The Green Monster

With all due respect to the planet Earth, which is as good a planet as any, we’ve grown weary of all this incessant enthusiasm for anything “green.”

There’s simply no escaping the environmentalist message. It’s stuck on the bumper of the sports utility vehicle in front of you at the stoplight, written into the plots of television shows, repeated by panicked schoolchildren fresh from a class on the impending doom of all living things. Even the local radio station we tune into for our daily diet of right-wing ranters fulfills its public service obligations by urging its listeners to “Do one thing green.” It’s almost enough to make us want to chuck car batteries into the Arkansas River.

Lest we begin to resemble President Obama’s caricature of Republicans who “want dirtier water, dirtier air,” let us say that we heartily endorse any environmental policy that is sound, cost-effective, and necessary. What we object to, rather, is relentless and unquestioned “green” propagandizing that leaves the public so fired up to save the planet it will buy into any pinheaded, profligate, pointless scheme that is cast in that sacred hue.

Three different stories currently in the news illustrate the point.

One is the $16 per gallon fuel that the U.S. Navy has recently purchased. The algae-based biofuel costs about four times more than the Navy’s standard marine fuel, and no is making the claim it is four times better. Defense officials say it’s needed to wean the military off unreliable foreign oil sources, but that rationale seems dubious in light of several war’s worth of American oil that is currently untapped, and we notice that the Navy is boasting that the biofuels will power a “Great Green Fleet.” Cynics will also note that Solazyme, one of the companies that got in on the $500 million contract, has a “strategic advisor” who formerly worked on the Obama transition team.

Another “green” story gone bad is the unfortunate tendency of the “environmentally friendly” Chevy Volt to catch fire. The $40,000 economy car was meant to revive the fortunes of General Motors under its new ownership by the United Auto Workers, an organization also close to the Obama administration, but so far sales have been about as brisk as one might expect for a $40,000 economy car, despite substantial subsidies by the government. News reports about the car spontaneously combusting are not likely to help, although the company is now buying them back from customers skittish about the flammable batteries and could add that to its sales totals.

The definitive “green” debacle remains the Solyndra scandal, still in the news as grand juryand congressional investigations slowly extract information from a reticent Obama administration. Solyndra received more than $500 million in government loans to manufacture its cylindrical solar panels, was touted by the president as a model of the “green economy” he hoped to create, then quickly went bankrupt. Although just a small part of a loan guarantee program that spent more than $500,000 for every “green job” it created, the Solyndra affair attracted extra attention because several of the company’s executives were major contributors to the Obama campaign.

It’s just not possible, apparently, to save the planet without enriching an Obama crony. There’s another meaning for “green” in the American language, and it seems to be as inescapable as environmentalism.

— Bud Norman


“Time” Doth Protest Too Much

The most surprising news story of yesterday was Time Magazine’s announcement that it has named “The Protester” as its “Person of the Year.” It has been a while since we’ve visited our barber, whose aged copies of the news weekly are the only ones we have seen in the past many years, and we were quite stunned to learn that it is still being published.

We were less surprised to learn that the still-breathing publication would pick “the protester” for its once coveted honor. This has been an unusually noisy year of protesting, after all, and news media such as Time have a longstanding affection for almost anyone with a protest sign poised on his shoulder. Not those gauche “Tea Party” protesters, who merely changed the balance of American political power in the last mid-term elections , but rather those of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, the “Arab Spring,” and whatever they’re calling the riotous reaction to Europe’s new austerity budgets.

To the untrained eye there might seem to be little in common between the “Occupy” protesters, angry about the debt they’ve racked up in pursuit of some arcane degree and protesting that there are too many corporations and too few jobs, and those of the “Arab Spring,” who seem mostly concerned with such basic human rights as not being tortured in a medieval dungeon, but Time’s savvy observers have struggled mightily to find the similarities. In a tedious yet somehow hilarious article, the magazine’s Kurt Andersen notes that “Everywhere they are disproportionately young, middle class and educated,” disgruntled with their country’s economies after years of prosperity-induced complacency, and availing themselves of trendy new social media. He also finds a similar lack of a coherent political philosophy or actionable agenda in the two movements, approvingly described as “lacking prefab ideological consistency.”

Andersen obliquely concedes the most significant similarity, that both movements have been spectacular failures at getting whatever it is they want, but he retains a boyish enthusiasm nonetheless.

When the protesters first took to the streets of Tunisia and Egypt during the “Arab Spring,” with similar demonstrations popping up throughout the Middle East, America’s newspapers and networks celebrated the uprisings as the dawn of a new age of democracy, modernity and yuppie sensibilities in the region. Even the sexual assault of a CBS reporter by the heroes of  Tahrir Square did not interrupt the cheerleading. Since then, the protests have been brutally quashed in Iran and Syria, a Libyan revolution aided by western military power has installed a questionable band of rebels, Tunisia has fallen into the hands of radical Islamist parties, and the Islamists have also prevailed in Egypt, where Christian churches have been burned, citizens are warned by the new ruling party to “Prepare for war with Israel,” and the economy has collapsed amid widespread chaos.

Time Magazine is oddly untroubled by such unhappy results, with Andersen dismissing them as “a function of the (protesters’) naiveté about the realities of democratic politics.” He also compares the Islamist parties to “Pat Robertson-esque Evangelicals,” and finds them more amenable to secular liberals than “hard-line Republicans,” but we doubt he’ll choose to re-locate to Egypt in the event of a GOP takeover in the next election.

