The Lowdown On Low Info Voters

The most popular political cliché of the past election was “low information voter.” This newly identified category seems to have replaced “Soccer moms,” “NASCAR dads,” and “angry white men” as the hot bloc that every campaign simply must have.
Despite our usual aversion to neologisms we rather like this coinage, certainly more than any of its recent predecessors. We’ve never met anyone who could be adequately defined as a “Soccer mom” or “NASCAR dad,” and the many angry white men we’ve known are no angrier than the angry people of other races and sexes, but we’ve encountered so many low information voters over the years that it seems necessary they should have a name. “Low information voter” has a drearily sociological ring to it, and we would have preferred something more acerbic, but it will do.
The term is neatly self-explanatory, at least, describing someone who persists in exercising his franchise despite having little knowledge of the issues or candidates that he’s voting about. No one knows precisely how much of the electorate matches this description, but everyone agrees that it’s a sizeable share. There are enough of them, we’re sure, to determine the outcome of an election.
For many years it was the consensus of liberal opinion that the more ignorant voters were inclined to vote for Republican candidates, and such snobbery still stubbornly persists in some quarters The would-be wags at the Urban Dictionary site, for instance, define a low information voters as “One who votes based on information gleaned from other low information voters, rumors, viral emails, and FOX ‘News,’” and cites as an example someone who “will vote against labor unions” despite the unalloyed wonders wrought by the labor movement. Since the past election, however, even such impeccably liberal publications as The Hill were forced to admit that the Democrats are now winning the lion’s share of the low information voters.
Some Democratic partisans even point with pride to the Obama campaign’s careful courtship of the low information vote, a strategy that included the president’s penchant for appearing mainly on such entertainment shows as The View, Late Night with David Letterman, The Daily Show, and, as we never tire of mentioning, The Pimp With a Limp’s radio program. We stand by our frequent criticism that such appearances demean the dignity of the president and his office, but are now forced to concede that it is apparently shrewd politics.
Even without the president’s participation, though, the mass entertainment media that low information voters flock to provide a constant flow of propaganda that is helpful to the Democrats. Businessmen are almost invariably depicted as villains, religious people are routinely ridiculed, class resentments are encouraged, and everywhere a notion of “cool” explicitly associated with liberalism is celebrated. Most of the news media are just as bad, hyping every Republican misstep to a point that even the most determinedly uninformed voters will hear of it while avoiding any mention of the numerous Democratic scandals that would be front-page material if they had happened during an earlier administration. Those few outlets that do report information critical of Obama are easily ignored, and wind up with the word news put in sneering quote marks.
We’ve spoken with numerous Obama supporters who were blissfully unaware of the Fast and Furious fiasco or the Solyndra debacle, to mention just two of the embarrassing stories that somehow haven’t dogged the administration, and these people include regular readers of The New York Times and other supposedly respectable publications. More apolitical acquaintances of ours don’t know that the federal government has been borrowing a trillion dollars every nine months for the past four years, and when informed of the fact they don’t seem to understand that a trillion dollars is a significant amount of money. They feel entitled to revel in their intellectual superiority to Sarah Palin, though, and know all about the Republicans’ racist and sexist ways even if they can’t cite any examples of these character flaws.
Wooing these voters will be difficult for the Republicans. The Democrats’ tax-the-rich philosophy has a natural appeal to voters who have come through the egalitarian indoctrination of the public schools, for instance, and refuting it requires facts about the exceptionally progressive nature of the current tax system and talk of Laffer Curves and capital flight that seem to have a painful effect on the brain of a typical low information voter. Almost all of the arguments for conservatism are complex and often counter-intuitive, and none have the low-brow entertainment value of the President of the United States slow-jamming the news on the Jimmy Fallon show. The Democrats’ argument that they will give free stuff and the stingy Republicans won’t is quite simply understood, on the other hand, and the counter-argument involves less immediate consequences that the low information voter is content to wait for so long as the goodies keep coming.
So far the best advice the consultants can offer is that conservatives start schmoozing on the talk shows more often, and being as hip as possible when doing so, and that’s probably a good start so long as they don’t embarrass themselves in the process. A more effective solution will require changing the culture, though, and that’s going to be a lot more difficult than just enduring the company of the late night comedians who provide the low information to all those voters.

