You are currently viewing archive for March 2006
Category: Baylor
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
There is much discussion of Baylor University in the news and on the web this week. Most of it is connected with the denial of tenure for Francis Beckwith, a professor in the JM Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor. Here is a nice round-up of stories from Mere Comments (which includes this link worth reading from First Things by Joseph Bottum).

My comment is 12th in the queue on Mere Comments, but I will save you the trouble:

A Meltdown? Perhaps we overstate the problem. I would imagine that Baylor today (for Baylor students) is very much like Baylor was (for Baylor students) when I was there in the 1980s and then again in the 1990s and when my father was there in the early 1960s and how it will be when my boys are there in the late-2010s.

Baylor has taught secular geology and biology for more than 100 years. Baylor has always employed liberal history professors with degrees from big-name research universities. The Baylor religion department has always been of the moderate-to-liberal variety. And Baylor has always been and will continue to be a great place to get a Christian education.

Part of the current problem is the social awkwardness of the reformers. True Baylorites resent presumptuous outsiders who always seem so ready to tell us how lowly Baylor was before they took an interest in the 2012 project. I have heard enough of that forever.

On the other hand, it was probably unwise to dismiss a sincere scholar for reasons of "collegiality." What does that mean? How do you catalog, quantify or document something that nebulous? Obviously that was a PR disaster waiting to happen. An olive branch might have been wiser than the sledgehammer. Having said that, the Baylor family needs time to heal itself.

In the meantime, Baylor University is today what it always has been: a wonderful and secure place for Christian parents (and well-meaning parents of all persuasions) to entrust their children for four years.

26/03: Amen.

Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer

17/03: Bigger Love

Charles Krauthammer (linked here) takes on polygamy and same-sex marriage today and makes a lot of sense. Toward the end of the article, Krauthammer articulates the perfect blend of a libertarian world view and pragmatic logic:

"I'm not one of those who see gay marriage or polygamy as a threat to or assault on traditional marriage. The assault came from within. Marriage has needed no help in managing its own long slow suicide, thank you. Astronomical rates of divorce and of single parenthood (the deliberate creation of fatherless families) existed before there was a single gay marriage or any talk of sanctioning polygamy. The minting of these new forms of marriage is a symptom of our culture's contemporary radical individualism -- as is the decline of traditional marriage -- and not its cause.

As for gay marriage, I've come to a studied ambivalence. I think it a mistake for society to make this ultimate declaration of indifference between gay and straight life, if only for reasons of pedagogy. On the other hand, I have enough gay friends and feel the pain of their inability to have the same level of social approbation and confirmation of their relationship with a loved one that I'm not about to go to anyone's barricade to deny them that. It is critical, however, that any such fundamental change in the very definition of marriage be enacted democratically and not (as in the disastrous case of abortion) by judicial fiat.

I agree completely, but I would tweak one minor point in the essay: Krauthammer points out that he has predicted for ten years that "it is utterly logical for polygamy rights to follow gay rights."

I would argue that polygamy would have made more sense as a trailblazer (or Trojan Horse) for same-sex marriage. By that I mean, polygamy is eminently more defensible than gay marriage. Gay marriage draws the ire of Natural Law theorists and scripture-emphasizing Christians. Polygamy, on the other hand, does not offend Natural Law devotees and has deep Biblical roots. For the most part, polygamy has only American tradition to overcome, which is not an insurmountable hill to climb.

15/03: Finding Gold

Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat and genuinely Progressive senator and candidate for president in 2008, introduced a resolution of "censure" this week against President Bush for "breaking laws" and "misleading Congress." The Washington Post provides this transcript of his remarks on Monday.

Dana Milbank's piece detailing the Democrats "run for the hills" reaction to Feingold's proposal is absolutely hilarious (perhaps Milbank is trying to make up for his orange clothes during the Cheney frenzy). Hugh Hewitt has it right: the Republicans in the Senate should make the Dems vote on this.

Mark Levin weighs in on the extra-constitutionalism of censure, which is irrelevant to me. Censure is basically a "spirit of the Congress"-type resolution; it is non-binding and has no meaning, but, certainly, the United States Senate has the right to make their opinion on this a matter of public record.

Added material: From the Historian of the United States Senate: a brief narrative on the Henry Clay-engineered censure of Andrew Jackson in 1834.

One more add: From the weekly whose ad reads: "If you think it is time to impeach Bush, then it is time for you to subsribe to the The Nation," William Greider pens a tribute to Feingold, "A Peculiar Politician," in which he casts him as "a lion of the Constitution," comparable to Sam Ervin.

