November 2011

MLK's "I Have a Dream" and the Principles of the American Founding
By Jason Jividen on November 03, 2011

This week I’m organizing an academic roundtable to help celebrate Martin Luther King Day at my college in January.  I’ll also soon be teaching King’s famous “I Have a Dream” as part of my course in American political thought.  So the speech is on my mind, and I thought I’d offer a few thoughts.

 It is appropriate that King begins “I Have a Dream” with reference to Lincoln, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.  One hundred years after emancipation was promised, King declares, the Negro is not free, crippled by the chains of segregation and discrimination.  Interestingly, King suggests that the effort to obtain this freedom and equality for black Americans is an attempt to realize the principles not only of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, but also the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  The Founders, King claims, wrote a check to future generations that all men would be guaranteed their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  According to King, his dream is “deeply rooted in the American dream.”  Now, in my experience, this sounds strange to my students.  Arguably, this is not the received wisdom of many American historians and political scientists.  Frequently, the nation’s founding documents are seen as relics of the past, written by dead racist white men for dead racist white men. 

 But King did not see it this way.  King held that that the Declaration really did proclaim that natural and inalienable rights belonged to all human beings as such, and that the Constitution was intended to secure those rights.  Even if such a sentiment is perhaps rare today, in this opinion, King followed in a long tradition.  This appears to have been the opinion of the most prominent of the Founders, their constitutional compromises with slavery notwithstanding.  They were clear-headed enough to recognize that their compromises did not measure up to their principles. By examining their writings we gain insight into this problem.  Of course, today, in the height of our supposed wisdom, it is more common for us to claim to understand those authors better than they understood themselves. 

 But King seems to have believed that the Founders actually did believe all men were created equal.  They really did believe that all men were entitled to the equal liberty to pursue their own happiness.  These things are the “check” that King wished to cash.  We should not overlook that Lincoln frequently made the same kind of argument in his struggles against Douglas and Taney.  The Declaration’s statement that all men are created equal was the fundamental premise of Lincoln’s understanding of free, republican government.  Lincoln sought to reaffirm the principles of the Declaration, suggesting that no human being (black or white) was good enough, virtuous enough, or wise enough to rule over another without that other’s consent. 

 Responding to Taney’s claim in Dred Scott that the Founders could not have included either slaves or free blacks in the Declaration’s “all men are created equal,” Lincoln suggested:

“I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include allmen, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal—equal in “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” … They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcementof it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere” (“Speech on the Dred Scott Decision,” Springfield, IL, June 26, 1857).

Like Lincoln, abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass criticized those who would read African-Americans out of our Founding documents.  In his famed address, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” (1852), Douglass argued with Northern abolitionists who had declared the Constitution fundamentally rotten because of its compromises with slavery.  To use William Lloyd Garrison’s famous words, for many abolitionists, the Constitution was “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.”  Douglass responded to such sentiments with the following: 

“There is no matter in respect to which the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon as that of the pro‑slavery character of the Constitution.  In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but interpreted, as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document.  Read its preamble, consider its purposes.  Is slavery among them?  Is it at the gateway?  Or is it in the temple?  It is neither.”

 For Douglass and Lincoln, the North had allowed proponents of the Southern slave interest like John C. Calhoun and Justice Taney to impose upon them a pro-slavery reading of our founding documents.  Both Lincoln and Douglass called upon the friends of liberty and equality to resist that imposition.  As the “I Have a Dream” speech makes clear, King followed Lincoln and Douglass in that effort.  Today however, despite the authority of Lincoln, Douglass, and King, it seems that the old Southern reading of our Founding documents has actually prevailed, in much of academia at least.  Despite the fact that many academics would agree with King’s ends of equality, they often think King was fundamentally wrong in his understanding of America’s Founding.





