Another Falling Rock Star

The shows are less frequent now, the crowds are smaller and they’re leaving early to beat the traffic, and President Barack Obama seems to have reached that inevitable stage of decline in every rock star’s career. There’s no evidence of drug binging or dressing room demolitions or any of the other “Behind the Music” cliches, but there is obviously the usual denial.
With his party expected to take another shellacking in next Tuesday’s mid-term elections, and the formerly adoring press already laying the blame on his sagging poll numbers, Obama is reportedly infuriated with the Democratic candidates who have been trying to distance themselves from his record. Yet another one of those unnamed White House officials told The Washington Post that Obama “doesn’t think they have any reason to run away from him, he thinks there’s a strong message there,” and given the president’s actions the quote is all to believable. Obama gave the Republicans a sound bite for countless attack ads when he declared that “I”m not on the ballot, but make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot,” has done little to hide his intentions to write executive orders that would grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and impose other unpopular policies just after the elections, has resisted popular outcry for a ban on travel from Ebola-stricken countries, and otherwise has acted with little regard for the electoral fortunes of his fellow Democrats. He seems to believe that it’s still ’08, when he had more fainting fans than Elvis in ’56 or The Beatles in ’64 or Michael Jackson during the “Thriller” heyday, which is common to faded rock stars insulated by the last of the die-hard groupies.
Such hubris will eventually prove troublesome, as it always does. A Republican Senate to go along with a Republican House will make the political equivalent of a ’68 comeback special all the more difficult, even if it does provide Obama with something to rail about to the delight of the last remaining fans, and nothing in the president’s repertoire suggests that he’s capable or learning any new tunes palatable to a changing audience. The noble fight he’ll no doubt wage against those evil Republicans will please what’s left of the fan base, but not with the majority of Americans who elected his congressional antagonists. The man who once stood between faux Greek columns provided by Madonna’s stage designer and wowed a packed house with promises to fundamentally transform America and heal the planet and slow the rise the oceans will have to settle for the stimulus and Obamacare and a few million more restive and resented illegal aliens as his legacy, and none of it will ever be regarded as golden oldie.
The royalty checks will still arrive and there will be a lucrative gate at the nostalgia tours as well as the corporate speeches, however, and our long experience of passé rock stars suggests that will be enough to sate the president’s ego. One can only hope that the public will be wised up that next time it elects an experienced politician with a practical understanding of economics and statecraft rather than a rock star to be president, and short of that it will at least elect someone more in the Roy Orbison or Chuck Berry mode, but our long experience of America’s popular culture suggests it’s only a faint hope.

– Bud Norman

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Foul Language and Fouler Policies

The vulgar language an unnamed senior White House official used to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is getting all the attention, but The Atlantic Monthly story headlined “The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations is Officially Here” is full of far more disturbing revelations. Even a crisis in America’s relationship with its most important Middle East ally might not be the worst of it.
Not that the vulgarity isn’t worth noting. The unnamed senior White House official used a barnyard epithet commonly understood to mean coward, which is a most peculiar slander against a former special forces soldier who fought with distinction in two wars and a series of daring missions and as Prime Minister has led his country through existential wars, and odder yet coming from an official speaking on behalf of a former community organizer who will never be mistaken for Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and has long made clear that he considers Netanyahu all too inclined to fight. Senior White House officials astute enough to remain unnamed are not likely to have let such a phrase slip out accidentally, so one can only assume that the insult was carefully chosen.
What renders the insult completely absurd, however, is that the official was accusing Netanyahu of cowardice for failing to launch a war against Iran that the United States government has exerted great effort to prevent. The unnamed senior White House official even boasts that Israel’s failure to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons program “was a combination of our pressure and (Netanyahu’s) own unwillingness to do anything dramatic.” So the administration will deliberately insult a key ally as a coward for not doing something they had pressured him not to do, a mindset far more worrisome than the juvenile language used to express it. Netanyahu is also faulted for failing to “reach an accommodation with the Palestinians and Sunni Arab states,” as if a Palestinian government that lobs rockets at Israeli civilians and proudly proclaims its desire to destroy the Jewish state has any interest in making peace, and as if the Sunni Arab states aren’t currently more worried about the nuclear program in Shiite and Persian Iran that the United States has restrained Israel from destroying, so there’s no mistaking that America is pursuing a Middle Eastern policy based on false assumptions.
The historically crucial relationship between Israel and the United States can be repaired by a new administration in this country, and Netanyahu has proved himself brave enough to continue the defense of his country no matter what unnamed senior White House officials might think of it, but the article hints at possibilities that will be harder for future presidents to deal with. Written by a noted sycophant for the White House and clearly intended to convey its sneering contempt for a key ally, the article credits the administration’s cunning use of an Israeli for “what turned out to be an effective sanctions regime,” but it fails to mention that the sanctions have been weakened and the nuclear program continues and doesn’t seem to notice that unnamed senior White House official seems mostly relieved that it’s “Now too late” for a military strike that would end it. That pressure that the official boasts about was achieved largely with promises that America will never allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon, but at this point even a sycophantic article in The Atlantic Monthly leaves an unmistakeable impression that was just another promise never intended to be kept. No one named or unnamed in the administration speaks as harshly of Iran’s brutal theocratic rulers as they do about the leader of the one humane and democratic nation in the region, the White House has kept its “open hand” policy intact despite the worries it causes those Sunni Arab nations that Israel is expected to accommodate, further overtures to the Iranians have been made in the futile hope they will help in our desultory efforts to fight the Islamic State terror gang that continues to gain territory in Iraq, and an Iranian bomb now seems a fait accompli.
Senior White House officials can be expected to deliver on-the-record speeches about containment and moral equivalence and deterrence and other reasons not to be worried about a nuclear bomb in the hands of a government that routinely shouts “Death to America,” but we will not be reassured. Cold War analogies are always suspect coming from a party that advised surrender in that conflict starting with the McGovern campaign and continues to decrease America’s nuclear defenses, and the mutually assured destruction that worked with an officially atheist communist government might not work out as well with an apocalyptic suicide cult hoping to bring about the arrival of the twelfth mahdi and the prophesied end times. Those Sunni Arab states that the administration wants the Israelis to appease will probably seek their accommodations with Pakistan-provided nuclear weapons of their own when their mortal enemy acquires one, especially when it has been made so clear that America’s protection cannot be counted on, and a nuclear arms race in a region so riven with ancient hatreds and fanaticism is unlikely to end well. At that point, even the most vulgar language will be required to describe the outcome.

