The Bubba Show

Bill Clinton is back in the news, where he always seems happiest, and this time it’s because he’s been invited to play a “leading role” in the upcoming Democratic convention.

The leading role at party’s convention is traditionally played by the party’s nominee, but the Democrats apparently felt they needed somebody with more box office appeal. Given the problems that have already plagued the show, which has been shortened to a three day run, seen the cancellation of an event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway due to fund-raising problems, angered union bosses because of its location in a right-to-work state, and annoyed the party’s sizeable anti-capitalist wing with an event scheduled to be held in the embarrassingly named Bank of America Stadium, it is not surprising that the producers felt the need to call in a guest star. Many Democratic office-holders have already announced that they’ll be skipping the convention, and the party’s leader in the House of Representatives has urged the rest of them to do so as well, so the organizers were no doubt delighted to find a still-popular Democrat who isn’t running for anything.

Why Clinton remains popular is something of a mystery. His many fans recall the Clinton era as a time of peace and prosperity, but the peace was a result of the successful conclusion of a Cold War he had declined to help fight, the prosperity was largely brought about by his predecessors and the Republican congress that his first two years had created, and during his time in office he did much to undermine both. By neglecting the provocations of the World Trade Center bombing attempt, the bombing of American embassies in Africa, and numerous other terror attacks, he left the country vulnerable to the terror attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. He also started the insane subprime lending practices that created a housing boom during his administration but later led directly to the financial crisis that is still crippling the American economy, and those of a liberal bent who prefer to blame the present mess on the repeal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act should recall that it happened during the Clinton years. None of it hit the fan while Clinton was in office, a testimony to his undeniably good timing, but as the great economist Frédéric Bastiat once wrote, “it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa.”

There were also the tawdry sexual shenanigans, of course, which tarnished the American image in all the but most fashionably enlightened corners of the world. After all these years the Egyptian rabble are still using Clinton’s escapades to taunt his wife as she attempts to serve as Secretary of State.

Still, many people seem to love the guy. Although he’s occasionally been a pest to the Obama campaign, defending Romney’s time with Bain Capitol and warning against tax hikes and such, the Democrats seem to trust him to stick to the script during the convention. They expect that Clinton will evoke happy memories of a more carefree era of economic expansion, but he could also serve as a reminder that days seem long ago, far away, and unlikely to return any time soon without a change of direction.

— Bud Norman

Rubber and Glue

The folks at Newsweek are now questioning the manhood of presumptive Republican presidential Mitt Romney, with their latest cover story going so far as to call him a “wimp.”

They probably figured that the slur worked well enough back in ’87 to dog George H.W Bush, who had been a star college athlete, decorated combat pilot, and former CIA chief, so it should work again with a candidate lacking those macho credentials. The “wimp” tag didn’t keep Bush from winning the election in ’88, though, and there’s no reason to believe it will be any more effective now.

For one thing, Newsweek is a shell of its formerly fearsome self. The magazine was sold to a new publisher two years ago for the partly sum of one dollar — even The Central Standard Times could fetch as much as ten times that amount — and is now rarely read except by people waiting for dental treatment or oil changes.

More importantly, the “wimp” charge is unlikely to trouble Romney because he’s running against Barack Obama. As voters weigh the relative wimpiness of the two candidates they’ll inevitably be linked to video of Obama’s girlish throwing arm, photos of the dorky helmet he wears when pedaling his girls’ bike slowly along smooth surfaces, be reminded of a physique so slight that none dare call it “skinny” for fear of being branded a racist, and perhaps even remember that very same Newsweek thought it was doing Obama a favor by dubbing him “America’s first gay president.” Once an avowedly dovish sort who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for George W. Bush-bashing speeches, Obama now prefers to strike a more cowboyish pose with “unnamed administration sources” boasting of his top secret swashbuckling, endless celebration of the death of Osama bin Laden, and increased use of the drone attacks he once condemned, but that can’t change the perception that has come about after resetting Russo-American relations to a supine position, having his minions boast of “leading from behind,” and being increasingly ignored by foreign leaders.

