Friday, September 30, 2005

The Post op-ed page

Unlike a certain newspaper which shall remain nameless, the Washington Post op-ed page remains free on-line, (though you still have to register). Of course I get both papers at work, but it's nice to be able to peruse the net versions while at work (or simply blog about them). And the Post writers, by and large, are much superior to their brethren at that other paper (save for Brooks and Friedman).

But for as long as I have been reading the Post, I have not really read much of Eugene Robinson. Judging by this this piece, I'm not missing much. There is not a single substantive point made in this piece. It's just one bit of hyperbole stacked on top of another. It's not as though I'm upset with a critique of Tom DeLay, but it would be awfully nice if the argument could be made by someone who didn't write like an angry thirteen year-old.

Alas, EJ Dionne answers the call. I think he overstates his case, and whatever is being charged it is NOT money laundering, but at least Dionne makes an actual attempt at argumentation.

And of course there's Krauthammer. Oh, he can be as guilty of hyperbole as the any pundit, but he makes up for it with trenchant analysis. Writing of Cindy Sheehan, he observes:
The antiwar movement has found itself ill served by endowing absolute moral authority on a political radical who demanded that American troops leave not just Iraq but "occupied New Orleans." Who blames Israel for her son's death. Who complained that the news media went "100 percent rita" - "a little wind and a little rain" -rather than covering other things in the world, meaning her.
He also echoes Christopher Hitchens' obervations of earlier this week about some of the war protesters.
You don't build a mass movement on that. Nor on antiwar rallies like the one last weekend in Washington, organized and run by a front group for the Workers World Party. The WWP is descended from Cold War Stalinists who found other communists insufficiently rigorous for refusing to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Thus a rally ostensibly against war is run by a group that supported the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, the massacre in Tiananmen Square, and a litany of the very worst mass murderers of our time, including Slobodan Milosevic, Hussein and Kim Jong Il. You don't seize the moral high ground in America with fellow travelers such as these.
Anti-war? Only when it's the Americans doing the killing.

I'd also like to mention the main editorial on Washington Mayor Anthony Williams, who announched he will not seek a third term and will be retiring. For all his faults, Williams was an outstanding public servant who saved the city from financial ruin and restored its place of prominence. Judging by the cast of characters seeking to replace him, I'm kind of glad I'll be oving out of the District.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Habemus Chiefum

BTW, arcane bit of trivia, but this is the first time we've had the elections of a Pope and a Supreme Court Chief Justice in the same year.

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Congratulations . . .

. . . to our new Chief Justice, John Roberts.

. . . and our very own Mouldfan. He called it.

I’ll restate my predication from last night. There will be a circus at the nomination hearings. Senators will ask questions that don’t get answered and there will be complaints, some founded some not so founded. Interest groups will spend tens of millions of dollars on both sides and we’ll be sick of the whole thing by Aug. 15. Nevertheless, after everyone gets their 15 minutes, with some taking 30 or 45, Roberts will be confirmed with significant Democratic support in the Senate and will take his place on the Supreme Court.
Nice job. I think you pretty much called it to a tee.

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Farewell to Mike

This weekend marks, in all liklihood, Mike Piazza's final homestand as a New York Met. It appears as though Mike will spend his final years in the American League as a DH. I'm sure Mets fans will show him all the appreciation he richly deserves. The greatest position player in the history of the franchise will sorely be missed.

I remember the day in May of 1998 that the Mets pulled off the trade to acquire Piazza from the Marlins, who were renting him from the Dodgers. I am ashamed to admit that I was one of the few idiots who initially opposed the idea of trading for Piazza. After all, Todd Hundley was due back from the DL any day. Well, we can't always be right.

Mike was greeted as a hero, and he vaulted into almost legendary status when he doubled in a run in his very first Met at-bat. But the adulation would quickly sour as only it could in New York. We New York baseball fans are an impatient lot, and when Mike failed to homer in every plate appearance, the cheers turned to boos. The only game I was able to make that year was in late July against the Dodgers (I believe it was the night of the trade deadline that year). After sitting in traffic for over an hour to finally get to the gate three innings late, I witnessed the Mets bow to the Dodgers after Franco blew a save in the ninth. Naturally Franco was booed off the field, but what irked me was the manner in which Mets fans treated Piazza, who had an 0-fer that night. I could not believe these idiots were booing the best catcher in the game merely because he had not lived up to their preposterously high expectations. But such is life as a Mets fan. It's true that he struggled a bit at the outset, but any rational human being realized he would turn things around.

Boy did he. Piazza single-handedly kept the Mets in the Wild Card race over the final two months of the season. He was so good that by the middle of September the fans that had been booing him were now serenading him with a chorus of "Happy Birthday to you" as he batted against the Braves on his birthday. But I thought the idiots had blown any chance of him signing a long-term contract with their previous hostility. Fortunately I was wrong once again.

Not only did they resign him, but they added Robin Ventura to the lineup in the off-season, and for really the only time in his Met career Mike was surrounded by a formidable lineup during the 1999 season. I think that the '99 team was the best team the Mets ever fielded in the Piazza era. Despite falling to 27-28 towards the beginning of June, they roared back and won the Wild Card after nearly collapsing again at the end of the regular season. But Piazza was worn down during the playoff race, and he would not be able to carry the team during the post-season. But he would have one magical moment left in him for the year.

The Mets dropped the first three games of the NLCS to the Braves, and were essentially done. But they won game four, and then there was the grand single in game five. They fell behind big in the first inning of game six, but crawled back. They were down by two in the eight when John Smoltz came in to close it down (or perhaps seventh, my memory fails here). Runner on base, and the ineffective Piazza up. And I'll never forget that pitch. For the one and only time in my life I called a homerun while a pitch was in mid-flight. It was a meatball, and you just don't deliver a meatball to an Italian and not expect him to devour it. Game tied. The Mets would take the lead afterwards, and then . . .

The Mets lost Olerud in the off-season, Ventura's production drastically declined, and they no longer had the services of Roger Cedeno and Ricky Henderson at the top of the lineup. But the Mets still had Mikey at the heart of the order (and some pitcher named Hampton). He had some help, but Piazza put the team on his back, only this time the true MVP of the league carried his production over to the post-season. Well, he stumbled in the NLDS, but then he came alive in the NLCS against the Cardinals. The indelible moment of the playoffs was John Stearns yelling "the monster is out of the cage" after Piazza hammered out a double in St. Louis. He continued his hot hitting into the World Series. And in the bottom of the ninth of game five of the Series he lifted a fly ball deep to center field . . . but I forgot what happened.

The last five years have not been as fun. But he's continued to contribute to our collective memories. In the first home game after September 11, and the Mets playing a critical game against the Braves in an effort to continue their improbable surge, Piazza launched one into the night sky that gave the Mets the lead. Unfortunately, some fellow named Armando would blow one two days later, and then again the following week.

Perhaps the most memorable Piazza homerun came in the midst of their 2000 pennant winning season. The Mets were getting shallacked - again - by the Braves. But ever so slowly they forged a comeback in the eight inning. Bit by bit they dug into that Braves lead. Somehow they even managed to tie it, when up stepped Piazza to the plate. And if you blinked, you missed the hardest hit homerun in Shea history. It was out by the time he completed his swing. And there probably wasn't a soul in the park who didn't know he was going to do it.

Mikey pulled a groin muscle in May of 2003, and he has not been the dominant player since. But it doesn't really matter. No player has ever meant as much to the Met fan, save perhaps for Tom Seaver. I am a fan of the team, but up until Piazza's arrival I never attached myself to any single player. Sadly I no longer live in new York and cannot send him off, but expect every single person to be on their feet on Sunday as Mike takes his last cuts for the Mets. And if history means anything, something tells me he will provide one last thrill for the fans.

Thanks Mike. Thanks for everything.

Update: Thanks to Matthew Cerrone of Mets Blog for the link. His place has provided warm comfort for us usually miserable Mets fans.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Liberal Conservatism, being the fifth part of American Conservatism

Part one.  Two.  Three.  Four.

Before getting sidetracked a bit by an exploration of the conservative nature of the American Constitution, I alluded to the Jonah Goldberg column which discusses the classically liberal nature of American conservatism.  While I do think that Locke’s influence on American political development is vastly overrated, that does not mean that his thinking is of no import, or that many similar-minded philosophers did not have a vital impact on the formation of the American republic.

