Archive for February, 2010

Palin thinks more war would help Obama

…but what else is new? I wouldn’t expect any less from a neocon. Granted, I think she might be right about Obama’s general approval and the thrust of his administration, but not for the reason she gives. From my own perspective, Obama has lost some steam for the exact opposite reasons Mrs. Palin states. I believe his ramping up of war in Afghanistan (Iraq too) hasn’t helped. Moreover, his promise to shut down Guantanamo Bay prison, while some effort has been made, is coming to pass much more slowly than I had anticipated. His military budget capped $600 billion, signaling no end to Leviathan’s quest for empire. So there are things I don’t like about Obama (I understand some of that is inheritance from W, but it’s been a year, and I haven’t seen too much undoing).

But more war? That’s how Obama could gain some momentum and steam? Moreover, does anybody find it odd that Obama’s potential opponent in 2012 is giving him popularity advice? Isn’t that like a deer taking advice from the N.R.A.? And wouldn’t more war alienate Mr. Obama’s base, which for the most part are typically non-interventionist?

Mr. Obama, I don’t like you as much as the media does, but I recognize you’re the best thing that was on the table 2 years ago. With that said, I want you to have success (contra Mr. Limbaugh’s wishes). Do the opposite of Mrs. Palin’s suggestions – bring our troops home. Be the non-interventionist. Show this country that you don’t believe in illegal, unprovoked, and unconstitutional warfare. Deal with these countries through compassion and fair trade, not through bombs. Furthermore, let’s show Mrs. Palin that a foreign policy of peace would do just the opposite – get you re-elected.

* Side-note: I caught her subtle support for Israel in there. America’s love affair with the AIPAC has caused a myriad of problems, but that’s for another discussion.


Yoo, Bybee, and the OLC

Yale Law Professor and political philosopher Bruce Ackerman responds the exoneration of Jay S. Bybee and John C. Yoo in this article in the Washington Post.

I found this section interesting:

Sometimes the OLC will resist presidential overreaching. But James Madison warned us that “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” And it is not at all certain whether OLC lawyers may resist unreasonable claims down the line.

The Constitution requires the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” He is not free to create a system in which his lawyers have powerful incentives to subordinate the law to short-term political imperatives. Since this is precisely the current situation, the president and Congress have a constitutional obligation to establish an institutional framework that will keep future John Yoos under control.

In coming weeks, Congress should do more than call Bybee and Yoo to testify. Lawmakers should work with President Obama to create an executive tribunal that will ensure the integrity of the rule of law. Members of the tribunal will operate as judges for the executive branch, not as lawyers for the sitting president. There will be nine judges on the panel, each serving staggered 12-year terms, giving the president the chance to nominate three judges during a four-year period. Nominees must gain Senate confirmation — which will encourage the president to nominate candidates with reputations as fair-minded professionals, not legal ideologues.

For me, I am not all that interested in prosecuting Yoo or Bybee. However, steps should be taken (as Ackerman argues) to prevent this from happening in the future.

Patrick Henry Caucus

The Patrick Henry Caucus is the pro-state’s right group within the Utah State Legislature. This is the right-wing of a very right-wing legislative body. They are in many ways the voice of the tea party movement and the 9/12 groups.

The choice of Patrick Henry as their symbol is an appropriate one. Henry is most famous for his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech. While this speech is a rousing oration, it points in many ways to who Henry is. He is not the great revolutionary, but America’s first great demagogue.

In his great speech, Henry draws upon the image of the chains of slavery. The relationship between the American colonies and England was one of slave and master. It would be better to be dead than to be a slave.

Yet, Henry seems to be completely uninterested in the plight of actual slaves. He in fact owns some. How can one be so passionate about figurative slavery, but seem unaware of the morality of actual slavery? How can one use the imagery of the chains of slavery, while at the same time binding people as slaves with his own chains? Continue reading

Constitutional Changes

When I teach the Constitutional Convention, I like to ask students what they would do differently from the original U.S. Constitution. They cannot choose slavery provisions or other aspects we have already been changed.