Some of the “Occupy” protesters of our acquaintance would happily endorse burning churches and preparing for war with Israel, and we expect their ideas would have the same disastrous economic effects that their Egyptian counterparts have achieved, but so far they seem to be  unsuccessful in their efforts to re-make society. Time’s awestruck admiration aside, the “Occupy” movement has lately been a public relations disaster, with a formerly supportive local media forced to report on the crime, disease and disgusting behavior rampant at the protests, liberal mayors obliged to shut down the encampments, and erstwhile allies in the Democratic party running for cover. This picture of one of Time’s “persons of the year” is but one example of the “Occupy” movement’s less-than-media-savvy efforts. The movement’s latest ploy to remain in the public eye is an effort to shut down crucial ports along the west coast, which is unlikely to benefit the national economy and has angered the unions that once provided the protests’ muscle.

The “Occupy” protesters do seem to have much in common with their European counterparts, who also get gushing praise from Time. Andersen cites the large protests by the “indignados” in Madrid as a key event in the year’s protesting, and happily reports that “Online, the indignados started explaining to the Americans how it’s done.” Unmentioned is the fact that Spain’s ruling Socialist Party, which had bankrupted the country and increased unemployment to a staggering 20 percent with a series of convoluted “green economy” schemes of the sort championed by the occupiers, was thrown out by a landslide of indignant voters not involved in the protests. The rioters in England, who destroyed billions of pounds worth of irreplaceable property, and in Greece, where the rampage was deadly as well as destructive, also get approving mention in the magazine.

Listening to the European protesters and their apologists at Time, one would get the impression that the austerity budgets they rail against are being imposed by some sort of Pat Robertson-esque cabal of hard-line Republicans simply for the sake of making everyone miserable, but the truth is that their bankrupt economies provide no other option. The protesters are demanding money that their countries do not have, cannot produce, cannot borrow from any sane lender, and cannot even print up in hyper-inflationary amounts because of an ill-conceived single currency plan. They are protesting against reality, much like Time’s journalism, and are unlikely to prevail.

— Bud Norman

Poll Dancing

Being avid observers of the political scene, and always curious what those people we see on the streets are thinking, there are few things in life we find as fascinating as a public opinion poll. The latest offering from the venerable Gallup firm does not disappoint.

The survey of 1,012 randomly sampled American adults posed an especially intriguing question: “In your opinion, which of the following will be the biggest threat to the country in the future — big business, big labor, or big government?” We assume that Gallup will also continue its annual tradition of asking which people and institutions are most admired, but taking a measurement of the public’s fear and distrust seems more in keeping with the spirit of the times.

“Big government” was the landslide loser in the poll, with 64 percent of the respondents fearing it most, while “big business” was cited by 26 percent, “big labor” was far behind with a mere 8 percent, and 2 percent either could not decide or were too fearful to say. Many polls cause us to wonder what is wrong with our fellow citizens, and we usually end up blaming the public education system for their woeful ignorance, but in this case the numbers give us a rare feeling of hope.

The 64 percent citing “big government” at the nation’s biggest threat was just a point off the highest number recorded by Gallup since it began asking the question in 1965, and this seems about right. Big government is bigger and more expensive than ever, and continues to expand its influence into such previously unregulated affairs as bake sales and lemonade stands, while an unending series of scandals such as Solyndra and Fast and Furious do little to inspire confidence in its abilities or honesty. The 36 percent who don’t believe that such profligacy and incompetence don’t pose a threat should consult the nearest Greek, Spaniard or Italian.

We’re not sure why 26 percent feel most threatened by “big business,” although we suspect that Hollywood’s numerous corporate villains and the time-honored tradition of hating one’s employer are largely to blame. Anyone who doesn’t want to hand over their money to a company can avoid doing so simply by forgoing its services, an option governments notably do not offer, and even the biggest businesses aren’t big enough to wreak the economic damage that government default would cause. We’re pleased to note that the number has been steadily declining since 2002, when the Enron and WorldCom debacles dominated the news, and hope the trend will continue.

The “big labor” bosses probably shouldn’t take their low number as proof of the public’s affection. More likely it reflects the unions’ declining membership. Although the United Auto Workers still have enough clout to get big government to hand them control of General Motors, the most influential and troublesome unions are in the public sector and can therefore be considered a branch of big government.

Gallup’s finding were the necessary antidote to the depressing polls showing that many Americans regard income inequality as a major economic problem. People can resent the rich as much as they want, but so long as they don’t trust the government to change the economic order we’ll be satisfied.

The findings are not likely to hearten President Obama, however. He’ll be running for re-election with the argument that we need even bigger government to fight those nasty big businesses, and he’ll need a lot more than 26 percent of the country to buy that.

— Bud Norman

The Big Shtick Policy

A reader has objected to our essay last week that implied Barack Obama does not conduct foreign relations in the “muscular” style of Teddy Roosevelt. He quoted the president’s recent boast about the 22 Al Qaeda leaders killed in the past three years, and asserted “Teddy would agree that’s a pretty muscular foreign policy.”

We’re pleased to discover that this site is attracting a diverse readership, and are ever eager to please anyone who drops by, but we cannot concede the point. Without presuming to speak for the late T.R., who famously described his foreign policy philosophy as “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” it seems to us that Obama’s overall approach is to speak constantly and carry a big chip on his shoulder.

