A Typical Day in the Popular Culture

Although we strive to keep a forward looking eye on the latest political and economic developments, when it comes to the broader culture we’re content to live in the past. Most of the authors we read are long gone, our movie watching is mostly limited to the black-and-white fare on Netflix, the television is rarely on and only tunes into the ancient reruns that air on ultra-high frequency, the stereo is constantly blasting vinyl recordings of lush pop standards and twangy honky-tonk tunes and rough garage band rants of more exuberant eras, and on a visit to an art museum we will always rush past the more recent offerings to get another look at the paintings of Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent and the rest of the dead white males before the critics have completely deconstructed them. It’s a bad habit, as the latest political and economic developments are so often the dreary result of the broader culture, but our occasional forays into the new stuff are just too disheartening to continue.
Even with the most strenuous effort one cannot avoid some contact with the broader culture, though, and we’re occasionally made aware of the last celebrity contretemps. Our daily examination of the essential Drudge Report is our primary source for the latest tales of Tinseltown and other entertainment capitals, along with the headlines on the tabloid covers that are all there is to look at in a grocery store checkout line other than the tattoos and obscenity-laden t-shirts of the person ahead, so we’re at least au courant enough to know that it’s all as tawdry as ever. Matt Drudge grew up in both Washington, D.C., and Hollywood, and his famously idiosyncratic news judgement recognizes the power that both towns wield, so we’ll often peruse what he finds of interest. On Wednesday he featured a story about the upcoming release of a documentary alleging widespread sexual exploitation of children in the movie industry, some rock stars serenading the crowd at a Veterans’ Day tribute concert with some anti-war agitprop and obscenities, an urban chanteuse we’ve heard of but never heard saying that what she likes best about the president is that he’s black, and some fellow with more money than taste buying one of those kitschy Andy Warhol silk screens of Elvis Presley for $151 million. This is a typically dispiriting day’s worth of entertainment dispatches at the Drudge Report, but with the president off in China for a costume party and the Republican congressional majorities not yet installed we took some interest in the stories.
That documentary about the sexual exploitation of children in Hollywood turns out to rely at least in part on the testimony of a fellow whose lawsuit has been thrown out of court, but we’re inclined to give some credence to the rest of it. The film industry has never been known for its sexual rectitude, after all, and having watched its best and brightest rally to the defense of Roman Polanski after he anally raped a 13-year-old girl leaves us predisposed to believe the worst. Pederasty is of the few sexual behaviors that are still condemned by society, at least for now, so the documentarians have one of the last opportunities to generate a Hollywood scandal. Anything else they allege about Hollywood’s sex life will only generate yawns or envy. No matter how convincing their case they won’t generate the public outrage that followed revelations of sexual exploitation of children in the Catholic church, or even the tale of some protestant evangelist’s extramarital affair, but it would be good if they could make people a little more skeptical of Hollywood’s depictions of villainous corporate executives and repressed homosexual military men and the banality of the suburbs and the rest of the contemporary cinematic cliches.
Those rock stars shocking the squares at a Veterans’ Day are by now a cliche, as well. We’ve never heard of the fellow who let loose with the obscenities, but Bruce Springsteen was the one who unleashed the Vietnam-era protest songs, and he’s been around so long that even we have a copy of his “Born to Run” album, and it’s all too familiar to be shocking. We note that Springsteen, a supposed workingman’s hero who also goes by the name of “The Boss,” chose to entertain the all-volunteer military personnel in attendance with “Fortunate Son,” which is about draftees who didn’t get the reserve gigs that the songwriters did during the Vietnam War and is the only bad song Creedence Clearwater Revival ever did. As for that urban chanteuse who thinks the best thing about the president is that he’s black, we can only say as old white conservative Republican men who prefer Peggy Lee that she’s probably right. The story about somebody shelling out $151 million for one of Warhol’s cliches, even if it did have Elvis, was a reminder that even high culture isn’t holding the bar very high these days.
This is what the masses are taught to aspire to, though, and we’ll keep that in mind as we follow the latest political and economic developments.

