How Roe v. Wade Could Die

I had thought that it might be hard to overturn Roe v. Wade because those who are directly affected by it — unborn children — lack “standing”; that is, they are not “persons” under the law. But I was prematurely pessimistic. The tools with which Roe can be dismantled are at hand, in challenges to the abortion-limitation laws of various States and in the very language of the Roe decision.

To begin at the beginning, Roe precludes unborn children from “personhood”. Justice Blackmun wrote in his opinion for a 7-2 majority that the

Constitution does not define “person” in so many words. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment contains three references to “person.”…  The word also appears both in the Due Process Clause and in the Equal Protection Clause. “Person” is used in other places in the Constitution…. But in nearly all these instances, the use of the word is such that it has application only postnatally. None indicates, with any assurance, that it has any possible pre-natal application.

All this, together with our observation … that throughout the major portion of the 19th century prevailing legal abortion practices were far freer than they are today, persuades us that the word “person,” as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn….

Inasmuch as a non-person has no rights, the majority could have found an unlimited “right” to abortion. Instead, the majority flinched and recognized a status between fetus and person:

(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.

(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.

(c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother [emphasis added].

Roe was “upheld” in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, but with some twists that are the subject of Chief Justice’s dissent, quoted at length below. The key point of Casey (for purposes of this post) is that it admits the state’s interest in the potentiality of human life, and variations on that theme, which I have emphasized in the following excerpts of the controlling opinion in Casey:

The woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy before viability is the most central principle of Roe v. Wade. It is a rule of law and a component of liberty we cannot renounce.

On the other side of the equation is the interest of the State in the protection of potential life. The Roe Court recognized the State’s “important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life.”

Yet it must be remembered that Roe v. Wade speaks with clarity in establishing not only the woman’s liberty but also the State’s “important and legitimate interest in potential life.” That portion of the decision in Roe has been given too little acknowledgment and implementation by the Court in its subsequent cases….

We reject the trimester framework, which we do not consider to be part of the essential holding of Roe…. The trimester framework suffers from these basic flaws: in its formulation it misconceives the nature of the pregnant woman’s interest; and in practice it undervalues the State’s interest in potential life, as recognized in Roe.

The very notion that the State has a substantial interest in potential life leads to the conclusion that not all regulations must be deemed unwarranted. Not all burdens on the right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy will be undue. In our view, the undue burden standard is the appropriate means of reconciling the State’s interest with the woman’s constitutionally protected liberty.

Hold that thought.

According to Wikipedia, Casey

replaced the strict scrutiny analysis under Roe, with the “undue burden” standard…. A legal restriction posing an undue burden is one that has “the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.” An undue burden is found even where a statute purports to further the interest of potential life or another valid state interest, if it places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman’s fundamental right to choice. The Supreme Court in the 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt clarified exactly what the ‘undue burden’ test requires: “Casey requires courts to consider the burdens a law imposes on abortion access together with the benefits those laws confer.”

Hellerstedt overturned statutory restrictions on abortion providers that had been adopted by Texas. The 5-3 opinion was written by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito filed dissents. Justice Scalia, who had died earlier in the year, had yet to be replaced by Justice Gorsuch. Justice Kennedy has since retired and been replaced by Justice Kavanaugh.

Given the significant changes in the Court’s membership since Hellerstedt, advocates of abortion are right to be worried about the fate of Roe v. Wade and its successors. Elisabeth Dias and Timothy Williams of The New York Times explain:

Several challenges to federal abortion law are pending before the Supreme Court and about a dozen are working their way up through federal circuit courts. Anti-abortion lawmakers and activists have targeted more than simply the restriction of abortion or its funding. They have worked to pass laws to control the range of issues that surround abortion, from burial of fetal tissue and custody of frozen embryos, to ultrasound requirements.

“It’s a continuation of a strategy that we’ve had for some time, which is to pass as many pro-life laws as we can at the state level with a strategy of bold incrementalism,” said Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a social conservative political group….

The social conservative strategy has accelerated since 2010, when Republicans made significant gains in state legislatures. States have enacted more than 400 restrictions on abortion since 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights….

In Indiana, a law signed in 2016 by Mike Pence, then the governor, aims to ban discrimination against a fetus on things like race, sex, and disability. Though it has passed on the case before, the Supreme Court could take it up as soon as next week, and argue it next term. “We are hoping to challenge Roe from this angle, the angle of discrimination,” said Sue Liebel, the state director for the Susan B. Anthony List. “It has never been tried before.”

Even if the first primary challenge does not come from Indiana, the nationwide momentum is “really good news” for the anti-abortion movement, she said.

“It probably will not be one case that will topple Roe all at once,” Ms. Liebel said. “It will probably be multiple pieces that will take chunks out of Roe.”

In Ohio, the state legislature is prepared to approve a bill this session that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Anti-abortion activist groups like Right to Life Ohio championed the bill, while abortion rights advocates have pointed out that many women and girls are not even aware that they may be pregnant that early.

The legislation was initially approved by the legislature last year, but was vetoed by John Kasich, then the governor. But his successor, Mike DeWine, who like Mr. Kasich is a Republican, has said that he intends to sign the legislation.

“We were very hesitant on the heartbeat bill because we knew we had a hostile Supreme Court,” Mike Gonidakis, the president of Right to Life Ohio, said about the court before the elevation of Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch by President Trump. “The time is ripe to have the discussion now because of the current Supreme Court. We now see a pathway forward.”

More than 20 bills restricting abortion have become law in Ohio in the past eight years, including legislation that prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and banning the most common abortion method used in the second trimester of pregnancy.

The Kentucky Legislature is currently considering a fetal heartbeat bill similar to legislation in Ohio, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri and South Carolina. Kentucky has in recent years approved several laws curtailing abortion rights that have been ruled unconstitutional, two of which could ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

The first requires doctors to perform an ultrasound before an abortion, then to display and describe the images, and finally, to make the fetal heartbeat audible. The second mandates abortion providers to enter into written transfer agreements with a local hospital, as well as arranging transport arrangements with ambulance services. Both are under appeals in the Sixth Circuit.

Some Democratic-controlled statehouses have recently worked to counter the groundswell from the right. New York expanded abortion rights last month for the first time in almost 50 years, permitting some abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. A Virginia legislator proposed a bill that would have lifted restrictions on late-term abortions, but the proposal was set aside in committee.

Amid all this activity, abortion rights activists are alarmed at [the recent] Louisiana decision because it is the clearest indicator yet of how Justice Kavanaugh might rule on abortion in future cases. In the 5-4 ruling, he wrote the dissent….

The Louisiana case is far from decided. The Supreme Court is likely to hear arguments on its merits in the next term, which begins in October.

What is Louisiana? Adam Liptak of The New York Times discusses it:

The Supreme Court on [February 7] blocked a Louisiana law that its opponents say could have left the state with only one doctor in a single clinic authorized to provide abortions.

The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority….

The court’s brief order gave no reasons, and its action — a temporary stay — did not end the case. The court is likely to hear a challenge to the law on the merits in its next term, which starts in October.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh said they would have denied the stay. Only Justice Kavanaugh published a dissent, taking a middle position that acknowledged the key precedent and said he would have preferred more information on the precise effect of the law.

For Chief Justice Roberts, it was something of a turnaround, at least for now. He dissented in the court’s last major abortion case in 2016, voting to uphold a Texas law essentially identical to the one at issue in Thursday’s case….

Chief Justice Roberts has voted to sustain other laws restricting abortion. And his vote to grant a stay on Thursday, in other words, does not mean he will vote to strike down the Louisiana law when the case returns to the court.

The court [as discussed above] is likely to confront other abortion cases, too, as several state legislatures have recently enacted laws that seem calculated to try to force the Supreme Court to consider overruling Roe v. Wade.

What Liptak doesn’t mention is Roberts’s (vain) desire to make the Court seem apolitical. He tried to accomplish that by voting to deny the stay, as if that would avert the outrage that is certain to follow an eventual ruling in favor of the Louisiana law (or others of its ilk).

Unless Roberts reverses his stance on abortion, the Court can and should reverse Roe (and its progeny) by adopting the following argument:

1. It is a scientific and widely known fact that life begins at conception. Roe to the contrary notwithstanding, there is nothing “potential” about the life of a fetus. It is a living being, albeit dependent on its mother for survival until some point in gestation, when it becomes “viable”.

2. To deprive the fetus of life before “viability” is simply to prevent the fetus from becoming “viable” in almost every case. Lack of “viability” is therefore an irrelevant criterion for the termination of a pregnancy; it is a transparent excuse for the taking of a life.

3. Whether the fetus is a “person” under the law is irrelevant here. The fetus is a living human being, and aborting it (unless it has died in the womb) amounts to the taking of a human life.

4. It is a paramount interest of government to regulate the conditions under which a human life may be taken. A fetus (at all stages of development) is innocent human life that merits the full protection of government. A fetus should be aborted only when the preservation of its life poses an actual physical threat to the mother’s life, as certified unanimously by a panel of at least three licensed, board-certified specialists in relevant fields. Such a panel shall include at least one specialist in maternal-fetal medicine.