The Faux Localism in the Legal Theory of Michael Sandel
By Ryan R. Holston on November 08, 2011

Recently, the prominent political and legal theorist, Dr. Michael Sandel, visited my campus to give a lecture, and this has prompted me to revisit one of his most famous works, Democracy’s Discontent.  In this book, one of Sandel’s main arguments is that the courts’ interpretation of the Constitution both reflects and has helped facilitate our transformation from a society based on self-governance and republican principles to one of liberal individualism in which self-governance is effectively impossible.  The first part of Sandel’s work is devoted to uncovering the jurisprudence of what he calls “the procedural republic.”  Sandel uses this term to describe the allegedly value-neutral legal framework demanded by liberal political philosophy, which sees citizens as free and independent selves who must be allowed to choose their own ends or values.  In the first half of his book, Sandel thus traces jurisprudential developments in America over the last two centuries that have increasingly embodied this idea.  For Sandel, the neutral state represents an impoverished public sphere, one which he would prefer to see devoted to deliberation about the common good.  The argument I would like to put forward is at once sympathetic to but critical of Sandel’s analysis.  I believe his diagnosis of our jurisprudence as catering to an ethos of individualism and legal neutrality is sound.  Yet, I see his “communitarian” corrective as insufficiently committed to principles of federalism and subsidiarity.  To support this argument, I will briefly sketch the fundamentals of his analysis of the procedural republic but then identify elements that prohibit him from embracing a jurisprudence that empowers state and local communities. 

Sandel begins with the familiar observation that two competing conceptions of liberty have been in tension since the early American republic, one republican and one liberal.  Liberty within the republican tradition, which traces back to the Ancients, entails sharing in self-government and requires deliberating with fellow citizens about the common good.  To do so, citizens must have a knowledge of public affairs, a sense of belonging, and a moral attachment to others in the community.  Thus, certain civic virtues are seen as necessary for self-rule, and politics entails cultivating these essential qualities of character.  Liberty in the liberal tradition, by contrast, is seen as an absence of restraint for the free-choosing individual.  Liberal thinkers as diverse as Locke, Kant, Mill, and Rawls have, accordingly, emphasized toleration and respect for individual rights.  Eschewing the cultivation of virtue, this tradition has instead embraced government neutrality toward moral and religious views so as not to impose any particular conception of the good life on its citizens.  On this view, the political and legal framework ought to be a set of neutral procedures that ensures the freedom to choose one’s own ends.

For Sandel, two prominent theories have come to justify the procedural republic.  Kantian Liberalism, represented by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice, claims that the just regime will allow individuals to choose their own ends in order to respect their inherent dignity as human beings.  Drawing a distinction between the “right” and the “good,” i.e. between a framework of rights and liberties, on the one hand, and the particular ideas of the good life that may be chosen within that framework, on the other, Kantian Liberals see justice as a matter of respecting the capacity to choose one’s own ends.  In other words, the just regime will provide a neutral framework of rights that establishes a mere procedural justice, leaving the good life undefined.  However, Sandel objects, this priority of the right over the good assumes a self that is prior to all ends he pursues, whereas many obligations are not freely chosen but born into, such as duties to God, family, city, or nation.  In short, there is no free-choosing self who exists prior to all his values, but a society of encumbered selves whose inherited obligations are mistakenly banished from the public sphere in the name of choosing what cannot be chosen.  The second justification for the procedural republic Sandel terms Minimalist Liberalism.  Here, such preexisting obligations are acknowledged, but the moral diversity of modern society is used to justify the demand that we bracket or keep private all such moral claims that may be controversial.  The case for state neutrality is now based on a pragmatic concern for political agreement, and Minimalist Liberalism aims for a public sphere that is “political, not metaphysical.”  In short, we agree not to impose conceptions of the good on each other out of practical necessity.  But, Sandel objects, there is no guarantee that political agreement is always so compelling as to defeat the private moral interests of citizens.  In the case of abortion, for example, the claim that we bracket our morals and let individuals choose for themselves requires those who believe abortion is murder to sacrifice moral concerns for political consensus.  Similarly, he notes, in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Stephen Douglas had essentially made the argument that moral concerns about slavery be bracketed, i.e. left up to states to decide, in the name of political consensus.  But the value of pragmatic agreement did not outweigh the moral evil of slavery for many, including Lincoln.  Sandel further notes that instances where we do claim to have bracketed moral concerns actually rely on a tacit moral approval of the act in question.