– Bud Norman

Segregated Media and Segregated Politics

Imagine our surprise when Pat Boone called us on the telephone Tuesday afternoon. We immediately recognized the famously mellifluous voice, but to avoid any possible confusion with some other Pat Boone he identified himself as “that ‘Love Letters in the Sand’ guy,” so we’re sure he was the real deal. It was only a pre-recorded and robo-dialed pitch on behalf of Republican Sen. Pat Roberts’ re-election campaign here in Kansas, so we didn’t get a chance to chat, but we appreciated the call.
The message stressed Roberts’ record on issues of importance to senior citizens, an important voting bloc and the only one likely to have heard of the octogenarian crooner, so we wondered if we’d been selected for the call because we’re presumed to be part of that demographic. In this high-tech age of marketing techniques political advertisements are tailored to appeal to very specific audiences, and we’d be slightly offended if the Roberts campaign has prematurely put on us on the senior phone list. We’re no spring chickens, and plenty old enough to use such an antiquated cliche, but we’re still young enough to prefer Little Richard’s raucous original rendition of “Tutti Frutti” to Boone’s more sedate cover version and aren’t yet benefitting from any of the federal largesse to oldsters that Roberts has apparently been protecting.
Those high-tech marketing techniques are well suited to the modern media landscape, which has been fragmented into a multitude of segregated niches. For years we have noticed the different political ads that run on the country stations, which have a good ol’ boy-sounding narrator touting some Republican or another’s staunch support for Second Amendment rights, and on the rap stations, where an Ebonics-speaking narrator warns that the Republicans are itching to gun down innocent black youths on the streets and can only be restrained by some Democrat or another, and now that there a gazillion or so cable television serving small slices of the public you’ll find the same method being applied there. If you log on to certain web sites you’ll likely be hit with certain sorts of advertisements, and on distinctly different web sites you’ll see a distinctly message. Sports magazines with a mostly male readership and fashion magazines with a mostly female readership consistently show similarly different political advertisements even when they’re touting the same candidate. If you’ve ever signed a petition opposing abortion your mailbox is probably full of fliers praising some Republican’s pro-life position, and if you inked an abortion rights petition it will be all about some Democrat’s enthusiasm for the procedure. We’re too old for texting and “tweeting” and the rest of the newfangled social media, but we presume that they are also being exploited with the same scientific specificity.
Mass buying occasionally pops a Democratic advertisement up on the Republican web sites we prefer, youthful hipsters such as ourselves get the occasional call from Pat Boone, and the inevitable ineptitude of political campaigns will also make the methods imperfect from time to time. An old school chum of ours is running for the state House of Representatives in our district and has an add running on the local right-wing talk radio station warning that his Republican opponent is intent on cutting taxes and state spending, and although we don’t support his candidacy we still like the fellow enough that we’re tempted to tell him his charges probably aren’t going to scare the typical Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity listener as intended. Somehow we have wound up on the mailing list of a local abortion rights group calling itself “Trust Women,” and the return address on their frequent envelopes always gives us a slight chuckle when we think back on a romantic history that has taught us to be just a bit wary of the fairer sex. For the most part, though, our politics are now played out in specific markets with a specific message.
None of which is conducive to a unified America. Rather than explaining what a candidate can do for middle-aged lesbian Latinas or gun-owning white twenty-somethings or cross-dressing tax protestors or whatever other group that might be watching a certain cable reality show or visiting a particular web site or signing some weird petition or another to chat up the comely young woman with the clipboard, a campaign should be making a case for what he can do for the country at large. The identity group politics that the modern marketing techniques seek to exploit, offering this or that preference or subsidy at the expense of that other hated group, are the cause of much of the country’s current and considerable troubles. The solution will require sacrifices from everyone, and needs to be explained in terms that can be crammed into a 30 second spot that could have run on the old Ed Sullivan Show back when everyone in the country was tuned in. That was back in the Pat Boone days, though, and we’re probably just pining for the old days like old men.

