The Fun of the Free Trade Fiasco

As much as we favor free trade, and would like to see more of it with most of the advanced Asian economies, we must admit it’s been fun watching President Barack Obama’s proposed Trans Pacific Partnership go down in flames. Even on one of the rare occasions when he seems to have the right idea, the president’s tendency to insult rather than argue with opponents, his secretiveness and opacity, his long record of being untrustworthy, his lack of legislative experience and personal relationships, and the rest of his usual leadership flaws are on such conspicuous display that even the Democrats are grousing about it.
This time around it’s the Democrats who are the targets of the president’s insults, so they’re mostly grousing about that. Longtime Democratic operative Brent Budowsky writes in The Observer that he has “never seen any president of either party insult so many members of his own party’s base and members of the House and Senate as Mr. Obama has in his weeks of tirades against liberals on trade,” and adds that “Mr. Obama’s tirades on trade have included accusations that these liberal Democrats are ignorant about trade policy, insincere when offering their opinions, motivated by politics and not the national interest, and backward looking toward the past.” We can’t recall Budowsky objecting when the president was saying Republicans want dirty air and dirty water, and telling them to “sit in the back,” or making countless similar accusations and slurs, but we’re pleased that he has belatedly come to the conclusion that ¬†such invective is not presidential.
Nor is it very persuasive, judging by the president’s apparent inability to insult members of either party into line over the past four years or so, and even in the case of the Democrats it’s not at all accurate. Loathe as we are to defend Democrats, we’ll concede that most of the ones in the House and Senate have some familiarity with the arguments about free trade, even if they’ve reached what we consider the wrong conclusions, and we don’t doubt they’re all too sincere about the wrong things they say, and to whatever extent they have political motivations for opposing Obama we can only assume it is because they’ve wrongly concluded that a majority of their constituents and unionized donors will not benefit from free trade, and we actually would prefer that Democrats occasionally look backward to the past to see what has and hasn’t worked. Such well-intentioned stupidity should be met with reasoned and respectful argument rather than gratuitous ad hominem insults, but well-intentioned Republicans with better ideas have already learned that this is not the president’s style.
Irksome as the chore might be, we must also say in the Democrats’ defense that they’re right to complain about the president’s unwillingness to publicly divulge any of the details of the deal that he’s asking for fast-track approval to negotiate. The Democrats were willing to vote for Obamacare in order to find out what’s in it, a decision that many current and especially former members of Congress have come to regret, but this is about free trade rather than expensively and inefficiently bureaucratized health care so they’re not keen about the general idea in the first place, and thus we can hardly blame them for wanting a look at the fine print. We’re disappointed that even the most zealously pro-free trade Republicans aren’t just as skeptical, given the administration’s negotiations with Iran, and the very real possibility that Obama is motivated by western colonial guilt and has some sort of lopsided reparations deal in mind, and the noteworthy development that even Democrats no longer trust the guy, and so we find ourselves with most strange bedfellows on this issue.
A smoother presidential operator, armed with the unaccountable support of most of the opposition party, could probably prevail by taking a solid case to the American and pulling some parliamentary tricks and calling in some hard-earned favors from reluctant congressional allies, but both parties and even the press have by now figured out that’s not the president’s style. The president’s preferred style of insults and secrecy and demands that he be trusted invariably hardens the opposition, whether Republican or Democratic, and it seems likely to doom any chance of a good free trade agreement with most of the advanced economies of Asia, which would be great boon to the American economy, but we do admit it’s been great fun watching it nonetheless.
There’s always the possibility that the deal might be be a bad one, after all, so the missed opportunity of a good one is well worth the spectacle of the Democratic infighting. We note that the aforementioned Budowsky is especially insulted by the president’s especially pointed insults to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, “the most nationally respected liberal leader in American politics,” and that the apparently still-existing National Organization for Women is grousing that the president’s criticisms are due to “sexism,” and that a smart fellow over at the right-wing Federalist has looked at the Democrats and concluded that “This Is Elizabeth Warren’s Party Now,” so it is comforting to contemplate that Obama remains anathema to the right and is no longer the most nationally respected figure of his party on the left and is therefor the lamest of ducks. It is not comforting to think that the Democratic party has lurched even further to the left during the Obama administration, but the defeat of the Trans Pacific Partnership will leave Obama and all the Democrats without any significant legislative achievement on the economy since Dodd-Frank and the Stimulus Package and Obamacare, none of which are well-remembered, and those Iran negotiations and that Israeli-Palestine “peace process” and the “re-set” with Russia aren’t likely to yield anything worth bragging about on the foreign policy front, so one can only hope that the next administration will be more likely to come up with the best deal.
In the meantime we’ll cope with the sluggish economy, and hope for the best, and enjoy the spectacle of Democrats enduring those presidential insults.