Despite such flaws, the philosophy of the procedural republic has come to dominate our public life and, Sandel argues, it finds its clearest expression in our constitutional law.  The Supreme Court has come to preside over the priority of the right in two senses:  first, the Court defines the rights of the individual who must not be prohibited from choosing his ends by majorities who would impose their conception of the good on him, and second, the Court identifies rights in a way that seeks to avoid any particular conception of the good life.   In the early republic, this was not the case, as the Supreme Court rarely exercised judicial review, much less based on individual rights.  In Barron v. Baltimore (1833), the Court refused to invalidate a Maryland law using 5thAmendment property rights, due to the belief that the Bill of Rights could not restrict state laws.  From then on, rights enforcement did not figure in the invalidation of any piece of legislation until the Missouri Compromise was struck down in the Dred Scott decision of 1857.  But even after the Civil War and the passage of the 14thAmendment, which was aimed at bolstering the rights of citizens vis-à-vis their state governments, the Court’s role as rights enforcer was slow to emerge.  The first hints came in the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873).  Here, the Court refused to invalidate a Louisiana law that created a monopoly for butchers on the grounds that it violated the liberty of those put out of business by the creation of the monopoly.  However, Justice Fields, writing in dissent, claimed that the 14thAmendment was aimed at protecting citizens against rights deprivations by their states, and that it should “give practical effect to the declaration of 1776 of inalienable rights.”  The Court’s role as enforcer of rights clearly emerged in a subsequent case, Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897) and set the controversial precedent of the Court acting as rights monitor.  Over the next four decades, Sandel laments, the Court invalidated over two hundred state and federal laws in the name of the right to property and the liberty of contract of the individual allegedly found in the 14thAmendment.  Known widely as the Lochner Era, for a case by the same name, this period of judicial policing of rights established for Sandel “the first sustained constitutional expression of the priority of the right over the good,” in that rights could be seen as acting as trumps against majorities that would interfere with the free individual attempting to order his life as he saw fit.

It may appear as if the Court’s presiding over the priority of the right then came to an end in 1937, when it reversed course in West Coast Hotel vs. Parish, by rejecting the fundamental right to property and finally ratifying the New Deal.  However, the priority of the right had merely been appropriated by Progressivism from its laissez-faire roots.  The priority the right was now used to justify judicial deference to majorities, instead of judicial review.  Increasingly, Sandel argues, one began to see intimations of state neutrality in the opinions of Progressive jurists, such as Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Deference to democratic majorities was thus justified based on an aversion to reading the Constitution as embracing a particular social philosophy, such as laissez-faire. Meanwhile, social welfare policies were perceived as empowering individuals with the material means by which they could order their lives as they saw fit.  Laissez-faire, according to Progressives, had merely sanctioned the unequal status of citizens in the economy, whereas redistributive policies would provide the means by which all individuals on an equal basis could choose their own ends.  Moreover, despite this deferential posture, Progressivism even found a way to justify a new form of judicial review.  Justice Harlan Stone, in his influential footnote in US vs. Carolene Products (1938), outlined certain occasions on which rights could still be protected under the 14thAmendment.  Here, Stone grounds future rights protection in the neutral procedures of the democratic process, which, he claimed, it was the role of the judiciary to enforce.  Where “discrete and insular minorities” are targeted by legislation, or access to the democratic process has been blocked to such minorities, laws would now be suspect.  For Sandel, the significance is the justification being employed – the Court now becomes the enforcer of civil rights, not for substantive moral purposes, but in the name of the procedural Constitution, one that provides a neutral framework by which all individuals may choose their own ends.

