Thursday, February 28, 2008

In Praise of Libertarian Originalism

Several weeks ago the American Constitution Society and Federalist Society at Michigan State University College of Law invited another professor, Lee Strang, and me to participate in a debate entitled “The Many Faces of Originalism.” Since we’re both like kids in a candy store when asked to talk about the Constitution, we jumped at the chance (well, I jumped at the chance - the debate was his idea).

Professor Strang argued for “Common Good Originalism”; I weighed-in for “Libertarian Originalism.” I think he got it about right when he estimated the two positions are in agreement about 70% of the time and disagreement about 30%. I describe here why I think the Libertarian Originalist interpretive approach to the Constitution is the better of the two.

We might first ask “Why Constitutionalism” at all? Why did We the People choose to solidify certain governmental arrangements and rights by placing them beyond the reach of ordinary politics? Why not a more “democratic” regime of the sort Thomas Jefferson suggested, where any constitution would be more legislative in nature in that it could be easily amended by each generation in order to ensure that the dead past would not constrain the living present?

James Madison, by contrast, favored a different sort of Constitution - the sort we ended up with - one that would provide firm and lasting constitutional constraints to ensure the conditions for the peaceful, long-term operation of democracy in a pluralistic society of many religions, races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds.

Originalists of all descriptions basically agree that at its core the Constitution is a kind of rulebook describing how the rules are played. It’s a “pre-commitment strategy” of sorts, designed to restrict lawmakers so they will not make up new rules along the way in order to further their own self-interest. The framers recognized human fallibility and the tendency of power to corrupt, and they intended to prevent lawmakers themselves from making the laws by which they make law.

As Thomas Paine explained in Rights of Man, “A Constitution is a thing antecedent to a Government, and a Government is only the creature of a Constitution…. [I]f experience should hereafter show that alterations, amendment, or additions are necessary, the Constitution will point out the mode by which such things shall be done, and not leave it to the discretionary power of the future Government…. A Government … cannot have the right of altering itself. If it had, it would be arbitrary. It might make itself what it pleased; and wherever such a right is set up, it shows there is no Constitution.”

And Madison, in Federalist 51: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Men – and women – are not angels, of course, so a Constitution IS necessary.

On this much originalists of all descriptions can agree. But there are some things on which we disagree. Specifically, we disagree upon the scope of rights and liberties protected in the Constitution.

The libertarian originalist understands that the Bill of Rights defines some, but certainly not all, of the rights and liberties to be protected by the Constitution. The Ninth Amendment explicitly and unequivocally makes the point: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This is given added effect when read together with the Tenth Amendment, which states, “The Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution … are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” It is the people, in other words, who have the ultimate authority – not the government; and it is the people whose interests are to be protected – not the government’s. As Jefferson said, ““[K]ings are the servants and not the proprietors of the people.”

On this view, since government exists in the first place to preserve individual liberty, liberty presumptively trumps government power when the two come into opposition. While there is no question democratic government plays a vital role in determining policy for the community (people are not angels, after all), anytime it acts it must satisfy the burden of demonstrating its actions do not improperly limit liberty. As Paine says in Rights of Man, “Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, not to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured.”

The libertarian originalist looks at the constitutional text, structure, and history, and concludes that the single irreducible value eclipsing all else under the American constitutional regime is Liberty/Freedom. Historian Eric Foner explains, “No idea is more fundamental to Americans’ sense of themselves as individuals and as a nation than ‘freedom’ … or ‘liberty.’ The Declaration of Independence lists liberty among mankind’s inalienable rights; the Constitution announces as its purpose to secure liberty’s blessings….”

Historian Bernard Bailyn reports that the most basic goals of the American Revolutionary Era were to “free the individual from the oppressive misuse of power, [and] from the tyranny of the state.” Thomas Paine captured this understanding of the superior natural relationship of the people to their government in two enormously influential pamphlets, Common Sense in 1776 and Rights of Man in 1791-94, stating, “Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one…; Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence….”

Or, to put it in more contemporary terms, imagine being able to use the constitutional equivalent of the “Google-Earth” feature of the popular internet search engine to zoom-in for detailed constitutional concepts and zoom-out for the more global concepts. If we were to zoom-out all the way to view the Constitution from the widest possible angle, where only the single most fundamental overriding principle of the document is legible, we would see the words “Liberty/Freedom.”

