New on NewsReal – Bill Maher Rewrites and Ignores History to Pit the Founding Fathers Against the Tea Party

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

Left-wing satirist Bill Maher is taking his hatred of the Tea Party movement to the next level. Evidently epithets like crazy, stupid, and racist no longer satisfy him, and he’s decided it’s time to hit “teabaggers” where it really hurts: by mocking their reverence for America’s Founding Fathers, suggesting the Founders’ values aren’t their own:

“[T]he Founding Fathers would have hated your guts…and what’s more, you would have hated them. They were everything you despise. They studied science, read Plato, hung out in Paris, and thought the Bible was mostly bullshit.”

Maher got a crack in at the Founders as well, saying they had a moral code, but it didn’t come from the Bible…”except for the part about, ‘it’s cool to own slaves.’”


Here, Maher is repackaging the ridiculous straw man that conservatism is not only incompatible with reason and science, but that right-wingers actually pride themselves on disregarding the insights of modern intellectuals in favor of gut instinct and unchanging tradition. But this is a complete distortion of conservative arguments.

We have no problem with true intellectualism or reevaluating our positions in light of new evidence; what we object to is the arrogance of societal elites who look down upon the decision-making abilities of the average American, especially in decisions concerning the individual’s personal affairs. We object to “expertise” being taken as a license to make policy outside of the democratic process.

Read the rest on NewsRealBlog.

Thoughts on Secession, Part 2

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In Part 1, I responded to Robert Stacy McCain’s claim that secession is an important recourse against an overreaching federal government, and that states as meaningful entities basically cease to exist without it. Today we turn to the other part of McCain’s defense of secession.

Citing the Declaration of Independence’s language describing the newly-independent colonies as “Free and Independent States,” plural, McCain claims the Union was merely “a military alliance for mutual self-defense, since “[t]here could be no separate peace — the King and Parliament could not hope to enter into negotiations with Rhode Island or North Carolina, seeking a treaty that would break the alliance”; and observes that the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, similarly recognizes the ex-colonies as “free sovereign and independent states.” He then recounts the debate over ratifying the Constitution:

This ratification was conducted in each state by a special convention, and the debate was quite intense. Patrick Henry, among others, was in the anti-Federalist faction, warning that the Constitution granted too much power to the national government. It was to allay these concerns that the Bill of Rights was adopted immediately after ratification. Among those amendments, the 10th gave especial protection to the states, limiting the government to those powers delegated by the Constitution, and reserving the balance to the several states.

Now, we must pay careful attention to a key point about the Constitution, namely Article 7:

“The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.”

Which is to say that as many as four of the original states might have, by refusing to ratify the Constitution, exempted themselves from that government.
The Anti-Federalists’ fears about the Constitution giving the feds too much power are just as immaterial to the nature of the Union as revolution’s dependence on the fortunes of war was in Part 1. The concept of America as a single, indivisible nation is hardly incompatible or inconsistent with belief in, or concern for, separating and protecting state prerogatives against federal authority within that nation. And I’m not sure how the fact that the states could have chosen not to become part of the new government proves that they could have withdrawn after it was formed.

Did the Union really begin as merely a temporary alliance of ultimately independent entities? Lincoln didn’t think so:

[W]e find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was “to form a more perfect Union.”   

But if destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.
And:  

Our States have neither more, nor less power, than that reserved to them, in the Union, by the Constitution—no one of them ever having been a State out of the Union. The original ones passed into the Union even before they cast off their British colonial dependence; and the new ones each came into the Union directly from a condition of dependence, excepting Texas. And even Texas, in its temporary independence, was never designated a State. The new ones only took the designation of States, on coming into the Union, while that name was first adopted for the old ones, in, and by, the Declaration of Independence. Therein the “United Colonies’’ were declared to be “Free and Independent States’’; but, even then, the object plainly was not to declare their independence of one another, or of the Union; but directly the contrary, as their mutual pledge, and their mutual action, before, at the time, and afterwards, abundantly show. The express plighting of faith, by each and all of the original thirteen, in the Articles of Confederation, two years later, that the Union shall be perpetual, is most conclusive.

