The Exponential Complexities of the Middle East

A Russian fighter jet was shot down Tuesday over Syrian air space by an American-armed Turkmen militia group on orders from the Turkish government, further complicating what was already the most confusing conflict in the history of war. The situation will require the most wily and nimble and resolute response by America’s leadership, so we expect that things are about to become even more complicated.
The Turkmen are ethnic Turks living in Syria but loyal to Turkey, which is at odds with the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, whose efforts to remain in power through a long and bloody and confusingly multi-sided civil war have been much aided by the Russians, which is presumably why the Turkmen shot down the Russian fighter jet even though it had reportedly left Turkish air space after a brief and apparently uneventful incursion. Turkey is for some reason or another a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, despite Prime Minister Recep Erdogan leading the country toward a more radically Islamic state, and Erdogan retains a “special friendship” with the Obama administration, probably because of Turkey’s increased radicalization, and the administration is also at odds with Assad, who has crossed “red lines” that changed the president’s calculus and now “has to go” to and is constantly subjected to similarly tough talk from the administration, but unlike the good old days of the Cold War it is no longer so simple as that. Another one of the many sides in the Syrian civil war is the Islamic State, which the administration insists is neither Islamic nor a state even though it has some pretty specific Koranic verses to explain what it’s doing in the Indiana-sized territory it now controls in former parts of Syria and Iraq, and at the moment they’re a bigger pain in the global posterior than even the Assad regime. Pretty much everyone at least claims to be opposed to the Islamic State, including Assad, whose sincerity on this matter is not to be doubted, and Russia, whose warplanes have been effectively targeting the Islamic State rather than the Turkmen and the other American-backed anti-Assad forces ever since the terror group shot down one of its jetliners, and the Assad regime’s sponsors in Iran, who as always are complicating matters further yet.
Which doesn’t begin to suggest the geo-political complexities, much less the domestic political implications, which together are exponential. The Syrian civil war has sent millions of refugees from all over the region into Europe and North America, with opportunist asylum seekers far from the conflict joining the flood, and the inevitable populist backlashes are brewing on both continents. The Islamic State’s terrorism has struck in Turkey and Lebanon as well as the heart of France, and Belgium seems to have been spared so far only by a complete lockdown of its capital city, and the groups threats against several countries including the United States can no longer be dismissed as the bluster of a “jayvee team” of terrorism, and there’s worldwide discontent and increased military action by formerly pacifist countries about that as well. Joining forces with Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies could quickly solve the Islamic State problem, but all those non-Islamic State sides would still be fighting a Syrian civil war and the refugee problem would continue and the rest of the Muslim world’s problems, such as the Yemen civil war that’s largely kept Saudi Arabia from asserting any Sunni power against the Shia Iranians and Alawite Assad in all this mess, or the Palestinians’ “stabbing intifada” against the Israelis, which has largely been overlooked amongst all the other complexities, so it seems unlikely that any country will have the region’s infectious woes solved by its next election.
One can only hope that the utter ineptitude of the current administration leading up to this sorry state of affairs will be well considered in this country’s next election, and that perhaps some correction will be made even before then. All that talk of Assad having to go and red lines being set and moderate forces being trained and air strikes being ordered was always accompanied by assurances of no American boots on the ground and little in the way of action, which emboldened Assad and his allies to use the red-lined tactics that sent the millions of refugees fleeing the region and the thousand of inspired western jihadists flooding into the region to fight for the Islamic State, and a similarly clumsy and irresolute response to Russia’s revanchism in Ukraine seems to have emboldened that country to fly over NATO airspace with impunity. In this case they seem to have made a miscalculation, failing to account for the fact that Turkmen militias armed with American weaponry don’t particularly care what American foreign policy prefers, and that despite its “special relationship” with American neither does Turkey, but once again they didn’t underestimate American resolve. The Iranians, who have been ratcheting up the “death to America” ever since they might or might not have agreed to America’s utter capitulation to its nuclear weapons program, which is eventually going to complicate things to a point that the current mess seems like the good old days, likely figures that it can maintain its puppet Assad regime and leave enough Islamic State to bedevil the infidel west and proceed with its master plan for the battle of Armageddon.
We’ll freely admit that we see no way out of this, but what worries us is that the administration won’t. Instead they insist that our policies have contained the Islamic State, that the refugees should welcomed with certainty that none will import the pathologies of the regions they are fleeing, that Russia’s seemingly expanding influence is a sign of its weakness, that all those “death to America” chants in Iran shouldn’t scuttle the deal we might or might have cut capitulating to their nuclear weapons program, and that climate change is still America’s greatest foreign policy challenge. There are reports that the American jets flying over Islamic State-controlled areas are at last dropping their bombs on the convoys of stolen oil that finance their operation, and that there are a few Americans boots actually on the ground helping to guide the missiles, and the administration did acknowledge Turkey’s right to defend its airspace, and we even read that we’re arming the Kurds, who seem to be among the more reasonable tiles in the vast and vibrant multi-cultural mosaic that is the war-torn Middle East, even though the administration denies it so as not to offend our special friends in increasingly radicalized Turkey, which has its own internal Kurdish problems, which is another one of those complexities, so perhaps there is some wising up going in the administration.
The most immediate concern is that an official if unaccountable NATO member has shot down a Russian fighter jet, and that the world will at long last come to the same ending as “Doctor Strangelove,” but we expect it will prove more complicated than that. We can easily imagine President Barack Obama sounding very much likely President Merkin Muffly as he apologizes to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and although we despite Putin’s nakedly expansionist national ambitions we credit him with the shrewdness to be satisfied with a few carpet bombings of the offending areas and the west’s abject appeasement. This doesn’t seem like something we’ll be going into toe-to-toe nuclear combat with the Russkies over, as Slim Pickens might have said, but one never knows. Our only surety, alas, is that the whole wide world is now one very sticky wicket.