— Bud Norman

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Bumper Sticker Politics

A good friend of long standing favored us with a ticket to the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball contest with the University of Tulsa’s Hurricanes last night, and he threw in a ride as well. It made for a fine fall night of sports spectating, but the experience was marred when we found ourselves stopped en route behind a car with bumper stickers shouting that “‘Koch’ and ‘Bain’ are Four Letter Words” and “Corporations Are Not People.”
Noting the heftiness of our friend’s vehicle we urged him to ram into the offending bumper, but he told us that he had already considered the option and decided against it. We immediately forgave our friend’s soft-heartedness, yet that random motorist’s loudly proclaimed political opinions annoyed us throughout the night.
The “Koch” on the first bumper sticker referred to the Koch brothers, the billionaire oil-refining magnates who have become the bogeymen of the left because of their unapologetic advocacy for capitalism, and the “Bain” referred to the venture capital firm that rescued a number of important American businesses from bankruptcy, which is also reviled by the left because it was run for several years by failed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Despite the left’s fondness for four-letter words, we took the sticker to mean that the motorist found something foul about the names. Both are indeed four letter words in the literal sense, and we credit the bumper sticker’s author with being able to count that far, but we doubt that random motorist could have given a coherent explanation of why either should be considered obscene.
An aspersion on the Kochs seemed especially ridiculous on a car here in Wichita, where Koch Industries is a mainstay of the local economy and a generous benefactor to many local charities. Indeed, we were headed at the time to Charles Koch Arena, the venerable old “roundhouse” that has been nicely refurbished through the generosity of its eponym, and it’s difficult e for the more high-minded citizens of this city to visit any of our local cultural institutions without finding similar evidence of the family’s philanthropy. The Kochs also fund a few free market think-tanks and activist groups, so perhaps such exercise of freedom of speech is what the motorist found so objectionable, but even so it doesn’t seem something worth bothering other drivers and their passengers about.
President Obama’s recent re-election campaign spent many millions of dollars publicizing the evils of the Bain Capital Group, accusing it of everything from massive lay-off and off-shoring of jobs to causing on employee’s wife to get cancer, so it might have been that relentless onslaught of propaganda that provoked the motorist’s indignation. The Bain group prevented a lot more lay-offs and off-shoring than it ever caused, and the wife-killing charge was dismissed by even the most reliably Democratic media, but some people seemed to desire a villain to vilify. The other bumper sticker suggested it was a more general anti-corporate sentiment, though, which the motorist would also be hard-pressed to coherently explain.
Aside from the incongruous fact that the bumper sticker was affixed to an automobile manufactured by a large corporation, and the motorist had therefore chosen not to transport himself in something made by a hippie commune or lesbian co-op, we were offended by the sticker’s implication that there is something sub-human about corporations. Corporations are not people, not if you want to get so strictly and snottily literal about it again, but they are comprised of actual people who deserve their constitutionally enumerated rights. Labor unions, universities, non-profit charities, and similarly fashionable entities are not people, either, and there is no reason why people should be able to organize themselves into any sort of collective other than corporations without sacrificing their rights.
Our encounter with that opinionated automobile wouldn’t have been so galling if its bumper sticker sentiments hadn’t become the governing philosophy of our nation. The same simplistic aversion to commerce now underlies the government’s approach to tax policy, regulation, and spending, and permeates the broader culture as well. Liberals take pride that the war on business seems to be going so well, yet wonder why the economy continues to suffer. Envy is also a four-letter word, as our friend our remarked, but it seems to be the driving rationale for our politics.
On the brighter side, the ‘Shockers easily won the game against their erstwhile arch-rivals and improved their season to record to an unblemished 7-and-0, a surprising result for a team thought to be in a rebuilding year. Should the team become any more successful, we’ll probably soon be seeing bumper stickers grousing that “Shockers Aren’t People.”