I find Sandel’s diagnosis of the procedural republic compelling.  But the real problem with Sandel’s analysis emerges when one looks to his concluding chapter for insights into how to restore the republican project.  Here, Sandel says all of the right things about reinvigorating a republican ethos.  With regard to the formation of civic virtues, Sandel looks to Tocqueville for inspiration and explicitly rejects the republican project of Rousseau.  For, in the former, he admires the gentler formation of character through persuasion and habituation, while he rejects the harsher, more coercive civic education of the latter.  Moreover, Tocqueville’s is a republicanism that embraces the differentiated and clamorous character of local institutions, while Rousseau’s general will aims at too much uniformity and unanimity among citizens.  Sandel thus extols the virtues of localism and “the politics of neighborhood,” while suggesting “unrealized possibilities implicit in American federalism.”  For, he explains, in a line worthy of Robert Nisbet, “[Federalism] suggests that self-government works best when sovereignty is dispersed and citizenship formed across multiple sites of civic engagement.  This aspect of federalism informs the pluralist version of republican politics.”  There is, in the end, only one glaring problem with this concluding chapter:  Where is the jurisprudence?  In other words, Sandel spends the entire first half of his work depicting our constitutional law as the “clearest expression” of the procedural republic.  Yet, he refuses, in this “solution” section to devote one sentence to addressing needed reforms to our jurisprudence.  It would appear, in light of everything else Sandel does say in this section, that what would be needed is a refusal on the part of the federal judiciary to continue to preside over the priority of the right and, in particular, to cultivate an attitude of respect and deference to the outcomes of self-governance among state and local authorities.  We are logically led to this conclusion, but nowhere does Sandel spell out the implications of his critique of our constitutional law.

 What is to account for this conspicuous lacuna in Sandel’s analysis?  Why not tease out the implications of his theory of localist republicanism for the analysis of constitutional law with which he began his argument?  My sense is that Sandel cannot live with a jurisprudence that favors a politics of federalism and subsidiarity because this, to him, resembles too much the “bracketing” of moral controversies for which he was critical of Minimalist Liberalism.  For Sandel, the desire to remove moral controversies from the public forum in order to defer their diverse resolution to lower-level decision-makers seems to be a symptom of the liberal aspiration to state neutrality.  Consequently, Sandel is caught in a Catch-22.  On the one hand, he believes that his commitment to keeping morality in the public forum requires refusing to bracket moral issues, as Stephen Douglas had attempted to do.  On the other hand, his conclusion clearly embraces a localist republicanism that would seem to require bracketing, in the form of devolution.  In the end, Sandel appears to come down on the side of refusing to bracket such controversies, and I believe this is why he will not spell out the implications of a jurisprudence of federalism.  The problem, viewed in the light of his critique of the procedural republic, is that Sandel would view a jurisprudence of federalism as bracketing, i.e. as akin to the pragmatic and amoral public philosophy of Minimalist Liberalism. 

However, what Sandel fails to grasp is that in the name of a genuinely localist republicanism, some bracketing is necessary.  Moreover, the case for devolving such moral issues need not always or merely be made on the grounds of avoiding moral imposition on controversial issues.  The case for bracketing issues at the national level and resolving them through local governance may in fact be made based on a concern for morality itself – on the grounds that moral choosing, i.e. the exercise of what Aristotle would call practical reason, must always take place in the particularity of our concrete existence in small communities.  Sandel would likely reply – as he does in the case of Minimalist Liberalism – that for every such instance of bracketing, we are in fact relying on a tacit moral approval at the higher level where the issue has been set aside.  However, to see all such setting aside of issues for local resolution in terms of their having been tacitly judged at a higher level of bracketing, i.e. the national level, is to establish the ontological priority of a national community or public sphere over all local communities or public spheres.  On this view, all such controversial examples are seen from the vantage point of the abstract moral reasoner whose judgment is exercised at the national level, i.e. from no particular community.  Understood in this way, the moral reasoner is theoretically imagined as existing apart from his own situatedness and sits in judgment of decisions that emerge at the local level, which are conceived as blinded by their own narrow or parochial situatedness, in need of approval from the clarity of moral perspective that can only come from above.  In the light of such assumptions, we should not be surprised when such theories seem reluctant to spell out the implications of a truly localist republicanism.  With friends of federalism and subsidiarity such as Michael Sandel, one might indeed wonder who needs enemies.