It is heartening to see that Obama — whose highly refined moral sensibilities were once outraged by the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, harsh interrogations, military tribunals, and other anti-terrorism protocols of the crazed bloodthirsty cowboy George W. Bush — has now found his inner John Wayne. We still don’t understand why it was a shameful betrayal of our national values to hold Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s head under running water for 30 seconds but a cause for national celebration when we incinerate his successor and anyone who happens to be in his vicinity, but so long as Al Qaeda leadership is a risky occupation we’re glad of it.

Twenty-two dead Al Qaeda leaders don’t outweigh the harm done by the president’s otherwise weak foreign policy, however. For much of his term, Obama has resembled not Roosevelt but Brenda Lee, small in stature and singing “I’m Sorry.”

The administration started things off by attempting a  “re-set” of relations with Russia, apparently on the assumption that any disagreements must have been caused by Bush rather than such a swell guy as Vladimir Putin. Obama then tried to come to the aid of a Marxist would-be dictator who defied the legislature and courts of Honduras, and later accepted Hugo Chavez’ gift of an anti-American tome. Extending an “open hand” to the theocratic rulers of Iran, even as they slaughtered their own people, the administration even found kind words for Bashir Assad’s equally brutal regime in Syria. Wrapping up an international “apology tour” at the United Nations, Obama said “there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.”

While making clear that there is no price to be paid for enmity toward America, Obama has also demonstrated that there is no advantage to be gained in America’s friendship. Stalwart allies Poland and the Czech Republic were betrayed on missile defense promises as part of the “re-set” with Russia. A trade treaty with friendly Colombia, which could have helped with that country’s ongoing fight against Latin America’s resurgent Marxists, was long delayed. The special relationship with Great Britain, forged in two world wars and based on a common tradition of democracy and liberty, has been battered by everything from such petty gestures as cheap gift-giving and the return of a Winston Churchill bust to such consequential matters as siding with Argentina on the Falklands dispute. Israel, America’s staunchest ally in the middle east and the only democracy there not created by American force, has seen its leader insulted and been told where to build apartments.

However high-minded and well-intentioned these policies were, the results have not been beneficial. Russia remains as troublesome as ever. Latin American thugs such as Chavez are forming alliances with anti-American governments around the world. As Europe heads toward economic catastrophe its leaders are either indifferent to the administration’s opinion or downright contemptuous of it.

Good results are especially hard to find in the Middle East, where a belligerent Islamism is on the rise. Recent elections in Egypt have handed power to a coalition of the Muslim Brotherhood, which inspired Al Qaeda and declares in its motto that “Jihad is our way,” and another Islamist party that considers the Muslim Brotherhood a bunch of secularist wimps. Nobody will miss the late Moammar Gadhafi, but there’s no reason to believe he was any worse than the Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels that Obama’s “leading from behind” has installed. No one in Washington is calling Assad a “reformer” anymore, but he continues to brutally crush domestic opposition without any other consequence. Obama ordered a surge in Afghanistan similar to the one he had opposed in Iraq, but has little to show for it in advance of the pre-announced withdrawal. We were promised that Obama’s “smart diplomacy” would restore America’s standing in the world, but the country is now less popular with both the oppressors and the oppressed in the region.

The administration and its defenders will say they deserve no blame for this mess, and there’s no denying that Middle East was an unhappy place long before any heard of Barack Obama, but we recall that he was eager to claim credit for the “Arab Spring” back when western media were touting it as a flowering of democracy.

Which is probably why the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president likes to brag about those 22 dead terrorists. One might even get the impression that Obama killed them with his own bare hands, and Hollywood has no doubt green-lighted an action-adventure movie depicting that, but in fact they were killed by drones and the same SEAL team that the left once decried as “Dick Cheney’s secret assassination squad.” If Obama’s proposed defense cuts shrink the “big stick” of American, his hands-on involvement may yet be required, however, so stay tuned.

Even those dead terrorists can be seen as a sign of weakness. We suspect that many of those Al Qaeda leaders would have been captured by special forces back in the bad old Bush days, which would limit civilian casualties and provide valuable intelligence, but Obama’s ill-advised political stances against indefinite detentions and harsh interrogations leave him no option but to send the drones in for a kill. This used to be known in liberal foreign policy circles as “blowback.

— Bud Norman

Our Evil Ways

The Central Standard Times was alarmed to learn this past week that we are endangering humankind. We were informed of our apocalyptic ways by no less an authority than Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, who told the United Nations Climate Change Conference that “The message I have for climate deniers is this: You are endangering humankind.”

Although we have never denied climate, the existence of which truly is settled science, we have harbored doubts that human activity is causing it to change significantly, so we assume she was talking about us. The accusation was hurtful to our tender feelings, of course. We strive to maintain a tolerant attitude toward humankind, and sometimes even regard it with a sort of affection, so we certainly don’t mean to endanger it. A skeptical approach to scientific questions was regarded as healthy during our formative years, hence the expression “healthy skepticism,” but now that we understand it poses a threat to everyone’s health we will resolve to be more blindly accepting of anything told us by a man in a white lab coat or a California senator.

Several other ideas we once held dear have also turned out to be not just wrong but wicked.

