote on the floor of the Senate.
Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution Chairman John Cornyn is holding a hearing next Tuesday to address the Democrats' unprecedented use of the filibuster against lower court nominees, and has been kind enough to invite me to testify. The Washington Papers have already started to give the hearing some play (see Washington Times story here and Washington Post stories here and here), so C-SPAN2 coverage is a possibility. Contact C-SPAN to urge that they cover it, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We should all be grateful, of course, for the minimal casualties in the war. But it is just as important that we remember those Americans who sacrificed their lives in service to their country. This story from the Washington Post, about the last letters home from some servicemen who didn't make it back, ran on Sunday. It's still worth reading.
It's astonishing that there has not been more attention given to the story about Shakir Al-Khafaji (an Iraqi living in Detroit who had close ties to Saddam) and his $5,000 gift to Rep. Jim McDermott last October. You will remember Mr. McDermott as one of the congressmen who went to Iraq last fall and then declared on television that "The president of the United States will lie to the American people in order to get us into this war;" but "you have to take the Iraqis on their face value."
The question now is, Should we take Rep. McDermott's astonishing pro-Saddam remarks at face value?
Stephen F. Hayes of the Weekly Standard (and a Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow) has the whole sordid tale of Saddam's "long history of bribing anyone who could help his regime--businessmen, diplomats, politicians, and journalists."
Incest, Homosexuality, and other Taboos
Hoover Institution Fellow Stanley Kurtz responds in today's NRO column to the flap over Senator Rick Santorum's comments about the Texas sodomy case. In it, he raises important issues about the societal value of shared moral taboos. Worth a read.
Birthday Greetings from Saddam
"Saddam had no property registered in his own name and I challenge anyone to prove that the palaces were not registered in the name of the Iraqi state. I abandoned them long ago and went to live in a small house." So goes a letter purportedly from Saddam Hussein, sent in handwriting on his birthday to a London Arab-language newspaper.
April 29, 2003
Iraqi War Journal
American Enterprise editor Karl Zinsmeister's account of his embedded time with the 82nd Airborne is well worth reading. A brief excerpt appears on-line, but you'll need to buy the June issue to get some of more interesting tidbits, such as his account of the role military lawyers play in determining who is a legitimate target.
The Real Santorum Crisis
Scott Lively, an attorney with the Pro-Family Law Center, discusses here the real crisis surrounding the Santorum controversy and offers some common-sense suggestions on what to do about it. Hint: the real "crisis" is not with Santorum's comments, but with the inability of Republicans to provide a coherent defense.
Steele, DuBois, and Washington on Oppression and Responsibility
Shelby Steele's article todayin the Wall Street Journal is a must-read.
Steele notes that this month is the 100th anniversary of W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk, which began the "protest framework" that still animates black thinking about civil rights and equality today. Steele laments this emphasis on protest, which paradoxically keeps black freedom in the hands of whites, and points instead to the necessary and "transformative" power of achieving freedom through responsibility:
The man DuBois attacked most fiercely in "Souls" was Booker T. Washington, the great accommodationist who believed blacks should develop in the trades, practice entrepreneurialism, and win admiration through the achievement of excellence. This outraged a protester like DuBois, who believed black dignity had to be a given under the law. Washington, he said, was allowing whites to "shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negro's shoulders . . . when in fact the burden belongs to the nation." But Washington believed black dignity was an outgrowth of achievement, ownership and success in commerce despite the restrictions of Jim Crow.
Steele, of course, can't say everything in one op-ed, but I wish he could have mentioned that Washington's emphasis on responsibility has the more distinguished lineage, tracing back to Frederick Douglass. Asked what the white man should do for former slaves, Douglass answered, "Do nothing with them, but leave them like you have left other men, to do with and for themselves." And to those who insisted that blacks required special help, Douglass' response was: "please mind your own business, and leave us to mind ours. If we cannot stand up, then let us fall down. We ask nothing but simple justice, and an equal chance to live…. Do nothing with us, or by us, as a particular class. We now simply ask to be allowed to do for ourselves."
We quoted this powerful passage to make the case for color-blind justice in our amicus brief in the Michigan affirmative action case, which you can read here.
(Also, I once wrote a short thing about Douglass, slavery, and another Washington here.)
Robert Alt's "Is Federalism Conservative?"
Fellow traveler Robert Alt has a great piece on the ideology of Federalism in this morning's NRO Online, in which he contends that the Federalism of judicial nominees Jeffrey Sutton, Carolyn Kuhl, and others is not necessarily either conservative or liberal, but law-based. It is worth the read.
April 28, 2003
Sounds Like Sartorial Attire But Really It's Pictorial Satire
Maybe you're not feeling bookish right now. Maybe you're feeling like the fellow in P.G. Wodehouse's novel Spring Fever who "gave the book a tentative prod with the tip of his fingers, like a puppy pawing at a tortoise." It could be you're up for something pictorial instead, especially if it's political and likely to bring a smile to your face. Then I say gaze on this collection of Michael Ramirez's recent cartoons. Among others, they feature Saddam and Baghdad Bob.
I know I'm not telling you Californians anything new when I say Mr. Ramirez is the Pulitzer Prize winning political columnist at the Los Angeles Times. I am telling you, however, that if you like what you see from Mr. Ramirez, then come along to Huntington Beach this weekend and hear him show and tell more -- at the meeting of the Claremont Institute's President's Club. He is Saturday's luncheon speaker.
And if you haven't already made the patriotic move into Claremont's President's Club, do so and you'll bolster the team and disappoint the enemies of freedom and constitutional government.
Strauss and the Neo-Cons; This Time from France
Le Monde ran a long story on April 15 (which I've only now discovered) on Straussians in American politics.
The article is translated, presumably accurately, by a language professor for informationclearinghouse.info., which links to the original. It is fascinating; not least for its errors, misunderstandings, and prejudices:
But it was above all his [Strauss's] students, like Walter Berns, Hearvey [sic] Mansfield, or Harry Jaffa, who enriched the American Constitutional school. This school sees in American institutions the realization of higher principles, even, for a man like Harry Jaffa, of Biblical teachings, more than it sees in these institutions the application of the thought of the Founding Fathers. In any case, religion, perhaps civil religion, must serve as the glue that holds together institutions and society. This appeal to religion is not foreign to Strauss, but this Jewish atheist "liked to cover his tracks," to use Georges Balandier's expression; he thought that religion was useful to maintain the illusions of the masses, illusions without which order could not be maintained.
From My Cold, Dead Hands
I've never seen such extravagant and hearfelt feeling for an honored leader as I witnessed Friday at the NRA's Annual Meeting and Exhibits in Orlando, Florida. Tens of thousands of admiring NRA members assembled for a moving tribute to outgoing president Charlton Heston, complete with a breathtaking flyover of the crowd by Challenger, the bald eagle.
Heston brought his tremendous charisma to a cause he believed in (he also marched with Dr. Martin Luther King well before the Hollywood crowd considered it cool). The power of his personality allowed him to bring his conservative rallying cry to a broad audience.
Incidentally, while at least 50,000 attended the NRA meeting, a protest staged outside the Orange County (Fla.) Convention Center by the gun control advocacy group Million Mom March was somewhat less impressive. It was a Fifty Three Mom March, according to the unofficial count I got from Women & Guns editor Peggy Tartaro. Indeed, the photos on the Million Moms web site pretty well confirm a sparse crowd. That's a big change from the MMM's glory days, when their operations were given a boost by the Clinton White House.
I Hope The Nation is Right.
Not really, of course. But William Greider's long essay on George W. Bush and the future of conservatism does contain some analyses and predictions that I certainly hope are true. For instance,
The [conservative] movement's grand ambition--one can no longer say grandiose--is to roll back the twentieth century, quite literally. That is, defenestrate the federal government and reduce its scale and powers to a level well below what it was before the New Deal's centralization. With that accomplished, movement conservatives envision a restored society in which the prevailing values and power relationships resemble the America that existed around 1900, when William McKinley was President. Governing authority and resources are dispersed from Washington, returned to local levels and also to individuals and private institutions, most notably corporations and religious organizations. The primacy of private property rights is re-established over the shared public priorities expressed in government regulation. Above all, private wealth--both enterprises and individuals with higher incomes--are permanently insulated from the progressive claims of the graduated income tax.