— Bud Norman

Retreat from the Commons

President Barack Obama dropped by Georgetown University for the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Tuesday, and it’s remarkable how much idiocy, hypocrisy, and truly frightening authoritarianism he could pack into a few briefs remarks.
The topic was poverty, which Obama is very much against, and he endeavored to explain why he hasn’t yet gotten rid of it. As it turns out it’s everybody else’s fault, especially people who belong to health clubs and send their children to private schools, and of course Fox News. With a few gazillion extra dollars at his disposal Obama could easily eliminate poverty, you see, but between the influence of those health club members and private school parents and Fox News the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell have become too stingy and mean-hearted to authorize the spending. “We shouldn’t pretend that we have been making those same investments, we haven’t been,” Obama said, adding ominously that “There’s been a very specific ideological push not to make those investments.”
As a graduate of Honolulu’s swankiest prep school and a couple of Ivy League institutions, who sends his own children to Washington’s swankiest prep school and does his girlish work-out routine in the very private gymnasium at the White House, Obama is perfectly positioned to see that “Part of what’s happened is, is that elites in a very mobile, globalized world are able to live together, apart from folks who are not as wealthy, and so they feel less of a commitment to making those investments.” We thought he might have been talking about the “folks” he runs into during his frequent vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, but so far as we can tell they all have good enough tax accountants that they can afford to Democrat, and there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough of them to comprise a significant voting bloc, so apparently such insidious affluence has trickled down to such middle class indulgences as health club memberships and parochial schools. “Those who are doing better and better, more skilled, more educated, luckier, having greater advantages, are withdrawing from the commons,” Obama explained. “Kids start going to private schools, kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks, an anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together.”
All of which is hooey. Those parents who send their children to private schools continue to pay the local property taxes and federal income taxes that are providing record amounts of spending on public education, and in our experience they’re as keen as anybody to get a greater return on their investment, and they even support charters schools and voucher programs and the other necessary reforms that Obama and his friends in the teachers’ unions are blocking. Those who pay for health club memberships continue to pitch in on the parks, even if the parks are getting more dangerous in this Obama age of policing, and we suspect that most of them are only anti-government to the extent that they’d like to be able to pump some iron or ride those silly exercise bikes or indulge in some other sort of self-improvement nonsense that isn’t available at the local playground. If such selfishness has engendered an anti-government ideology, it is only to the extent that most people still want to retain some private space of freedom, and it doesn’t seem to have slowed the seemingly inexorable pace of public spending.
There’s still Fox News, though, and it seems to have brainwashed an entire nation into believing that Obama shouldn’t be able to spend those extra gazillions of dollars. Noting with characteristic Alinsky-ite cynicism that politics is a matter of who the middle class can be made to blame for its troubles, Obama went on to say that “If you’re struggling — if you’re working but don’t seem to be getting ahead, and over the last 40 years sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top or to be mad at folks at the bottom, and I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving got traction. And look, it’s still being propagated. I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu. They will find folks who make me mad. I don’t know where they find them. They’re all like, ‘I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obamaphone,’ or whatever.” We mean, this is supposed to be like the greatest orator in history or whatever, but we find it unconvincing nonetheless.
Our meager entertainment budget doesn’t cover cable, so we were unaware that Fox News was now broadcasting a “constant menu” of Ebenezer Scrooge bah-humbugging about are there no prisons or workhouses, but we get out and about often enough that we don’t doubt they have any trouble finding enough “folks” who don’t want to work and just want a free Obamaphone to fill countless hours of programming. They could no doubt find some more sympathetic poor people to interview, although all the other media seem to have beat well-covered, but being so incorrigibly conservative they’d probably take note of the economic sluggishness and increased competition from illegal immigration and growing tax burdens that have occurred during the Obama years. Such dissent is preventing Obama from eliminating poverty, so he recommends that “We’re going to have change how the media reports on these issues.” That pesky First Amendment will no doubt complicate his efforts, although it isn’t proving much of an impediment these days, and the public’s preference for news that is corroborated by the reality they encounter while they’re out and about will also make the likes of Fox News reluctant to change its honest if poverty-inducing habits, but governments have managed to deal with this in places like Russia and Venezuela so surely America is up to the challenge.
If the government were make the common spaces more appealing and leave plenty of room for private space, and spend its educational dollars as wisely as the countries producing better students at a lower cost, and approach the problem of poverty with a realistic understanding about the various causes of the problem and to what extent the debilitating dependence that even the most well-intentioned programs create is one of them, we’re certain there would be less of that anti-government ideology going on out there. Easier to force the public into the commons and read them the latest government pronouncements, though, and the ones who have been properly educated in the public schools won’t notice the difference.

