President Trump’s executive order on healthcare received a great deal of attention, but almost all of it emphasized the order’s short-term policy implications. Commentary from the Left ignored the constitutional implications of unilateral executive action, so if anyone was going to speak up about those constitutional issues, conservatives would have to do so. Their record thus far has been mixed. The editors of National Review, like their liberal counterparts, addressed the policy angle, not the constitutional one. Yuval Levin, on the other hand, wrote in that same publication that officials in the administration in which he served (Bush II) doubted whether…
Donald Trump’s nominee for the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, is an advocate of school vouchers. One should not exaggerate how much influence she will have in promoting this cause. The United States Department of Education has little direct authority over K-12 education and it certainly should not be given any more, because education is quintessentially a state and local issue. But any cabinet position is a bully pulpit, and classical liberals should hope she uses it to create a more favorable climate for state and local voucher initiatives.
The conventional argument for vouchers, itself classically liberal in nature, is that in the long run they are likely to improve human capital, because they will introduce more competition by supplying more private schools for those parents who want to use them. Schools that do better at matching students with the education that is best for them will gain students at the expense of those that do not. Moreover, more competition will lead to more beneficial innovations that will be shared throughout the K-12 educational system. Thus, even if some schools funded by vouchers do not perform well at first, a more competitive system has greater dynamism than a more government controlled system.
While there is much to be said for the human capital argument, yet another classical liberal argument for vouchers is that they promote a free citizenry by creating schools that compete to instill good values and norms in their students.
From my many friends who are Democrats, I hear a common complaint: the Republican Party is a party of obstruction while the Democratic party is much more accommodating. Of course, the first reaction of most Republican would be to note the many not so accommodating actions of Democrats, from the attempt to filibuster Justice Samuel Alito to the refusal to negotiate any reforms in social security with the newly reelected George W. Bush. But such back and forth is pretty fruitless and may miss a more fundamental point.
It is not at all clear that it is rational for parties to engage in the same amount of obstruction. The rational amount of obstruction depends on how easy it is to repeal the policy being obstructed. If it is easy to repeal the policy, it does not make sense to pay the political price for obstruction, because the policy can be readily ended when the party comes to power. But if the policy is hard to repeal, obstruction becomes a more natural course.
Thus, the real question on the rationality and justification for obstruction is whether the Republican and Democratic parties face the same political terrain for repealing the legislation they oppose. And I do not believe they do, particularly when it comes to the creation or expansion of entitlements.
One of the late Forrest McDonald’s many contributions to our understanding of the American Founding was that he illustrated, often humorously, the human side of some extraordinary men. Though often taking classic Roman republicans as role models, the Founders were, like the rest of us, given to occasional pettiness. They lost their tempers. They often resorted to underhanded methods to get their way. Nor were they above scheming against each other. Yet McDonald’s books also showed that the generation that fought for independence and then established the United States were also an unusually talented and well-educated group. Even when not…
Many obituaries of Antonin Scalia were accompanied by a picture of the justice and Ronald Reagan standing together on the day of his nomination. And that photograph perfectly captures Scalia’s importance to the American polity. Scalia changed our jurisprudence as much as Reagan changed our politics.
In an essay at City Journal I explore some of the deep connections between these two iconic figures of the conservative movement:
Last week President Obama gave a speech to newly naturalized citizens at the National Archives. His remarks show why immigration, long rightly praised as an essential part of our heritage, has become a source of ever greater controversy. The President failed to acknowledge that it is the principles of limited government and individual rights that make United States a welcoming place for immigrants because they assure that newcomers cannot tip the political balance to make life worse for those already here.
Instead, the President celebrated the raw power of democracy to make “progress,” change that can come at the expense of long time residents.The President did suggest that one of the “binding forces” for America is “loyalty” to “the documents” that surrounded the new citizens at the Archives. But he never identified these documents by name, quoted any language from them, or explained why they have an enduring claim on our loyalty. In particular, President Obama cited almost none of the liberties protected by the Constitution and nothing of the structure of federalism and separation of powers that protects those liberties.