Having never been States, either in substance, or in name, outside of the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of “State rights,’’ asserting a claim of power to lawfully destroy the Union itself? Much is said about the “sovereignty’’ of the States; but the word, even, is not in the national Constitution; nor, as is believed, in any of the State constitutions. What is a “sovereignty,’’ in the political sense of the term? Would it be far wrong to define it “A political community, without a political superior’’? Tested by this, no one of our States, except Texas, ever was a sovereignty. And even Texas gave up the character on coming into the Union; by which act, she acknowledged the Constitution of the United States, and the laws and treaties of the United States made in pursuance of the Constitution, to be, for her, the supreme law of the land.

The States have their status IN the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so against law, and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence, and their liberty. By conquest, or purchase, the Union gave each of them, whatever of independence, and liberty, it has. The Union is older than any of the States; and, in fact, it created them as States. Originally, some dependent colonies made the Union; and, in turn, the Union threw off their old dependence, for them, and made them States, such as they are. Not one of them ever had a State constitution, independent of the Union. Of course, it is not forgotten that all the new States framed their constitutions, before they entered the Union; nevertheless, dependent upon, and preparatory to, coming into the Union.
Makes sense to me, but something tells me most secession defenders won’t accept the sixteenth President as the last word on the subject. So let’s see what the Founding Fathers had to say about the nature of the American Union:


[A]s this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of american, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes […]

With such powerful and obvious motives to Union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those, who in any quarter may endeavour to weaken its bands […]

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions, which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a Constitution of Government better calculated than your former for an intimate Union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This Government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.

The essential difference between a free Government and Governments not free, is that the former is founded in compact, the parties to which are mutually and equally bound by it. Neither of them therefore can have a greater right to break off from the bargain, than the other or others have to hold them to it. And certainly there is nothing in the Virginia resolutions of — 98, adverse to this principle, which is that of common sense and common justice. The fallacy which draws a different conclusion from them lies in confounding a single party, with the parties to the Constitutional compact of the United States. The latter having made the compact may do what they will with it. The former as one only of the parties, owes fidelity to it, till released by consent, or absolved by an intolerable abuse of the power created. In the Virginia Resolutions and Report the plural number, States, is in every instance used where reference is made to the authority which presided over the Government. As I am now known to have drawn those documents, I may say as I do with a distinct recollection, that the distinction was intentional. It was in fact required by the course of reasoning employed on the occasion. The Kentucky resolutions being less guarded have been more easily perverted. The pretext for the liberty taken with those of Virginia is the word respective, prefixed to the “rights” &c to be secured within the States. Could the abuse of the expression have been foreseen or suspected, the form of it would doubtless have been varied. But what can be more consistent with common sense, than that all having the same rights &c. should unite in contending for the security of them to each.

It is remarkable how closely the nullifiers who make the name of Mr Jefferson the pedestal for their colossal heresy, shut their eyes and lips, whenever his authority is ever so clearly and emphatically against them. You have noticed what he says in his letters to Monroe & Carrington Pages 43 & 203, vol 2, with respect to the powers of the old Congress to coerce delinquent States, and his reasons for preferring for the purpose a naval to a military force, and moreover that it was not necessary to find a right to coerce in the Federal Articles, that being inherent in the nature of a compact. It is high time that the claim to secede at will should be put down by the public opinion, and I shall be glad to see the task commenced by one who understands the subject.

Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people-a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.

Similar sentiments have hitherto prevailed among all orders and denominations of men among us. To all general purposes we have uniformly been one people; each individual citizen everywhere enjoying the same national rights, privileges, and protection. As a nation we have made peace and war; as a nation we have vanquished our common enemies; as a nation we have formed alliances, and made treaties, and entered into various compacts and conventions with foreign states.