– Bud Norman

About these ads

No Refuge in China

President Barack Obama is currently in China, far away from any pesky Republicans, but he doesn’t seem to be enjoying the trip. He’s getting the obligatory red carpet treatment from his hosts and the obligatory softball questions from the press, has been afforded an opportunity to wear exotic clothing, and is getting his picture taken with the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations, all of which usually cheers him up, but the photographs all portray a rather glum fellow.
The Asia-Pacific economic summit being hosted in Beijing offers the president a chance to get away from mounting domestic problems and strike a statesmanlike pose, along with the other perquisites of diplomatic travel, but little else. He made a grand announcement of an agreement with China on carbon emissions, but once he gets backs to Washington those pesky Republicans will have something to say about that, the Chinese will continue emitting carbon as they please, and an increasingly skeptical American public will not be impressed by a proposal to restrain the American economy. Little progress is expected on restraining China’s expansionist ambitions or predatory copyright infringements and cyber warfare and currency manipulations or other pressing problems, and no one is expecting any important diplomatic breakthroughs with any of the other assembled leaders. The president managed to dodge a condescending pat on the back from Russian President Vladimir Putin, but their brief exchanges apparently have not resulted in a Russian retreat from Ukraine.
Still, the president’s dour expression in all those photographs, looking self-conscious even in that rather dapper Fu Manchu outfit, is curious. Previous diplomatic journeys proved just as pointless but still put a smile on his face, and the lack of any news from the trip can only improve his standing with the public. We can only speculate that he’s feeling insufficiently appreciated. Despite the diplomatic niceties the Chinese government broadcast its sneering contempt for Obama’s leadership through the state media in the days before his arrival, Putin’s ostentatiously chummy behavior seemed calculated to express a similarly superior attitude, and no one among the friendlier leaders was looking to him for all the answers. We suspect that this is not what Obama had anticipated for the sixth year of his presidency, which was supposed to be when the world joined hands and started singing “Give Peace a Chance” in tune with his pitch pipe, and that he is disappointed with the world.
Obama is always more energetic and ruthless in his dealings with America’s real enemy, those pesky Republicans, so perhaps he’ll perk up when he returns to Washington. He’ll have to dodge a condescending pat on the back from presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, though, and we don’t expect that in the resultant photographs his facial expression will be any sunnier. America is proving disappointing to the president, as well, and it’s going to take a heck of a pep talk from Valerie Jarrett to keep his chin up to its usual heights.

– Bud Norman

Lies For the Greater Good, or Something

One problem with practicing deception, aside from the obvious moral hazards, is that a perpetrator can never claim credit for having successfully pulled it off. The temptation to boast about one’s cleverness in fooling the gullible was too great for Jonathan Gruber to resist, however, and he’s been caught on tape proudly explaining all the lies that were told get Obamacare passed.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor is widely known as the “architect” of Obamacare, having served as a technical advisor to the eponymous Obama administration during the law’s drafting, and with a surprising bluntness he admits that it was built on a foundation of lies. Speaking at a 2013 panel discussion during the University of Pennsylvania’s annual Health Economics Forum he said “The bill was written in a tortured way to make sure (Congressional Budget Office) did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scores the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.” That lie was also made necessary by the lie President Barack Obama told during the ’08 campaign that he would not allow any tax increases on anyone making less than $250,000 a year, and was acknowledged as a lie when the administration’s lawyers insisted the president always called a “mandate” was indeed a “tax” in order to win the Supreme Court’s approval for the law, but Gruber did not stop there. He also told his admiring audience that “If you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in, you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed,” which is basically an admission that the sales pitch about people keeping their plans if they liked their plans and the average American family seeing a $2,500 reduction in their annual health care costs and not adding a dime to the deficit and all the rest of it was a lie intended to obscure the redistributionist nature of the law. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber added, “and basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really critical for the thing to pass.”
Lest one think that Gruber enjoyed bamboozling his stupid fellow Americans as much as he seems to relish the re-telling, he insists that “I wish … we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.” Despite his admissions of dishonesty we’re inclined to believe this disclaimer. We don’t doubt that he’s quite disappointed to live in a constitutional republic with so many stupid people who must be lied to in order for his policy preferences to be imposed on them, or that he truly believes he knows better than 300 million people he has never met what is in their best interests, and would much prefer some system that allowed him dictatorial powers without resort to such unpleasant obfuscations. The attitude is infuriatingly widespread these days, and enjoys such intellectual respectability that the likes of Gruber are not at all embarrassed to express it in a public forum, so we’ll regard such heartfelt regret as sincere.
So long as he was unburdening himself, we wish Gruber had further conceded that pretty much the entirety of the modern liberal project is also based on lies being told to the people that modern liberalism claims to champion. Modern liberalism is basically a plan to rob Peter to pay Paul, but Peter is presumed to be an idiot who will fall for promises of some payoff down the road at some richer fellow’s expense, and Paul’s support can be counted on no matter how the plan is presented, and it’s all in the name of social justice, and those Republicans Peter might be tempted to vote for if the plan were more frankly stated are such awful people, so the liberal conscience is untroubled by any liberties that might be taken with the truth. The theory that the best policies derive from a democratic process of public deliberation based on honest arguments by opposing sides is quaintly old-fashioned, given a population too stupid to appreciate the obvious brilliance that is Obamacare, and cannot assail the modern liberal’s religious faith that he knows best.
Honesty and a decent respect for the democratic rights of their fellow citizens would be nice, but they’d rather have the law.

