The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):


  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”


Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Good riddance!

One of the things I have felt is hurting the cause of conservatism has been that a group of people styling themselves "social conservatives" have tried to use the conservative movement and the Republican Party to showcase their bigoted view of humanity. So it is good news to me to see that "social conservatives" are leaving the rest of the conservative movement — the Conservative Political Action Conference is holding a meeting in February and because a gay group was invited to attend, the "social conservatives" will not. I am certain that Barry Goldwater, who approved of gay rights, would be on the side of CPAC. Good riddance to the "social conservatives"!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I guess it took a judge!

It seems that Joe Miller would not withdraw his challenge to Lisa Murkowski's certification. So it finally came down to a Federal District Judge, Ralph Beistline, who ruled yesterday that Miller's challenge was to be rejected. Read about it here. This means that Alaska will be represented by its proper two Senators in the new Congress. And one hopes that Joe Miller will realize that Alaska's citizens gave their decision, and he lost.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Separation of church and state

I find it hard, this time of the year, to figure out what to respond to people who wish me "Merry Christmas." Since this isn't Nazi Germany, we Jews don't go around wearing badges that say "Jew," so many of them are simply innocently making an assumption that everyone they meet celebrates Christmas, and I don't really want to start an argument with such people, so I'm stumped for a reply. Sometimes I simply say "Happy New Year"; my wife says "Happy holiday"; but neither seems quite the right response. (Often I just nod to acknowledge it. But even that does not seem the right response.) And also there are people who do it quite deliberately: I saw a column recently by someone who said she always wishes people "Merry Christmas" and was happy to note that others wish her "Merry Christmas" in reply; she takes that as approval. People like that I would happily start an argument with, but I can't tell the two apart, so I'm stuck.

We find people arguing that "separation of church and state" is not proclaimed in our Constitution. Truly, those specific words do not appear. But neither do the words "air force." Yet nobody would say that the Constitution only provides for an army and navy, and the other branches of the Defense Department were unconstitutionally established. Not even Justice Antonin Scalia would hold to that literal an interpretation of the Constitution. So we really have to go to the intent of the people who wrote the Constitution. The Constitution itself says that "no religious test shall be required" for any office. And the First Amendment, which many of us (myself included) consider to be one of the most important parts of the Constitution, forbids an "establishment of religion." Now, many "religious conservatives" maintain that the First Amendment simply forbids raising one form of Christianity above another; I think that George Washington, who wrote the famous "to bigotry no sanction" letter, would put that idea to rest.

I think the biggest expert on the meaning of the Constitution in this regard has to be James Madison. He is widely believed to have written much of the Constitution itself; he certainly did write many of the papers called "The Federalist" which explained the Constitution to the people. And he was also the author of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights, including that First Amendment which we are discussing here. And if you read my earlier post on reading fhe Constitution, you will see that Madison, at least, believed in a very strict separation of church and state. So I think we are on strong ground in defending that separation.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Joe Miller and Alaska's Senate seat

Joe Miller, for some reason, has tried to frustrate the wishes of Alasks's people, who re-elected Lisa Murkowski to the Senate. He certainly knows that he lost the election last month; he could only postpone the inevitable. But Alaska's Supreme Court has delivered a ringing opinion in favor of common sense. Miller can still appeal to Federal court, but that would be a really nasty and stupid thing to do. Why Miller fought this long I don't know, but I hope it's finally over.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Scott Brown and the Tea Party

I recently saw a posting on another blog (The FrumForum, a very nice blog which often has posts with which I agree) entitled: "Scott Brown Frustrates Tea Party." (This post apparenmtly comes from another source, "The Boston Globe" blog.) And it points out that Senator Brown, in his moderation, is frustrating Tea Party extremists, who may put up a primary opponent in two years when he has to run for a full six-year term. Apparently the Tea Partiers haven't learned their lesson. Harry Reid and Chris Coons are going to be sitting in the Senate at next month's swearing-in because Tea Partiers defeated Sue Lowden and Mike Castle with Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell in the primaries. If only they would understand that "Half a loaf is better than none."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Politics that works, and politics that doesn't

One of the blogs I like to read is Dennis Sanders' "Big Tent Revue." And recently I saw a post on there in which he directed readers to another interesting article, by Walter Russell Mead, who writes a blog called "The American Interest." I find this post very interesting, and would like to refer my own readers to this post, though it is not to my taste in the way that it treats both of the two major political forces today as species of liberalism.