— Bud Norman

The Progressives’ Assault on Progressivism

The latest outbreak of the nationwide academic craziness epidemic is occurring at prestigious Princeton University, and seems to mainly be about expunging the institution’s past association with President Woodrow Wilson, so we have very mixed feelings about the matter. As stuffy old prairie Republican autodidacts we have no patience for the campus hijinks of pampered Ivy Leaguers, and any attempts to expunge the past are an affront to our Burkean sensibilities, but of course we can’t resist some satisfaction in seeing Wilson’s reputation at long last under assault from the left.
Way back in the days of our public education Wilson was still regarded by our approved textbooks’ opinion as the exemplar of progressivism. There was some embarrassed acknowledgement that he led the country into World War I, and that his populist rival William Jennings Bryan had quit his post as Secretary of State in protest of the still-debated decision, and that certain provisions of the Constitution were effectively repealed by the Sedition Act for the duration of the war, but otherwise Wilson always seemed to come in a close second to President Franklin Roosevelt as one of the Democratic Party’s great presidents. Back then Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were duly acknowledged as Republican rivals, even if Lincoln’s unabashed capitalism and constitutionalism were always unmentioned while T.R.’s more free-wheeling progressivism was always stressed, but Wilson was very much a member of that same presidential pantheon. Wilson was acknowledged as the father of a newfound philosophy that would bring war-time coordination of industrial efficiencies to peacetime economies through the latest scientific power over human nature, and bring eternal peace through a League of Nations if only the Treaty of Versailles weren’t too harsh on those poor Germans and Ottomans, and of course you know he was once President of prestigious Princeton University, in contrast to that hayseed prairie populist Bryan who didn’t even go to college and lost three elections for the Democrats and wound up as the anti-evolutionist villain in “Inherit the Wind.”.
Even at that young age, and with the usual youthful yearning for heroes and all the addling effects of a public school education, it all seemed rather suspicious. Being seditious sorts we read beyond the approved textbooks to learn that Wilson’s war-time restrictions on the Constitution were seemingly intended to last well into peace-time, that the post-war economy never really recovered until the the hated Coolidge’s “return to normalcy,” that the whole government-economy idea never has worked out, and that the League of Nations didn’t prevent a World War II, and probably not because the Treaty of Versailles was too mean to the Germans. We were also unsurprised to learn that Wilson was an unapologetic racist who praised the Ku Klux Klan and re-segregrated the federal government after policies that had been imposed by Republicans from Roosevelt all the way back to such supposed Republican retrogrades as Ulysses S Grant. By that point we were even cynical of that Princeton pedigree, which still loomed large in the Wilson myth.
All of which further mixes our feelings regarding the current controversy at Princeton University. The students demanding his name be banished from the university’s history don’t seem concerned with all those dead doughboys of World War I, who were no doubt war-monger Republicans, and they aren’t the least offended by his disregard of the right of free expression, which is currently all the rage on America’s campuses, and certainly not by his cocksureness that such Ivy League educated gentlemen as himself could more efficiently run an economy than a society of free men and women, which is taken as a given, but rather all that racism. So far as we can tell all the World War I stuff that so troubled our textbook-writers is long forgotten, but that infamous White House screening of “A Birth of Nation” and the re-segregation of the federal government and all the rest of the old-school stone-cold racist stuff can no longer be overlooked. Our reading of the history that most of the current Princetonians have probably never read suggests that America’s game-changing entry into World War I was about the only saving grave of Wilson’s presidency, given the Lusitania and all the other sunken American ships and the German campaign of sabotage on American soil and intercepted Zimmerman memo that outlined a plot by Germany to revanche the southwest quadrant of the United States to Mexico and the possibility of longtime allies France and England falling to a world order dictated by Prussian militarism, and that even Wilson’s idealistic and utterly naive post-war diplomatic blunders do not deny him some credit for sending in those doughboys.
Even the most Orwellian efforts cannot change the fact that Wilson was once the President of Princeton University, too, and that it was perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his career. A presidential trivia question that always stumps our liberal friends is what two United States Presidents previously served as presidents of Ivy League universities, and they’re never able to recall that one was Dwight Eisenhower, who briefly served as president of Columbia University after a more noteworthy career in the military and before a more noteworthy two terms as President of the United States, they all know that Woodrow Wilson was once President of Princeton University, although they never remember he also served as Governor of New Jersey. That famous connection once added a certain sheen to Wilson’s reputation, and in turn his formerly textbook-approved standing once added to Princeton’s prestige, so we wonder if the protesters demanding his repudiation understand how their actions might diminish the economic value of the Princeton degrees they’ll probably wind up with. The whole effort reminds us of the ancient and recent Islamist conquerers who immediately set about destroying all the artifacts of the civilizations that preceded them, or the Khmer Rouge that proclaimed a Day One of history after its slaughter, or the villains in every dystopian novel or movie who set out to re-write the past and all its good examples and dire warnings. or even those more benign and seemingly well-intention efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from the top of the Gen. Robert E. Lee muscle car in the old “Dukes of Hazard” television show, although in one of these cases was anyone so bold as to throw away the prestige of an Ivy League degree.
Although we revile the anti-constitutional authoritarianism and economic control and credentialed elitism and outright racism of Woodrow Wilson, we can’t help thinking he’d be pleased with his legacy in both international affairs and academia. His greatest hope of the post-war era was that American subordination to some sort of international tribunal would yield international peace, an an ephemera still chased after by his bi-racial and supposedly post-racial successor, and during his tenure as President of Princeton his pedagogical philosophy was that “The purpose of a university should be to make a man as unlike his father as possible.” All of Wilson’s dreams seem to have to been finally achieved, and nobody on either the left or right seems at all happy about it. Our feelings, certainly, are mixed.

