Saturday, March 26, 2011


     Over at the Originalism Blog, Mike Ramsey has turned in a couple of excellent posts on the power of the Commander-in-Chief to initiate military action without support of Congress.  The first post is here, the second here.

     The gist of Ramsey’s argument is that while the President retains power to defend the country from attack without Congressional approval, he must seek a declaration of war before attacking another country. The military powers of the Congress and the President make sense if they are understood as a split between the authority to declare whom to fight and the authority to decide how to fight. The President (as Commander-in-Chief) is the one to command the military forces (“how to fight”), but he may exercise this power only after Congress has declared war (“whom to fight”).

     In support of Ramsey’s argument it remains to be said that the Founding Fathers of the United States were thoroughly educated in the classics. In writing the Constitution, they naturally adhered to the examples of the free republics of antiquity, most especially the Roman Republic. Under the Roman Constitution—before Julius Cæsar destroyed it—the Senate declared war, and the Consuls then went forth with the army to conduct operations. Congress is our analog to the Senate, while the Presidency is our analog to the Consulate.

     At present, the War Powers Resolution has finessed the Constitutional question by expressly granting the President power to conduct military operations for sixty days before obtaining Congressional approval. Given that context, the current operation in Libya is within the law.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Desert Bluff

     The United Nations’ military action against Libya has halted a vicious terrorist-dictator. For now, Muammar Gaddafi’s forces have lost the momentum—and command of the air—in the weeks-old conflict with Libyan rebels. While we hope this is the start of the final movement in Gaddafi’s discordant symphony, we also note it may be the beginning of a new respect for the Obama administration in foreign policy. The initial moves of the administration did not appear in the best light, and we wrote last month to encourage an interventionist policy in Libya. Now, however, the administration has turned the initial delay into a foreign policy success. Whether the matter will remain so is unclear, but there are some reasons for hope.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Viral Absurdity

     Last Thursday, a very wise man chastised his alma mater from the high position of the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal. Scholar and critic Jacques Barzun (who at 104 is more alert than 99 out of 100 30-year-olds) took Columbia University in New York to task. Barzun graduated from Columbia in 1927, was a professor of history there for many years, and eventually became provost of the university. Now retired to San Antonio, Barzun wrote about a recent petition circulated by members of the Columbia faculty. The signatories to the petition were calling for the continuation of Columbia’s ban on the U.S. military’s Reserve Officer Training Corps. Originally banished in 1969, ROTC has been kept off campus in recent years because of the now-ended military policy against openly homosexual service members. What is the justification for keeping ROTC away? According to the petitioners on the faculty, the military remains a “discriminatory institution” because of it excludes some people from military service on the basis of “many reasons from physical disability to age.”

     This is a stunningly transparent lie. The petitioners are apparently so tone deaf they cannot hear their own mendacity. The military is discriminatory because it won’t hire blind pilots? Or septuagenarian riflemen? This argument simply cannot be the true reason for the faculty to oppose ROTC. It is too absurd an objection for even the most disconnected of ivory tower denizens. Surely the real reason is far simpler: anti-military bias. Had the petitioners based their petition on the honest grounds of loathing for all things military, they could at least claim whatever virtue clings to candor. But to ground their objections on the “discriminatory” policy of excluding the disabled and the aged from military service is to reveal an animus so sharp that it distorts basic reason. Obviously, theirs is a clumsy ploy, a puerile argument unworthy of the weakest minds. Except…

Friday, March 11, 2011

Requiem for a Network

     Monday’s release of the devastating tape of Ron Schiller, former chief fundraiser for National Public Radio, has permanently discredited any claim that the network pursues a neutral, balanced approach to journalism. It will probably also kill future federal funding. Although the scandal has not directly touched the Public Broadcasting Service, PBS is likely to be unplugged from the federal money grid along with NPR. This seems a shame, because of the two, PBS retains more of the old excellence than NPR.

     Tune in to NPR now and you’re likely to hear a piece about prisoners making “art” from trash. This is the victory of political correctness over æsthetics. You are equally likely to hear a piece about the plight of someone or other. The ultimate moral high ground for the NPR Leftist now seems to be victim status. As for the old high culture, it is now abandoned. You are not likely to hear about a classical music event unless there is a way of tying it to “diversity.” After all, that music was all produced by white men from Europe.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Necessary Evil

     Over at The Atheist Conservative, the estimable staff have begun a dialogue about capital punishment. The following is slightly expanded from your author’s comments:

     Nobody is really happy about capital punishment, but for crying out loud, it’s a necessary evil. One fault of the Left is to ignore human nature. The truth of human nature is that some small numbers of people will be deterred from committing murder only by the certainty of execution. Another group of people will only be deterred from lynching murderers by...the certainty of execution. Social order demands the state deter both groups with a robust program of capital punishment. It’s too bad that’s how people are, but that’s how they are.

     One good point about not being Christian is that we unbelievers are free to reject Christ’s command to “turn the other cheek.” Whatever we do to dilute the strength of the twin message of deterrence and just vengeance endangers public order (which is another way of saying, endangers the lives of the innocent). By contrast, whatever we do to strengthen the twin message is helpful. For this reason, we should reconsider public executions of convicted murderers.

     The sole caution about capital punishment should be the fear of a mistaken conviction. There is probably nothing more horrible in individual cases than the state killing an innocent man. That danger is why we should continue to grant heightened procedural safeguards in capital cases. Still, on balance, capital punishment remains essential to a society of human beings, as opposed to a society of the idealized, humanlike creatures of Leftist fantasy.