— Bud Norman

Free Trade and the Devil in the Details

Rarely do we find ourselves in agreement with President Barack Obama, but the finite range of political options and the law of averages and that old saw about even a stopped clock being right twice a day have led us agree with him on the need for a free trade pact with Asia. We agree with the basic idea of free trade with Asia, at least, although we’d very much like to know what devilish details might be in the pact he intends to negotiate.
The administration has been suspiciously tight-lipped about those details, to the point that even such administration-friendly media as Politico are reporting that even the most administration-friendly Democrats in Congress are complaining about it. So far as we can tell the administration’s explanation is “trust us,” which of course we don’t, especially after the gymnastic capitulations in its negotiations with Iran, not to mention every other foreign policy move the administration has made, and we are heartened to see that this time around a solid majority of the congressional Democrats are also suspicious. A solid majority of the congressional Democrats is predisposed to oppose any sort of free trade, a result of the party’s fealty to protectionist labor unions and those black-masked and brick-hurtling anti-globalist types who are somehow impeccably multi-cultural and cosmopolitan, and they have plausible arguments about a lack of pressure on China’s currency manipulation, even if it’s made slightly less plausible about all the money-printing the Fed has done to keep Obama’s economy above water, but it’s still good to hear them adding the administration’s characteristic lack of transparency and trustworthiness to their gripes.
A solid majority of the congressional Republicans seem willing to go along with it, which we hope has more to do with a sensible predisposition to support free trade than any newfound trust in the administration’s competence in negotiating such matters, so if the whole deal falls through, as it very well might, at least Obama won’t have his usual scapegoats. Some Republicans are also reluctant about approving Obama’s “fast track” authority to negotiate a deal, which we hope has more to do with their doubts about his negotiating skills than any aversion to free trade, but if there’s no deal it’s because of Obama and those darned Democrats that he couldn’t get to trust him.
A stopped clock is only right twice a day, and the law of averages dictates that the Obama administration is right far less often than that, so it’s a shame if one of our rare agreements should come to naught. A certain paranoia born of previous experience makes us wonder why Obama has settled on such a sensible policy as free trade with Asia, though, and we suspect that some sense of colonialist guilt isn’t why, even if none of the nations involved have ever been American colonies, and that it might all be some sort of multi-billion dollar reparations scam, so maybe we don’t agree with the administration after all. Perhaps a free trade act with Asia is a good idea whose time won’t yet come for another 18 months or so, or until however it long it takes to administration that can be trusted to negotiate a deal in America’s interests. As of now a solid majority of Democrats don’t seem to trust this administration, and although they’ll be predisposed to oppose free trade and distrust any Republican on the matter, but perhaps in another 18 months or so there won’t be enough of them the block a better deal.