The essential elements of classical liberalism that informed the Founders’ thought were liberty and limited government.  Whereas Hobbes has a thoroughly pessimistic view of human nature, Locke’s is ultimately much more favorable to the human condition.  Since man’s condition in the state of nature is generally favorable, governments were instituted with minimal ends.  The principal end of government, according to the classical view, is the maintenance of security and the preservation of life, liberty, and property (changed to pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence).  

Our Constitution, then, reflected this liberal philosophy.  In other words, the Framers utilized liberal means to achieve conservative ends.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the Framers feared both the masses and the government, and sought to create a Constitution that balanced the two extremes.  

Oddly enough, the men who met in Philadelphia were motivated by a crisis of government – a crisis of ineffective government.  The Constitution they designed strengthened the federal government, but also placed strict limits on said government’s powers.  In fact the reason that the original Constitution contained no Bill of Rights was due to the Framers’ insistence that the Constitution itself was a Bill of Rights.  Since the powers of the federal government did not reach very far, it was unnecessary to fix rights onto parchment.

And so it was for most of the early republic’s history.  The America that De Tocqueville observed in the early 19th century was one in which the federal government’s reach was indeed very limited.  And then the war happened.

But which war am I talking about?  Certain conservatives of the paleo sect point to the Civil War as the point in American history when the powers of the federal government expanded beyond the wildest dreams of the Framers.  To a degree this is true.  The Civil War established the truly national nature of our country.  It proved we were no mere confederation of easily dissoluble states.  And the 13th,14th, and 15th Amendments addressed, for the first time in the country’s histories, the states and the rights they could not impinge.

But the states retained much of their authority, as the failure of Reconstruction demonstrated.  And the federal government’s reach remained fairly limited.  In fact, the state governments themselves were effectively neutered by the 14th Amendment thanks to an activist Court that curtailed governmental involvement in economic and social affairs.  The post Civil War environment was one that was still basically hostile to governmental intrusion.

It was not until the New Deal and the World War II era that the national government took on the powers that we are accustomed to today.  Through the commerce clause the government reached into practically every aspect of daily life.  And it did so based on a radically different philosophy.  Whereas before liberals hoped to protect property, the new liberals believed that government must actively work to, in a sense, provide property.  Liberalism transformed itself from advocacy of a negative state that left the citizenry to its own devices to a celebration of positive government and active involvement in the interests of social justice.

This new liberalism was ascendant and powerful, so much so that the conservative movement was left on the fringes.  And then William Buckley started up a little magazine called National Review, and the modern American conservative movement in America was truly born.

Standing athwart history yelling stop, the conservatives were basically the old liberals.  They rejected this new leviathan state.  But these were no mere reactionaries.  They honored the Founders but recognized that America had changed.  But they also recognized that the new liberals had taken the country in a radical new direction that was thoroughly at odds with the American political culture and its traditions.  But the conservatives would remain a minority – albeit a vocal and intellectually powerful one – until a former New Deal Democrat and actor vaulted onto the scene.

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Anarchy in the UN

This week's Coalition post.

As Darfur descends into anarchy, the United Nations appears unable to do any more than express concerns and continue to ask the parties involved to cease their violent attacks.

After rebels attacked and took control of the town of Sheiria last week, the Sudanese army said it was prepared to retake the town, to which the rebels replied that they would "repulse anything from the Sudanese government's army."

The upsurge in violence forced thousands more out of the villages, swelling the ranks of the internally displaced that already numbers nearly 2 million.

As the violence was raging, even the UN's own Special Representative Jan Pronk, a man who tends to see everything in Sudan through rose-colored glasses, was forced to admit that the violence was spiraling out of control. He was joined by the US government, which stated that the "uptick in violence ... is of concern to us" and the UN's genocide advisor, Juan Mendez, who acknowledged that Khartoum had done little to disarm militias or end the "culture of impunity" that exists in Darfur.

Pronk went on to state that the UN must give the Sudanese government and rebels an ultimatum to compel them to reach some sort of peace agreement and even made the startling admission that, thus far, the UN has utterly failed to deal with Darfur
Pronk said that when the Darfur conflict began U.N. humanitarian officials agitated for the Security Council to take up the conflict, which it refused to do.

A "massive force" was needed [in 2003] then to guarantee security but instead several thousand African Union troops and monitors had to carry the burden. And now the council needed to plan for how to keep the peace in case a peace deal was signed.
Pronk was quoted elsewhere as saying
He said the war situation in Sudan was "everybody's failure" and could have been avoided if the international community had acted quickly.

How could the present day situation have been avoided?

"I think there should have been intervention in 2003," Pronk said, adding that while the occurrence of genocide in the country was debatable, "There was mass slaughter of people. It needed humanitarian intervention."
Of course, the international community did not act quickly, nor are they acting quickly now.

In fact, while Darfur burned, the BBC reported that American and British intelligence officials, along with representatives of the UN, China and 12 African nations were in Khartoum discussing cooperation on counter-terrorism operations in the region.
Hosting the conference is part of a sustained diplomatic push by Sudan to shake off its pariah status ... When the opportunity for this second regional conference on counter-terrorism came up, Sudan competed for the right to host it ... The decision of the CIA to agree to come to Sudan shows the pragmatism of the intelligence community against the continuing political desire of
America to punish Sudan for what has happened in Darfur.
Khartoum continues to work to "shake off its pariah status," with Sudanese Ambassador Khidir Haroun Ahmed publishing an op-ed in the Washington Times today claiming that "After two
decades of brutal civil war, Sudan is emerging as a reminder that engagement, dialogue and intensive diplomacy can resolve seemingly intractable problems and permit a country to look to the future with optimism."

Meanwhile, the violence and anarchy Khartoum unleashed is now spilling over into neighboring Chad, a country that is already host to an estimated 200,000 refugees from Darfur
A group of unidentified armed men in military uniform crossed into Chad from Sudan early on Monday, killing 36 herders and stealing livestock, the Chadian government said.
The violence, in addition to threatening the people of Darfur, is also threatening the relief work that sustains them, as U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland noted yesterday
"If it (the violence) continues to escalate, we may not be able to sustain our operations for 2.5 million people requiring life-saving assistance," he said, adding: "In Darfur, it (aid distribution) could all end tomorrow. It is as serious as that."
As Eric Reeves never fails to remind us, in December 2004, Egeland warned that 100,000 people could die a month if humanitarian organizations are forced to suspend operations in Darfur.

Despite all of this, Pronk still managed to recently declare that progress was being made on implementing the Comprehensive Peace
Agreement between the North and South and on efforts to reach peace in Darfur.

Such a statement is utterly feckless and shameful.

As Gerald Caplan, author of "Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide," wrote last week
But what we are learning from Darfur, which we never remotely imagined, is that even naming a genocide is an utterly inconsequential exercise in hot air ... despite the apparent concern of many western leaders, despite the pressure from elements of civil society, the catastrophe in Darfur is explicitly allowed to continue ... As always, everything takes precedence over the suffering and
death of hundreds of thousands of distant, exotic others. It won't be the last time."
After two years, 400,000 deaths, and an estimated 3.5 million now entirely dependent on humanitarian aid, it must be stated that the UN and every one of its member nations have failed the people of Darfur and, in all likelihood, will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

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How the Hypocrites Have Fallen...

I guess all he needs to do now is start drinking, run a few companies into the ground, find rehab/jesus and run for president...

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A f**ked up view of tolerance

So apparently it's not okay to be a gay priest in any capacity--that is unless you stick to little boys...

1) Tisk tisk...

2) Highway to hell...

This is neither religion, nor morality.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

A Criteria for Congress

A question has arisen in the comments that in the course of responding to I felt deserved its own substantive post.  The question relates to what criteria, if any, people should use when deciding on a Member of Congress’s job performance.  It stemmed from my contention that federal term-limits are a bad idea in large part because it takes several terms (I think I said 5 but I’ll be less specific now) before a junior member of Congress has enough experience, political clout, and procedural know how to get an agenda or legislation enacted.  

I'm not sure I'm the best person to establish criteria for the mythical "average voter" because I actually pay attention to things like what committees my Congressperson and Senators sit on, and I know far too much about the various pieces of legislation that show up in the local paper's "roll call" section that notes key votes of members of Congress (this is more due to my job than anything else).  

I do, however, think that there is a reason that people like things like "pork projects." Namely, they are tangible evidence of their elected official’s efforts.  We can see things like roads, bridges, parking structures, and the like.  Moreover, there are signs and ribbon cutting ceremonies that remind everyone where the money and influence came from to get the job done. Don't forget JOBS, pork creates JOBS, and those are important too.  

