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Still Thinking Out Loud:

1. Very Funny (as in this actually makes me chuckle). I spoke of the seeming fascination with King James II in the Task Force Report. Coincidentally, the ABA complainants choose to refer to the two Bush administrations as Bush I and Bush II.

2. I advocate taking a closer look at all this. The President's use of signing statements strikes me as a radical departure from the past. Changes of that magnitude merit mature discussion and a healthy dose of skepticism. Moreover, in a previous essay, "Power and Liberty," I expressed my opinion that the jealous "departments" and the interest of extra-governmental entities play essential roles in protecting liberty. Let the Judiciary Committee and a hostile ABA kick this around a bit.

Power is the enemy of liberty.

3. The framers purportedly designed the office of the presidency with two thoughts in mind: 1) George Washington was going to be president (and you could trust him to be a good steward of executive power); and 2) George Washington would not be president forever (and there would be a president someday who was not a trustworthy steward of executive power).

Patrick Henry warned that a president would come along one day, who would "make that bold push for the throne."

In this respect the ABA is right (allow me to paraphrase): this is not a question that should be approached from the perspective of our man sitting in the oval office. We should, in fact, close our eyes and imagine Hillary Clinton in the oval office. Then ask ourselves: is this a process we want to establish as precedent?

4. One last consideration/counter-point: the ABA report never seems to consider the post-9/11-ism of all this. Much of the administration's argument assumes that these are war powers. That really is a pivotal question. Are we at war? How long can a president assume war powers without a Congressional declaration of war?

While power is the enemy of liberty, too much liberty can be also the enemy of liberty. Or, as United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson cautioned, "the Constitution is not a suicide pact."

Note: Part of this appeared in the discussion in the "comments section" following the first post.
Here is the full text of the President's speech before the NAACP.

I was impressed by the way he placed his specific ideas within the context of America, her past and future, and her good. He addressed a group of Americans as Americans.

I was impressed with his focus on education (including school choice vouchers) and on home ownership. These very traditional ideas when implemented make a tremendous difference in the lives of communities as well as the lives of individuals. He was pushing the American values of good education and property ownership. He also included ownership of wealth such as pension money.

And, I was impressed with his presence: his humor, his honesty, and his ability to be himself in various settings.
Valerie Plame sues over leak. Captain's Quarters has a must read account of Joe Wilson's track record on truth. Read here. Having Plame and Wilson under oath could be fun.
I refuse to push the panic button on the economy, and I hate Vietnam parallels, but a growing chain of events gives me cause for concern.

The stagflation and misery of the 1970s arrived, in part, as a result of the belief that we could have "guns and butter" without sacrifice. During an extended and expensive overseas military expedition, the US attempted to leverage the Vietnam War and the Great Society with little concern for revenue. At the same time, American manufactures suffered from an increased period of competition from emerging industrial nations. And, finally, the American economy, heavily dependent on foreign oil, suffered mightily from the rise of OPEC, which attempted to punish the United States for its support of Israel.

I firmly believe that history does not repeat itself--but sometimes the present is eerily reminiscent of the past.

We are in the midst of a protracted and expensive military engagement, a huge event on which we are divided but strangely detached. We continue to run-up budget deficits to pay for the war and our pampered national lifestyle. Our manufacturers are in much worse shape than thirty-five years ago, evidenced by our ever-increasing trade deficits and changing labor reality. Add Israel and oil to this equation, during a time when we are more dependent on foreign fuel than ever before, and there are serious reasons for concern.

You have heard my numerous exhortations in the past to stay the course in Iraq. I am not backing away from that line of thinking. But there is real danger ahead. Although the President's approval ratings in general (and on Iraq specifically) have turned dismal, his initiative in the Middle East has moved forward despite its diminishing popularity (mainly because Iraq seems disturbing but peripheral to most Americans).

But an economic crisis would end all that. A deep recession would completely break America's will for war. The Iraq commitment survives precariously on the crest of this fortuitous economic wave. If this economy is as fragile as some have speculated, then the support for the war is just that tenuous.
Peggy Noonan has a great, thoughtful essay today (no surprise) on the impossible demands currently being made on the politicians in Congress to decide every sort of difficult issue, from international to local. In part at least, this barrage of complexity enables those who want bigger government to slip through increases in government size and responsibility. She points out that demanding a Congress full of Platos, Solomons and Socrates's is ridiculous. It is a great essay in favor of small government. Read it here.

One of the basic underlying ideas to her essay is that human beings have limits. We are finite. Asking finite beings for infinite wisdom will result in tragedy, or if we are lucky, farce. The ancient Greeks understood the nature of human limits: humans are between gods and animals. To act like a god, that is to act as though one had no limits, was called hubris. Engaging in hubris was understood to bring tragedy. Think of the myth of Icarus, the fellow whose father made wings to fly away and escape from imprisonment. Not heeding his father's warnings he flew too near the sun, the wax in his wings melted, and he plummeted to his death. He forget his limitations, tried to act like a god, and his end was destruction. In the words of a famous American philisopher--A man's got to know his limitations.

The liberal push for bigger and bigger government, controlling more and more of human life, is a recipe for tragedy. Humans cannot succeed at controlling everything. Especially not one elite governing group. In the Christian world-view, we have a similar idea to hubris--sin. Only God has the omni's: omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. A state claiming omnicompetence is reaching for forbidden fruit, trying to attain the status of God. We know how that story ends.

This lesson is hard for Americans to learn. We like to think in terms of infinite possibilities. Some years ago Michael Crighton wrote a decent novel using the plot of Greek tragedy--Jurassic Park. In the novel the Theme Park creator tried to be a god by bringing extinct creatures back to living in the present. He was punished for his hubris, eaten by his creatures, after causing much suffering. In order to appeal to a popular American audience, when made into a movie the tragedy of hubris was removed, and a happy ending inserted. In real life we do not always get to rewrite.
Arguably the turning point in the American Civil War occured during the first few days of July 1863 with the fall of Vicksburg to Union forces and the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. Today's Wall Street Journal Editorial Page online has a list of the 5 best books on the Battle of Gettysburg with brief descriptions.
Guest Blog

Excerpts from a recent essay on "the American character" by one of my American history survey students (C. Buzbee, with her permission):

"If a colonist from the 1700’s visited the United States today he would be astounded. Cars of all makes and models rush along endless highways, skyscrapers line the horizon, cities go on for miles, communication of all forms literally instantaneous, all manner of electrical gadgetry available upon demand. Food abundant, travel magical, military force impressive and formidable, and everyone he would have met would have never known anything but life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A little over 200 years ago, early Americans, poorly equipped, made all this and more possible at great sacrifice to themselves. Somehow in that long ago time, this great country of ours, the richest, freest, most powerful nation on earth was born. How exactly it happened is a long and winding story, full of complexities and ironies but in the end a tale of victory against overwhelming odds. The story of freedom should be familiar to all Americans as it lends illumination and a special appreciation for all the privileges and freedoms that belong to us simply for being an American."

"The end then, we all know, was the beginning. It started with a Constitution, a Presidency, a flag, and an unshakable belief in that all men are created equal and that we have a right to be able to choose our profession, the fabric of our lives, our religion, all ideas that embody democracy. The infant government would continue to experience lows and highs, numerous internal battles (ironing out the kinks) for years to come, and several more wars to live through to obtain the true freedom and working democratic society, the model of the world over that it is today. And still the battle goes on with global issues in which modern patriots who will ever strive to emulate our society in lands far from here. It is our duty, our destiny, the price we pay for the freedom so hard won long ago, to spread the idea so that others can say ‘We the people’."