— Bud Norman

Strange Times For Free Speech

Way back during the George W. Bush administration a friend of ours used to write a political column for a local “alternative weekly.” The publication was typical of the genre, with lots of fashionably foul language, gushing praise of the city’s more noisome rock bands, and endless ridicule of organized religion. Our friend’s contribution was mostly the obligatory Bush-bashing, with one particularly memorable screed demanding that the president be boiled in oil.
One day around this time we were chatting with the same fellow at a party, doing our best to steer the conversation away from politics, when a local musician with a haircut borrowed from The Bay City Rollers walked up to congratulate our friend for being so very brave as to publish such dangerous dissent. Both men were visibly offended by the laugh we snorted, forcing us to explain that we had assumed the compliment would wasn’t intended seriously. Did either of them really believe that such little-read rants would result in a midnight raid by jack-booted storm troopers hauling the author off to prison as punishment for giving offense to the administration? Did they truly worry that the American public and the press would tolerate such an outrageous violation of the First Amendment?
They were both earnest in insisting that they expected nothing less of the evil Chimpy McBushitler, and held their chins up in the familiar pose of liberal nobleness as they vowed to persist nonetheless, but of course nothing unpleasant ever happened to either of them as a consequence of their political opinions. The magazine soon went out of business, but as a result of an oversupply of juvenile leftism and not because of any governmental suppression. So far as we know none of Bush’s many antagonists ever got that midnight knock on the door, and instead they tended to be rewarded with Academy Awards, Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, academic tenure, and the self-serving congratulations of the like-minded for being so very brave and independent-thinking.
The incident was brought to mind by reading The New York Times’ recent story about Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, who is now infamous as the creator of the little-seen movie that was blamed by the Obama administration for the death of an ambassador and three other Americans during the Sept. 11 assault on our embassy in Libya. Nakoula actually was hauled off to prison after running afoul of running the administration’s sensitivities, with the deed being done by an army of heavily-armed officers late at night in order to complete every detail of the most paranoid fantasies of the Bush era. Judging by the recent election results it seems that the American public finds this outrageous violation of the First Amendment quite tolerable, and judging by the Times’ treatment of the story the press is even more sanguine.
Headlined “From Man Who Insulted Muhammad, No Regret,” the story offers no sympathy for Nakoula’s plight, and instead seems to argue that anyone who criticizes Islam in a way that offends Muslims deserves whatever punishment he gets. Although the Times does grudgingly acknowledge that subsequent testimony from numerous witnesses has proved that Nakoula’s movie was not the motive for the deadly attack in Libya, a fact that even the administration has at long last been compelled to concede, they contend that he “fueled deadly protests across the Islamic world” and “inspired international outrage.”
The story correctly notes that Nakoula has been imprisoned for various violations of the conditions of his parole after a conviction on bank fraud, and convincingly establishes that Nakoula has numerous other glaring character faults, but it does little to allay the unavoidable suspicion that it is more than mere coincidence that he is behind bars after he made a movie that the president found objectionable. The father of a Navy SEAL who died heroically in Libya has told interviewers that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured him that “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did that video,” and the Times’ reporters are apparently unconcerned that is exactly what happened.
Such insouciance about a filmmaker being imprisoned for purely political reasons for exercising his First Amendment rights is especially odd coming from The New York Times, a publication that was for many years at the forefront of the fight for free speech. As recently as the controversies over of “Piss Christ,” the “Sensations” show and its dung-covered portrait of Mary, the play “Via Christi” with its homosexual Jesus, and other art world efforts to offend Christians it has been especially robust in defending the rights of artists, but it would seem that some religious groups are more deserving of freedom from offense than others. Criticizing Islam requires real bravery, as Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the late Theo Van Gogh all demonstrate, but The Times is clearly more impressed by the false bravado of the Bush-bashing Christ-mocking sorts of dissidents.
The fact that Nakoula is a less than stellar character ordinarily wouldn’t concern The Times, either. The pornographer Larry Flynt, ephebophile poet Alan Ginsburg, and convicted cop-killer Mumia Abul Jamal have all been hailed as free speech heroes by the newspaper, and nothing in The Times’ extensive indictment suggests Nakoula is any less unsavory.
Nor should Nakoula’s confession to the parole violations matter, for a powerful government official intent on jailing an inconvenient writer or filmmaker will always be able to find some plausible pretext for doing so. We’re certain that Bush could have come up with something on our friend the political columnist, and we suspect that The Times would have mustered far more outrage if he had.