– Bud Norman

The Divided States of America

Once upon a time a little-known state senator from Illinois gave a speech to the Democratic National Convention and wowed the delegates with a speech that famously declared “There’s not a black America and a white America and a Latino America and an Asian America, there’s the United States of America.” So stirring was his unifying rhetoric that the obscure state senator was elected President of the United States just four years later, and six years into his presidency the country seems more racially divided than at in any time in recent memory.
Take a close look at the polls around the country and you’ll quickly notice the glaring racial gaps. There’s a tight Senate race in Georgia partly because the Democrat is heiress to a political dynasty dating back to the days when that state was among her segregationist party’s solid south but mostly because she now somehow has the support of 84 percent of black voters to bolster her meager 23 percent support among whites. Another close race in North Carolina has the Democrat running neck-to-neck because she’s adding 87 percent of the black voters to her 30 percent share of the white vote. In Arkansas the Democrat is running behind with only 77 percent of the black vote added to the usual 30 percent of the white vote. The Democrat in Louisiana is behind her race because a mere 65 percent of the black vote is insufficient to make up here 20 percent support among whites. In California the incumbent Democratic governor is currently losing a majority of the white vote, but seems destined to roll to re-election on the basis of strong support from black and Latino voters. The same racial and ethnic disparities are apparent in states and districts where the minority vote is less consequential to the outcome of the elections, but even there the implications for racial comity between groups with such distinctly different preferences about how to be governed are not at all encouraging.
Various explanation for this racial divide have been offered, and one can choose among them according to his ideological preference. Democrats will insist that the federal government has not only been the guarantor of minority civil rights but also their political and economic benefactor, and that a minority of whites bravely willing to relinquish their historically privileged position provides the democratic majority needed to continues that government’s relentless expansion. Republicans will argue that the relentless expansion of government threatens individual liberty and the economic and cultural dynamism it creates, and when the vast majority of minority inevitably reject this arguments the few racists remaining among the conservatives will claim vindication for their belief that only white men are equal to the harsh demands of liberty. No matter the outcome of those close races, race relations will be further strained.
In the past several election cycles the Democrats have also benefited from a “gender gap” that saw the Republicans’ significant advantage among male voters overwhelmed by an ever more significant disadvantage among women voters, but those nagging poll numbers suggest that this time around the Republicans are still winning with men and have recently gained parity or even a small edge with women. The always implausible claim that Republicans are waging a “war on women” provoked laughter from the audience at a recent upstate New York congressional debate and have led Colorado’s Democratic Senate nominee Mark Udall to be widely known as “Mark Uterus,” and pre-feminist levels of female participation in the workforce workforce and other unsettling economic facts have caused many women to question the Democratic party’s solutions to their problems and consider the possibility that both sexes have an equal stake in increasing economic opportunities through free market solutions, so the Democrats have resorted to ever more incendiary methods to increase their racial advantage. In key states where the minority vote can be decisive the Democrats are raising the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, despite the evidence widely reported by usually supportive press outlets that the policeman acted in self-denfese, and Republican efforts to prevent voter fraud with photo identification requirements and other common-sense reforms are offered as further proof of the Republican party’s racism. These efforts are also likely to exacerbate America’s racial tensions, but staving off an expected Republican landslide in next weeks mid-term election is apparently a higher priority than unifying rhetoric.
This  stark disagreement between the races about how America should be governed won’t end with the mid-terms, and will probably be worsened. Republican majorities in the Senate and House will be all the more resistant to the policies that are proposed as righteous retribution to the country’s racial minorities, congressional Democrats who survive the white backlash will be emboldened to make more explicitly racialist appeals to non-white voters, and the free-market and free-individual reforms that would benefit everyone be more unlikely to happen.
The next presidential election will afford an opportunity for the Republicans to make their limited government appeals to groups that have disproportionately benefited from the relentless expansion of government, and we hope they’ll take full advantage. The pitch won’t alienate many whites, and we’re hopeful it will appeal to the self-reliant and freedom-loving non-white people that we resolutely believe are out there. Sooner or later the Democrats’ uneasy coalition of blacks and Latinos will begin squabbling over their unavoidable economic and political competitions, women will realize their fortunes are tied to the same economic conditions that affect men, and a policy of neutrality rather than preference will prove the only viable option. In the past several election cycles there has been a spate of stories about how the Republicans’ need to reach out women and racial minorities to remain competitive, but if the conventional wisdom holds up a week from now there will be stories about how the Democrats need to address their problem with white men, and to the event that limited government and increased individual liberty are a white male thing that will be good.

