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Stephen Holmes has presented a lecture full of good ideas and genuine common sense. If I were in a position to hire him as deputy secretary of state for policy and planning, I would. Over the past few years, he has produced a number of pieces that identify the errors and dangers in arguments made by the Bush administration and its supporters. He writes in praise of the rule of law, drawing our attention to the institutional wisdom embodied in our traditions of constitutional governance. Since these arguments all seem so reasonable, I always come back to the question: why does our government continue to act in ways that are so unreasonable? The answer, I will argue, is because reason is not the only measure of political action.
Although Holmes, for the most part, avoids overt partisan critique, critics have received his essays in just that manner. Regardless of how objectively pragmatic any commentator tries to be, the issues at hand are inevitably understood as political. There is no neutral position from which one can offer an analysis of the facts of the matter, because the language of reason is the language of political critique in American life. We, meaning the political opposition, think that everything is clear. Because of the allure of reason, we come away feeling that were we in office we would do better. A longer view, however, suggests that we might not.
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