But what I would like to ask Mead is: "OK, so you've identified a problem: two groups of political thinkers each of which, you feel, is grounded in the past, trying to apply outmoded solutions to 21st century problems. Now what do you think is the proper 21st century solution to those problems?"

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Anti-Christmas Scrooges miss the real reason for the season"? Really!

I had intended pretty much to ignore the impending Christmas holiday, treating it as a non-event on this blog. However, there's a column by Bill O'Reilly in the Examiner, which seems to have been quoted by a number of other sites, entitled "Anti-Christmas Scrooges miss the real reason for the season." To this, I feel a need to reply.

I think I understand "the real reason for the season" very well. It commemorates the birth, approximately two millennia ago, of a man in whose name more people have been killed than in the name of anyone else in world history. Whether it is Christians of one stripe fighting Christians of another stripe (various religious wars in Europe over the past two millennia) or Christians killing Jews and Muslims (the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition), the fact is that Christians' celebration of the birth of the founder of their religion is not a reason for anyone else to celebrate. I do not begrudge private celebration of Christmas in the homes and churches of my Christian neighbors. Just do it privately. I would not be happy with a celebration of Adolf Hitler's birthday; why should I take part in a celebration of Jesus of Nazareth's? But Christian zealots do not understand that. O'Reilly asks, "Why would any rational person get testy about a federal holiday that brings joy to the majority of their countrymen and helps the economy, to boot?" My answer is, "Suppose we had a Federal holiday celebrating the birth of a man whose followers murdered your ancestors. How would you feel about that?"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission has just issued some regulations intended to further the cause of net neutrality, the idea that the people who control the flow of traffic on the Internet must do so in a nondiscriminatory manner. And they did so by a partisan vote: three Democrats favoring net neutrality, two Republicans opposing it. This is one case where I think the Democrats are in the right.

The problem is that there are two conflicting ideas here. The Republicans are upholding the idea that Government should keep its hands off the free market, a concept that I find generally agreeable. But in the absence of net neutrality regulations, we find ourselves in a situation analogous to what we would have if, say, Ford Motor Company owned the Interstate Highway system, and refused to allow General Motors cars on it (or allowed it, but only at a much higher toll rate than Ford owners paid). I don't think we would put up with that.

Unless we have some system to prevent vertical integration, so that providers of content and providers of the connections would be divorced from each other, net neutrality regulations are the only way to ensure fairness. And net neutrality is a less intrusive way to do it than forcing that prevention of vertical integration. So I favor it.

Some people say the FCC is trying to solve a problem that does not exist; this may be so, but it's a problem that could exist in the future; Internet carriers have threatened to do such things, and it is better to head this off at the pass, before it becomes a problem.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Consequences of divided government

Some people have cheered the result of the election last month in producing a Republican House of Representatives and a Democratic Senate, which means that, together with the continuing Democratic hold on the Presidency, we will have divided government. They believe that this will require both parties to work together, which will lead to a moderate policy, in line with the wishes of most Americans, rather that the extremist policies that result when one party dominates both houses of Congress and the Presidency.

To some extent, this will probably happen. President Obama has already begun moving in a more moderate direction (though he does not have to face a Republican House until next month) in his willingness to compromise on the bill that extended the Bush administration tax cuts, as the Republicans wanted, while also extending the unemployment benefits, as the Democrats wanted. However, divided government is particularly bad in one area: the deficit.

Republicans tend to help solve deficits by lowering both taxes and spending, in accordance with a desire to make government smaller. By lowering taxes, they give the people control of more of their money, while also discouraging the start of new government programs since there is less money to pay for them. By contrast, Democrats tend to help solve deficits by raising both taxes and spending, since they want to start a lot of new government programs of various kinds, so they need the new taxes to pay for them.

When government is divided, we see what happened during the latter part of Ronald Reagan's Presidency: the Republicans succeeded in lowering taxes (which people like), while the Democrats succeeded in starting their new government programs (which also appeals to a lot of people; at least to those who are the beneficiaries of those programs). The deficit ballooned. The same, of course, happened in the latter years of the George W. Bush Presidency, only more so because of the effects of recession. So I'm afraid that controlling the deficit will be a hopeless task.