The most popular response is the Electoral College. It is an easy aspect of the Constitution to throw under the bus. Yet, there are usually some strong Constitutionalists who will defend every aspect of the Constitution, including the Electoral College. Afterall, God must have instituted the Electoral College to protect us from having Al Gore is president.

If we were to have a new Constitutional Convention, what would you change about the Constitutional order? I will be addressing my proposed changes in the coming weeks.

This is what I do.

What do political philosophers do? Well, I talk about things in the way that Martha Nussbaum does in the video:

Doesn’t everyone bring the social contract into all of their discussions? What? It is just me? Oh, well.

The video is from the documentary Examined Life. Watch the clip. It is very well done. I do not agree totally with Nussbaum, but I am intrigued by her approach.

It seems to me that my state legislature, the Utah State Legislature, tends to busy itself with identity politics rather than legislation. While identity politics often refers to appealling to some minority by putting up minority candidates, in this case the Utah State Legislature appeals to paleocon/libertarian ideologues by passing the craziest laws imaginable. Most of these are symbolic moves, standing no chance of surviving judicial review, and are a colossal waste of money as a result. Hopefully, they won’t make their way out of the legislature (but sometimes they do). It is like the local caucuses just send their craziest, most strident members out as state representatives and senators so that they won’t bother them anymore with their paranoid theories regarding the UN or the Federal Reserve.

In this session, we have had resolutions rejecting health care legislation that doesn’t exist yet, an attempt to tie Martin Luther King, Jr to gun ownership advocacy (stay classy, Utah Legislature), an amendment attacking affirmative action (except for religion), two resolutions (at least) asserting states’ rights (again, focusing on potential federal actions that have not been proposed and aren’t being enacted), a bill privatizing state parks, a resolution formally questioning climate science, and finally, and most irritatingly, passed a law that will certainly get us embroiled in a lengthy, expensive test case for gun’s rights for which there is already a test case.

The last law demonstrates that the legislature isn’t interested in the interests of its constituents so much as it is interested in declaring itself the most conservative legislature in the states. I’m certain that before the session ends there will be various resolutions trying to make it even harder to get an abortion or to get welfare in Utah. I’m absolutely certain that cuts will be made to higher education while demands for quality and efficiency will be increased. Heck, they are putting ads on school buses, why should higher ed be left out?

In any case, the motivation for all this seems to be an attempt to demonstrate that the legislature is hard-core conservative. And it is, no one is questioning that. But the legislature’s quest to establish, over and over again, its conservative bona fides means that the lengths it goes to are crazier and crazier, each session trying to outdo the one before it. Why limit education spending, when you can just eliminate 12th grade?

Most of the reason that they can get away with this is because of a sense of conservative identity politics. However, instead of representing an oppressed and underserved minority, the conservative demagogues supporting this nonsense argue that they represent an oppressed and underserved majority. So they blithely adopt resolutions against the UN, thinking that people back home don’t object because they support it. This is wrong. People back home don’t object because they don’t have a clue what the state legislature is up to. They don’t even know who their state representative is. The perceived unimportance of the legislature is what allows this craziness to continue (who cares what those yahoos at the capital do?). But while they are wasting time of these pet, crazy topics, there is real, important stuff going on. Budgets are being decided, programs are being support (or not). Do you want those decisions in the hands of people who don’t understand the use and value of an amicus brief?

Utah is a laughingstock, not because of religious prejudice, but because our legislature consists of a group of people who spend their time debating climate science and evolution in schools instead of actually running the state. But, in this age of state budget cuts, I suppose it might be cheaper than sticking them in treatment facilities.

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My Favorite U.S. Presidents

This is not meant to be a list of the five best presidents. It is not the five most effective presidents. They are my five favorites.

Abraham Lincoln:

 This may be an easy one for many. For me, as a political theorist, Lincoln is the most interesting. I love following how his views on slavery, always thoughtful and complex, changes over time. Most importantly, Lincoln asserted the primacy of the U.S. Constitution and insisted that it be viewed as a document which represented Enlightenment principles and not just an agreement of political expediency.

