Friday, February 26, 2010

Fifty Six Percent Free

As if to justify my irritation and concern over our dwindling rights in my previous post "No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy", CNN reports that

Fifty-six percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday say they think the federal government's become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.

How about this for an immediate threat: a brilliant piece of legislation by our good friend Senator Russ Feingold, he of the recently neutered (God be praised!) McCain-Feingold assault on political speech. There apparently just aren't enough hours in the day to restrict, impinge, curtail, infringe, and otherwise assault the basic freedoms we until recently thought defined American citizens under the Constitution. Under the anodyne title Clean Water Restoration Act, comes Act II of the original Clean Water Act, which authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate all "navigable waterways". The radical environmentalists at the time of passage wanted the language to be "all waterways", simplicter, and, knowing they would get another swing at it later, bargained the phrase away to get the landmark legislation passed. Later is now, and Feingold the instrument. His "reform" moves precisely to strike the modifying "navigable" from navigable waterways in order to hugely expand the ability of the federal government to interfere with private property rights.

Quoting from a piece by Shannon Bream of Fox News,

Aside from striking "navigable," the bill defines U.S. water as "all waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, the territorial seas and all interstate and intrastate waters and their tributaries, including lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural ponds and all impoundments of the foregoing, to the fullest extent that these waters."

"Right now, the law says that the Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of all navigable water," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Western Caucus and an opponent of the bill.
"Well, this bill removes the word 'navigable,' so for ranchers and farmers who have mud puddles, prairie potholes -- anything from snow melting on their land -- all of that water will now come under the regulation of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency," he said.
Barrasso said the federal government's one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work in the west where the Rocky Mountain states have gone even further than Washington to protect land, water and the environment.
"The government wants control of all water -- that also means that they want control over all of our land including the private property rights of people from the Rocky Mountain west, the western caucus and the entire United States," he said.

Barrasso is right of course; property is the cardinal right to be protected under the Lockean schema our constitution is adumbrated under. No other rights are securable without private property in land, protected under law. Americans ought to be highly sensitive to any incursions here; unfortunately, almost he whole of government is arrayed against the actual public and in favor of what they abstractly term the public interest.

But listen to how the government mouthpiece and environmental whacko Jan Goldman-Carter of the National Wildlife Foundation, argues the harmlessness of the bill:

That amended language is very clear that it preserves long standing exemptions for ongoing agricultural practices, forest roads. There are a number of very generous exemptions in there particularly for ranchers and farmers that I know have been worried about the effect of this legislation, but in fact those worries are largely unfounded," she said...I can't imagine anyone wanting to walk down to the stream and dump their oil or paint," she said. "Even if they did they're not going to be enforced against now and they never were, there simply isn't the ability to do that."

Note first, how gracious it is of the federal government to grant us these "very generous exceptions"! King John I'm sure also thought himself very generous in allowing his barons what little game his hunting parties left on their estates after exercising his oppressive kingly prerogative to simply take what he wanted. But those noblemen rose up and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, the great charter of rights that forever changed the political dynamic in the West, a dynamic now challenged again by an oppressive executive bent on destroying the property rights of pesky subjects. The operative assumption in both cases is that private property is neither private, nor property; it is really more of a lease hold, held at the discretion of the king or the federal government.

But secondly, and if possible more offensive, is her attempt to minimize the actual attack on property rights. "We've granted, in our mercy and good will, many good and gracious exemptions from our power grab. But really--even though the language in the legislation establishes the power to regulate and control all property whatsoever, we would never actually do it! Never have; couldn't happen, not possible; just not enough personnel, don't you see. Nothing to worry about. Now please step aside so we can establish in law this absolute assault on your property rights, which of course we will never pursue."

Now, given just this one instance of government intrusion into the fundamental rights they are charged constitutionally to protect, is it any wonder a full fifty-six percent of people polled see their own government as a threat to their rights?. This is a serious problem (for the government) in a nation the founding and constitution of which is centrally about the securing of the rights of the people against their government. The founding generation were famously suspicious of a strong central government and sought to keep it on a short leash through various political and constitutional devices. The main thing they counted on for the establishment and maintenance of the people's liberty however was not their dazzling new political technology or the institutional arrangement of offices, but importantly, the character of the people themselves to vigilantly guard their liberties.

