Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Book Meme

I got tagged with this from Pastorius at CUANAS:

1. Total Number of Books I've Owned:
This is actually a bit of a domestic crisis at the moment. We have bookshelves on every available wall in our house with loose books shoved sideways in the spaces between one row of books and the next shelf. In front of some of the shelves, my wife has crates and boxes of books sitting on the floor, two rows deep at one point. Every available surface has a stack of books on it. I have no idea how many there are. Surely in the thousands. And that doesn't account for the many books donated to libraries, lost in moves or "loaned" to friends over the years.

2. Last Book I Bought:

Restoring the Lost Constitution by Randy Barnett of the Volokh Conspiracy. Haven't had a chance to start it yet, but I have been impressed with many of Barnett's arguments.

Before that, I can't quite remember which books I've bought. Most of my reading recently has been trying to catch up with backlogged books that I've owned for awhile. For reasons cited above, I've put a semi-moratorium on buying new books, although occasionally my wife will find something interesting at the thrift store for a price too good to pass up. We got the first five Lemony Snicket books that way, I think.

3. Last Book I Read:

This answer has thee parts: my personal reading, the book I am reading to my wife and the book we are reading in our church's reading club.

Personally, I am just finishing Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy. Most people have heard about The Prince, of course, and think they know what it is about: power for power's sake, the end justifies the means, etc., etc. I learned that in public school too when I actually tried to read the Prince. But I was too ignorant of general political ideas to make much of it, so I pretty much assumed that what I had been taught to think was what I actually did think, and left it at that for several years.

When I began to be a conservative, in college, I suspected that maybe the conventional wisdom was unfair to Machiavelli, especially since he was always presented as someone you don't need to read because everyone already knows what he is all about. But other interests got in the way and only recently did I get serious enough about political theory to give him another read. As noted below, his Discourses are focused on the concept of liberty and how to preserve it. It is true that he does make some hair-raising statements such as "it is better to be feared than loved." But what he means by that is that someone who tries to govern by making people like him will inevitably do more harm to innocent people by letting the guilty go unpunished than if he acquired a reputation for strictness. This is an observation many conservatives have had occasion to reiterate in recent years.

For the last few weeks, I have been reading Charles Williams' War in Heaven to my wife. This is my third-favorite book by him, coming behind The Place of the Lion and Descent into Hell, in that order. I am discovering, however, just how difficult Williams is to read aloud. His thought is often so idiosyncratic that you have to read a sentence a few times to yourself to get what he is saying, which of course doesn't work if you are reading aloud. Also, his humor is of the elliptical, 1920s variety (think P. G. Wodehouse or Lord Peter Wimsey) that derives much of its effect from the assumption that if you are sufficiently in-the-know, you don't really need to hear the punchline to get the joke. Also, you wouldn't be so offensive as to suggest that the teller should go to all that extra trouble to actually say those few extra syllables. Also, you've heard it all before. It is a humor of ultra-sophistication and embodies all of the worldliness, ennui and arrogance of the early 20th century. I actually enjoy this sort of humor and try, in my own pathetic way, to indulge in it whenever I can. But it is one thing to make this kind of humor, and quite another to read the transcript of someone else making it. If I were a voice actor, I might be able to pull it off but in an unrehearsed, after-dinner reading session it is a bit beyond my capacity.

At church we are reading Russell Kirk's Roots of American Order. If you haven't read it, stop wasting time with this silly blog and go buy a copy. Now, Damn It!

4. Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me:

Only Five? ONLY FIVE? Jeez, who wrote this question, Dyslexics Anonymous? Well, hmmm. I will skip including the Bible as that should be fairly obvious. Nor will I include the Lord of the Rings, for pretty much the same reason (though to a different degree, of course). Also, I won't mention Atlas Shrugged or Mere Christianity, even though they were jointly responsible for my conversion to Christianity, since explaining how that all works would make this a very long post indeed. I won't mention Roots of American Order, either, because that was included in question #3. Does that narrow the list down? Well, no actually.

Hmmm. Well, how about this: I'll only mention the 5 books that I think would be most surprising to people who know me. That might work.

I. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip. Quite simply the best fantasy novel ever written. Her ability to create a compelling and intricate moral conflict among people who love each other in varying ways is phenomenal, and, what is more, she manages it without becoming sentimental or introspective in that annoying twentieth century way. In general I hate stories that put essentially modern characters into chainmail bras and codpieces and expect us to pretend it is honest fantasy. For some reason people of our era tend to be so pleased with our own consciousness that we can't help projecting it back into the past or out into faerie with uniformly tedious results. But McKillip maintains a voice that, while not particularly archaic, is nevertheless ancient and weighty. I marvel, for she speaks not as the scribes, but with authority. This book ranks for me with Till We Have Faces but the latter is excluded because it isn't terribly surprising.

II. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne. Okay, this won't surprise a lot of people because I mention it all the time, but most of my friends are surprised the first time I bring it up. The idea seems to be that I am too intellectual, too serious, too mathematical to be fooling about with whimsical children's books. But, actually, it is because I am all those things that I value Pooh so much. There is nothing more mortifying to me than the recollection of my late childhood and early adulthood when I couldn't communicate with my peers because I (unconsciously) thought I was smarter than them. Or, at least, that my interests were more important. If I have a personality at all, it is largely because I discovered late in life that I could borrow Pooh's and no one would know because they were only familiar with the idiotic Disney version.

III. The Magic Goes Away by Larry Niven. Also the related short stories, "Not Long Before the End" and "What Good is a Glass Dagger?" For much the same reasons that I like the McKillip book: there is a certain worldly wisdom in these stories that I draw upon frequently in the real world, and yet they belong quite firmly in the fantasy genre. I still find the paragraph where Niven relates the "history" of how the story of the quest for the lost god is reflected in tale of Chicken Little thrilling. I hope someday to be able to write with so much flair.

IV. Radical Son by David Horowitz. This book completely changed the way I thought about politics, not because I learned any new facts about the left, but because the facts became illuminated by a pattern I could never previously articulate. Reading this was very much an oceanic experience. I don't generally like biography, but this book is the biography of an entire worldview.

V. Illusions by Richard Bach. Well there are many books that I like that I could have put in this final slot, but the question was books that mean a lot to me. This book is important to me in much the same way that the Holocaust is important to Jews: Never Again. The self-deifying theology of this book corrupted much of my early life, aided my involvement with Mormonism and pretty much turned me into the arrogant, cynical relativist that I have spent the latter half of my life trying to escape. Obviously there were many other influences from the 70s that aided this corruption, but I think this single volume is a good metaphor for the lot.

5. People I Will Infect With This Meme:

There are lots of intriguing possibilities here, but I will play it safe for the moment and pick on my fellow parishioners Andrew, Michele and Paul. (If for no other reason than to wake them from their slumber...)

Update: Paul responds here.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Kingdom of Humanist Revisionism

Saw The Kingdom of Heaven last nigt. Don't have time to create a full post at the moment but I wanted to record two observations while I am thinking about it.

1. All the Muslims were honorable and none of the Good Guys were Christians. Every European who was sympathetic had lost his faith or had never had any to lose. No exceptions.

2. I have to look up some of the details, but I think they screwed up the history pretty badly. Like a missing king, and a queen who runs off with a character that never really existed.

More later.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Publius 2000

Pastorius of CUANAS alerted me via email of this blog by another member of his group. Publius is evidently a history professor interested in, among other things, constitutional law. He seems to be getting a slow start, but what he has written so far is right on target. Publius is hereby added to the blogroll.

Yemeni Elections

Jane from Armies of Liberation cautions that the upcoming elections in Yemen bear close scrutiny. The recent victories for democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine and Lebanon should not blind us to the fact that dictators can easily flaunt the trappings of freedom while flouting its essence:

AL-Sahwa net-The popular Forces’ Union (PFU) party blamed Yemeni authorities for trespassing on its headquarters and robbing the computer sets belonging to its mouthpiece, “Al-Shoura” newspaper (al-Khaiwani’s paper). A statement, issued by the PFU and a copy of which was obtained by Al-Sahwa net, said that the assault coincided with President Saleh’s strong-worded attack on the party.

It also recalled the adduction of Nabeel Al-Wazeer, member of the party’s secretariat general, and the threats of outlawing the party.

The PFU statement urged the political parties and the non-governmental organizations to “firmly stand against such violations, and to support the democratic option as a precondition for building the country’s future and maintaining its security and stability”. During his meeting with Yemeni clerics last Saturday, President Saleh accused the PFU and Al-Haq parties of plotting to lead a coup d` `etat against what he termed as “the revolution and the republican system”.
Jane comments: "Interesting how all the reformers and opposition are getting harrassed in advance of the election. Did I mention that Salah won 96% of the vote in 1999?"