For instance, we had long believed that a nation functions best when its people are as self-reliant as possible, and that the people should be allowed the greatest degree of freedom compatible with a civilized society. President Barack Obama recently re-phrased this view thusly: “We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.” Our philosophy does sound a bit mean when put that way, so henceforth we will advocate dependency on the government and adherence to whatever cockamamie rules are cooked up in Washington, D.C.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who moonlights as the head of the Democratic National Committee, we have learned that many other beliefs we once considered reasonable are in fact diabolical.

We once thought that voting should be restricted to eligible citizens, preferably still alive, but Wasserman Schultz explains that we therefore “want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws.” In our fetish for self-reliance we had thought it fair to ask that citizens pay for their own abortions, rather than having people strongly opposed to the practice pick up the tab, but Wasserman Schultz tells us that this makes us “anti-woman.” Noting that the Medicare program’s trustees are predicting it will be insolvent around the time we’re forced on to its rolls, we had thought a more affordable voucher system might make a promising replacement, but Wasserman Schultz looked deep into our blackened heart and discovered that we were setting a “death trap for seniors.”

The folks at the Agenda Project, who hope to “build a powerful, intelligent, well-connected political movement capable of identifying and advancing rational, effective ideas,” are more specific about our deadly intentions toward the old folk. They envision us pushing a gray-haired, grandmotherly woman off a cliff, cackling a villainous, Gert Fröbe-like laugh as she plummets to her painful demise. This is obviously no way for us to behave, and we are deeply ashamed.

Wasserman Schultz has helpfully pointed out that we are racist, woman-hating, granny-killing monsters, but this makes her seem almost sweet on us when compared to the constructive criticism offered by Rep. Nancy Pelosi. With ladylike diction she explained to Daily Show host Jon Stewart that as registered Republicans we are opposed to clean air, clean water, food safety, and public safety, opinions we were previously unaware of and which we now regret. She more recently told reporters that she hopes to “save the planet” from us, and we wish her the best in the effort, as we’d feel terrible if we were to cause anything to happen to it.

Rep. Ed Markey tells us we’re intent on planetary mayhem, however, and points to our opposition to a federal take-over of the internet as proof that we’re “trying to pass legislation destroying the World Wide Web, and they’re also trying to pass legislation to help destroy the whole wide world.” This is even worse than Boxer’s charge that we endanger humankind, as destroying the whole wide world would also threaten the polar bears and other worthy creatures.

In addition to such nefarious crimes, Wasserman Schultz has also complained that we “demonize” our political opponents. We apologize profusely, and promise to act less demonically in the future.

— Bud Norman

Fast, Furious, and Oddly Quiet

Eavesdrop on any conversation between conservatives, wait for the talk to inevitably turn to one of the various political scandals afoot, and sooner or later you’ll hear one of them sigh and say “If that had been a Republican … ”

The ensuing complaint about the differing levels of media outrage accorded the two parties’ foibles is by now an almost obligatory rite of conservative discourse. This week’s news coverage will likely provoke the same comment a few more times.

You might not have heard, unless you were paying very close attention to the mainstream news sources, or were slumming it in the right-wing media, but Attorney General Eric Holder gave some intriguing testimony Thursday to a Congressional committee investigating “Fast and Furious,” the Justice Department operation that deliberately allowed more than 2,000 guns to be sold to Mexican drug gangs.

The botched scheme has all the makings of a juicy political scandal: A body count of 150 casualties linked to the “gunwalked” weapons, allegedly including the deaths of an American immigration agent and the brother of a Mexican prosecutor; accusations by whistle-blowers of a cover-up; statements by high officials contradicted by leaked memos; even a catchy name with a movie tie-in. Holder’s appearance on Thursday added more muckraking material. The Attorney General testified that the false information previously supplied to the committee by his department wasn’t a lie, as “it all has to do with your state of mind and whether or not you had the requisite intent to come up with something that would be considered perjury or a lie,” and the mental exertion required apparently left him testy enough to ask a questioner “Have you no shame?”

Various media have paid some attention, especially when committee investigations leave the congressional beat writers with no plausible reason to not file a story, but the coverage will strike most conservatives as muted when compared to the high dudgeon that screamed forth from reports about earlier controversies. Anyone old enough to recall the outraged reaction to the Iran-Contra Affair, which involved government agents selling arms to a popular resistance movement fighting a hostile communist regime, rather than drug gangs fighting American law enforcement, will understand the frustration.

The media’s coverage of other administration scandals has been similarly restrained. The ongoing investigation into the Solyndra debacle, which involved more than half-a-billion in federal loans to a failed “green energy” company owned by major campaign contributors, as well as more allegations of a cover-up, has largely faded from the news. The LightSquare scandal, in which administration officials allegedly pressured a general to change his testimony about yet another donor’s business interfering with the military’s global positioning systems, has been completely forgotten. Any avid Obama-basher can reel off several other scandals that prompted only a few tut-tuts and harrumphs from the networks and newspapers before exiting the public stage.

One needn’t be in the administration to receive such even-handed coverage, only the correct party affiliation. On the same day Holder was sniping at his congressional interrogators, former New Jersey Governor and Senator Jon Corzine was telling another House committee that he didn’t know what happened to $1.2 billion of missing client funds entrusted to his now-bankrupt MF Global Holdings Ltd. The company’s suggestive name alone should have pushed the story to top of the news, but the story has thus far received less attention than when Bush advisor Karl Rove didn’t reveal the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Corzine is a member in good standing of the Democratic Party, and we believe that former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is too, although we can’t be sure. A few brief reports on the radio Wednesday said that Blagojevich had been sentenced to 14 years in prison on corruption charges, but none mentioned a party affiliation. Nor could we find that information here, here, or here. A mere oversight on the part of the reporters, perhaps, but conservatives will be inclined to wonder “If that had been a Republican …”

— Bud Norman

Bully for Teddy

Teddy Roosevelt hasn’t been active in public affairs since 1919, when he died, but the “Rough Rider” has been a prominent figure in this week’s news reports nonetheless.