– Bud Norman

Dr. Strangelove Goes to Iran

The Associated Press has filed a report on the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and it’s a remarkable piece of work. Rarely will you see so much partisan political spin packed into so few column inches. Headlined “US faces last best chance on Iran nuke deal,” the ostensibly objective article depicts heroic efforts by the administration to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb “before skeptical Republicans who will control Congress next year can scuttle it.” There’s not a bit of skepticism on the part of the Associated Press about the proposed deal, which we are told “would deliver a foreign policy triumph for the White House,” so the reader is left to surmise that those dastardly Republicans would rather imperil world peace than allow the president a political victory.
This will be the official version of the story, as well, but only for so long as it suits official purposes. The article helpfully explains that the administration is hoping that its soaring rhetoric and charming nature will have fully pacified Iran after 35 years of its relentless belligerence by Nov. 24, because that’s when an agreed-upon “deadline” for negotiations occurs, but given the flexible nature of diplomacy and the administration’s disregard for deadlines in presenting its legally-required budget proposals or implementing Obamacare the authors don’t bother to deny that the real cut-off date in the negotiations coincides with the installation of a Republican Senate majority on the third of January. Until then, the White House will be counting on such sympathetic press coverage to sell the idea that whatever it gets out of its many months of desperate pleading is some sort of deus ex machina that must be ratified by a lame duck Senate right this very moment before Republican skullduggery or some other pesky sort of public scrutiny blows the historic opportunity for a lasting peace with the Islamic Republic.
Afterwards, though, the official version of the story will likely be that we should learn to stop worrying and love the Iranian bomb. The president’s apologetic public pronouncements and private correspondence to the Iranian regime have been met with rhetoric more contemptuous that anything even the most “tea party” Republican muster, the Iranians seem to have figured out that the threatened sanctions only last until they agree to continue the endless negotiations, there is no worry that the administration will support any popular uprising that might result from the country’s economic woes, America clearly poses no military threat to the regime for at least the next two years, administration officials have boasted of restraining an Israeli threat and would clearly intervene against any threats by the Sunni and Arab nations who feel threatened by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, so it’s hard to see why the Iranians would suddenly be inclined to cut a deal favorable to the interests of the Great Satan. Nor is there any reason to believe the Iranians can be trusted to follow through on any concessions they might make, as their long history has apparently continued right through the last round of negotiations. Nor is there any reason to believe that the administration really cares what happens after a deal is reached so long as they can get one in time for the Associated Press and like-minded media to proclaim it a foreign policy triumph.
The president continues to insist that “Our number one priority with respect to Iran is making sure they don’t get a nuclear weapon,” and is quoted saying so without any apparent skepticism in all the stories, but the position is never fully explained. He’s already acceded the Iranian regime the right to enrich uranium and pursue a civilian nuclear program in its oil-rich country, apologized for America’s alleged misdeeds against the Islamic Republic, carefully avoided any mention of Iran’s many misdeeds against America, declared to the assembled United Nations that no nation has the right to dictate to another, saved his administration’s foul-mouthed insults and dictates about housing policy and other internal matters for Israel, so it’s hard to imagine his rationale for denying one of the wretched of the earth a mere nuclear bomb or two. He’s also failed to explain exactly what America will do about it if the Iranians persist in building a nuclear weapon, and we have no confidence the Iranians are cowed by the prospect of a more sternly worded speech.
Any deal that emerges from this hurried mess of dealing from weakness will warrant far more skepticism than the Associated Press can muster. and should be subject to a sufficient period of public deliberation. Iran must promise a complete halt to all of nuclear weapons research and development, completely reliable verification systems must be established, a threat of force if all conditions are not met must be included, and some explanation for why such an inexplicable breakthrough has occurred other than the irresistible appeal of Secretary of State John Kerry must be offered. Otherwise, we’re siding with those dastardly Republicans who would rather imperil world peace than allow the president a political victory.

– Bud Norman

The Next Two Years of Nothing to Do

With Republicans firmly in control of both chambers of congress and a Democrat still wielding a veto pen in the White House there is little chance of the federal government getting anything done during the next two years, which is fine by us. Inaction will be much preferable to all the things the Democrats got done when they controlled everything, and it should provide a political advantage to the Republicans.
The newly-elected Republican majority should be able to quickly pass a number of bills that the four-year-old Republican majority in the House has already approved, all of them with enough poll-tested popularity to make a veto politically problematic for the president, and the even the most dutifully partisan scribes will be hard-pressed to explain how the party that just racked up the impressive wins in the mid-term elections is thwarting the will of the people. There’s talk that a first volley will be a green light for the XL Keystone Pipeline, which everyone except for a few extreme environmentalists thinks is a good idea and long overdue, and even if the president is forced to sign it he’ll endure the resentment and reduced fund-raising of those few extreme environmentalists and get little credit from the rest of the country in exchange. An all-out repeal of Obamacare would be a futile if satisfyingly symbolic gesture without the 61 votes required to override a veto, and would stir up an unnecessary fuss over the one two items within the law’s thousands of pages that enjoy popularity among the more misinformed portions of the population, but piecemeal repeal of he law’s most troublesome and obviously stupid provisions should knock a few points off the president’s approval ratings every time he vetoes one of them. There are enough of those troublesome and obviously stupid provisions that the Republicans should have him down to zero in short order, but we’d urge that they continue the practice nonetheless. A much needed overhaul of the tax system would also be futile and afford an opportunity to bamboozle the uniformed, but the tax laws include enough obvious and undeniable trouble and stupidity that the Republicans should be able to score similar points with a series of slight reforms, with a corporate tax rate that imposes a competitive disadvantage on every American business in global markets an excellent place to start, and relief from the carbon regulations championed by the aforementioned few environmental extremists are just of many pro-growth proposals that will at least draw attention to the president’s unpopular positions.
A steady stream of obligatory news stories about these bills would quickly dispute the president’s cliches of a “do-nothing congress” and a “party of no,” but the Republicans could also benefit from what they don’t do and when they say “no.” Voting for budgets small than the presidents inevitably lavish proposals won’t cost any popular support, and we can’t think of any pending Democratic proposals that cannot be opposed without offending anyone other minimum-wage workers and ineligible voters and a few environmental extremists. More aggressive joint committee investigations into the scandals surrounding Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service, just about everything in the Department and Justice, and numerous other overlooked stories is also a good idea, not just for an easily forgivable spite but because the serious nature of these matters demands investigation and public attention. The Democrats who survived Tuesday’s mid-terms owe no favors to the president, whose insistence on making the election a referendum on his own unpopular policies was a godsend to the Republicans, and the congressionally-passed will in many cases even have a claim to bipartisanship.
Meanwhile, the president will get things done by executive action. Amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants and economically damaging regulations intended to prevent the climate from changing will prove unpopular, and the extra-constitutional way they are imposed will also prove unpopular, but at this point the very lame president seems quite unconcerned about public opinion or his party’s political fortunes. Any congressional efforts to thwart such actions by withholding funding or anything else at hand will please a large majority of the public, even if the resulting court battles stretch out long past the president’s final term, and will leave the next Democratic presidential with some difficult explaining to do. If the president finds it too bothersome to deal with an oppositional congress he might choose to focus his attention on foreign policy, where the constitution does allow him some leeway, but that’s likely to redound to the Republicans’ benefit as well.
The inevitable gridlock will delay for two years the tax cuts and deregulation and downsizing of everything except a military that desperately needs some additional funding, but if the Republicans continue their recent uncharacteristic savviness it might make all those things possible after one more election cycle. Tuesday’s election produced a strong slate of Republican candidates, the likely Democratic candidate is an aging and increasingly unpopular woman who is insuperable from the previous administration’s disastrous foreign policy and redistributionist economic theories, and if the government doesn’t do anything in the next two years it won’t do anything to change the minds that voted for solid Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Leap years always bring in the uniformed voters gullible to scare stories about wars on women and lynch mobs and cuts to Social Security, and demographic trends and an entrenched liberal news and entertainment media establishment and a growing number of people dependent on government support all make presidential elections difficult for Republicans, but the next two years of inaction could level the playing field.