Sound good to me. I'm just not sure that American conservatism has such a unified and coherent goal.
Greider's article is worth reading, as much for what it reveals about the Left (deeply worried about threats to the "gains" they have made this century) as for its take on conservatism.
April 27, 2003
Time for California Republicans to Exercise Partisanship
Perhaps the most destructive legacy of Progressivism (the political movement and body of political thought that is the foundation of modern liberalism) is the political idea that politics itself is bad.
The early Progressives talked incessantly about "building a national state," one that would usher America into the future — much the way that latter day Progressive, Bill Clinton, talked incessantly about building a bridge to the 21st Century. But Progressives understood that if "the state" was to be a rational state, one that doled out social justice fairly according to the Progressive dictates of the day, it could not be subject to the authority or control of ordinary citizens. Citizens, after all, do not understand the historical and progressive nature of "the state." If one believes in the Progressive doctrine that the purpose of government is to provide a vehicle for moving the American people into the future, then the state should be controlled and directed by scientifically and historically trained experts, or bureacrats, and not partisan, and therefore corrupt, politicians or the partisan and corrupt citizens they represent.
From the Progressive point of view, parties are not very important, because they are, by definition, "partisan" and divisive. Only professional, non-partisan bureaucrats can unite the American people and lead them happily into the unknown (except to the bureaucratic experts) future. Thus at the heart of the modern liberal experiment is the drive to minimize if not abolish altogether political parties.
To the degree to which politics must be retained — the most intelligent Progressives understood that the basic idea of government by consent of the governed was an obstacle to building a grand Progressive state — those politics should be "non-partisan." If that cannot be achieved, then politicians should at a minimum present themselves and their policies as "bi-partisan." Remember that: every time you hear a politican, Democrat of Republican, celebrate bi-partisanship, they are really championing Progressivism, whether or not they know it.
The California Constitution stands today as a grand experiment in Progressivism. From the initiative process to the recall and referendum to the non-partisan statewide elected offices and judges, the California Constitution perhaps goes farther than any other state constitution to remove or minimize accountability and partisanship in state government. It also goes far to build a massive class of bureaucratic "experts" to administer the affairs of the state. As anyone remotely familiar with the state of the Golden State knows, the results have been disastrous.
One of the key Progressive "reforms" implemented in the California Constitution was the two-thirds requirement to pass the state budget, passed in the midst of the Great Depression, when Progressive ideas seemed so alluring. Assuming that neither party is likely to possess such a large super-majority (although if California Republicans stick to their current game-plan, they may soon hand that majority to the Dems), Progressive architects amended the Constitution so that the budget would necessarily be "bi-partisan". Neither Democrats or Republicans would be fully responsible for the budget, and therefore neither party could be praised or blamed for the most important actitivity of the state government: deciding what it will do and how much money it will spend doing it.
California Democrats almost have a two-thirds majority in both the state Assembly and Senate, but they are growing impatient. As explained in this recent San Diego Tribune editorial, Democrats want complete control of the budget process; they do not want to be forced to compromise with a handful of Republicans. Thus they are supporting an initiative that will probably appear on the ballot next March that would lower the necessary majority to pass a budget to 55 percent of the Assembly and Senate. Republicans are howling that this will elimate what little influence they now have over the budget, that Democrats will run to excess with unfettered control. But we have a message for California Republicans that may come as a surprise: Let them have it!
Republicans would do well to stop their squawking for awhile, and sit in quiet and study some of the advice offered in that masterpiece of political science, The Federalist Papers. There they would learn of the importance of responsibility and accountability. They would learn that political power is dangerous, but necessary. Thus you provide those in control of the government the power to accomplish what they should, but you hold them strictly accountable for their actions. That is the nature of American politics, and it means you can never drive partisanship from politics, try as some might.
True, Democrats control everything, politically, in California today. But the solution is not to cling on to Progressive policies and demand "bi-partisanship." Rather, it is time for Republicans to be partisan, and aggressively so. Republicans should let Democrats have their way with the budget (we Californians get what we deserve: we voted these people into office), and then be prepared to point a strong partisan finger when things unravel. This means that Republicans must be political, and, above all, partisan. The solution will not be found in Progressive budget policies and practices. The solution will be emphatically political: Republicans should implement their policies by winning elections up and down the state, which means beating Democrats up and down the state -- including those places considered to be Democratic strongholds. No area should be considered sacred, and no opinions should be taken as unchangeable.
Republicans will achieve little or nothing by playing the minority party role in the Progressive scheme of California budgetary politics. They must clearly demonstrate to the people of California the serious jeopardy in which the liberalism of the Democratic Party has placed them, and then be prepared to act decisively when Californians turn to them for solutions.
April 26, 2003
A Publisher for Conservatives
Crown Forum (a division of Random House) plans a series of conservative titles, including works by Ann Coulter, Robert Novak, and Michael Medved. One hopes this will be a powerful addition to independent conservative publishers such as Regnery, Encounter Books, and Spence. The diversity of conservative thought should become more apparent to a wide variety of readers, conservative and not. And those books, conservative and not, will get the most thoughtful reviews in The Claremont Review of Books.
April 25, 2003
Aristotle and a Democratic Middle East
Colin Powell raises the question, "Why cannot an Islamic form of government that has as its basis the faith of Islam also not be democratic?" The question might also be asked of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or any of the world's religions. The definitive short answer was given in the Declaration of Independence.
But the Declaration, with its "decent respect to the opinions of mankind," speaks to those who exercise man's innate logos capacity, the human ability to speak and reason, and therefore debate and ponder. It is an essential attribute of political life and most certainly of governments formed by consent, democracies in particular.
Unfortunately, much of the Middle East deviates dramatically from Aristotle's definition of man as the being with logos. This is more than merely falling short of Aristotle's best regime. But is this the fault of Islam? That I cannot say. In addition to the laughable (and lamented) Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, Iraqi Minister of Information, much of the Arab Street seems unusually susceptible to propaganda. Bernard Lewis provided the historical context for the disillusionment of Al-Jazeera watchers in his What Went Wrong. Again, more so than western peoples? Or than the now-democratic Japanese in 1945?
This is how deep the problem goes. And maybe how soluble as well.
April 24, 2003
Anything New on the Neo-Cons?
The New York Observer has a long-ish, new article on neoconservatives and their influence. Its not that good, really. But there are few nice quotes, and an amusing map. The main focus is, unsurprisingly, on foreign policy and successful war with Iraq. On the question of what makes neocons "neo" the article doesn't have much to say, beyond the usual observation that many are Jewish.
A much better explanation of the different kinds of conservatism in America--"neo-," "paleo-," and "Declaration-of-Independence-"[that's us] and the principled arguments between them, look at the Charles Kesler essay we have been flogging. Though written in 1989 for National Review, it still very readable and informative today.
April 23, 2003
Russia Out 8 Bil
Russia's pro-Saddam and anti-American stance may now be incurring some repercussions. The London Times reports that, at least according to Richard Perle, the new Iraqi government is unlikely to pay Russia the 8 billion it is owed in previous oil deals with the Iraqi regime.
"Richard Perle, a leading adviser to the Pentagon, told a Russian newspaper that the country’s multibillion-dollar oil deals with Saddam would probably be annulled. Russia has an estimated $52 billion (£33.3 billion) tied up in deals with Iraq under the sanctions regime and is owed at least $8 billion."
No doubt this blow will be softened with deals elsewhere, but the precedent it sets is not bad.
Another excerpt commenting on our French so-called allies' future with Iraq deserves, however, special note:
"Mr Perle kept his most scathing remarks yesterday for President Chirac of France. “Do you really think the new Iraqi Government is going to invite Jacques Chirac?” he said. “Chirac went too far in his aim of opposing the US and the coalition. I don’t think the majority of Americans are ready to forget that. Chirac had a choice: to come on to our side or Saddam Hussein’s. He chose Hussein.”"
Santorum: A Defense
Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's defense of prevailing legal doctrine and commonsensical moral views that have been at the root of American political and moral practices since the origins of his country has bought him trouble. The comparison with the justly deposed Trent Lott has begun, and should quickly subside, for they are based on demagoguery.
For openers, Santorum's comments cannot be compared with Lott's off-base comparison of homosexuality with kleptomania.