— Bud Norman

Marketing Legalization

Yesterday was “Earth Day,” and we found ourselves in an appropriately unambitious state, so we’ve decided to recycle a script that we wrote for the recent “Gridiron” show. The script was cut from the show, which we took as a grievous insult given the utter witlessness of much of the material that was included, but we found it amusing nonetheless. The vast majority of readers residing outside Wichita should know that it’s pegged to a recent city-wide referendum to lessen the penalties for possession of marijuana, and that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is notorious among the state’s liberals for his strange insistence that voting in Kansas elections should be restricted to eligible voters.
(Scene opens with three hippies seated at a table.)
HIPPIE ONE: Okay, dudes, this meeting of the Committee for the Legalization of Marijuana in Kansas is now, like, you know, in order.
HIPPIE TWO: Wow, “order.” What a concept.
HIPPIE ONE: As you know, our campaign to get weed free and legal here in Kansas isn’t going well. We had a hard enough time getting Wichita to just reduce the penalty for possession, and that’s in Wichita, where if you ain’t smokin’ weed I don’t know what the hell you’re doing.
HIPPIE THREE: That’s a bummer, man, but what are we going to do about it?
HIPPIE ONE:¬†¬†figured I’d call in a consultant to see if he has any ideas. This guy is a big deal in public relations and marketing and lobbying and all that stuff, so maybe he knows what to do.
HIPPIE TWO: Maybe you’re right. I mean, I’ve had relations in public, and I go to the market when I get the munchies, and I hang out in the lobby with this old wino dude, but I don’t claim to be any big deal about it, so maybe he can help us out.
(A professional-looking CONSULTANT enters.)
CONSULTANT: Hello, I’m Chip Wilson, from the Chip Wilson Public Relations, Marketing, Lobbying, and Pizza Delivery Group. Thank you so much for your time.
HIPPIE ONE: That’s cool, we’ve got plenty of it.
CONSULTANT: It’s an interesting little cause you’ve got going here, I must say, and I’m eager to help with your noble efforts. I’ve been taking a look at the strategy you’ve been employing thus far, and I think I’ve identified your main problem, public image-wise.
HIPPIE ONE: What’s that?
CONSULTANT: Well, basically, the problem is that you’re a bunch of dirty hippies.
HIPPIE THREE: Oh, man, that’s harsh.
CONSULTANT: I mean that with all due respect. Some of my best friends are dirty hippies. My dear mother was a dirty hippie. I’m just saying that it’s not the image that’s going to drive a successful public relations campaign.
HIPPIE TWO: So what do we want?
CONSULTANT: What you want is that white collar, middle class, mostly law-abiding pothoead next door. You want that engineer who’s designing safety systems for Cessna all week and unwinding with a bowl on the weekends, or that winning criminal defense attorney with all the good connections. You want a more upscale, wholesome, mass appeal pothead. Our slogan will be, “Pot — It’s Not Just for Dirty Hippies Any More.”
HIPPIE TWO: Where do we find these people?
CONSULTANT: That’s where we run into a problem. The people you want to be out front on this issue are reluctant to publicly confess their marijuana use.
HIPPIE THREE: What’s the deal with that?
CONSULTANT: They’d be confessing to a crime that involve a potential prison sentence, for one thing. Worse yet, they’re afraid people will regard them as dirty hippies.
HIPPIE ONE: I can dig that, man. I guess I’ll still have to be the spokesman, but hey, at least I’m all articulate and well-spoken and shit.
CONSULTANT: I wouldn’t recommend that. Again, I say this with all due respect, but you’re really not very articulate and well-spoken and … such. In your case, it does seem that marijuana use has impaired your verbal abilities.
HIPPIE ONE: I’m not even high, man. I happen to take this committee seriously, so I’m not indulging until 4:20.
CONSULTANT: That just proves my point. Even when you’re straight, you’re still a dirty hippie. Now, look at me. I took two monster bong hits of Hindu Kush out in the parking lot before I came in here, I’m high as a proverbial kite, and still this presentation has been polished and professional and in the Queen’s friggin’ English.
HIPPIE TWO: Wow, man, you can really handle your weed. Maybe you’re the guy we’re looking for.
CONSULTANT: Sorry, but I’m strictly a behind-the-scenes consultant, and I’m afraid my more lucrative clients in the pharmaceutical field wouldn’t like that. Besides, I like my weed untaxed and unregulated, and it’s not like the cops are profiling a middle-aged white guy in a suit and tie, so what do I care if it’s legal or not?
HIPPIE ONE: So what good are you?
CONSULTANT: We’re still in negotiations, mind you, but I think we’re about to line up a perfect spokesman for your cause. I don’t want to mention any names at this point, but let’s just say he’s a former Choom Gang member and current president of the United States who still takes a puff of that righteous Hawaiian bud to deal with having his mother-in-law living at the White House.
(The hippies look at one another quizzically, unable to guess who the CONSULTANT is talking about.)
CONSULTANT: For crying out loud, you dirty hippies, I’m talking about Obama.
HIPPIE TWO: Oh yeah, Obama. I know that dude. He’s cool. I saw him slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon. Do you think he’d do it?
CONSULTANT: Term limits, baby. He’s coming up against them, and at this point he doesn’t care what anybody thinks. He’s vetoing pipelines, making deals with the Iranians, inviting in illegal immigrants, and to hell with the polls or his party’s next presidential election. He’ll be racking up speakers fees and book deals, the press and the Europeans will start being polite, Hillary or some Republican can deal with the Iranian bomb and the rest of it, but he’ll still have that mother-in-law in the house and he figures some legal weed might come in handy.
HIPPIE ONE: All right, then, It looks like we’ll finally get weed legalized here in Kansas.
CONSULTANT: Oh, wait, you’re right, this is Kansas. I’m afraid Obama doesn’t poll well here. In fact, in the latest numbers I saw, about 63 percent of the state thinks he’s a dirty hippie. What was I thinking? And why am I suddenly craving chips and salsa? Would any of you guys like to get a beer and maybe some tamales at this Mexican place I know up on North Broadway? Which reminds me, we should be able to get the Mexican vote on our side, and if that damned Kobach guy doesn’t get in the way I know how to round up a lot more of them …
(Lights fade.)