— Bud Norman

Radical Islam By Any Other Name

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet,” William Shakespeare once wrote, but he’s just another dead white male that nobody bothers to read these days. Modern liberals believe that words do indeed have magical powers that can alter whatever reality they are intended to describe. Thus a man can become a woman with a simple change of pronouns, a university can erase its long-ago racism with a few more up-to-date names on some buildings, the problem of illegal immigrants can be made to disappear simply by calling the millions of people who have immigrated here illegally by some more polite name, such as “undocumented Americans” or “dreamers,” and the latest euphemisms can imbue all manner of malodorous things with that sweet fragrance of moral superiority that keeps the modern liberals’ noses constantly upturned.
The latest problem to get this mystical linguistic treatment is radical Islam, which we are now assured does not exist. Although the semantic shamans won’t go so far as to pretend that terrorist attacks haven’t been occurring all over the world with increasing frequency and savagery in the past decades, and that there’s usually someone with a Muslim name shouting “Allahu Akbar” at the scene and a group calling itself something Islamic claiming credit,  they will go so far as to pretend that anyone who draws the intuitive conclusion that the Religion of Peace has anything to do with it is just a nasty old bigot. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to the staff of the American embassy in France just days after somebody or another shot up six sites in Paris for some reason or another, insists that “It has nothing to do with Islam. It has everything to do with criminality, with terror, with abuse, with psychopathism — I mean, you name it.” So long as you don’t name it Islam, of course, Kerry is content to deal with the problem on whatever convoluted language and new coinages you might prefer. His predecessor at the State Department, the supposedly presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, speaking just hours before some terror group or another for some reason or another killed all the hostages at a Mali hotel who could not recite verses from the Koran, went further to insist that “Muslims are peace and tolerant people who have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” Clinton was so proud of the statement that she “tweeted” it out to her followers, a surprising number of whom responded with scathing criticism, and the Democratic Party has already released an internet advertisement criticizing the Republican’s repeated use of “radical Islam” that features the formerly vilified George W. Bush saying that Islam is a Religion of Peace and we’re not at war with a religion and all the obligatory boilerplate that he never got any credit for back in the day.
So long as the shootings and bombings and stabbings and beheadings and crucifixions continue one will have to call it something, though, and Clinton has chosen to call it “jihadism.” It’s better than “psychopathism,” we suppose, but we can’t see how it’s a more politically correct term than “radical Islam.” Our big old Random House dictionary doesn’t have an entry for jihadism, but it does define jihad as “a holy war undertaken as a sacred duty by Muslims,” and our 13 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary are so old they offer the alternative spellings of jehad and jahad and define it as “A religious war of Mohammedans against unbelievers in Islam, inculcated as a duty by Koran and traditions,” and pretty much every etymologist will tell you that it’s a term having something to do with Islam. The more respectful but less precise lexicographers like to define jihad as a peaceful struggle to better one’s self, and for some reason they usually cite quitting smoking as an example, but even Clinton seems to have given up on that. The terror group calling itself Islamic Jihad, and the proudly self-proclaimed jihadists doing all the shooting and bombing and stabbings and beheadings and crucifixions, and such widely respected-within-the-Islamic-world scholars as the late Ayatollah Khomeini saying “I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim” that jihad does not mean a more literal war against the unbelievers has given the word a certain connotation that cannot be easily shaken, no matter how many well-intentioned Turks start laying off the hookah.
There are subtle and nuanced arguments to avoid the words “radical Islam,” as are required for such difficult sophistry. The gist of it is that by acknowledging the Islamic beliefs of the people we are obliged to fight and kill we signal to the entire Islamic world that we are at war with the entire religion, forcing all those more peaceful and tolerant Muslims who otherwise would be disinclined to shoot and bomb and behead and all that to join with their more belligerent co-religionists. This seems at least slightly plausible, given that all those peaceful warriors are probably already suffering the crankiness of nicotine withdrawal, but even the Democratic Party’s internet advertisements explicitly acknowledge that America’s leadership has always stressed how the country and its allies are only at war with those particular sorts of Muslims who are avowedly and actively and often effectively at war against us, and even such right-wing crazies as the Republican presidential candidates and ourselves are always careful to affix that “radical” qualifier to make the same point, so by now all those peaceful Muslims should be reassured. The term “radical Islam” does include the “I-word,” but we’re all adults here and might as well acknowledge the obvious fact the terrorists are acting in strict accordance with a very ancient and still widely-held understanding of Islam’s holy book, and surely those peaceful Muslims will frankly acknowledge the current struggle does indeed involve the more radical elements of their religion. One can argue that no true Muslim wants war, because Islam is a Religion of Peace, just as one can argue that no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge, because any one that did is no true Scotsman, but it’s still a fallacy and you’re still left with a large number of people who want to kill you in the name of Islam and don’t care how painstakingly polite you’ve been to the religion that you insist they don’t practice, and we suspect that by this point even some of the most peaceable sorts of Muslims are probably starting to contemplate which side is more likely to prevail.
Our reading of history suggests that the side with the high-tech weaponry and most modern scientific know-how is usually a good bet, but the side that knows what it’s fighting for and who it’s fighting against is often a formidable underdog. In the current conflict our side is fighting with itself over proper protocol for transgendered persons and that building named after a guy who built it but who owned slaves long ago and what to call all those immigrants who are here illegally, and we refuse to acknowledge that we’re fighting at against the same radical ideology that has been intermittently at war with the west for the past 1,400 years, long before there was western imperialism and Israel and George W. Bush and all the other usual exculpatory grievances, and which has always claimed to be Islamic. When a former Secretary of State and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is reduced that to claiming that it is merely “jihad” and therefore has nothing to do with Islam, it’s a good time for hedging bets.
If this all sounds too war-mongering and xenophobic and Islamophobic to your ears, we’ll happily recite all the rote assurances about the vast majority of the world’s Muslims being peaceful and tolerant and disinclined to chop off your head and take your daughter as a sex slave. We wish them well, and assume they wish us well in our efforts to defeat those who are committing atrocities in their name. People being people, though, we assume that there are some among the presently peaceable Muslims who are waiting to see how it plays out. Every strain of Islam has always found itself in conflict with some aspects of western civilization, and although most Muslims in the western world have found a peaceable and tolerant accommodation there are many who wouldn’t mind if the west were a little more accommodating itself. In some cases they might be making reasonable requests, in other cases intolerable demands, but Kerry and Clinton and all the political correctness in the world won’t keep them from contemplating a Muslim world. President Barack Obama contends that the Republican rhetoric about radical Islam is a recruiting tool for the terrorists, but the better recruiting tool for a potential pool of new jihadists is the string of victories they’ve lately racked up.
Clinton and her two rivals have both sworn off the term “radical Islam,” and of course the party itself is rallying to the cause with that internet advertisement, but it’s going to be a tough sale. The polls show the public unimpressed, even the vulgar late night comedian and usually reliable Democratic pitchman Bill Maher is scoffing at it, and thus far the biggest political beneficiary is the one candidate who doesn’t seem to care how war-mongering and xenophobic and Islamophobic he sounds. The magic words about men being women and Woodrow Wilson never having been president of Princeton University and illegal immigrants being dreamers aren’t polling well, and we don’t expect they’re going to win a war.