5. Roe and its progeny are therefore overruled. No government of or in the United States may allow abortion at any stage of pregnancy, except as provided in 4.

6. This ruling does not run afoul of the doctrine of stare decisis, which the plurality in Casey invoked in “upholding” Roe. Chief Justice Rehnquist amply and definitively addressed the plurality’s use of stare decisis in his Casey dissent:

The joint opinion of Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter cannot bring itself to say that Roe was correct as an original matter, but the authors are of the view that “the immediate question is not the soundness of Roe‘s resolution of the issue, but the precedential force that must be accorded to its holding.” Instead of claiming that Roe was correct as a matter of original constitutional interpretation, the opinion therefore contains an elaborate discussion of stare decisis. This discussion of the principle of stare decisis appears to be almost entirely dicta, because the joint opinion does not apply that principle in dealing with Roe. Roe decided that a woman had a fundamental right to an abortion. The joint opinion rejects that view. Roe decided that abortion regulations were to be subjected to “strict scrutiny” and could be justified only in the light of “compelling state interests.” The joint opinion rejects that view. Roe analyzed abortion regulation under a rigid trimester framework, a framework which has guided this Court’s decisionmaking for 19 years. The joint opinion rejects that framework.

Stare decisis is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as meaning “to abide by, or adhere to, decided cases.” Whatever the “central holding” of Roe that is left after the joint opinion finishes dissecting it is surely not the result of that principle. While purporting to adhere to precedent, the joint opinion instead revises it. Roe continues to exist, but only in the way a storefront on a western movie set exists: a mere facade to give the illusion of reality. Decisions following Roe … are frankly overruled in part under the “undue burden” standard expounded in the joint opinion….

The joint opinion discusses several stare decisis factors which, it asserts, point toward retaining a portion of Roe. Two of these factors are that the main “factual underpinning” of Roe has remained the same, and that its doctrinal foundation is no weaker now than it was in 1973. Of course, what might be called the basic facts which gave rise to Roe have remained the same-women become pregnant, there is a point somewhere, depending on medical technology, where a fetus becomes viable, and women give birth to children. But this is only to say that the same facts which gave rise to Roe will continue to give rise to similar cases. It is not a reason, in and of itself, why those cases must be decided in the same incorrect manner as was the first case to deal with the question. And surely there is no requirement, in considering whether to depart from stare decisis in a constitutional case, that a decision be more wrong now than it was at the time it was rendered. If that were true, the most outlandish constitutional decision could survive forever, based simply on the fact that it was no more outlandish later than it was when originally rendered.

Nor does the joint opinion faithfully follow this alleged requirement. The opinion frankly concludes that Roe and its progeny were wrong in failing to recognize that the State’s interests in maternal health and in the protection of unborn human life exist throughout pregnancy. But there is no indication that these components of Roe are any more incorrect at this juncture than they were at its inception.

The joint opinion also points to the reliance interests involved in this context in its effort to explain why precedent must be followed for precedent’s sake. Certainly it is true that where reliance is truly at issue, as in the case of judicial decisions that have formed the basis for private decisions, “[c]onsiderations in favor of stare decisis are at their acme.” But, as the joint opinion apparently agrees, any traditional notion of reliance is not applicable here. The Court today cuts back on the protection afforded by Roe, and no one claims that this action defeats any reliance interest in the disavowed trimester framework. Similarly, reliance interests would not be diminished were the Court to go further and acknowledge the full error of Roe, as “reproductive planning could take virtually immediate account of” this action.

The joint opinion thus turns to what can only be described as an unconventional-and unconvincing-notion of reliance, a view based on the surmise that the availability of abortion since Roe has led to “two decades of economic and social developments” that would be undercut if the error of Roe were recognized. The joint opinion’s assertion of this fact is undeveloped and totally conclusory. In fact, one cannot be sure to what economic and social developments the opinion is referring. Surely it is dubious to suggest that women have reached their “places in society” in reliance upon Roe, rather than as a result of their determination to obtain higher education and compete with men in the job market, and of society’s increasing recognition of their ability to fill positions that were previously thought to be reserved only for men.

In the end, having failed to put forth any evidence to prove any true reliance, the joint opinion’s argument is based solely on generalized assertions about the national psyche, on a belief that the people of this country have grown accustomed to the Roe decision over the last 19 years and have “ordered their thinking and living around” it. As an initial matter, one might inquire how the joint opinion can view the “central holding” of Roe as so deeply rooted in our constitutional culture, when it so casually uproots and disposes of that same decision’s trimester framework. Furthermore, at various points in the past, the same could have been said about this Court’s erroneous decisions that the Constitution allowed “separate but equal” treatment of minorities, see Plessy v. Ferguson, or that “liberty” under the Due Process Clause protected “freedom of contract,” see Adkins v. Children’s Hospital of District of Columbia [and] Lochner v. New York. The “separate but equal” doctrine lasted 58 years after Plessy, and Lochner’s protection of contractual freedom lasted 32 years. However, the simple fact that a generation or more had grown used to these major decisions did not prevent the Court from correcting its errors in those cases, nor should it prevent us from correctly interpreting the Constitution here. See Brown v. Board of Education, (rejecting the “separate but equal” doctrine); West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, (overruling Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, in upholding Washington’s minimum wage law).

I will be surprised if Roberts goes that far. If the Court does overturn Roe, it is more likely to outlaw or severely restrict abortion after “viability”. But a principled majority would rule as I have suggested — and damn the consequences. The Court isn’t in a popularity contest. Its job is to get the law right. And the law in this case, has been deadly wrong since Roe was decided 46 years ago.

For much more, including the issue of privacy, which was central to Roe, see “Abortion Q & A“.

More MADness: Mistaking Bureaucratic Inertia for Strategy

I have in earlier posts (here, here, here, and here) discussed mutually assured deterrence. Some of the posts were inspired by correspondence with a former colleague with expert knowledge of Soviet naval forces and strategy. This post, which derives from recent exchanges with my correspondent, drills deeper into the “bastion strategy”, which was adopted by the Soviet government and has been retained by the Russian government.

The bastion strategy is the policy of stationing ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) in the Sea of Okhotsk and Barents Sea, where they can be defended by air and naval forces. The purpose of the strategy is to maintain a strategic-nuclear reserve consisting of sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), as “ultimate guarantors” of the Soviet/Russian state.

I recently posed this question to my correspondent:

I have never been clear about what it means for Soviet/Russian SLBMs to be the “ultimate guarantors” of the state. Does it mean that the SLBMs are held in reserve until it is known that the enemy has depleted his entire strategic-nuclear reserve, so that (despite the vast damage to the USSR/Russia) the nation is assured of survival because there are still SLBMs to deter conquest by what is left of the enemy’s conventional and tactical nuclear forces? To put it another way, it seems that Soviet/Russian leaders were and are willing to countenance vast devastation to their homeland for the sake of maintaining its sovereignty. (The Great Patriotic War with nukes and many times the number of casualties.) More cynically, Soviet/Russian leaders were and are willing to countenance vast devastation to their homeland for the sake of the survival of a functional state apparatus (i.e., most of top leadership and an effective if diminished bureaucracy).

My correspondent replied:

A strategic-nuclear reserve … makes sense only if you think you can fight and win a meaningful victory in a nuclear war in the first place. The Soviets apparently believed that they could for a long time. But then came the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and the Soviets learned that even small amounts of nuclear radiation could make a large swath of land uninhabitable. This realization was said to have shocked the military leadership and undermined support for the military among the civilian elite. Some say Chernobyl contributed to the growing current of dissatisfaction that brought down the USSR as a whole.

Today, it is obviously senseless to build a reserve of SSBNs/SLBMs if they are to serve a guarantors of a state that you know will be uninhabitable at the time their function is called into play. But the Russians have continued to build them and to defend them in bastions.

But whether the Russians are crazy to ignore this catastrophic contradiction shouldn’t affect U.S. policy: Do not seek to “deny the bastions.” It’s an astonishingly bad idea.

Did it really take the Chernobyl disaster to bring enlightenment to Soviet leaders? Haven’t Russian leaders been blessed with the same enlightenment, given the relative weakness of Russian forces vis-a-vis those of the USSR? Assuming that Russian leaders are enlightened about the futility of holding a reserve of SSBNs, why does my correspondent (among others) believe that it is dangerous for the United States to threaten the reserve by peacetime pronouncements that a mission of the U.S. Navy is to conduct antisubmarine warfare operations (strategic ASW) against Russia’s SSBNs?

Soviet leaders must known for a long time before the Chernobyl disaster that a nuclear exchange involving more than few weapons would result in vast destruction, radiation sickness, genetic anomalies, and the poisoning of the land? Further, it was known that those effects (aside from destruction) would spread far from the blast site. There was (at a minimum) the evidence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the measurements that must have been made of the effects of above-ground nuclear tests, and theoretical estimates based on the known effects and the laws of physics.