Such comparisons have thus far blunted all of the attacks on Romney. The Obama campaign and its media allies have tried to portray Romney as an out-of-touch rich guy, but after four years of gushing over his glamorous lifestyle, and spending more time with his fellow rock stars than with the guns-and-Bible-clinging masses, the charge merely serves as a reminder that Romney earned his money in ways that suggest a familiarity with what makes a private sector economy work. They charged that he ruthlessly shipped jobs overseas, and were met with a flurry of stories about the millions of stimulus dollars that were lavished on foreign concerns. They tried to make an issue of Romney’s alleged bullying while at a fancy prep school, and conservative media responded with Obama’s own words describing how he was drunk, stoned, and prone to radical ideologies during his time at an equally fancy prep school. They tried to define Romney as a dog-hating brute who strapped a pooch atop the family station wagon, and heard countless replays of Obama’s fond recollection of eating a dog.

The Obama campaign and its supporters at such last gasp media as Newsweek are intent on making the election about Romney and any human failings he might possess, but voters are unlikely to forget that the alternative isn’t the God-like figure he was presented as in the last election. The voters will probably then turn to such weightier matters as the economy, and that’s where the real troubles for the president’s re-election campaign begin.

— Bud Norman

The Six Ring Circus

The Olympics are now underway, and that still seems to be a big deal.

Not as big as deal as it was back in the Cold War days, when every competition that pitted the good ol’ USA against the USSR and its various proxies had the feel of single combat for the future of the civilized world. The games were riveting then, with each American victory vindicating the free market system and every commie victory confirming the duplicitous nature of that evil system. Not every Soviet win was tainted, of course, but that basketball final in the ’72 games certainly was, and so were all the medals won by those testosterone-laden women swimmers from East Germany, and countless judges decisions, so there were always enough shenanigans to support a good-guy-versus-bad-guy storyline that makes sports spectating so much more enjoyable.

The demise of the Soviet Union was a boon to humankind, but it did take much of the fun out of the Olympics. When the Russians and their puppets skipped the ’84 games America won so many gold medals that the national anthem became tedious, and all of the subsequent Olympics have lacked a suitable villain. At the Sydney games in ’00 the big competition turned out to be the home court Aussies, and except for Mel Gibson, Yahoo Serious, some crazy gun laws, and an occasional tendency toward self-righteousness there’s really nothing to justify rooting lustily against Australia. China arrived as a major world sports power at the ’08 Olympics in Beijing, and that country has several suitably villainous characteristics, but most of its medals are still being won in sports that Americans don’t bother to watch. The Ummah doesn’t field a team at the Olympics, yet, but even if it did it probably wouldn’t pose much of a threat to America’s standing in the medal count.

The supposed virtues of the “Olympic ideal” are an insufficient substitute for the good-versus-evil narrative. That idealism has been in question at least since 1936, when the games became a propaganda production for the German Nazi party, and every Olympics in our memory has been marked by doping scandals, game-fixing, outrageous political gestures, the worst sort of nationalism, and general poor sportsmanship. The ginned-up controversies over the amateur status of the competitors that were once a fixture of the games has happily disappeared since the Olympics wisely decided to embrace professionalism, but they’ve been replaced by tedious brouhahas over some small point of political correctness. Before the opening a ceremony a Greek athlete has already been expelled for the games over a rather mild joke and some unsavory party affiliations. All the “Olympic ideal” talk has an unsettling hint of one-worldism about it, and the quadrennial controversies always suggest that the one world they have in mind will be a rather stuffy and humorless place.

Still, we’ll be eagerly tuned in to whatever’s still available for free on over-the-air television, and hoping that it is free of tragedy. For all its flaws, the Olympics still bring together the world’s greatest athletes to compete in a variety of venerable sports, and there’s something undeniably compelling about that. The competition invariably provokes the best of humanity, even as it routinely displays the worst, and seeing that extraordinary range play out on a world stage will always have an intrinsic interest.