— Bud Norman

Lies, Damned Lies, and Polls

We’re not so cynical we would ever doubt a pollster, but we’re always suspicious of the folks who write their headlines. Consider the case of the latest numbers from The Washington Post and ABC News, which are neatly summarized as “Poll: Clear majority supports nuclear deal with Iran.”
One will momentarily assume that the “deal with Iran” the “clear majority supports” is the one currently being negotiated in Switzerland, which is probably what the headline writer intended, but on an another moment’s reflection one will realize that no one yet knows what that deal will look like. The lead paragraph is slightly more helpful, noting that “By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, Americans support the notion of striking a deal with Iran that restrict’s the nation’s nuclear program in exchange for loosening sanctions,” but it still implies that the deal being negotiated in Iran will look like that, and there is reason to doubt it.
In the very next paragraph, even the Post’s reporters acknowledge that the survey “also finds few Americans are hopeful that such an agreement will be effective. Nearly six in 10 say they are not confident that a deal will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons …” Apparently a large portion of the “clear majority” that supports a “nuclear deal with Iran” does so despite a belief that it won’t prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, or oppose the deal that is being concocted but felt obliged to endorse the theoretical deal that they don’t think is likely, but in either case it makes public support for the administration’s dealings less enthusiastic than the headline suggests.
Still, the Washington Post grimly warns that 47 percent of Republicans also supported that hypothetical deal where everything works out fine and that “the split contrasts with Republican lawmakers’ widespread backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech deriding the potential deal in early March before a joint session of lawmakers.” Those recalcitrant Republicans will be heartened by the next paragraph, though, where the Washington Post is obliged to admired that “Popular sentiment among Republicans is more in line with GOP lawmakers on the issue of whether Congress should be required to authorize any deal with Iran.” Citing a Pew Research Center survey, the reporters note that 62 percent of the public — not just Republicans — believe Congress should have final say on the matter.
As we write this the deal is still be negotiated, and there might not be a deal at all, and of course it remains to be seen if the reliably untrustworthy Iran government will abide by anything that is agreed to, and the Secretary of State is saying it all depends on what Allah is willing, but we share the widespread skepticism that it will work out quite the like deal that the “clear majority” supports. We’ll eagerly await the polling on the deal that actually transpires, and expect that even The Washington Post will have a hard time making it seem supportive of the administration. The poll taken just after Iran announces that it has a bomb will probably even be worse, but maybe by that time there will be a Republican administration to take the blame.