Any people who would allow their government finally to take their property and rights are not worthy heirs of the signers of Magna Carta, and are not worthy to be free. That fifty six percent is a wholesome indicator that Americans are ready to take the leash back, and are going to shorten it considerably.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Foothills of the Health Care Summit

President Obama's health care reform bipartisan summit has just got underway. This is what I saw.

The President began with a call for putting good ideas on the table. His tone was a listening one, and disarming. But he paraded the usual sob stories about various people in trouble over health issues. This is the political theatre side. Such anecdotes are irrelevant to the issue. You do not undertake reform of this magnitude on the basis of a few touching stories, real though they are.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) led off for the Republicans. He is a reasonable and winsome fellow, and came across that way. There was one point where he quickly expressed his party's objections to the Democratic bills. It was jangling and difficult to follow. Otherwise, his two main points were, first, that attempting to solve what everyone agrees is a health care problem by a single 2700 page bill was doomed to failure. It would, as it has repeatedly in the past, fall under its own weight. American is too large and complicated a country for anyone to expect he can solve a problem involving 17% of the economy by a single bill. It will require a series of legislative measures, dealing with the problem one step at a time, building separate majorities for each one.

Second, he called the President to forswear any attempt to jam the legislation through the Congress by the 50% + 1 in both houses process called "reconciliation." That process, he said, has never been used for legislation of this scope and importance. He cited the opposition of Robert Byrd (D-WV), one of the ancient authors of the present Senate rules. He cited the important bipartisan support that President Johnson secured for his Civil Rights Acts of 1964. He also quoted then Senator Obama's objections to the contemplated Republican use of reconciliation when that party was trying to get judges confirmed over Democratic opposition, as well as Senate majority leader Harry Reid's claim that the use of reconciliation under those (comparatively less significant) circumstances would mean the destruction of the Senate.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Harry Reid shared the next allotment of speaking time, and they were elegantly predictable. Both gave us heart rending anecdotes. Speaker Pelosi basically said that on the basis of this and that story, there was no time to start from scratch. We must pass existing legislation now. Period. She signaled no openness whatsoever to discussion or compromise. Atta girl!

Senator Reid was his usual angry self. He led off by cautioning his colleague, Sen. Alexander, that while he was entitled to his own opinions, he was not entitled to offer "facts of his own making." In other words, he accused the first Republican speaker of being a liar. And then it wasn't clear at all what the purported lie was. That's why the Senate majority leader is so far down in the polls, not only nationally, but even in his own state going into the November elections.

Hockey and Natural Law

Canada beat Russia 7-3 in Olympic hockey. The natural order is affirmed. After beating Slovakia (should that be too difficult?), they will go on to play (it is safe to assume) the USA for the gold medals.

We Americans seem to master everything we touch (sadly, that doesn't include me). But Americans, as far as I can tell, have little interest in hockey. We have three big sports: baseball, basketball, and football. Around here, I don't see any excitement for the New York Rangers. Yet there we are in Vancouver at the top of the game, besting and rivaling those who give it all their national attention. Granted, many on the team play in the NHL. (That's the commercialization of the Olympics. I was inevitable.) But how do we get so many Americans who are good enough for NHL competition, unless they are Canadians who have adopted American citizenship?

Canadians do nothing but play hockey and wonder why Americans aren't socialists. They lose at politics, but they should win at hockey.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Becoming an American Citizen

After living in this country for twenty-five years, I have finally become an American citizen. It has been a long journey and I am happy to have finally landed. But the journey has been a complex one, not just administratively, but psychologically and intellectually. Your country is more than just where you live, and a legal relationship to a government. It's tied closely to who you are, more closely than you realize until you leave it.

For many of my years of alien wandering I was on various non-immigrant visas: student visas, temporary work visas, a religious worker visa. It was only once I married an American (a woman I would have married even if doing so would have forever barred me from citizenship) that I was able to get an internationally coveted “green card” three years later. After 9/11, many ex-pat Canadians applied for citizenship. The events of that day moved them to step forward and embrace what they suddenly could see was precious them, and yet which they were taking for granted. ABC anchor Peter Jennings and White House speech writer David Frum were two of these. As for me, my green card was still in process when the twin towers fell. Three months later, I was sitting in the INS waiting room in Des Moines waiting for my green card interview. The TV monitor was screening the newly released video of Osama bin Laden rejoicing as he watched his hellish plans unfold on television. As he was striking a stinging blow against this country, I was deepening in my commitment to it, legally and emotionally.