Friday, May 13, 2005

Dennis Miller Cancelled?

My lone source of information about TV culture, Ann Althouse, reports that the Dennis Miller show is scheduled to be cancelled by CNBC:

His show never got to be as good as it could have been because -- I'm guessing -- Miller never got the support from CNBC he needed. And he deserved it. His past work on HBO was great, but the CNBC show was struggling on the edge all along. I suppose Miller never should have risked his reputation by venturing into that unsupported environment. There was a limit to how much he could do on sheer wits alone. And it was often painful to watch him sweating it out on camera.

He needed great writers and supporting actors and a sharp audience -- what Jon Stewart has on "The Daily Show." Now, he's the one stuck looking like a failure. And I blame CNBC for doing that to him.
This sounds like a bad deal for the reasons that Althouse gives, but also because Dennis Miller is one of the few independent thinkers on the TV talkshow circuit. I suspect that may be part (even unconsciously) of the reason that Miller did not get the support Althouse mentions.

But further reading in the CNN piece that Althouse links to reveals that this is not the whole story:
The network will also replace "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" with a new business show at 7 p.m. that will debut in the third quarter.

Both moves are part of a repositioning of CNBC's primetime back to the network's focus on financial news and away from failed attempts at entertainment, according to the report.
Whenever TV moves away from entertainment in order to focus on providing actual information that would be a Good Thing. (Unless the "information" turns out to be political analysis by some Jim Lehrer clone, but I doubt that will be the case with financial shows.)

One of the problems with my policy of not watching TV is that I can't join in the sort of boycott Ms. Althouse describes (it would be like a vegetarian giving up meat for Lent). But on the whole, this may not be a particularly bad move for CNBC and Dennis Miller is good enough that he should find another venue without too much trouble. At least I hope so.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Legitimate Legal Systems

Randy Barnett, of the Volokh Conspiracy, has a lengthy post describing his approach to defining the legitimacy of a legal system. He is drawing on concepts that he outlines in his book, Restoring the Lost Constitution (which is on my ever-growing list of books to read). Here are some selections from his 8-point discussion that I found interesting:

(1) The concept of "legitimacy" I am considering concerns whether laws that are imposed on the people create a prima facie (i.e. rebuttable) duty of obedience because they are laws, or (another formulation) are presumptively binding on conscience.

(2) The concept I am considering is objective, not subjective. By this I mean that I am not discussing the perception that there is a prima facie duty to obey the law, but whether any such perception is valid or justified.
These two points are related in that if an obligation is objective it is necessarily binding on the conscience. What he means by rebuttable or presumptive is that if a law is passed through legitimate means it is presumed to be a legitimate (ie binding) law unless it is shown not to be on substantive grounds. In the latter case, it can be repealed through the same procedural methods. I metion this because there are some who confuse legality with morality, but that isn't what Barnett is talking about here.
One route to legitimacy is the consent of the governed, but [...] the consent of some can never explain how nonconsenting persons come to be bound in conscience. This is the challenge to constitutional legitimacy made famous by Lysander Spooner [...] I try to meet Spooner's challenge by positing an alternative route to legitimacy. (a) No one can complain about the imposition of a law if it does not violate his natural (prepolitical) rights; (b) because one has a duty to respect the rights of others, one also has a duty to obey a law that is necessary to defining and protecting the rights of others. A coercive command that meets these two requirements is "just" and binding in conscience. Therefore (c) a law is legitimate (in the sense defined above) if it is produced and enforced by procedures that make it more likely than not that it (a) respects the rights of the persons on whom it is being imposed and (b) is needed to protect the rights of others. In this sense "constitutional legitimacy" is procedural in nature, though the procedures must be assessed with a background theory of substantive rights in mind.
This is a very powerful concept and bears re-reading. From a Christian point of view, this account of legitimacy allows reconciliation of the often thorny choice between being submissive to the established authorities (Rom 13: 1-7) and obeying God rather than man (Acts 4:19). If, as I believe, establishing justice in the land (1 Cor 6:2) is a duty of the Christian in a democratic society (ie a land in which every man is king) then this notion of legitimacy allows us to participate in a society where the substance of the laws is ungodly, provided there is a legitimate (in the above sense) system whereby laws can be changed. So long as there is hope that the ungodly laws can be changed, we are not obligated to break the law, for instance, by destroying abortion clinics or freeing slaves. However, a corollary is that if it ever becomes clear that there is no legitimate process by which laws can be changed, (such as is the case for Christians in Sudan, for instance), rebellion is justified.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Machiavelli on Freedom and Monarchy