— Bud Norman

Seismic Shifts in Paris, Wichita, and Elsewhere

Last night’s earthquake was the longest and strongest we’ve felt so far. There were no reports of injuries or property damage or anything that would impress a longtime Los Angeleno, but it rattled our old house with an unprecedented violence for an eternal 30 seconds or so, and as we are still relatively new to this sort of thing it rattled our nerves something awful. Although our prairie town has responded mostly with nervous humor, one can’t help noticing a widespread worry that the next one might prove worse. Alas, earthquakes aren’t the only thing in this unstable world giving us such an unsettling feeling.
The head-chopping, crucifying, gang-raping nut cases calling themselves the Islamic State continue to rule an Indiana-sized caliphate in the heart of the Middle East and have recently downed a Russian airliner over Egypt, launched deadly bomb attacks against formidable Muslim rivals in Beirut and Ankara, killed more than 130 infidels in six coordinated attacks on Paris, and threatened to do worse yet somewhere in America. Our leaders assure us they’re on the job of protecting the homeland, but they also assure us that the Islamic State is in no way Islamic and that they’re a “jayvee team” that has been “contained” and will “eventually” be eliminated, and that there’s no need to worry that a small but deadly number of its operatives might be among the many thousands of refugees seeking asylum from a Middle East and a North Africa that are on fire and being rapidly abandoned by millions of refugees despite our unquestionably successful foreign policy, and that the majority of Americans who harbor doubts about it are racist and xenophobic and religiously bigoted and downright un-American. Such arguments are somehow not reassuring, however, no matter how much petulant and un-presidential sarcasm they come with.
We’ve been reading up on basic seismology lately, just as we started reading up on basic Islam during the Iranian hostage crisis and then delved even further into the subject after the 2001 terror attacks on America, and both studies have reminded us how very unstable the world has always been. So far as we can tell from the seismology stuff, the world is riddled with fault lines where two great tectonic forces are in constant tension against one another, and although a stasis usually prevails there are occasional eruptions that shift the world into new shapes and sometimes do great damage to what had been built on the old shape. Along some of the fault lines one side has such a significant advantage in strength that it can push the other one in ways that do devastating things to the people who happen to be living there, but Tokyo and San Francisco and Los Angeles and some other modern metropolises located in such inconvenient places have largely coped with it through modern science and engineering, while such unfortunate locales as Iran and Haiti have not, and despite our post-earthquake nerves we still hold out hope that the Sears & Roebuck Company’s famously well-built Craftsman homes of the 1920s will survive the relatively mild rumblings we’ve been having here on the south-central plains.
This recent spate of terrorism by the Islamic State and other “on the run” terror organizations, on the other hand, seems indicative of a more significant seismic shift. Even the most peace-loving and clock-building Muslims of the politically correct imagination will acknowledge that the Koran specifically describes a world divided between Dar al-Islam, the “House of Submission” where Muslims are the ruling majority, and Dar al-Harb, the “House of War” where people go about their days according to their own more westernized and individual notions, and even the most politically correction imagination is forced to concede that over the past 1,400 years or so this fault line has occasionally shifted in ways that did great damage to the people who happened to be living there. Our leaders assure us that it’s all a misunderstanding about that awful George W. bush and the still-pesky-after-5,000-years presence of Jews in the Middle East, but Islam had conquered a large of chunk of Christiandom by the time the first crusades were launched, Europe’s white folks were entirely unaware of the North American continent until shortly after the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula from Muslim occupiers, the west’s survival wasn’t assured until hard-won victory at the Gates of Vienna in 1683, America was newly born and blameless when it launched its first war against an Islamic country that had been enslaving its sailors for the plainly stated reason that its religion demanded it, there was that British disaster in Khartoum when the natives went wildly religious, the Ottoman Empire’s role on the wrong side of the First World War, the Arab world’s similarly problematic involvement in a Second World War, all before there was an Israel or a cartoon drawing of The Prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him! — or even a George W. Bush. France’s difficulties with Algiers and everybody’s problem with Pan-National Arabism during the Cold War, or the slaughter at the ’72 Olympics and the bombings at so many long-forgotten nightclubs and cafes and South American Jewish centers, or the countless internecine wars with countless millions of fatalities, that long-forgotten hostage crisis and fare more recently but just as easily forgotten Boston Marathon massacre, none of which seem to have anything to do with Israel or George W. Bush or even the Koch brothers, all suggest that it’s a fault line that persists no matter how genuinely outreaching our foreign policy might be. One side has Baptist churches and gay bars and capitalism and busy-body bureaucracies and man-made constitutions and women driving cars and showing full facial nudity, while the other has very different ideas about such things, and it’s hard to how see they’ll ever comfortably settle up against one another no matter how soothingly blind to the facts of the matter our the leadership of our fissiparous side of the fault line might be.
So far as we can tell from all this seismology stuff the the seismologists still don’t have any reliably predictive understanding of when these fault lines wind up doing significant damage to the people living on them, and we expect it will take another couple of generations of historians to explain why things went so very wrong between Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, so for now we’re left with that unsettling feeling. All our liberal Facebook friends are insisting the the local earthquakes have been been man-made by the lubricating waste-water disposal of the hydraulic fracturing method of petroleum extraction going on down in Oklahoma, which might even be true, although gasoline is currently selling for $1.88 cents at the nearest convenience store and we’d hate to be paying $4 for Iranian supplies and still suffering the occasional house-rattling earthquake, but at least there’s no denying the human agency in the Dar al-Islm versus Dar al-Harb fault line. To explain the sudden rift, we figure it’s a weakness on one side. The west still has the decided advantage in economic and scientific and military terms, but the strength of its belief in Baptist churches and gay bars and capitalism and bureaucracies and man-made constitutions and women driving cars and showing full facial nudity is invitingly weak to a more culturally confident enemy.
As nerve-rattling at the latest earthquake was, and in a state that’s also been tormented by the usual number of autumn tornadoes, we expect the next big event will be along that Dar al-Isam and Dar al-Harb fault line. The chances of mankind screwing that up seem far greater than it’s influence on nature. There’s also the fault line that’s looming on the public debt, too, and the looming realization that the $20 trillion of debt and zero interest rates that have kept America’s economy can’t continue forever, and that the rest of the west’s finances are similarly beset, and how that might affect all those poor refugees, and our nerves are rattled something awful. We hold out hope that our old Craftsman bungalow will preserve, and that the western world of Baptist churches and gay bars and capitalism and bureaucracies and man-made constitutions and women driving around showing full facial nudity will as well, but it’s hard to shake that nagging doubt. We don’t mean to go all Book of Revelation on you, but we can’t shake that unsettling feeling about this unstable world.