– Bud Norman

Trickle Down Revisionism

That was a humdinger of a speech that Hillary Clinton delivered last week, packing more nonsense into a 30-second sound bite than most politicians can manage in an hour-long oration. Speaking at a rally on behalf of Massachusetts’ Democratic gubernatorial nominee Martha Cloakley, which is outrageous enough by itself, Clinton warned an adoring audience “Don’t let anybody tell that, uh, you know, it’s corporations and businesses create jobs,” and added “You know that old theory, ‘trickle down economics,’ that has been tried, that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly.”
Hearing such astounding ignorance from a woman widely presumed to be the next president of the United States was alarming enough, and the roar of the crowd was downright dispiriting. Given that it was a Democratic gathering in Massachusetts it is possible than a smaller-than-usual proportion of the crowd held jobs created by corporations and businesses, but even in that bastion of liberalism any crowd anyone anyone who was around in the ’80s should know better than to cheer that tired old trope about the failure of “trickle down economics.” For those too young to have experienced that halcyon age, “trickle down economics” was the derisive nickname that the left attached to President Ronald Reagan’s policies of aggressive tax-cutting and de-regulation and generally getting out of the economy’s way. Instituted after too many desultory years of “stagflation” the policies reduced a runaway inflation rate to a near-optimal level and then set off a record-setting run of economic expansion that lowered the the unemployment while increasing the labor participation rate, boosted median household income, brought down the poverty rate, launched revolutions in consumer electronics and telecommunications and other crucial industries, doubled federal revenues and financed a defense build-up that brought the Cold War to a victorious conclusion, and was agreeable enough to the American that Reagan won 49 states in his re-election bid and saw his vice president elevated to the top job four years later. It is true that there were deficits, although the numbers seem quaint by today’s red-ink-soaked standards, and there were all those videos bands with big hair and skinny ties, but it’s hard to see this record as a disaster. All true-believing liberals of the time regarded this as a spectacular failure, however, and have stuck to the story ever since.
Oddly enough, they’ve had considerable success in this effort. “Trickle-down economics” has long been a pejorative, to the point that its adherents insist on “supply side economics” or even “Reaganomics” to avoid the connotations, and by now most people have developed a clear recollection of its spectacular failure. We recall a a fellow patron at a local tavern who was still cursing “trickle down economics” as a failure, and when we recited all the same indices recounted above he said “Yeah? Well, I didn’t get rich,” and a similarly subjective understanding of economic history has given his self-serving theory wide currency. A large portion of the electorate is too young to recall the fall in the inflation rate and the rise is gross domestic product and the rest of what happened in the trickle-down days, and they’ve all been educated by public school teachers who also didn’t get rich in the ’80s, and by now any candidate promoting lower taxes and less regulation and getting out of the economy’s way will surely be be tarred with the slur of “trickle-down economics.”

Mark Twain would probably be sick of hearing it repeated by now, but he famously remarked that “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so,” and the mis-remembering of “trickle down economics” is an excellent example of the aphorism. There aren’t plenty of them, from the do-nothing policies of Herbert Hoover and how the New Deal ended the Depression to the military defeat America suffered in the Tet Offensive to the black teenagers gunned down on the streets by white racists freed by an uncaring justice system, but the nonsense about “trickle down” economics is especially troublesome. A public gullible enough to believe it is likely to also believe the upcoming narrative about the spectacular success of Obamanomics, and to elect a woman who doesn’t believe that corporations and business create jobs.