— Bud Norman

Nothing Succeeds Like Secession

Have you caught the secession fever? It seems to be a world-wide epidemic.
Almost every day lately brings yet another story of some group of people somewhere who have determined that in the course of human events it has become necessary to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another. The latest such occurrence is in Catalonia, the famously industrious and capitalist region of Spain that has now voted to secede from that otherwise lazy and socialistic nation, but the same secessionist sentiment seems to flourish in a number of places for an equal number of reasons.
A sizeable share of the citizens in the countries that comprise the European Union seem eager to be rid of it. A recent poll found that 56 percent of Britons want out, and they aren’t on even on the Euro. Another poll found that only 39 percent of the Swedes want to end their membership in the EU, but only 39 percent want to stay, and the remaining 22 percent were presumably too busy making hard-core pornography to form an opinion. Even in Germany, the country that gets to be the boss of the EU, 65 percent of the people are pining for a return to the deutschmark and 49 percent would prefer to do away with the rest of the union as well. In Greece, one of the countries that those Germans are growing weary of bailing out, 63 percent of the people say they’d prefer to stay in the union even as they grouse about the stinginess of the aid they’re receiving.
Even within the countries of the European Union there are secessionist movements afoot. The Basque region of Spain has also long been a hotbed of separatist sentiment, complete with a very nasty terrorist group committed to the cause. The French-speaking Belgians of Wallonia and the Dutch-speaking Belgians of Flanders have long talked of getting a divorce to seek either independent nationhood or join up with their linguistic neighbors, although it’s not clear if the French would welcome any people calling themselves Walloons. Scotland’s stubborn separatist streak seems to have less support these days, although polls indicate that now the English are hoping the Scots will leave Great Britain.
Quebec has a longstanding and sometimes violent separatist movement, one of the many based on linguistic differences, and in Mexico the Zapatista Army of National Liberation continues to make trouble on behalf of Chiapas’ secession. Wikipedia has compiled extensive lists of separatist movements in Africa, Asia, and South America, and if all of them succeed future geography students will with dozens of new countries to memorize.
Even the United States of America isn’t very united these days. Alaska and Hawaii have both had active groups eager to secede ever since they joined the union, recently the Lakota Sioux went right ahead and declared their independence. There are also secession movements within the states, with large numbers of southern Californians pining for separation from those San Franciscans and other nutty northerners, and a while back there was even a movement of farmers in southwest Kansas who wanted to break away from this fine state. Smaller secession movements yet exist with the cities of the states, such as the movement in three of the more sensible areas of Los Angeles to break away from that crazed metropolis, and the eternal talk of Brooklyn or one of the other boroughs leaving New York City.
Every election brings talk of secession by whichever side is on the losing end of things. This time around the talk seems louder, more widespread, and one dare might say even more serious than usual. A White House web site received petitions from all 50 states, and a subsequent poll commissioned by the Huffington Post found that a disconcertingly significant 22.8 percent of Americans wanting their state to go it on its own. The sentiment seems especially strong in Texas, the only state to have ever enjoyed independent nationhood, but it can now be found in significant measure in almost any state that voted against Obama.
Such secessionist fever can’t be explained in America by multi-lingualism, at least not yet, nor by the usual inter-ethnic squabbling, although there seems to be a lot more of that in this supposed post-racial era. There’s more to it than the usual sore loser talk that follows the elections, too, as that’s usually due to fairly minor differences of opinion regarding policies that don’t really affect people’s lives directly. All the talk of secession that followed George W. Bush’s re-election was from people upset by a war being fought by an all-volunteer military, tax rates they regarded as too low, and a fervent belief that he was an impediment to the blissful utopia they would surely create if only given the chance. This time around the talk is coming from the people who chafe at the taxes, rules, and undisguised scorn of that blissful utopia, who no longer believe the courts will impose a constitutional impediment to its ever-expanding powers, and who are fearful of what’s going to happen when it all comes crashing down.
At this point all of the secession talk is unlikely to lead to action, but the government should take it seriously nonetheless. Governments only work well with the consent of the governed, often they don’t work at all without it, and the sometimes violent urge to be free of even the softest tyrannies seems to be a universal impulse.