My affection and high respect for America went much further back than 9/11, back to my first entry into the country in 1985. Though originally I came here not to stay but for doctoral studies in political philosophy, I was aware from the start that this was no ordinary country. I remember arriving in Boston, riding the T along Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton, thinking, “Wow. This is where it all happened. These are the people who transformed the world.” Occasionally, an American classmate would ask me why a Canadian would want to study American government. I would ask them in turn why a Gaul would want to study politics in Rome, or a why a Dane would cross the channel to study British government. The United States is one of the great civilizations of the world, and is the great guarantor and hope of liberty in the world, over against the constant encroachment of tyranny (Iran, Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, etc). I have always appreciated this, even as an undergraduate in Toronto.

A Canadian's migration south to America is only partly a matter of border crossing. Despite the similarity of the two countries, leaving the one for the other with full-hearted commitment requires several significant changes of orientation.

A wake up moment came in perhaps 1994 when I was returning to the States after a Christmas or summer visit with my parents. At this point, I had my Ph.D. and was teaching at a college south of Boston. The border guard asked me the usual question: "Where do you live?" I puzzled, and explained my Canadian address--Ottawa, where my parents lived--and my Massachusetts job and address. (As a Canadian, I must have an address in Canada, right?) He matter-of-factly responded that people usually "live" where they work. I was quite struck by that. I thought, "Oh my! It's true. I live in the United States. I don't live in Canada anymore. The United States is my home." I realized that I was no longer a Canadian who was doing stuff in the United States. I was functioning like an American who occasionally visited family in Canada. That is a jarring realization.

I also found that I was thinking less and less like a Canadian. When I first arrived at Boston College for graduate studies, I did not believe in rights, or at least not with an American-style fixation on their fundamental importance. I certainly saw no grounds for gun rights. It's hard to find a Canadian who does. And even property rights I thought should be suspended if the government believes the public good requires it. I slowly came around, however. It was my study of the American founding and of philosophers like John Locke that convinced me. I saw that the principles on which America is founded support liberty and human dignity. I came eventually even to see how Christian those principles are, and that they are not just pleasing, but also true.

Despite my deeply patriotic, spirit of '76, immigrant's love for this country, there is a Canadian heritage in me that is unshakable and good, and not just the way I say "out" and "about." There's my old world conservative temperament, and my reflexive disposition to obey rules. If more people had both of those qualities it would be a better world (I humbly suggest). And of course, like all Canadians, I'm nice. There is a sense in which I will always be Canadian in the same way that Mel Gibson will always be Australian. As a friend in high school told me when I was going through an infatuation with all things Greek, "You can't change your ethnic origin." It sort of applies. The Canadian marrow in my bones is a tie to Canada that will never loosen, much less break, and of course I am very happy with that too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

The assault on our constitutional rights continues, with ever more egregious incursions by over reaching government agencies. We have watched with alarm as the Brits have allowed their own ancient rights to dissolve before the relentless bullying of the once-soft, blob-like socialist nanny state harden into a coercive police state overseeing the most minute aspects of citizen's lives, down to and including what they put in the trash, how they "manage" their left-overs, and how they rear their children. Britons are notoriously the most "watched" people on earth; London has more video cams per person and per city block than any place on earth. David Hume, to name only one of dozens of thinkers in the liberal tradition of England, would be justly stunned at the deterioration of the one nation on earth that he claimed had more to do with the historical development of political liberty than any other.

This is our patrimony too; and similarly, we are seeing governments at all levels, ostensibly under our control, return the relation of citizen and state to the world historical norm of oppressive authorities and cowed citizenries. It is way too early to tell whether technology has more power for the liberty of citizens, or more control for authorities. Stories like the following bode ill for us on these shores; the socialist "nudgers" here have been looking on their European and British colleagues with envy over the wide sway they have over docile populations long since acquiescent to the devil's bargain of generous (but unsustainable) welfare benefits in exchange for giving up constitutional, civil, and natural rights and the mindset that insists on keeping them.

Item: The Obama administration's position appears to have hardened into accepting no privacy rights for email. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in United States v. Warshak, presumably under the auspices of the higher courts and the administration, pressed for authority for warrantless searches of hand held devices by police officers (and what logically follows, FBI, IRS, and all other alphabet agencies grabbing ever larger enforcement authority). Says the UK Register:

This appears to be more than a mere argument in support of the constitutionality of a Congressional email privacy and access scheme. It represents what may be the fundamental governmental position on Constitutional email and electronic privacy - that there isn't any. What is important in this case is not the ultimate resolution of that narrow issue, but the position that the United States government is taking on the entire issue of electronic privacy. That position, if accepted, may mean that the government can read anybody's email at any time without a warrant.