13/03: Texas 17

Category: Texas 17
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Today's Waco Tribune-Herald offers some early handicapping in the US House race for President Bush's home district (Texas 17). As the article notes, Representative Chet Edwards (Democrat) barely held off the Republican challenger in 2004, while the district went for President Bush with 69 percent of the vote. The Trib calls Edwards "one of Texas' most resilient Democrats," which may be an understatement. Edwards was the only one of six targeted Democratic incumbents to survive the much celebrated redistricting of 2003.

Edwards has succeeded consistently in an increasingly, overwhelmingly Republican district. He has a good (and justly earned) reputation in the community for servicing constituents, and he has skillfully distanced himself from the mainstream of his party on the issues that alienate many Central Texans. As a capstone to the Trib story, Texas A&M political science professor, Henry Tucker, cast great doubt on Taylor's chances to unseat the formidable Edwards.

I agree that it will be extremely difficult to unseat Edwards because of his experience and popularity. And Van Taylor, as the article notes, has a big disadvantage: he has no Central Texas roots. However, while Chet Edwards is a good congressman and a good candidate, he has been extremely vulnerable for the last several election cycles, even before the redistricting.

In truth, the redistricting was gratuitous; the old Texas 11 was bound to go Republican eventually. The numbers were already in favor of the GOP and the gap was growing steadily. Tom Delay should have waited patiently for the ripe fruit to fall off the tree. Edwards ran especially strong in Waco in 2004 (against an unimpressive candidate from the Metroplex), in part because locals resented and reacted against outside forces rushing the natural progression of things.

Back to Van Taylor: having identified his main problem, Taylor is, nevertheless, a very attractive candidate. He is also a well-financed youthful war veteran (a Marine no less) with a young family. Chet Edwards for ten years has been blessed with a series of inept and not very photogenic or media savvy opponents. Not this cycle. Only time will tell how effective Taylor will be on the stump, but when you browse Van Taylor's website, you get a feeling that this particular contest will be a horse race.

So, as you are calculating the 2006 Congressional scorecard, you may want to mark Chet Edwards down as a Democratic incumbent with a serious challenge.

13/03: Why McCain?

Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Today New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (and the Democratic party) officially declared war on John McCain, calling him "slippery and evasive" and a "right-winger." Although I fought hard against McCain's candidacy for the Republican nomination in 2000, for the last several months I have been telling my friends that I think McCain may be our guy for 2008.

First of all, why was I so dead-set against McCain six years ago? Frankly, it is hard to remember exactly, but I came to genuinely dislike him for a time. I started out an Orin Hatch supporter, and then I reluctantly settled on George Bush because he looked like he could win and I liked his family. He also struck me as an unpolished but authentic and sincere man ("I believe in grace, because I have seen it ... In peace, because I have felt it ... In forgiveness, because I have needed it"). On the whole, George Bush has not disappointed me.

Why my dislike for McCain? Once committed to Bush in the early months of 2000, McCain was the enemy. I disagreed with McCain-Feingold, which was one of the cornerstones of his campaign. Perhaps most importantly, I was spooked by his boosters. Looking back, I was very suspicious of someone who courted the MSM and appealed to my hardcore Democratic friends (although I predicted back then that McCain's liberal admirers would desert him in the general election). Moreover, I felt he was playing to the Beltway press corps (and we are supposed to hate the Beltway press corps). In retrospect, my distaste for McCain based on his association with reporters who flocked to his bandwagon on the "straight-talk express" was unfair and not quite rational.

Why does McCain appeal to me today? McCain self-identifies as a Reagan Republican (as he has throughout his career). He is a Westerner. He is rock-solid on conservative issues (today Paul Krugman asserts that McCain's voting record is currently ranked the third-most conservative in the Senate). Krugman (who is not linked here; my policy is to not link the Times) has it just about right: McCain is not a radical opponent of tax cuts; McCain has a long history of toughness against rogue states (Krugman makes the important point that William Kristol supported McCain over Bush in 2000; McCain's foreign policy would have been similar to Bush's, only stronger). Krugman also fumes that McCain is now friendly with the Religious Right and positioning himself as "an extremist on abortion."

Krugman makes a lot of sense to me (did I really say that?).

Moreover, McCain, who had the power to derail Bush in 2000 and 2004, rallied around the flag and proved his loyalty to Republican ideas. McCain set aside any personal animus and did the right thing for the right reasons. He had every opportunity for revenge, and he passed. You must admire that kind of discipline. McCain has supported the war on terror unflinchingly. Although he balked on the torture question, and he called consistently for more troops in Iraq during 2003 and 2004, arguably, he was right on both counts.

Added comment: McCain drew near-unanimous condemnation from conservatives for his leadership role in the "Gang of Fourteen" (aka "The Mod Squad"), but that seems somewhat misplaced and wrong-headed now that the compromise netted us Roberts and Alito and broke up the logjam of conservative Circuit Court nominees.