If courts were to adopt the libertarian originalist perspective in interpreting the Constitution, conservative and liberal judges would not need to argue about what rights and liberties existed or did not exist at the time of the framing – instead, the presumption is that a broad universe of rights and liberties do exist, and government may only limit them upon demonstration of very good reasons.

But what we have in modern America is an altogether different story. The original libertarian understanding of the Constitution is nowhere to be found in the conventional wisdom of either liberal or conservative (or anywhere in between) mainstream constitutional theory, both of which view rights and liberties like so many sugar cubes to be doled-out to a cooperative pony. As Professor Randy Barnett explains, “The Constitution that was actually enacted and formally amended creates islands of government powers in a sea of liberty. The judicially redacted Constitution [we have today, however,] creates islands of liberty rights in a sea of government powers.”

How this happened is a story for another day. (But if you’re interested, see Michael Anthony Lawrence, Government as Liberty’s Servant: The ‘Reasonable Time, Place & Manner’ Standard of Review for All Government Restrictions on Liberty Interests, 68 La. L. Rev. 1 (2007).)

For now my point is simply this. The most important, influential writings and commentaries of the American founding and reconstruction eras extol the virtues of freedom. By contrast, we do not find any serious argument in these writings for the sort of overly-powerful government that we have today in America. Nothing in the Constitution – not even an appropriate healthy respect for recognizing community interests as identified through the democratic process - mandates such an extreme level of judicial deference to government as currently exists. The judiciary’s current presumption-of-constitutionality review offers government too much temptation and leeway to act in ways that infringe Liberty/Freedom, which, as we have seen, constitutes the very core ideals upon which the nation was founded and the Constitution is designed to protect.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Fresh Start Education" - An Approach for All

In his NY Times column a week or two ago, David Brooks wrote a piece entitled "Fresh Start Conservatism" to which people and politicians of all political persuasions should take heed. In it he elaborates upon the reason the United States became a leader and world power during the past century: an excellent educational system available to all.

As he comments, "[The] quality work force [created through the educational system] was the single biggest reason the U.S. emerged as the economic superpower of the 20th century. Generation after generation, American workers were better educated, more industrious and more innovative than the ones that came before."

He notes, however, that "that progress stopped about 30 years ago. The percentage of young Americans completing college has been stagnant for a generation. As well-educated boomers retire over the next decades, the quality of the American work force is likely to decline."

What's the solution? Brooks suggests, "If I were advising the Republican nominee, this is one of the places I’d ask him to plant his flag. I’d ask him to call for a new human capital revolution, so that the U.S. could recapture the spirit of reforms like the Morrill Act of the 19th century, the high school movement of the early 20th century and the G.I. Bill after World War II."

This is advice that should transcend politics, and whoever is the next President, whether Republican or Democrat (or Ralph Nader), should take it to heart.

Brooks continues, "[Calling for a human capital revolution] would mean taking on the populists of the left and right, the ones who imagine the problem is globalization and unfair trade when in fact the real problem is that the talents of American workers are not keeping up with technological change.

"Doing that would also mean stealing ideas from both the left and right. Liberals have spent more time thinking about human capital than conservatives, who have tended to imagine that if you build a free market, a quality labor force would magically appear....

"[We need to lay[] down lifelong policies. Human capital development is like nutrition — you have to do it every day...."

To this end, Brooks suggests specific approaches:

-Address the "poisonous spiral of economic stress" among the lower-middle class. "A new working class tax credit applied against the payroll tax would reduce some of the stress. So would a larger child tax credit and increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit. The federal budget should bestow less on seniors and more on young families."

-Bolster early-childhood education. "There could be nurse-home visits for children in chaotic homes so that they have some authority in their lives. Preschool should be radically expanded and accountability programs put in place."

-"Loosen the grip of the teachers’ unions. Certification rules have to be radically reformed to attract qualified college graduates. Merit pay has to become the norm. Reforming superintendents need the freedom to copy the models — like KIPP Academies — that actually work."