Item: The feds don't think you have "any reasonable expectation of privacy" when using your cell phone--or even carrying it. Michael Isikoff, of Newsweek magazine:

The Justice Department is poised this week to publicly defend a little-known law-enforcement practice that critics say may be the "sleeper" privacy issue of the 21st century: the collection of cell-phone "tracking" records that identify the physical locations where the phones have been...Most people don't understand they are carrying a tracking device in their pockets," says Kevin Bankston, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy group that has been trying to monitor the Justice Department's practice.

Item: In perhaps the most incredible instance of Big Brother type intrusion, we find an affluent school district in suburban Philadelphia handing out Apple laptops free to high school students for their school work. With web cameras that can--and were--remotely activated to spy on students in their own bedrooms. From state-controlled Associated Press writer MaryClaire Dale: (you really must read the whole thing)

A suburban Philadelphia school district used the webcams in school-issued laptops to spy on students at home, potentially catching them and their families in compromising situations, a family claims in a federal lawsuit...The school district can activate the webcams without students' knowledge or permission, the suit said. Plaintiffs Michael and Holly Robbins suspect the cameras captured students and family members as they undressed and in other embarrassing situations, according to the suit.

An assistant principle calls in a kid to tell him the school thinks some of what he is doing in his room is unacceptable. When he asked her how the HELL she or anyone else knows anything about what he does in his room, she showed him pictures taken by the webcam on his school provided computer.

Is this getting creepy enough for you yet? What other boundaries are being transgressed, even now? How do you imagine the school board meeting went that included on the agenda, "remote control spy cams on computers distributed to students"; what possible justification could anyone come up with? Which federal bench will this case land on, and will that judge hew to that inconvenient, rickety old Bill of Rights, or will he or she rule in the spirit and intention of the administration and all socialist governments?

I suspect the Justice Department knows that public interest law firms do not have the resources to fight all the rights incursions the government can throw at the American people, and that it is a war of attrition. Step by step, sometimes little, sometimes alarmingly large, our rights are being taken away by helpful authorities claiming to do it for our own good.

Maybe we'll all get laptops.

Proud to be an American

I can now say what blessed few can say, but which millions more would like to be able to say: "I am an American."

I entered as a Canadian. I emerged an American.
U.S. District Court in Brooklyn
(I purchased the tie last year not far from Ground Zero.)

I came to this country in 1985 to pursue graduate studies in political science at Boston College. That was 25 years ago. I have lived here ever since. F1 student visa. Free Trade Agreement work visa. Another F1 student visa. Religious worker visa. Green card. Even though I have been thinking like an American for many years now, it will take a while for my new status to sink in.

Why did I become an American? The practical reason is that I live and work here. My wife and children are American, and my life is here. That does not necessitate citizenship, but it removes the need to deal with the immigration authorities every ten years. But it's more than a matter of convenience.

The deeper reason is simply that I can. The United States of America is by far the greatest country in the world. I don't mean that chauvinistically. America is not just a country like others. We are a people who are defined and measured by the greatness of our principles. And those principles are historically unprecedented in their decency and nobility, as well as in their practical embodiment. We take them seriously. They ennoble us, and we have a noble history of demonstrating our fidelity to them, both at home and abroad. Other countries may have principles, but whereas those countries are separable from their principles, what it is to be an American is defined by what we commonly accept as our moral foundation. We expressed those fundamental principles in the Declaration of Independence at the moment of our national birth in 1776.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Notice that the Declaration does not affirm these things in the abstract. "We hold these truths." Our common embrace of these truths is what unites us as a political community. We are committed to viewing one another as rights bearers who hold those rights not by force of popular will or by any ancient tradition, but by virtue of having been created equally by God. And we insist that the government treat all people under its care with the same respect.

Of course, America never fully lives up those ideals, but we strive to do so, sometimes more, sometimes less. We are a nation of tender conscience. So Martin Luther King Jr could say, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'" America is always rising because we are always falling short, and when we fall too far short our national moral failure provokes us to mend our ways as a people and return more faithfully to our high aspirations. Because our principles are true and because we are frail human beings, our principles are always beyond us. But as such, they draw us upward.