– Bud Norman

Republicans Versus Republicans Versus Democrats

Although we rarely bother to glance at Facebook, we couldn’t help taking a peek at the disconsolate postings of our left-wing friends after Tuesday’s many Republican victories in the mid-term elections. As Conan the Barbarian famously said when asked what is best in life, “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, hear the lamentations of their women.” We also tuned into our usual right-wing talk radio fare and visited the usual right-wing internet publications, hoping to share in the expected exultations, but found a rather muted response.
Much of the credit for the Republicans’ remarkable success must be attributed to Kentucky Senator and presumptive Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, New Jersey Governor and Republican Governors Association chairman Chris Christie, and former Bush administration political boss and current activist Karl Rove, along with countless unknown professional party operatives, which takes much fun out of the victory for a certain sort of Republican. Even as the GOP celebrates a historic victory over the darned Democrats it continues to endure a civil war between the ideologically pure and rabid “tea party” and the pragmatic and wimpy “establishment,” and the most dedicated adherents to the former faction regard the aforementioned gentlemen as the worst of the latter faction. The Republican congressional leadership’s post-election assurances that there will be no government shutdowns or threats a credit default or any of the sort of brinksmanship championed by the more confrontational conservatives has already exacerbated the resentment, and their failure to acknowledge the dutiful support of their intra-party rivals has been ungracious and unhelpful, so a shared victory does not seem likely to result in a Republican rapprochement. Which strikes us as unfortunate, as we are sympathetic to both sides of the battle and can easily envision a successful alliance.
The “tea party’s” paranoid panic about the state of the nation strikes us as entirely appropriate, and we share its belief that desperate times call for desperate measures. From our prairie perspective McConnell has been too timid and too moderate in his leadership of the party’s Senate minority, the timidity and moderation of Boehner’s speakership has been all the more infuriating because he led a majority, Chris Christie is a Republican only by the appallingly low standards of the northeastern states, Rove deserves as much blame as anybody for the deficit-spending and governmental growth of the Bush years, and we regard those professional operatives with the usual Republican disdain for slick college kids in fancy suits who attend inside-the-beltway cocktail parties. The “tea party” also embodies the bedrock principles of low taxes and limited government and individual liberty and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism that we believe are the only way out of the current crisis, and we hate to think how Tuesday’s results might have turned out if like-minded conservatives had decided to sit out the election for spite rather than pitch on the effort for the candidates that weren’t entirely to their liking.
Still, we’re magnanimous enough to offer some thanks for the shrewd moves the “establishment” has made against the heated advice of their internecine adversaries. The government shutdowns and budgetary brinksmanship that the “tea party” advocated were well-justified and caused little harm in our opinion, but there’s no denying the damage it always does to Republican poll numbers and it’s a lucky break it was all long forgotten by the mid-term elections. A constant onslaught of primary challenges by newly enthused “tea party” insurgents had the salutary effect of dragging the Republicans in a more steadfastly conservative direction, but it also yielded more than a few rank amateurs who blew winnable races with amateurish gaffes that were used to tarnish the party at large. An all-out effort by the “establishment” to winnow out such troublesome candidates include a heavy-handed effort to choose a more polished state government veteran over the more fire-breathing “tea party” choice in Colorado and a downright disgusting effort to oust a “tea party” candidate prone to indelicate remarks about race in Mississippi by the most blatant appeals to cross-over-voting black Democrats, but it also resulted in a very impressive slate candidates across the nation. This time around the best efforts of a biased media couldn’t find any notable misstatements by Republicans to endlessly replay on the late night comedy shows, and all had to admit that such Democrats as Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and Kentucky senatorial hopeful Allison Lundgrem Grimes And Wisconsin gubernatorial challenger Mary Burke had descended into farce. Those right-wing talk radio hosts kept insisting the Republicans present an attackable agenda of what they are for, but the election results suggest they were right to focus on the widely unpopular things they opposed.
What the warring factions of the Republicans are opposed to is pretty much all they agree on, after all, and that should be sufficient for an effective if uneasy alliance. Given the unfortunate reality that we confront six years into the age of hope and change, holding off the most outrageous actions of a president emboldened by his lame duck status will be conservatism’s most pressing challenge and one that we expect to have a unifying effect. There’s a chance that the Republican leadership will go wobbly on the president’s promised executive actions regarding illegal immigration, in which case the civil war will be on again with a righteous vengeance, but otherwise the congressional leadership should be able cobble together an agenda palatable to the conservative base. Prompt movement on the Keystone Pipeline, cutting the corporate tax rate to a globally competitive level, repeal of certain problematic portions of Obamcare and promise of an eventual repeal of the whole damned thing, and of course resistance to whatever executive actions the president might sign regarding climate change or social justice or whatever other trendy cause he embraces should satisfy every sort of Republican and play well with the general public. With the shrewd professionalism of the “establishment” and the intellectually sound enthusiasm of the “tea party” peaceably combined, and with a promising slate of potential presidential candidates, the Republicans might stand a chance of restoring order in ’16. At such point we’ll have to fight it out between low taxes and even lower taxes and limited government and even more limited government, and there will be the usual squabbles about tactics, but we’d prefer that to fighting with Democrats.