— Bud Norman

The Timelessness of Tom Wolfe

Although we are far too old for hero worship, and have suffered far too many disappointments to place much faith in even the most promising public figures, we still regard Tom Wolfe with pretty much the same awestruck reverence as when we first encountered his writing in our more starry-eyed youth. The Wichita Public Library’s copy of his anthology of the “new journalism,” followed by all of his works in the genre, led directly to our newspaper career, and his Atlantic Monthly essay that summed up everything we hated about contemporary American fiction and called for a more robust and reportorial and realistic style, and then of course each of his subsequent masterpiece novels, inspired our own modest literary efforts, but after more than 40 years of devout fandom he somehow seems to get even better with each passing headline.
There’s almost a sense of deja vu in all the stories that are coming out of academia and the rest of post-racial America these days. All the talk of a “culture of rape” on the American campus is redolent of Wolfe’s scathing essay on “Hooking Up,” from way back at the turn of the second millennium, as well as his novelistic treatment of same subject in “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” published in 2004, and both are still essential to understanding the current hysteria. Countless racial contretemps, right up to the “Black Lives Matter” movement of the moment, were foretold in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” All those celebrities with reputations for cutting-edge political opinions probably don’t realize they were already thoroughly satirized way back in 1970 as “Radical Chic,” a Wolfe coinage that is still often and effectively deployed, and reading about a recent event that occurred in the Dartmouth University library reminded us of the companion report “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers,” a phrase that might soon be back in usage.
In case you’re not up on the latest campus capers, last week a large group of black Dartmouth students and some radically chic white compatriots marched through the library shouting obscenities and threats and sometimes spitting at or pushing the students who were attempting to study there. So far as we can tell their grievance is that Dartmouth has failed to provide a “safe space” for black students and their radically chic white compatriots, and no one well versed in Wolfe’s work will be surprised to learn that the school’s Vice Provost of Student Affairs has described their actions as “a wonderful, beautiful thing.” That Vice Provost of Student Affairs is a “flak catcher,” as Wolfe described the poverty program bureaucrats of the late ’60s, and he had been thoroughly “Mau-Maued,” as Wolfe described the time-honored technique of black protesters using their intimidating blackness to win concession from the supposedly all-powerful but in fact quite cowed The Man, and we’ll forgive the now-octogenarian Wolfe if he decides he has nothing more to say on the matter.
Still, we’d love to see his sly style and slick punctuations and perfectly timed capitalizations take on the subtle nuances of the Dartmouth library invasion. How he could relish that the Mau-Maus are Ivy Leaguers, with all the Ivy League privilege that entails, and that the racist institution they rail against is dominated by people who consider themselves the most exquisitely non-racist people in the whole wide world, right down to their tearful and radically chic confessions of “white privilege,” which at least awards them some sort of status as the better sort of white people, with such status being another recurring theme of Wolfe’s take on American culture, so it would make for a great essay. As avid students of his work we guess he’d also be amused by the video that shows the would-be students who were attempting to study during the protest looking more bored than threatened, seemingly unworried that even the most Mau-Mau sorts of Ivy Leaguers and their most radically chic white compatriots constituted a physical threat. Those more studious Ivy Leaguers who were in the library probably don’t have the benefit of our more vibrantly diverse public school experience, which did little for our understanding of higher mathematics or foreign languages but did much to teach us when to get the hell out of a tense racial situation, but even they seemed unimpressed. That the administration of one of America’s most prestigious universities immediately acquiesced to an assault on its library is by now a hackneyed ending.
The same tactic of invading by public spaces and harassing the unfortunate folks who happen to be there has also by been deployed outside of academia by “Black Lives Matter” activists, usually at fashionable eating places frequented by young white hipsters. One needn’t have the keen Wolfe eye to note that this hardly seems likely to dispel any notions that even the most racist white people have about blacks, much less the sorts of young hipsters who dine at fashionable eateries, or the more studious sorts of Dartmouth students who intended to be at the library instead of at a protest, and that it’s such delightful fodder for the right sort of writer.
Far be it from us to presume what Wolfe might notice, but we hope he’d allude to the fact that the protestors aren’t invading those Twin Peaks breastaurants where the biker gangs congregate, or any of several south side bars we can think of here in Wichita, or any of other decidedly unsafe spaces where more genuinely racist people can presumably been found. Wolfe also foretold the rise of stock car racing and its bootlegging roots and celebrated the redneck culture that gave it birth, and his Charlotte Simmons’ only hope against the craven academy was her country upbringing, and he sensed a certain strain of more pugnacious white America that would sooner or later confront the Ivy League Mau-Maus. The outcome remains to be seen, and we hope Wolfe gets to weigh in.

Tom Wolfe is about the same age as our beloved Dad, who is the only other man we regard with an awestruck reverence that is even greater than in our starry-eyed youth, and who has contentedly slowed down a bit lately, so we can’t blame Wolfe if he sets back in some high-end brand-name divan and in some swank apartment in a fashionable art of New York City and sips some status symbol wine in his white suit with his slyly but unapologetically white self and takes some same satisfaction in knowing that he got the important things right. We’ll try to keep up Wolfe’s call to literary arms, but it will be hard to surpass the master, and impossible to keep up with events.

— Bud Norman

Chuckling Away the Refugee Crisis

We have long noticed that whenever a doctrinaire liberal is confronted with verifiable facts and irrefutable logic he tends to respond with a condescending chuckle and an upturned chin and a self-righteous assurance that only the worst sorts of Fox News-watching and church-going and Republican-voting people and otherwise uncivilized people would be rude as the mention such things. This annoying tendency has been on conspicuous display during the recent debate about what to do with that tidal wave of people desperately fleeing the Middle East, which we are assured is a blameless part of the world where a Religion of Peace prevails, when the modern liberal has been reduced to condescending chuckles and ad hominem arguments to explain why the western world is obviously obliged to import millions of potentially dangerous people from the pathologies of a hostile and increasingly belligerent region.
It wouldn’t be so annoying if it were only coming from the hipsters at the local beer dive, but it’s also coming from President Barack Obama and all of his potential Democratic successors and too many of their allies in the respectable press, not to mention such formerly sensible European Union grandees as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and it seems at the moment the tidal wave will prove irresistible. This comes just days after at least one lone wolf of that tidal wave of putative “refugees” helped pull off a sophisticated and deadly terrorist attack on Paris, and shortly after their allies in the Middle East had downed a Russian jetliner over Egypt and bombed some religiously internecine enemies in Beirut and Ankara, and long since the European continent has been engulfed in decades of similar difficulties with an unassimilated Muslim population, and a numbing 14 years since America suffered an even more deadly attack on its soil, and by now the modern liberal hopes that the same old condescending chuckle and rote recitations of moral relativism will once again suffice. Real arguments for the insane policy of relocating a large chunk of the most troubled parts of the world to the west, however, are harder to come by.
There’s the hard-to-resist sob story about innocent refugees of war, of course, but in this case a suspiciously large chunk of the refugees of the Syrian civil war are young and male and fighting-fit, and an awful lot of them don’t seem to be from Syria, and at the moment a large chunk of Syria as well as Iraq and many other Middle Easter countries are “governed” by people who have openly declared war on the west, and it takes quite a condescending chuckle to dismiss any concerns that the unwashed public in Germany or red state America might have about it. We’re told that the refugees will be properly “vetted,” but no chuckling or ad hominem attacks on our racist motives can dispel our doubts that there’s a database somewhere that can reliably verify each of the proposed 100,000 “Syrian” “refugees” that the administration wants to bring in are really who they say they are, or that the records we’ve been allowed access to in the currently at-war-with-us country of Syria are at all reliable. The lower administration officials whose reputations are at stake on such obviously ridiculous claims are more carefully stating their statements, but the higher and more term-limited officials above them doing the usual chuckling and disparaging of dissenting opinions. The same thing seems to be going on in more vulnerable Europe, and even there the population seems rightly skeptical. There’s the same condescending chuckles and upturned chins and self-righteous talk about religious discriminations, as if the Christians and Yazidis and other victims of the region’s religious genocides weren’t already underrepresented in the west’s relocation efforts, and as if those genuinely blameless minorities didn’t import a cultural and religious hostility toward the west, but we doubt it will prove persuasive to the publics that are expected to welcome these new neighbors.
There’s already a populist backlash growing almost everywhere, from the majority of the United States whose governors have raised objections to the suddenly insurgent political parties that are drawing massive protests through the the rest of remnants of the western world. To the extent the condescending chuckles and ad hominem attacks have succeeded in banishing such arguments from respectable debate In some parts of the western world have succeeded, the most disreputable sorts of people have seized an advantage. In France the notorious and Vichy-linked Le Pen Party has surged in the polls, similarly suspicious organizations Germany are gaining on the increasingly unpopular Merkel, and even here in the relatively unaffected United States Donald Trump has increased his lead in the Republican party’s presidential race, and whichever Democrat facing him seems sure to fare badly on the refugee issue and the broader question of immigration into the country.
That condescending chuckle and those ad hominem arguments cow a lot of people into compliance with liberal orthodoxy, both here and in Europe, but they don’t always carry the day. There are not only a lot of governors but also a full slate of Republican candidates questioning the idea of allowing large numbers of “Syrian” “refugees” into the country, and they seem to have counterparts around the rest of the western world, and in many cases they seem reasonable people, and there’s some hope that the for-now majorities in those jurisdictions will wind up voting for the most respectable champions of the status quo, and that their votes will still count.