If Soviet leaders understood all of that, what was the point of holding SSBNs in reserve and trying to secure that reserve by adopting the bastion strategy? Was it just to make Soviet leaders feel good, knowing (or believing or hoping) that in the event of a strategic-nuclear war with the U.S. there might be a piece of Soviet military might still standing amid the rubble?

A grim possibility is that Soviet leaders hoped that a strategic-nuclear exchange with the U.S. would end in a standoff. Both homelands would have been devastated, but Soviet leaders (or what was left of them) would still possess a “trump card” — a deterrent against U.S. leaders’ use of the remainder of U.S. strategic forces. Thus the standoff. The result of the standoff would have been the survival of a skeleton crew of the Soviet state apparatus. But that is quite a different thing than the survival of the Soviet state — if by state is meant a mostly intact USSR under the control of a mostly intact state apparatus.

A less cynical view is that Soviet leaders (like U.S. leaders) couldn’t countenance a strategic-nuclear exchange and the resulting devastation. Moves to strengthen and harden strategic-nuclear forces, and to possess the means with which to defend against them and attack them, had one essential purpose, regardless of the ostensible purpose of each move. That essential purpose was deterrence of a strategic-nuclear war between the U.S. and USSR. Neither side wanted the other side to become confident about its ability to “win” by somehow devising a decisive weapon or strategy.

I see the peacetime actions of the U.S. — including anti-bastion pronouncements and exercises — in that light, and not as destabilizing threats. There is an existence proof of my thesis: Despite a few close calls, nuclear stability has persisted between the U.S. and USSR/Russia for several decades.

Given all of this, I conclude that the experience of Chernobyl served as a face-saving excuse for the tacit admission by Soviet leaders that the bastion strategy was (and still is) bankrupt. Mutually assured deterrence is what matters. It remains intact as long as neither side, for an unfathomable reason, unleashes a strategic-nuclear strike on the other side. It is even possible that the targeted power will not answer in kind, preferring to limit the destruction of its homeland to that which has already occurred.

Despite such considerations, my correspondent remains adamant that the U.S. should publicly renounce strategic ASW, to preclude the risk that Russian leaders will preemptively launch SLBMs in the event of armed conflict between the U.S. and Russia? He maintains that a strategic-ASW operation would have been risky but justified during the Cold War when, presumably, Soviet forces would have been winning on the ground. But nowadays, when Russia is relatively weak, a strategic-ASW campaign is riskier and unjustified.

In my view, there is no essential difference between the two situations. Here’s my analysis of the Cold-War scenario:

1. The Soviets are winning on the ground in Europe.
2. The U.S. launches a strategic-ASW operation, in that hope that the possible loss of SSBNs will force the Soviets to accept something less than victory on the ground (perhaps a rollback to the status quo ante).
3. The Soviets consider a preemptive launch of their SLBMs against U.S. cities, but that would result in massive nuclear retaliation against the USSR.
4. The Soviets therefore do not launch SLBMs (or any other strategic-nuclear forces), but do continue to move ahead on the ground because they understand that …
5. The U.S. won’t preemptively launch strategic-nuclear forces in response to the continued Soviet advance because to do so would invite retaliation from the Soviets (but not by Soviet SLBMs). This would cause vast devastation to the US, which is not a price that US leaders would (then or now) pay to rescue Western Europe from the Soviets (or Russians).
6. The Soviets therefore continue their ground offensive and do not launch SLBMs.

In sum, there would have been mutually assured deterrence.

How does the scenario play out today?

1. There is a ground war in Europe (I won’t speculate about its origin), which presumably isn’t going well for the Russians.
2. The U.S. launches a strategic-ASW operation in the hope that the threat to the Russians’ SLBMs will tie up forces that could be used against NATO sea lines of communication (SLOCs). (“Could” because there is good evidence that Russia doesn’t contemplate an anti-SLOC campaign.)
3. The Russians consider a preemptive launch of their SLBMs against U.S. cities, but that would result in massive nuclear retaliation against Russia.
4. The Russians therefore do not launch SLBMs (or any other strategic-nuclear forces).
5. Faced with the prospect of a loss on the ground, and the loss of at least some SLBMs, the Russians sue for peace and do not launch SLBMs.

Mutually assured deterrence rides again.

My correspondent pins his fears on the persistence of the bastion strategy, which implies (to him) the crucial importance (to the Russians) of preserving the SSBN reserve. But the persistence of the bastion strategy is attributable to bureaucratic inertia. It is a built-in feature of governments everywhere. It must be a central feature of the Russian government, which is a direct descendant of the rigid and oppressive bureaucracy that ruled the USSR for 70 years.

Trump in the Polls: An Update

My diagnosis of “Trump fatigue” may have been premature. Trump’s standing, as measured in various polls of likely voters conducted by Rasmussen Reports, has rebounded sharply since the end of the partial and mostly inconsequential shutdown of the central government. That the shutdown diminished Trump’s popularity is just another indicator of the electorate’s irrationality.

The story starts here:

Derived from Rasmussen Reports approval ratings for Trump.

Lest you believe that the numbers in figure 1 are weak, consider this comparison with Obama’s numbers:

Derived from Rasmussen Reports approval ratings for Obama and Trump.

In this age of polarization, it’s hard for any president to routinely attain high marks:

Source: Same as figure 2.

The good news, again, is that Trump’s strong approval rating has been higher than Obama’s for several months, even during the recent “shutdown slump”.

Ratios of the ratios in figure 2 yield enthusiasm ratios: the strength of strong approval ratings relative to overall approval ratings:

Source: Same as figure 2.

Since the spike associated with the Singapore summit, Trump”s enthusiasm ratio has settled into a range that is comfortably higher than Obama’s.

Every week since the first inauguration of Obama, Rasmussen Reports has asked 2,500 likely voters whether they see the country as going in the “right direction” or being on the “wrong track”. The following graph shows the ratios of “right direction”/”wrong track” for Trump and Obama:

Figure 5
Source: Rasmussen Reports, “Right Direction or Wrong Track“.

The ratio for Trump, after a quick honeymoon start, fell into the same range as Obama’s. But it jumped with the passage of the tax cut in December 2017. It remained high after that, until the shutdown. The recent rebound suggests that the squishy center of the electorate is once again lining up with Trump, despite the incessant flow of negative “reporting” about him and his policies.

Stay tuned. And tighten your seat belts. The roller-coaster ride isn’t over yet.

The Fickle Electorate

The fickleness of the electorate is due mainly to what I call its “squishy center“. The squishiness has often spread far beyond the center, to engulf huge chunks of the electorate.

The maps below illustrate this by contrasting electoral-vote outcomes for successive elections in which electoral-vote outcomes swung wildly. The maps are borrowed from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Leip uses red for Democrat, blue for Republican, and green for third-party candidates. The color for each State indicates the party affiliation of the candidate who won the State’s electoral votes. The shading (from darker to lighter) indicates the width of the candidate’s popular-vote victory in the State (from landslide to squeaker).

1. William Howard Taft (R) won convincingly in 1908 — taking most of the States outside the “solid (Democrat) South“, but went down in flames in 1912. That election was won by Woodrow Wilson (D), mainly because of the Progressive Party candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt. TR took won more States (those in green) than did WHT.



2. Wilson easily won re-election in 1916, but disillusionment set in and Warren G. Harding (R) coasted to victory in 1920, losing only the “solid South” (minus Tennessee).



3. Another eight years and another romp, this time by Herbert C. Hoover (R) in the election of 1928. Hoover took a chunk out of the “solid South” because his main opponent was Alfred Emmanuel Smith (D), a Catholic New Yorker. Hoover, in turn, was trounced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (D) because of the onset of the Great Depression during Hoover’s term  of office. (It is a widely ignored fact that FDR’s policies only prolonged the depression.)



4. Harry S Truman (D) won the 1948 election by a comfortable electoral-vote margin. It would have been more comfortable had not four States of the “solid South” succumbed to Strom Thurmond’s “Dixiecrat” (segregationist) allure. Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) turned the tables in 1952 by sweeping the electoral map outside of the “solid South” and even encroaching on it.



5. The election of 1964 pitted Barry M. Goldwater (R) against the incumbent-via-murder, Lyndon B. Johnson (D). LBJ’s incumbency and scare tactics were repaid by the electoral votes of all but Goldwater’s home State (Arizona) and some States of what was by then becoming the “solid (Republican) South”. You know the rest of the story: The rancor ignited by the Vietnam War and urban (black) riots led to a convincing defeat for Hubert H. Humphrey, the Democrat who ran when LBJ turned tail for Texas. The winner, Richard M. Nixon (R), would have won even more handily had it not been for the segregationist candidacy of George C. Wallace.



6. The electoral whipsaw effect intensified in the elections of 1972, 1976, and 1980. Nixon won the first of them in the most lopsided electoral-vote victory since FDR’s near-sweep in 1936. Dreams (or nightmares) of a Republican era were dashed by the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation. In the aftermath, James E. (Jimmy) Carter (D) handily beat Gerald R. Ford (R). Carter’s victory was due in large part to Southern voters who temporarily returned to the Democrat fold because Carter (a Georgian) was perceived as “one of them”, even though he wasn’t (by a country mile). Carter’s ineptness as president was duly rewarded in 1980 when Ronald W. Reagan (R) came close to sweeping all of the States. (He came even closer in 1984, when he lost only Minnesota, the home state of his Democrat opponent, and D.C. — of course.)