Bottom line, if you try to explain that I voted for person X over Y because of their consistent votes with respect to any more than a couple of issues, you would lose people in the process.  The overwhelming majority of voters, in my opinion, for better or worse, gravitate towards three things when voting for Members of Congress: (1) party affiliation. Accurate or not, the terms Democrat or Republican have meaning to most voters who tend to associate with one or the other.  The so-called swing voters or independents aren’t really third-party people, they are simply those voters who don’t consistently vote based on this category, but rather based on the next two; (2) the candidate's position on so-called hot-button issues (abortion, school prayer, health care, social security reform, etc.); or (3) sense of the candidate’s personality derived primarily from media coverage, ads or debates, if there are any (this is where the "I'd like to have a beer with that guy so I'll vote for him to be President" mentality comes from).  Anything that doesn't fit into one of those three categories doesn’t register with the "average voter."  Thus, 95% of what legislators actually do doesn't register at the ballot box.  Ask a voter if he knows how their congressperson voted (or even better how they should have voted) on the latest proposal to relocate federal courts in Louisiana and I'm sure you'll get a quizzical look, followed by an "I don't know."  Ask about the latest vote to authorize the Secretary of HHS to do something related to drug regulation, and I'm sure you get the same reaction.

In other words, the criteria has to be based on the tangible not the academic or the mundane.  One problem is that while the tangible things are important, a large part of being a legislator arguably isn’t tangible, and tends not to really reflect governing principles or favored policies.  I have no doubt if asked that most GOP members of Congress would say that spending is out of control, but they do it because it’s the political reality, it’s tangible and it’s what they are judged on.  Change the electorate first before you change the politicians.  I understand it's easier to do it the other way, but I don't think it’s politically possible right now.  I’m not calling the average voter stupid, or uninformed, rather I’m suggesting that things are much more complicated than they seem.  If it was as simple as cutting this program or that program I think you’d see a lot more slashing of the federal budget.  At the end of the day, those cuts are tangible, jobs are lost, offices and facilities close or are consolidated.  In other words, people and more importantly voters notice, and they start to ask why and demand answers.  It’s easier to spend the money and avoid the questions, especially in an election year.  Yes, there is something to be said for principles, but as Democrats are discovering, principled (or so-called principled objections as I’m sure others won’t hesitate to point out that Democrats have no principles) are nice, but they don’t win elections.  One last thing, I know I have a cynical view of the general electorate, but it’s my view and I’m sticking to it.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Credit Where Credit is Due (Sort Of)

I am generally not a big fan of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who tends to lean toward the melodramatic and offer the same intellectual non sequiturs as the rest of his Democrat colleagues when attempting to discuss policy. I would, however, tip my cap to him for using his Senate Judiciary Committee vote to allow Judge John G. Roberts to proceed to the floor of the Senate for a confirmation vote. Given the widespread support for Roberts, Leahy's vote was tantamount to a vote to confirm Roberts.

There are, however, some additional considerations:

1) Leahy's Vote Had No Real Impact. Roberts sailed to an approving committee vote by a tally of 13-5, with all ten Republicans on the committee and two other Democrats (Russ Feingold and Herbert Kohl, both of Wisconsin) voting yea. Even if Leahy, Feingold, and Kohl had voted nay, Roberts would still be headed to the Senate floor for a vote.

2) Dem Nays Are More Reflective of Democrat Sentiment. Leahy's yea vote (and the stated reasoning behind his vote) is likely part of a comprehensive strategy on the part of Judiciary Committee Democrats to soften their appearance in the days leading up to the all-but-guaranteed confirmation of Roberts to the position of Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The most plausible reason for having Leahy vote in favor of moving Roberts out of committee is to show that Democrats can be reasonable, although I would submit that any such assertion by Leahy is undercut by the raucous apoplexy of his committee colleagues, notably Senators Ted "Splash" Kennedy (D-Mass.), Charles "Chucky" Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Joe "I Have About a Snowball's Chance in Hell of Ever Becoming President" Biden (D-Del.), who have voiced their dissatisfaction for anyone who is not to the left of Chairman Mao.

3) Leahy Already Has His Eyes on Round Two. In addition to painting himself as reasonable now, Leahy gives himself more credibility when he opposes whomever President Bush nominates to fill Justice O'Connor's seat (which he will do, no matter who it is). While fairly transparent as a strategic maneuver, it is also effective, and will probably lead to him being the DNC point-man when those opening salvoes begin against the next nominee.

With any luck, Roberts will be moving boxes into the Supreme Courthouse within the next two weeks, and then the fun begins. Leahy will be there, ready to slander the next nominee with reckless abandon.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

So you say you want a revolution?

Is it time for a revolution?  Ace of Spades thinks so.  And he’s not alone.
No, I’m not talking about the bloody overthrow of the bourgeoisie.  Ace wonders whether the Republican party needs new blood to come in and put an end to the wreckless spending.  For, as he puts it, “Hey, let's admit it. When Republicans took over as a governing majority, they began acting like a governing majority...”  

There used to be this notion that went ‘round about small-government conservatism.  Then in the late nineties a man came along and changed small-government to “compassionate.”  And it was precisely for this reason that I voted for John McCain in the 2000 New York state Republican presidential primary.  Okay, maybe I was wrong then, but George W. Bush has done little to allay my fears since taking office.  

Oh, sure, the President is not solely to blame.  After an initial charge in the aftermath of the Gingrich revolution, the Congressional Republicans got comfortable.  Scaling back government suddenly became passé. While all members of Congress share in the blame, the undoubted king of pork is Don Young.  And as Michelle Malkin relates, he seems to be in no mood to change the environment.  In response to a reporter’s question about cutting projects from the recently passed highway bill in order to pay for some of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, Captain Tin Ear had this to say:

No! That money is not there! That money is for transportation! That is not added pork. See, that’s why the whole media — Wall Street Journal, yourself, respectfully, you know, Sam Donaldson — don’t know what the hell you are talking about. This is grandstanding by individuals that don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ll go back to that. It’s ignorance and stupidity.  

With Republicans like these who needs Democrats?

There is a movement under foot to pressure Congress to ends its porky ways.  Truth Laid Bear has led a project titled “Pork Busters” that is designed to commit members to sacrifice some of their pet pork projects in order to restore some measure of fiscal responsibility.  The only member of Congress to answer the call thus far: noted arch-conservative Nancy Pelosi.  

National Review Online has also called upon the President and Congress to take some responsible measures, paramount being cutbacks in corporate welfare.  The House’s Republican Study Committee says that we can save $5 billion in the next fiscal year and $50 billion over the next decade through the elimination of such largesse.  The RSC has proposed other cuts that add up to $1.2 trillion over the next decade.  But will anyone listen?

Jonah Goldberg is not so optimistic, and I have to say that I share his gloominess.  Oddly enough this gloom is in the midst of our mutual expectation that we are only at the beginning of a prolonged era of Republican dominance in government.  The far-left has the Democratic party in a vice-grip, and it ain’t letting go anytime soon.  As Goldberg observes, the most responsible Democrats appear to be moderate Republicans like Arlen Specter.

Sadly Republican governance does not equal conservative governance, and Goldberg ends on this gloomy note:
In other words, my real fear is that this is as good as it gets. Conservatives may have to look forward to years of incremental victories, less-than-incremental setbacks, cronyism, hypocrisy, rent-seeking, and the sort of pragmatic compromise which inevitably grinds down intellectual joy and entrepreneurialism. This isn’t because Republicans are worse than Democrats (by any historical measure Democrats have been vastly more corrupt than Republicans — though Republicans are better at getting caught). It’s because that’s the nature of the beast.
Running things is better than the alternative, but some days that just doesn’t feel like it’s good enough.

So what are conservatives to do?  Vote Democrat?  Err, no.  Good God, no.  I could down a bottle of Jack like John Belushi in Animal House and still have enough sense on Election Day to not do that. Vote for a third party?  Seems sensible, but the voices of those alien creatures from The Simpsons start ringing in my ears.  “Go ahead, throw your vote away.”  I think this is an issue worth exploring in greater detail on another day, but I tend to like the two-party system.  I like it even more in the wake of the German fiasco.  Of course not all multi-party systems are so bad.  We could adopt the French multi-party system, which is basically a one-party system with various shades of Gaullism occupying the political spectrum.  Oh joy.

Now I’m depressed.  Our choices seem to be: be more like Germany, be more like France, or more compassionate (read big-government) conservatism.  Suddenly it is now Belushi’s voice that is in my head at the current moment.  “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.”

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Sell Out

Drawn in not so much by the clever gimmick of changing the "i" to "u" in Silver Spring, but instead by the 25% reduction in rent, I am now officially moving from DC to Maryland at the end of October.