-Encourage national service [perhaps with tuition credits]. "The real reasons [so many students don't complete college] are that students are academically unprepared and emotionally disengaged. National service should be a rite of passage for 20-somethings, and these volunteers could mentor students through high school and college years."

These are ideas we can all live by. In sum, as Brooks suggests, "positive government can help prepare people for the rigors of competition, so they can have an open field and fair chance."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dream - This is George W. Bush's America

So I had this dream last night.

I was at some big out-of-town public event - maybe a concert, maybe an evening art fair; something pretty crowded, with lots of inadvertent jostling, bumping up against people, etc.

The next day as I'm leaving my hotel room I'm approached by a group of 10-12 guys in full military dress (vaguely Latin American, maybe some Central or South American country) with lots of medals hanging from their chests. One guy says, "Were you at this event last night?"

"Yes," I reply.

"Did you know that there was an attack on our soldiers?" he asks. I tell him no, I didn't, and he continues, "Well we think you do."

"No, I really don't," I reassure him, but he doesn't believe me, repeatedly demanding, "What do you know? What do you know?"

"I promise you, I don't know anything," I say more urgently, trying to convey that I truly do not know anything.

"Well we're just going to ask you some questions," he says as his colleagues close around me and start tying me to a chair. I think to myself, "Well I'll be okay - after all I'm an American, and since we treat people with basic decency they have to treat me okay as well."

But as the ropes tighten I remember torture memos, waterboarding, and those awful stories of people (sometimes completely innocent - guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time) kept for years and yes, tortured, by anyone else’s definition, in Guantanamo Bay and secret CIA interrogation camps, and I think to myself, "Oh s**t, my life is over….”

And then I wake up.

If only this were just a dream.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Obama Video - Yes We Can

Call it sentimental, but a welcome change from the cynicism of the Bush and Clinton cabals of the last two decades .... Check it out:

Monday, February 11, 2008

Stay Tuned for the Case of the Century: DC v. Heller

The Second Amendment case scheduled for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court on March 18, District of Columbia v. Heller, is one of the most highly-anticipated Supreme Court cases in many years - and with good reason, for in constitutional terms DC v. Heller is a once-in-a-lifetime (or even a once-in-several-lifetimes) case.

Think of it this way. Every year the Supreme Court decides important cases involving whether the government infringes a particular individual right that the Court has previously recognized as protected under the Constitution, whether it be the 1st amendment right to practice the religion of one’s choice, the 4th amendment right to be free of unreasonable governmental search and seizure, the 5th amendment right not to have property taken by the government without just compensation, the 8th amendment right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment - and so on.

Much less frequently, maybe only once every few decades, the Court decides a case that fundamentally changes how we view a particular constitutional right. For example, in 1954 the Court decided Brown v. Board of Education, which reversed its earlier position, held since before the turn of the twentieth century, that “separate but equal” laws do not violate the 14th amendment’s guarantee of equal treatment. After Brown, then, all so-called “Jim Crow” laws were unconstitutional. Some twenty years later in 1973, the Court decided Roe v. Wade, which found that the “liberty” protected in the 5th and 14th amendment due process clauses is broad enough to include certain “privacy” interests, such as the right of a woman to choose whether to have an abortion free of government prohibition. Roe opened the door to the Court’s acknowledgement of other liberty interests protected under the 5th and 14th amendments, including the right of individual personal autonomy to engage in private consensual sexual conduct free of government interference in the landmark 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas.

While Brown, Roe, and Lawrence are all hugely important in defining the scope of the freedom enjoyed by Americans, even they “only” involved the interpretation of previously-acknowledged constitutional rights – i.e., the right of “equal protection” in Brown, and the right of “liberty” in Roe and Lawrence. DC v. Heller, by contrast, involves a right that most courts throughout American history have held does not even exist. Under this prevailing view, courts have held there is no individual right to keep and bear arms; rather, the Second Amendment protects the right of persons to keep and bear arms only insofar as the State authorizes them to do so in the interest of maintaining a militia.

There just are not many constitutional provisions like the Second Amendment (the Ninth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment privileges or immunities clause being other notable examples), where the very existence of a right suggested in the text of the Constitution goes unacknowledged by the Supreme Court. Accordingly, a case like DC v. Heller comes along extremely rarely – maybe only once every century or more.