– Bud Norman

Race and the Mid-Term Races

The neighborhood is littered with yard signs, the mailbox is stuffed with fliers, the phone is constantly ringing with robo-calls, and there’s no escaping the negative advertisements on the radio and television airwaves. There’s no surer sign that election season is in full swing, though, than the biennial recurrence of racial controversies.
Even the most polite political observers no longer bother to deny that the Democratic party’s electoral fortunes rest largely on turning out large numbers of black voters, and that it routinely stokes racial resentments in order to do so. In the upcoming mid-term elections that task is more difficult than usual, without any black candidates at the top of ballot and the average black voter faring poorly under the current Democratic administration, so this year the party’s efforts have been unusually brazen. The tactics might succeed in dragging a few more black voters to the polls, but we expect they also run a risk of alienating the rest of the electorate.
Nothing seems to motivate black voters more than the idea that Republicans don’t want them to, and once again that reliable trope is being trotted out. This year’s variation on the theme is that photo identification requirements and other common sense rules limiting voting to eligible citizens are just the updated version of poll taxes and literary tests, and while the Democrats are waiting for the courts to rule in favor of massive voting fraud the Democrats are proudly touting their brave defense of the franchise of blacks and deceased Americans of all races. The stance is less likely to appeal to the vast majority of Americans who support such measures, however, and the Democrats’ arguments might prove offensive to those blacks who bother to listen. The Department of Justice introduced an “expert witness” to a North Carolina court considering that state’s voter identification law who calmly explained that the requirement in inordinately onerous to black citizens because they tend to be “less sophisticated,” “less educated,” and “less attuned to public affairs” than other Americans. This has been the apparent logic of the Democrats’ arguments all along, and such patronizing condescension seems to inform almost every Demcoratic position on matters of race, but hearing it so explicitly stated under oath isn’t likely to do much for the get-out-the-vote effort with anyone sufficiently sophisticated and educated and attuned to public affairs to have heard about it.
The Democrats also had great hopes for exploiting the past summer’s hooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, which led to weeks of protests and riots and looting and media frenzy. In Georgia, where the Democrats are hotly contesting a Senate race, black communities have been inundated with advertisements warning that a Republican victory would lead to countless more cases of trigger-happy racist cops gunning down innocent youths as they kneel in the streets with their hands up. Aside from the pertinent facts that the shooting occurred in a Democrat-controlled city and state, and no Republican we’re aware of is running on a platform of gunning down innocent black teenagers, the ploy has also been weakened by recent revelations in such not-all-right-wing publications as The New York Times and The Washington Post that all the forensic evidence and at least seven black eyewitnesses have corroborated the officer’s story of self-defense. None of this is likely to satisfy the lynch mob that has gathered around the country, but the vast majority of Americans who are uncomfortable with lynch mobs will not be impressed to see the Democratic handing out the pitchforks and torches.
Another race card being played is black America’s predictable loyalty to the first black president, complete with claims that a Senate controlled by Republicans would quickly oust him from office. Only the least sophisticated and uneducated voters who are not attuned to public affairs don’t realize that the Republicans have no chance of gaining the 60 seats needed to convict in an impeachment trial, and that the timid Republican leadership in the House of Representatives would never bring the charges without that magic number, so of course the Democrats consider this a winning argument. The president has also made the argument that although he’s not on the ballot his policies are, a line that almost every Democratic candidate and even the press and the president’s past advisors have regretted. By now the president is far more popular than his policies among blacks, and the rest of the country doesn’t seem to like either the man or his plans. Here in Kansas, where the black vote is rarely decisive, almost all of the Republicans have been endlessly re-running the president’s remarks to bolster their non-block turnout.
In states where the black vote is more numerically significant the Democrats’ strategy will probably provide some help, and elsewhere it’s not likely to them do much harm, but it’s hard to see how it’s going to improve the nation’s race relations. Facilitating voter fraud, fomenting lynch mobs, and supporting failed policies as a matter of racial solidarity will not win black Americans greater respect, and it won’t solve any of the daunting problems that disproportionately affect their community. The Democrats clearly believe that black voters aren’t educated or sophisticated or attuned enough to public to see through their cynical ploys, and will now even express this opinion under oath, but real progress will be measured how far this fails.