So let the games begin, and go USA!

— Bud Norman

Free Speech and Chicken Sandwiches

We have no opinion regarding Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches, as we haven’t had one in many years and have long since forgotten whether we liked them or not. The company opened a franchise in Wichita last year that proved so popular it has created a traffic problem for the neighborhood, but it’s way over on the east side and we’re content with the store-bought chicken we grill on the backyard barbecue.

Still, we stand foursquare for the company’s right to sell its product, its customers’ right to purchase them, and the right of the company’s ownership to publicly express whatever political opinions they might hold. This strike us as an all-American position consistent with a belief in such fundamental human rights as freedom of speech, but the Mayor of Boston apparently disagrees. He has said that Chick-fil-A has no right to do business in his city because the company’s president has stated his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino told The Boston Herald. “We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”

Apparently Boston is not so inclusive that it can tolerate the presence of the 50 percent or so of the American population that shares the Chick-fil-A president’s opinion on the subject of same-sex marriage nor any of the numerous major world religious that hold to the same view. Not content with such an incoherent statement, the mayor went on to say that a proposed Chick-fil-A is especially offensive because it will be located near the Freedom Trail, as if the founding fathers would be so put off by a company’s opposition to same-sex marriage that they would gladly revise the First Amendment.

Sadly, such intolerance is becoming a common feature of modern liberalism. The same leftist tradition that once prided itself on its opposition to McCarthyism — that dark era of American history when citizens were denied the right to make a living because of their political opinions — now routinely attempts to deny citizens the right to make a living because of their political opinions. Some leftists will likely reply that McCarthy’s victims were merely advocating a totalitarian dictatorship, while the definition of marriage that has been the standard in most societies for the past many millennia is now beyond the bounds of civilized discourse, but we find the argument unconvincing.

The left’s McCarthyite tendency seems to be especially prevalent among the pro-same-sex-marriage crowd, which has sought to punish everyone from beauty queens to department stores for their heretical views. A Chicago alderman is also attempting to use the power of government to block a new Chick-fil-A restaurant, and some of his constituents are planning to harass the customers at another location in the city with a “kiss-in.” This is ironic, given that advocates for homosexuality invariably think themselves at the vanguard of the defense of freedom, but despite their reputation for irony they’ll likely never notice. Same-sex marriage is by no means the only issue where the left seeks to silence its opponents, rather than go through the chore of refuting their arguments in the court of public opinion, and as the political debates inevitably become more rancorous the left will likely step up its assault on free speech rights.

It’s enough to make us brave the high-tone and heavy traffic of the east side and try a Chick-fil-A sandwich, just to annoy the likes of Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

— Bud Norman

Obamacare at the Local Level

Our mailbox — the metal one affixed to our front porch, not the silicon one embedded in our computer — has lately been overflowing with correspondence from the various candidates competing in the upcoming Republican primary. Smart campaigns reduce their postage costs by checking the voting records to see who actually votes before sending out their mail, and because we haven’t missed an election since 1977 we’re very popular at the moment.

The most intriguing advertisements concern the race for this district’s state Senate seat, which has posed something of a dilemma for us. The race pits the longtime incumbent, a locally famous exemplar of moderate Republicanism, against her upstart challenger, who espouses a more conservative platform. We’re more inclined to agree the latter’s stands, but Wichita is a small enough town that politically active social gadflies such as ourselves often have an opportunity to chat with the candidates and we thus have formed a more favorable impression of the former. The challenger is a nice enough young fellow, and unmistakably earnest, but he seems a bit wet behind the ears, as we old-timers are wont to say, and with his rather baby-faced appearance we worry that he’ll soon be the butt of the same old jokes they used to tell about Dan Quayle. Already a group calling itself Kansans for Kansas — a name that defies parody — has sent us a flier that portrays him wearing a diaper and sucking on a milk bottle.