Brief Thoughts on Penn State and the Student Reaction
By Michael Schwarz on November 18, 2011

Apart from the grand jury presentment’s lurid details—so incomprehensible in nature and in scope that I’d advise against reading them if you haven’t done so already—the most disturbing aspect of the events that unfolded last week at Penn State University has to be the student reaction to the Board of Trustees’ decision to fire longtime head football coach Joe Paterno.  On Wednesday evening, November 9, after the Trustees announced that they had fired Paterno, thousands of PSU students took to the streets in protest.  A few hooligans overturned a news van.  Most simply chanted “We Want Joe!” in a show of support for their fallen coach.  Two days later an editorial in the student newspaper declared that Penn State’s on-field success in 2011—the Nittany Lions remain in contention for the Big Ten title—“should not be overshadowed” by the charges against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.  (Heaven forbid.)

Astonishingly, Paterno’s support was not confined to the PSU student body.  Here at Ashland I heard quite a few indignant students express outrage at the PSU Trustees’ decision.  “How could they fire Paterno for what Sandusky did?” one AU student asked me.  “After all, Paterno reported it to his athletic director.”

That such an observation would exonerate Paterno in the minds of an undergraduate perplexed me at the time, and I’m still not sure I quite understand it.  One of my colleagues in the History and Political Science Department suggested a possible explanation.  Our students, he said, are reared in a culture that deplores nothing so much as it deplores being judgmental.  That Paterno and at least six other adults effectively ignored evidence that a former Penn State football coach was also a reckless and violent child predator apparently isn’t enough to warrant harsh judgment.  Perhaps there’s some truth in my colleague’s observation.

For my part, I’m inclined to believe that an additional explanation for the sympathy many young people have shown Paterno lay in their still-underdeveloped reasoning skills.  “Paterno reported it to his athletic director,” they say.  Let’s think about what that means.  An assertion of this nature reveals a failure to discern between and among multiple facts of varying significance.  In this case, 1) an adult witness reported a child-rape, and 2) the alleged rape occurred on university property.  Now, only if one accepts fact #2 as the salient point could one possibly conclude that “Paterno reported it to his athletic director” means anything at all.  What if the witness had seen the rape occur at Sandusky’s home?  Would the witness have reported the crime to the university hierarchy, i.e. Coach Paterno, instead of the police?  Would Paterno then have taken the report to his AD?  The logic makes no sense (to say nothing of the moral choice involved), and yet some students managed to reason their way to the exceedingly legalistic conclusion that Paterno did all he needed to do. 

Another possible explanation for the outburst of Pro-Joe sympathy among students is that the simple act of reporting something to higher-ups perfectly fits the young person’s understanding of accountability.  We tell children, when they see something bad happening, that they should report it—to their parents, their teachers, their coaches, etc.  Didn’t Paterno do at least this much?  Didn’t he tell someone?  Isn’t that all we expect?

Despite having taught introductory-level college courses for more than ten years, I’m happy to say that on the whole I continue to have a high regard for the overwhelming majority of young people who come through my classes.  Their intelligence, their thoughtfulness, and their genuine appreciation for the pursuit of knowledge never fail to impress me.  Events such as those of the past week, however, remind me that young people do not arrive at our campuses with their characters formed.  They’re not all prepared to make reasoned judgments and moral choices from the moment they reach eighteen years of age.              

Veritas in Caritate
By Anonymous on November 21, 2011

I’ve been thinking recently about the uses and abuses of the new media, and how we can best use these new technologies in a virtuous way that builds up, rather than tears down, our culture. 