Unfortunately, Santorum could have been clearer about the legitimate basis for a distinction in law concerning some aspects of homosexual behavior. It is evident, as Californians affirmed in overwhelmingly passing Proposition 22, that marriage, with its legal and moral responsibilities, is strictly between a man and a woman. Just as a state would be justified in preventing a marriage between a human and a non-human, or a man and a girl, so it is justified in preventing such marriages. Governor Dean, among other leading Democrats, openly embraces homosexual unions. He is the one who should be on the moral defensive, not Santorum.
Moreover, and here is the main point, the very basis for defending the rights of homosexuals (or of any other human being) rests in affirming "the laws of nature and of nature's God" that the Declaration of Independence and its principle of human equality and the whole American system of the rule of law is based on. Former U.S. Civil Rights Commission Chairman Bill Allen was very clear on this. Primary among those laws of nature is the difference between the sexes. Of course Gov. Dean is right to say that "gay-bashing" is immoral-- as would literally bashing any human being in civil society be immoral. But this basis for protecting anyone from violence is the distinction in nature between male and female, a differentiation that underlies human equality.
Contrary to gay-rights defender Andrew Sullivan, the natural law argument does not justify the exercise of all passions, whether sexual or political.
But Dean and the other demagogues are interested in proscribing speech that points to simple truths such as the Declaration of Independence's principles. That is what "gay-bashing" means to them-- the bashing by a certain minority of gays of the American family, the object of Santorum's defense. This phony criticism of Santorum differs vividly and in principle from the principled conservative assault on Lott-- they were ultimately based on the Declaration's benevolent force working through law. And conservatives should use that same force to confront bashing by gays, explaining that natural law principles give them the rights to live peacefully in civil society, and that an assault on those principles means the end of those rights for everyone. And similarly conservatives can use those same principles to defend the family against a host of enemies-- the gay activists to be sure, but even more the radical feminists.
Belated Earth Day Blogging
Yesterday was "Earth Day." If you forgot or had more pressing business to attend to, as I did, then you are not alone. (I just noticed that the day is actually printed on my calendar. When did they start doing that, I wonder? Greeting cards, printed on 100% recycled hemp paper, cannot be far behind.) Rather than offer up the usual rote denounciations of enviro-nuttiness, I'll let James Lileks (who also forgot!) make the point for me. Here's the essential paragraph from today's Bleat:
[T]his is what drives me nuts about the eco-movement. We’ve made great progress in the last 30 years, thanks in part to the scolds, thanks in part technological developments set in motion by a desire for efficiency, or by a vague sense that the scolds might have a point. But it's never enough. Planetary collapse is always right around the corner. Perhaps it isbut one of the reasons I'm innured to the nightmare scenarios is because I've heard them all my life. They're the boys who cried wolf every day, even as wolf skins were worn by the village elders, wolf-steaks served for supper, wolf-heads used to scare off other wolves, and wolf-blood used to make wonderful vaccines that prevented lycanthropy. Yes, we have made great progress. But a wolf could kill us all any day!
The entire piece, which includes a takedown of something called the Ecological Footprint Quiz, is worth reading.
As long as we're on the subject, a few years ago the Institute helped publish a fine and useful book that offered an antidote to many of the environmental scare tactics propagated in the schools. It's called Facts, Not Fear, by Michael Sanera and Jane Shaw, and it's an important addition to any arsenal of truth.
April 22, 2003
Sexcapades the Business of the Day in Sacramento
With a state debt now in the tens of billions of dollars, with a Democratic governor whose unpopularity has soared to record levels and who may soon be recalled from office, with a host of domestic problems such as embarassing schools, unaffordable housing, and businesses fleeing to other less-regulated, less-taxed states, what is occupying the minds of Democratic California legislators today? Making sure that men who want to dress like women and other perverts cannot be fired from their jobs!
As reported in today's Los Angeles Times, the California Assembly passed a bill that authorizes the state to fine an employer up to $150,000 for "discriminating against people who have changed their gender or whose gender is not exclusively male or female." So if you own a children's bookstore, and some male employee decides he needs to wear girls' clothes to express himself, you either allow him, or pony up big bucks to the state.
As reported in another story, when California Democrats are not busy endorsing license through legislation, they hold parties to celebrate people who get their private parts medically altered. On March 24 the California State Assembly hosted their annual Woman of the Year ceremony, where they named Theresa Sparks "Woman of the Year." The funny thing is, Ms. Sparks was not always a Ms., being the first transgender woman to receive the award.
Being a midwesterner most of my life, I find this odd, to say the least, as do probably most people. I guess this is why the rest of the nation laughs at California as the land of fruits and nuts.
April 21, 2003
Secession We Could Support?
We're big on Union and rather down on secession here in Claremont. But there is something about this proposal that appeals to me.
Medical Journal Spin Alert
The public health gun control movement has had an embarrassing fact to deal with the last few years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fatal firearm accidents have been declining for years. In fact, the trend is quickly approaching zero. This deflates the antigunners' argument that guns are all bad and should go away.
Now the movement has churned out another advocacy piece in the journal Pediatrics. This article attempts to convince us that the number of fatal firearm accidents is higher than commonly believed.
The authors used the worst possible methodology to reach their desired conclusion: three of them sat down and went over Miami-Dade County medical examiner records, reclassifying homicides and suicides as accidents (or "unintentional injuries," in public health-speak).
No responsible peer-reviewed medical journal would publish the report of a confab of politically biased authors retrospectively reviewing data to buff their political position on gun control. But unfortunately, the American Academy of Pediatrics has an ethical blind spot when it comes to guns.
This article proves the scientific maxim that if you torture the data long enough, it will tell you anything.
What's Your Theory?
Saturday's New York Times ran a story about a recent meeting of the most prominent — which means the most liberal — theoretical minds in academia. So what is the latest theory advanced by these theoreticians? The theory that theory does not matter.
The article notes that "the era of big theory is over. The grand paradigms that swept through humanities departments in the 20th century — psychoanalysis, structuralism, Marxism, deconstruction, post-colonialism — have lost favor or been abandoned...And the leftist politics with which literary theorists have traditionally been associated have taken a beating." Of course, if I had spent much intellectual energy and time advancing the theories that have supported the most vicious tyrannies in history, I too would deny in public that theory has little relevance to the real world in which people live and die. Unfortunately, anyone familiar with Communist China or the former Soviet Union knows that these modern ideas have had immensely destructive consequences.
We in the United States are not immune from the consequences of bad ideas. Most conservatives know something of the modern, socialist ideas that fuel the politics of the liberal Left. But consider what is perhaps the most pervasive and corrosive theory of our time: the idea that all moral judgments are value judgments, and all value judgments are subjective — that one's "values" are no different than one's preference of ice cream flavor, it is simply a matter of taste.
This theory dominates not only the Left, but virtually every constituent element of the Right as well, from religious and social conservatives to the libertarian fringes that border on anarchism and flirt with moral relativism. Many Christians claim their "Christian values," and social conservatives favor "family values," but do they hold these "values" because they are true, or simply because they are their preference? After all, for every Christian value and family value, there are opposing un-Christian and anti-family values. Do conservatives today believe there is any ground upon which true values can be distinguished from false values? Do conservatives believe there is such a thing as moral truth — a truth rooted in moral reality, just as geometry and physics are rooted in physical reality — that can guide our politics? Is morality nothing but a matter of perspective, where different people with different perspectives hold different values, and there is no way to judge or rank them?
These basic questions have been at the center of the work of Professor Harry Jaffa (who recently provided a clear diagnosis of the moral confusion of the Right) for the last half-century. These questions drive our scholarship here at the Claremont Institute, and distinguish us from all other conservative organizations. They inform the writing and the arguments that appear in the pages of the Claremont Review of Books, which may trully be said to be the only journal in America that seeks to fill the theoretical vaccuum lamented in the New York Times with the Truth. And, Stanley Fish notwithstanding, that is the truth, not a theory.
April 18, 2003
Just When He Tries to Get Out, They Drag Him Back In
James Lileks says he "hit a wall" on the war last Sunday. We'd won in Iraq. He felt like he could breathe easier, switch off the news, maybe pick up a book. I think many of us can relate. I've always thought Lileks worth reading, on just about any subject. He's very good on film music, for example. So this week proved to be an interesting exercise.