— Bud Norman

The Worst Spy Movie Ever

The espionage genre isn’t what it used to be back in the good old Cold War days. Back then there was a clear-cut good guy versus bad guy backdrop to a spy versus spy tale, no matter how morally ambiguous an Ian Fleming or John le Carre might render their cloak-and-dagger heroes, but these days it’s hard to tell who to root for. This story about Israel’s alleged spying on the negotiations between the United States and its European partners with the Iranian government, for instance, will never make the movies.
There’s no doubt that the Israelis did somehow discover information about the negotiations that President Barack Obama would have preferred they did not know, but it’s hardly the sort of thing that would get an American audience’s blood rushing. It’s all just a sub-plot of a bigger story that the Hollywood moguls won’t want to touch, as well, At this point we have no reason to believe there was even any spying at all, at least not of the sort of that involves the planting of electronic surveillance devices or the taking of pictures with tiny cameras slipped into the heel of a shoe or a comely seductress luring a diplomat to his doom or any of that cinematic sort of spy craft. The Israelis freely admit to having obtained all the information they could gather about America’s negotiations with a country that has vowed to drop nuclear bombs and them and annihilate their entire population, which seems a reasonable thing to do, but insists it was all a dreary matter of diplomatic contacts and calling in favors from well-placed sources and reading the same papers where Obama seems to get all his news, and this seems plausible enough. We’d like to think the diplomatic channels would put Israel in touch with some highly-placed American and European sources who would still prefer that Iran not annihilate the Jewish state and are willing to share information about any developments that might make that unhappy event more likely, and given the taut security of the Obama administration the eaves-dropping microphones and shoe cameras and comely seductresses hardly seems necessary.
To further muddle the plot, the Israelis didn’t pass the information along to some cat-stroking arch-villain in a South Pacific volcano island fortress but rather to the United States Congress and the American people. Even the Wall Street Journal article that broke this story, and with all the breathless fervor of a screenplay treatment being pitched to a Hollywood producer, admits that “The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.” It’s not clear from the story how The Wall Street Journal defines “espionage,” and whether its quoting of “current and former officials” would also meet that definition, but in any case the officials’ admission would introduce another plot-twist that would make that Hollywood producer wince. The good guy is supposed to be Obama, at least if you want to sell this script to Hollywood, and it’s likely to be a little confusing when he’s the one who’s withholding information not only from Congress, a stock villain, but also the American people. Even the foreign audiences, a vital market, might find that baffling.
Perhaps the plot can proceed that our heroic president is shrewdly negotiating a brilliant deal despite the efforts of hard-liners in both Iran and among those villainous Republicans and Israelis who so ardently desire an Iranian bomb, but if it will take some expensive computer-generated images to explain why the Republicans or Israelis would want that and some rather fanciful screenwriters to bring it to a happy ending. The big hole in the plot is why the heroic president with the masterful plan won’t reveal it to the American public until it has been signed, sealed, and delivered without the approval of the people and their elected congressional representatives. Those press reports that the deal will allow Iran to continue its nuclear-enriching centrifuges and join the nuclear club in ten years seem all the more convincing, the Iranian’s long history of duplicity in international affairs makes it hard to believe that even such generosity won’t be abused, and the most likely ending would be derivative of “Dr. Strangelove.”
There was never a sequel to “Dr. Strangelove,” as you’ll recall, and this plot is an even bigger downer.

— Bud Norman

The Right to Not Vote

Among our many acquaintances are people who habitually do not vote. They’re lovely people, for the most part, but they’re blissfully ignorant of politics and prefer not to participate. We believe they’re entitled to this perfectly reasonable and probably mentally healthy practice, and we don’t worry that the democratic process suffers from their absence, so we were alarmed to hear President Barack Obama propose that voting should be mandatory.
It’s not an official proposal, at least not yet, but the president did ponder the possibility out loud during a “town hall style event” in Cleveland. He noted that others countries have made voting mandatory, and mused that “It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything.” Not only is the president floating a stupid idea, he’s offering stupid reasons.
Aside from idiocy of the argument that if other countries are jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge we ought to be doing it as well, and the cold chills that run down our spine whenever the president speaks of fundamental transformations, that talk about money is poor hooey. The president outspent his opponents in the past two presidential elections, his party routinely outspends the opposition in all but the most hopelessly gerrymandered races, and he can’t possibly believe that the Koch Brothers and other well-heeled arch-villains of the nefarious right are the reasons he’s putting up with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress. Money more easily explains why the president is in a position to be making end-runs around Congress and its constitutional authority, as his well-financed campaigns were able to buy the attention of those uninformed voters who were easily swayed by slick television commercials touting his record as a tough-on-terrorism defense hawk and accusing his opponent of killing an employee’s wife and generally spouting the sort of transparent lies that the more politically attuned are likely to recognize as balderdash. Mandatory voting would drive those gullible sorts to the polls at less cost to the Democratic party, which more likely explains the president’s enthusiasm for the policy, but we can understand his reluctance to say so.
Once upon a time the people who stayed out of politics would have likely voted against the party that wanted to impose ever more politics on their lives, and back then the Democrats would have been appalled by the idea of mandatory voting, but these days the party offering the most goodies and the most celebrity endorsements would likely benefit if everybody were forced to vote. Republicans will naturally resist the idea, therefore, but not just for pragmatic reasons. A party of individual rights and limited government should resist mandatory voting on principle, and allow the lovelier people among the uniformed to continue their blissful ignorance of what’s going on and perhaps even be unaffected by it.