7. The last of the wild swings (thus far) occurred in the elections of 1988 and 1992. George H.W. Bush (R) handily won the former election. He might well have won in 1992 but for the intervention of H. Ross Perot, whose third-party candidacy tipped the scales to William J. Clinton — in an eerie re-run of the election of 1912. Clinton, like Carter in 1976, was also helped by the perception that he was a Southern boy — thus his inroads into what by then had become the “solid (Republican) South”.



What will 2020 bring? I made a guess soon after the election of 2016.

All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill’.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

The next presidential election is just on the other side of the hill. God save America from a reversal of the last one.

Rules of Writing to Disregard?

Bill Vallicella, an estimable blogger-philosopher, with whom I almost always agree (and always respect) endorses Benjamin Dreyer’s “Three Writing Rules to Disregard“. Dreyer says some sensible things; for example:

A good sentence … is one that the reader can follow from beginning to end, no matter how long it is, without having to double back in confusion because the writer misused or omitted a key piece of punctuation, chose a vague or misleading pronoun, or in some other way engaged in inadvertent misdirection.

So far, so good. What about the three rules to be disregared? They are:

1. Never begin a sentence with “And” or “But.”

2. Never split an infinitive.

3. Never end a sentence with a preposition.

At my page, “Writing: A Guide“, I address only the second of Dreyer’s candidates for neglect. I will come to it in due course, after I size up Dreyer’s first and third candidates.

In the case of number 1, Dreyer sets up a straw person. It has been a very long time since a respected grammarian railed against the use of “And” or “But” at the start of a sentence. Wilson Follett says this in Modern American Usage: A Guide (1966):

A prejudice lingers from the days of schoolmarmish rhetoric that a sentence should not begin with and. The supposed rule is without foundation in grammar, logic, or art. And can join separate sentences and their meanings just as well as but can both join sentences and disjoin meanings. The false rule used to apply to but equally; it is now happily forgotten. What has in fact happened is that the traditionally acceptable but after a semicolon has been replaced by the same but after a period. Let us do the same thing with and, taking care, of course, not to write long strings of sentences each headed by And or by But.

That’s essentially Dreyer’s advice. Score one for Dreyer.

What about ending a sentence with a preposition? Bryan A Garner, a worthy successor to Follett, says this in Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009):

The spurious rule about not ending sentences with prepositions is a remnant of Latin grammar, in which a preposition was the one word that a writer could not end a sentence with….

The idea that a preposition is ungrammatical at the end of a sentence is often attributed to 18th-century grammarians. But [there it is] that idea is greatly overstated. Bishop Robert Lowth, the most prominent 18th-century grammarian, wrote that the final preposition “is an idiom, which our language is strongly inclined to: it prevails in common conversation, and suits very well with the familiar style in writing.”…

Perfectly natural-sounding sentences end with prepositions, particularly when a verb with a preposition-particle appears at the end (as in follow up or ask for). E.g.: “The act had no causal connection with the injury complained of.”

Garner goes on to warn against “such … constructions as of which, on which, and for which” that are sometimes used to avoid the use of a preposition at the end of a sentence. He argues that

“This is a point on which I must insist” becomes far more natural as “This is a point that I must insist on.”

Better yet: “I must insist on the point.”

Avoiding the sentence-ending preposition really isn’t difficult (as I just showed), unnatural, or “bad”. Dreyer acknowledges as much:

Ending a sentence with a preposition (as, at, by, for, from, of, etc.) isn’t always such a hot idea, mostly because a sentence should, when it can, aim for a powerful finale and not simply dribble off like an old man’s unhappy micturition. A sentence that meanders its way to a prepositional finish is often, I find, weaker than it ought to or could be.

What did you do that for?

is passable, but

Why did you do that?

has some snap to it.


Dreyer tries to rescue the sentence-ending preposition by adding this:

But to tie a sentence into a strangling knot to avoid a prepositional conclusion is unhelpful and unnatural, and it’s something no good writer should attempt and no eager reader should have to contend with.

He should have followed his own advice, and written this:

But to tie a sentence into a strangling knot to avoid a prepositional conclusion is unhelpful and unnatural. It’s something that no good writer should attempt, nor foist upon the eager reader.

See? No preposition at the end, and a punchier paragraph (especially with the elimination of Dreyer’s run-on sentence).

I remain convinced that the dribbly, sentence-ending preposition is easily avoided. And, by avoiding it, the writer or speaker conveys his meaning more clearly and forcefully.

Score one against Dreyer (and Garner).

Here comes the tie-breaker — the rule (or non-rule) about splitting infinitives.

Dreyer and Garner’s exemplar is “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, from the original Star Trek series.

What is wrong with “to go boldly”? Nothing. In fact, it makes more sense.

Why? Consider adjectives, which precede nouns in English. There’s no reason that adjectives couldn’t follow nouns (as in some other languages), but the English-speaking person has become accustomed to the adjective-noun sequence. It is “natural”.

By the same token, the verb-adverb sequence has become natural to the English-speaker. Thus, for example:

applaud loudly

bend sharply

caress softly

dance wildly.

And on and on. (There are cases in which the adverb more comfortably precedes the verb, but their occurrence doesn’t negate what follows.)

Why, then, should one say or write “to loudly applaud”, “to sharply bend”, etc., etc., contrary to the the natural practice? If it is natural to say “go boldly”, “to go boldly” is just as natural.

In fact, putting the adverb behind the verb emphasizes boldness, which is the intended effect. The Star Trek construction (and others like it) de-emphasizes boldness, contrary to the “inventive” writer’s aim.

What do Follett and Garner say?

Follett defends the occasional use of the split infinitive, but without getting down to cases. So, unusually for me, I will disregard him in this matter.

Garner defends the occasional use of the split infinitive, and gives examples of its proper use, in addition to the indefensible Star Trek usage. One example is “She expects to more than double her profits next year.” There’s something fishy about that one. Specifically, the verb in the sentence is “expects”, what follows (“to more than double…”) is an adjunct to the verb. It is a prepositional object (introduced by “to”), in which “more than” modifies “double”. The example, in other words, is irrelevant.

Garner offers other examples, most of which are either false (as above) or inferior to alternatives in which infinitives are not split.

In truth, there is a paucity of cases in which the best way to express an idea clearly requires the splitting of an infinitive. Thus the correct rule: It is rare that an idea can be expressed most clearly by splitting an infinitive; the practice is therefore wisely avoided, except by skilled writers.

Score another one against Dreyer, who is an infinitive-splitting absolutist.

The following quotation from “Writing: A Guide” should put a stake through it:

Consider the case of Eugene Volokh, a known grammatical relativist, who scoffs at “to increase dramatically” — as if “to dramatically increase” would be better. The meaning of “to increase dramatically” is clear. The only reason to write “to dramatically increase” would be to avoid the appearance of stuffiness; that is, to pander to the least cultivated of one’s readers.

Seeming unstuffy (i.e., without standards) is neither a necessary nor sufficient reason to split an infinitive. The rule about not splitting infinitives, like most other grammatical rules, serves the valid and useful purpose of preventing English from sliding yet further down the slippery slope of incomprehensibility than it has slid.

If an unsplit infinitive makes a clause or sentence seem awkward, the clause or sentence should be recast to avoid the awkwardness. Better that than make an exception that leads to further exceptions — and thence to Babel.

[Fowler’s] Modern English Usage [link] counsels splitting an infinitive where recasting doesn’t seem to work:

We admit that separation of to from its infinitive is not in itself desirable, and we shall not gratuitously say either ‘to mortally wound’ or ‘to mortally be wounded’…. We maintain, however, that a real [split infinitive], though not desirable in itself, is preferable to either of two things, to real ambiguity, and to patent artificiality…. We will split infinitives sooner than be ambiguous or artificial; more than that, we will freely admit that sufficient recasting will get rid of any [split infinitive] without involving either of those faults, and yet reserve to ourselves the right of deciding in each case whether recasting is worth while. Let us take an example: ‘In these circumstances, the Commission … has been feeling its way to modifications intended to better equip successful candidates for careers in India and at the same time to meet reasonable Indian demands.’… What then of recasting? ‘intended to make successful candidates fitter for’ is the best we can do if the exact sense is to be kept… [P. 581]

Good try, but not good enough. This would do: “In these circumstances, the Commission … has been considering modifications that would better equip successful candidates for careers in India and at the same time meet reasonable Indian demands.”

Enough said? I think so.

Democrat Values

Virginia’s Democrat governor, Ralph Northam, is under fire from Democrats for (perhaps) having harbored racist thoughts 35 years ago, when he was 25 years old. He is not under fire from Democrats for his recent endorsement of infanticide. That’s all you need to know about today’s Democrat Party.