On Monday, he wrote about the sheer terror that comes with changing a photoelectric cell in the front of his house.
Tuesday, he did a nice bit on submarine movies and "Planet of the Apes."
By Wednesday, he felt the need to explain himself a little. "For some peculiar reason last weekend felt like the old definition of normal, when your kid could build two towers out of alphabet blocks and it didn't make you think of planes and falling people," he wrote. "I’ve no basis for trusting the emotion, but it seemed churlish to fight it." But he was clearly more interested in writing about the upcoming "Matrix" sequel and why David Gelertner's idea for reorganizing informational flow is probably doomed.
On Thursday, he wrote a short, insightful piece on Britcoms in America and why "All in the Family" just doesn't hold up.
Today, Good Friday, he finally cracked. Sort of. See for yourself.
Now What About the Palestinians?
That's the question posed by the Wall Street Journal's editors in their lead editorial today. (Link requires registration.) With Iraq freshly liberated, the Journal notes that President Bush is already feeling pressured (from British PM Tony Blair and others) to return his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. With Iraq in the throes of regime change, resolving the question of Palestinian statehood may be seen as a "goodwill gesture" to the dispirited Arabs. Or so the thinking goes.
One hates to be a nattering nabob of negativism, but there is much about the Journal editorial that smacks of wishful thinking. Here's the nut:
Perhaps the removal of terrorist patron Saddam Hussein will finally convince more Palestinians that they have no choice but to come to terms with Israel's right to exist.
But the burden here lies substantially on the Palestinians to prove their change of heart. Two tests of their sincerity will be whether they punish the sponsors of suicide bombers in their midst, and especially whether they stop tolerating the murder of their own moderates. One other test of progress will be whether they marginalize Yasser Arafat.
As one example of Palestinian progress toward this end, the Journal cites the selection of "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestine Authority's new Prime Minister. Abbas is said to be a man the Israelis can "work with." Abbas, a longtime deputy of Yasser Arafat, denies "the Zionist fantasy, the fantastic lie that six million Jews were killed" in the Holocaust. He is one of the founders of Arafat's Fatah party, the group most responsible for exporting terror into Israel during the latest Intifada. This is what passes for moderation in the Arab world.
A "change of heart"? Hard to swallow, given the evidence and past experience.
April 17, 2003
Partisan Review is No More
Partisan Review, a relic of American Trotskyism and one-time Bible of the New York intellectual set, announced this week it will fold after nearly 70 years of publishing.
Founded by William Phillips and Philip Rahv in 1934, Partisan Review was originally a Stalinist organ of the Kremlin-funded John Reed Club. It was relaunched a few years later as a journal dedicated to modernism and Troskyism, and became a mainstay of the anti-Stalinist left. Although it never had much of a circulation15,000 subscribers at its peak in the '40s and '50s; about 3,000 in its last yearsthe journal's influence cannot be overstated. Among the luminaries to appear in its pages were George Orwell, James Baldwin, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Robert Lowell, Lionel Trilling, Clement Greenberg, T.S. Eliot, Norman Podhoretz, Hilton Kramer, Dwight Macdonald, and Susan Sontag.
All the professional obituarists are saying that the journal was a victim of its own success. Turns out that's a pretty old line. Many of the ideas that seemed radical in the '30s were accepted as "mainstream" in the '60s. And by then, New Left journals such as The New York Review of Books and Ramparts overtook Partisan Review in terms of influence and prestige. In the end, Partisan Review had become rather staid. The passing of editor and co-founder Phillips last September spelled the end of an era, and with it, the end of the magazine.
What of Partisan Review's legacy? Whitaker Chambers biographer Sam Tanenhaus observes (too cleverly, I think) that "it is either a supreme irony or a hilarious coincidence that the greatest of all Trotskyist publications should have announced its demise at the very moment that a belated species of Trotskyism has at last established itself in the White House." Ah, yes, the neo-conservative cabal again. Pat Buchanan, call your office.
Tanenhaus may be no Buchananite, but he does believe that the old Trotskyist idea of "permanent revolution" is part and parcel of the Bush Administration's Middle East strategy. This view, or something like it, is becoming a commonplace in certain circles, left and right. One could make the case that after 9/11, the United States became more conscious of the threat posed by Islamism, and that two decades of dickering were enough. I hasten to add, however, that conservatives are anything but agreed on this question.
But I don't think Tanenhaus is wrong about how small intellectual journals (or, sometimes, an exceptionally wide-reaching one) can have a massive influence on elite opinion, out of which which a great deal of conventional wisdom flows. The real legacy of Partisan Review, he argues, is found mostly on the right end of the political spectrum:
Today's organs of influence are a lot richer but not much bigger and not much flashier [than P.R.]. The combined circulation of Commentary, the New Criterion, and the Weekly Standard is 100,000, if that. Even the tony New York Review of Books still has the stripped-down news-sheet look of the old journals.
All but the last is a conservative publication. But for a quarter-century now, the most cogent oppositionist thinking has come from the right, thanks to the likes of Irving Kristol and more recently Christopher Hitchens, one-time Trotskyists who still know a good revolution when they see it.
Tanenhaus neglects to mention that the New York Review of Books actually has a much larger circulation than that of the three conservative publications he mentions combined. Nor does he point out the fact that those publications lack the cachet that the NYROB has in the Academy, where so much mischief is made. But never mind that. His larger point, about where the most cogent thinking lies, could be the subject of an interesting debate. I'd go so far as to say that what the world needs now is a fresh and fiesty alternative to the stale intellectual orthodoxy of The New York Review of Books.
Tanenhaus concludes that the "'permanent revolution' moves apace, with Syria its next target. The oppositionists haven't just won. They are in charge." Obviously, he isn't on the right e-mail lists. I only hope he saw this story in today's Los Angeles Times.
Reuters, for what their credibility is worth, is reporting another angle on the Iraqi antiquities "looting:"
The head of a U.S. presidential panel on cultural property has resigned in protest at the failure of U.S. forces to prevent the wholesale looting of priceless treasures from Baghdad's antiquities museum.
[Martin] Sullivan, who chaired the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property for eight years, said he wrote a letter of resignation to the White House this week in part to make a statement but also because "you can't speak freely" as a special government-appointed employee....
"Our priorities had a big gap," Sullivan told Reuters on Thursday. "In a pre-emptive war that's the kind of thing you should have planned for."
Now a couple of things:
First, if some ancient vases got broken in the chaos that is regretable. These sort of things are important in their way. But if Mr. Sullivan thinks that there is a "gap" in "priorities" when our fighting men look protect their own lives and the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians first, and some old pottery second, then I wish him good riddance from whatever commission he was on. This was a war, with real fighting and dying, not a brunch for the appraisers of "Antiques Roadshow."
Second, emending my earlier blog on this, I no longer think--at least as concerns museum artifacts--that we should call it "looting." Clearly what happened at least in part was an organized theft by the thugs who ran the country, practicing a last bit of kleptocracy before they hightailed it out of there.
Third, John Derbyshire makes the interesting argument in NRO that in a relatively short time (compared to the age of the artifacts) most of them will probably find their way back to museums anyway.
Michael Kelly's Final Article
From the May 2003 issue of The Atlantic: A letter from Kuwait City.
Dumb Remarks Are a Weapon of Mass Destruction
The Claremont Institute is getting ready to publish a series of essays (later to be compiled into a book) on political rhetoric. It will explain how too many words in our political discourse today are foreign imports that debase and confuse our conversations, while many good, old words are forgotten or misunderstood. The point of the essays will be that we need to be more careful, more American, in how we talk about political things. Words matter, especially in a country based on the consent of the governed and grounded in public opinion.
As if to prove the necessity of just such a project, Rep. Dennis Kucinich recently framed his opposition to the liberation of Iraq in these terms:
""This was not about whether they had weapons of mass destruction. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction, homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction."
This is the sort of thing that passes for clever in political speeches these days, and not--one has to admit--merely for liberals. America needs and deserves better.
"They Were Gifts!"
The New York Times is reporting today that the people who looted antiquities museums in Iraq "appeared highly organized and even had keys to museum vaults...." (I can't help but be reminded of a former high-ranking U.S. politician, who also felt entitled to take, I won't say "loot," public property when he was leaving office.)