I came across this passage while reading Machiavelli's Discourses (Book I: Discourse 55):

But to make plain what I mean when I speak of _gentlemen_, I say that those are so to be styled who live in opulence and idleness on the revenues of their estates, without concerning themselves with the cultivation of these estates, or incurring any other fatigue for their support. Such persons are very mischievous in every republic or country. But even more mischievous are they who, besides the estates I have spoken of, are lords of strongholds and castles, and have vassals and retainers who render them obedience. Of these two classes of men the kingdom of Naples, the country round Rome, Romagna, and Lombardy are full; and hence it happens that in these provinces no commonwealth or free form of government has ever existed; because men of this sort are the sworn foes to all free institutions. And since to plant a commonwealth in provinces which are in this condition were impossible, if these are to be reformed at all, it can only be by some one man who is able there to establish a kingdom; the reason being that when the body of the people is grown so corrupted that the laws are powerless to control it, there must in addition to the laws be introduced a stronger force, to wit, the regal, which by its absolute and unrestricted authority may curb the excessive ambition and corruption of the great.[Emphasis Mine]
The bolded section is what interested me, since it is essentially the same point I was making here:
I do happen to believe that the bible portrays monarchy as a punishment inflicted on a people who reject God's rule and are, therefore, incapable of ruling themselves.
Of course, Machiavelli is not arguing from a biblical perspective and quoting him does not really advance the debate that much. In fact, given the slanderous treatment Machiavelli usually gets by the public school system, quoting him sympathetically may even get me into more trouble than my earlier citation of Paine did. But I am gratified to see that other lovers of liberty have come to similar conclusions to my own largely self-taught attempts to make sense of human history.

Belated Thanks ...

... to Michi of Journal of a Girl for the link. I am honored to have anyone as a reader who is willing to lose friends over the truth.

Darfur Drawn

Human Rights watch has posted images of drawings by young children who have escaped from the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region:

On mission along the border of Chad and Darfur, Human Rights Watch researchers gave children notebooks and crayons to keep them occupied while they spoke with the children’s parents. Without any instruction or guidance, the children drew scenes from their experiences of the war in Darfur: the attacks by the Janjaweed, the bombings by Sudanese government forces, the shootings, the burning of entire villages, and the flight to Chad.
Here are a couple of examples:

Human Rights Watch: What’s happening here?
Mahmoud: These men in green are taking the women and the girls.
Human Rights Watch: What are they doing?
Mahmoud: They are forcing them to be wife.

I am looking at the sheep in the wadi. I see Janjaweed coming—quickly, on horses and camels, with Kalashnikovs—shooting and yelling, 'kill the slaves, kill the blacks.'

Nur: This is my brother. He is hiding in Sudan. He is not happy.
Human Rights Watch: Why?
Nur: He wants to learn, to go to school, but he has nothing. Our school was burned.

John Hinderaker of PowerLine comments:
Of course, I still don't have much to say about Darfur. My view is that ordinarily, the United States should intervene abroad only when our own national interests are at stake, and, in addition, humanitarian interests are served, or at least not compromised. It's hard to see any purpose other than the purely humanitarian in stepping into Sudan. That would, ideally, make it a job for the United Nations, I suppose, but the U.N. doesn't do anything that useful--it's too busy denouncing America and Israel--and, truth be told, many U.N. members don't especially disapprove of the conduct of the government of Sudan [...]
There was a time, while I was struggling to make the transition form Liberal to Conservative thinking, when I would have reluctantly agreed with this sentiment for consistency's sake. It makes sense to limit US involvement in light of the fact that resources are inevitably scarce and we can't be everywhere at once.

However, I now believe, as noted below that the Liberals got this one partly right. It is in the long-term interest of the US to put a stop to tyranny and terror, even if there is no immanent threat or pressing national interest. Furthermore, relying on the deliberative facilities offered by the UN is only viable if we can trust the member nations to adhere to civilized standards, which is manifestly not the case. (This is where the Liberals get it wrong.)