– Bud Norman

The Battle Spreads

As we write this the details of the Wednesday morning attack on Canada’s Parliament are still frustratingly few, but enough reliable information has emerged to conclude it was intended as yet another skirmish in the war that’s been waged against the west over the past 1,400 years or so by the more enthusiastic adherents of the Religion of Peace.
The gunman who murdered a guard at a national war monument and then fired off several rounds in the nearby Parliament building before being shot down has been identified as Michael Zehauf-Bibeau, who had been known as Michael Joseph Hall until his recent conversion to Islam, and with an admirable forthrightness that Americans can now only envy the government has declared it an act of terrorism. The attack came the same day that a three-month-old Israeli girl was killed by a Hamas terrorist who crashed a car into a crowded Jerusalem rail station and wounded eight others, two days after another recent convert to Islam crashed a car into two soldiers and killed one in a strip mall near Montreal, less than a month after yet another recent convert to Islam beheaded a former co-worker at a food distribution in plant in Moore, Oklahoma, all while the Islamic State terror gang continues its bloody conquest of more and more of the mideast and its supporters take the fight to the streets of Hamburg, Germany, and other European cities, and by now even the most exceedingly sensitive press are obliged to acknowledge an Islamic angle to these events.
This hasn’t prevented the most hackneyed cultural relativism and moral equivalence and anti-western self-loathing and cries of racism other apologia from being “tweeted” across the internet, and the gun control advocates are making their usual efforts to exploit the tragedy despite having held up Canada as an exemplar of sensible regulation for as long as we can remember, and in disregard of the satisfying fact that further bloodshed was prevented by a very rare armed Canadian, but an attack on the seat of government of a democratic North American nation requires more than the usual exertions. Such a culturally sensitive newspaper as The New York Times conceded that the attack “heightened fears that Canada, a strong ally of the United States in its campaign against the Islamic State militant group convulsing the Middle East, had been targeted in a reprisal, either as part of an organized plot or a lone-wolf assault by a radicalized Canadian,” and that inevitably heightens a fear that they won’t target a United States that lately doesn’t seem so strong. The Islamic State terror gang that has been beheading and other brutalizing those who don’t share their specific religious beliefs in Iraq and Syria are calling on their ideological brethren around the world to commit similar violence against the infidels, people from Hamburg to Ottawa to Moore are acting accordingly, and America its allies are no more immune to Islamist terrorism than they are the Ebola virus.
By this late paragraph we are once again obligated to acknowledge the vast of majority of Muslims who have no intention of running a car into you or shooting up your nation’s capitol or chopping your head off, and to wish them well in whatever efforts they are making to pacify the more enthusiastic of their co-religionists, but that troublesome minority among them will require stern measures. Canada is at a higher level of security, we are hopeful that our own government is acting with a bit more more nervous energy, even the Germans seem properly appalled at the Middle East’s battles being fought on their streets, and throughout much of the western there seems to be a necessary stiffening of the cultural spine. The Canadian Foreign Minister “tweeted” to Secretary of State of John Kerry that his his country’s resolve to fight the Islamic State would not be weakened, one can only hope that Kerry will be shamed into a similar resoluteness. In Israel and Germany public opinion has rallied against the terrorists, Canadians do not seem to be responding to their wounds with any sense of guilt for standing against the most brutal excesses of Islamism, and our sense is that the American electorate will not support a policy of appeasement in the upcoming election.

– Bud Norman

Of Sleeping Dogs and WMD

The late Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction are back in the news, and they’re proving an embarrassment to both sides of the debate about the Iraq War.
Readers of a certain age will recall that the WMD, as they were popularly known, were one of 23 casus belli cited in the congressional resolution authorizing the war in Iraq but the only one that anyone seemed to notice. When the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq failed to provide the press with large stockpiles of newly-made WMD to photograph the critics of the war started chanting “Bush lied, thousands died” and public opinion began to turn against the effort. President George W. Bush had always taken care to truthfully state only that our intelligence agencies and those of several of our allies had suggested a high probability of a WMD program, even someone so reputedly stupid would have been unlikely to launch a war on a basis he knew would be disproved, the lack of proof of the WMD did not prove their non-existence, there were sporadic reports of the chemical weapons that Hussein had indisputably used against in the past and credible theories that the weapons had been shipped to Syria during the debates in congress and the United Nations, several Democrats including both Senators who wound up serving as President Obama’s Secretaries of State also found the intelligence reports dating back to the Clinton administration credible, and there were still those other 22 writs that had been widely ignored, but such arguments neither fit on a bumper sticker nor rhymed and were not enough to persuade a war-weary public.
The missing WMD and that “Bush lied, thousands died” line became such cherished beliefs of the establishment media and the rest of the left that it was noteworthy that such a established paper as The New York reported last week that “American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells, or aviation bombs … ” The report was quick to add that the weapons were “remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West,” and “the discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale,” but that didn’t stop the war’s supporters from claiming long-awaited vindication. The Times spends most of its article explaining the toll those weapons have taken on American soldiers, and it is hard to reconcile that with its claims that they posed no threat to civilians. If taken at face value the facts laid out in the story also show that Hussein was not in compliance with his treaty obligations regarding weapons of mass destruction, and suggest that he retained his old willingness to use anything at hand against his enemies. As much as they hate to cite The New York Times as a source, the war hawks have found a weapon there to use against the “Bush lied” calumny.
Which raises the infuriating question of why the Bush administration didn’t avail itself of the evidence to defend its arduous efforts in Iraq while public opinion was turning against the war. Conservative suspicions naturally turn to political adviser Karl Rove, who has long been a leading figure in the demonology of the left and has lately assumed the same role for the right, and over at The Daily Beat the usually reliable reporter Eli Lake provides quotes from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and some unnamed “insiders” to bolster the case. Rove reportedly felt that that the public had already concluded no significant WMD were in Iraq, t and by 2005 was telling Santorum to “Let these sleeping dogs lie; we have lost that fight so better not to remind anyone of it.” The strategy was not without some merit, given that that the shrillness of the opposition was likely to drown out any claims of WMD and a hostile press was not going to offer any help, but given the continued decline in support for the war and the drubbings that the Republicans took in the ’06 and ’08 elections it doesn’t look good in retrospect. The Lake article has provided the more strident right-wing talk radio hosts with material for further rants against Rove, and in this case he seems to deserve it.
Rove wasn’t the president, though, and the ultimate responsibility for the decision rests with his boss. Perhaps he had his own reasons for declining to publicize the discovery of the WMD, and perhaps they had to do with military considerations that he considered more important than his own political standing, but we’ll have to await some long-off history book to learn what those reasons might be. Those history books will likely be full of facts that will change the public’s understanding of the war, and they’ll surely record that “Bush lied” and “blood for oil” and all the other bumper sticker slogans proved false, and they might just conclude that Bush’s invasion was a bad idea and Obama’s premature an even worse one, but until then no will get to enjoy any vindication.