Why now? In brief:

1. McCain will run as a Reagan Republican, but he will not carry the baggage of the Bush administration. The GOP faces tough times in 2006 and 2008. The next election will be a referendum on President Bush (35 percent approval). But no Repubilcan candidate can succeed running away from George Bush. Republicans cannot nominate an "outsider," anti-Washington governor (it just won't fly). Having said that, there needs to be some distance. McCain will run on his record of integrity and independence and fiscal responsibility, at the same time promising to stay the course where it counts.

To that end, McCain is an articulate spokesman for conservative common sense. The winning candidate will need to connect with the public. The GOP candidate will need to sell a program that is not very popular right now. McCain is a great communicator. His vaunted appeal to "moderates" (much criticized in some conservative circles) really means that many regular Americans perceive McCain as a good man and wise leader.

2. McCain is battle-tested and up to the challenge. The next presidential election will prove devastatingly cruel and heartless. Think Hillary Clinton and James Carville and Paul Begala and Paul Krugman unleashed. This is no time to learn as you go along. The Republicans need a tough guy for this very tough upcoming race. McCain's life experience and his sense of humor will help him navigate the ugliness.

3. Lindsey Graham. Graham is the brightest shining star on the Republican horizon and a long-time McCain supporter. Graham will be a floor leader in the Senate in a McCain presidency, positioning him for bigger and better things to come. McCain and Graham represent the future of the party.

What say you? What are your reasons for and/or against McCain?
We were having an interesting discussion from the old blog in re Hollywood and culture and who to blame for the corruption of the American soul. Although the discussion began with my surprisingly (at least to me) laudatory review of Jon Stewart's Oscar performance, I took the position that Hollywood was capable of great good and was more of a mirror to our depravity than an evil force intent on undermining virtue in America.

This morning C-SPAN aired a panel discussion from last December taking on the question of the "Pornification of America." Although C-SPAN has not archived this seminar, I am including a C-SPAN link with information on the colloquium and the authors who participated (all of whom seemed worth further investigation).

Although the topic was pornography, and its impact on society, nearly all the panelists acknowledged that pornography was merely one element in a corrosive American culture of marketing sex to children and adults (which includes music and toys and clothing and "strip culture"). Thinking back to the conversation linked above, I am convinced that we sometimes conflate Hollywood with Madison Avenue and corporate greed. But it brings up the greater point: are we not getting exactly what we want? If the genius of the market is that we reward agents who give us what we desire, is it fair to blame the entrepreneurs who feed our addictions to unsavory and unhealthy and destructive distractions?
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The much anticipated (at least by me) American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia is now available via Amazon and ISI and many other places.

Order it today!

The following is a sample entry on Patrick Henry, 1736-1799, penned by one of the lesser known contributors but who is, nevertheless, of special interest to the Bosque Boys.

Commonly considered the greatest orator of the American Revolution, Patrick Henry’s fiery denunciations of consolidation also provided a rallying point for critics of centralized government following the War for Independence. Henry journeyed from proto-nationalist to Anti-Federalist and then back to Federalist during his long career, and his political odyssey reflects the persistent tension between liberty and order so prevalent during his time and beyond. A self-educated native of Virginia, the “forest-born Demosthenes” emerged as a gifted lawyer during his mid-twenties. Speaking in opposition to the Stamp Act in 1765, Henry gained international recognition when he defiantly declared “if this be treason, make the most of it.” A decade later, addressing the Virginia legislature in support of Independence, he uttered his most celebrated call to arms: “Give me liberty or give me death.” During the Revolution he served as wartime governor of Virginia. As a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774, Henry exuberantly declared himself “not a Virginian but an American.” He renounced nationalism thirteen years later when he refused election to the Constitutional Convention (called ostensibly to modify the Articles of Confederation), proclaiming that he “smelt a rat.” Henry then directed the campaign in Virginia to block ratification of the federal compact. Pronouncing the federal union merely a scheme devised by northern states to “despoil” the southern states of their wealth, he also warned that the Constitution provided little protection against tyranny. As Virginia’s leading Anti-Federalist, he faulted the document for an unrealistic reliance on “good men” and predicted that some ambitious and able President would inevitably make a “bold push for the American throne.” Although he lost the argument (Virginia ratified the Constitution in 1788), Henry remained a hero and a political force in his home state for another decade. Ironically, in his final years Henry returned to his nationalist roots, embracing the Federalist Party and remaining active as a Federalist until his death in 1799.