A strong sense of the value and blessings of union induced the people, at a very early period, to institute a federal government to preserve and perpetuate it.

A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt that if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other. To presume a want of motives for such contests as an argument against their existence would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent unconnected sovereignties situated in the same neighborhood would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages […]

An intelligent writer expresses himself on this subject to this effect: “NEIGHBOURING NATIONS. (says he) are naturally ENEMIES of each other, unless their common weakness forces them to league in a CONFEDERATE REPUBLIC, and their constitution prevents the differences that neighborhood occasions, extinguishing that secret jealousy which disposes all states to aggrandize themselves at the expense of their neighbors.” This passage, at the same time points out the EVIL and suggests the REMEDY.
Admittedly, Thomas Jefferson’s record here is mixed—he did condemn the danger and counsel against the wisdom of secession:

I can scarcely contemplate a more incalculable evil than the breaking of the union into two or more parts […] a separation of the Union, the most dreadful of all calamities […]

[W]ho can say what would be the evils of a scission, and when & where they would end? Better keep together as we are, hawl off from Europe as soon as we can, & from all attachments to any portions of it. And if we feel their power just sufficiently to hoop us together, it will be the happiest situation in which we can exist. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, & then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are the stake.
But he also spoke more sympathetically of secession elsewhere:

If any State in the Union will declare that it prefers separation with the first alternative, to a continuance in union without it, I have no hesitation in saying “let us separate.” I would rather the States should withdraw which are for unlimited commerce and war, and confederate with those alone which are for peace and agriculture […]

Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that the Constitution makes “the laws of the United States […] the supreme law of the land,” with not only federal, but also state, lawmakers and judges bound to support the Constitution, and as I’ve pointed out before, the Constitution places quite a few restrictions on the states, making them far from “sovereign” or “independent.”

Considering the failings of secessionist rationale, the judgment of the Father of Our Country and the authors of the Federalist, and the implications of the Constitution itself, secession ends up looking a lot less like a valuable principle rooted in the American Founding, and more like a intellectual false lead that conservatives would do well to leave in the past, alongside the bloody conflict it spawned and the peculiar institution it was deployed to support.

Thoughts on Secession, Part 1

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On Monday, Hillsdale College history professor Dr. Paul Rahe (disclosure: I’ve heard him speak several times, but am not one of his students) marked the 150th anniversary of South Carolina’s vote to secede from the union by penning an op-ed in which he argues against the legitimacy of secession:
The legitimacy of secession has been debated ever since. In my view, secession was unlawful. There is provision in the United States constitution for ratification and for the admission of new states into the Union. There is no provision for secession.

It is true, of course, that – in ratifying the Constitution – Virginia specified “that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.” But this unilateral assertion on Virginia’s part is not and could not be an assertion of a legal right under the Constitution – which, even if viewed as a contract, recognizes no such right. Rather, it is a reassertion of the natural rights that underpin the right to revolution asserted in the Declaration of Independence, and it applies to the people of the United States and not to the state of Virginia or even the people of the state of Virginia as such.
Robert Stacy McCain objects to Rahe’s analysis, seeing in it disastrous implications:
Of course, this theory effectively abolishes the states, rendering them nothing but administrative jurisdictions of the unitary and all-powerful national government — the negation of federalism […]

Did these states, by ratifying the Constitution, thereby permanently forfeit their independence?  Is there nothing the federal government could do — no act of the president or Congress, no decision of the Supreme Court — that would justify any state in saying, “OK, you’ve gone too far now”?

It would seem that Paul Rauh answers that question in the negative, that he denies that the states have retained any shred of their original independence, that no state has any just recourse if its citizens should feel that the federal government has overstepped its rightful bounds.

The states are therefore no longer states in any meaningful sense, and we no longer in fact have a federal system of government, but rather one vast unified empire of 300 million subjects, with whatever vestiges of the “states” remain being subject to obliteration so soon as it suits a majority in Congress (or the Supreme Court) to do so.