In the Western philosophical and theological tradition, concern for the reputation of another person has always been important. Some ground it in human dignity and a categorical imperative, others in the imago Dei and the demands of neighbor-love. As children we were probably taught not to gossip or to speak badly of others—even when what we might say was true. To reveal the faults of others, without necessary reason, was considered vicious. It not only harmed the good name of the other, but it damaged our own character as we failed to respect the personal dignity of others, as we failed to love others.[i]

It can take a lifetime to rightfully build up one’s good name. And a few thoughtless comments by a third party can easily undue this in an irreparable way. I’m sure we’ve all done things—privately and publicly—that we wouldn’t want a larger audience to know about. 

This has always been an issue for journalists. When you discover damaging information about someone, how far do you go to make sure it’s accurate, and, even if accurate, how much do you reveal? Editors frequently played a mediating role in helping to ensure some thought was given before rashly exposing too much. 

New media provide us with unprecedented abilities to share information with others, not only our own thoughts about others, but direct recordings of others—frequently of others behaving badly. It’s led me to a series of questions: 

When should we share embarrassing audio or video recordings we’ve made or obtained of other people? 

When should we set out to bait people, egg them on, secretly record them, and then share that recording with a broader world? 

Undoubtedly there are times when we need to expose fraud and corruption, especially with public officials, but what are the limits? And what about private citizens? 

Over the last several years—with the Borat and Ali G videos, and now with the roving cameramen at the Tea Party and OWS gatherings—I think we’ve shown some misjudgment, some coarseness in our use of media. I don’t find much of it to be edifying, or respectful, or charitable. Much of it seems to ignore the dignity of the people being filmed (some of whom may be suffering mental disease), and intentionally sets out to embarrass them, to get people to say ridiculous things, so that we can then post a link on Drudge, e-mail it around, and have a good laugh at someone else’s expense. 

And that worries me about not only the producers but the consumers of new media. What does it mean about me if I regularly laugh when I see these videos? If I take some delight in seeing my neighbors act foolishly? 

Whether from within a secular Kantian perspective where we shouldn’t use people to advance our own ends or instrumentalize their humanity, or from a Christian perspective in which we should love people and try to advance their own flourishing, I struggle to see how some of the new media treat its subjects as foci of worth. 

Two summers ago Pope Benedict released an encyclical titled Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). A central argument was that for charity to be authentic it had to be truthful (good intentions aren’t enough). I wonder about flipping the words around: Veritas in Caritate (Truth in Charity). Here the focus would be on getting the truth out, but to do so in a charitable way. 

It’s something that I struggle with, and that all of us as producers and consumers of new media might want to think about.

[i]To give two summary examples: The Westminster Catechism (Reformed Tradition) and the Baltimore Catechism (Catholic Tradition) both express concern for this under the general heading of the 8th/9thCommandment (different numbering for Reformed and Catholic). 


Question 144: What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?

Answer: The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things: Whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requires; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of: Whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report. 


Question 268: When does a person commit the sin of detraction?

Answer: A person commits the sin of detraction when, without a good reason, he makes known the hidden faults of another.

Why America is Exceptional
By Gerson Moreno-Riano on November 25, 2011

The greatness of a country is not based on the opinion of its citizens.  Rather, the greatness of a country is based on the nobility of its origins.

In one of the most recent surveys of the Pew Research Center less than half of Americans believe that America is exceptional.  This has led some to suggest that the United States is becoming more European in this regard.  We are following, some argue, the footsteps of such countries like Britain, France, Germany, and Spain who once believed in their exceptional character but are now convinced they are no better than anyone else.  This may be true of our European friends.  It is not true of America.

America’s exceptionalism is rooted first and foremost in the religious character of its founding.  America is great because it began as a pursuit of the divine, a pursuit codified in the great principle of liberty of conscience.  America was birthed as a nation in which worship of and reverence toward God was central to its identity.

America’s exceptionalism is also rooted in the humane character of its founding.  America is great due to its commitment to human dignity, a conviction that all human beings are equal and worthy of respect and rights given their divine origins.  America began as a nation in which esteem for the individual was central to its existence.

America’s exceptionalism is also rooted in the innovative character of its founding.  America is great given its openness to creative experimentation, a process in which tradition and the untried are blended for creative solutions to serious problems.  America started as one of the greatest and most innovative experiments in human history.