The suspicion that this was not random looting by ordinary Iraqis was already being discussed yesterday. But the Times now adds that a panel of "experts" (what would we do without them?), convened in Paris (what would we do without it?) is arguing that it looks like "the looting was organized outside the country."
Maybe that will turn out to be true. But it seems far-fetched that no Iraqi-based Saddamites were involved. Surely these people are capable of anything, as new horrors are discovered every day.
Speaking of which, the story about the underground torture-prison where more than 100 barely-alive prisoners were found--many were near starvation and had not seen sunlight in years--broke in the international press on Tuesday. But as near as I can tell, the Times still has not reported on it. (For more on the Times' war coverage read Larry Peterman's article on our main site here.)
April 16, 2003
There's the Bar
In the New York Times article Ken Masugi pointed to in The Remedy recently, I see no mention of my lunch back in the early 1980s with the "commando" of intelligence. An oversight, or intelligence move? Back then the article's subject, Stephen Cambone, was a graduate student at Claremont, or so my memory tells me. Now, as the first undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Cambone is an influential man in Washington and the world.
Lunch came at the end of a business trip I'd been on to California. I'd been lucky enough to arrange a meeting with Harry Jaffa, whom until then I'd known only by that book of his -- Crisis of the House Divided -- that had given me such a stunning view of Abraham Lincoln's statesmanship. Dr. Jaffa invited along to our lunch three of his graduate students (Stephen Cambone among them) who were building the then youthful Claremont Institute.
I remember the luncheon conversation ranged about and included talk of Mark Twain, grand strategy, the conditions of freedom, the Peloponnesian War, Vietnam, and Henry Kissinger. Then Churchill came to the bar (figuratively speaking), and in tribute Jaffa raised words Leo Strauss spoke to his class the day Churchill died:
"The death of Churchill reminds us of the limitations of our craft, and therewith of our duty. We have no higher duty, and no more pressing duty, than to remind ourselves and our students, of political greatness, human greatness, of the peaks of human excellence. For we are supposed to train ourselves and others in seeing things as they are, and this means above all in seeing their greatness and their misery, their excellence and their vileness, their nobility and their triumphs, and therefore never to mistake mediocrity, however brilliant, for true greatness."
There's the bar, set very high.
Mark Steyn on Hugh Hewitt Today
Mark Steyn, the one-man global content provider, will be a guest today on Hugh Hewitt's nationally syndicated radio program. Steyn is taking over the slot reserved previously for the late, great Michael Kelly. As Hewitt writes, "There is no replacing Michael Kelly, but Steyn is the columnist whose style and point of view most closely resembles Kelly's, so I am very appreciative of his willingness to give this a try." If it works out, Steyn will be in very distinguished company.
Steyn's latest column in the National Post cheerfully drags the post-war naysayers back into "the real world." Quoth Steyn: "On to the next quagmire!"
The Great Helmet Wheeze
Remember that British soldier in Umm Qasr who was hit four times in his helmet and lived? Turns out the story was a hoaxor, more accurately, a big put on at the media's expense. Best quote of this story, from a senior British officer: "All commandos have a great sense of humor. Boys will be boys. It will go down in history as a great wheeze."
April 15, 2003
Gun Rights and Free Government
Reagan biographer Andrew Busch clarifies this relationship by noting the difference between the British and the American approaches to dealing with armed civilians in Iraq, on the Ashbrook Center's blogsite, Noleftturns.
CNN Can't Catch a Break
First, the stalwart professional journalists at CNN get hammered for kissing up to the Saddamites. Now, Howard Kurtz questions whether a CNN correspondent and his crew were too gung ho in Tikrit. Next thing you know, somebody will accuse Larry King of going soft on his guests.
Deficit Follies and Political Welfare in Minnesota
Turns out, California isn't the only state in the throes of a budget crisis. Compared to Golden State's $25-35 billion deficit, Minnesota's $5 billion in red ink may not seem like such a big deal. But Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty is trying to get the state out of the hole without raising taxes. A fairly small way Pawlenty wants to close the gap is to reform two programs that are essentially welfare for politicians. One reimburses contributors to candidates for office, up to $50 for individuals and $100 for couples, which seems strange if you think about it. The other allows state income taxpayers to direct payments from the state's general fund to the political party of the taxpayer's choice with a check-off on the tax form, similar to the one almost everybody ignores on the federal 1040.
Claremont Institute fellows John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson argue in Monday's St. Paul Pioneer-Press that the programs ought to go, notwithstanding any budget considerations. "Candidates and parties of all stripes...should prosper or perish on the strength of the voluntary contributions of their supporters," they write. "They have no legitimate claim on the state's revenues." Quite right.
Minn. State Senator John Marty and Hamline University Professor David Schultz counter that Minnesota's progressive democracy will be grievously wounded if the programs are touched.
By the way, if Johnson and Hinkeraker's Powerline isn't on your list of blogs to visit daily, why not bookmark it now?
More on CNN's Cover for Saddam
Our friend Hugh Hewitt exercises his lawyerly arts, cross-examing CNN's Eason Jordan about his recent disclosure that he purposely kept to himself his knowledge of detailed acts and plans of evil on the part of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Anti-Tax = Pro-Mob?
If you think you pay too much in taxes, do you then believe that you should pay no taxes at all? Let me put it another way: if you believe the federal government extracts more than a fair and just share of your blood, toil, tears, and sweat, does that make you an anarchist? At the risk of belaboring the point: suppose I happen to think that the government is taking too much bread out of the mouths of my wife and child, and if I had my way and it would take somewhat less (well, quite a bit less). Should I then applaud when an angry mob decides to burn down the Smithsonian Institution?
Of course not. But after reading E.J. Dionne's column today, I started to wonder if I'm one paycheck away from pulling up stakes and relocating the family to Ruby Ridge. Apparently, Dionne thinks that advocating tax reform is one step removed from torching the National Gallery. After all, he says, just look at all that looting in Iraq.
See if you follow the logic. Dionne writes:
This lesson [of the looting] is timely. On and about April 15, anti-government and anti-tax groups annually devote much energy to trying to convince Americans that we live under a rapacious, money-grabbing, rights-destroying regime. The anti-taxers always throw numbers about how many days and months you'll be "working for the government." It's their way of describing how much of your income is taken in taxes.
What these groups never talk about, because it would wreck their story line, is the extent to which our personal and collective prosperity as a property-owning, enterprising people depends on strong and effective government. No government, no property. No government, no security from looting, theft or violence. No government, no national defense. No government, no social stability. No government, no securities law. No government, no food inspections, no consumer and environmental protection, no safeguards for workplace rights, no social insurance.
No kidding. Dionne states the obvious ("government is supposed to protect rights") to make a rather disingenious point. In a nutshell, he's saying tax reform is an all-or-nothing proposition. All of those conservative groups that argue the federal government takes too much of your money to pay for programs of dubious constitutionality will lead us straight down the road to anarchy and lawlessness. And if you don't believe him, read Cass Sunstein and Stephen Holmes!
It's telling that Dionne doesn't name a single "anti-government" or "anti-tax" group (although he refers obliquely to the Tax Foundation, which marks "Tax Freedom Day" every year). Who says the federal government shouldn't provide for the national defense? Certainly not the people who want to replace the income tax with a "fair tax." Is it wrong to point out that the federal government enforces, often capriciously and cruelly, a gigantic tax code that many of its authors don't fully understand? That's a far cry from the anti-anti-tax bugaboo Dionne conjures. I doubt even the Cato Institute would take the line he ascribes to tax reformers.
But lest I be accused of conceding too much, I think it is well within the realm of legitimate discourse to question whether the feds should even be in the business of food inspections, consumer and environmental protection, workplace rights, and Social Security. I'll take The Federalist over Sunstein and Holmes any day.
Jefferson and the Tax Man
Thomas Jefferson's birthday was Sunday. On the subject of taxation, the author of the Declaration of Independence had this to say in 1816:
To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare others, who, or whose fathers have not exersized equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, "the guarantee to everyone of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it" ...extra-taxation violates [the law of nature].