In some ways, we are no longer the nation we once were. In some other ways, we are better. But if we hold to our principles of liberty, then what Ronald Reagan said at the 1992 Republican National Convention will continue to be true: “America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”

That's why I love this country, and that's why I'm proud to be an American.

(Sadly, because of over-reaction to the terrorist threat, I was not able to bring a camera into the courthouse.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Perfectly Rational Party and You

Peter Wehner's WSJ article, "No, America Isn't Ungovernable" (Feb. 12, 2010) helps explain why the ruling Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are behaving the way they are, and draws attention to the premise that underlies liberal-progressive arrogance in general.

The Democrats occupy the White House and have a majority in both houses of Congress. So why have they not been able to do everything they've wanted to do for the last 35 years, but haven't been able to? Three reasons. The people, the other party, and the system itself.

The people are stupid. They must be. If we have the perfect President and if he has proposed the most perfectly rational legislative agenda, then if the people do not support it in sufficient numbers they must be "a nation of dodos" (Time's Joe Klein) as well as childish, ignorant, and incoherent (Slate's Jacon Weisberg).

The Republicans are just nihilists. When you have the perfect President and you are presented with the most perfectly rational legislative agenda, there can be no disagreement except out of simple will to power, "pure nihilism for naked political gain" (Newsweek's Michael Cohen). So that must be what is behind Republican opposition to Democratic health care reform, cap-and-trade carbon emmisions control, card check union organizing rules, etc.

The Senate rules are outdated. If the Senate, where the Democrats barely had a supermajority until the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts broke it, cannot pass a perfectly rational piece of legislation like the House version of health care reform for a perfect President, it must be "ominously dysfunctional" (Paul Krugman) and wholly incompatible with what is necessary for governing modern nation.

It is all premised on the liberal self-understanding (which it never crosses their minds to question): "We liberals are rational and philanthropic; anyone who disagrees with us must therefore be stupid and malicious."

For further insight into the liberal/progressive worldview and the mind of our President, you should also read George Will's recent column, "Progressives and the Growing Dependency Agenda."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Getting Serious About Choosing a President

Barack Obama is governing so poorly after only his first year--on the economy (what he hasn't yet destroyed or nationalized), getting beyond partisan politics (he threw that ball to Nancy Pelosi and company), fighting the War on Terror (Holder's got that covered), appeasing international monsters (hyper-active, with predictably poor results), and health-care reform (a domestic monster of his own making that voters had to slay)--that Republican talent is already viewing 2012 with hope.

Of course, the names Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin continue to echo out of 2008, but I cannot imagine a Fox News-Entertainment personality making a serious Presidential bid. Once you sign a deal for a show or a regular comment spot, you've made your choice.

So in a nation of 300 million people, in a party largely respectful of and inspired by our glorious founding principles, there must be someone under present conditions who is qualified and ready to step forward and lead.

I have never been a close observer of Indiana politics (I usually fall asleep when driving through Indiana, even when I'm doing the driving), but others have been paying attention to their two term Governor, Mitch Daniels.

George Will sees him as the 2012 nominee, with Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running-mate ("Charting Our Way to Solvency"). This strikes me as a team of merely economic conservatives, though I'm interested in hearing more. Governor Daniels worked thirteen years as an executive for the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company and for 27 months as George W. Bush's director of the Office of Management and Budget (that's a long time in White House years). As Governor, he managed Indiana into a AAA credit rating, unprecedented for the state. He's also a lawyer (Georgetown).

On the understanding that you can't have everything, these may be just the qualifications we need at this time. The premise behind Will's prediction is that the nationally crippling Obama deficit, the shriveled and humiliated U.S. dollar, and, on top of these catastrophes, the bankrupting burden of the looming explosion of baby-boomer retirees drawing mercilessly on an already penniless Social Security and Medicare entitlement system, present a greater threat to our national security than al Qaeda terrorism and all the rogue states combined. When a geopolitical rival like China holds a lethal portion of our national debt, the connection between national solvency and national security needs no further argument.

But Will is not alone in this judgment. Back in December 2008, a month after Barack Obama was elected President and Daniels himself was re-elected Governor, Michael Barone noticed that Daniels won his state 58-40% in a year when Republicans did very poorly and Obamamania was in the air, and in a state that Obama carried. Barone goes into detail as to how Daniels pulled this off, and how also he is a strong candidate for the White House in 2012.