Lyndon Baines Johnson:

 LBJ is not likely on the favorite list of many. Johnson represents some of the best and the worst of the American Presidency. It was Johnson that achieved landmark Civil Rights legislation in 1964, 1965, and 1968. The War on Poverty and the Great Society represent my dream domestic agenda. The Great Society aimed to bring about social change by empowering and organizing the poor. Education and social action. Political empowering those in poverty, particularly the black poor, led to a backlash against the Great Society. While many still whine about the Great Society, it was never allowed to get off the ground.

The thing which ultimately killed the Great Society, and destroyed both Johnson and the image of Johnson, was the Vietnam War.  What a sad waste on so many levels.

John Adams:

Much of the greatness of Adams has little to do with his Presidency. If we were to list the five greatest political figures in American politics we would have to include Jefferson and Madison. However, I will be leaving them off this list.

Adams was the first president of the partisan-era. Like Johnson, he made horrible mistakes like the Alien and Sedition Acts. Yet he resisted, at the cost of most political capital, the calls for war with France. In the end, Adams failed at the political games which Jefferson would master.

Woodrow Wilson:

I do not think that I would have actually gotten along with President Wilson. Yet, I have to claim him. He is the political scientist as President. As a result, I am not sure if political scientists are meant to govern. Despite his flaws (segregation, the imprisonment of Debs and others during the war), Wilson was driven by his commitment to democracy. We have ruined Wilsonianism over the last 50 years, but it was a noble dream.

Wilson also successfully brought about much of the progressive agenda. This laid the groundwork for the progressive agenda of today. Much of that agenda is part of the bipartisan consensus of today.

Barack Obama:

This may bring about considerable eye-rolling. This is “my” President. I supported him from the beginning of the primary season. This is the first-time my candidate made it out of the primaries. I had rooted for Howard Dean in 2004, Bill Bradley in 2000, Steve Forbes in 1996, and Bob Dole in 1988. It is also the first time that I voted for the winner in the general election.

Mostly importantly, this is the president that I most identify with. He is mock for being too much like a professor. He is considered to be the most liberal President. He drive the right crazy. For all of these things, I am proud.

Share with us, your five favorites.

On the Meaning of Radical Moderation

The name of our blog is the creation of John C., but I like it. A lot.

I am not a moderate. Well. I am not a moderate in terms of holding a middle of the road political view.  I have spent much of my blogging career (over 4 years now) explaining my form of leftist politics. Being a socialist liberal in the United States makes me a radical in terms of my policy positions. I am pro-choice. I am not impressed by capitalism. I think that we should revise the U.S. Constitution to make it more democratic.

However, I am, in a way, a moderate. Or at least, I am an advocate of moderation. The English Conservative political philosopher Michael Oakeshott describes conservatism as a disposition. He explains”

To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.

In a sense, my political outlook is best described as a disposition. This drives people crazy. It is not a list of programs. It is not a hard and absolute ideology. In fact, I reject demands for ideological purity (the one thing that seems to connect Marxists and 21st century American Conservatives).

 I do not oppose partisanship (we too often equate being ideological with being partisan). Instead, I lament to demise of a healthy party system.  What I oppose is foaming at the mouth. I am a moderate because I do not like anger and hate in politics.

Calm down. Try some moderation. Now, let’s discuss socialism.

I love the Keynes/Hayek rap video. I don’t understand most of it, but I love it with all my heart. Please, if you haven’t seen it, watch it. For it is awesome.

Also, go to for more by its creators.

If your tendency is to rail against the federal government, arguing against federal oversight and intervention, then you cannot be considered an American patriot. You can be considered a state or local patriot, but you are not actually nationalist because you aren’t all that fond of thenation.

This same rule applies to you if you make snide remarks about the left coast or flyover country. If you believe that the country would be better if certain areas of it were blasted by tornados, then you cannot be said to be a patriot.

Finally, if you believe that the best way to deal with various national crises is to threaten secession (personal or community), hunkering down in a bunker with a gun and canned foods, you are not a patriot. I don’t care if you have a framed copy of the constitution signed by Reagan himself. You are nothing like Reagan, you are a nut, a loon, and a separatist; ergo, you are not a patriot.

It has been my pleasure to provide you with this helpful guide. Please feel free to turn to me for more advice regarding how you out to behave in public or on the internet. You’re welcome.