President Barack Obama brought his famed predecessor back into the limelight on Tuesday by delivering a widely reported speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, an obscure location chosen because it was previously the site of Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” address. On the same day, GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich inserted T.R. into several more news stories by telling radio host Glenn Beck that “I guess I’m a Theodore Roosevelt Republican.

Anyone who can garner praise from such disparate public figures must have done something right, as Roosevelt did on several occasions, but Obama and Gingrich should both be careful about casting themselves in a Rooseveltian image. If there’s something for everyone to like in a person’s career, there’s bound to be something everyone can dislike.

Despite the sorry state of today’s history education, Roosevelt remains an iconic American figure, familiar enough to appear as a character in the “Night at the Museum” movies or a recent “Simpsons” episode. Even Americans who couldn’t tell you anything about Roosevelt’s presidency will recognize the mustached, squinting face and the burly build, and know that he gave us the Teddy Bear, a ferocious charge up San Juan Hill, and the expression “Bully.” The policies and the politics are largely forgotten, but the brusque, athletic, outsized personality continues to resonate, epitomizing a uniquely American confidence that is lost and longed for.

We suspect Roosevelt’s he-man image is what the scrawny, bike helmet-wearing Obama and the jowly, professorial Gingrich are both hoping to emulate, but neither can fully embrace Roosevelt’s policies.

In Obama’s case, he’s unlikely to follow Roosevelt’s confident lead in foreign affairs. Roosevelt won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War, and Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for something or other, but otherwise the two presidents have little in common.

After becoming president at the unprecedentedly tender age of 42, at a time when his young country was just joining the ranks of world powers, Roosevelt jumped into the great game of world affairs with a youthful vigor. The former Assistant Secretary of the Navy rapidly built the country’s military, necessary for his famously stated intention to “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” and he was never reluctant to use it. As convinced of America’s inherent greatness as he was his own, Roosevelt eagerly asserted the country’s new strength in a variety of adventures that became known as “Gunboat Diplomacy,” which included engineering an insurrection in Colombia to build the Panama Canal, dispatching the “Great White Fleet” on a world tour to flex its muscle, and re-asserting the Monroe Doctrine with domineering style throughout Latin America.

Such muscular foreign policy enraged the leftists of the day, and continues to do so today, but it also continues to endear Roosevelt to most Republicans. Roosevelt was equally confident about his ability to manage every aspect of the nation’s internal affairs, however, and Gingrich should know that does not please many modern Republicans.

Roosevelt’s ambitious domestic was “progressive,” now a pejorative to conservatives, and he could be easily caricatured by today’s rightward media as a trust-busting, union-coddling, tree-hugging liberal. He sought the dismantlement of several large companies considered monopolies, fought for extensive regulation of most other industries, and never missed a chance to rail against the hated rich. His intervention in a 1902 coal miners’ strike resulted in higher wages and fewer hours. A famously avid outdoorsman, he championed the creation of national parks and set aside thousands of acres as national forests. In his eagerness to bring government’s good works to every corner of American life, he even re-wrote the rules of college football and lobbied for simplified phonetic spelling.

After leaving the White House in care of his close friend and vice-president, William Howard Taft, Roosevelt basically went crazy left. The “New Nationalism” speech that Obama harkened to in his Osawatomie address actually went further than Obama dares to go today. He wanted to nationalize all health care, and not just in the incremental style of Obamacare, and he argued that people should be permitted to gain wealth “only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.” The radical platform failed to get Roosevelt into the White House when he ran as Bull Moose candidate in 1912, crushing Taft’s re-election bid and ushering in the radical platform of Woodrow Wilson, and we doubt it would win him a Republican nomination in today’s political climate.

Of course, history is always more complex than hero-seekers of any political persuasion would prefer. Roosevelt sought an expanded role for government in a pre-income tax era when there was plenty of room left for expansion, and reforms such as food and safety inspections, women’s suffrage, and a federal securities commission are no longer controversial in either party. Those striking coal miners didn’t win recognition for the union, and the owners were allowed to sell at a higher price. Roosevelt liked to shoot animals while enjoying the great outdoors, he considered himself a conservationist rather than an environmentalist,  and he built the Hetch Hetchy Dam that powers San Francisco and continues to enrage lefties there to this day. Even Roosevelt’s intervention in college football rule-making was understandable, given the 18 fatalities that occurred in the 1905 college season, and his idea for phonetic spelling seems to have arrived with the invention of text-messaging.

Gingrich apparently had such a moderate interpretation in mind when he guessed he was a “Roosevelt Republican.” The candidate told Beck that the T.R. of 1912 was too much a “big government, centralized power advocate,” but he agreed with the T.R. of earlier years that “there are minimum regulatory standards of public health and safety that I think are really important.”