When Richard Nixon was President, he found a solution: the Democratic Congress appropriated a lot of funds which President Nixon simply "embargoed": he didn't spend the money on the basis that he was simply authorized to spend it, not required to. This got such a bad reputation among Democrats that later Presidents did not do things like that. And anyway, it would not be very likely that this solution would work in the current situation, where the Democrats control the Presidency: it is the President who wants both higher taxes and spending, and he obviously cannot spend money that the Congress does not give him. So what will happen is anybody's guess.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The latest on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

It is unfortunate that "social conservatives" still are such a big force in the Republican Party. In yesterday's vote to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule in the military, there were 31 votes against, all of them Republicans. A shame. But the good news is that eight Republicans were courageous enough to vote "yes," and they included not just the four who have been the GOP's sources of moderation (Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska), and the newly elected Mark Kirk of Illinois, who had been described as a moderate in some articles I've read, but three more. Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio has been considered as a moderate by some people, and his support was, therefore, the least surprising of the three unexpected ones. Sens. John Ensign of Nevada and Richard Burr of North Carolina are not usually considered moderates, however. So they are particularly to be commended. Now all that remains is a signature in the White House, and presumably Pres. Obama, who has claimed to be for repeal, will sign it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The "individual mandate" decision

Judge Henry E. Hudson, a Federal District Court judge in Virginia, has issued an opinion that the individual mandate in the health care bill is unconstitutional, an opinion with which I heartily concur. There are, however, two other judges in other courts (one also in Virginia) who have ruled the opposite way. So it still will depend on the Supreme Court's decision for a final ruling.

While Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia Attorney General who brought this suit before the court, is further to the right than I would like, in this case, I think he is on the right side, and I'm glad to see that, so far, he has prevailed.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Judging people on one issue?

Dennis Sanders is a blogger who usually posts things with whom I agree. But about a week ago he posted a piece in which he accused John McCain of becoming Jesse Helms. And I have to say I think this is unfair. The thing is that Dennis Sanders is gay, makes no secret about this, and, I think, has made the mistake of judging McCain on his stand on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal. But McCain is a military man. He was a high-ranking Naval officer, and bears the name of his father and grandfather, both of whom were even higher-ranking Naval officers, and I think he views this issue from the vantage point of Naval tradition. Perhaps, considering that McCain's predecessor as an Arizona Senator, Barry Goldwater, took a more enlightened view of gay rights, McCain's position is unfortunate, but I think that it is understandable, though it would be a good thing if he could change it. But to make McCain into another Helms is totally unfair.

There is probably nobody among the 535 individuals who serve in the United States Congress with whom I agree on every issue (or, for that matter, with whom I disagree on every issue!) but there are issues that matter more to me than DADT. It's like the group of GOP senators (Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Scott Brown, and Lisa Murkowski) who want DADT repealed, but have had problems with the specific bill Harry Reid is pushing through the Senate. They want the right to get amendments considered, and Reid is barring the way. They should not be considered "anti-gay." McCain may be hostile to gay rights, but there is enough he is right on that I'm not going to condemn him in total just because I don't like what he is doing here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My own rating of Presidents

Although the recent poll which I cited in yesterday's post covered the ten most recent Presidents, my own preference is to rate the last twelve. My reason is that these are the ones whose terms have been within my lifetime. (Oh, FDR lived for a couple of years after I was born, but I can't say I remember his Presidency, as he died before my third birthday. So Truman is the first President whose service was really within my lifetime, I would say.)

Harry Truman is one President I think better of than I did when he was in office. His management of the quarrel with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, when I was yet a child, is one factor: as a child I thought Truman was wrong, but as I said in another post, by now I've come to a different conclusion: insubordination is not to be tolerated. Truman did some bad things, like trying to nationalize the steel industry, but considering his handling the issue of the atomic bomb (it's hard to believe that, in those days, vice-presidents were so out-of-the-loop that when he succeeded to the Presidency he knew nothing about it!) and the aforementioned MacArthur incident, Truman showed more competence than I gave him credit for at the time. I'd not call him a great President, but actually he was better than average.