We’ve been wary of the incumbent, however, ever since an early candidates’ debate when she took a stab at winning the fourth district congressional nomination during the mid-term election in 2010. Each of the candidates were asked if they would vote to repeal Obamacare, and after all the others had finished trying to outdo one another with their determined disgust for that hated law she proudly announced she would not vote for repeal. We gave her credit for being willing to express an unpopular opinion and endure the boos that immediately arose from the crowd, and thought that it might even prove a smart strategy to win a plurality by staking out a “moderate” position while the rest of the field divided the conservative vote four ways, but we also decided to vote against her.

She wound up losing that race, of course, which is why she’s now working hard to keep her job in Topeka, and the issue continues to dog her. It’s a valid issue, because if the bill is not repealed in Washington it can only be thwarted by states refusing to implement its numerous provisions, and it seems to be of great interest to the voting public. The challenger has made much of his angry opposition to Obamacare, a flier from his campaign has warned that the incumbent “is prescribing a big dose of Obamacare for every Kansan,” and the incumbent has been forced to respond with her own flier citing some anti-Obamacare votes she has recently made.

Perhaps she has undergone a conversion since that ill-fated debate in the ’10 campaign, but there’s no way to tell if she’ll  lose enthusiasm for repeal in the general election. Our friends at the invaluable Voice for Liberty in Wichita web site have discovered a couple hundred or so changes of party registration in this state senate district, presumably because the Democrats around here aren’t bothering to seriously contest any of the races so they want to help defeat the more outspoken Obamacare opponent in the Republican primary, and we’ve also noticed yard signs for the incumbent in yards that once touted only Democratic candidates, so it does seem clear which candidate is more certain to fight the good fight.

That’s enough for us, in the final analysis. The jokes will be hard to bear, but not so hard as Obamacare.

— Bud Norman

Illegitimacy and Inequality

The New York Times has finally found a reason to be concerned about the rising rate of out-of-wedlock births in America.

It’s not traditional Judeo-Christian morality, of course, nor even the voluminous evidence from the social sciences supporting the venerable and commonsensical belief that children raised in old-fashioned nuclear families tend to fare better in life than those raised by baby mommas. What worries the Times, rather, is the alarming possibility that illegitimacy is causing income inequality.

The argument has infuriated many of the paper’s readers, predictably enough, and the “comments” section of the internet edition is brimming with indignation. Feminist writer Katie Roiphe even took to the internet pages of Slate Magazine to demand that the Times “Stop Moralizing About Single Mothers,” decrying the paper’s “puritanical and alarmist rumination on the decline of the American family” and accusing it of “recycling truly retrograde and ugly moral judgements. [sic]”

Much of the criticism seems to reflect a fear that the secular left’s beloved issue of income inequality might somehow be co-opted by the religious right. Capitalism and the Republican party are apparently the only acceptable explanations for any unfairness that might occur in life, and perish the thought that the decisions made by individuals might have anything to do with it, so many of the commenters labor strenuously to argue that society can somehow be reconfigured along lines that will obviate mothers and fathers. Some commenters claim that it’s just a matter of tax breaks and a bit more federal funding, others seem to acknowledge that more radical reforms will be required, but none bother to attempt a refutation of the article’s facts and reasoning that show nuclear families are by and large the most successful.

There’s also the usual repulsion to moral judgments, which are “retrograde and ugly” even when they provably result in better outcomes for individuals as well as the country at large. The left isn’t averse to rendering judgments, and indeed they’re about as judgmental a bunch of busy-bodies as you’re ever likely to endure, they just don’t like it when anything akin to traditional morality is involved.

The Judeo-Christian tradition isn’t the only one that insists on marriage as a condition for parenthood, however, and every functioning nation in history has also done so because humankind’s long experience of organizing itself into societies has found no effective alternative. Couching the argument for traditional families in such secular terms, and especially when evoking the holy cause of income equality, is therefore a vexing challenge to those who intent of remaking society along the lines of a Soviet collective farm or hippie commune.