Jefferson believed that "Perfection of the function of taxation . . . [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all." It is hard to imagine how a tax code that is thicker than eight Bibles (and growing!) could do "equal and impartial justice" to the American people. Anyone who has ever attempted to get a straight answer from the Internal Revenue Service knows this to be the case. Glenn Ellmers and I co-authored an op-ed a few years ago on how the Parties of Jefferson and Lincoln have largely abandoned any pretense of equal justice when it comes to the income tax.
Our Friends the Russians
The London Telegraph reports that Russia has been spying for Saddam in the months leading up to the war. This included spying on Tony Blair, giving Baghdad a list of names of assassins who were available for "hits" in the West, and keeping Iraq appraised of Russian arms shipments throughout the world. A definite read.
An article today in the Russia Journal cites the US Ambassador to Russia as saying that we have known about these ties for some time, but are still gathering facts.
On March 7, the Senate ratified the Moscow Treaty. President Bush praised the treaty because it "helps lay to rest the legacies of Cold War competition and suspicion, and marks a fundamentally new era in relations between the United States and Russia."
Russia will need more help before that happens. None of this, however, should come as any great surprise. For a longer history of Russia's less than friendly activities, see the recent analysis by Institute Fellow Harold Rood.
Repeal the Income Tax
The best solution to the headaches and heart-aches caused by this awful day is just to repeal the income tax. Getting rid of the 16th Amendment would not only relieve the American citizenry of countless hours of tedium and frustration, it would also remove an unnecessary and wrong-headed accretion to the Constitution, and force the government to find less onerous and intrusive ways to raise revenue. The Claremont Institute first published this idea in the Wall Street Journal on this day in 1997.
Morris on the Media
On the principle that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, I recommend this piece by Dick Morris in the NY Post.
Morris argues that the establishment media really hurt themselves, perhaps permanently, by constantly carping and prophesizing doom in the war, when everyone could see how well the war was going through constant live television coverage. (Thanks to Richard Reeb for pointing out this article.)
April 14, 2003
Alan Jacobs over at The Weekly Standard sheds a little light today on the writing practice of using quotation marks to cast doubt or scorn on someone else's use of a word. He uses the example of frustrated anti-war journalists who can't use the word "liberate" (excuse me, but I can use these quotation marks legitimately because I'm quoting the article), as in the coalition forces liberating Baghdad, without distancing themselves with sneer quotes.
It's as if the reporters couldn't stand the reality that the coalition actually did free men and women from the icy fear of tyranny, and little children from Saddam's prisons. They have to pick up the word with these little pincers, quotation marks, so they won't have to touch it and perhaps acknowledge its truth.
CNN's Access of Evil
In today's Opinion Journal, by Franklin Foer. It surprised me that there was not much discussion this weekend about the New York Times' op-ed piece on Friday by CNN's Eason Jordan, explaining that CNN has for many years known of the heinous crimes of the Saddam Hussein regime. I suspect that more will said and written in the coming days, but Foer's essay is a good start.
April 13, 2003
George Will Scorches Himself on Cross Burning; David Tell Tells Nearly All
The recent Supreme Court opinion on cross burning was not the easiest to follow, and George Will's analysis does not reach the deepest issues, especially concerning Justice Thomas's dissent. (Will says that Thomas joined the majority, a kind of half-truth, at best.) Thomas's dissent explains how to distinguish between free speech and free expression; Wills' warning here on behalf of "free expression" obscures this issue, which he has so often illuminated. In the Daily Standard David Tell patiently explains why the New York Times editorialist blundered. One should note how Justice Thomas's argument begins: With a distinction between the meaning of the sacred and the profane as a background for the interpretation of constitutional law. Thomas is getting at fundamental principles of the Constitution.
April 11, 2003
Hanson on the Unprecedented Success of American Armed Forces in Iraq
Claremont Institute Fellow Victor Davis Hanson has written a must-read piece posted at National Review Online, "The Ironies of War." I offer here a few of my favorite lines:
"In addition, diplomats and apostles of peace are now likely to come to the fore and be praised when memory of smoke and iron fades; their talk will so reassure us that we will forget the grimmer men who allowed us such luxury. So, for example, the shameless Dominique de Villepin hogged the world’s news before the war, did nothing during it, and now he’s back again — when he sniffs the danger is past and money is to be made, it is once more time for slick talk and the waving of arms. That American and British women fought live enemies courageously while some Frenchmen attacked the graves of dead friends seems to have escaped him."
Arizona on Missile Defense
This week the Arizona state legislature passed a resolution supporting the deployment of a missile defense system. Many legislators sponsored the resolution, the primary sponsor being state Senator Jim Waring. Earlier this year, the Claremont Institute briefed Arizona legislators on the ballistic missile threat.
Previous resolutions have included one by New Hampshire last year, as well as laws passed by Congress in 1991, 1995, and 1999.
Here is the full text of SCR1021 from Arizona:
Whereas, the people of the State of Arizona view with growing concern the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction and the missile delivery capabilities of these weapons in the hands of unstable foreign regimes; and
Whereas, the tragedy of September 11, 2001 shows that America is vulnerable to attack by foreign enemies; and
Whereas, the people of the State of Arizona wish to affirm their support of the United States government in taking all actions necessary to protect the people of America and future generations from attacks by missiles capable of causing mass destruction and loss of American lives.
Be it resolved by the Senate of the State of Arizona, the House of Representatives concurring:
1. That the Members of the Legislature support the President of the United States in directing the considerable scientific and technological capabilities of this nation and in taking all actions necessary to protect the states and their citizens, our allies and our armed forces abroad from the threat of missile attack.
2. That the Members of the Legislature convey to the President and Congress of the United States that a coast-to-coast, effective missile defense system will require the deployment of a robust, multi-layered architecture consisting of integrated land-based, sea-based and space-based capabilities to deter evolving future threats from missiles as weapons of mass destruction and to meet and destroy them when necessary.
3. That the Members of the Legislature appeal to the President and Congress of the United States to plan and fund a missile defense system beyond 2005 that would consolidate technological advancement and expansion from current limited applications.
4. That the Secretary of State of the State of Arizona transmit copies of this Resolution to the President of the United States, the President of the United States Senate, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and each member of Congress from the State of Arizona.
Claremont Commando Cambone
Stephen Cambone is a "favored bureaucratic commando for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld," according to the New York Times. He is also of the founding generation of the Claremont Institute. He wrote his dissertation not on the silly subjects national security experts generally cover but rather on the Articles of Confederation.
April 10, 2003
Why We Study War: French and British Answers
Well, one reason we study war, as John Adams noted, is to appreciate the fine arts. The Edouard Vuillard (ending April 20) and the Thomas Gainsborough (ending May 11) exhibitions at Washington, D.C.'s National Gallery are musts.
It Could be Just Another House in an American 'burb,
but it's Tariq Aziz's house. It's the regime or Constitution, not the Britney Spears photos, that makes the difference.
Back to Domestic Politics
Jay Leno remarked last night that he hadn't seen anything like the looting of the Iraqi Presidential Palaces since the final days of the Clinton White House.
Who's the Religious Bigot?
Secretary of Education Rod Paige or Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY)? Should Paige resign?
April 09, 2003
There Goes the Constitution (Again)
A panel for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that homosexuals are a protected class under the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.
Not War For Oil. War For Freedom.
It probably isn't saying much to admit that it's now all but impossible to read the New York Times' editorial column without first downing a fistful of Tylenol. Similarly, it is no longer possible to take Maureen Dowd seriously, and yet, like so many other masochists, we keep coming back for more.
Still, after a dose of Dowd's carping nonsense, Thomas Friedman's pessimism is easier to swallow. But only a little. One may agree in part with his conclusion that "If the water doesn't flow, if the food doesn't arrive, if the rains don't come and if the sun doesn't shine, it's now America's fault." That, I suspect, is the default setting in the Arab way of thinking. But I don't thing you can say, as Friedman does, that "America broke Iraq; now America owns Iraq, and it owns the primary responsibility for normalizing it." Iraq was broken before America got there. We're helping the people there pick up the pieces. That's what we do.
Are there problems? I wouldn't want to vacation in Umm Qasr right now, no. And despite those wonderful images of Iraqis dancing in the streets, this war is far from over. For all the overblown talk about the Battle of Baghdad, there may yet be a real fight in Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit.