If the Bush doctrine of defeating terror through establishing free countries is to be effective, there must be a point at which we are willing to acknowledge that recalcitrant nations must be confronted, even if they do not pose an immediate threat. If US power had been used to intervene in Sudan when Khartoum was oppressing the Southern region, the genocide in Darfur may have been prevented. In this sense, my assertion that "Bush has taken the liberal foreign policy recommendations of the '80s and actually made them work" is diminished by the continuing crisis in Sudan.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Nature Profiles Intelligent Design

Speaking of grudging concessions, Nature, a prestigious international science journal, has run several articles on Intelligent Design in its April 28 issue. William Dembski comments:

Bottom line: ID still isn't science and is dead wrong, but too many people are taking it seriously, so it needs to be addressed seriously. This is an important concession. Look for more to come.
Reading the linked article and the attached editorial, I am struck by the fact that the focus is completely on the human interest aspect of ID advocates and completely ignores or misstates the actual argument of ID. One example among many:
Others, including Cordova himself, arrived at intelligent design from almost the opposite direction. Over a coffee earlier that day, he explains how intelligent design helped him resolve his own spiritual crisis five years ago. Since high school, Cordova had been a devout Christian, but as he studied science and engineering at George Mason, he found his faith was being eroded. "The critical thinking and precision of science began to really affect my ability to just believe something without any tangible evidence," he says. The breaking point came in 2000 when a woman from his Bible study group put her faith before her personal safety - traveling to Afghanistan as part of a covert Christian mission in a country that was, at the time, a militant Islamic theocracy. He felt unhappy accepting the promotion of such activities unless he could be sure Christianity was a true faith.
Frankly, I could care less about how he feels about ID, Evolution or Christianity. My interest in the subject is with the quality of the ideas. It is true that ID is a school of thought with quite a few lacunae in its argument, but such gaps can best be filled by discussing the theory as it stands and challenging both sides to come up with answers. Focusing on secondary issues such as motivations and personal perspectives gives people the false impression that they have understood the theory when all they have done is decide who they want to sympathize with. This serves neither the reader nor the scientific community at large and is more worthy of Newsweek than Nature.

But Dembski makes a good point in noting that this is a slight victory for ID in that it is being mentioned at all. Up until recently the strategy of evolutionists has been to ignore ID, thus implying that it is not worthy of serious discussion. As a side bar in the article notes:
Evolution advocates say that researchers should be careful about how they respond to such overtures. If the request is for a public debate with an intelligent-design advocate, the best answer is 'no', argues Robert Pennock, a philosopher of science at Michigan State University in East Lansing. "A public debate is an artificial setting for getting into scientific issues," he says. "There's no way in that format to thoroughly give a scientific response, especially to a lay audience."

"A formal debate is not how we do science," agrees Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California.
Which is all very well, except that the exclusion is also applied to peer-reviewed journals, which is how we do science. But if that wall starts to break down, it may not be long before ID researchers begin to gather the public recognition -- and the concomitant funding -- that will allow them to make their case more rigorously.

Who Was Guarding the Guardian?

Charles Johnson catches Max Hastings of the Guardian in a moment of lucidity:

[...]A friend who visited the White House recently described the president's buoyant account of his Iraqi crusade, which highlighted the fact that a national government has been formed. Some progress is claimed towards normalisation in Shia and Kurdish regions. Syrian withdrawal gives Lebanon a chance of making something of democracy. Washington asserts that it is involving itself more than ever in the Middle East peace process.

None of these claims should be dismissed out of hand. The greatest danger for those of us who dislike George Bush is that our instincts may tip over into a desire to see his foreign policy objectives fail. No reasonable person can oppose the president's commitment to Islamic democracy. Most western Bushophobes are motivated not by dissent about objectives, but by a belief that the Washington neocons' methods are crass, and more likely to escalate a confrontation between the west and Islam than to defuse it.

Such skepticism, however, should not prevent us from stepping back to reassess the progress of the Bush project, and satisfy ourselves that mere prejudice is not blinding us to the possibility that western liberals are wrong; that the Republicans' grand strategy is getting somewhere.
Not surprisingly, this magnanimity does not quite last to the end of the article. Inevitably, when the left is forced to acknowledge the success of conservatism, it does so by way of contrast with the downside, in a tone of balance and even-handedness:
My own contacts say that the situation is improving, but remains precarious.
It is hard to derive much comfort from statistics that show a diminution in clashes between insurgents and security forces.
The most powerful reason for remaining cautious about Iraq must be doubt -- shared by many US officers -- about whether the country is sus­tainable as a unitary state.
Still, Hastings fights manfully against the temptation to be wholly negative:
It seems wrong for either neocon true believers or liberal skeptics to rush to judgment. We of the latter persuasion must keep reciting the mantra: "We want Iraq to come right, even if this vindicates George Bush."