— Bud Norman

An Israeli Election and the American Consequences

Israeli politics seem to us a confounding mix of those convoluted European parliamentary systems and the even more arcane points of Talmudic mysticism, and as we write this there is still a chance that the results of Tuesday’s elections in that far-away country might yet come down to hanging chads and butterfly ballots in Palm Beach, but it does appear from the latest press reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won another term. This strikes us as good news for Israel, at least from our faraway vantage point, as well as a happy development in our own domestic politics.
Like most American conservatives, we have been puzzled that Netanyahu was ever in danger of not winning re-election. He’s long been the world’s most forthright and effective opponent of Islamic terrorism, after all, and the notion of his countrymen failing to recognize such leadership seemed as inexplicable as the British rejecting Prime Minister Winston Churchill after the Second World War. All politics truly is local, though, and the Israelis have been susceptible to fanciful leftist economic schemes since the country’s kibbutz days, and Netanyahu has already been in power for more ten years and even the most admirable politicians everywhere eventually become wearisome to a public, so some drama should have been expected. The results don’t necessarily vindicate Netanyahu’s domestic economic economic policies, according to the general tenor of the world press, and they don’t necessarily constitute a referendum on national security policy, as even the most crazily liberal Israelis are by now realistically hawkish, but the party of the Arab minority that isn’t committed to the country’s survival might have involved in a coalition to unseat Netanyahu, and there is reason to believe that Israel’s desire for continued existence had something to do with it.
It’s so hard to say how much Netanyahu’s recent well-publicized spat with American President Barack Obama had to do with it, but we’d like to think it played at least a small part. Netanyahu accepted an invitation from the Republican party to address Congress recently, the president huffily declined a meeting for the stated reason that he didn’t want to interfere in another nation’s elections, a slew of unnamed White House sources made it clear that the president clearly intended to influence the the Israel elections against Netanyahu, Netanyahu went ahead and gave a speech decrying the president’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, and it seems to have worked out well for him. If Netanyahu had lost the president’s apologists would have gloated about it, so American conservatives are entitled some to gloating about the victory. Better yet, Netanyahu’s victory might even help persuade a crucial number of Democrats to join a unified Republican in overriding a presidential veto of an impending bill that will impose economic sanctions on Iran and wind up scuttling the president’s disastrous negotiations. At the very least, Netanyahu’s victory deprives the president of an argument that his appeasement policies are acceptable to even Israel.
The very latest press reports from Israel indicate that the election wasn’t even very close, and we say shalom to Israel and God bless America.

— Bud Norman

Scary Monsters of the Left’s Imagination

Not content with shoving grandmothers off of cliffs, stranding polar bears on ice floes, and waging war on women, the Republicans are now making three-year-old girls cry. That’s the word on the left side of the internet, at least, after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s frank assessment of America’s recent foreign policy frightened a young listener.
The incident occurred during a pre-presidential campaign speech in New Hampshire, where Cruz told the small crowd that because of “the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind” the “whole world is on fire.” This news proved so alarming to a little girl on the front row that she demanded confirmation that the world was on fire, and when Cruz reiterated that it was she reportedly began crying. Cruz immediately tried to reassure the girl that “Your mommy is here and everyone is here to make sure that the world you grow up is even better,” but too late to escape the protective wrath of the liberal punditry. A site called Raw Story headlined its story “Ted Cruz scares the hell out of a terrified little girl,” and describes the Senator “shouting” his speech. New York Magazine went with “Ted Cruz’s Campaign Strategy: Scare Little Kids,” and imagines the girl, “Forced to sit scarily close to the spittle-spewing angry monster posing as a junior Senator from Texas,” wondering “Mommy, why is that mean man yelling at me?” At the Daily Kos web site, the headline was “Cruz terrifies a small child, his ideas should terrify us all,” and the story was mostly about Cruz advocating such “crazy” policies as making education a local and state rather than federal responsibility.
Most of the sites at least provide video footage of the event, which allows the reader to draw his conclusions about whether Cruz was shouting or spewing spittle or yelling at a little girl, and whether the little girl was so traumatized as the reports would suggest. Our viewing of the video reveals that Cruz was speaking at a normal volume, no spittle was spewed, his interaction with the little girl was not at all threatening, and that she seemed more flummoxed by the metaphorical language than terrified by a monster. The girl’s mother has been telling anyone who will listen that no lasting damage was done, and that her daughter left with the hopeful impression that “Cruz is the man who puts the fires out,” but the left dismisses her testimony on the theory that anyone who would take a child to a Cruz speech is obviously an unfit parent, so we will leave the reader to his own judgment.
We suspect, however, that Cruz’s critics would have been offended by his criticism of President Barack Obama no matter how quietly or literally or dryly it was expressed. Such lese majeste is frightening to liberals, and they seem to be projecting their own fears on to that little girl. We can’t recall these liberals tsk-tsking when former Vice President Al Gore was bellowing that George W. Bush had betrayed his country, or former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was howling his famous campaign trail scream, or presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was shrieking that she had a right to debate and disagree with any presidential administration, and we assume that youngsters were in attendance on each of those far louder and more spittle-spewed occasions. Nor do liberals seem to mind frightening the young folks with tales of grandmothers being thrown off cliffs and polar bears stranded on ice floes or Republican wars on women that will force them into back alley abortionists.
Cruz’s rhetoric was restrained by comparison, and we dare say it even understated the international mess that has resulted from Obama’s foreign policy. Had he taken the time to list all the problems, from Iran’s imminent nuclear bomb to Russia’s revanchist romp across eastern Europe to the military build-up China is financing with America’s debt service payments, that poor little girl truly would have suffered a lifetime of nightmares. We’re old enough to recognize “the world is on fire” as a figure of speech, and can even recall the Carter years, and it’s not Cruz that we’re afraid of.