The Shutdown Was a Plus for the Economy

The “non-partisan” (but pro-government) Congressional Budget Office has assessed the economic effects of the five-week partial shutdown of the government that started on December 22, 2018, and ended on January 25, 2019. According to CBO,

real (that is, inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) in the fourth quarter of 2018 was reduced by $3 billion (in 2019 dollars) in relation to what it would have been otherwise…. In the first quarter of 2019, the level of real GDP is estimated to be $8 billion lower than it would have been….

Although most of the real GDP lost during the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 will eventually be recovered, CBO estimates that about $3 billion will not be.

In truth, real GDP will rise as a result of the inactivity of government bureaucrats. By how much? Not a lot, relative to real GDP, which is measured in the trillions of dollars. But it will rise, as I explain in “Keynesian Multiplier: Fiction vs. Fact“, because there is a negative relationship between government spending and real GDP, other things being equal:

kT = ∆Y/∆F = -0.340Y0


kT = the true multiplier

Y = real GDP

F = fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels, including transfer payments (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid)

Y0 = real GDP in the period during which F changes

Even a slight decrease in government spending has an out-sized — and beneficial — effect on GDP.

The Constitution vs. Reality

D.W. Brogan, in his foreword to Bertrand de Jouvenel‘s On Power, writes:

It is a dangerous and idle dream to think that the state can become ruled by philosophers turned kings or scientists turned commissars. For if philosophers become kings or scientists commissars, they become politicians, and the powers given to the state are powers given to men who are rulers of states, men subject to all the limitations and temptations of their dangerous craft. Unless this is borne in mind, there will be a dangerous optimistic tendency to sweep aside doubts and fears as irrelevant, since, in the state that the projectors have in mind, power will be exercised by men of a wisdom and degree of moral virtue that we have not yet seen. It won’t. It will be exercised by men first and rulers next and scientists or saints a long way after. It was an illusion of the framers of the early American constitutions that they could set up “a government of laws and not of men.” All governments are governments of men, though the better of them have a high admixture of law, too — that is, of effective limitations on the free action of the rulers.

I must say, in defense of the Framers of the Constitution of 1787 (the one that is still supposed to be the “law of the land”), that they had no illusions about the men who sought and wielded the state’s power. See, for example, Federalist No. 10 (James Madison), Federalist No. 15 (Alexander Hamilton), Federalist No. 55 (Madison), Federalist No. 58 (Madison), Federalist No. 63 (Madison), Federalist No. 71 (Hamilton), and Federalist No. 73 (Hamilton). (Relevant excerpts can be found here.)

For all of their wisdom, however, the Framers were far too optimistic about the effectiveness of the checks and balances in their design. Consider this, from Hamilton:

It may … be observed that the supposed danger of judiciary encroachments on the legislative authority, which has been upon many occasions reiterated, is in reality a phantom. Particular misconstructions and contraventions of the will of the legislature may now and then happen; but they can never be so extensive as to amount to an inconvenience, or in any sensible degree to affect the order of the political system. This may be inferred with certainty, from the general nature of the judicial power, from the objects to which it relates, from the manner in which it is exercised, from its comparative weakness, and from its total incapacity to support its usurpations by force. And the inference is greatly fortified by the consideration of the important constitutional check which the power of instituting impeachments in one part of the legislative body, and of determining upon them in the other, would give to that body upon the members of the judicial department. This is alone a complete security. There never can be danger that the judges, by a series of deliberate usurpations on the authority of the legislature, would hazard the united resentment of the body intrusted with it, while this body was possessed of the means of punishing their presumption, by degrading them from their stations. While this ought to remove all apprehensions on the subject, it affords, at the same time, a cogent argument for constituting the Senate a court for the trial of impeachments. [Federalist No. 81]

Hamilton’s misplaced faith in the Constitution’s checks and balances is an example of what I call the Framers’ fatal error. The Framers underestimated the will to power that animates office-holders. The Constitution’s wonderful design — horizontal and vertical separation of powers — which worked rather well until the late 1800s, cracked under the strain of populism, as the central government began to impose national economic regulation at the behest of muckrakers and do-gooders. The Framers’ design then broke under the burden of the Great Depression, as the Supreme Court of the 1930s (and since) has enabled the national government to impose its will in matters far beyond its constitutional remit.

The Framers’ fundamental error can be found in Madison’s Federalist No. 51. Madison was correct in this:

It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.

But Madison then made the error of assuming that, under a central government, liberty is guarded by a diversity of interests:

[One method] of providing against this evil [is] … by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable…. [This] method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government. This view of the subject must particularly recommend a proper federal system to all the sincere and considerate friends of republican government, since it shows that in exact proportion as the territory of the Union may be formed into more circumscribed Confederacies, or States oppressive combinations of a majority will be facilitated: the best security, under the republican forms, for the rights of every class of citizens, will be diminished: and consequently the stability and independence of some member of the government, the only other security, must be proportionately increased.

Madison then went on to contradict what he had said in Federalist No. 46 about the States being a bulwark of liberty:

It can be little doubted that if the State of Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left to itself, the insecurity of rights under the popular form of government within such narrow limits would be displayed by such reiterated oppressions of factious majorities that some power altogether independent of the people would soon be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of it. In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good; whilst there being thus less danger to a minor from the will of a major party, there must be less pretext, also, to provide for the security of the former, by introducing into the government a will not dependent on the latter, or, in other words, a will independent of the society itself. It is no less certain than it is important, notwithstanding the contrary opinions which have been entertained, that the larger the society, provided it lie within a practical sphere, the more duly capable it will be of self-government. And happily for the REPUBLICAN CAUSE, the practicable sphere may be carried to a very great extent, by a judicious modification and mixture of the FEDERAL PRINCIPLE.

Madison understood that a majority can tyrannize a minority. He understood that the States are better able to prevent the rise of tyranny if the powers of the national government are circumscribed. But he then assumed that the States themselves could not resist tyranny within their own borders. Madison overlooked the importance of exit as the ultimate check on tyranny. He assumed (or asserted) that in creating a new national government with powers greatly exceeding those of the Confederation a majority of States would not tyrannize the minority and that minorities with overlapping interests would not concert to tyrannize the majority. Madison was so anxious to see the Constitution ratified that he oversold himself and the States’ ratifying conventions on the ability of the national government to hold itself in check. Thus the Constitution is lamentably silent on nullification and secession, which are real checks on power.

What has been done by presidents, Congresses, and courts probably will not be undone, except at the margin. Too many interests are vested in the regulatory-welfare state that has usurped the Framers’ noble vision. Democracy (that is, vote-selling) and log-rolling are more powerful than words on paper. Even a Supreme Court majority of “strict constructionists” probably would decline to roll back the New Deal and most of what has come in its wake.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was queried as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin responded, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

What we have got now is a mobocracy at war with itself, under the guidance of power-seekers who aren’t fit to empty the Framers’ chamber-pots. The Republic envisioned by the Framers is a thing of the past. Its empty shell survives, but perhaps not for long.

Wall Wondering

Democrats are for “the people”, right? So why did House Democrats reject pay for federal workers (many of them struggling to make ends meet), even as the shutdown continues?

For that matter, why are Democrats unwilling to put up $5.7 billion — a mere molecule of H2O in the vast sea of federal spending (more than $7 trillion per annum) — if government does such great things for “the people”? Think of all the “benefits” that are foregone because the Democrats oppose an expenditure that would add less than one-tenth of one percent to federal spending?

A border wall would help to protect Americans from an influx of criminals and welfare-spongers. Why don’t Democrats care about “the people” who are victimized by crime and higher taxes?

Why have so many Democrat politicians changed their tune about securing the southern border in just a few years? It must be something in the water they drink. The same thing happened with same-sex “marriage”, “medical” marijuana, and “rare” abortion. I guess that’s to be expected when their guiding principle is to irk people who remind them of their parents and teachers. (It’s called prolonged adolescent-rebellion syndrome.)

Is “the wall” the left’s Waterloo or the right’s Alamo? It could turn into Fort Sumter if Congress doesn’t fund it and the courts block emergency spending.

These are interesting times, to say the least. I hope to live long enough to see America restored to sanity, but I am not hopeful of that.

Related post: The Left and “the People”

It’s Them or Us

Apropos the left’s unhinged and baseless attack on the Covington kids, the Audacious Epigone writes:

They [leftists] are incorrigible. There is no reformation, only destruction -– theirs or ours.

Theirs or ours. Them or us.

As Christopher Roach puts it:

The intensity of the friction has led, in recent times, to the suggestion we may be on the brink of a kind of civil war.

One solution proffered from time to time is a peaceful separation. Observers on the Right and the Left have suggested that the rift is simply too deep and serious to be resolved, and that the mutual interest of everyone concerned would benefit by a divorce, whether deemed secession or an invigoration of local autonomy or something else….

A peaceful national separation is probably a good idea. But those on the Right must face the most important obstacle: The Left would never ever let us leave.

Leftism is not simply one opinion among many. For the Left’s votaries, it’s closer to a religion. It’s not enough that one is himself a vegan, drives a Prius, doesn’t own guns, rejects the traditional family, or anything else that goes with the lifestyle. It is essential that everyone else does so. Any deviations are “backwardness” and “divisive” or worse.