Ideas have consequences, as Richard Weaver once famously observed, and so it is with the idea of the indissoluble union. (Evidently, it’s like La Cosa Nostra — once you join, there’s no quitting.) What we now have is a national government without any effective limit to its power, except so far as regular elections may have any limiting effect. But if this also fails and the advocates of an all-powerful national government should obtain a permanent majority, what remedy can there be under Rahe’s theory?
First, the notion of states as “nothing but administrative jurisdictions of the unitary and all-powerful national government” simply has no basis in Rahe’s words. To deny secession’s legitimacy is hardly to deny that the federal government’s powers are strictly limited, or that the states have rights and responsibilities in which the feds must not meddle. (Rahe did, for what it’s worth, write a book on the subject.)

Second, there are obvious recourses to injurious federal actions: the regular elections McCain references, the constitutional amendment process, and prior to the 17th Amendment’s passage, the Senate also countered federal encroachment into the states. There’s also the judiciary, though admittedly that won’t be of much use to limited, constitutional government until we get serious about reining in judicial activism. (And all of the above is, of course, subject to the quality of those in office, but that’s unavoidable with any form of government.) I wouldn’t be so quick to discount the value of any of those means, and in the block quote at the top of McCain’s post, Rahe does give the states a “just recourse” when all else fails: the natural right of revolution. As the Declaration of Independence puts it:
[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness […] when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
The standard pro-secession objection here is that a) revolution is extra-legal, meaning the government from which a state is separating has no legal obligation to let the state go; and b) revolution is a right possessed by individuals, not states. McCain seems to think that the American Revolution’s “dependen[ce] on the fortunes of war” is sufficient to invalidate the right of revolution. But so what? In principle, whether something is easy has no bearing on whether it’s true, and in practice, the prospects of the South’s “right” to secession were every bit as “dependent on the fortunes of war” as the War for Independence.

Granted, I can see where the other side is coming from, in that secession could theoretically be easier than revolution, and thus might be a more potent threat to an overreaching federal government. But secession’s supporters are overlooking a very big downside, which Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address makes clear. First, there are the logical problems inherent to the concept:
Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination […] If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it—break it, so to speak—but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?
More importantly for our current purposes:
If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must cease. There is no other alternative, for continuing the Government is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority in such case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this.   

Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new union as to produce harmony only and prevent renewed secession?   

Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible. The rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left […]

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.   

By the frame of the Government under which we live this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and have with equal wisdom provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.
While voters and states might rightly despise any given government action, as long as the political process remains open to them, their only just recourse lies within that process. To do otherwise is, in effect, to proclaim that one may pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore, a reversion to minority rule by which the few can dictate virtually anything to the many.  Indeed, if a state can legally break away from the nation, then what’s to keep a city from breaking away from a state, or an individual from a city?

At the end of the day, good government is ultimately dependent upon enough of the people eventually coming to their senses to set things right. This remedy is always uncertain, and often slow and unsatisfying, so it’s understandable that people would seek out some extra insurance for when the will of the people lets them down. But while it’s not inconceivable that secession could function as that insurance in some cases, nor is it clear that secession would be any more viable than revolution, and the logic of secession could actually do much more harm than good, by undermining the respect for the rule of law which is essential to good government.   

Ultimately, though, as McCain says:
The fundamental question is, “Who ratified the Constitution, and what sort of union was created by that ratification?” And the answers to those questions are not, nor can they be, a matter of mere opinion. There are historical facts to be considered, and which Rahe glosses over.
McCain glosses over some of those historical facts, too. Those facts will be the subject of Part 2.