— Bud Norman

More Morsi, More Problems

Possibly the least surprising development in the news lately has been Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s self-awarded promotion to dictator.
Morsi insists he’s not a dictator, as dictators always do, but with his recent decree that he can impose any law of his choosing on his people without any judicial constraint he meets any definition of the term. The decree has not been universally popular in Egypt, of course, with the more independent-minded judges voicing their disapproval in strongly worded letters, businessmen signaling their concerns with a disastrous drop in what’s left of the national economy, and the more recalcitrant citizens expressing their disdain with the traditional Egyptian rioting in Tahrir Square. None of it is likely to matter, though, as strongly worded letters have little effect on dictators, like all Islamists he cares just as little about economics, and his backers in the powerful Muslim Brotherhood will soon be sending a sufficient number of pro-dictatorship rioters to win the inevitable street brawls.
All of which was completely predictable. Morsi is a product of the Muslim Brotherhood, after all, and that organization has never made a secret that it prefers a religious dictatorship based on Islamic law to democracy. That Morsi and his allies would seek absolute power was not only predictable, it was widely predicted by numerous pundits and publications including this one.
It is alarming, therefore, that so many smart and powerful people failed to see it coming. The elite media all celebrated the demonstrations that unseated the unsavory but generally friendly dictator Hosni Mubarak and brought Morsi to power as an “Arab Spring” of democracy and modernity, even as one of their correspondents was being gang-raped by the mob of alleged democrats and modernists. Credentialed experts with the ear of the president assured that the Muslim Brotherhood were really a very reasonable bunch with democratic instincts, even though its motto states that “Allah is our objective, the Koran is our law, the Prophet is our leader, Jihad is our way, and death for the sake of All is the highest of our aspirations.” Apparently susceptible to such bad advice, President Obama called for Mubarak’s resignation despite warning that the Muslim Brotherhood would assume his power and more recently bolstered Morsi’s standing in the Islamic world by hailing his role in brokering a temporary and tactical cease-fire in Hamas’ terror war against Israel.
Which is not to say that anybody in America could have sustained Mubarak’s unpopular reign forever, or prevented the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascendancy, but surely it would not have been too much to ask that they not ushered things along. Propping up Mubarak long enough to have helped Egypt’s pro-democracy forces might have worked, and even if it didn’t the Islamists wouldn’t enjoy the legitimacy of western support.
An Islamist Egypt is going to be an ongoing problem not only for the brutalized citizens of that unfortunate country but also for the rest of the world.