– Bud Norman

Taking the World Series-ly

The World Series commences today, and folks around these parts are enthused because the locally beloved Kansas City Royals have ridden an improbable hot streak into the fall classic, and almost every sports fan outside the rooting area of the opposing San Francisco Giants seems favorably inclined toward the plucky under-paid underdogs from the relatively small midwestern market, but it’s not like the old days. Perhaps it’s just the difference in perspective of a wide-eyed youth and a wizened old man, but nothing in sports or aught else seems like the old days.
For a long period of time that began many decades before our birth and stretched into our childhood, the World Series was by far the most important event on the American sports calendar. One of the rare advantages of attending a mediocre elementary school in the ’60s was getting an autumn afternoon off to watch the daylight games on a fuzzy black-and-white television that had been wheeled into the classroom to placate the boys, whose boyish tendencies were still indulged by the country’s public education systems. An eerily similar example of the World Series’ former cultural significance can be found in Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” in which the denizens of a snake pit mental hospital were willing to endure all the drugged indignities of a cruel nurse but finally rebelled when she forbade them to watch the games. There was a time, you youngsters should know, when any man or boy who wasn’t enrapt by the World Series would have his red-blooded Americanness questioned.
Since then there have been labor strikes and steroids and assorted other scandals, and the salaries have skyrocketed and the ratings for the night games lasting well past a boy’s bedtime have plummeted, and the World Series is now just the biggest event of the week on a calendar that constantly offers up some heavily hyped sports event or another. The National Football League’s single-game Super Bowl is now the biggest deal of the year, to the point that even the gazillion dollar commercials are scrutinized to a greater extent than Democratic presidential nominees, and only the old-timers can recall when it was a little-watched exhibition game against an upstart league in the aftermath of the all important NFL championship game, and the half-time entertainment was a college marching band and a guy flying around the stadium in one of those James Bond jet packs. Even when the locally beloved Kansas City Chiefs won it all in one of the Super Bowls that was so early you could understand the Roman numerals the kids on our block all left at half-time to have our own contest in a nearby cow pasture.
Those neighborhood football games were rough and tumble affairs, conducted without pads or helmets or agents, and particularly rough on such undersized but game sorts as ourselves. The basketball games that took place on the driveway, whether one-on-one or two-on-two or three-on-three or the free-for-all variation we called “21,” were just as bruising and as likely to knock to the wind out of you. Baseball usually involved some adult supervision, but the gloriously free sandlot contests also involved a violent degree of contact. The most popular pastimes of our boyhoods would probably get an entire neighborhood of parents arrested for child endangerment these days, yet another reason for nostalgia, but even such exhilaratingly dangerous physicality would have never kept a neighborhood kid from watching the very best of the big kids duke it out in a World Series.
The constant saturation of sports on cable television and the networks and the social media and your local tavern and the average guy’s casual clothing have somehow diminished its significance, a development that some part of our culturally conservative nature welcomes, but we can’t help lamenting that in sports our aught else in our culture there’s no longer the same society-wide appreciation of how well the best of the big kids are playing the games. This year’s Kansas City Royals only won 89 games and snuck into the play-offs via that one-game system we have derided as sports socialism, which provided the nail-biting local interest in the last days of the season which the cynical ploy intended, but since then they’ve been playing with an undefeated and record-setting and Hollywood-scripted extra-innings excellence which commands respect in any human endeavor.
Our favorite baseball team is the Wichita Wingnuts, which has already wrapped up a double-A American Association championship after compiling a remarkable-at-any-level .730 winning percentage in the regular season, and our second favorite is the New York Yankees, which finished out of the socialistically expanded plays-offs despite its usual heavy payroll, but we’ve always had a certain fondness for the Royals. We’re old enough to remember that long ago time when George Brett and Frank White and Bret Saberhagen and Willie Willson and Hal McCrae and Dan Quisenberry gave our beloved Yankees heck in the reasonably two-tiered playoffs of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and the town was kind enough to us during our stint as obituary writers for the Kansas City Star that we wish it well, so we’ll be tuned in and hoping for a Royals victory. They’re playing the 89-win but suddenly hot San Francisco Giants, too, so any sort of conservative’s choice should be clear.