New on NewsReal – How ObamaCare and Its Apologists Make a Mockery of the Constitution

My latest NewsRealBlog post:
As a victory for constitutional originalism and a major blow to Barack Obama’s agenda, Judge Henry Hudson’s ruling against ObamaCare’s individual mandate has many conservatives cheering. But is it too soon to break out the champagne glasses? UC Boulder law professor Paul Campos thinks so. At the Daily Beast, he says that the Left may yet have the last laugh:

Judge Hudson’s decision, by ruling the individual mandate unconstitutional but leaving the rest of the Affordable Care Act intact, would, if it were to stand up on appeal, essentially be a death sentence for the private medical insurance industry in America.

After all, under the remaining provisions of the ACA, insurance companies would still be legally required to enroll applicants despite whatever pre-existing conditions the applicants might have—but they would no longer benefit from the crucial legislative quid pro quo that anyone who did not purchase insurance would be subject to a penalty in the form of a tax.

Perhaps (though it’s unclear how big the difference will be, since many will buy health insurance regardless of whether the law says they must). But that’s the thing about conservatives: we don’t assume that the courts will resolve all our political goals for us. Instead, we’re holding our lawmakers’ feet to the fire to see ObamaCare repealed legislatively. Likewise, if the individual mandate is unconstitutional, it’s unconstitutional. If an act of Congress can’t operate without a provision the Constitution doesn’t allow, that’s an argument against the act, not for the provision.

Of course it’s always possible that the Supreme Court would strike down the ACA as a whole. But given that even many of the biggest opponents of the law concede that its other provisions are constitutional, this seems extremely unlikely.

“Many” ObamaCare critics concede the constitutionality of the rest of the law? Name one.

Read the rest at NewsRealBlog.

New on NewsReal – What Motivates Radical Libertarians’ Blind Allegiance to Anti-Government Thugs Like Julian Assange

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

The outpouring of support WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have received from the usual paleo-libertarian suspects is as illuminating as it is predictable. Take, for example, Ron Paul’s latest attempt at LewRockwell.com to make excuses for the leaking of highly sensitive government data because—as always—the real villain we should be worried about is Uncle Sam:

[S]tate secrecy is anathema to a free society. Why exactly should Americans be prevented from knowing what their government is doing in their name?

In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, however, we are in big trouble. The truth is that our foreign spying, meddling, and outright military intervention in the post–World War II era has made us less secure, not more […]

The neoconservative ethos, steeped in the teaching of Leo Strauss, cannot abide an America where individuals simply pursue their own happy, peaceful, prosperous lives. It cannot abide an America where society centers around family, religion, or civic and social institutions rather than an all-powerful central state. There is always an enemy to slay, whether communist or terrorist. In the neoconservative vision, a constant state of alarm must be fostered among the people to keep them focused on something greater than themselves – namely their great protector, the state. This is why the neoconservative reaction to the WikiLeaks revelations is so predictable: “See, we told you the world was a dangerous place,” goes the story. They claim we must prosecute – or even assassinate – those responsible for publishing the leaks. And we must redouble our efforts to police the world by spying and meddling better, with no more leaks.

True to form, Paul doesn’t even try to address the evidence that WikiLeaks is a national-security threat operating against the law and beyond the First Amendment’s protection. As usual when it comes to foreign policy, the self-appointed spokesman of our forefathers is actually on the wrong side of the Founding regarding the necessity of maintaining a certain level of secrecy (see Federalist 64 and Federalist 70). And once again, the Paulite cult’s strange fixation on Leo Strauss pops up. (On that note, I have a suggestion for NRB’s Paulite readers: when you comment on this post—and I know you will—instead of regurgitating the same old complaints, how about explaining to me just what nefarious Straussian teachings we “neocons” are under the influence of?)

Read the rest at NewsRealBlog.

New on NewsReal – Smithsonian Scandal Raises Questions: What’s "Good" Art, and Why Should I Pay for It?

