Archives for the 'Asides' Category

Cynics for Obama

Here’s a bumper-sticker sentiment that appeals to me. Reminds me of one of Lowi’s Laws:

The Law of Succession: Each president contributes to the upgrading of his predecessors.

And its corollary:

This [i.e., making his predecessor look good] is the only certain contribution each president will make.

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Posted on Jun 29, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 14 Comments

Sales Pitch

I doubt I’ll have any other speaking opportunities in the near future that involve shouting at the top of my lungs in a crowded bar. (Which is a shame). So I thought I’d reproduce for posterity the tail end of my remarks Thursday evening:

And I also say, buy my book. It’s a book that is many things:

it is an arrow against tyrants, and a barbaric yawp from one man’s couch;

in a campaign season dominated by mindless crap, it is a cleansing high colonic for the mind;

and it, perhaps more than anything, a love song. A love song for the beautiful losers, the Gerald Fords and the Calvin Coolidges, the Tafts and the Harrisons and the Hardings. For the presidents who get no respect from historians and talking heads, because they didn’t do enough, they didn’t blow enough stuff up, they offered no New Deals, no New Frontiers, no Great Societies, no nuthin’. They were presidents who were content to preside over peace and prosperity without screwing it all up. It’s a love song to them. It sings, where have you gone Warren Harding? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Woo ooh ooh. Woo woo woo.

All that for 10 bucks. You can’t go wrong.


Posted on Jun 29, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | No Comments

Book Signing and Happy Hour

If you’re in DC, swing by the Rocket Bar in Chinatown at 6 PM for the America’s Future Foundation Happy Hour, featuring brief remarks by me, and a book signing. I will be pertinent, but I promise not to be sobering.

Posted on Jun 26, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 5 Comments


If I were remotely tech-savvy or good at Google, I’d know the answer to this question, but: where on my Amazon home page can I get a full list of my highlights and clippings from the Kindle? For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been using the highlight feature to flag Imperial Presidency-related articles and passages from the NYT and WaPo. I read somewhere that Amazon stored your Kindle highlights and clippings, and it would be really useful, work-and-blog wise if I could get them on my laptop or, even better, print or cut and paste them. Any help appreciated, thanks.


Posted on Jun 11, 2008 in Asides | 5 Comments


I don’t know, I’m with Yglesias on this one. This rings false to me. “There is a series of moments…”? Would he really have gotten the subject-verb agreement right?

Posted on Jun 4, 2008 in Asides | 1 Comment

Dude, Try a Snapple

Today’s Post:

Once Obama hit the campaign trail full time, getting Honest Tea into his hands became more difficult. The matter escalated in January, when after the South Carolina primary an Obama aide, who called after the candidate’s staff had just driven two hours to procure the goods for her boss, contacted Honest Tea spokesman Dale Crowell.

The aide wanted to know whether the company would help her more easily find Honest Tea in far-flung places. Also, did Honest Tea have any drinks without caffeine? The senator wanted to stay healthy on the road.

Crowell suggested Black Forest Berry. A few days later, the Obama aide e-mailed Crowell: “We tried this last night. He liked it.”

It’s been all Black Forest Berry since then. Crowell has directed campaign officials to natural food stores in Utah, Idaho, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania and places in between.

Posted on Jun 2, 2008 in Asides | 9 Comments

Garrison Town

A colleague ripped out a page of the Washingtonian and left it in my mailbox. The item he flagged was from “Capital Comment,” the magazine’s equivalent of the New York Post’s Page Six, except without sex or pretty people. It reads as follows:

Spotted: …. The man who was almost House majority leader, Roy Blunt, shopping with his wife at the “social” Safeway in Georgetown amid a phalanx of security officers. One reporter observed, “If he only wants a basket of groceries, wouldn’t it make sense to send one agent in to get it rather than securing the whole store?

Maybe Roy Blunt knows something I don’t, and if he’s received a specific, credible threat, I apologize, but… is he really a high-value target? Or is this just an ostentatious demonstration of his supposed importance? As a longtime Washington hand observed in 1992:

One thing that is harmful and destructive to the way our system works is the system of security…. It has grown enormously since I went to Washington in the fifties. It happens incrementally. …. There is something about the total number of people in your entourage that defines your importance. That is wrong. It is unhelpful to everyone. It inhibits communication.

That was once and future SecDef Donald Rumsfeld. No sign that he did anything to fight this tendency during his second tour of duty.

Melanie Scarborough wrote a nice briefing paper for Cato on the post-9/11 paramilitarization of DC.

Posted on Jun 2, 2008 in Asides, Civil Liberties | 8 Comments

Show Me You Love Me

… or at least that you think my book is okay. Join the Facebook fan club for Cult of the Presidency.

I resisted social networking sites for a long time. Part of me still wants to, because grown men shouldn’t be “throwing sheep” at each other or doing anything that involves the verb “twitter,” and because even the sign-up page for Facebook is irksome, using “utility” as a noun. But resistance is useless. You will be assimilated.


Posted on May 31, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 9 Comments

The Literary Offenses of David Brooks

David Brooks’s latest, a disquisition on the difference between ‘geeks’ and ‘nerds,’ is cringe-inducing throughout, the sort of chatty exercise in pointless faux-hipness that makes you long for the cool logic of Maureen Dowd and the mellifluous metaphors of Thomas Friedman, but it was the following sentence that nearly made me swear off reading entirely:

Barack Obama has become the Prince Caspian of the iPhone hordes.