Dwight Eisenhower became president when I was ten. By the time his term ended, I was eighteen. So he was really the President I came to political maturity under. (In those days, you had to be twenty-one to vote. But I think I really reached political maturity at about age fourteen. I have changed a little since then, but not much.) I think he was by far a better President than many historian-types make him out to be, because rather than a flashy Kennedy-type he preferred to work in more subtle ways. It is partly because of Eisenhower's Presidency that I am a Republican; the Governorship of New York State by Nelson A. Rockefeller was the only other important influence that made me what I am politically. So need I say that my opinion of Eisenhower as President is extremely high?

On the other hand, everyone else seems to give a high rating to John Kennedy. Yet I can't see why. As I said in yesterday's post, he botched the Bay of Pigs invasion, and he couldn't get a thing through Congress that he wanted to, though his Democratic Party controlled that Congress. The fact that, like the current President, he had a glamorous wife and was himself photogenic seems to have meant a lot, and his assassination made him a martyr, I suppose. But objectively, what did he accomplish as President?

Lyndon B. Johnson was a powerful President. Because of him, many of Kennedy's ideas did get passed, including his civil rights proposals. So LBJ gets high marks in the department of getting things done. He was, however, one President with no integrity. As a Senator from Texas, he was a typical Southern segregationist; as a President, he did more for civil rights than just about any other President. Obviously, civil rights was an issue he'd take either side on, based on how it would affect his election prospects. In my first Presidential election vote, in 1964, I abstained: Goldwater was someone too extreme, I thought (though later I found that his ideas weren't nearly as bizarre as the newspaper I read made them out to be!) and Johnson was too unscrupulous. If I could do it over again, my vote would have been given to Goldwater (though, of course, it wouldn't have done much good!)

Then came Richard M. Nixon. Just about the most hated President, yet I believe in fact the best in my lifetime. (No, I'm not putting him in the category of a Lincoln. Note the "in my lifetime" qualification.) I could spend so much time on Nixon, but I will keep this paragraph short. I may post some more on him. But as far as I can see, he had only one flaw, as I said in yesterday's post: he was too loyal to underlings who violated the law to help re-elect him. But is loyalty to one's political supporters really that bad? One thing I dislike about Barack Obama is his stabbing Alice Palmer in the back. I think perhaps Nixon's loyalty was not entirely a bad thing.

When Nixon was forced to resign, the Presidency fell upon Gerald Ford, a genuinely nice person who never wanted more than the Speakership of the House. I cannot say much about him; he didn't serve long enough to accomplish much, but he didn't discredit the office.

Ford was succeeded by Jimmy Carter, the most incompetent President of my lifetime. He actually appointed a man in charge of his drug program that had been censured for improperly prescribing drugs, and his attempts to get our hostages out of the Middle East were laughable. He also turned Nixon's accomplishments in getting honorably out of Vietnam and establishing contact with China into defeats. (We no longer have an embassy in Taipei, because of Carter!)

After Carter, anyone would have been an improvement, and obviously Ronald Reagan was. I might have preferred someone a bit more moderate, but, again as I said in yeaterday's post, he recognized the need for moderates in the GOP to have some of their goals as well. I don't rank Reagan as high as Nixon or Eisenhower, but not far below them.

Reagan had offered his Vice-Presidency to one of his moderate opponents, George H. W. Bush. And on reaching the end of the two terms that the Twenty-Second Amendment permitted Reagan, Bush moved into the Presidency. Though Bush and Reagan had come from different factions of the GOP, there was a lot of continuity, but unfortunately, a Democratic Congress got in his way. He had promised "no new taxes," but he couldn't get the budget he wanted through Congress, and taxes did go up. I don't blame him for going back on his promise. It was politically necessary. But it cost him re-election, and set the stage for Bill Clinton.

Carter may have been the most incompetent President of my lifetime, but Clinton was, except for the current occupant of the office, the most unscrupulous. It seems he wanted to emulate JFK, and at least emulated one of JFK's worse traits, a skirt-chasing proclivity that Kennedy could keep more secret than Clinton could. But between Whitewater and his trying to cover up the sexual harassment of his subordinates, I consider him the worst, bar none, of the Presidents. He should have been removed from office by impeachment, but politics in the Congress saved his neck.