– Bud Norman

A Good Day, All in All

There was a lot of good news on Tuesday. Republicans won control of the Senate, increased their majority in the House of Representatives, reelected a few governors who will now be formidable presidential candidates, and the drubbed Democrats are blaming their already unpopular president. Still, our reaction is a sense of relief rather than elation.
That unpopular president will remain in office for another two years to create all sorts of domestic havoc with his pen and phone and penchant for ignoring constitutional restraints, he’ll still have plenty of legitimate authority to continue his disastrous foreign policy, and the best one can hope for from the newly Republican Congress is that they’ll limit the damage. Although the president was brusquely rebuffed by the electorate that will likely make him all the more defiant of public opinion, and the election results cannot be seen as a widespread public embrace of any Republican principles rather a much-needed obstructionism. Several races were saved by a temporary truce between the warring factions of the Republican party, a welcome development, but the divisions remain and the elections will likely bolster the less conservative side. Such godawful Democrats as Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall survived the night, too, and such sizable states as New York and California remain lost causes.
Our reflexive Republican gloominess notwithstanding, however, there really was a lot of good news. The sound of “Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid” is soothing to our ears, and a more conservative and assertive House majority might well prod its Senate colleagues into a more confrontational stance. The surviving Democrats won’t feel any further obligation to rally around a lame duck president who did little to offer them help and often seemed intent on sabotaging their campaigns, and whatever mischief the president might attempt on his own is going to be a good issue for the Republicans to run on in the next presidential race should the country survive to that late date. That nonsense about a “Republican war on women” fell so flat it probably won’t be revived any time soon, shameful efforts to increase black turnout with talk of Republicans gunning down innocent black children in the streets didn’t prevent their candidates from losing in Georgia and North Carolina and other southern states, and even great gobs of money from labor unions and fashionably liberal billionaires and gullible unemployed hipsters living in their parents’ basements under a fading “Hope and Change” poster couldn’t buy a win in the most hotly contested races.
Some pretty impressive politicians also stepped into the spotlight, too. We’re expecting good things from Senator-elect Joni Ernst in Iowa and Representative-elect Elise Stefanik in New York and Utah’s Representative-elect Mia Love, among others who won their first races, and we can also hope that their hard-earned wins put a final nail in the coffin of that “war on women” nonsense. Gov. Scott Walker’s comfortable margin of victory in Wisconsin, which was his third win in four years after a brutal recall effort two years ago, and came despite the more bare-knuckle sort of tactics by the pubic sector unions he had bravely challenge, sets him up nicely for a presidential run that we would be inclined to support. Wins by the similarly successful governors Rick Perry of Texas, John Kasich of Ohio, and Rick Snyder of Michigan indicate that the party will have a strong field of candidates outside of Washington, D.C., to choose from. Almost as satisfying was that such odious Democrats as Texas gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis and incumbent Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and Wisconsin gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke not only lost but wound up as laughingstocks in the process.
Things worked out well here in Kansas, as well, although it was too close for the comfort to which we have become accustomed. Gov. Sam Brownback had to sweat out a tight race, having annoyed the teachers’ unions and the Republicans who had been nicked by his budget-cutting and the hard-core Democrats who for some reason seethe with a red-hot hatred for every curly hair on his head, but he won despite the further disadvantage of not being able to tie a gubernatorial candidate to that unpopular president. We know Brownback to be a good man, but we’re mainly glad that the Democrats won’t be able to claim that his tax-and-budget-cutting policies had been repudiated.  In a race without an admitted Democrat, Sen. Pat Roberts won by a more comfortable margin, although not nearly what a Republican incumbent should expect in this state.  We attribute the victory mainly to that unpopular president and the putatively independent opponent’s inability to avoid an association with him, but also to the endorsements of such locally beloved conservative icons as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been at the forefront of a national effort to restrict voting to eligible voters, survived an challenge that had been well-funded from donors around the nation who seek make voter fraud easier. All the Republican congressional incumbents won handily, including the First District’s Tim Huelskamp, whose conservative fervency had so annoyed his own party’s leadership that he was stripped of important committee assignments and was at one point thought vulnerable. Our favorite Sedgwick County Commissioner won, too, despite the reservation of the Republicans with a business interest in county politics and the Democrats’ lavish backing of an heiress to a local black political dynasty.