Even more annoying, as far as the enraged commenters are concerned, is the Times’ unsubtle suggestion that having children out of wedlock is an increasingly lower-class phenomenon. The Times’ readers don’t mind being called immoral, but they won’t stand for being called lower-class.

— Bud Norman

An Unspeakable Tragedy

There’s nothing to be said about the tragic murders that occurred in a Colorado movie theater last Friday except that which mourns the innocent people who lost their lives, offers condolence to those who knew and loved them, hopes that our justice system arrives at the fairest possible decisions, and acknowledges that we can never fully understand the human failings that lead to such senseless violence.

That doesn’t stop some people from using such terrible tragedies to further their political goals, however, and it’s become a routine feature of these all too common events that the same hackneyed arguments are once again revived in the ensuing “discussion.”

There’s the inevitable call for gun control, of course. Invariably the same people who insist that it is futile to outlaw recreational drugs or abortion will claim that it was possible to have prevented a madman from obtaining a deadly weapon. Press reports indicate that the suspect in this case had fashioned a number of explosives from readily available sources, and that a past rampage in the same town had nonetheless been thwarted by armed citizens defending themselves, but these facts matter less than the emotional response that a fresh tragedy might provoke.

Trying to try to somehow link any violent tragedy to the “tea party” movement has lately become a journalistic ritual, as if a belief in limited government and fiscal probity is somehow an indicator of a murderous rage. Every attempt has been an embarrassing failure, but the liberal media outlets are nonetheless more vigilant about the imagined violence of the tea party than with the actual violence of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In this case the most egregious offender was Brian Ross of the ABC network, who took the airwaves a short time after the massacre had occurred to announce that a person with the same name as the suspect had once identified himself on a tea party web site.

One can also expect the usual theories about the gratuitous violence of the popular culture, the stresses of modern life, the failures of the mental health system, and several other familiar themes. Some of these ideas even deserve consideration, but it should be careful and dispassionate consideration that cannot be achieved in the immediate aftermath of such horrifying bloodshed. Exploiting the emotions of tragedy is not only unseemly, even in the pursuit of a worthy cause, and is unlikely to yield a positive result.

— Bud Norman

He Didn’t Give That Speech, Someone Else Did

The biggest story of the presidential race at the moment, even bigger than Mitt Romney’s 1983 tax return or the latest “Batman” movie, is still the “You didn’t build that” speech Barack Obama gave last Friday in Roanoke, Virginia.

Romney’s campaign has deftly exploited the speech with persuasive rebuttals at numerous campaign stops and a compelling internet advertisement, conservative commentators continue to attack while the liberal press is in defensive mode, and the Obama campaign is insisting that it was all an unfortunate misunderstanding of the famously eloquent president’s words. The story shows no signs of going away soon and could even become one of those defining events that seems to pop up in every campaign. As “Wheel of Fortune” host and surprisingly astute political analyst Pat Sajak put it, “It’s as if President Obama climbed into a tank, put on his helmet, talked about how his foray into Cambodia was seared in his memory, looked at his watch, misspelled ‘potato’ and pardoned Richard Nixon all in the same day.”

This is as it should be. Although the president’s remarks have stolen some much needed attention from a recent slew of dire economic statistics, they also succinctly and clearly express the president’s misguided collectivist notions that have done so much to create the sorry state of the economy.

The Obama campaign is insisting that the now-famous catch phrase of the speech — “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen” — is being taken out of context. The plausible claim is that the “that” in the sentence refers to the roads, bridges, and other infrastructure mentioned in previous sentences in the speech, and not to the “business” that is the subject of the sentence itself, but we have little sympathy for the argument. The world’s greatest orator should be able to fashion a more grammatically coherent oration, after all, and in the broader context of the speech in its entirety it is quite clear that Obama meant to say that someone who has built a successful business does not deserve credit and should be more beholden to the government. Those who go to the tape to hear for themselves will also note the president’s tone, which makes it further clear that he’s also very indignant about these gauche businesspeople having success and wanting to be acknowledged for it.