— Bud Norman

Black Friday Blues

Today is called Black Friday, as you might have heard. The name has an ominous ring to it, like the title of one of those movies where the hero runs around machine-gunning terrorists while lots of things blow up, but apparently it merely refers to all the Christmas shopping which regularly occurs on the day after Thanksgiving. We’re told it derives from all the black ink that retailers use to tally their profits on this day, and we suppose that’s a good thing.
Still, there is something unsettling about the annual stories of shoppers camped out in mall parking lots for days in order to be the first in line for the marked-down goods, the shoving matches and fistfights over the last of the of the bargains, and the general mayhem and rudeness that always seem to result. This year has also brought a slew of stories about all the underpaid and over-worked shop employees being deprived of Thanksgiving by the ever-earlier opening times demanded by their taskmasters, all very reminiscent of poor Bob Cratchit back in the dark Dickensian days, as well as reports of threatened labor actions to take revenge on the evil corporations.
None of which does much to bolster the holiday spirit, which is hard enough to maintain these days. We’ve known people who look forward to Black Friday shopping, and despite their best efforts to explain the appeal we just don’t get it. They seem to find much pleasure in purchasing something at a lower-than-usual price, and go about it with the competitive zeal of a big-game hunter on safari, but it hardly seems worth the hassles of jostling with the maddening crowds.
Those fortunate enough to find themselves with free time today might find that it is better spent by relaxing, reading a good book, tending to some long-neglected chore, enjoying the quiet company of family or friends, or otherwise preparing for the onslaught of the holiday season. There will be time enough for shopping, with plenty of bargains, and maybe there ought to be less shopping. Although we advocate a red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism, and pride ourselves on a high level of tolerance for whatever lifestyle choices that people make with their money as well as their private parts, it does seem to us that in this heavily indebted country most people already have quite enough stuff. Civility, serenity, and the very non-materialist philosophy of the teacher whose birth is being celebrated this season are what’s lacking, and would make a much better gift than anything on sale on the mall.

— Bud Norman

Happy Thanksgiving

We’re taking a day off from our usual glum assessments of the American scene in order to give thanks for all the things that haven’t been completely screwed up yet, and we urge all of our loyal readers to do the same.
Have a feast, watch some football, observe a family tradition, or indulge in any preferred activity, but remember to spare a moment to express thankfulness for the best life has to offer. Tell a loved one that you’re thankful for what the role they play in your life. If you see someone in uniform, mention to them that you’re grateful for what they do. As you avail yourself of any number of modern marvels, say a silent thanks to the brilliant individuals to created them. Above all, give thanks to the supreme being who makes all good things possible.
We don’t mean Obama, by the way.

— Bud Norman

Steamed Over Rice

Chivalry is not dead, at least when certain women are concerned.
Consider the case of Susan Rice, whose honor has lately been defended with a zeal not seen since the age of heraldry. Rice is America’s ambassador to the United Nations, a longtime member of the president’s innermost circle, and a famously tough cookie, hardly the damsel in distress type, yet seemingly everyone in the Democratic partly now feels obliged to rush to her rescue.
It all began, oddly enough, when rumors were circulated in the press that Rice was to be the president’s choice for his next Secretary of State. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were among those who objected to the idea, citing Rice’s very prominent role in peddling the administration’s infuriating lies about the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, which killed an ambassador and three other American, and judging by the reaction on the left one might have assumed they had impugned the chastity of a vestal virgin.