Then last spring, William Kristol took notice of Daniels' commencement address at Butler University in which Daniels spoke bluntly and unflatteringly about his own baby-boomer generation. Kristol quoted from it at length ("A Hoosier in the White House?"). Here's a sample:

All our lives, it's been all about us. We were the "Me Generation." We wore t-shirts that said "If it feels good, do it." The year of my high school commencement, a hit song featured the immortal lyric "Na, na, nananana live for today." As a group, we have been self-centered, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, and all too often just plain selfish. Our current Baby Boomer President has written two eloquent, erudite books, both about himself.

As a generation, we did tend to live for today. We have spent more and saved less than any previous Americans. Year after year, regardless which party we picked to lead the country, we ran up deficits that have multiplied the debt you and your children will be paying off your entire working lives. Far more burdensome to you mathematically, we voted ourselves increasing levels of Social Security pensions and Medicare health care benefits, but never summoned the political maturity to put those programs on anything resembling a sound actuarial footing.

In sum, our parents scrimped and saved to provide us a better living standard than theirs; we borrowed and splurged and will leave you a staggering pile of bills to pay. It's been a blast; good luck cleaning up after us....

Great. My vote is his to lose. Kristol concludes: "After what will be, in 2012, two decades of Clinton, Bush and Obama, maybe the nation will be ready to elect a Boomer president who disdains his own generation, and urges younger Americans to reject Boomer vanities and self-indulgence in the name of freedom and greatness?"

After the Obama debacle, the country may be looking once again for a grown up with real life and executive experience in the White House. Imagine that?

Here is Daniels himself writing in the Wall Street Journal--"The Coming Reset in State Government: My fellow governors and I are likely facing a permanent reduction in tax revenues" (September 9, 2009).

Here is Kimberley Strassel's WSJ interview with the Governor.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tyranny at Home, Naivete Abroad

Here are two of the wisest and most observant students of politics in our day commenting on President Obama's first year in office: Harvey Mansfield and Charles Krauthammer, a professor of government and a columnist.

In "What Obama Isn't Saying: The Apolitical Politics of Progressivism" (The Weekly Standard, Feb. 8, 2010), Professor Mansfield unpacks the President's progressive-tyrannical ambitions from his seemingly innocent statement, "I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last."

Obama is not our king. But he uses the monarchical branch of our republic without embarrassment to project the nonpartisan image of a monarch. He has not been a strong president; he has deferred to Congress, perhaps to his cost. But he likes the aura of monarchy and uses it skillfully to transcend partisan argument.

What every progressive wants is to put the particular issue he espouses beyond political dispute. ... Next to liberty of the mind, there is no more important liberty than political liberty. This means that no partisan victory is permanent and that we shall always return to different versions of the same questions. Progress can never make political liberty obsolete by solving the problems that we contend over. Those who want to put an issue like health care “beyond politics” simply want an imposed political solution to their liking.

Charles Krauthammer delivered the Margaret Thatcher Freedom Lecture at the Heritage Foundation on January 19, 2010. It is published as "The Age of Obama: Anno Domini 2." Pulling together the most stunning pronouncements from the the President's leading foreign policy statements leaves one with little more to say than, "God help us!" Krauthammer is not gentle in his responses.

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo (Dec. 10, 2009), Obama defended the use of war and noted the existence of evil in the world:

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

Krauthammer takes no comfort from this.

Indeed, when a President's recognition of evil or rejection of pacifism jumps out at us as something startling and novel, that tells us much--none of it good--about the baseline from which he is operating: the woolly internationalism Obama has been operating under during his first year in office.

In his address to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2009, President Obama told the world on our behalf:

In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional divisions between nations of the South and the North make no sense in an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War.

I does not take a gifted political analyst to see the problems here. Nonetheless, here he is.

Where does one begin? Power is no longer a zero-sum game? Tell that to the demonstrators in the streets of Tehran. Tell that to the Tamil Tigers or to the newly liberated Baltic states.

No nation should try to dominate another? Perhaps, but that's merely adolescent utopianism. The world is a Hobbesian state of nature in which the struggle for domination is the very essence of international life.

No nation can dominate another? This is simple nonsense. How can a man of such intelligence-- and a president of the United States--even allow himself to utter these words?