While it is true that I can basically spit from my apartment and have it land in the city (Okay, it would have to be a very powerful loogey), I am making the move than I simply never thought I would make. I'm in the burbs, man.

On the other hand, I will be gaining representation in Congress. Let's take a look at the distinguished individuals who will be represening me.


Oooookay, well, there will definitely be plusses and minuses to my new home. I will certainly be one of the few people who has ever moved to Maryland and entered into a more hospitable environment for Republicans than the place from which they moved. I am sure the DC GOP will be saddened by my departure, but that means more bean dip for everyone else at the parties.

And besides, it could be worse.

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The dirtiest fans in baseball

I suppose we should all congratulate the Braves as they head towards their 14th division title in 15 years.

Ooh, I feel so dirty saying that.

But not as dirty as fans attending basbeball games at Turner Field. According to a study conducted by the American Society of Microbiology, 37% of men left the bathroom at the stadium without washing, the worst offenders in the study.

Then again, it's not so bad when you think about it. After all, those hands go nowhere except under the derriere of those same fans once they exit the bathroom, if the perpetual sound of silence at Turner Field is any indicator.

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Random Musings and Apathy Towards Politics

What can I say; a week of vacation without any substantial access to news or the internet required a few days of catching up on work, blogs, and news. This experience has left me, at the moment, feeling pretty much disgusted with everything having to do with government, current events, and even the law. To be honest, right now I’m not particularly sure what there is to be happy with as either a Democrat or a Republican. Both parties and their respective “leaders” seem, at least to me, to be grasping at straws in vein attempts to appease an American population who, if nothing else, is looking for leadership and finding at best a bunch of stuffed shirts and empty suits. Let me just run through a couple of events with some comments and perhaps my lethargy will become more apparent.

Hurricane Relief

I don’t know that I have a lot to say about this that hasn’t already been said by others. I was able to watch much of the President’s speech last week, in which he basically promised to do whatever it took to fix the Gulf Coast and as best as he could tried to apologize or at least admit that mistakes were made by his administration. True, mistakes were made by all levels of government and the state and local officials deserve their fair share of the blame, which I am sure they will get from Congress once they start “investigating” (read grandstanding). Hopefully, with Hurricane Rita primed to hit Texas we all have learned something about disaster relief and will be better prepared for the damage that appears just around the corner.

The blame game, however, doesn’t really interest me all that much, as I said; I think there is more than plenty to go around to everyone at every level. What interests/bothers me is that it is this type of event, i.e., a natural disaster that seems to creating a schism in American politics. Just look at the newspapers and news accounts. Republicans are divided over how, or if, to pay for damage relief. Democrats are pissed off about the form that the investigation into the botched response is going to take and their role in the criticism chorus. I mean what are we all fighting about? Why can’t someone from either party simply step up and lead? (Please, GC, Paul, don’t tell me that the President has, because that’s just not the case. Sure he’s been marginally better than most, but come on, making a few visits to the damaged areas and promising to rebuild is the bare minimum of leadership, we all deserve better) We need a national figure that can resolve differences, quiet the bickering, and unite the country behind an effort that is likely going to require some sort of genuine sacrifice by all Americans, unlike any we’ve seen since WWII. Maybe that’s part of the problem; from the baby boomers through generation X, to whatever they are calling the latest generation, we don’t know or understand real sacrifice, as we have never really been required to give it. I don’t profess to know what the answers are, but I’m really tired of seeing the same old faces on TV and in the papers saying the same old things and expecting that we will all follow like lemmings off a cliff. Something’s got to give.

The Supreme Court

I have even less to say about the events of the last couple of weeks relating to Judge Roberts and whomever the President nominates to fill Justice O’Connor’s seat. I think that Senator Kerry summed it up the best when he called the confirmation process “increasingly sterile” and “little more than an empty shell.” We got exactly what was expected. Simply put, the hearing produced bad questions from the Senators of both parties and non-answers from an incredibly bright nominee. We don’t really know any more about him and his judicial philosophy than before he participated in the hearing. All of this of course, begs the question, why have hearings at all? I mean we didn’t used to hold nomination hearings and they seem to be less than necessary now. However, as we all know TV rules politics, and this was free air time for the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, many of whom have never met a microphone that they didn’t like.

In partial response to GC’s earlier post about the Democrats response to Roberts, disappointed might be a bit strong, but I’ll say that I got exactly what I expected, i.e., nothing of substance. To me it seems like the opposition to Roberts, if you can call it that was nothing more than pure politics. The Dems trotted out the safest members of their caucus and have them doing the brunt of the talking and shouting against Roberts's confirmation. I mean come on, Senators Kennedy, Schumer, and Feinstein are three of the safest seats in existence, so they are the one in perfect position to “play to the base” and lay the foundation for the fire breathing that will ensue over the next nominee. Meanwhile, all the other Dems are free to “vote their conscious,” which means that any Democratic Senator from a “red” state or who is up for re-election in 2006 will vote to confirm Judge Roberts. Thus, at the end of the day Roberts will get between 65-75 votes, and will take his seat as Chief Justice, as expected, on the first Monday in October. Mark my words though, justified or not, Roberts was a cakewalk compared to whomever the President selects as his next nominee. This of course is, in and of itself, a sad commentary on the state of the Senate’s ability to perform its constitutional function of advice and consent, but that’s another post. I will say this though, I was glad to hear, from Senators on both sides of the isle, a bit of institutional interest expressed, especially on the issue of deference to the will and reasoning of the Congress. Unfortunately, that’s the only thing that I found as a positive about the whole experience.

Hopefully this in part explains my overall apathy towards things right now. I truly hope that things will improve in a short period of time, but we’re a week from the end of the federal fiscal year and Congress still hasn’t passed all of its required appropriations bills, so I’m not too optimistic. Maybe I’m wrong and a true national leader will emerge because as I honestly look ahead to the mid-terms in 2006 and the Presidential race in 2008, I do not like what and who I see from either major party.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Three Books

The bus trip from DC to New York and back allowed me to get to a few books I’ve been meaning to read for some time: Claes Ryn’s America the Virtuous, John Lukacs’ Democracy and Populism, and Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy.   They are all, more or less, written about the same subject – democratization.  The former two are leerier about the forceful spread of democracy, the latter – well, the title says it all.  Though more ideologically sympathetic to Ryn and Lukacs, I found myself somewhat more persuaded by Sharansky.  
All right, confession right up front.  Dr. Ryn is a professor of mine, and as such I will be careful where I tread.  For the most part I agreed with the outline of his book, but felt the case overstated.  His thesis is that a neo-Jacobin cabal has worked to steer American foreign policy in a direction that arrogantly seeks to impose its will on other nations in order to impose democracy.  One could perhaps substitute neo-conservative for neo-Jacobin, though the neo-Jacobin grouping is much more extensive.  He traces this movement to Strauss, whom Ryn portrays as an a-historical philosopher whose “conservatism” was anything but.  (Also see this post) The Straussians have taken their mentor’s ideas in an even more radical direction, and are much in the mold of the late 18th century French Jacobins.  They seek to impose their values – deemed as superior and idyllic – on the rest of the world in an effort to create a sort of utopian world.

I do share Dr. Ryn’s discomfort with much of the neo-conservative agenda.  There is a certain naïveté in putting so much stock in the democratic push.  And there is an arrogance underlying much of this ideology.  But I think the case is overstated.  I am not certain that the neoconservatives are as a-historical as Ryn portrays them to be (and of course he might argue that neo-Jacobins and neocons are not one in the same).  Much is made of Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, but I don’t know that Bloom really speaks to this issue.  But we’ll dig deeper in just a moment.

Lukacs seems cut from the same mold.  Frankly Lukacs is skeptical of everything.  Democracy and Populism at time appears an effort to refute every commonly held notion developed over the past century or so.  An example of his contrarianism:

“And the Constitution collapsed in 1861, unable as it was to prevent the breakup of the country and the Civil War.  That, not slavery, was what brought the Civil War about: Lincoln’s decision to preserve the authority of the American Union.”

This is a particularly irksome argument.  Why exactly did the Constitution collapse if not because of the crisis of American slavery?  It’s true that Lincoln’s primary motivation at the outset of the war was indeed to preserve the American union, but the union was in peril precisely because southerners decided that their precious slaveholding interests were threatened by the Republican Party led by Abraham Lincoln.  