The president was the first to express his indignation. Asked about the objections during a rare news conference, Obama summoned all the macho surliness of an Italian whose sister has been insulted as he warned that “If Senator McCain and Senator Graham others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.” Obama also praised Rice for her “professionalism and toughness,” but we thought the part about the besmirching betrayed a more protective attitude.
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina was just as vigorous, deploying the incendiary charges of sexism and racism on Rice’s behalf. Speaking on CNN’s “Starting Point” program, Clyburn charged that Rice’s critics were using “code words” such as “incompetent” and “lazy” to describe her, and added that “those of us were grown and raised in the South, we would hear these little words and phrases, and we’d get insulted by them.” Clyburn is apparently unaware that English-speaking people of all colors and from all regions find “incompetent” and “lazy” insulting, sufficiently so that they need not serve as code for something even more pejorative, but it is rather touching how very offended he that anyone would use such language against the fair maiden Rice.
It wasn’t just the men folk who were rushing to defend Rice’s besmirched reputation, however. Representatives Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Gwen Moore mounted a defense that was quite sisterly, in both the feminist and racial vernacular senses of the term, with both repeating the accusation that any criticism of Rice could only be accounted for by sexism and racism. Fudge complained that “any time anything goes wrong they pick on women and minorities,” while Moore groused that “they never have called a male unqualified, not bright, not trustworthy.” Both women seem to have forgotten the Bush years, when numerous white men were routinely pilloried with far harsher terms, and a black woman who served as Secretary of State was subjected to far more vulgar and explicitly racist criticism without any objection from black congresswomen, but such memory lapses are quite common these days.
Rice’s defenders also seem to forget that she did, in fact, go on several television news programs to promulgate an outright lie about an important matter of national security. What’s worse, the lie made a scapegoat of an American citizen for exercising his constitutional right to make a bad low-budget movie critical of Islam. The administration’s evolving explanation is currently that Rice was dutifully repeating the information that had been provided to her the intelligence community, which might even be true, but if so it calls her judgment into question. By the time Rice was repeating the fanciful tale that the deaths in Benghazi had resulted from a spontaneous riot provoked by an obscure video posted on YouTube, countless observers were already wondering why such a mob would gather months after the video’s posting and on Sept. 11, of all dates, and why the aroused mob would happen to have mortar launchers and rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weaponry, and about several other fishy details. We were too skeptical of the story to repeat it as fact, as well, and we’re not applying for the job of Secretary of State.
There are other reasons to dislike Rice, as well, and none of them have to do with her sex or race. She has a long history of animosity toward Israel. She’s a protégé of Madeleine Albright. She reportedly raised her middle finger to a superior during a senior staff meeting at the State Department, which is hardly the sort of behavior one looks for when choosing a nation’s top diplomat, and so long as the country is being so very old-fashioned in its treatment of the fairer sex we’d note that it’s also not very lady-like. Indeed, Rice’s abrasiveness is such that even the famously rugged Russians have leaked word that they find it too hard to take.
Now we can also add the fact that she’s willing to countenance the cheap race-baiting that her defenders have mustered, and accept the patronizing protection of blustering men. Attempts to portray every position taken by a Republican as racist and sexist worked well enough to eke out a national election, and they might yet work again for Rice, but it does black people and women no favor to insist that they be held to a lower standard.