Finally, there is the larger, more pressing question of what a post-Saddam Iraq will look like. Are the Iraqis ready for self-government? Not by a long shot, official pronouncements to the contrary. These things take time (more than six months, it's safe to say), patience, and, above all, fortitude.
Sen. Kerry Defends Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson
How can the Democratic candidate for President not, given his approach to defending Roe v. Wade? It's still the party of Stephen Douglas:
In an interview after the speech, Kerry added: "Litmus tests are politically motivated tests; this is a constitutional right. I think people who go to the Supreme Court ought to interpret the Constitution as it is interpreted, and if they have another point of view, then they're not supporting the Constitution, which is what a judge does."
Lileks on Saddam's Jail for Kids
Even on his off days, James Lileks's "Daily Bleat" is worth reading. Today, he writes on the Coalition's liberation of Saddam's jail for children outside Baghdad. Once again, he nails it.
The essential paragraph:
The end result of a fascist regime is always this: a man who seeks advancement by proposing a children’s jail; a smarter man who sees the political advantage of building one; the men who lock the doors and make the gruel with dead empty hearts, and the man who worries what will happen to him if the jail is found wanting.
Straussian War Conspiracy Exposed
Pat Buchanan and other so-called paleoconservatives claim that a "cabal" of neoconservatives working on behalf of Israel inside and outside the White House orchestrated the present war in the Middle East. This is nonsense, of course, but it is exactly what the Powers That Be would have you believe. The truth, as always, is far more sinister. The following exchange is taken from a "teach-in" sponsored by Bill Bennett's Americans for Victory over Terrorism at UCLA on April 2 and later broadcast on C-SPAN. (The full transcript is available on AVOT's website.) Two very shrewd students seem to have stumbled onto the Dirty Little Secret of this war. (The second questioner is even better than the first, so keep reading.)
QUESTION: Thank you all for sharing your ideas. My question is to Mr. William Bennett. Your connection to this seems to be purely philosophical. ... My concern is, how do we know that as the rest of the followers of Leo Strauss, as you yourself are, the people like Perle, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, what they've been promoting militarily strikes me as somewhat incompetent.
So, my concern is, how do we know that this Straussian philosophy isn't leading us into sort of a quagmire of games and whatnot. I think as you, yourself, discovered, Strauss taught different things to different people. He was a friend of Karl Schmidt, the Nazi jurist. There just seems to be so many unclear things about Leo Strauss' philosophy that I would just like you to address that.
SETH LEIBSOHN: Thank you.
WILLIAM BENNETT: Sure. ... I don't know who is doing your homework for you, I'm not a Straussian. I've met people who are Straussians. I went all through graduate school getting Ph.D.s thinking that Strauss was the last name of a Levi. I had no idea who he was. I was doing Aristotle and Kierkegaard and Plato. That was my work.
... ... ...
SETH LEIBSOHN: Thank you. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: I have a question for Mr. Bennett also. Just really quickly, I find it shocking, I'm going to have to look into my sources, that you say you're not a Straussian, because I have an original transcript of a debate you were in where it actually was revealed that Strauss' teaching of citizen virtues was actually a sham, and that these other Straussians were saying that he always lied about it and told them that they should do whatever they needed to do. And you were defending citizen virtues.
Now, what I do know I'm going to look into that but what I do know is that Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld are enthusiastic Straussians, followers of Leo Strauss, whose two main teachers were Karl Schmidt and Martin Heidegger, two leading members of the Nazi Party. And just one thing, that to get and look into Strauss, his interpretation of Plato, for a philosophical question, is Thrasymachus. His interpretation was the Thrasymachian notion of justice was superior to Socratic notion of justice.
Now, Mr. Bennett
SETH LEIBSOHN: Wrap it up with a question, please.
WILLIAM BENNETT: He's going somewhere I know.
JAMES WOOLSEY: He's digging himself in such a hole.
WILLIAM BENNETT: Go ahead, keep going.
QUESTION: What I'm wondering is, aligning yourself with this philosophy, this Straussian outlook of a Thrasymachian notion of justice, that might is right, how can you also say that you're defending the Declaration of Independence, which was the Socratic notion of justice?
WILLIAM BENNETT: Son of a gun. Well, let me tell you, I've been in lots of places where, you know, I've said certain things and people have come up to me and have said, among other things, the following: You know, you're a Baptist. Son of a gun, I didn't realize what a Mormon you were. You're a free liver. I never read Strauss in my life, I haven't met him.
But let's talk about Thrasymachus because now you're talking about something I know. Let's not talk about these secondary sources, let's talk about the real philosophy. Thrasymachus, in the Republic, if Strauss defends Thrasymachus, I think Strauss is wrong. Now, if he studied under Heidegger, I don't think that makes him a Nazi. I studied Heidegger, lots of people studied Heidegger. There are people who have studied wonderful people who weren't Nazis who became very bad people. There are people who studied bad people who have become very good people.
But, I'll tell you, if there is a defense of Thrasymachus in the Republic, I'm certainly not with that view. For the purposes of the audience that have forgotten their Republic, Thrasymachus argues that justice is the interest of the stronger, and Socrates takes fundamental issue with this, and turns Thrasymachus inside out.
But I've got to tell you, on your initial premise, which is Strauss defends citizen virtue, I defend citizen virtue, therefore I'm a Straussian. You've got to go back to logic class. I mean
JAMES WOOLSEY: Isn't that called the illicit inversion of an A proposition?
WILLIAM BENNETT: Illicit inversion of an A proposition. Mr. Woolsey, you have won $100,000.
Anyway, look, I'm not trying to make fun of you. I'm not look, these guys read Strauss, fine. They read all sorts of people, he's a very bright man. Take up the issue with them, but I don't see what it has to do with the arguments that we're putting forward here.
QUESTION: Because Paul Wolfowitz is an enthusiastic Straussian. So, you're aligning yourself, once again, with a philosophy you don't even know. Now you're saying you have never read Strauss. This is the ideology behind the war.
SETH LEIBSOHN: Can I interrupt you?
QUESTION: It's a might is right argument.
WILLIAM BENNETT: We've got a big surprise guest for you here, the executive director of AVOT is
SETH LEIBSOHN: The real Straussian will stand up. You've got it, I studied under a student of Leo Strauss'. I'm not too embarrassed to admit it. And your facts are just simply wrong, he was not an enemy of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, in his seminal work, Natural Right in History, he put a copy of the Declaration of Independence as the cover. He was not a friend of Heidegger's, in fact, he argued against him.
Question, case closed. Can we move on? On the left.
QUESTION: Can you answer the paradox that I put forth?
SETH LEIBSOHN: Sir, that's it, you had your shot. You missed it. Your premise is
WILLIAM BENNETT: That's it, you had your question.
SETH LEIBSOHN: Your premises were wrong. We're moving on.
WILLIAM BENNETT: Correspond with us, we'll write you back. This guy will do Strauss all day and all night with you.
The truth is out there.
April 08, 2003
You Know, Just Like Those Green Mountain Boys!
Reuters, the venerable international news service that cannot tell the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter, attempts to draw an analogy between the Americans who fought to throw off the yoke of King George III's tyranny and the Iraqi / Syrian / Jordanian / Egyptian / Palestinian fanatics who think nothing of using pregnant women and old men in suicide attacks to preserve a regime that imprisons toddlers for political "crimes."
The comparison, it seems to me, is inapt.
On to Damascus?
Mark Steyn's "Letter of the Week" is a must read. It was written by a Captain Rick Jacobs, USNR (retired). An excerpt:
On March 30 Secretary Rumsfeld warned Syria against continuing to allow men and material to flow into Iraq. This is a critical juncture of the war. Strategically, we must isolate the battlefield, even if that involves broadening the theater of war; there must be no Cambodian refuge for the enemy. We have taken Baghdad in less than three weeks while disposing of the most powerful Arab army in the region. A powerful reserve, the 4th Infantry Division is now landing fresh troops and equipment. The time has come to deal with the other Ba'athist Party, the one ruling in Damascus.
Grand (or Higher) Strategy seeks to harness political and military resources to achieve ". . . the goal defined by fundamental policy." The President announced our policy after 9/11, saying we would deal with both radical Islamic forces and those who shelter them as our enemy. Although there may yet be significant losses, it is as certain as anything in war that the Mesopotamian Campaign will be over in a matter of hours and days, not weeks. But this has been a campaign won, not a war. We must bring the strategy embarked upon to fulfillment despite the frictions of war and policy. The fate of much of the world and our role in it will be determined the near future.