What is it in particular about the Second Amendment that makes its meaning so uncertain? After all, the context of the amendment’s placement within a grouping of nine other amendments in a “Bill of Rights” designed to protect individual rights from government interference would seem to suggest that the Second Amendment likewise protects an individual right. The text itself, however, is no model of clarity. By stating, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” the amendment opens itself up to argument on whether it is intended to protect only a collective State right as opposed to an individual right. And as noted, virtually every federal and state court considering the question over the past century has adopted the former perspective - until now.

It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court will decide this question. At the least, its decision to review the DC Circuit Federal Court of Appeals’ conclusion that the Second Amendment protects an individual right will provide a fascinating rare look at history in the making. Whatever its outcome, DC v. Heller is destined to become one of a small handful of household-name Supreme Court cases in the Nation’s history.

Friday, February 1, 2008

MoveOn.Org Members Endorse Obama 70 - 30%

MoveOn.Org Executive Director Eli Pareiser states, in a Feb. 1 2008 e-mail reporting on the results of a poll of MoveOn members favoring Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton 70.4 - 29.6%,

"Something big is clearly happening. A few weeks ago, MoveOn members we
surveyed were split. But with John Edwards bowing out, progressives are
coming together. Obama won over 70% of the vote yesterday, and he's moving
up in polls nationwide. As comments poured in from MoveOn members across
the country, the sense of hope was inspiring. Here's how Christine Y. in
New Jersey put it:

"'I've never felt so strongly about any one candidate in my entire life.
He's truly an inspiration to all of us--especially the younger generation.
I will stand by him 100% for as long as he's willing to stand up and fight
for this country!' ...

"To be clear, we won't always agree with all of Obama's positions. And
MoveOn members said overwhelmingly that, regardless of who wins the
Democratic nomination, we'll work hard to win the White House in 2008.
Whatever happens in the primary, we'll push the Democratic nominee to
campaign progressively and then we'll push them to fulfill their promises
after they win.

"The building of a progressive consensus around Senator Obama is tangible.
Earlier this week, John F. Kennedy's daughter Caroline Kennedy said Obama
is the first presidential candidate to be as inspirational as her father.
Yesterday, progressive magazine The Nation said that electing Obama is "a
chance we can't pass up." And then, the most widely read
progressive blog, announced Obama won 76% in a reader poll this week.

"It's time to get to work electing a president who is inspiring a nation
and is talking about big, progressive change."

A Week in the 2008 Presidential Campaign

As reported in the New York Times:

Monday, Jan. 28 - It's reported that Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy will endorse Barack Obama, spurning Bill Clinton plea.

Monday, Jan. 28 - Neocon columnist William Kristol says he's cancelling dinner plans for Thursday so he can see the debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton:

"Bill Clinton has been playing the race card, and doing so clumsily. But why is he playing any cards? He wasn’t supposed to be in the game. But just as Hillary was supposed to be finding her own voice, Bill decided to barge in, and to do so with a vengeance. This has been no favor to Hillary. ...

"Right now, Hillary Clinton is ahead in the polls in almost all the big states voting. She is a tough and capable campaigner, and she may be able to hold on to those leads. But it is now clear that putting her in the White House brings a hyperactive Bill back in with her. Who needs it? Liberals and Democrats can get basically the same policies without the Clinton baggage, and in choosing Obama, they can nominate a more electable candidate....

"Meanwhile, [in addition to the Kennedy endorsement and a possible Gore endorsement,] Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader during most of the Clinton presidency, is actively supporting Obama. Talk to Democrats in D.C., and it’s amazing how many who know the Clintons well — many of whom worked in the Clinton administration — are eager that they not return to the White House.

"This week, the Clinton team will dump every bit of opposition research it has on Obama. We’ll see how Obama responds.

"But the moment of truth could come at the Democratic debate Thursday, in Los Angeles. Edwards may have dropped out by then. If so, it will be a one-on-one showdown.... Will Obama hold his own? ...

"[T]his could be the week Obama upsets the Clintons."

Tuesday, Jan. 29 - reporting on State of the Union address, front page center photograph shows Hillary reaching across Barack Obama to shake hands with Ted Kennedy while Obama turns away to speak with a Senate colleague.