–Bud Norman

Beyond Winning and American Leadership

We have witnessed some pretty awful presidential press conferences in our time, but President Barack Obama’s performance in Turkey on Monday surpasses them all. There was nothing so memorably pithy as “I am not a crook” or “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” but it was packed with more pure nonsense and un-presidential prickliness than anything we can recall.

The Cable News Network reached into its thesaurus to describe the president as “unyielding” in the headline, but by the second paragraph was forced to settle for “testy,” and even such polite press as described him responding to reporters questions with “mild irritation.” We’d have gone with “annoyed,” “arrogant,” “dismissive,” “snarky,” “snarling,” and “downright un-presidential,” but that would only be a warm-up for all for the pure nonsense that he spouted. Little wonder that the president was “defensive,” as other press outlets put it, as the recent victories of the Islamic State in Paris and Beirut and over the skies of Egypt and across an expanding caliphate in the Middle East, as well as his venue in recently-bombed and refugee-swarmed Turkey, forced him to defend his foreign policy in general and his dealings with the Islamic State in particular. Pure nonsense is necessary to defend such a record, and some un-presidential prickliness is inevitable.

Obama had once scoffed at the Islamic State as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, and even after it seizure of an area larger than most European countries and its downing of a Russian jetliner over of Egypt and successful bombings against its Shiite enemies in Lebanon and another deadly attack in Turkey, and just hours before it launched a coordinate attack on six sites in Paris he boasted they were “contained,” so even the most cooperative press had to ask if he might have underestimated the enemy. The president explained that the expansion their Middle Eastern caliphate had not lately increased, a claim that even one of the most reliably supportive Democratic senators disputes, and which ignores its recent incursions into Lebanon and Turkey and the very heart of France, and we think even the most sympathetic observer would note some mild irritation on the president’s part.
Obama was more upbeat as he announced that “What is different this time” is that all the major parties involved in the Syrian civil war now “agree on a process that is needed to end this war, and so while we are very clear-eyed that this will be a very, very difficult road still ahead, the United States, in partnership with our coalition, is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian, and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.” This is hardly Churchillian in its rhetorical spelndor, even without the accompanying prickliness, and only reminds how very, very difficult that road to surrender to Iran over its nuclear ambitions proved to be, and it was immediately undercut by his comments on how relentless the United States will be on the military front. “And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terroristic attack from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist attack that’s operating anywhere else — in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?”
This is a devastating rebuttal of whatever straw men Obama imagines are advocating 50,000 troops in Syria, but it raises unsettling and unasked questions about what Obama would do in the case of a terrorist attack from Yemen or the former Libya that he bombed into chaos or North Africa or Southeast Asia or some other likely place of origin, and it has little to with the debate that’s actually occurring. Not only in the Republican nomination race but even in the most respectable foreign policy think tanks there is a growing consensus that some change of course is necessary, and the president responded to such contrary opinions by saying that “if people want to pop off and have opinions about what they think would do, have a specific plan. If they think somehow that their advisors are better than my joint chiefs of staff or my generals on the ground, I would like to meet them. I would like to have that debate.” Reports indicate that those generals on the ground are being ignored, and the joints chiefs of staff at this point are more considered concerned with gender equity and a welcoming atmosphere for non-traditional recruits, and the advice Obama has been following has turned out as it has, so the president is left with prickliness.
“What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people and protect the people in the region who are getting killed to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that,” the president, sounding rather testy. The statement implies than “winning” and “American leaders” are scare quote-worthy slogans that have no relationship to what will protect America and the people in the regions we’re doing some of the killing and for allies as well as “people like France,” and if it were only pithier it would live in presidential press conference infamy with “I am not a crook” and “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The historical consequences of such thinking, though, are likely to be far worse.
There was the familiar talk about not being at war with Islam, which Obama noted that even George W. Bush had said, and some worries that you can’t deal with suicide bombers, which isn’t even Rooseveltian, given that FDR had the Navy stand up against kamikaze pilots, and similar prickliness, but he topped it all with his insistence that America grant asylum to at least 100,000 “refugees” from the Syrian civil war, and his support for Europe taking in millions more. Those “refugees” include a suspiciously high number of fighting-age males, many have proved not be from Syria at all, at least one was involved in the horrific attacks on France, and despite his administration’s earnest assurances that they’ll all be carefully checked out there’s really no way of knowing, given the lack of Syrian record-keeping and current poor relations with the Syrian government, who might be a bad guy among the newfound wards of the state. This is all part of that humanitarian front, apparently, and the president insists it would be racist and xenophobic and downright un-American to question the wisdom of relocating the Middle East’s apparently unmanageable pathologies into America and the rest of the west, and that his more enlightened attitudes will eventually win the heart of the Muslim world.
We expect that most of the western world, even the bluest portions of the formerly stiff-spined America, will expect a less prickly and more robust response to the latest outrages. The Islamic State seems poised on further outrages yet, and far more robust responses will be required.