Anyway, this is just one of many contrarian claims made in the course of a breezy couple of hundred pages.  To say that I was disappointed with the book would be a severe understatement.
Sharansky’s book is part biography and part plea.  He believes that the spread of democracy will help stabilize the world.  Much of the second part of the book focuses particularly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Sharansky maintains that the corrupt and un-democratic Palestinian leadership has so neutered the Palestinian people that, if only they were given greater freedom and more democratic opportunity they would focus their energies inward, and peace could develop between the Jewish and Muslim people.

I think Sharansky is ultimately right about Palestinian leadership.  Arafat was a murderous thug who got rich off the backs of the people he was pretending to look out for.  No doubt the anger and rage that boils within the heart of much of the Palestinian population would subside if they felt like they had more control of their own destiny.  But I do not share all of Sharansky’s optimism.  There is something much deeper at work, and democracy will not cure centuries of hatred.  It would be a welcome step – but so much more needs to be done to change hearts and minds, and a full-fledged democratic regime would not be enough.

That said, I think Sharansky’s outlook is still much more realistic.  I do think that democracy is a meaningless term, and any society that is authoritarian in mindset will not  be anything like a liberal democracy.  But that does not mean that all efforts at democratization are futile.  I believe that we have fueled resentment in supporting non-democratic regimes in the past, and the yearning for freedom is a universal trait that should be nurtured – but carefully and cautiously.

We may have erred in rushing to hold elections in Iraq before we had developed sufficiently liberal institutions.  The ballot box does not a true democracy make.  But, handing the reigns of power to the people can be a start in that process.  

Many people like to quote John Quincy Adams.  “But she [the United States] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” But I think that it is many Middle-Easterners who go abroad seeking to destroy monsters as a means of compensating for their domestic unhappiness.  Left powerless by despotic states, these young fanatics have taken their rage and transformed it into a mentality to seeks to punish others abroad for their own misfortune.  If they are provided an opportunity to look inward for a change then perhaps that can be a means through which to temper their destructive energy.  Perhaps not.

The singular point that Sharansky makes that I most certainly approve is that the yearning for freedom and democracy ARE NOT relegated solely to western civilization.  There is a universal craving for these ideals, and all humans are capable of self-government.  It is in this regard that their can be a synthesis of sorts between Burke’s historicism (praised by Dr. Ryn and yours truly) and Straussian universality.  Heck, Dr. Ryn points to it himself in his criticism of Strauss.      
One can hold, as do Burkeans, that no civilization is perfect.  No society has achieved utopia because utopia cannot be achieved.  After all, utopia means “no place.”  But that does not mean that there are not societies that are in fact better than others.  It is not wrong to call the regimes of Kim Jong Il, or Saddam Hussein, or the Iranian mullahs “evil.”  If we cannot look upon the depredations of these inhumane dictators with appropriate disgust, then we truly have lost our moral compass.  While it is no doubt true that there is much wrong with American civilization – high divorce rates, abortion, drug abuse, etc. – must we really pretend that we are in any way on the same plane as a nation as North Korea or Saudi Arabia?  Must we maintain the fiction that the Egyptian polity is just as good as our own?  This is absurd.  We can certainly compare and contrast and conclude that one is better than the other.  Common sense is all we need to make this determination.  As long as common sense does not breed the arrogant assumption that our way is the only way, and must be copied exactly everywhere else, then that common sense is all well and good.  And Sharansky does not argue that there is a singular model for the good, nor do I think most neocons make this argument.  Many who strive to build democratic institutions in the Middle East recognize regional particularities.  I think they recognize that we cannot merely transport the American constitution overseas and expect it to work.  Nations must develop their own plans of government, and we must learn to expect disappointment with some of their plans.

Ultimately, we can make two different and yet equally fatal mistakes, and they are represented by these three books.  We can either set our sights too high, or set our sights too low.  Both of these options are deficient.  We cannot expect to remake the world, but nor can we bury our heads and ignore the universal human desire for freedom.  We can encourage democratic growth without stepping on everyone’s toes.  

Iraq is the perfect case study.  Both sides seem lost in the clouds.  Iraq will not become a perfectly functioning liberal democracy – after all, we barely are ourselves.  But the gloom and doom forecasts are equally, if not more inapt.  It seems that we fail to appreciate the middle ground.  Iraq will likely become a nation that is neither sufficiently liberal nor significantly authoritarian.  Our expectation that it will be one or the other are rooted in black and white worldview that is inappropriate for this particular case.  

Conservatism is an outlook that is pessimistic about human nature yet optimistic about its potential.  It would behoove us to adopt a better mixture of realistic pessimism and grounded optimism.  Golden mean anyone?

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The Descent Into Anarchy

This week's Coalition for Darfur post.

One week ago, experts and observers warned that Darfur risked "sliding into a perpetual state of lawlessness." At a time when Khartoum and the Darfur rebels were preparing to meet in an attempt to move the essentially non-existent peace process forward, IRIN was reporting
Banditry and continuous attacks by armed groups on humanitarian workers, Arab nomads and villages in Darfur have increased significantly over the past weeks and threaten to destabilise the fragile ceasefire in the volatile western Sudanese region.
The "fragile ceasefire" has never really existed and fears of "perpetual" lawlessness are misplaced considering that Darfur has been essentially lawless for more than two years.

Last week, the World Food Program reported that "security levels deteriorated in Darfur during the reporting week." This week, the WFP reported that "despite precautionary security measures, attacks on commercial and humanitarian vehicles continue in Darfur."

And as the UN was expressing its concern "about the recurrent attacks carried out by armed men and gangs in Darfur states, which target civilians and commercial vehicles hired by relief organizations," Norwegian Church Aid was reporting that "relief convoy has been raided at gunpoint by bandits in Darfur for the second time in a short period. The security situation in Darfur shows signs of deterioration"
A growing problem is also that aid convoys are now being ambushed with increasing regularity by bandits on horses and camels. Norwegian Church Aid vehicles have been raided at gunpoint twice in a matter of weeks ... The field teams who travel most often through the western and southern parts of Darfur regularly encounter en route, and are often chased by, heavily armed men riding on horses and camels. Since the aid operation began just over a year ago, security has presented a great challenge for the agencies. Yet whereas assault, exchanges of fire and attacks on villages were previously politically motivated, much of the violence seems now to be criminal in nature.
And the violence continues.

Just yesterday, it was reported that 40 were killed in fighting after an attack on the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement/Army by "armed nomadic tribesmen" [aka "the Janjaweed"]. This was followed by another report that 80 government soldiers had been killed by the SLM when they captured the town of Sheiria in a surprise attack in retaliation for earlier government attacks on rebel-held territory.

The attack on Sheiria put at risk some 33,000 civilians who rely on humanitarian assistance after staff from three NGO's were withdrawn due to the fighting. And for good measure, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) "reported that the security situation in the Kalma camp housing displaced persons has further deteriorated with a large number of security incidents, including some 60 reported attacks on women over the last week alone."

All of this took place while the sixth round of peace talks were being held in Nigeria.

It has now been more than a year since the United States declared the situation in Darfur a "genocide" - and the security situation on the ground is now even arguably worse. While government-orchestrated attacks on civilians have diminished, mainly because "there are not many villages left to burn down and destroy," the rampant insecurity in all likelihood still qualifies as part of Khartoum's genocidal campaign to "deliberately [inflict] on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."

The genocide is not ending and the situation is not improving. The people of Darfur have, for all intents and purposes, been abandoned.

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Good Stuff

More reason to Mutiny

I've been out for a few weeks. I have lots to tell, I'm just a little busy at the moment. Hello to all!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

All the News that's fit to ignore

Ace of Spades (boy, I sure have been linking to him a lot lately, maybe I can be like Garfield Ridge in reverse) brings us the latest from Dan "Courage, courage" Rather. Cue violin.

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather said Monday that there is a climate of fear running through newsrooms stronger than he has ever seen in his more than four-decade career.

Rather famously tangled with President Nixon and his aides during the Watergate years while Rather was a hard-charging White House correspondent.

Addressing the Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan, occasionally forcing back tears, he said that in the intervening years, politicians "of every persuasion" had gotten better at applying pressure on the conglomerates that own the broadcast networks. He called it a "new journalism order."

He said this pressure -- along with the "dumbed-down, tarted-up" coverage, the advent of 24-hour cable competition and the chase for ratings and demographics -- has taken its toll on the news business. "All of this creates a bigger atmosphere of fear in newsrooms," Rather said.

Tarted-up coverage?

Whatever. Clearly Dan is still smarting from being exposed by the "pajama-clad" bloggers. I'm sure that he'll be finding the documentation that proves his "fake but accurate" story about Bush and the National Guard soon enough, probably at about the same time OJ finds the real killers.