All the state and local races were close enough that the Democrats around here had great expectations, so it was also nice to see their hopes dashed yet again. Tuesday might not prevent another desultory couples of years, but it did provide some compensatory satisfactions.

– Bud Norman

Another Election Day

Today is Election Day, at long last, and we are glad of it. No matter how the races turn out, we will welcome a respite from the relentless campaigning.
Kansas is usually spared the worst of it, but this year a confluence of unfortunate events have made the state’s gubernatorial and senatorial elections unusually competitive, and as a result the state’s politics have been unusually pervasive. One can turn off the radio and television to avoid the barrage of advertisements, and curtail the evening walks to avoid all the yard signs proclaiming the neighbors’ poor choices, but there’s no escape in the internet, no avoiding the mailbox stuffed with fliers, and the phone has constantly been ringing with robocalls. Our avid interest in politics led us to consider all of it carefully in the beginning, but by now the fliers go to the trash unread and the commercials are ignored and the robocalls are hung up on as soon as they begin. Not that we’re shirking our civic duty to be well informed, as we knew all the arguments and had made our choices the day after the primaries, and although we’ve taken care to be apprised of any new revelations there haven’t been any worth noting.
The polls and the pundits give no indication of what the results will be, which is also unusual for Kansas at this late date in an election. Part of the problem is that the war within the Republican party between the “tea party” and “the establishment” has been especially hard fought here, leaving its candidates bruised and battered. Gov. Sam Brownback’s aggressive tax-cutting and budget-cutting was accomplished with help from like-minded “tea party” types who pulled off a remarkable primary purge during the movement’s high-water year of 2014, and a number of “establishment” types who had grown comfortable with expensive and bloated state government so long as they ran it have bolted from the party. Their support plus the wrath of the teachers’ unions who resented Brownback’s sensible proposal to allow incompetent teachers to be fire and all the liberals who hate Brownback with a red-hot passion that can not be explained in any possible terms have given a good chance of victory to Democratic opponent Paul Davis, a typical liberal from the typically liberal college town of Lawrence who has plenty of money to spend on adds that make his typical tax-and-spend politics sound some sensible and mainstream. Sen. Pat Roberts would be considered a “tea party” type in most jurisdictions, by contemporary Kansas Republican standards his 86 percent rating from the American Conservative Union is considered wimpy and he barely survived a primary challenge by a more rock-ribbed amateur only because of the opponent’s amateurishness and the fact that a couple of no-name votes split a crucial share of the widespread anti-Roberts sentiment. The Democrats still withdrew from the race, however, in order to clear the way for a self-proclaimed independent named Greg Orman whose personal fortune and the donations of some even more well-heeled out-of-state liberals have allowed him to run a very professional campaign positioning the former Democratic candidate and longtime Democratic donor as a non-partisan centrist. Throw in a widespread anti-incumbency mood among that significant bloc of voters too stupid and lazy to consider which party’s incumbents they hate most, and it’s a rare nail-biter in this state.
We remain cautiously optimistic that both Brownback and Roberts will survive close calls, but won’t make any wagers. All the tiresome cliches about how it all comes down to turnout are applicable, and it’s hard to figure who has the edge in this regard. The Democrats are fired up with their red-hot hatred of Brownback, but his ardent supporters in the anti-abortion movement are reliable voters with the extra incentive of Davis’ radically pro-abortion record and the more libertarian among the party will be spooked by the prospect of handing another two years of control of the Senate to Democrats.and we expect that many of the “establishment” types who don’t actually hold jobs in the state government and party establishment are still Republican enough that they won’t vote for what is after all a tax-and-spend platform. All those Democrats itching to vote against Brownback will also vote against Roberts, even if without the enthusiasm of voting for an admitted Democrat, but we expect that Republicans will also wind up voting for Roberts, even without the enthusiasm of voting for a more full-throated and rock-ribbed Republican. Numerous politicians with impeccably conservative credentials have pitched in on the campaign, that vanquished primary opponent has belatedly offered his endorsement, and the non-stop argument that a vote for Orman could keep the Democrats in control of the Senate should limit the number of conservatives sitting this one out.
So it really all comes down to getting out those voters who haven’t been paying attention, and there’s no telling how that will unfold. The National Rifle Association has spent a great deal of money to get the state’s sizable population of gun owners revved up on behalf of both Brownback and Roberts, a ridiculous referendum proposal to raise Wichita’s already sky-high sales taxes will bring out a lot of tightfisted taxpayers in the state’s largest city and will probably add a few votes to the Republican totals, the weather is forecast to be chilly, Roberts has a party organization while Orman will be piggybacking on the Democrats efforts, Kansas State University’s beloved football coach has come out strong for Roberts, and the same anti-Obama sentiment that is said to be brewing a Republican wave has been washing over Kansas for the past six years. Only the most hard-core of the Democrats seem fired up, too, and the all-important hipsters down at the local dive seem not to have noticed all the pervasive politics. It’s enough to make us confident, but quite cautiously so.
We’ll take our biennial stroll to a nearby Lutheran church and cast our votes, then anxiously follow the results here and across the nation. We’re watching the Wisconsin gubernatorial race and the Iowa Senate contest and of course will be keeping track of the Republicans’ numbers in the Senate and House, so it will be a full day of politics. After that we’ll try to take a day off from the stuff, and savor of the sound of the phone not dining with robocalls.