… All disagreements are pathologized as moral failings and psychological defects, labeled with pseudoscientific terms like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all the rest….

For all the talk of diversity and tolerance among the Left, this tolerance extends mostly to things most of us do not want to do. Most men and women do not want to change their sex or marry someone of the same sex. Most of us do not intend to leave the country our ancestors built. So the Left gives us the right to do things most of us do not want to do—gay rights, immigration—but takes away things that used to be commonplace, like supporting a family on a single income or governing our towns and cities without having to beg for the imprimatur of a hostile judiciary….

A peaceful separation requires some mutual respect and concern for the flourishing of the other. The Left, like crazed primitives engaged in honor killing, would instead exact revenge and command forced association rather than allow a divorce. The Left would be embarrassed and discredited if their ideology were rejected by the group it is supposedly benefiting with the promise of diversity, equality, and progress. Nailing shut the exits is a deliberate part of the Left’s utopian quest for uniformity and expansive labeling of all of its opinions and policies as nonnegotiable “human rights.”

Withdrawal isn’t an option either, as Bruce Frohnen observes:

[Rod] Dreher has been writing a good deal, of late, about what he calls the Benedict Option, by which he means a tactical withdrawal by people of faith from the mainstream culture into religious communities where they will seek to nurture and strengthen the faithful for reemergence and reengagement at a later date….

The problem with this view is that it underestimates the hostility of the new, non-Christian society [e.g., this and this]….

Leaders of this [new, non-Christian] society will not leave Christians alone if we simply surrender the public square to them. And they will deny they are persecuting anyone for simply applying the law to revoke tax exemptions, force the hiring of nonbelievers, and even jail those who fail to abide by laws they consider eminently reasonable, fair, and just.

The left simply will not abandon its desire to dictate to “the people”. It’s for their own good, you see.

Keep your powder dry.

Ben Shapiro’s Fallacy

Ben Shapiro, arguing against the use of emergency powers to fund the border wall, says this:

Proponents of President Donald Trump would like to see power centralized in the presidency; antagonists of Trump would like to see power centralized in the FBI.

Trump’s allies seem eager for Trump to declare a national emergency in order to appropriate funds for a border wall….

It’s good that the legislative branch checks the executive branch, and it’s good that the executive branch must remain in control of executive branch agencies.

Here’s the easy test: How would you feel if the situations were reversed?

I must note, first, that Shapiro badly overstates the case when he asserts that Trump’s proponents ” would like to see power centralized in the presidency,” and that “antagonists of Trump would like to see power centralized in the FBI.” Trump’s proponents would like to see power exercised responsibly, and most of the Democrats in Congress (as well as many Republicans) routinely fail to do that. Refusal to fund the border wall, merely to thwart Trump, is just a current and egregious example of that failure. Those same Democrats want the FBI to have power only when it comes to Trump; otherwise, they would prefer to emasculate the FBI. Democrats’ embrace of the FBI is a matter of political convenience, not principled conviction.

Now for the fallacy, which is implicit in Shapiro’s question, “How would you feel if the situations were reversed?” That question implies the following syllogism:

It is bad for the executive to use emergency powers.

The use of emergency powers is dictated by precedent.

Therefore, if Trump desists from using emergency powers, a future president (even a Democrat) will also desist and thereby avoid doing a bad thing.

The syllogism is logically valid, in that the conclusion follows from the premises. But the conclusion is arguably false because a Democrat — an Obama, for instance — is unlikely to be swayed by precedent in the matter of emergency powers.

Judging the Justices: The Thomas Standard

I would be pleased no end if the Supreme Court consisted of Clarence Thomas and eight clones of him. It seems to me that Justice Thomas has been the most faithful adherent of the Constitution among all of the justices who have served on the Court since I became interested in its doings more than 50 years ago. Taking Thomas as the standard for constitutional judging, it is possible to grade some of the other justices who have served with him, including all of his present colleagues.

In “U.S. Supreme Court: Lines of Succession and Ideological Alignment“, I draw on the SCOTUSsblog Stat Packs to summarize the degree of disagreement among the various justices in non-unanimous cases during each of the Court’s past 13 terms. The use of non-unanimous cases highlights the degree of disagreement among justices, which would be blurred if all cases were included in the analysis.

Reversing the numbers, so that degree of disagreement becomes degree of agreement, and focusing on the extent to which other justices agree with Thomas non-unanimous cases, I obtain the following statistics:


The “trend” for Gorsuch would be worrying, except for its brevity. The truly worrying trend is Chief Justice Roberts’s greater inclination to part ways with Thomas since the 2011 term. I am not comforted by the current (2018) term’s first divided opinion. Thomas wrote for a 5-4 majority and Roberts was in the minority with Kagan, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor.

There’s not much to say about the Court’s “liberal” wing, except to note its egregious record, especially in the last three terms.

On the other side, Alito’s steadfastness, marred only by the peculiar 2015 term, is a comfort. I still have high hopes for Gorsuch — and Kavanaugh. If RBG would throw in the towel this year, the Court could still have a conservative majority even if Roberts goes full Kennedy (or worse).

Related post: The Polarized Court

The Fourth Great Awakening

Be sure to see the related-reading list at the end of this post.

If you pay much attention to the posturings of the left — and how could you not? — you probably have concluded that leftism is a quasi-religious* cult.

Leftism, as we know it today, is quasi-religious because of its strongly moralistic bent, given its readiness to condemn anything that can be associated (by leftists) with white supremacy/white privilege/racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, climate-change denialism, elitism, etc., etc., etc. (Condemnation of elitism, coming from leftist elites, epitomizes irony.)

Leftism of yore was aimed mainly at the realization of a material heaven on Earth through communism, socialism, and various forms of income and wealth redistribution. Today’s leftism, without having abandoned the objective of economic equality (or less inequality), has conjoined that objective to social equality.

In both cases, the left rejects the obvious fact that inequality is due mainly to innate differences that have deep roots in genetic inheritance, as influenced by eons of selection for traits deemed socially and economically desirable. It is possible to have equality under the law (though not when the law is written to favor certain groups), but that is the end of it. Leftists implicitly acknowledge this through their insufferably paternalistic words and deeds.

Leftists nevertheless try to impose economic and social equality because it is their desideratum. It is their religion-substitute, if you will. Why is this so? What drives leftists? I refer you to “Leftism” for at least some of the answers.

Force is necessarily required to attain equality, which is otherwise unattainable. The force wielded by government is supplemented by the power and influence of oligopolistic institutions controlled by leftists: public schools, universities, the “news” and “entertainment” media, and the information-technology industry. It has never been truer that knowledge (or, more properly, propaganda) is power.

The imposition of social and economic equality (or something nearer to it than is possible in a state of liberty), requires the abasement of those who are deemed superior (elite leftists excluded, of course). Leftism, in other words, embodies an inherently envious, vindictive, and destructive worldview. As a quasi-religion, leftism is in a league with militant Islam. The bombs and guns are at hand in the arsenal of the state, just not deployed on a massive scale — yet.

The rise of militant leftism eerily echoes the First, Second, and Third Great Awakenings, which were Protestant religious revivals. The Wikipedia article about the Third Great Awakening says that it

was marked by religious activism in American history and spans the late 1850s to the early 20th century. It affected pietistic Protestant denominations and had a strong element of social activism. It gathered strength from the postmillennial belief that the Second Coming of Christ would occur after mankind had reformed the entire earth. It was affiliated with the Social Gospel Movement, which applied Christianity to social issues and gained its force from the awakening, as did the worldwide missionary movement. New groupings emerged, such as the Holiness movement and Nazarene movements, and Christian Science.

The era saw the adoption of a number of moral causes, such as the abolition of slavery and prohibition.

The delineation of historical epochs is arbitrary, Movements such as the one described above don’t appear from nowhere, and don’t suddenly or completely end. Born-Again Christianity, which overlaps and parallels the Great Awakenings, has been around for at least 300 years, and was prominent in the U.S. in the latter decades of the twentieth century. It is still going strong, though less prominently than a few decades ago.

The same is true of the Progressive movement, which “officially” lasted from the 1880s to the 1920s. That version of Progressivism attracted many religious figures and personages of a strong religious bent. William Jennings Bryan, for example, was not just a politician who held high office and ran thrice for the presidency as a Democrat. He injected his religious fervor into his practice of politics, which set the stage for his late-life role as a Bible-thumping anti-evolutionist. (Movie buffs will remember Fredric March’s portrayal of Bryan as the “villain” of the Scopes trial in Inherit the Wind.)