The observation that a businessman’s economic success is to some extent dependent on roads and bridges and power grids and such is undeniable, and the argument that they should therefore be expected to contribute to the costs of those things is not at all controversial, but the argument that they should also therefore be expected to pitch in for some street corner hooligan’s Vision card or one of the president’s campaign contributors’ phony-baloney “green energy” boondoggle is a utter non-sequitur. As the factory owner in the Romney ad correctly notes, denigrating the achievements of entrepreneurs and other successful people does not promote a healthy economy that can only be based on the success of individuals, and it also runs counter to a deeply ingrained strain of individualism in the American culture.

Obama seems to believe that there are enough resentful people in America to constitute an electoral majority, or at least is hoping so, and he might be right. Most humans prefer to be given credit for their successes, though, and most humans believe or at least hope that they’ll eventually have some success. When people do finally achieve something great, they don’t to hear that they didn’t that, that someone else made that happen.

— Bud Norman

A Good Life Out of Office

George W. Bush seems to be enjoying his retirement. In a recent interview with the Hoover Institution’s Peter Robinson, Bush even went so far as to say that his post-presidential life is “awesome.” We were delighted to hear it, for several reasons.

Although we had some complaints with Bush’s brand of “compassionate conservatism,” often finding it a bit too compassionate and insufficiently conservative, we also admired many of the difficult decisions he made during the tumultuous time he was in office. Nor do we do blame him for the economic crisis that occurred during the last days of his administration, which we attribute to the ill-advised subprime lending policies that he repeatedly if unsuccessfully tried to reform.

Bush never deserved the white-hot hatred that he somehow inspired in his most fervid critics, so we’re also happy to contemplate that his current contentment is no doubt driving them crazy. The hard-core Bush-haters were already frustrated by their inability to damn his detention camps, drone strikes, unwinnable wars, deficits, and even his management of the economy without having to make excuses for Obama’s policies, so knowing that Bush isn’t miserable and self-loathing will be especially hard for them to bear.

The low-key and classy post-presidency of Bush hasn’t given his critics any fresh reasons for their hatred. He hasn’t been a meddlesome pest such as Jimmy Carter, nor does he seem to have Bill Clinton’s constant craving for attention, and his rare public appearances have been gracious and appropriately apolitical. Obama will no doubt continue to blame the current difficulties on his successor, but Bush’s gentlemanly and charitable behavior has been making the effort difficult and perhaps even counter-productive.

Mostly, though, we’re glad to know that it’s still possible for a person to embark on a career in public service and come out of it a happy man. Given the viciousness of contemporary American politics, with both sides ever eager to savage their political opponents, it is hard to see why the country’s most able men and women would ever want to be involved. If someone so maliciously maligned, so aggressively detested as George W. Bush can somehow find satisfaction in a career of public service, there might be some hope left.

— Bud Norman

Left Goes Right, Right Goes Left

At some point in the last fifty years or so everyone in America seems to have switched sides.

The notion occurred to us during a recent conversation with an old friend about fluoridating the local water supply. Fluoridation of the water supply has lately been a hot topic here in Wichita because this is one of the biggest cities in America that doesn’t do it, and a couple of public advocacy groups have recently launched a well-financed public relations campaign to rectify that oversight. So far as we can tell the pro-fluoridation forces are the usual gang of high-minded public health do-gooders, but we’ve been surprised to notice that most of the opposition to fluoridation, once a cause associated exclusively with far right wackos, seems to be coming from far left wackos such as our friend. We have no strong opinions regarding the issue, and will continue to drink from the taps regardless of the outcome of the debate, but we couldn’t restrain ourselves from teasing our friend about how she’s gone all John Birch Society on us and then taunting her with our best imitation of Sterling Hayden’s “precious bodily fluids” monologue from “Dr. Strangelove.”