George W. Bush, the next President, got the country behind him in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. But he let anti-war sentiment undermine his Iraq policy. I preferred his father's moderation to his more right-wing orientation, but I consider that again he is one who I rate higher than many other people. I'd have voted for him again if there hadn't been a Twenty-Second Amendment.

This takes us to the current President, Barack Obama. Our worst? No, that title I reserve for Bill Clinton. But only because his Presidency hasn't been corrupt. He's gone against the wishes of the people on health care, and tried to do so on other things, and generally violated the idea that this is a government by the consent of the governed.

That's all for now. But I may expand on some of these at a later date.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Presidential popularity ratings

It is apparent, in the way President Obama had Bill Clinton carry the burden of his pressing for the passage of his tax compromise, that he's relying on Clinton's current popularity. And in a recent poll rating the most recent presidents, Clinton ranked very high — after only JFK and Reagan. Which set me to thinking: Why do bad Presidents get good popularity ratings, and good ones get bad ratings?

The most popular President of all was John F. Kennedy, and what did he do to get such a high rating except be shot and killed by an assassin? He was responsible for the disaster of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and could not push a single bill he considered important through a Congress controlled by his own party. (After the assassination, Lyndon Johnson adopted Kennedy's program as his own, and succeeded in pushing much of it through. But this was a success for LBJ, not JFK.)

Second on the list was Ronald Reagan, who probably does qualify as a successful President. I had feared that his Presidency would be too right-wing, and had favored others for the nomination, but perhaps I should have noted that both in the year he failed to gain the nomination (when he picked Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania), and four years later, when he did win the nimination and selected George H. W. Bush, he was willing to give moderates a role and showed a tendency to be a lot more inclusive than many "Tea Party" Republicans are in 2010. His Presidency was generally constructive.

The number 3 slot in the poll went to Clinton. I can't find words to describe the negative feelings I have about Bill Clinton, who I consider the worst President to serve in my lifetime. (Full disclosure: I had a job that was funded out of the Strategic Defense Initiative "Star Wars" program, which Clinton said in his campaign he would kill, and he kept that promise. I ended up unemployed for four years, and never again had a really good job. So I was personally affected negatively by Clinton, which makes me hate him in a more visceral way than most Presidents. But on an objective basis: What other President was called before a grand jury and lied to it? Not to mention all the other acts of misconduct which were found by Kenneth Starr.) Only politics in the U. S. Senate saved him from removal by impeachment.

On the other side of the coin was Richard Nixon, the most underrated President we have had. Because he was too loyal to underlings who violated the law to help re-elect him, he has been stigmatized. In opening the way to contact with China, producing the basis of a settlement of Vietnam, and such, he did an amazingly good job (which was sabotaged in both cases by Jimmy Carter's ineptness, of course). He deserves to be rated much higher than he has been.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Obama/GOP deal on taxes

President Barack Obama has apparently made a deal with GOP Congressional leaders on taxes. The tax cuts from the Bush administration will all be extended for two years. (The GOP wanted them made permanent, but in 2012 we will have a chance to elect a new President, so a two-year extension is good enough for now.) Anf the Republican leaders agreed to an extension of unemployment benefits, which (despite some Republicans' belief that this encourages people to sit back and collect benefits rather than looking for work) is probably a good thing in an economy with a scarcity of jobs. (Who will collect a benefit that's only a couple of hundred dollars a week, when there are jobs that pay twice as much or more? If the jobs were there, people would take them.)

I said that when Pres. Obama does the right thing, I'd acknowledge it. And he has. He's forsaken his class-struggle leftism long enough to agree to an extension of the tax cuts. Now the ball is in Nancy Pelosi's court. For the next month, she is still Speaker and the Democrats still control the House. Will she and the Dems keep their part of the bargain? We shall see.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Problems with the DREAM Act

There has been a proposal (titled the DREAM Act) which would legalize some of the illegal immigrants in this country. It specifically would apply to people who had been brought to this country as young children and would require military service or a certain amount of education to legalize them. At first glance, this seems reasonable: the children are not the ones who made the decision to violate this country's laws, and by either getting an education or actually serving this country in the military, they would be making a useful contribution in exchange for legalization. But I'm not very happy with some aspects of this proposed law, and I recently saw another blog post, by a certain David Arredondo of Ohio, with similar objections to my own. Arredondo's ideas are not identical to my own, and I'd like to compare the two, so this post will not merely present my ideas, but also compare his with mine.