— Bud Norman

Until the Next Paris

Every time Islamic terrorism strikes against the west, as it does all too often, we somehow expect that at long last the reaction will be different. Instead of the obligatory worries about the anti-Muslim backlash that never occurs, or the rote assurances that Islam is a Religion of Peace, or the reflexive moral relativism that seeks to excuse cold-blooded murder as no worse than western civilization, we hold out faint hope that this time there will only be righteous outrage and a collective resolve that such barbarity will not be tolerated. The past weekend’s meticulously planned attacks on at least six locations in Paris, which killed more than 120 innocents and wounded hundreds more, sadly seems to have brought us only one more outrage closer to that surely inevitable day.
All of the usual hand-wringing about potential rather than actual victims of terrorism and pretzel-logic apologetics and ahistorical litanies of the west’s alleged past sins have predictably followed the carnage, and much of the west’s political leadership immediately demonstrated it usual cowardice. There were the same old statements of sympathy and support from the west’s capitals, of course, but most were couched in the same old language that seeks to avoid mentioning the ideology that has motivated the latest carnage. Almost nowhere in the halls of western government, except in the currently socialist and instinctively pacifist but momentarily enraged capital of Paris, is there any frank acknowledgment that a sufficient portion of the Islamic world has declared war against the west and that the west has every right and a moral obligation to protect its citizens, their freedoms, and their objectively superior culture.
President Barack Obama’s official statement was sympathetic and supportive and quite sure that “Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress,” but he was careful to not make any mention of who might have committed such a crime against the city or what might have motivated them. In a televised debate among the Democrats hoping to succeed, which was hastily changed to deal with the breaking news rather than the income inequality and Republican “war on women” and other topics they would have rather dealt with, none of the candidates were willing to accept the notion of Islamic terrorism even with the modifier of “radical” attached. Both the current occupant of the White House and each of his would-be successors maintained their welcoming stances regarding the tens of thousands of Middle Eastern of male and fighting-age “refugees” seeking asylum in America, none were willing to question the wisdom of the past seven years of empathetic outreach and brazen appeasement to the Islamists, and all maintained their calls for cuts in defense spending and increases in immigration from the Muslim world.
Even the journalists posing the questions during that dull debate seemed eager to change the subject, and we don’t wonder why. Just hours before the Islamic State launched its deadly attack on Paris Obama had gloated to the American Broadcast Company the terror gang was “contained,” echoing his earlier characterization of the growing caliphate as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, even though the same group of killers had recently downed a Russian airliner and bombed its Hezbollah rivals in Beirut and still controlled a large and expanding chunk of what was formerly Iraq and Syria, and the related messes in Libya and Turkey and Jordan and the tidal wave of refugees spilling into Europe and America made the breaking news all the more inconvenient for the administration. The unsurprising revelation that the perpetrators of the Paris attacks included some newly-welcomed “refugees” raised questions that even such reliably far-left outlets as the United Kingdom’s Guardian had to ask, and no one on the welcoming committees anywhere has any plausible answer. Some reliably far-left pundits even in the United States are noticing that the refugees are flowing out of areas once pacified by more confident western governments, but long since abandoned for ostensibly progressive reasons, and a Democratic field that includes the Secretary of State who bombed Libya and pulled out of Iraq and “reset” relations with a Russia that is suddenly in the middle of everything, a self-described socialist who immediately attempts to change the subject back to income inequality and Wall Street’s wickedness, and a former governor who has nothing to say except to chime that he also wants a very multi-national and nuanced response was few good answers.
There are other parties with other views to be found almost everywhere, that being one of the reasons that western civilization is objectively superior to others, so there’s still that faint hope that the proper outrage and resolute response can still be mustered. Already there’s much hand-wringing in the respectable press about the possibility of right-wing parties gaining a political advantage from the attack. In America “right-wing” means the Republicans, whose supine response to the last seven years of retreat should placate even the most paranoid left-winger, even if all the party’s candidates have been at least somewhat tougher in response to the Paris events than their Democratic counterparts, but in Europe that sometimes means the more unsavory nationalist and racialist and authoritarian notion of “right-wing.” So far as we can tell the United Kingdom Independence Party and Geert Wilders’ party in Holland and many of the other party’s resistant to unrestrained immigration are reasonable advocates of national sovereignty and the perpetuation of their cultures, but in some cases such as France’s National Front and several of Germany’s most forthright opponents to their country’s insane immigration the likely beneficiaries do have worrisome roots in the continent’s Fascist and Nazi past. When widely-held common sense opinions are ruled by the elites as beyond the bounds of respectable opinion, the most disreputable sorts of parties are bound to benefit, and if the elites here had the same power to define such boundaries as they do in Europe we’d surely be in the same position. Even here the candidate most likely to benefit from the public’s outrage is Donald Trump, so America might not be so well-positioned as we had once thought.
Here and throughout the rest of the west the anti-immigration forces are gaining strength, at least, along with any voices that dare to challenge the elite opinion that the occasional downed airline or shot-up concert hall or bombed marathon or act of “workplace violence” that claims 13 lives on an American military base are just the price to be paid for maintaining the western elite’s sense of moral superiority. We hope that this yields leaders willing to defend the western values of tolerance, free speech, and religious pluralism, and even the Judeo-Christian traditions that once led us to the modern world, and that we won’t have to choose between those who would sacrifice that for security and those who would throw it all away for the sake of some self-loathing suicide impulse. That significant portion of the Muslim world intent on waging war against the west is clearly determined, and sooner or later they’ll backlash they’re begging for.

— Bud Norman

On the Current Craziness

America is now nearly seven years into the era of Hope and Change, which we were promised would stop the rise of the oceans and begin to heal our planet, and thus far almost no one seems pleased with the results. It’s not just those awful “right track-wrong track” polling numbers, or the discontented popular culture’s output of angry hip-hop tracks and big-budget dystopian zombie movies, or the slumping stock markets and sluggish economy and the seeming disintegration of any semblance of a world order, or the stubbornness of nature, or the conspicuous lack of happy talk anywhere except the White House press office, but it also manifests itself in a sort of insanity on both the left and the right of political spectrum.
The craziness is currently most conspicuous on the left, what with a self-described socialist surging in the Democratic Party’s presidential race and the most godawful woman ever desperately clinging to her presumed front-runner status while a criminal investigation of her outrageous e-mail practices suspiciously proceeds, despite the obvious politicization of the Justice Department, and all the revolting students on college campuses across the country suddenly making the most outrageous and expensive demands, and the promised post-racial era resulting in a bi-partisan repudiation of the policies that had happily led to a decline in the deaths of minorities, and the partisan press more preoccupied with whatever inconsequential scandals they can come up with about some Republican nominee. By now even the news-averse people in the middle have gotten wind of it, we suppose, and share that unease which keep showing up in all those polls.
That self-described socialist’s chances of winning the nomination of one of America’s two major political parties seem pretty good at the moment, given that his only plausible opposition is the most godawful woman ever. It’s not just the suspiciously on-going investigation about her outrageous e-mail practices, or her incompetence and dishonesty and disastrous results in her handling of the terrorist attack on an American consulate in Libya, or her utter lack of accomplishments and Grand Central Station-sized collection of baggage, but her even more damning-to-Democrat-thinking associations with Wall Street and billionaires and the boards of those confounded corporations. The current craziness of the left cannot abide such corporate heresies, even from a bona fide female and one who stood by him during all his sex scandals in order to save women’s reproductive rights from the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, and we clearly have arrived at a moment when being a self-described socialist no longer disqualifies someone for a Democratic nomination.
Even such a once-radical self-designation as “socialist” might no longer suffice on many of America’s college campuses, where there’s suddenly a spate of protests over systemic racism and a “culture of rape” and “micro-aggressions” and such. Apparently some redneck shouted a racial slur from a pickup at the University of Missouri, some otherwise exquisitely politically correct professor at Yale University was insufficiently offended by the prospect of some frat boy donning an offensive Halloween costume, and suddenly students across the country are demanding free tuition and forgiveness of more than one trillion dollars of debt and that their college years be so care-free that not one confront them when with sort of reality. The argument seems to be that America’s colleges and universities are hellholes of pickup truck-drving rednecks and gang-raping frat boys, and that the taxpayer should be obliged to pay for every citizen’s admission to this elite Democratic indoctrination program, and that perfect harmony on Earth is just a few more hashtag campaigns and lavishly-funded diversity programs away, and that surely just a few guillotined billionaires could pay for it all. How this will play with those uninformed folks in the middle who are paying off their junior college wages with a plumbing job remains to be seen, but we expect the partisan press will do its best.
That same partisan press will prefer to emphasize the Republicans’ crazy right-wing insistence on border enforcement and some modicum of sanity on fiscal issues and an old-fashioned notion of constitutional order and a general preference for the First Amendment over political correctness, all of which poll well, while overlooking a more worrisome craziness on the right. One smart fellow over at The Wall Street Journal noticed, though, and his think-piece was headlined “Populism on the Rise in GOP Race for President.” The author noticed the same anti-Wall Street and anti-big business rhetoric in the past Republican presidential debate that has characterized the the recent Democratic debates, as well as some similarly strong anti-free-trade sentiment, as well as some ideas about the Federal Reserve and the gold standard and other arcane issues that differ from the latest consensus of conservative economists. Throw in the fact that the two front-runners in the Republican race have never held any elective office, which seems to be their foremost credentials, and that the billionaire businessman who might yet have the advantage is a past Democrat who unabashedly loves eminent domain and bankruptcy loopholes and a pay-for-play political system, and there’s an undeniable craziness occurring on the right as well.
For the most part, at least, the Republicans’ and the rest of the right’s annoyance with crony capitalism has more to do with the cronyism than the capitalism. In the last debate most most of the criticism was for the Dodd-Frank law and hyper-regulation in particular, and the bail-outs the press loves to credit for the survival of the American economy were damned mostly for bailing out some and not others, and that increasingly irrelevant governor from the swing state of Ohio was roundly booed for saying he would have bailed out some and not others and For now he “populism” that the Wall Street Journal frets about seems to prefer a more red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism that most investors have become accustomed to, which is fine by us, but we hope it won’t succumb to populism’s historically characteristic animosity toward for-profit commerce in general. Not at a time when even much of that uninformed middle has retirement accounts and pension plans pegged to the stock market, and when what’s left of western civilization is dependent on for-profit commerce, as always. We’re inclined to latest consensus of conservative economists about the Federal Reserve and the gold standard and other issues, too, and worry that our conservative brethren are more inclined to make up their minds because of some instinctive revulsion to the Democratic busy-bodies who are trying to shut down their coal mines and force them to bake homosexual wedding cakes, so we don’t count on the Republican primaries turning out well.
We can count on the Democratic primaries turning out badly, though, and we expect that the college kids and the popular culture and general consensus will be increasingly dissatisfied.