But most disturbing is the notion that what he called "the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War" are obsolete and senseless. These cleavages were actually the dividing line between free and unfree, between democratic and Communist, between the West and an Evil Empire that had stamped out the face of freedom in half of Europe and in an archipelago of far-flung colonies from Vietnam to Cuba to Nicaragua.

This was no accidental dividing line. Yet in place of this so-called cleavage, Obama wants to bring about a new 21st-century world of universal understanding and accommodation. And for that, the U.S. is to be the facilitator, the healer, the interlocutor, the moral example--led, of course, by the man floating above it all, "a fellow citizen of the world," as he called himself in Berlin.

While we hoped that this was the height of the President's naivete, he has actually continued to climb. When you take a state senator and elevate him in short order to the White House you get community organizing as a model for international relations. Yes, literally. Read on.

And because good things come in three, go on to read Fouad Ajami's "The Spell is Broken" (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 2, 2010). "Mr. Obama himself authored the tale of his own political crisis. He had won an election, but he took it as a plebiscite granting him a writ to remake the basic political compact of this republic." He is following up on the essay he published just before the election, "Obama and the Politics of Crowds" (Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2008). Ajami knows a Third World demagogue when he sees one, but this one is finding himself out of place in this constitutional republic.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tiller and His Killer

I have found that there are two ways to upset my evangelical Christian students (not that I try to do that). I can either question in any way the complete freedom of human will, or question people's right to rebel against the government and take the law into their own hands.

Granted, this is not true of all my students, and perhaps not even most of them, but these topics never fail to stir up a vocal response (though they are always civil and respectful).

Here is an excerpt from my post over at on why Scott Roeder was wrong to kill the radical abortionist, George Tiller:

This past Friday, Scott Roeder was sentenced to life in prison for last May’s shooting death of George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country who performed partial-birth abortions. Tiller was a doctor only in the legal sense of the word. He was not a healer, but a killer—a callous monster who could hold a baby in his hands as the child emerged from the mother, puncture its skull, and suck its brains out. Tiller was a mass murderer, though the unjust laws that govern that practice in America sanctioned his butchery. It does not follow, however, that Roeder was justified in what he did, as almost every Christian opponent of abortion would agree. ...

Read "Leaving Tiller to God."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Backing Away From Obama

The American people are taking a Churchillian stance toward President Obama these days. Having failed to catch the Bay State's body-politic language when, standing in for the country as a whole, they pulled away from the Democrats' attempt at a head-to-toe government embrace, Obama is now proposing the government supervision of college football. Stephen Bainbridge, a UCLA law professor, illustrates the popular response to all of this with a well known anecdote about Churchill and Clement Attlee.

One day shortly after the Second World War ended, Winston Churchill and Labour Party Prime Minister Clement Attlee encountered one another at the urinal trough in the House of Common's men's washroom. Attlee arrived first. When Churchill arrived, he stood as far away from him as possible. Attlee said, "Feeling standoffish today, are we, Winston?" Churchill said: "That's right. Every time you see something big, you want to nationalize it."

Bainbridge adds: "With the government already running the banks and the auto industry, and trying to take over the health care industry, however, one might have hoped that sports would escape the ravening maw of Leviathan."

Fouad Ajami gives an insightful account of how American has fallen out of love with the man Oprah Winfrey called "the One." Read "The Obama Spell is Broken" (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 1, 2010).

The curtain has come down on what can best be described as a brief un-American moment in our history. That moment began in the fall of 2008, with the great financial panic, and gave rise to the Barack Obama phenomenon. .. Gone was the empiricism in political life that had marked the American temper in politics. A charismatic leader had risen in a manner akin to the way politics plays out in distressed and Third World societies.

There is nothing surprising about where Mr. Obama finds himself today. He had been made by charisma, and political magic, and has been felled by it. If his rise had been spectacular, so, too, has been his fall. The speed with which some of his devotees have turned on him—and their unwillingness to own up to what their infatuation had wrought—is nothing short of astounding. But this is the bargain Mr. Obama had made with political fortune. ...

Mr. Obama's self-regard, and his reading of his mandate, overwhelmed all restraint. The age-old American balance between a relatively small government and a larger role for the agencies of civil society was suddenly turned on its head. Speed was of the essence to the Obama team and its allies, the powerful barons in Congress. Better ram down sweeping social programs—a big liberal agenda before the people stirred to life again. ...

Ajami is a poet-professor-columnist. Read the whole article for his account of Obama's hubris, self-delusion, and politically self-destructive embrace of European praise.