– Bud Norman

Walking Down the Street Toward Civilizational Decline

Call us old-fashioned fuddy-duddies, or say that we’re newfangled feminists, but we have long held to the opinion that a woman should be able to walk down a public street without being subjected to the most boorish sort of behavior by men. We had thought this would not be at all controversial, with conservatives who decry the coarseness of our popular culture and liberals who take a preening pride in their concern for women finding rare room for agreement, but apparently this is not so.
Judging by the reaction to a widely-viewed hidden-camera video of a day in the unhappy life of a woman pedestrian trying to deal with the frequent unwanted attention and overtly sexual remarks and occasional threatening actions of passersby, the notion that she or any other woman is entitled to more civil treatment by her fellow citizens is either the worst sort of left-wing grievance politics or a right-wing racist plot. The video was produced by a group calling itself Hollaback, which is dedicated to the eradication of what it rightly calls “street harassment,” and has stirred up quite a fuss. More people have viewed it than tune into even a highly-rated network sitcom, pundits from across the political spectrum have weighed in, and typically illiterate comments with non-stop capitalization and an abundance of exclamation marks to emphasize the writers’ seriousness have proliferated across the internet. Thus far the vast majority of opinion, from all ideological sides, seems to be that women should not only accept such rudeness on the streets but learn to like it.
The “progressive” version of this absurd argument is based on the uncomfortable facts that the woman in the video appears to be white and most of the boorish and obnoxious men she encounters appear to be black or Latino. This is enough for Brooklyn Magazine to declare that “the audience is supposed to be, namely, those who seek to protect and defend white women, aka the already existing power structure.” At The Daily Dot the headline was “Thousands of satisfied racists are sharing that viral cat-calling video.” Someone at The Root found the video reminiscent of D.W. Griffith, which was not meant as a compliment to its innovative cinematic technique bur rather a complaint that “some of the video’s intentional choices seem to play on the ‘Birth of a Nation’ trope that white women simply aren’t safe from sex-crazed black and brown men.” The venerable commie rag The Nation found the video “deeply problematic,” and suggested a remake starring “say, a black trans woman.” Not to be outdone, the fashionable internet magazine Salon sought to imbue the rude remarks and sexual innuendo with righteous truth-to-power political significance, writing that “This kind of harassment can be a way marginalized groups talk back to the white gentrifiers taking over their neighborhoods.” There have also been frequent references to Emmitt Till, the young black man who was lynched in the Jim Crow-era south for making untoward remarks to a white woman. The behavior shown in the video is less common among white collar workers or in the suburbs where they live, so there’s the all-important class angle as well.
This outcry has been sufficient to elicit an apology from Hollaback for not including more boorish and obnoxious Caucasian men in the video, complete with an unconvincing claim that by some extraordinary coincidence technical difficulties rendered most of the white guy footage unusable, and we will concede based on our own observation that boorish and obnoxious men come in all hues. Still, we think it’s all hooey. Much of the liberal commentariat seems willing and even eager to stipulate that such boorishness is more common in black and Latino neighborhoods, as it allows them to defend the behavior on grounds of cultural relativism or ethnic authenticity or whatever the prevailing academic theory might be, even as they fault the filmmakers for not adhering to a strict quota system. The idea that a group that adopts such a hip-hoppy name as Hollaback and couches all its arguments in feminist rather than chivalrous lingo is aiming for an audience of aged rednecks rather than the modern urban woman is ridiculous, as is the notion the modern urban woman is hoping for a racist lynch mob to come to her rescue. If Brooklyn Magazine yearns for a future power structure that does not protect and defend certain women because of their race, and if The Nation truly believes that, say, a black trans woman has a more unassailable right to walk down a public avenue without being harassed than a natural-born white woman, and if Salon actually means to imply that men have a right to enforce racial segregation and prevent economic improvement in their neighborhoods by making a woman of another race uncomfortable on the streets, then all are peddling a strange brand of “liberalism” that is both immoral and unworkable in a working society. Nor are we convinced by arguments that a certain behavior is acceptable because white collar suburbanites don’t do it, no matter how strenuously they are stereotyped as sexual repressed Republicans. Certainly none of these arguments can explain why the unfortunate woman in the video should endure such outrageous remarks from men she has never given any offense.