Tuesday, Jan. 29 - Moderate-conservative columnist David Brooks suggests, "Something fundamental has shifted in the Democratic Party... [when l]ast week there was the widespread revulsion at the Clintons’ toxic attempts to ghettoize Barack Obama. In private and occasionally in public, leading Democrats lost patience with the hyperpartisan style of politics — the distortion of facts, the demonizing of foes, the secret admiration for brass-knuckle brawling and the ever-present assumption that it’s necessary to pollute the public sphere to win. ...

"And then Monday, something equally astonishing happened. A throng of Kennedys came to the Bender Arena at American University in Washington to endorse Obama.... The Kennedys and Obama hit the same contrasts again and again in their speeches: the high road versus the low road; inspiration versus calculation; future versus the past; and most of all, service versus selfishness.

“'With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion,'” Senator Kennedy declared. 'With Barack Obama, there is a new national leader who has given America a different kind of campaign — a campaign not just about himself, but about all of us,' he said.

"The Clintons started this fight, and in his grand and graceful way, Kennedy returned the volley with added speed. ...

"[I]n the speech’s most striking passage, he set Bill Clinton afloat on the receding tide of memory. 'There was another time,' Kennedy said, 'when another young candidate was running for president and challenging America to cross a New Frontier.' But, he continued, another former Democratic president, Harry Truman, said he should have patience. He said he lacked experience. John Kennedy replied: 'The world is changing. The old ways will not do!'

"The audience at American University roared. It was mostly young people, and to them, the Clintons are as old as the Trumans were in 1960. And in the students’ rapture for Kennedy’s message, you began to see the folding over of generations, the service generation of John and Robert Kennedy united with the service generation of the One Campaign. The grandparents and children united against the parents.

"How could the septuagenarian Kennedy cast the younger Clintons into the past? He could do it because he evoked the New Frontier, which again seems fresh. He could do it because he himself has come to live a life of service.

"After his callow youth, Kennedy came to realize that life would not give him the chance to be president. But life did ask him to be a senator, and he has embraced that role and served that institution with more distinction than anyone else now living — as any of his colleagues, Republican or Democrat, will tell you. ...

"Sept. 11th really did leave a residue — an unconsummated desire for sacrifice and service. The old Clintonian style of politics clashes with that desire. ...

"It’s not clear how far this altered public mood will carry Obama in this election. But there was something important and memorable about the way the 75-year-old Kennedy communed and bonded with a rapturous crowd half a century his junior.

Wednesday, Jan. 30 - Commenting on Obama's State of the Union snub of Hillary, Maureen Dowd writes:

"Nobody cared about W., whose presidency had crumpled into a belated concern about earmarks.

"The only union that fascinated was Obama and Hillary, once more creeping around each other.

"It would have been the natural thing for the Illinois senator, only hours after his emotional embrace by the Kennedys and an arena full of deliriously shrieking students, to follow the lead of Uncle Teddy and greet the rebuffed Hillary.

"She was impossible to miss in the sea of dark suits and Supreme Court dark robes. Like Scarlett O’Hara after a public humiliation, Hillary showed up at the gathering wearing a defiant shade of red.

"But the fact that he didn’t do so shows that Obama cannot hide how much the Clintons rattle him, and that he is still taking the race very personally. ...

"Their relations have been frosty and fraught ever since the young Chicago prince challenged Queen Hillary’s royal proclamation that it was her turn to rule.

"Last winter, after news broke that he was thinking of running, he winked at her and took her elbow on the Senate floor to say hi, in his customary languid, friendly way, and she coldly brushed him off.

"It bothered him, and he called a friend to say: You would not believe what just happened with Hillary.

"Again and again at debates, he looked eager to greet her or be friendly during the evening and she iced him. She might have frozen him out once more Monday night had he actually tried to reach out.

"But now Obama is like that cat Mark Twain wrote about who wouldn’t jump on the stove again for fear of being burned.

"It was only after the distortions of the Clintons in South Carolina that he changed his tone and took on Hillary in a tough way in the debate there. Afterward, one of his advisers said that it was as though a dam had broken and Obama finally began using all the sharp lines against Hillary that strategists had been suggesting for months.