But I shouldn't be picking on Danny boy. He, after all, represents the golden age of news reporting - an age when he and his fellow talking heads could take to the air and say whatever the hell they wanted because, well, they had no competetion whatever to speak of. And who was going to call them on their bs? Why, no one, that's who. Ah, to the glories of monopoly power.

But I actually have to agree with Rather about the current state of the news. Quite frankly I can feel precious brain cells being sucked away whenever I have the misfortune of watching television news. And it goes for whatever news it is: Fox News, CNN, ABC, etc. And don't even get me started on local news. It has nothing to do with ideology. Televised news is more about entertainment than infomation.

But Rather doesn't get to play all Mr. Innocent. This is the man who interjected emotionalism in his newscasts. He is as culpable as anyone else for the dumbing down of our news programs.

But it doesn't matter anymore. The era of the big media's domination is at an end. Don't get me wrong, there will always be a place for network and cable news, but their singular domination of the media is over. Click on just about any link to the right of this page and you will hit upon a blog or internet news source that is vastly more informative, interesting, and relevant than anything put out by the big three networks or cable news. If you really want in-depth coverage of the German elections, you are much better off digging on the web than waiting for the big media to get to it. Oh, sure, they'll have a blurb or two, but they're not about to waste too many precious resources covering the national elections of the world's third largest economy when another teen from Alabama can go missing.

And the big media is not solely responsible for their own rotten coverage. The public at large seems to damand this crap, and the networks deliver. Luckily we live in an age where we can seek the news all on our own - at least those of us who so desire it. And besides, who wants to sit in front of a television to be told what the important news of the day is supposed to be when we can be proactive and venture out on our own?

So let Mr. Rather cry his crocodile tears. We'll be here not watching.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

The Conservative Constitution, being the fourth part of American Conservatism

Part one here.  Two here.  Three here.

I am sure I have linked to this piece by Jonah Goldberg before, but it serves as an excellent companion to this series of posts.  And as we move onto the main topic at hand, that is, what is American conservatism, the following paragraph is a useful jumping off point.

As I’ve written many times here, part of the problem is that a conservative in America is a liberal in the classical sense — because the institutions conservatives seek to preserve are liberal institutions. This is why Hayek explicitly exempted American conservatism from his essay “Why I am Not a Conservative.” The conservatives he disliked were mostly continental thinkers who liked the marriage of Church and State, hereditary aristocracies, overly clever cheese, and the rest. The conservatives he liked were Burke, the American founders, Locke et al.

Context is everything, and if we are ever to achieve anything resembling a clear definition of American conservatism, we must first come to a deeper appreciation of the historical American conservatism.  
In the previous post I discussed France and its own unique cultural heritage.  In a sense, both the American conservative and the French conservative are seeking to preserve the legacy of a late 18th century “revolution.”  But the French conservative seeks to preserve the legacy of an étatist, interventionist tradition born in a true social revolution.  The American conservative, on the other hand, hopes to maintain the inheritance of what was a less obvious social revolution.  In fact, the American revolutionaries were quite distinct in their own respect.  They did not seek to upend the social order, as did the Jacobins and their friends.  Rather they sought to preserve the long-established rights of Englishmen that dated back to the Magna Carta.  It was a true conservative revolution – a revolution fought to preserve.

Of course we are in danger of going too far with this analogy.  It is not without reason that Forrest McDonald wrote a tome titled Novus Ordo Seclorum.  The American revolutionaries were radicals in their own regard, and they created a truly unique form of government.  And yet they were guided by what most today would recognize as a conservative understanding of government and its potential.  They produced a Constitution that, while groundbreaking in its democratic features, was a model of restraint.

Certain critics of the constitutional interpretation known as originalism contend that is nothing more than a naked attempt to achieve conservative political ends.  This contention is not without merit for, as Russell Kirk rightly stated decades ago, the Constitution is a conservative document.  Any reading of the Federalist papers, the constitutional debates, or the document itself demonstrates the truth of this statement.

Our nation was born in fear.  The anti-Federalist feared an active government, and that is why they opposed the Constitution.  The Federalists feared both government and the masses, and that is why they constructed a Constitution that tempered both.  Order was needed, and the Federalists felt the need to revise the Articles of Confederation to shore up the powers of the national government so as to institute this new order.  Though they recognized the need to maintain democratic institutions, and though they were no fans of unlimited governmental authority, government placed squarely in the hands of the people was a fundamental threat to civic order.

In the 51st Federalist paper, Madison wrote: In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason.  Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates; every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob. This demonstrates that the Framers (well, at least Madison) realized that even the most enlightened citizenry could turn into a dangerous mob with the potential to tyrannize the rights of the minority.  Passions of the moment had to be quelled, and the framers were intent on devising a system that as much as possible protected liberty, allowed for some deal of sovereignty in the hands of the people, and produced order.  

The Antifederalists feared government, while the Federalists feared the people.
This is perhaps a broad generalization, but it succinctly summarizes the fundamental difference between the two factions fighting for the heart of the American republic in the 1780’s.  Both sides, motivated by fear of tyranny of one sort or the other, argued that the other party’s political theory would result in turmoil, chaos, and ultimately degradation.  Each side wrote invectives against the other, warning the masses that their liberty was at stake in this political fight.  The Antifederalists believed that the Federalists were plotting to consolidate the Union, eliminating states’ rights, and thereby threatening the very liberty that the patriots of 1776 had valiantly fought to secure.  The Federalists, on the other hand, saw a nation imperiled by a weak system of government under the Articles of Confederation, and predicted the demise of the union unless the national government was strengthened.  The Antifederalists worried that government under Federalist control would be too strong, while the Federalists were concerned that a tyranny of the masses was developing, casting a shadow of anarchy over the United States.  

Our Conservative Constitution     
Madison was especially concerned about faction, and the best answer to faction was an extended republic which contained a multiplicity of interests.  A pure democracy, on the other hand, cannot answer this challenge, because in a pure democracy factions will control.  “A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert results from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party.”  Such a state of affairs was “incompatible with personal security.”  But in an extended republic, the people will be guarded by the filter of the natural aristocracy.  Wiser and more judicious representatives will emerge from the great mass of people.  Because there will be many more electors in such a republic, it will be more likely that abler representatives will take the lead, and as such they will temper the passions of the moment.  Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm, but at least there will be enough of a number of them to create some sense of balance.

This extraconstitutional method was one way of curing the ills of faction.  But the government itself had to be set up in such a way as to ensure that the branches of government would not be driven by faction, and the answer to this was bicameralism, separation of powers, and checks and balances.  Federalist 51, also written by Madison, is a part two of sorts to Federalist 10.  Here, it is the competing interests of society that will mitigate the deleterious effects of faction.  “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”  The members of the various branches should be independent of one another, thereby eliminating the chance of centralization of powers.

What is curious about this document is that Madison takes the notion of the self-interested nature of man and turns it on his head.  Instead of having a harmful influence, man’s self-interested nature will be used to limit government’s ability to usurp individual rights.  The multiplicity of interests will keep a majority faction from forming.  Madison writes that this is merely a reflection of reality, and that this system will be the best way to ensure domestic tranquility

But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?  If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.  In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this:  You must first enable the government to controul the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to controul itself.  A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary controul on government, but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

This is a profound statement that demonstrates much about Federalist thought.  Man is imperfect; we are not angels.  As such it is necessary to form a government based on this reality.  It must be a government carefully balanced, one with great limits.  The people are to be a check on the government, but government, too, must be a check on both itself and the governed.  In short, all parts of society must be on guard against one another, and because man is primarily concerned about his own concerns, he will zealously guard his liberty and his rights and make sure that none usurps those rights.  Action will thus be limited because it will be greatly difficult to form majorities in so extended a republic.  