First Amendment First PrinciplesFrom Justice Thomas
Justice Thomas's dissent in the Virginia cross-burning case exhibits a rare insight into First Amendment principles, narrowing the scope of "free expression"versus free speech. Claremont Institute Fellow Lucas Morel earlier raised the issue of whether Justice Thomas, based on his comments during oral argument, might come dangerously close to the bogus psychological coercion reasoning of Brown v. Board of Education and the school prayer case of Lee v. Weisman. I don't believe the Justice does.
What Ails Europe?
Claremont Institute Fellow John Zvesper argues that Europeans don't understand how 9/11 changed Americansfor the better. He has lived in England and France for over thirty years and taught many years in England. Unfortunately, as an American living abroad his scholarly career has suffered, as he writes on American politics and political theory from England, thus not getting appropriate American recognition. Look for his forthcoming work on Progressivism and political parties, from Rowman and Littlefield.
April 07, 2003
Some Muslim groups are protesting President Bush's nomination of Daniel Pipes to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Pipes is an eminent scholar of the Middle East and author of 11 books, who speaks frequently and writes prodigious amounts of journalism.
April 06, 2003
Black Man With A Gun
...dot com, that is. Don't let the photo scare you. Kenneth Blanchard is one of the good guys. One of the best, in fact, having served five years with the Marines and some time in Afghanistan in the CIA's operations directorate.
Kenn is one of a handful of powerful cultural contrarians working to change black America's perception of firearms as inherently evil. He finds common cause with other black leaders who champion the cause of armed self defense for a group that arguably has needed it more desperately than any other in America's history. Those champions include CORE leader and NRA board member Roy Innis and self-described "Second Amendment absolutist" Condoleezza Rice.
April 05, 2003
The White House Review of Books
What does President Bush read? This includes some of the books reviewed in The Claremont Review of Books and by its contributors, such as Victor Davis Hanson, and of course the work of varioius "Straussians."
Who Will Educate These Educators?
Aristotle writes early in his Ethics that the youth can't appreciate the study of politics and ethics because they are governed by passions, not reason. Of course, some people never grow up-- especially among the professoriate.
Consider the following complaints:
"The most left president they know is Bill Clinton, running on, `I'm tough on crime,' " [Amherst] Professor [Austin] Sarat said. "The Great Society is to them what the New Deal was to me."
John Lewis Gaddis, a professor of history at Yale, agreed, saying: "These are the kids of Reagan. When I lecture on Reagan, the kids love him. Their parents are horrified and appalled."
This generation is also shaped by Sept. 11. When Gary J. Bass, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton, asked his class on "Causes of War" how many students were in R.O.T.C., two raised their hands. The rest applauded.
"I had asked the question before Sept. 11 and not gotten that response," Professor Bass said. "I definitely hadn't expected it."
A nationwide survey of freshmen by the University of California at Los Angeles over the last 37 years reflected other shifts from Sept. 11. This year, more students called themselves conservative than in other recent surveys, and 45 percent supported an increase in military spending, more than double the percentage in 1993....
At Amherst, Prof. Barry O'Connell, too, tries hard. As he sits in a discussion group with students, he patiently listens to those who argue in favor of the war, even though he remains adamantly against it. Across the hall, a mug shot of Henry A. Kissinger is posted outside his office with the heading "Wanted for Crimes Against Humanity."
"My job is not to get my students to agree with me," Professor O'Connell insisted.
Still, he conceded, `There is a second when I hear them, and my heart just falls."
April 04, 2003
Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard files this funny, moving dispatch from Kuwait on his seemingly futile, but ultimately successful effort to get into Iraq with Christopher Hitchens. Terrific on-the-scene reporting, even though he didn't get very far.
Lest We Forget Afghanistan
The war against the remnants of the Taliban and their terrorist cohorts continues, as this report from the New York Times reminds us. The ongoing guerrilla conflict in Afghanistan may be a precursor of what U.S. forces can expect to face in Iraq.
An Introduction to Poet Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts
President Bush's Arts Endowment Chairman has been a critic of contemporary trends in poetry and of trendy poets. Recall Gioia's mention among our Christmas books recommendations.
Michael Kelly: Father
Ben has already remarked on the late Michael Kelly's professional achievements--which were considerable. He was the first thing I read every Wednesday. But Kelly was also a good man. I never met him, but anyone who wrote this column, had to be a good person, as well as a good journalist.
The American Street-- Jay Talking
Jay Leno's monologue can be overrated as an insight into the American soul, but last night's was a marvel whose reception should horrify liberals who oppose the war. And that doesn't include his guest, war supporter Dennis Miller, who bashed Michael Moore and assorted other bubbleheads. Among other thoughts, Leno wondered whether the Third Division was rushing into the airport to meet the two-hour pre-departure check-in time.
Michael Kelly, RIP
Michael Kelly, the editor of The Atlantic Monthly and Washington Post columnist, was killed in a HumVee accident in Iraq last night along with a soldier from the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division. He was the first embedded American reporter killed in the war.
Though often tagged as a right-winger, Kelly was, at bottom, a liberal journalist who rejected the hypocrisy of modern liberalism in favor of the truth, sometimes at great professional risk. His reporting on Bill Clinton and Al Gore got him sacked as editor of The New Republic a few years ago. His weekly column in the Post was essential reading, and he breathed new life into the moribund Atlantic. Kelly's colleague at the Post, Howard Kurtz, writes a moving obit. He will be sorely, sorely missed.
April 03, 2003
The Uses of Clarence Thomas
It turns out that columnist Richard Cohen, who often has good insights into race and civil rights issues, does find a use for Justice Thomas, as exemplified by the recently broadcast oral arguments in the University of Michigan case.
Inside Washington: Ann Coulter moves; David Brock slithers
Our friend Ann moves on to Miami; her next book will be titled Treason. Liberals, including the Senate Democratic leadership of Daschle and Reid, partied for David Brock's Blinded by the Right. "Brock grudgingly acknowledged that he spent several days in a psychiatric ward as he was struggling to finish the tell-all." Maybe he should have remained longer.
Iraq: "Beacon of Democracy"?
Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is organzing an office responsible for "creating what the Bush administration has said will be a democratic government" in Iraq. Old friend of Claremont and former Voice of America head Robert Reilly is among the so-called "true believers" "thought to be particularly fervent about trying to remake Iraq as a beacon of democracy and a country with a tilt toward Israel." A bit of Claremont between the Tigris and Euphrates?
April 02, 2003
Arroyo Toads in Commerce
The D.C. Circuit earlier this week rejected our attempt to put some teeth into the Supreme Court's 1995 landmark, though largely unenforced, decision in United States v. Lopez restoring some limits on Congress's powers under the Commerce Clause. At issue was the extension of the Endangered Species Act to cover the California arroyo toad, or more precisely, the supposed habitat of the arroyo toad. Although one need not be engaged in commerce, or even in business, to violate the Endangered Species Act by trampling grasses frequented by the arroyo toad, the D.C. Circuit upheld the Act's listing of the toad--a species for which there is not now nor never has been any commercial use--because the habitation modification was for purposes of grading in order to build homes, some of which would be near an interstate highway, undoubtedly using materials and labor that would come from both inside and outside the state of California. That was enough of a connection to interstate commerce to qualify, but it is truly hard to fathom any federal regulation that would not qualify as a regulation of commerce under that rationale. Get the opinion here, Rancho Viejo v. Norton, or a short summary in the Washington Post here.
Carolyn Kuhl's questioners
As reported in this morning's Washington Times, during yesterday's hearing on the nomination of Judge Carolyn Kuhl to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Ted Kennedy accused Judge Kuhl of being anti-woman. Priceless!
April 01, 2003
Martin Sheen is Important, or so He Thinks
My old friend James Harrigan has written a delightful piece on "The (Self) Importance of Being Martin Sheen" in today's Washington Dispatch. James is a visiting professor of political science at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York. That he is a political theorist explains much about his choice of phrases such as "Platonic derivation." Nonetheless, it is an intelligent piece worth the read, and I suspect as James writes more for the public presses his writing will continue to improve. George Will, look out.