– Bud Norman

Roving Off the Reservation

Although we like to think ourselves rock-ribbed Republicans in the conservative tradition of Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Calvin Coolidge, we can’t quite work up the requisite red-hot hatred of Karl Rove.
Perhaps it’s just a habit ingrained during the George W. Bush years, when all the liberals tried to reconcile their contradictory beliefs that Bush was a drooling moron and his administration a brilliantly elaborate right-wing conspiracy by casting Rove as the evil genius behind it all, but the notion that Rove is now the evil genius thwarting an otherwise inevitable right-wing revolution seems implausible. The Bush years were by no means a conservative heyday, what with all that deficit spending and governmental growth and unfettered illegal immigration and the rest  of its many heresies from the right-wing religion, but given that the alternatives were Al Gore and John Kerry we retain a begrudging gratitude for Rove’s political machinations. In the unhappy aftermath of the Bush administration Rove has earned the further enmity of the true believers by backing some “establishment” Republicans over the more true-blue “tea party” challengers in Republican primaries, which is indeed annoying, but we’re still willing to assume that he did so only for fear that the upstart would lose to a even more noxious Democrat. Such pragmatism is now offensive to the many of our ideological brethren, however, and the more rigid right-wing talk radio hosts and their avid fans would have Rove banished from the party.
Ordinarily we give little thought to Rove, who seems to be shrewdly sitting out the current election cycle, but his bi-partisan pariah status came to mind when reading another excellent column by Kevin Williamson in the National Review. Williamson is lately one of our favorite writers, and The National Review has been the definitive conservative publication since before we could read, so it was interesting to see them offer even a qualified defense of Rove. Even more interesting were the voluminous comments, which were almost unanimous in their outrage. The National Review’s long tenure is enough to confer it establishment status, no matter how resolute it remains in espousing conservative causes, but its readership apparently is in no mood to forgive any deviation from the rightward path.
Which is fine by us, but the vehemence of the commenters makes us worried about the Republicans’ chances of fending off the Democrats. Most of the dissenters seem to regard anything less than the conservative ideal as unacceptable, even when it’s the only option left on the ballot other than a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and would apparently prefer letting a Democrat win rather than voting for a impure Republican. Their theory seems to be that conservatives enjoy an overwhelming majority of even in San Francisco and Boston and Honolulu, and that far-left candidates prevail there only because the Republicans are too timid to offer up a sufficiently right-wing candidate, but we can’t shake a suspicion that a more squishy centrist sort of candidate might fare better in these jurisdictions and would at least be more preferable.
This tendency can be problematic even here in such a reliably Republican state as Kansas, where Sen. Pat Roberts finds himself in a hotly contested race against a Democrat posing as an independent because much of the Republican electorate is tempted to sit out the election in protest of Roberts’ occasional deviations from the conservative line. Roberts has an 86 percent lifetime rating by the American Conservative Union and scores much higher in the past six years of a Democratic administration, but that 14 percent of deviation might well hand the race to a far more liberal candidate if Kansas conservatives can’t bring themselves to vote for a less than perfect Republican over a far more imperfect challenger. The race might well determine which party controls the Senate and has drawn enough national attention that the right-wing talk radio hosts are covering it, with the more fervent among them touting Roberts in the most half-hearted way and with a constant admonition that the state should have nominated the scandal-tinged but more robust primary challenger, and at the risk of sounding like Rockefeller Republicans we’d like to see a more pragmatically enthusiastic endorsement.
It’s a hoary cliche that politics is the art of the possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Given the popular culture’s leftward tilt and the near-majority of Americans reliant on government largesse and lockstep uniformity of the Democratic party it is wishful thinking to believe that an electoral majority is just a matter of nominating the most conservative possible candidates, and for all our disagreements with Karl Rove we can’t blame him for seeking a least-worst middle ground. We’d prefer to enlist his formidable help in fending off the craziness of the Democrats, and then to deal with his kind.

– Bud Norman


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