— Bud Norman

Jeb Bush Goes on the Dole

Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole was briefly back in the news Wednesday with his endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential candidacy, and we were reminded of a long ago era of Republican politics. The Bush campaign is apparently hoping that the party is nostalgic for those old times, which largely explains why it hasn’t a chance.
At age 92 Dole is about as a senior a statesman as the Republican Party still has around, and his long and noteworthy career entitles him to some standing. He was a bona fide hero of World War II, overcame the lifelong wounds he suffered to start a distinguished career in the House of Representatives and then the Senate, was his party’s vice presidential nominee in the ’76 election, and after serving as Senate Majority headed the ticket headed in the ticket in the ’96 race. Except for the war record, though, none of it is likely to impress the average Republican primary voter of today. The party’s mood at the moment is angrily anti-establishment, and Dole is by now the epitome of the establishment.
Dole talked a tough conservatism when he first started rising through the ranks of Kansas politics, and in a gravelly prairie voice that made it all the more convincing, then he earned reputation for die-hard partisanship when was one of the last congressional Republicans to abandon the sinking ship of the Nixon presidency. In the wake of that disaster he was chosen as President Gerald Ford’s running mate to placate the right-wing crazies and employ his famously acerbic wit in the role of “hatchet man,” and he was so widely reviled by the left that for many years his conservative credentials weren’t questioned. In retrospect his early conservatism was just common sense opposition to all the Great Society nonsense of the Johnson administration, his devotion to the Keynesian wage-and-price-controll and Environmental Protection-agency-founding Nixon administration was ill-advised, and Ford’s nomination win over an insurgent Ronald Reagan still rankles the average Republican primary voter.
Dole was still a left-wing bogeyman and right-wing icon in the summer of ’78, when we served as interns in his Senate office, but his presidential ambitions had already started him on a more mainstream path. He was also careful to keep the Kansas constituents happy, and was a reliable friend of the farmer, especially the big agribusiness ones who were generous donors to his perfunctory re-election campaigns, and his hawkish stands on defense spending played well at the local air force base and the airplane factories that always had a friend when seeking a government contract, and his press releases would alternate between the latest pork being brought home to Kansas and the Senator’s tough stands on big government and reckless spending, but he also cultivated a national reputation as a pragmatic deal-maker and not one of the scary and unelectable conservative ideologues. When Ronald Reagan at long last won the presidency in ’80, proving that those scary conservative ideologues aren’t so unelectable after all, at least not after four years of Jimmy Carter, Dole was never able to get a good seat on the bandwagon and his positioned himself as a reasonable middleman.
Which was enough to get him easily re-elected in Kansas back in the day, when the Democrats had long since given up any hope of a very rare Senate win and started nominating their looniest liberals as sacrificial lambs so that base would have some reason to feel self-righteous as they went to the polls. As reporters at the local newspaper we got to cover the campaign of one hippy-dippy young woman whose name was drawn out of some threadbare hat to run as Dole’s Democratic opponent, who we found endearingly loopy and hilariously similar to every popular stereotype of left-winger, and who gave us the greatest drunken interview after her landslide defeat, and even the most anti-establishment Republican had to admit that Dole wasn’t one of those. We also covered Dole’s office in the early ’90s, which was quite a chore given his press office’s far greater interest in returning phone calls to The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as the Senator’s prickliness about even the most polite and even supportive questions, but there were never any stories that hurt his popularity within his party.
Deal-making and bi-partisanship and big money agribusiness donors and all the rest were accepted as business as usual in a party placated by the Reagan economic boom, as even it stretched into the otherwise-hated Clinton years, and it was sufficient for a candidate to claim that at least he wasn’t one of those loony Democrats. It worked well enough to give George H.W. Bush what was hoped to be third Reagan term, but neither Bush nor Dole could stave off eight years of Clinton. Another Bush managed to stave off Al Gore and John Kerry, which even the most anti-establishment Republican must admit is a public service, but he wound up ushering eight years of Barack Obama, with the possibility of another eight years of a Clinton, with all sorts of deals made and trillions of dollars of debt racked up, and by now even the mushiest sorts of Republicans are in an angrily anti-establishment mood.
Yet another Bush is trying to buck this anti-establishmentarianism, which isn’t going to happen, and the support of an even older establishment figure such as Dole won’t help.

— Bud Norman


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