For a brief, but compelling, chronological account of how we got where we are in the war on terror in general and Iraq in particular, I recommend the Special Editorial from the October 20, 2003 issue of The Weekly Standard. Anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty cannot dispute the obvious strategic conclusions from the chronology of events and the facts outlined here. Certainly, the Clintons can’t, which is why both of them have been conspicuously silent and absent from the avalanche of demagoguery on the war coming from their party’s Presidential candidates. But that is the real issue here, isn’t it? Where is the intellectual honesty of the “peace party”? We’ll almost certainly find Osama as well as Saddam and his WMDs long before we find that rare commodity.
My hero of the month is Gordon Gee, Chancellor of Vanderbilt University. Recently he announced that Vanderbilt is eliminating the position of athletic director and replacing its traditional athletic department with a new body that is more connected to the mission of the university and more accountable to the institution’s academic leadership. As he said, Vanderbilt is making a clear statement that the “student-athlete” belongs back in the university as a step in the much-needed reform of intercollegiate athletics. To me, the most important points he made are the fact that many athletic departments exist as almost autonomous fiefdoms and serve as semi-professional “farm” systems for the professional sports franchises. I was also encouraged by an editorial by Duke University President Nannerl Keohane in which she echoed many of the same comments. Of course, the Vanderbilts and the Dukes of the world are unique, have much different constituencies and missions than most big-time flagship universities, particularly those with top-rated football programs, and their leaders can get away with such boldness. But I think it is a leadership step in the right direction. A couple of years ago, I wrote of the report of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, from which I repeat this passage: “…..the problems of big-time college sports have grown rather than diminished. The most glaring elements of the problems outlined [in the report]—academic transgressions, a financial arms race, and commercialization—are all evidence of the widening chasm between higher education’s ideals and big-time college sports.” The myth of the student-athlete in the most successful athletic programs is the “emperor with no clothes”, and I believe those courageous college administrators who want a return to the integrity of their mission deserve the support of active and influential trustees and alumni.
More and more I sense that black journalists and commentators are seeing the light, removing the racial blinders, and recognizing that the huge and seemingly intractable educational achievement gap between minority and white children isn’t a function of racism. People like syndicated columnists William Raspberry and Clarence Page as well as Andrea Georgsson of The Houston Chronicle have been noting consistently the need for what I call the “Booker T. Washington approach” of hard work and education as a personal responsibility, in addition to the demand for higher expectations from parents and the education establishment. The Thernstroms, Abigail and Stephan, have spelled it out well in their book, No Excuses: Closing The Racial Gap In Learning—a big part of the achievement gap problem is in attitudes toward academic achievement that are prevalent in the black community. I’m not saying that the conversion is complete, and it will be awhile before the NAACP and the race hustlers pick up on this theme, but it is encouraging to see some typically liberal black opinion leaders put away the “race card” and the “insufficient funding” mantra when discussing the low minority achievement levels. The true reality has also surfaced for black political leaders like Mayor Williams of the District of Columbia, and the real test for this new attitude and the willingness to buck the entrenched protectionism of the education establishment and its “amen corner” in the Democratic Party is underway right now in the U. S. Senate debate over a school choice plan for DC schools.
Here are my thoughts on the ridiculous decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals prohibiting the use of the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance and other assaults on the presence of religious and other faith-based symbols and practices in our public square:
Neutrality as to the diversity of sectarian practices and particular religious beliefs or the absence thereof is consistent with the intent of the American Founders. But, if by our current definition of neutrality we have come to mean neutrality on the validity of the ideas espoused in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence; if we mean neutrality on the question of the validity of the foundational belief in a moral order undergirded by natural law with its origins in divine law; or if we mean neutrality on the validity of the premise that the freedoms and equality we champion can be sustained only within this moral order; then our civic republican ideal of ordered liberty under the rule of law cannot survive.
Random thoughts on some issues that are currently floating about:
*At the outset of the Reagan Revolution, which initiated the longest period of economic growth in U. S. history, Jack Kemp, one of its champions, said it well: “If you subsidize an activity, you get more of it; if you tax it, you get less.” What better advice to remember as we observe the end of the Congressional ban on Internet taxation, which was allowed to expire last week. Now watch as ingenious state bureaucrats and legislatures find inventive ways in which to levy taxation on the primary driver of U. S. productivity and innovation.
*I normally avoid the celebrity trial “du jour”, but the Kobe Bryant case does have some important implications, and Linda Chavez has asked the right questions—“Have laws intended to protect rape victims gone too far, making it possible for women to turn disappointing sexual encounters into rape allegations?; is it necessary for a man to get verbal permission before he makes any physical contact with a woman?; and, to what extent have we criminalized certain behavior that would be better handled by moral opprobrium?”
*Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo calls the U. S. decision to join the European Union’s support of continuing agricultural market protectionism during the recently failed Cancun trade negotiations one of the biggest mysteries in the history of trade diplomacy. I call it a huge mistake, but no mystery. One must only take a look at the Electoral College vote map from the 2000 U. S. Presidential election to figure it out.
*Most of the commentary in opposition to the President’s request for a supplemental $87 billion for the Iraq war and re-development misses the point, particularly on the portion devoted to reconstruction. Unlike most foreign aid and welfare payments, including much of the domestic spending it might displace, this is an investment, a “supply side” investment that will be repaid many times over to the U. S. in expanded trade, contracts, etc., and the resulting jobs for Americans.
*Enough is enough, folks. It is long past time to call the Senate Democrats’ bluff on confirmation of judicial appointments. At least two things should be done—force the Democrats into a true filibuster, meaning campouts on the floor, and recognize this fraudulent demagoguery it for what it really is by making the issue of “the courts and the culture war” a central issue in the Presidential election next year.
*What in the world is President Bush thinking of when he allows Treasury Secretary John Snow to “talk down” the value of the dollar? It can only be to pander to the crowd that is criticizing the export of U. S. manufacturing jobs to places like China, but it is the absolute worst timing for such talk, when the economy is beginning to turn bullish and the threat of a weakening dollar could dampen foreign investor enthusiasm and business capital investment confidence.
*I believe that General Jerry Boykin was over the line in some of his public remarks about the superiority of Christianity over Islam (“my God is bigger than his God”), but, in identifying the enemy, he is closer to the truth than most. For if, in fact, we are not in a religious war, then the burden is on responsible Islamic leaders, not Christians, to differentiate the true Islamist enemy, isolate them, and abandon the nonsense of the moral equivalency of radical Islamism and fundamentalist Christianity.
*From Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s 2003 inaugural address, as reported in Forbes magazine: “There would be no greater tribute to our maturity as a society than if we can make these [government] buildings around us empty of workers; silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill.” I wonder if he could convince his brother to use that line in his State of the Union address in January?