Fluoridation is by no means the only issue where the right and left seem to have simultaneously crossed over to a new position. We’re also old enough to remember a time when the defense of Israel was a cause dear only to the hearts of liberals, with Hollywood’s lefties churning out such pro-Israel fare as “Exodus” and “Cast a Giant Shadow,” while conservatives were skeptical of the chances that a Jewish state could ever flourish in the Middle East. The young lefties of our acquaintance are largely unaware that this was ever the case, and indeed most have been surprised to learn that a liberal icon such as Robert Kennedy was killed by a Palestinian assassin because of his staunch support of Israel, while even the rare young conservative typically assumes that his side has been supporting Israel all along.

The liberal enthusiasm for Israel seems to have begun to wane around the same time that nation realized its survival depended on the sort of high-tech military that only a modern and capitalist economy can sustain, and gave up its fantasy of an agrarian socialist kibbutz society. We also suspect that one casualty of the war of ’67 was Israel’s status as an underdog, and that ever since the bomb-throwing Palestinians have had a more compelling claim to the all-important status of victim. The growing conservative support for Israel is likely a consequence of the Catholic Church’s sincere efforts to atone for its past anti-Semitism and the evangelicals’ increasing philo-Semitism, both positive developments as far as we’re concerned, as well as the common sense observation that Judaism is by no means the most troublesome of the religions that have come out of the Middle East.

Anyone old enough to have witnessed the hippie era will recall the left’s former aversion to law enforcement, better known by such slang as “pigs” and “the fuzz,” and will therefore be surprised to note that it is now conservative organizations that most outspokenly oppose “no knock raids” and efforts to outlaw self-defense against rogue police officers. Free speech was once a rallying cry of the left, which now spends its energy crafting campus speech codes and efforts to outlaw anything that might be construed as hateful, but the now the First Amendment absolutists are found almost exclusively on the right. The “individual mandate” requirement that Americans purchase health insurance originated in such conservative think tanks as The Heritage Foundation but become a conviction of the left, which has lately stopped trying to argue that the uninsured are hapless victims and has reverted to the conservative’s more persuasive argument that the uninsured are lazy freeloaders, while conservatives have now adopted the view that they simply want to be left alone to deal with the consequences of their own decisions.

Even such fundamental concepts as individualism and the common good seem to have found new homes along the ideological spectrum. The counter-cultural left once preached the gospel of doing one’s own thing and rebelling against the stifling conformity of conventional wisdom, but now it cheers on a president who explicitly argues that the credit for an individual’s success belong entirely to the collective and that the fruits of that success belong mostly to his government, while the right is waving Gadsden flags and arguing for the primacy of the individual no matter how crude he might seem to respectable opinion.

Such shifts can be expected every time there is a change of party in the White House and Congress, of course. The liberals who were once so ashamed by a war in Afghanistan, a detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, and drone strikes in Pakistan are now predictably silent about the same moral offenses, while conservatives remain ideologically consistent but not nearly so proud and enthusiastic as they were during a previous administration. The legal validity of executive privilege has similarly changed with a change of party in the White House. Since Obama’s inauguration we have noticed that the “Question Authority” bumper stickers have disappeared from the Volvos and VWs and started to appear on pickups.

Such inconsistencies are a normal and thus far tolerable feature of democracy, but the recent realignments seem to represent a more permanent tectonic shift in the cultural and political landscape of the country. The “long march through the institutions” that ‘60s radical Antonio Gramsci envisioned to take control of academia, the entertainment media, seminaries, and other key opinion-making institutions has largely succeeded, and the liberals are obliged to defend it no matter the consequences. Liberals are also in the position of defending the political structures that have been erected since the New Deal, no matter the unsustainable costs of their entitlements, and the unionized police forces seem willing to help in the cause.

So liberalism is now the ideology of the status quo, the conservatives are the anti-establishment iconoclasts, and the lefty peaceniks are the ones worried about their precious bodily fluids. It’s all quite discombobulating, but that’s what we get for living so long.

— Bud Norman