The Progressive movement, though it seemed to end in the 1920s, never really died. Its agenda, has in fact been adopted wholesale, in law and by a vast majority of the populace. The New Deal had a lot to do with it, but not everything by any means. Politicians before and after FDR rose to power and held onto it by discovering “problems” and promising to “solve” them. These “problems” have ranged from the so-called trusts (monopolies and cartels) of the late 19th century — trusts that in fact made the lives of working Americans easier — to the so-called crisis of “climate change” to the seemingly endless litany of perceived “injustices” due to skin color, gender, place of birth, and so on. (Genetic inheritance and personal responsibility are of no account to a person who has the time and inclination to find injustice everywhere, except among groups that he condescends to see as oppressed.) Those few “progressive” causes that seemed to have failed, such as prohibition and eugenics, merely resurfaced in the anti-tobacco, anti-sex (of the normal kind), and pro-abortion movements.

The zombie-like nature of Progressivism is openly (if unwittingly) acknowledged by leftists. Having rejected “liberal” as a besmirched label, most of them now proudly call themselves “progressives”, albeit uncapitalized ones. So-called progressives are distinguishable from overt socialists only in their wise refusal to embrace all-out socialism, inasmuch as they are mostly from the upper echelons of the income and wealth distributions. But as affluent children of capitalism, they are willing to embrace some amount of income redistribution, just as long as their huge homes, gas-guzzling vehicles, and gross consumerism aren’t jeopardized.

The standard-issue progressive is nevertheless indistinguishable from a socialist in his unextinguishable faith in the power of the state to create heaven on Earth. Thus we have the Fourth Great Awakening.

It is, however, an Awakening with a decidedly anti-theistic ethos, and an especially anti-Christian one. The anti-Christian, neo-Pharisees of the left believe that it is right for the state to impose Christian charity, Christian “love” for one’s neighbor (as long as the neighbor is gender-confused or of another land, race, or ethnicity). Coerced “charity” is not charity, of course, but the contradiction that is lost on “progressives”.

There’s a lot more to “progressivism” than “charity”, of course. But all of its causes have the same thing in common: the worship of Power to attain the nirvana of social and economic equality (as long as the elites remain more equal than the rest).

* I say “quasi-religious” because of my respect for Bill Vallicella’s arguments about the misuse of “religion” as a descriptor of a secular worldview. Vallicella rejects “religion” as a label for a worldview that doesn’t satisfy his seven point definition of religion, which begins with this:

The belief that there is what William James calls an “unseen order.” (Varieties of Religious Exerience, p. 53)  This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions.  It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection.  It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents.

A religion, in Vallicella’s view, must be founded on a belief in a supernatural being — a being that is, if nothing else, responsible for the creation and design of the sensible (material) order. All else, in Vallicella’s view, flows from that belief; thus:

[T]here is a supreme good for humans and that “our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves” to the “unseen order.” (Varieties, p. 53) …

[W]e are morally deficient, and … this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the unseen order….

[O]ur moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready access to the unseen order.

[A]djustment to the unseen order requires moral purification/transformation.

[H]elp from the side of the unseen order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.

[T]he sensible order … is ontologically and axiologically derivative.  It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the unseen order.

Related reading:

Graham Dennis, “Pawns in Tabloid Kingdom of Likes“, The Public Discourse, November 19, 2018

Ross Douthat, “The Huxley Trap“, The New York Times, November 18, 2018

Jim Goad, “Talking Down to the Blacks“, Taki’s Magazine, December 3, 2018

Thomas Jackson, “The Religion of anti-Racism“, American Renaissance, April 1999

Arnold Kling, “Social Justice and Moral Tribalism“, askblog, January 7, 2019

Theodore Kupfer, “What’s the Matter with White Liberals?“, National Review, November 29, 2018

Gerald J. Russello, “Our New Religion“, City Journal, December 6, 2018

Gilbert T. Sewall, “Pitrim Sirokin Revisited“, The American Conservative, January 8, 2019

Andrew Sullivan, “America’s New Religions“, New York, December 7, 2018 (the springboard for Vallicella’s post referred to above)

Joanna Szurmak and Pierre Desrochers, “The One-sided Worldview of Eco-Pessimists“, Quillette, December 3, 2018

Never Give In

Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

Winston S. Churchill, October 1941

*     *     *

I was reminded of Churchill’s exhortation by Gregory Hood’s article about the reaction of Beltway “conservatives” to Tucker Carlson’s excoriation of Mitt Romney’s craven attack on President Trump. Hood says, among many things, that

flowery tributes to “freedom” by conservatives and libertarians sound like a modern-day Italian quoting the legal codes of the Papal States. If “freedom” means control over your own property, Americans have not been free for at least fifty years….

The distinction between Tucker Carlson and his Conservatism Inc. critics is the distinction between confrontation and collaboration.

Collaboration is also known as compromise, a word favored by faux conservatives because it connotes virtue. But there is nothing virtuous about it. Compromise between good and evil necessarily results in more evil.

A leading case in point is the vast expansion of government handouts — in which “conservatives” have been complicit — beginning with and since the New Deal. As I say here,

[t]he lack of something, if it’s truly important to a person, is an incentive for that person to find a way to afford the something. That’s what my parents’ generation did, even in the depths of the Great Depression, without going on the dole. There’s no reason why later generations can’t do it; it’s merely assumed that they can’t. But lots of people do it. I did it; my children did it; my grandchildren are doing it.

Republicans used to say such things openly and with conviction, before they became afraid of seeming “mean.” Principled conservatives should still be thinking and saying such things. When conservatives compromise their principles because they don’t want to seem “mean,” they are complicit in the country’s march down the road to serfdom — dependency on and obeisance to the central government.

Every advance in the direction of serfdom becomes harder and harder to reverse. The abolition of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is now unthinkable, even though those programs have caused hundreds of millions of Americans to become addicted to government handouts….

The best time — usually the only time — to kill a government program is before it starts. That’s why conservatives shouldn’t compromise.

Build the wall, drain the swamp, nominate justices who drive leftists crazy. Never give in.

“The Little Drummer Girl” and War

My wife and I recently watched a six-episode, made-for-TV adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl, a novel by John Le Carré‘ that was published in 1983. The story

follows the manipulations of Martin Kurtz, an Israeli spymaster who intends to kill Khalil – a Palestinian terrorist who is bombing Jewish-related targets in Europe, particularly Germany – and Charlie, an English actress and double agent working on behalf of the Israelis….

Kurtz … recruits Charlie, a “21 or 22-year-old” radical left-wing English actress, as part of an elaborate scheme to discover the whereabouts of Khalil… Joseph is Charlie’s case officer. Khalil’s younger brother Salim is abducted, interrogated, and killed by Kurtz’s unit. Joseph impersonates Salim and travels through Europe with Charlie to make Khalil believe that Charlie and Salim are lovers. When Khalil discovers the affair and contacts Charlie, the Israelis are able to track him down.

Charlie is taken to Palestinian refugee camps to be trained as a bomber. She becomes more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and her divided loyalties bring her close to collapse. Charlie is sent on a mission to place a bomb at a lecture given by an Israeli moderate whose peace proposals are not to Khalil’s liking. She carries out the mission under the Israelis’ supervision. As a result, Joseph kills Khalil. Charlie subsequently has a mental breakdown caused by the strain of her mission and her own internal contradictions.

I recall that the 1984 feature-film version was widely thought to be pro-Palestinian and, therefore, anti-Israeli.

Neither my wife nor I have seen the 1984 film. She has read the novel, though she doesn’t remember much about it. I haven’t read the novel. I therefore came to the made-for-TV series with little baggage, though I feared that it might prove to be anti-Israeli propaganda. I will render a verdict later in this post, after considering some relevant evidence about the novel and feature film.

According to a piece in The New York Times, published soon after the release of the feature film, the novel and film were meant to be neutral:

The main problem in attempting to remain faithful to the book was dealing with what the filmmakers saw as its political balance – striving to be even-handed in the portrayal of Israelis and Palestinians engaged in a violent struggle for their respective causes and survival in the super- charged, highly sensitive arena of current history involving the ongoing agony of the Middle East.

”We weren’t making a political film,” said [director George Roy] Hill. ”We have no political ax to grind. We were making a suspense story that happened to have a political background. But we wanted to be true to the book, which we believe to be even-handed. The book shows the Palestinians for the first time in a human light. Up until then, they were seen as bloodthirsty monsters.”…

Like the book, the film does humanize the Palestinians and, perhaps because of the medium itself which makes them and their ultimate decimation visually and painfully real to the audience, it seems likely that the film will engender even more controversy than did the book.

Mr. Le Carre thinks controversy arose because the Palestinians never had a fair hearing in the United States. ”It is true,” he said, ”that some people think that it is heretical, anti-Semitic and probably even anti- American to suggest that there is even anything to be said for the Palestinian side.”

The novelist has continued to arouse passions by publishing some articles sympathetic to the Palestinians after the Shatila massacre in 1982. Nevertheless, he denies that this makes him anti-Israeli. ”It’s almost a vulgarity to confuse a balance of compassion with a want of sympathy for Israel,” he said. ”If I had written the book later, after the full extent of the Israeli operation was known, I would have made it angrier. But I begin and I end, believe it or not, as a tremendous supporter of a concept of Israel.”…

Indeed, the movie does not proclaim itself explicitly on one side or the other. A catalog of the ills shown suffered by each side would probably add up to a fairly even score….