The argument for simple, small republics has thus been refuted by Madison.  They, not large, extended republics, are a greater threat to liberty, for it will be much easier for factions to form in small territories.  America, as a compound republic, then provides a double guarantee of liberty.  “Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people.  The different governments will controul each other; at the same time that each will be controuled by itself.”  It is clear from such language that the framers were almost agonizingly cautious, and fervently wished to create a system that had a variety of breaks to halt the potential avalanche of legislation that could only make our rights less tenable.
Madison and his fellow Federalists are quite suspicious of the masses, and took great pains to allow for as little popular control as possible.  Though they would agree that the consent of the people was ultimately necessary to assure legitimacy of the polity, and that institutions such as hereditary monarchy were a great potential source of despotism, they were also weary of leaving power completely in the hands of the people. Liberty is threatened by a democratic legislature, “where a multitude of people exercise in person the legislative functions, and are continually exposed by their incapacity for regular deliberation and concerted measures, to the ambitious intrigues of their executive magistrates.”
Even the legislative branch itself must be separated as a further guarantor of liberty.  The legislative branch of government could easily be swept up by the passions of the day and thereby pass laws that usurp individual rights.  But the Senate, as a second part of the legislature, divided power with the House of Representatives, and “must be in all cases a salutary check on government.  It doubles the security to the people, by requiring the concurrence of two distinct bodies in schemes of usurpation and perfidy, where the ambition or corruption of one, would otherwise be sufficient.”  Power has been broken up to an even greater degree than before, and another barrier has been erected to guard against despotism.

Interestingly, the Senate, because of its aristocratic tendencies, will be a champion of liberty, a complete refutation of Antifederalist thought.  It is a necessary check on the passions of the people, a more efficient check on the popularly elected House of Representatives.  “The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions.”  The Senate, as a independent and firm body, will be a more temperate institution guided by sincere deliberation and dispassionate discourse.  

The Electoral College was another development created to some extent by fear.  It was designed so as to avoid “tumult and disorder.” Hamilton writes in Federalist 68 that the “choice of several to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community, with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of one who has himself to be the final object of the public wishes.”  Thus there is to be a sense of detachment in the election of the chief executive.  This unique body, the Electoral College, would be a barrier between the people and the president.  It is a design to ensure that a demagogue or potential tyrant will not emerge and capture the presidency.  The enlightened Electoral College will guard against this potentiality.  Once again the possibility that the passions of the people will cause tumult has been thwarted.
These are just some features of our conservative constitution.  But these are just the thoughts of stiff-necked reactionaries.  What would they know that Howard Dean or Nancy Pelosi have failed to discover about human nature?

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Roberts Witch-Hunt Recap

It was apparent by the end of Day Three of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings for John G. Roberts that the much-anticipated “borking” of Roberts had not happened. Liberal pundits salivated; conservatives braced for what they thought would be a battle royale. In the end, there was very little drama because Roberts handled himself so well, and, barring some last-minute controversy (like finding out that Roberts drove a girl off a bridge in a drunken stupor and left her to drown – oh, wait . . . awkward), he will become the seventeenth chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Two things prevented me from watching these hearings from gavel to gavel: I have a job and I don’t have cable. Still, having read portions of the daily hearing transcripts and listened to those who did watch the proceedings, a few things have become readily apparent about what went down during the course of last week:

Roberts is way smarter than many of the senators on the Judiciary Committee. Most, if not all, senators probably think of themselves as the smartest individuals on the planet, and possess the egos to match. Roberts had to sit there for three straight days and listen to intellectual featherweights such as Senators Charles “Chucky” Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Ted “Splash” Kennedy (D-Mass.) blather on about honesty, integrity, and constitutionality (subjects about which they know very little). Indeed, despite the fact that these hearings were theoretically held for senators to ask Roberts questions, a frightening amount of their “question” time was used by the senators to listen to themselves talk. One would not have faulted Roberts if he had bolted out of the hearing room midway through Day Two in frustration.

Not only did Roberts stick it out, but he showed his superior intellect with humility and aplomb. He answered the questions that he had an obligation to answer, he did not answer questions that would have created potential future conflicts of interest, and he did all of the above with a genuine sense of humor that is in remarkably short supply in Washington. In short, he ran rings around these self-congratulatory bloviators, and also showed himself to be a jurist of the highest order.

Roberts has more tact than many of the senators on the Judiciary Committee. Senators Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Kennedy were perhaps the two most outspoken senators when it came to slandering Roberts and accusing him of not answering the questions they were posing. Specifically, Biden and Kennedy expressed frustration at Roberts’ refusal to answer questions about how he would resolve theoretical issues were they to come before him on the Court (yet another example of how little these senators actually know about the law, since Judicial Ethics 101 forbids just such prognosticating). Roberts would have been well within his rights to point out that Kennedy had, during the confirmation hearings of Thurgood Marshall, admonished his fellow senators in advance of the hearings for looking toward the ideology of the candidate, or to note that Biden had instructed Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993 that she did not have any obligation whatsoever to forecast what type of justice she would be.

Roberts could have revealed their total hypocrisy for all to see. Instead, he chose to exercise restraint and state the principles at hand, and leave the revelation of the left’s hypocrisy to others (like me). Good show, ole chap.

Democrats have wasted lots of ammunition on Roberts, and it will cost them in the long run. Our very own Mouldfan made a point early on in this confirmation process of imploring his fellow Democrats to not throw everything and the kitchen sink at Roberts, since he was eminently qualified to sit on the Court and lacked any noticeable flaws that would have made him an easy target for political opponents. I am willing to bet that Mouldfan is somewhat discouraged by the fact that his comrades have not heeded his advice (correct me if I am wrong, Mouldy).

I would bet money that this will cost the Democrats if they continue to pursue a resistance strategy throughout the remainder of Roberts' confirmation process. The constant drumbeat about how Roberts is an anti-civil rights, pro-corporation murderer of hapless frogs has only served to dull the public’s interest in wanting to hear what these people have to say about the man, particularly since their shrill rhetoric does not match his impeccable record. People will have stopped listening by the time President Bush names his next pick to fill Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s vacancy. And God help the Democrats if they filibuster Roberts – all it would guarantee is that the judicial filibuster would become a thing of the past, thereby making it easier for Bush to get all of his future nominees confirmed.

Congratulations to John Roberts for tolerating the confederacy of dunces. Here’s to thirty years of slaughtering hapless frogs. Bring on Edith Jones!

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The Mayor Speaks

All of America shook at these words offered by Mayor Mike “thank God the Democratic party in this city can’t find even a remotely decent human being to run against me” Bloomberg regarding John Roberts:

"In July, following the nomination of Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court, I stated clearly that I wanted to hear a clear indication that Judge Roberts accepts Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. After days of testimony and intense questioning at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, Americans have had a glimpse into the thinking of Judge Roberts. "While I am impressed with the deep intellect and understanding of the law that Judge Roberts has shown and believe him to be a man of integrity, I am unconvinced that Judge Roberts accepts the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling as settled law. What I was waiting for, as were many Americans, was a clear affirmation that the life-altering decision as to whether or not to have a child must be a woman's decision. Unfortunately, Judge Roberts' response did not indicate a commitment to protect a woman's right to choose. "At the hearings, Judge Roberts spoke with clarity and, of course, correctly, that he agreed with the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. And this most important decision,e evil practice of segregation, is now considered settled law. What I was hoping to hear was the same simple affirmation of Roe v. Wade, a decision which has had a long-lasting, profound impact in improving women's health and lives. There can be no turning back and for that reason I oppose the nomination of Judge Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."

Surely Judge Roberts is crestfallen for his failure to garner the endorsement of the mayor of New York City.  It is doubtful that Roberts’ candidacy can recover from this devastating blow.

Of course we must respect Nurse Bloomerg’s non endorsement.  After all, Nurse Bloomberg has consistently been a champion for individual freedom and personal responsibility.  In fact his championing of personal choice has inspired the entire city to stop smoking inside of bars.  Truly, he is the pre-eminent spokesman for individual liberty, except of course for the liberty to own property in New York City without fear of a confiscatory property tax.  

Soldier on, Mayor Mike.  You make me miss my native city more and more each day.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Update: Braden Looper still sucks

Though Kaz Matsui and Gerald Williams are right behind him in the hall of shame.

Gerald Williams. Why is he still playing major league baseball?

And Willie, is it completely necessary to bring in this stiff? Do you actually want the team to lose every game they have left? And also, when the other team has the winning run on third with first base open, and they have a bona fide rbi man at the plate while a schlub is on deck, it might be good strategy to walk the rbi man to get to the schlub. Then again, that's what a good manager might do.


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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Meaningless Pledge

Some are hailing the inclusion of language regarding a "responsibility to protect" in the draft declaration on UN reform to be discussed during the three-day summit being held in New York.

The "Responsibility to Protect" is, according to the seminal report on the
[T]he idea that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe, but that when they are unwilling or unable to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the broader community of states.
The report, and the idea, were generated by the international community's ignominious
failure to intervene in situations such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The thinking was that it was necessary to shift the debate away from a "right to intervene," which carries serious implications for the cherished idea of national sovereignty, and toward a "responsibility to protect" those people in danger.