If most of America’s citizens no longer believe in its exceptionalism, it is because they are either ignorant of its noble origins or are unable to embody them.  The problem is not with America itself.  Rather, the problem is with the character of its citizens and leaders.  We, Americans, have abandoned the noble beginnings of our country in pursuit of other less than noble principles.  We have become irreverent, destructively individualistic, and unimaginative.  Perhaps we no longer believe America is exceptional because we look at ourselves in the mirror.

America has been and always will be exceptional.  It is time for us, its citizens, to catch up to it.

A Vote for Gingrich is a Vote for Obama
By Dr. B. Jeffrey Reno on November 28, 2011

Newt Gingrich is having a good November in 2011.  His strong performances in a number of debates and his recent ascent in the polls coincide with the announcement that he has secured the coveted endorsement of the Manchester Union Leader.  Even Bill Clinton has lauded Gingrich’s success of late.  All of this adds up to greater success in the fundraising department, and it would all be good news, for Newt personally and for the GOP, were it not for one simple fact: Newt Gingrich cannot win in 2012.

Republicans have good reason to like Newt as a conservative intellectual.  He is clearly smart and has a great talent for strategy.  His Contract with America contained the platform that produced the first Republican majority in the House in forty years.  He is a passionate speaker and tireless campaigner, all of which combine to make him a formidable candidate.

Unfortunately, his tenure as Speaker makes one wish Newt had been as effective at governing as he was at campaigning.  Welfare reform was a solid accomplishment, but Newt followed it up with a series of missed opportunities and squandered political capital.  He allowed a 1995 government shutdown that was short on principle and long on negative consequences for Republicans as it helped to secure Clinton’s reelection and set the pace for the eroding GOP House majority.  His decision to launch impeachment proceedings against Clinton, knowing the President would prevail in the Senate, amounted to nothing more than a national distraction.  Finally, he had to resign in shame after the stories of his own womanizing became public.

However, the past is not Newt’s only baggage.  It is actually his present that concerns me more.  He is, for example, unacceptably weak on the housing finance issue.  Obama, with ties to sleazy Fannie Mae executive, Franklin Raines, should be vulnerable.  John McCain was unable to exploit the issue in 2008 because he had received too much money from Fannie and desperately wanted the electorate not to recall his own banking scandal as a member of the Keating Five.  Gingrich can’t exploit the issue either because he earned over $1.6 million as a consultant to Freddie Mac after leaving Congress.

That brings us to Bill Clinton’s recent comments.  The former President said of Gingrich, “He’s articulate and he tries to think of a conservative version of an idea that will solve a legitimate problem.”   In the same statement, Clinton went on to suggest that Gingrich’s candidacy would be attractive to independent voters.  This is curious because independents have never really liked Newt, and there is little reason to believe they will start now.  Indeed, the more independents get to know him, the less they will like him.  As a nominee, the media will portray Gingrich as a conservative crank, and that is how self-proclaimed moderates and independents will see him (even if unfairly).  His skills as a campaigner and communicator may help him slightly, but the damage will be done.  At the end of the day, Newt is simply not right for them.  

So Clinton’s remarks are strange: He knows that Gingrich will not attract Independents in the manner implied by his public comment.  Clinton’s remarks only make sense if we remember never to take what he says at face value.  The true meaning of Clintonspeak translated into English is this: If Newt Gingrich continues to do well in the polls, he will draw New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg into the race.  Bloomberg will siphon votes disproportionately from the right-leaning independents, and Barack Obama will win reelection with the same kind of plurality that Clinton had—twice. 

Gingrich might win North Carolina and Virginia back for GOP, but he loses every other state that voted for Obama in 2008.   If Bloomberg enters the race and takes around 15% of the popular vote (assuming he can do at least as well as Perot in 1992), Obama can win with 40% in several key states (particularly Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri)—all states Obama stands to lose to in a two-person race.  In the end, a slightly crippled Obama limps to a second term with a plurality victory in popular vote and narrow electoral college win.