But still, making the movie called for tremendous amounts of surgery and, in some cases, amputation….

The change in Charlie’s character is interesting because Mr. Le Carre had specified in his original contract that Charlie be played by an English actress. ”We were unable to find a suitable English actress,” Mr. Hill said. ”When I first spoke to Diane about the part we discussed the possibility of playing it with an English accent. But then I saw the advantage of making her American – to isolate her even more from the European community. This difference, and her more advanced age, makes the whole ending scene more moving, gives it more impact. By the end she can no longer act, she can’t pretend. She has been destroyed.”…

While the changes in Charlie’s personality added a dimension, the changes in Kurtz’s removed an aspect of his character – a moral one.

In the book, Kurtz, the master-spy, has many of the same doubts as Joseph, the agent Charlie loves. The two resolve their doubts in different ways. Kurtz pushes past them by working to stop the Palestinians even if in the process he has to act against his own conscience….

In the movie Mr. Kinski, who has previously played many fierce and even demonic characters, plays Kurtz as a hard-liner. He becomes a super-efficient agent with a touch of fanaticism, who resolutely brushes away all moral qualms. The effect is to make the Israelis seem like a ruthlessly moving machine pitted against the more vulnerable Palestinians.

Mr. Le Carre originally objected to the casting of Mr. Kinski because ”I thought he carried too much baggage with him.” He said he thinks his own Kurtz is probably ”more Israeli” and not as harsh. Mr. Hill said the casting choice was made for dramatic reasons. It would have been boring, he maintains, to have on screen two characters as similar as Joseph and Kurtz. But it’s one example of how a change made for dramatic impact can subtly change the film’s psychological effect.

It would seem that the crucial casting of Kinski as Kurtz gave the film an anti-Israeli tone — intended or not — even if the novel was meant to be neutral, as Le Carré‘ insists. The made-for-TV series struck me as truer to the spirit of the novel, as Le Carré‘ describes it.

The TV series can be viewed superficially, as just another story with some compelling characters, suspenseful sequences, and a conclusive climax. The series can also seem pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, depending on the stance you bring to your viewing.

I admit to having been staunchly pro-Israeli for a long time, but on reflection I conclude that the TV series conveys a pro-Israeli message — and more.

Charlie’s pangs of conscience after the killings of Khalil and his henchpersons are short-lived. She retreats to a seaside resort, recovers quickly, and reconciles with Joseph. I see these anti-climactic events as indicative of a pro-Israeli slant. Although the anti-climactic events might have been contrived merely to give the series a happy ending, they rather obviously (though subtly) endorse the rightness of the cause to which Charlie was recruited.

The series also conveys, even more subtly, this crucial message: One cannot win a war — or stave off defeat — by being less than ruthless. It’s probably true that most Palestinians, like most Israelis, are just “ordinary people” trying to get on with daily life. But that doesn’t negate the reality of the unrelenting Arab-Muslim effort to terrorize and kill Israelis and to undermine Israel as a sovereign state.

The need for ruthlessness is a lesson that American leaders seemed to have learned in World War II, but which their successors failed to apply in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the 1990-91 Gulf War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Related posts:
The Decision to Drop the Bomb
Delusions of Preparedness
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Defense Spending: One More Time
My Defense of the A-Bomb
Presidents and War
LBJ’s Dereliction of Duty
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues
Planning for the Last War
A Rearview Look at the Invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror
Preemptive War Revisited
The Folly of Pacifism (III)

Is “Trump Fatigue” Setting In?


Every week since the first inauguration of Obama, Rasmussen Reports has asked 2,500 likely voters whether they see the country as going in the “right direction” or being on the “wrong track”. The graph below shows the ratios of “right direction”/”wrong track” for Trump and Obama:

The ratio for Trump, after a quick honeymoon start, fell into the same range as Obama’s. But it jumped with the passage of the tax cut in December 2017, and rose (raggedly) until six months ago. After leveling off for five months, the ratio began to drop sharply a month ago.

I would chalk it up to “Trump fatigue”. Trump is still better than the alternative, but I suspect that two years of tweeted outrage — even though mostly justified — is wearing on people who otherwise support his policies.

Yes, I know all about the relentless anti-Trump campaign from the left and NeverTrump “conservatives”. The graph suggests that Trump did a good job of countering that until recent months. The graph also suggests that Trump has to claim new, substantive victories before the tide turns against him. Tweeting won’t cut it.

Trump (and the country) has a lot at stake in the several pending issues; for example, the showdown over the border wall, Syria, North Korea, trade talks, the state of the economy, and the perception that his White House is or isn’t in chaos. Looming over all of it is the Mueller investigation and a concerted effort by House Democrats to undercut Trump on all fronts.

The coming weeks and months could bring a steady stream of bad news — or some surprisingly good news — for Trump. But it will have to be genuinely good news, not bombastic tweets from the Oval Office. It is time for Trump to retire his Twitter account.

Keep your eye on the “right direction”/”wrong track” ratio.

It’s “Seguin”, Not “Sequin”

This is from a piece by Teri Webster, “Off-Duty Officer, Citizen, Thwart Potential Church Massacre Early Sunday in Texas” (The Blaze, December 30, 2018):

A potential tragedy was avoided early Sunday after police in Sequin, Texas, arrested a man who may have been planning to open fire on a church to fulfill what he claimed was a “prophecy.”

What happened?

Police went to the 2400 block of West Kingsbury Street around 7 a.m. after witnesses reported seeing a man with a gun who was wearing tactical-style clothing and a surgical face shield,” the Sequin Gazette reported. An off-duty officer who first arrived at the scene said the suspect told him he was on his way to a church to fulfill a prophecy. The suspect was carrying a loaded firearm and extra ammunition, police said.

Seguin police arrested Tony Albert, 33, who was booked at the Guadalupe County Jail on charges of possession of marijuana and felony possession of firearm….

Ms. Webster writes “Sequin” twice before getting it right with “Seguin”. Her misspelling caught my eye because Seguin is near a route that I have taken several times from Austin to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

A trifle, you say? Not at all. It’s representative of the myriad errors — far more serious ones — that readers, listeners, and viewers don’t spot because they’re unfamiliar with the subject at hand. Errors that are made because reporters don’t know any better than to parrot their sources: global-warming alarmists, proponents of social panaceas, race-intelligence denialists, etc., etc., etc.

The next time you read, listen to, or view a “news” story that seems to push the global-warming agenda, paid family leave, inherent equality in all things (black basketball players excluded), ask yourself if the reporter knows the difference between “Sequin” and “Seguin”.

It’s Time to Revive 1920s’ Jazz

I often wonder why the popular jazz of the 1920s, which faded in the mid-1930s, isn’t still widely popular. It’s rhythmically inventive, driving, and upbeat — as opposed to the monotonous and often dreary, dissonant, and unmelodic droning of what later became known as jazz. (I’m not writing here about the New Orleans style of jazz, which is a genre of its own, and has never died out. If you’re unsure of the distinction, click on the links at the end of this post.)

The jazz of the ’20s (and early-to-mid-’30s) evolved into the swing of the ’30s and 40s. Swing evolved into the ponderous big-band sound of the ’40s and ’50s.

Rhythmically inventive, driving, and upbeat popular music returned in the mid-’50s, with the birth of rock and roll. The Beatles and their ilk put a twist on rock and roll, and the genre evolved into what is known as classic rock — the sound that dominated the mid-’60s to early ’70s. Its variants — some of them close to the classic sound — survive and thrive to this day.

But nothing — with the possible exception of early swing — has yet to rival the musical sophistication of ’20s jazz. Bands led by the likes of Red Allen, Bix Beiderbecke, Johnny Dodds, the early Duke Ellington, Jean Goldkette, Fletcher Henderson, Isham Jones, Vincent Lopez, Jelly Roll Morton, Red Nichols, King Oliver, and Paul Whiteman (to name only a small representation) recorded thousands of foot-stomping tunes (plus innumerable blues, ballads, novelty tunes, other non-jazzy material).

It is de rigeur in some musical circles to deride the offerings of the larger ensembles, such as those led by several of the band leaders mentioned above. But their tight orchestrations delivered as much toe-tapping vitality as anything offered up by smaller groups.

For a feast of ’20s jazz — and much more — go to The Red Hot Jazz Archive, tap your toes, and lighten your spirit. (RealPlayer required.)

One of my favorites, which number in the hundreds, is “Dinah“. Not a jazzy song, you say? Well, dig these variations on a theme:

Cliff Edwards (1925)

Jean Goldkette (1926)

Joe Venuti (1928)

Red Nichols (1929)

Louis Armstrong (1930)

Bing Crosby with the Mills Brothers (1932) (After a ballad-y start, Bing rips into it. Bing as you’ve probably never heard him.)

The Boswell Sisters (1934) (The Bozzies followed Bing’s lead.)

Quintette of the Hot Club of France (1934)

Fats Waller (1935)

And feast your ears on this long anthology of Bix Beiderbecke‘s recordings. Beiderbecke crammed a long lifetime of music into his brief 28 years.