Other entries of special interest: Stephen A Douglas, The Federalist Party, The American Tories (Loyalists) and Dwight Eisenhower.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
"THEY SPEND drunkenly, they fail at oversight and they can't stop the administration from abusing detainees or tapping phones. But never call the members of Congress powerless: Yesterday, in the exalted name of anti-terrorism, the Senate rebelled against its Republican leadership and joined the House in a vote to prevent a company based in a moderate, friendly Arab country from making a minor investment in the United States." So begins the lead editorial in this morning's Washington Post.

The Post's two Davids, Broder and Ignatius, also weigh in with somber assessments of this as Congressional folly, calling the episode anti-Arab "nativist sentiment" and "a frenzy of Muslim-bashing disguised as concern about terrorism." All three of these articles are must reads. Watching C-SPAN this morning (it is "Brian Lamb Friday;" my favorite day of the week), I was stunned, as was Brian, at the virtually unanimous bipartisan condemnation on the editorial pages of America's leading newspapers aimed at the craven Congress and the misplaced popular vigilance. Even the New York Times (not linked), which egged on its home-state senators and congressman and fanned the flames of this imbroglio, did not celebrate this "victory;" they merely shifted the subject to the broader question of port security.

One more point to make: the Bush administration, often characterized as unreasonably stubborn, demonstrates once again that they have the capacity to fold quickly and unabashedly when the political odds are clearly stacked against them. Of course, much needs to be said for their maladroitness in handling this episode. Broder is right that this is much bigger than this one issue. Are the troops in full mutiny? Is the prospect of Republican civil war and mayhem in Washington finally upon us?

On the other hand, we should also note that in the midst of losing on Dubai and Cheney's hunting accident, the USA Patriot Act reauthorization passed and the NSA surveillance unpleasantness reached compromise. Those are much bigger victories for the Bush administration.

More later...
Appeared in the Waco Tribune, March 3, 2006:

Benjamin Franklin purportedly cautioned: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Although the provenance of that statement is not without questions, the quote accurately reflected the spirit of the Imperial Crisis and the American Revolution. When Franklin and his compatriots finally “pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” to a War for Independence, they perceived themselves fighting to maintain their rights against a renegade government illegitimately accumulating power and threatening liberty.

Once liberty was defended and independence won, however, Americans found governing more problematic than many of the revolutionary slogans had implied. Motivated by the conviction that “power was the enemy of liberty, but too much liberty was also the enemy of liberty,” the convention in Philadelphia in 1787 yielded the Constitution, which created a more centralized government and traded some liberty for stability.

The framers created a federal system in which the national government shared sovereignty with the states, at the same time asserting the supremacy of the new consolidated government. Although the Constitution backed away from the rhetoric of 1776, the framers showed respect for their revolutionary experience and bowed to their political reality. They placed limits on the new government, and they divided power into three branches, charging each component with oversight of the other two in order to provide “proper checks and balances.”

The framers would be struck by the current form of their handiwork as it has evolved over the course of two centuries. Notwithstanding, the problem that they identified as the central dilemma of Republican government, the tension between power and liberty, has remained constant in American history. And the antidote that they prescribed, competing sources of power, “counteracting ambition with ambition,” creating institutional interests and pitting them against rival interests, has served remarkably well to protect liberty from power over time.

The ancient problem and the eighteenth-century curative speak to an important current question: how much power shall we allow the President to exercise in exchange for security in a hostile world? How much power is too much? When does the power of the presidency pose an unacceptable threat to our liberty? These questions are not unprecedented. Much of our present dilemma is systemic and historical. There is no place on Mount Rushmore for presidents who remained satisfied with the scope of their power. Generally, presidents attempt to enlarge the power of the presidency; it is an institutional instinct.

Having said that, no practiced student of American history would trust ruling presidents to determine wisely the limits of their own power. That role falls to the other branches. In addition to those provided in the founding document, extraconstitutional interests have emerged in contemporary America as powerful players in the oversight of presidential authority. These agents include the opposition party in our two-party system, the free press and the giant federal bureaucracy, all of whom have contributed to the current examination of presidential power. As a result of this healthy debate, the legislative and judicial branches, which remain potent and jealous interests, ultimately and rightly, will determine the extent of presidential authority in this latest chapter concerning power and liberty.

Of course, all of these institutions serve merely as surrogates for the people. The power undergirding all these branches (constitutional and otherwise) is rooted in popular sovereignty. Benjamin Franklin, commenting at the close of the Constitutional Convention, optimistically predicted that a well-administered Republican government could last indefinitely. But the pragmatic Franklin also worried that self rule could easily “end in despotism…when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” The gravest threat to liberty comes when the people abdicate their crucial role in the process. May an enlightened debate with regard to the balance between liberty and power continue to flourish.
Category: General
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
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