It is hard to believe this was mere oversight. His administration has notably failed to defend both the structure and rights that are actually in the Constitution.
This is the second part of a three-part summary of a speech that I gave last weekend at the 2015 National Lawyers Convention of the Federalist Society. The first part focuses on how commerce encourages civic virtue. The second continues by discussing how limited government aids civic culture and how the Constitution helps assure that religion will be helpful rather than harmful to that culture:
Besides encouraging a commercial society, the Constitution also sharply limits government. The federal government is limited by the enumerated powers. The states’ capacity to create large, intrusive, anti-commercial government is circumscribed by the right of citizens to exit. To take just a purely hypothetical example, if my home state of Illinois exacts large taxes in favor of small groups like public sector unions, many of its citizens will leave.
Limited government creates the space and indeed the need for the kind of private associations that Alexis de Tocqueville celebrated. Varying in size and mission, these associations may concern self-improvement, mutual aid, or social welfare. As the Nobel Prize-winning political scientist Elinor Ostrom showed, these associations can help people develop bonds of social trust and maintain long-term relations of reciprocal goodwill, which can also help sustain a free society.
Fifty years have passed since Harvey Mansfield’s path-breaking Statesmanship and Party Government first appeared. It is a book so good that Leo Strauss is said to have wished he had written it. The original edition is now available as an e-book, so the busy Democratic operative may read it on hilarymail as she travels in search of wisdom from Hollywood to Havana. Of course, she is unlikely to seize the opportunity. The illumination scholars could once offer well-meaning politicians about prudence, statesmanship, and natural law—topics Mansfield discusses—is today dimmed by academics’ enlistment as experts on turnout, traffic, taxes, and triage. Those…
Parties have long been respectable features of modern liberal democracy. But that is not to say that in America our current political parties are respected. The summer of Donald Trump, which may finally be fading, suggests a craving for leadership and boldness that is larger than partisan affiliation: Americans increasingly doubt that either party is…
Edmund Burke’s defense of political parties is also a defense of conservatism. It remains true that the “respectability of party”—Harvey C. Mansfield’s perfect phrase from Statesmanship and Party Government: A Study of Burke and Bolingbroke—continues to depend on the respectability of conservatism. Professor Blitz suggests this also, asking in his Liberty Forum essay what we can…
Mark Blitz reads Harvey Mansfield as closely as Mansfield reads Edmund Burke. For this, and for his excellent Liberty Forum essay on Mansfield’s Statesmanship and Party Government, we are in Blitz’s debt. The book’s simultaneously ambivalent and appreciative reading of Burke endures 50 years after its publication, and will rank among the definitive texts on the…
The three replies to my essay are thoughtful discussions of important issues, and I thank the respondents for writing them. Professor Weiner correctly suggests that to rely on great men is a mistake. A polity will not endure if it allows significant decline and constantly requires for its salvation an excellence that is always rare. It…
Perhaps never in the history of the Supreme Court has a case of such limited practical significance generated as much press attention and hyperbole as has Hobby Lobby. Hillary Clinton is the latest politician to try to make inflammatory use of it: just yesterday she stated that it was step toward the kind of anti-women policies seen in extremist and undemocratic societies.
The case has captured attention for three reasons. First, it lies on the fault line of our culture wars, pitting the religiously oriented Hobby Lobby against the secularly oriented Obama administration. Second, its actual legal issues are very complex and inaccessible to the non-lawyer public, thus permitting politicians like Clinton to use it for their own ends. Finally, it provides catnip to reporters and pundits because it concerns contraception: sex helps sell the news as surely as it does other products.
Yet the case is of limited practical importance for no less than four reasons. First, it interprets the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, not the Constitution. Congress could change the result tomorrow, if it chose. To be sure, a law on the books benefits from inertia and a divided Congress is unlikely to amend RFRA soon on this matter. But its failure to do so shows that the Supreme Court’s decision is not wildly out of step with popular sentiment as sometimes are its constitutional decisions, which are far more difficult to amend. So much for Hobby Lobby being a step to undemocratic extremism. And going forward, Congress can exempt future legislation from RFRA’s strictures to the extent it wishes.