The most important problem with the DREAM Act in my eyes, and one which Arredondo also agrees is a serious problem, is that under our laws, once the affected young people have qualified for citizenship, their parents (who are the ones who made the decision to violate this country's laws) would get preferred status toward obtaining citizenship. This would be rewarding an illegal act. Arredondo suggests modifying the DREAM Act to "[s]uspend current immigration law that allows their parents who brought them here illegally from qualifying for Permanent Residency." I would favor that same change, and with this part of his post I fully agree.

Where I part company with Arredondo is that he would eliminate the educational route to legalization, making military service the only path. Now Arredondo is quite correct in stating that "[t]hose of us in the higher ed industry know that 2 years of studies doesn’t qualify a student for much." But the solution to that problem is to require four years, including the earning of at least a bachelor's degree. Arredondo would have, as I said, all these illegals only able to qualify by military service, so that if they wanted an education, they would first have to spend 4 years in the armed forces and then use GI Bill benefits to get that education. I can't go with that. Going into the military entails a willingness to get shot at. I think that is asking too much. (Full disclosure: I succeeded in getting an exclusion from the draft when I was of draftable age. I fully admit that I am enough of a coward that I pulled every string that was available to me to get that exclusion. Now, with the draft no longer in force, requiring military service of any group of people seems to me to be too much of a price to ask them to pay. If they are willing to serve, fine and dandy. But there are more ways to serve the needs of this nation that putting oneself in the line of fire.)

So, like Arredondo, I could only accept the DREAM Act with modifications, but of his two modifications, only the one he gives second would be my choice. His first, eliminating the educational path, is not one I would favor, but rather the educational path should be made more selective, requiring a useful level of education rather than the too-trivial two years currently proposed.

There is also another post on David Frum's FrumForum blog, dealing with changes that he would like to see made to the DREAM Act. Some of these make sense as well; perhaps all would be improvements, though I am not totally certain, but I'd like to point my readers there to consider them.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

On reading the Constitution

There are two conflicting philosophies on reading the Constitution, or so it seems: "original intent" and "the living Constitution." But there is no reasonable way of following either of these in a consistent manner.

Justice Antonin Scalia is a great disciple of the concept of "original intent." In other words, provisions of the Constitution need to be understood in the way that was understood by the Founders of this country at the time they were writing those words. The problem with this "original intent" philosophy is that it doesn't address the question of whose intent. For example, the First Amendment (as well as all nine others in what we call the "Bill of Rights") was drafted by James Madison. There are arguments currently as to what the Establishment Clause means, but it is clear that Madison, specifically, meant the kind of aggressive separationism that I myself advocate (thugh, as we will see below, only on a Federal level). We have examples of correspondence that prove this. (The "wall of separation between Church and State" often cited by separationists is, it is true, not in the text of the First Amendment, but in a letter sent by President Thomas Jefferson to some people in Connecticut asking for assistance. But Jefferson and Madison were close allies, and there is correspondence between the two of them that establishes that on the issue of separation between Church and State, the two thought alike. And it is not only to Jefferson that Madison wrote in such terms. On July 10, 1822 he wrote to Edward Livingston as follows:
Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Gov will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.
It is quite clear what his position was.) But when the First Amendment was approved by Congress and the States, it is also true that not everyone held Madison's view. So whose interpretation of the First Amendment applies?

And in 1791, when it was approved, of course, the First Amendment did not apply to the States. The Thomas Jefferson letter that was cited regarding the "wall of separation between Church and State" in fact was in response, as I said earlier, to some Connecticut residents asking for relief from the provisions of Connecticut law establishing the Congregationalist Church (which continued until 1833!) and in it he also stated that he, as President, could not do anything about a State law.

So "original intent" has its problems. On the other hand, treating the Constitution as a living document runs into its own problems. Every citizen, not to mention every Supreme Court Justice, has his own idea as to what a term in the Constitution means. So if one Justice feels that the death penalty is now "cruel and unusual," while another feels the opposite, who is right? I don't really know the answer.