After much debate, compromise and rewriting, the final text included in the draft declaration came out looking like this
The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapter VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case by case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to help states build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assist those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.
Nowhere has the
Security Council or the UN member states actually pledged to do anything. This section carries no legal obligations; rather, it merely reiterates that the UN has a responsibility "to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity," which something they already an obligation to
prevent under the Genocide Convention.

Note also that it doesn't say that the UN has a "responsibility to protect" but rather a responsibility ... to help protect" those at risk. That is a big difference.

As such, it is a little difficult to share Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's excitement
But a Canadian-inspired initiative highlighting the world's responsibility to protect threatened people and prevent genocides is a clear move forward, Martin said.

The doctrine "essentially says that if Rwanda occurred today that the United Nations would act," he said, referring to the genocide that took an estimated 800,000 lives in the African country in the mid-1990s.
Considering that there is "another Rwanda" currently taking place in Darfur, why are we to expect that suddenly the UN is going to take seriously its "responsibility to protect"? Has the UN failed to act thus far solely because it lacked this one resolution? The UN has resisted acting on Darfur for two years and there is absolutely no reason to believe that this recognition of a
theoretical "responsibility to protect" will have any impact on the legal or political concerns that have thus far prevented action.

If the UN and its members truly believed in the "responsibility to protect," they would be protecting the people of Darfur, not writing resolutions vaguely promising to act when Darfur-like situations arise in the future.

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Ummm . . . what?

I’m going to steal a little of repeal’s thunder and question the sanity of Tom Delay for this quote:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

Excuse me for a minute.


Okay, there then.  

As Ramesh Ponnuru points out, courtesy Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, that might not entirely be accurate.

• The federal government cannot account for $24.5 billion spent in 2003.
• A White House review of just a sample of the federal budget identified $90 billion spent on programs deemed that were either ineffective, marginally adequate, or operating under a flawed purpose or design.
• The Congressional Budget Office published a “Budget Options” book identifying $140 billion in potential spending cuts.
• The federal government spends $23 billion annually on special interest pork projects such as grants to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or funds to combat teenage “goth” culture in Blue Springs, Missouri.
• Washington spends tens of billions of dollars on failed and outdated programs such as the Rural Utilities Service, U.S. Geological Survey and Economic Development Association.• The federal government made $20 billion in overpayments in 2001.
• The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s $3.3 billion in overpayments in 2001 accounted for over 10 percent of the department’s total budget.
• Over one recent 18-month period, Air Force and Navy personnel used government-funded credit cards to charge at least $102,400 for admission to entertainment events, $48,250 for gambling, $69,300 for cruises, and $73,950 for exotic dance clubs and prostitutes.
• Examples of wasteful duplication include: 342 economic development programs; 130 programs serving the disabled; 130 programs serving at-risk youth; 90 early childhood development programs; 75 programs funding international education, cultural, and training exchange activities; and 72 federal programs dedicated to assuring safe water.
• The Advanced Technology Program spends $150 million annually subsidizing private businesses, and 40% of this goes to Fortune 500 companies.
• The Defense Department wasted $100 million on unused flight tickets, and never bothered to collect refunds even though the tickets were reimbursable.
• The Conservation Reserve program pays farmers $2 billion annually to not farm their land.
• Washington spends $60 billion annually on corporate welfare, versus $43 billion on homeland security.

Professor Bainbridge also notes the folks in Bozeman, Montana, who
have petitioned the city council to give the feds back a $4 million earmark to pay for a parking garage in the just-passed $286 billion highway bill. As one of these citizens, Jane Shaw, told us: "We figure New Orleans needs the money right now a lot more than we need extra downtown parking space."

Maybe the folks in Alaska can also kickback some of that money that they received for the “bridge to nowhere.”

Finally, I must heartily concur withJohn Podhoretz(I don’t say that often), who writes that this statement offers
a useful reminder to conservatives that while they may be aligned with Republican Congressional politicians, Republican Congressional politicians are just that -- politicians first. There is too often a rush on to defend any and every GOP pol by conservative bloggers and e-mailers on the grounds that if they're being attacked by the MSM, they're victims of injustice. Sometimes, though, they're just...indefensible.

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One nation under Allstate...

We can't just keep saying we're the best and expect it to be true.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Worth reading. Thoughts?

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Conservative Conservatism, being the third part of American Conservatism

Part one here.  Part two here.

The battle between Burkeans and Straussians helps to underscore the fact that conservatism avails itself of no easy definition.  What’s more, while Burke and Strauss represent two pivotal elements of conservative thought, they are by no means exhaustive of all that fall under the purview of conservatism.

In my first part I also alluded to the fact that Burkean conservatism was in some ways not conservative.  Similarly, Strauss’ anti-historicism is antithetical to any frame of thought that can be termed conservative.  But in Burke’s case, his un-conservatism, so to speak, relates to Burke’s own liberalism.  Burke was, after all, a Whig.  And though he railed against the French Revolution, he was no reactionary.  

This goes to the fundamental point of this entire series of posts.  Conservatism as a political ideology is not conservative, particularly in the American sense.  That is to say, the term conservative implies a regressive frame of mind, a timidity of action that is certainly not necessarily part and parcel of conservative thought.  Bill Buckley is famous for writing that conservatives stand athwart history yelling STOP!  But this is a rhetorical flourish that masks the progressive aspect of conservatism.  As mentioned in part one Burke maintains that change is an essential aspect of preservation.  A society that refuses to change and adapt will surely self-destruct.  Conservatives are merely more measured in their desire to change.

This Burkean attitude is even more relevant in regards to American conservatism.  It is fitting that the essay that has inspired generations of conservatives was written in response to the French Revolution, for it is in assessing French conservatism that we can more fully appreciate the un-conservative aspect of American conservatism.  

French conservatism is truly that – conservative.  Oddly enough the French right was born in the aftermath of the French Revolution, and served as the vanguard of the opposition to said revolution. (Much of the following paragraph is essentially a summary of René Rémond’s writing on the history of the French right).  The loyalists stood opposed to virtually all that the revolutionaries represented.  But slowly the French right learned not only to embrace the ideals of the French Revolution, but indeed they became the most ardent defenders of its tradition.  It was the Orléanists who first embraced liberal (think classical) ideas – and in fact they are the closest the French right comes to resembling the American right.  In 1848 the Orléanists gave way to the Bonapartists – the adherents to Louis Napoleon.  These are the populist right-wingers who most dramatically embraced the principles of 1789.  

But the paramount figure of the French right is undoubtedly Charles de Gaulle.  In some ways de Gaulle transcends ideological classification, and in fact he desired to be above parties.  De Gaulle was repulsed by the Pétain government, and he hoped to strengthen the French state and restore the sense of grandeur or greatness.  France had been tarnished by the Vichy regime, and he pushed for a constitution that emboldened the executive department and expanded upon the tradition of heavy governmental involvement in almost all aspects of French political and non-political life.  He was steeped in the Bonapartist tradition, and he relied on populist devices such as the referenda as a means by which to solidify the French state.

As regards the state, it is a critical aspect of French right-wing thought (of French thought in general).  This dates back to Rousseau, and provides a stark contrast the American political tradition.  The state was the vehicle to greatness, and that implied an active government that intervened heavily in the economy.  Thus the French right has promoted dirigist economic policies that lead to substantial governmental involvement in business affairs and economic “plans” that almost call to mind the early days of the Soviet Union.

Not only does the French right advance what many Americans would call socialistic economic policies; they are active promoters of secularism.  Again, this dates back to the Enlightenment ideals of the French Revolution and the desire for a much stricter interpretation of the separation of church and state than most Americans would ever dream of.  The reason the veil controversy broke out in France was due to the right’s desire that religion be removed forcefully from the public sphere.  Religion there is privatized to an extent that even many American liberals would deem excessive.  

There is hardly any liberal tradition in France – liberal in the sense that America is a liberal (classical) society.  The Orléanists are the closest representatives of said tradition, but the party that most closely allied itself to liberal economic policy – the UDF of former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing – is now defunct.  Jacques Chirac tried to play the part of economic liberal during his Premiership in the mid 1980’s, but the results were disastrous for his party.  There is simply no comparable element in France – at least one of any significance – to that of the American libertarian tradition in economic affairs.

The French right is truly conservative, at least if we take conservative in its most narrow dictionary sense.  It seeks to preserve traditions established in 1789.  The state plays a role that would be alien to the thought of most American conservatives.  The French right truly seek to conserve, whereas the American right embraces a much more liberal ideology.

Hopefully this will become much clearer in the following posts as we finally concentrate on what this series of posts is supposed to be all about – American conservatism.

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