Race and class will always trump gender in the liberal trinity of holy causes, so such nonsense is to be expected, but we have been disappointed by the reaction on the right. Two of our favorite destinations on the internet are Powerline and Instapundit, and both were dismissive of the Hollaback group’s complaints. The former characterized the behavior seen in the video as “friendly, flattering, inappropriate, or, in one or two instances, creepy, although never threatening,” while the latter dismissed it as a “first world complaint” in comparison to the far worse conditions faced by women in areas controlled by the Islamic State. Rush Limbaugh had an uncharacteristically ambiguous take on the video on his popular radio show, taking pains to correctly point out that the black and Latino New Yorkers depicted are most unlikely to be Republicans or part of that party’s alleged “war on women,” but his callers had no sympathy for the women no matter the political affiliations of her tormentors. With all due respect to the imminent gentlemen at Powerline, we wonder which of the gratuitous comments about the woman’s anatomy they considered “flattering” and which were merely “inappropriate,” and how many minutes a thuggish-loooking young man must follow a woman in lockstep before it crosses that nebulous boundary between “creepy” and “threatening,” and whether the same standards would apply if it were their wives or daughters on those streets. Instapundit’s estimable Prof. Reynolds can be forgiven for chastising the feminist movements for its appalling failure to support its sisters in a third world that is somehow exempt from moral judgments, but wrong to suggest that women should wait until their circumstances degenerate to that level before voicing reasonable demands for civil treatment on public streets. Conservatives have been obligated to resist feminism’s unreasonable demands for so long that it has by now become an ingrained habit, but it’s a strange brand of conservatism that will justify the most boorish behavior of some of its political opponents rather than cede any rhetorical ground to others.
We were heartened to see longtime conservative standard-bearer The National Review give space to a young woman staffer’s plea for a more polite public square, as well as a thoughtful piece about the left’s inherent contradictions and the difficulty of addressing the problem through legal mechanisms, but were disappointed to note that most of the comments were as hateful and vile as anything you might find in a YouTube posting. In most cases the anonymous comments at any of the numerous sites posting the video seemed to have little to do with political ideology and much to do with bitter personal experience. The angriest men are obviously seething with resentment toward some pretty woman that they had futilely attempted to woo on a passing encounter, no matter how crude or clumsy their efforts might have been. The angriest women are openly resentful of the male attention the woman in the video attracts, despite the very unappealing nature of the men. There is much commentary on her physical appearance, as if a woman relinquishes a right civil treatment once her breasts grow so large or her buttocks attain a certain roundness, as well as her wardrobe, as if a very ordinary combination of black t-shirt and black pants has such an overwhelming effect on the male libido that it must be replaced with mandatory burqas to protect the women of indeterminate race and ethnicity underneath, and enough anger over unsatisfactory sex lives to fill a thousand hip-hop and heavy metal recordings. Much of it is expressed in the most vile language that the inarticulate writers can manage, and perfectly illustrates what we mean we speak of the coarseness of our popular culture.
All attempts to defend the men in the video in apolitical terms are also unconvincing. In some instances the intent of the remarks shouted at the woman are open to interpretation, and on some streets in America might be considered friendly, but in New York City that social compact has always insisted on what the sociologists call “civil inattention” and in every case the woman makes clear by her facial expression and demeanor that anything else is unwelcome. A remark about the buttocks of a unfamiliar woman might be intended as a compliment, but only by someone by too stupid and insensitive to give a moment’s thought to how it will likely be received. Such behavior might well be acceptable in the context of a black or Latino culture, but lynching black and Latino people for such behavior was once acceptable in the context of of southern cultures, and there’s an argument to be made that neither should be acceptable in the context of contemporary American culture. Some of those anonymous commentators seem to think that romance will vanish once boys are taught not to speak to unfamiliar women without permission, but we note that was the harshly enforced rule in the Romantic Age and content that “Hey, baby, nice ass” has rarely led to true love and family life and happily ever after. The oft-cited argument that boys will be boys is easily refuted by the fact that not all of us boys behave this way, and would fear the wrath of their pre-feminist Christian mothers and hairy-legged feminist ex-girlfriends if they ever did.
As much as we sympathize with Hollaback’s complaints about such boorish behavior, we can’t support its call for legislation to deal with the problem. Writing a law that distinguishes between a friendly “hello” and a more intrusive greeting, or takes into consideration the social standards of a small southern town and the crowded sidewalks of New York City, will ultimately prove impossible and will inevitably have a chilling effect on the freedom of more essential speech. What’s needed is the same sort of powerfully pervasive social stigma that was once used to discourage out-of-wedlock births and welfare dependency and vulgarity but is now only employed against racial slurs and any squeamishness regarding homosexuality. A solid coalition of pre-feminist Christian mothers and hairy-legged feminists and cultural conservatives and oh-so-concerned-about-women progressives could do much to ensure a woman’s right to walk down a public street without being subjected to the most boorish sort of behavior by men, but that seems unlikely.

– Bud Norman

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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,409 other followers