— Bud Norman

If Only Obama Knew

Will Rogers used to preface his humorous observations on the political scene by stating that “All I know is what I read in the papers,” which always got a big laugh back in the Great Depression days, and it’s still a good line for a folksy humorist. President Barack Obama is fond of the same disclaimer, however, but it doesn’t suit his job as well.
The latest development that the president only became aware of by reading the morning papers was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail account. The practice posed a security risk, kept records from public scrutiny, and seems in violation of federal regulations, so we can only imagine the the president’s alarm upon learning about such a serious matter. One might wonder how the president failed to notice it during the four Clinton served as his Secretary of State, during which time one can only assume there was some e-mail communication between the two, but so far no one in the press has been so rude as to ask about it. If they ever do, the president will probably have to await the morning papers to learn of his response.
If not for the press, a number of serious situations might have entirely escaped the president’s attention. The invaluable Sheryl Atkisson, demonstrating again the lese majeste that led to her departure from CBS News, has helpfully compiled a list of seven other times that the president professed to be shocked by press accounts of major stories. It starts way back in the early days of the Obama administration with Air Force One buzzing the State of Liberty and frightening the understandably skittish New Yorkers, continues with the Fast and Furious gun-running scheme at the Department of Justice, then the sex scandal involving Central Intelligence Agency director Gen. David Petraeus, and of course the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative non-profit groups, then the seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters, then the National Security Agency’s spying on foreign leaders, and then the phony record keeping to cover up the substandard care being provided by the Veterans Administration. One of the commenters at Atkisson’s site mentions several more, including the problems leading up to the disastrous roll-out of the Obamacare web site, but they’re too numerous mention.
That portion of the public still devoted to the president seems willing to give him a pass on these problems, since he presumably didn’t know they were going on would surely have done something about it if he did, but the rest of us are entitled to some concern about his inability to keep abreast of what’s going on in his government. We suppose the president can’t keep up on everything, what with all the golfing and fund-raising and appeasing his job entails, but Air Force One and the DOJ and the CIA and the IRS and the NSA and the VA and the State Department are all under the purview of the executive brand and ultimately the responsibility of the chief executive. We can’t recall the heads of any high officials rolling for their failure to notify the president of the major developments unfolding on his watch, except for former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, who also seemed surprised to find out about that Obamacare web site, and the president never seems at all embarrassed to say that some ink-stained wretches who have to file Freedom of Information Act requests and wait to get their phone calls returned and accept “no comments” on the first many tries somehow knew better than the president what was going on in the executive branch.
Perhaps the president was aware of these many problems as they occurred but was unable or unwilling to deal with them, but if so that is a problem. Perhaps the government is simply too vast for any one person to know what it is up to, but if so that’s also a problem, and one that the president seems determined to compound by vastly expanding both the government and the executive branch’s control over it. The biggest problem is that if you only know what you read in the papers, you don’t know much.

— Bud Norman

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