Those who say that Iraqis are incapable of making a democracy work may well be proved right. But until we see what happens on the ground over the months ahead, we should not write off the possibility that the Iraqi people will forge some sort of accommodation. A premature coalition withdrawal promises catastrophe for them, not us.
Irresistibly, the old addiction to nuance and multi-lateralism resurfaces, but only in the final paragraph:
Yet it still seems reasonable to question the optimism currently prevailing among Washington's neocons, because this remains founded upon a woefully simplistic vision. It is true that, in some chronic, unstable regions, some bad governments — those of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein — have been removed by the Americans. But the fragile advantages gained will be lost, unless Washington can match its boldness in the deployment of military power with a new sensitivity to alien cultures, matched by far more subtle political skills.
Ironically, the "simplistic" Bush approach was what, during the Reagan administration, liberals used to call "common sense". American firepower employed in taking out the most egregious dictatorships was precisely what we demanded. The fact that the US did not drop its ("futile" and "counterproductive") cold war with the Soviet Union to clean up the stinking torture states of the third world was irrefutable evidence of its greed, corruption and domination by big business. Now that the USSR is gone -- and, I am cynically inclined to add, no longer in need of liberal support -- the same factors are adduced as motivations of Bush's interventionism.

What Hastings needs to remember is that the word "neocon" which he so glibly tosses around is not an epithet but has a precise meaning: a former liberal who has seen the value of conservative principles. In that light, it is hardly surprising that Bush has taken the liberal foreign policy recommendations of the '80s and actually made them work.


Addendum: In citing Bruce Cockburn's Rocket Launcher, it occurs to me that the entire song is worth quoting in this context:
Here comes the helicopter -- second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they've murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher...I'd make somebody pay

I don't believe in guarded borders and I don't believe in hate
I don't believe in generals or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher...I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation -- or some less humane fate
Cry for Guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher...I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice -- at least I've got to try
Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher...Some son of a bitch would die
Well, Bruce, we do have a rocket launcher.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Notes on the "Unprecedented" Filibuster

I have been debating this point on and off for a couple of weeks with friends. Looks like the AP has finally noticed that the talking points that both Republicans and Democrats are making don't quite square with the facts:

Time was, Republicans buried Bill Clinton's judicial picks by the dozen in the Senate Judiciary Committee and Democrats indignantly demanded a yes-or-no vote for each. That was then.

This is now, when Democrats block a far smaller number of President Bush's court nominees -- and Republicans heatedly insist the Constitution itself requires a vote.

"Give them a vote. A vote up or down," Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said recently, speaking of seven appeals court nominees Democrats have vowed to block. "That's what we've always done for 214 years before this president became president."

Except for more than 60 nominees whose names Clinton sent to the Senate between 1995 and 2000.

Republicans didn't resort to filibusters in many of those cases. They didn't need to.

They controlled the levers of Senate power at the time, and simply refused to schedule action on the nominations they opposed. Hatch, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, played a pivotal role in the blockade.

Inconsistency is hardly a Republican-only trait.

"According to the U.S. Constitution, the president nominates, and the Senate shall provide advice and consent," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in 1997.

"It is not the role of the Senate to obstruct the process and prevent numbers of highly qualified nominees from even being given the opportunity for a vote on the Senate floor," said Boxer, who supported a move in 1995 to ease the filibuster rule.

Except that she joined other Democrats in successfully filibustering 10 of Bush's first-term appeals court candidates. Bush has renominated seven of the 10, and they are at the core of the current struggle over rules governing judicial confirmation.
I have not posted on this because I find it hard to get too excited about what seems to be an obvious fact of politics. Politicians do and say what they need to get their agendas implemented and it doesn't always match what they did or said previously when the situation was reversed. Not particularly admirable, but hardly surprising.

But I am rather annoyed that conservatives, who don't have political carreers to think about, have bought into the Constitutional meme and are even pretending that the Democrats are being somehow particularly unprincipled in the present circumstance. It may be good for the country to abolish the 60 vote rule for ending a filibuster; I don't really know. But it is hardly a moral concern and it is certainly well within conservative principles to allow it to stand. I may have more to say about this later.