Newt Gingrich is having a good November in 2011.  However, if the GOP wants to have a good November in 2012, if it cares more about removing Obama than preserving ideological purity, Republicans must resist the temptation to nominate Newt Gingrich.  Conservatives are correct to forgive him for his past.  Nevertheless, the past is only one of Newt’s problems.  The larger problem is the present: he just can’t win.

Economic Freedom of North America 2011
By Nathan Ashby on November 30, 2011

On November 22, 2011 the Economic Freedom of North America 2011 report published by the Fraser Institute was released. This report I co-authored with a graduate student here at the University of Texas at El Paso, Avilia Bueno, and Fred McMahon of the Fraser Institute. This report measures economic freedom for the fifty U.S. states and for ten Canadian provinces (measures are also included for thirty two Mexican states, but these measures are not comparable to the U.S. and Canada). The report is the seventh edition. You can look through the report to see the methodology that we use as well as how your state(s) of interest rank compared to other states. The data used to calculate the scores for the report are also provided online in excel format.

Economic freedom is the freedom to benefit from voluntary exchanges without significant interference by the government. The Economic Freedom of North America attempts to measure economic freedom similar to the Economic Freedom of the World which measures country level economic freedom and is also published by the Fraser Institute. The project resulted from years of conferences where scholars including three Nobel Laureates (Milton Friedman, Douglass North, and Gary Becker) discussed what should be included in such an index in order to determine the proper methdology before data were actually gathered. It was determined that economic freedom should be meaured in five major areas: Size of Government, Property Rights and Legal Structure, Sound Money, Trade Freedom, and Regulation Freedom. At the subnational level, we try and follow these recommendations although we excluded sound money and trade freedom since these are not actually determined at the state level. We are also not able to include many of the measures which are available at the nationally level but are not provided at the subnational level.

For the first time since the report was released, Alberta, a Canadian province leads all states and provinces followed by Delaware and Texas. The least free states are West Virginia and New Mexico. While Canadian provinces have always been clustered at the bottom (with the exception of Alberta), this report demonstrates that many have surpassed U.S states in recent years.

What is the cause of this? The index basically measures three main areas of economic freedom: Size of government, tax freedom, and labor market freedom. Which area do you think the United States has weakened in recent years? The cause of the relative loss in freedom in the United States is due to an increase in the size of government due to significant increases in government spending in recent years. Our data only measures up to 2009 and fails to include all of the increased spending that resulted from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. So in actuality, U.S. states should have dropped by more relative to Canadian provinces.

Why do these changes matter? Certainly, some may see these changes as a good thing. If you consider an increased role of the government as a good thing, this is a positive. If you would like to see a higher tax burden in this country, this is a positive. If you feel that government should highly regulate wage rates and deprive individuals of the right to choose whether or not they want to join a union, you would see this change as a good thing. However, as our report and many empirical studies have demonstrated, economic freedom has been an important driver of our economic success over the last three decades. Historical economists would argue that limited government in the United States has been the cause of prosperity in the United States and American exceptionalism. Detractors might agree with these arguments while saying that these benefits are accumulated by a select few while leaving a significant amount of the population behind. In other words, economic freedom leads to more unequal distribution of income and leaves the poor behind. Within the United States there is poor evidence of this allegation according to our data. In fact, if we compare our data with data on income distribution constructed by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, it appears that if anything the gap is actually larger in the least free states. The least free states between 1981 and 2005 have a higher top-to-bottom income ratio than the most free states during this period (I use these years since the Economic Policy Institute data is last available for the year 2005). Greater economic freedom leads to greater economic opportunities for Americans and as the size and scope of government increases, the ability of the economy to grow and provide opportunities for future generations will diminish.

Unless social security and other entitlements can be reformed in order to lessen the burden on future generations while constraining the growth of government in other areas, the U.S. states will likely have a stagnant future. Hopefully, policymakers can realize this problem and deal with it in a timely manner.

Prev 1 Next