"Why had it taken so long for Obama to push back against Hillary? 'He respected her as a senator,' the adviser replied. 'He even defended her privately when she cried, saying that no one knows how hard these campaigns are.' ...

"Obama is the more emotionally delicate candidate, and the one who has the more feminine consensus management style, and the not-blinded-by-testosterone ability to object to a phony war.

"As first lady, Alpha Hillary’s abrasive and secretive management of health care doomed it. She voted to enable W. on Iraq so she could run as someone tough enough to command armies. ...

"Obama is right to be scared of Hillary. He just needs to learn that Uncle Teddy can’t fight all his fights, and that a little chivalry goes a long way."

Thursday, Jan. 31 - Gail Collins writes that "Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been extremely testy toward one another, but so far the rancor at the top has not trickled down. The Democratic voters haven’t seemed angry at all. In fact, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen such a chipper group. Racing to the polls in droves. Not a single reference to holding one’s nose or the lesser of two evils. “I want the Republicans to feel the way I did in 2004,” said Mike Sherzan, an Iowan who was for Edwards in the caucus while his wife was for Clinton and his son was with Obama. (Basically, everybody’s son is with Obama.)

"It would be nice if the two survivors could work a little harder on encouraging that mood. Anger is out. So 2006. So ... Tom DeLay.

"Hillary could start by purging her campaign of the lingering sense that the presidency is her due and anyone who stands in her way is a particularly mean chauvinist. You cannot run a campaign with the slogan: “Vote for Hillary — Think of All She’s Been Through.” ...

"Some of the Democratic resistance to Obama’s magic comes from people who are wary of politicians who want to win their hearts. Every great candidate has golden moments when the campaign merges perfectly into the zeitgeist of the people. But sooner or later it passes, and you’re left with a tired, flawed human being making a pitch to crowds of slightly deflated citizens. One of Hillary’s selling points is that we’re pre-deflated. We’ve known her so well for so long.

"The Obama let-down would be way harder to handle. Earlier this week, his campaign visited Barack’s sort-of ancestral home in El Dorado, Kan., a small town outside Wichita where the community college gym was rocking.

“'An hour-and-a-half wait. It was well worth it,' said Hardy Stegall of nearby Pretty Prairie.

"It was Obama’s first visit. His grandparents, the Dunhams, kept chasing the American dream west until they wound up in Hawaii. Stanley Dunham started out in El Dorado, where he managed a furniture store and, family legend has it, once decked the high school principal. At the rally, Obama told the story of how Stanley married a young woman from the right side of the tracks and how their daughter married a man from Kenya, who left her a young single mother whose son is running for president.

“'Their journey, like so many others, speaks to a simple truth ... the future is what we decide it is going to be,' he said.

“'I never thought he’d come here,' said Stegall, almost beside himself with pleasure.

"And to tell the truth, I never imagined sitting in a gym in small-town Kansas, watching people whoop for a black, Hawaii-born, grandson-of-a-son of the Kansas soil who promised to bring their hometown values with him to the White House.

"We may remember this as a great campaign, people. Presuming they don’t screw it up."

Friday, Feb. 1

The front page story reports, "Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama met for debate [in Los Angeles] Thursday, sitting side by side and sharing a night of smiles, friendly eye-catching and gentle banter. Cordial as the encounter was, the candidates did not mask their own divisions, even as they previewed the attacks one of them will ultimately make against a Republican rival.

"Still, it was almost as if the battle was to see which of them could outnice the other.

"At the end of the nearly two-hour encounter, as the audience of Democrats and Hollywood celebrities rose to its feet at the Kodak Theater, Mr. Obama held Mrs. Clinton’s chair as she rose. The two rivals, almost hugging, held each others’ elbows and whispered in one another’s ear, offering a striking image that captured the tenor of the debate." ...

"[The] tone Thursday night was largely friendly. Each candidate laughed agreeably and nodded at the other’s remarks, and they praised each other at different points and looked ahead to the battle with the other party.

“'They are more of the same,' Mrs. Clinton said of the Republican candidates. 'Neither of us, by looking at us, is more of the same — we will change our country.'

What's going on here? There's something in the air - maybe they won't screw it up.

Stay tuned for Super Tuesday.