Anyone hoping to emulate Roosevelt should also bear in mind that history keeps changing, or at least our perception of it does. Roosevelt’s foreign policy immediately fell out of Republican favor during the Taft administration, which preferred a more cautious “Dollar Diplomacy” that promoted American business interest and exploited the nation’s growing economic power, and by the late ‘40s Taft’s son Robert had the party firmly entrenched in the isolationist camp. Eisenhower pulled the party back in an internationalist direction, reviving Roosevelt’s reputation among Republicans, and since Reagan the “big stick” style it has become a party trademark. Now Ron Paul is trying to pull the party back to an isolationist stance, specifically invoking the Taft name, and we will see where Roosevelt’s reputation heads next.

The left’s perception of Roosevelt has also shifted over the years. “Gunboat diplomacy” remains a vile slur to the left, but they rarely use it whenever Democratic presidents venture into Bosnia, Libya, or other adventures. Roosevelt’s conservationism is often praised by the left, but the more radical environmentalism of his nemesis John Muir has been more influential. We note that Rachel Maddow has recently re-discovered an enthusiasm for dams, however, and one can never guess the next development.

What doesn’t seem to change is the enduring appeal of Roosevelt’s quintessentially American confidence, which seems set in stone as surely as his weathered face on Mount Rushmore. For better or worse, and despite the best efforts of his imitators, there’s no one in American public life right now quite like Theodore Roosevelt.

— Bud Norman

Obama Comes to Kansas

Kansans are rarely bothered by presidential visits, but we endured one Tuesday when Barack Obama dropped by Osawatomie to deliver yet another a much-ballyhooed speech.

The location was not chosen for the purpose of wooing Kansas voters. The Sunflower State is allotted a mere six electoral votes, which the Republican nominee has won in 30 of the past 37 presidential elections, including the last 11, and that is usually sufficient to keep us blissfully far off the politicians’ beaten path.

We like to think the visit was motivated in part by Obama’s desire to associate himself with Kansas’ wholesome and bucolic image, firmly inculcated in the public mind by “The Wizard of Oz,” “Picnic,” and almost every other cinematic depiction of the state save “In Cold Blood.” After briefly confusing Kansas with Texas, a mistake that will offend residents of both states, Obama opened his speech by flaunting his Kansas ancestry, citing family ties to Wichita, Augusta, and El Dorado. He even claimed to have a Kansas accent, something rarely bragged about, and a boast for which our highly attuned ears can find no evidence.

(Giving credit where credit is due, we note that Obama correctly, if haltingly, pronounced El Dorado as El Doh-ray-doh, rather than the usual El Dor-ah-doh, which Kansans rightly disdain as pretentious and Californian.)

Obama had a more specific reason for picking Osawatomie, a picturesque town of 4,600 friendly folks in the northeast corner of the state. The contentedly anonymous community’s dateline had previously appeared in the national press on only two occasions: In 1856, when the legendary abolitionist hero John Brown brutally slaughtered five pro-slavery men along the nearby Pottawatomie Creek, one of the more grisly moments of the “Bleeding Kansas” era that presaged the Civil War; and in 1910, when former President Theodore Roosevelt used the occasion of the John Brown National Park’s dedication ceremony to deliver his famous “New Nationalism” speech, which called for government to take a vastly expanded role in American life. It was the second of the two events that Obama hoped to evoke in his speech, which deliberately echoed the “Rough Rider’s” argument for an ever-expanding bureaucratic Leviathan.

Roosevelt gave his speech at time when the federal government spent about eight percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, and was so little involved in the daily affairs of the average citizen that he rarely noticed its presence. Obama’s Osawatomie oration came at a time when the various levels of government require about 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, a sum which allows it to intrude into such mundane affairs as the average citizen’s light bulb purchases. The intervening 101 years of progress apparently have not sated our president’s appetites, however, as his speech explicitly called for more government revenues and more governmental control of the economy.

The speech also revived Roosevelt’s class warfare rhetoric, which apparently never goes out of style, although Obama was careful to explain that “This isn’t about class warfare.” Citing a now-familiar litany of statistics on income inequality in America, including the old chestnut about Warren Buffett and his secretary, he once again demanded that America’s wealthy pay “a little more.” That government revenues actually increased when the top earners were asked to pay a little less was left unmentioned, and how “a little more” could make much difference to a multi-trillion debt was left unexplained.

Obama argued throughout the speech that the poor wouldn’t be poor if only the rich hadn’t become rich, one of several economic theories he proposed that struck us as dubious. He once again blamed the nation’s high unemployment rate on the internet, automatic teller machines, and other “huge advances in technology (that) have allowed businesses to do more with less,” as if America’s economy would be booming if not for those darned improvements in efficiency and productivity. He lamented that Americans companies increasingly prefer to do business in countries such as India, but seems to believe they’re leaving because they aren’t taxed, regulated and unionized enough, or haven’t had enough scorn heaped on them by the political class. He also contended the financial crisis of 2008 occurred because of “regulators who were supposed to warn us about the dangers of all this, but looked the other way or didn’t have the authority to regulate,” as if the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac regulators hadn’t warned Congress of the impending housing bubble collapse, only to be rebuffed and scorned as liars and racists by the President’s own party.

Obama’s favorite straw men were once again eviscerated with all the gusto of John Brown swinging a saber at some pro-slavers. He accused his Republican opposition of wanting to “return to the same practices that got us into this mess,” as if they were all clamoring for the government-enforced subprime lending and exorbitant deficit spending. He characterized the Republican philosophy as “We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules,” which strikes us as an unfairly simplified description, although we must admit it is still a more attractive option that relying on Obama to care for us and playing by his rules.