Why? Why??


Posted on May 24, 2008 in Arts and Culture, Asides | 18 Comments

The Anti-Federalist Society

I have an anarchist friend who has referred to the Constitution as “the Clinton Health Care plan of 1787, except it passed.” I was reminded of that quip recently while rereading large parts of the Federalist for a Liberty Fund seminar. Every so often you come across statements that ring somewhere between funny and tragic given how things have worked out. Federalist No. 45 has a couple of good ones:

On federal tax collectors:

If the federal government is to have collectors of revenue, the State governments will have theirs also. And… those of the former will be principally on the seacoast, and not very numerous…

On the commerce power:

The regulation of commerce, it is true, is a new power; but that seems to be an addition which few oppose, and from which no apprehensions are entertained.

But my favorite is one I use in the book. From Hamilton in Federalist No. 68, describing the presidential selection system (which to be fair, we haven’t stuck to):

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.

Posted on May 16, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency, Domestic Policy | 5 Comments

One Thing at a Time

(Or none). In “The Autumn of the Multitaskers,” Walter Kirn explains why the only time I really seem to get anything done anymore is when I’m crammed into a tiny coach seat, forbidden to use electronic devices, and faced with the choice between doing some work and watching a Katherine Heigl movie.

Multitasking messes with the brain in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we’re supposed to be concentrating on.

What does this mean in practice? Consider a recent experiment at UCLA, where researchers asked a group of 20-somethings to sort index cards in two trials, once in silence and once while simultaneously listening for specific tones in a series of randomly presented sounds. The subjects’ brains coped with the additional task by shifting responsibility from the hippocampus—which stores and recalls information—to the striatum, which takes care of rote, repetitive activities. Thanks to this switch, the subjects managed to sort the cards just as well with the musical distraction—but they had a much harder time remembering what, exactly, they’d been sorting once the experiment was over.

Even worse, certain studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue, and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term, they may cause it to atrophy.

The next generation, presumably, is the hardest-hit. They’re the ones way out there on the cutting edge of the multitasking revolution, texting and instant messaging each other while they download music to their iPod and update their Facebook page and complete a homework assignment and keep an eye on the episode of The Hills flickering on a nearby television. (A recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 53 percent of students in grades seven through 12 report consuming some other form of media while watching television; 58 percent multitask while reading; 62 percent while using the computer; and 63 percent while listening to music. “I get bored if it’s not all going at once,” said a 17-year-old quoted in the study.) They’re the ones whose still-maturing brains are being shaped to process information rather than understand or even remember it.

This is the great irony of multitasking—that its overall goal, getting more done in less time, turns out to be chimerical. In reality, multitasking slows our thinking. It forces us to chop competing tasks into pieces, set them in different piles, then hunt for the pile we’re interested in, pick up its pieces, review the rules for putting the pieces back together, and then attempt to do so, often quite awkwardly.

Speaking of flying/multitasking: about a week ago, I was in the bathroom at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, when a guy comes in quacking away on his bluetooth device, sidles right up next to me at the urinal, and continues talking (apparently to an assistant/employee) about an upcoming meeting, treating his associate to a cascading liquid symphony punctuated by autoflushes.

Posted on May 11, 2008 in Arts and Culture, Asides, Human Nature, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Politics and Prose

If you’re around, come out to Politics and Prose, where I’ll be speaking at 1 PM today.

Posted on May 10, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 2 Comments


Today I’m leaving a very fine conference put together by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, featuring a host of presidential scholars and, uh, me. Line of the day yesterday “I’m probably the only guy in the entire world who has a ‘Warren G. Harding’ Google News Alert,” and no, I didn’t say it. It’s supposed to be on C-Span, though I don’t know when.

An “author’s excerpt” from Cult is in today’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (scroll down).

Posted on Apr 27, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 7 Comments

It’s Chinatown, Jake

Incidentally, for anyone who happens to be in San Francisco tomorrow, I’m going to be speaking at a reception sponsored by the Pacific Research Institute, details here.

Man, this is a great city. Among other things, it has a real Chinatown, not like D.C.’s half-assed, two-block version with a Fuddruckers, a Ruby Tuesday’s, and a Hooters complete with a sign in Chinese characters (reading “Owl Restaurant,” apparently).

Posted on Apr 22, 2008 in Asides, Cult of the Presidency | 11 Comments


If you grew up in Hawaii, wouldn’t you assume everyone who lives in Western Pennsylvania was bitter? Hell, I kinda think that, and I grew up in New Jersey. The whole incident reminds me of a terrific book review by Andrew Ferguson that almost–almost–made me want to read Dreams from My Father:

As a teenager he befriends Ray, another African-American boy who vents his authentic black rage between classes at their prep school, as the ocean breezes stir the towering palms overhead. This black rage was “the thing that Ray and I never could seem to agree on . . .

“Our rage at the white world needed no object, he seemed to be telling me, no independent confirmation; it could be switched on and off at our pleasure. Sometimes . . . I would question his judgment, if not his sincerity. We weren’t living in the Jim Crow South, I would remind him. We weren’t consigned to some heatless housing project in Harlem or the Bronx. We were in goddamned Hawaii.”


Posted on Apr 20, 2008 in Asides | 23 Comments