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

The Christmas season just wouldn’t be Christmas these days without government-sponsored desecration of images sacred to most Americans. By now you’ve probably heard about the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery’s charming new exhibit depicting, among other things, a bloody Jesus Christ covered in ants. That part of the exhibit has been removed, but it still features “male genitals, naked brothers kissing, men in chains, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, and a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show’s catalog as ‘homoerotic.’”

True to form, Media Matters is trying to defuse outrage over the controversy by repeatedly pointing out that while the Smithsonian may receive taxpayer dollars, this particular exhibit was funded privately. Here they highlight last night’s exchange between Sean Hannity and Democrat strategist Joe Trippi, who “tries to get Hannity to understand” that simple distinction:

http://cloudfront.mediamatters.org/static/flash/player.swf 

TRIPPI: The money for this exhibit was all private foundations. 

HANNITY: But I don’t agree with that analysis. It’s like saying, we fund the ability for them to open their doors every day. So they don’t get to open the door, except for the American taxpayer.

TRIPPI: The American taxpayer paid for the building and those kinds of things, but it’s an art museum, I mean – and this particular art exhibit is the influence of gay and lesbian artists on portraiture.

HANNITY: Fine. If they wanna have an art museum with this stuff, we shouldn’t pay to open their doors so they can put this type of stuff in there! 

Read the rest at NewsRealBlog.

Jim DeMint Is Right: Fiscal Conservatism Needs Social Conservatism

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Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is currently the talk of the blogosphere for saying that:
You can’t be a fiscal conservative and not be a social conservative. A large part of the expansive government is to make up for a dysfunctional society because our culture’s falling apart. The family’s falling apart.
Taken as a statement of fact, DeMint is wrong—obviously, there are many people with conservative economic views but leftist social ones, and vice versa—but if we take the statement in the way I suspect he meant it, as a warning of sorts, DeMint is absolutely right.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the alleged distinction between “social conservatism” and “fiscal conservatism” is an imaginary contradiction based on either misunderstanding or selectively adhering to conservative first principles.  If American conservatism is fidelity to the values and wisdom of the Founding Fathers, then restoring the right to life and preserving civil marriage are every bit as much conservative imperatives as standing for the free market is. In this sense, DeMint is correct: if you truly and fully are a conservative, you’ll be one both fiscally and socially.

Further, DeMint’s absolutely right to warn that social negligence leads to economic and political disaster. As I’ve argued before, many on the Right are largely AWOL on the cultural front, and the results are more than cultural:
A culture that worships gratification (particularly sexual) without responsibility or constraints, that believes truth is personal and relativistic rather than grounded in permanent wisdom, that has been conditioned to expect everyone else to provide for their every need and clean up after their every mistake, that sneers at traditional morality and religious belief…these trends and attitudes cannot help but play into the Left’s hands.

Simply put, a narcissistic, relativistic, secular, ignorant culture will always be receptive to a political movement that promises to give them things paid for with other people’s money, affirms their “if it feels good, do it” mentality, and assures them that supporting statism and “environmental consciousness” are the only forms of morality or compassion they’ll ever really need.
Our Founders believed that, because no set of political mechanisms could fully account for man’s darker impulses, certain moral virtues and institutions, such as marriage, were necessary prerequisites for maintaining a free society. And the right to life’s importance is even clearer:
If we surrender on abortion, we might as well kiss goodbye the free market, or any chance of reforming the welfare state. Once society has accepted the proposition, I may take an innocent life if it benefits me to do so, why should we think twice about taking from our countrymen anything less vital—income, personal freedom, you name it—for the sake of interest? The rights to go without health insurance or allow smoking in your restaurant pale in comparison to the right not to be deliberately killed.  Surrender the right to life, and you’ve already as good as surrendered the others.
It’s not a coincidence that the more fiscally conservative a senator is, the more likely he is to be socially conservative as well. Conservatism is in desperate need of reunification, and Jim DeMint’s comments are a good start.

(Also see: Tim Andrews, “The Importance of Social Conservatism,” and Beregond, “Legislating Morality,” courtesy of the NRB Headlines)