Press reports indicate the speech was warmly received by the high school auditorium-sized crowd, but we suspect that was at least in part because Osawatomie residents were flattered by the once-a-century presidential visit and are unfailingly polite to all visitors. The town is also close to Kansas City, where trade unionists, ethnic ward heelers, and other Democratic constituencies abound, and to Lawrence, where the University of Kansas provides a perennially replenished supply of empty-headed neo-hippies, so it shouldn’t have been hard to round up a few hundred friendly listeners.

In any case, we believe the crowd was atypical of Kansas. The very liberal Obama lost this very conservative state by a wide margin in the last election, and after spending the last three years crusading against corporate jets, one of the state’s big industries, and letting Canada beat us to a free trade agreement with Colombia that would have opened a large new market for wheat, the state’s other big industry, he likely won’t fare better next time.

The speech might play better in the other 57 states, as Obama counts them, but we doubt it will have a lasting effect. Obama’s once-vaunted rhetoric doesn’t get the same ballyhooing it got back ’08, when every utterance was received as wisdom handed down from Olympus, often with the appropriate columnar stagecraft, and many voters now tune it out altogether.

Roosevelt’s Osawatomie speech earned a footnote in the history books, but it didn’t get him another term in the White House when he ran as the Bull Moose candidate in 1912. We can only hope that Obama’s effort to fuse Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” with his own old-fashioned socialism fares no better, especially in light of the unhappy history of past nationalist-socialist hybrids.

— Bud Norman

Nancy With the Scowling Face

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has now picked a fight with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, threatening to reveal scandalous information about his congressional past that could derail his surging bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Many Americans will likely regard this feud the same way we looked at the war between Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or the rivalry between the Soviet Union and Communist China, or the annual football games between the University of Southern California and Notre Dame. In other words, as an epic contest between two arch-villains, both richly deserving of defeat.

In this case, however, we have no such reluctance to pick a side. For all of Gingrich’s obvious flaws, despite his well-known failures, regardless of what unknown scandals might yet be revealed, at least he’s not Nancy Pelosi.

Oh, what a horrible, horrible woman is Pelosi. A longtime Representative from the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, previously most infamous as the epicenter of the ‘60s hippie movement, she is the nipped, tucked and botoxed face of modern American liberalism at its worst. The trillions of dollars of debt she forced through Congress as Speaker is reason enough to despise her, as are the wasteful, harmful, and annoyingly bossy programs it funded, but even more irksome is the bullying, sanctimonious, hypocritical way she has gone about inflicting her damage on the country.

Always eager to create an ever more powerful federal government as she rose through the Democratic ranks, when Pelosi became Speaker of the House in 2007 she pursued that goal with an unapologetic use of raw political power, increasing the deficit from a troublesome but manageable 1.1 percent of GDP to a whopping 10.1 percent three years later, and helping to fight off attempts to reform federal housing policies. When her House majority was increased in the 2008 election, which also saw Democrats win control of the White House and Senate, in large part because the electorate blamed Republicans for skyrocketing deficits and the financial crisis that followed the bursting of the housing bubble, Pelosi ruled with an imperiousness unseen since the days of Cleopatra.

The most notorious example of Pelosi’s iron-fisted reign was the health care reform bill widely known as “ObamaCare,” which she pushed through the House over the loud objections of a majority of Americans and without a single Republican vote, telling a confounded country that she had to pass the mammoth compendium of new regulations “so you can find out what is in it.” There were other outrages, though, including a cap-and-trade bill designed to increase the nation’s energy bill, an idea so outlandish that it didn’t even pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, and a budget-busting stimulus bill full of pay-offs to public sector unions and other Democratic constituencies that failed to achieve its goal of keeping unemployment below eight percent.

These profligate power plays earned Pelosi the title of former Speaker of the House when the Republicans won a record 63 seats and re-took the chamber in the midterm election of 2010, but the stinging defeat and demotion to Minority Leader did not change Pelosi’s combative style. On the contrary, freed from the necessity of appearing bi-partisan and above the fray, Pelosi has become harsher in attacking her political opponents and bolder in her calls for higher taxes on the wealthy, even going so far as to embrace the reign of hippie terror that’s been brewing in the “Occupy Wall Street” protests.

Pelosi’s enthusiasm for class warfare seems especially peculiar, given that she and her venture capitalist husband are spectacularly wealthy even by the standards of her gentrified district. She’s grown richer yet during her years of public service, with her wealth increasing 62 percent in the past year’s bad economy, and her brother-in-law did well, too, snagging a $737 million loan for his “green energy” company. Government work has also provided Pelosi with a private jet that even fattest cats in corporate America would envy, a generous expense account for food and liquor, and assorted other perks.

All of which makes Pelosi’s threatened ethics charges against Gingrich ring somewhat hollow.

Pelosi was deliberately vague about the alleged misdeeds when interviewed by The Hill, an insider’s source of news about Washington politics, saying only that she came about the information while working on an congressional investigating committee in the late ‘90s and would starting shoveling the dirt “When the time is right.” Ominous as that might sound when coming from Pelosi’s frightening lips, Gingrich has good reasons for dismissing the threat as an “early Christmas gift.” If the charges Pelosi intends to level were included in her investigative committee’s final report, which resulted in a $300,000 fine on Gingrich for violations of House rules, the scandal will be 13 years old and relatively insignificant. If the charges weren’t made public by the committee, skeptical voters will wonder why not, and Pelosi might be in violation of House rules herself.

In the meantime, Gingrich can mitigate some of the harm he did himself by appearing with Pelosi in an ill-advised 2008 public service message about global warming, and revel in the emnity of one of the most disliked people in American public life.

— Bud Norman

Bringing Down Cain

Herman Cain’s presidential campaign is now in permanent suspension, thus ending one of the more entertaining sub-plots of the Republican primary race, and we’re left wondering what that was all about.

Cain first appeared in the race as one of the names mentioned near the bottom of the early handicapping sheets that journalists provide for politics buffs, in the final paragraphs where the long shots, dark horses and prayerless are briefly listed. Even then the Cain candidacy was intriguing, as he was usually given the thumbnail description of “former Godfather’s Pizza CEO,” something previously unseen on any presidential aspirant’s resume.

The bits of additional information about Cain that seeped into the news further piqued the conservative’s interest. He held degrees in mathematics and computer science from Morehouse and Purdue, a welcome change from the usual Ivy League law degree, and worked with the U.S. Navy on the way to a successful career in fast food. His only political experience was as an economic consultant to the failed campaigns of Jack Kemp and Bob Dole, and a two year stint as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Kansas City and Omaha branch was the closest he’d come to a public sector job, but that lack of experience only meant Cain was blameless in the minds of primary voters who have come to distrust the entire political establishment.

Such a unique biography earned Cain invitations to appear on the media, and at the outset he made the most of it. A former talk show host, Cain was especially effective schmoozing with his friendly former colleagues on the conservative airwaves, where his down-home language, southern manners, and irresistible likeability cut through the static on even the oldest pickup truck’s radio. He came across as commonsensical, at least enough to be trusted not to repeat the obvious mistakes of the current administration, and if his answers sometimes seemed uninformed or clumsy, well, that was just more evidence that he wasn’t one of those hated politicians.

Cain next proposed to replace the current tax system with nine percent rates on corporate and personal income taxes and a nine percent national sales tax, which quickly became famous as the “nine nine nine” plan. The proposal would likely be a hard sell to a general electorate, particularly that last “nine,” but it met the Republican primary voters’ criteria of being flatter, broader, simpler, and less amendable to congressional deal-making with special interests. Better yet, it was endorsed by conservative tax guru Arthur Laffer, and it had a catchy name. Combined with Cain’s appealing personality and life story, the party’s reluctance to nominate frontrunner Mitt Romney, and the other challengers’ numerous missteps, it was enough to momentarily push him to the top of the polls.

The surprising numbers were met with skepticism by the more sober conservative commentators, and full blown panic among liberals who feared that Cain might cut into the Democrat’s near-monolithic support from blacks. We had read several stories about Cain in the supposedly racist conservative press before learning that he is black, and only then because of an accompanying photograph, but the supposedly color-blind pundits on the left seemed to have noticed immediately. Liberal entertainers such as Janeane Garofalo and Harry Belafonte, as well as Princeton University’s Cornel West and other weightier thinkers, struggled mightily to explain how Cain’s popularity with the Tea Party activists proved the movement’s racism, leading to some of the best comedy of the campaign thus far. MSNBC analyst Karen Finney snorted that Republicans liked Cain as “a black man who knows his place,” apparently oblivious to the fact that Cain and his mostly white supporters were trying to win him a place in the White House.

Such liberal opprobrium only strengthened Cain’s conservative support, and sent even the skeptics rushing to his defense, but Cain’s fall came with the same suddenness as his rise.

First came the sexual harassment allegations. Initially revealed by the left-leaning Politico web site, the stories were vague, anonymously sourced, and readily dismissed by Cain’s die-hards as a liberal smear job. An alleged victim came forward with a more specific tale that depicted Cain as far less than likeable, but she did so with the help of Gloria Allred, one of the main reasons people dislike lawyers, so the worst she could do was plant a seed of doubt. Then came Ginger White and her claim of a 13-year affair with Cain; She had some suspicious financial and legal troubles to cast doubt on her tale, but she also had phone records and other corroborating evidence. When Cain explained to a friendly radio interlocutor that he had been friends with White for 13 years, but had never mentioned the friendship — nor his “financial assistance” — to his wife, he no longer seemed as commonsensical.

More damage was done, we believe, by a series of Cain’s bad answers to good questions. On CNN he seemed to say that abortion should be illegal but women should have the choice of breaking the law, and seemed to be caught off-guard by the question, as if he had expected to run a race for the Republican nomination without being confronted by the issue. He seemed surprised again to be asked about Libya, and was inconsistent and evasive in dealing with questions about the sexual harassment charges and settlement his former employer had reached with his accusers. Such amateurish responses had previously been touted as proof that Cain wasn’t a professional politician, an endearing trait in an underdog, but they didn’t befit his frontrunner status.

All of which led to Cain’s early exit from the race this past weekend, which we see a helpful development for the Republicans. The left is deprived of the opportunity to blame Cain’s defeat on racism, and will likely allow Cain and his brief moment of Republican adulation to be quickly forgotten. The attention of primary voters will be properly focused on most likely candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, or whichever of the remaining challengers can somehow come into contention, and the distraction of the sordid allegations against Cain will be eliminated.

It might even provide voters with a necessary caution against being swayed by personalities and populist appeals, a human tendency as common on the right side of the political spectrum as on the left.

— Bud Norman