— Bud Norman

High Taxes and Happy Days

When it comes to waging class warfare, President Obama is practically a pacifist compared to Paul Krugman. For pure Jacobin zeal even Francois Hollande, the admittedly Socialist president of France, pales in comparison to the New York Times’ columnist.
Obama only wants to raise the taxes on the highest earners by a few mere percentage points, and makes it a point to politely describe the multi-billion-dollar heist as “asking the wealthiest Americans to give a little bit more.” Hollande, who has stated with a more admirable French frankness that “I hate rich people,” only wants to help himself to 75 percent of the earnings of his most fortunate countrymen. Krugman scoffs at such extravagant government largesse toward the wealthy, and insists that they fork over a full 91 percent of what they earn.
The idea will no doubt have wide appeal, people being prone by nature to envy and all sorts of economic craziness, and Krugman’s prestigious endorsement will no doubt give such avarice an added intellectual respectability. We don’t mean that there’s any prestige attached to being a New York Times columnist, of course, but we refer rather to his Nobel prize in economics, an award which some people still take seriously for some reason. Those people should note that a Nobel prize in economics was also bestowed upon Friedrich Hayek, who believed in limiting the size of government to the point it could easily get along without 91 percent of anyone’s money, so at least one of these laureates is wrong about everything.
Perhaps sensing that his credentials are in insufficient to persuade a properly skeptical reader, Krugman wraps his class resentments in a widespread nostalgia for the 1950s. Most people fondly recall the decade as an age of tail fins, pony skirts, and danceable records, but in Krugman’s rhapsodic telling the decade was a halcyon era defined by Twinkies, powerful labor unions, and sky-high federal tax rates. As it hard as it may be for conservatives to admit, given their lingering fondness for Eisenhower, Krugman is quite correct on every count. The Age of Ike did indeed bring the invention of the artificially flavored snack cake, a historic peak in union membership, and the same 91 percent top tax rate that Krugman proposes to restore.
If Krugman hopes to return to ‘50s-era tax rates, though, he’ll have to replicate every other facet of the ‘50s-era economy as well. That would involve a global war that left the industrial infrastructure of every other advanced country in shambles, a federal government that spent only 25 percent of the gross domestic product, with no EPA or OSHA or EEOC or countless other regulatory agencies, a very strong dollar, a president who was widely ridiculed for his obsession with balanced budgets, most women staying home to tend to their multiple children, men smoking heavily at their three-martini lunches, and aggressive enforcement of global order. Liberals aren’t as enthusiastic about these sorts of things, but they might just be willing to put up with it in return for confiscatory tax rates on the rich.
While liberals such as Krugman wax nostalgic about the ‘50s as a time of enforced economic equality, they also tend to decry the culture of the decade as a dark age of suburban conformity and repressed sexuality. Somehow they square this with the invention of rock ‘n’ roll and the baby boom, but they fail to consider that the much hated old-fashioned morality of the era was also an important facet of the ‘50s economy. The young folks might not believe it, but in the ‘50s out-of-wedlock births were quite rare and intact families provided most of the services now performed by the social welfare agencies. The social culture also celebrated self-sufficiency and stigmatized dependence to much greater extent than today, judging by the music, movies, television, and presidential speeches of then and now, and the modern liberal is unlikely to embrace such archaic notions along with a soak-the-rich tax hike.
There was also poverty in the ‘50s, or at least enough of it that liberals felt obliged to wage a war on it in the ‘60s. That was the beginning of the social welfare state that supplanted the nuclear family for millions of Americans, with the unhappy results fully on display in the police reports of your local newspapers, but it seems unlikely Krugman has learned anything from the past five decades of social deterioration. The economy has grown since the ‘50s, rapidly following John Kennedy’s tax cuts for the rich and even more rapidly after Ronald Reagan’s even deeper tax cuts for the rich, but Krugman seems not to have noticed that, either.
Alas, Krugman is also correct in assuming that the fact tax rates did reach 91 percent back in the ‘50s will make it seem more acceptable. People associate the decade with a wholesome all-Americanism, either from their own recollections or the endless re-runs of “Happy Days,” and it is often assumed that anything that happened then — other than racial segregation, the Cold War, and chastity — is therefore non-controversial. The ‘50s aren’t coming back, though, no matter how much both conservatives and liberal desire it for their very different reasons. If any of it is to be revived, let it be rockabilly music or oversized Cadillacs, not some dumb plan to run all the money out of the country.

— Bud Norman

The Rising Cost of Living and Chili

A recent cold snap induced an appetite for our famous homemade chili, with “famous” being an honorific bestowed on any decent pot of chili in these parts, and that in turn led to our latest measurement of the inflation rate.
The folks in the federal government measure inflation in one way, some economic contrarians figure it another way, and it seems that everyone else uses a methodology of their own. We go by the Chili Index, which is pegged to the price paid at a nearby grocery store for the necessary ingredients for a large pot of the stuff, and it suggests the country has yet another economic problem to worry about.
Lest anyone doubt the scientific validity of the Chili Index, we would note that its findings are corroborated by more familiar data. Even the folks in the federal government have noticed a steady rise in prices, for among the slew of dispiriting economic statistics that were released just after the election — odd timing, that — was an uptick in the official inflation rate to 2.2 percent. That’s not a particularly worrisome number to most economists, who apparently enjoy regular cost-of-living raises, but it’s the third increase in as many months and rapidly approaching a rate that would cause policy-makers to reconsider all the quantitative easing that’s been propping up the slumping economy.
There’s also reason to believe that number significantly understates the economic reality. Shortly after the bad old days of stagflation in the ‘70s the government revamped its formula for determining the inflation, including the use of “hedonic” pricing to account for the supposedly improved quality of some of items, and running the same information through the earlier formula would put us right back in the bad old days of stagflation. Given that the quality of ground beef, onions, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, crushed tomatoes and chili beans has not improved noticeably in recent years, the Chili Index reflects on the price charged at the register.
We’re not the only ones who perceive a higher rate of inflation than the government statistics would suggest. An exit poll conducted by NBC News during the election found that 37 percent of the respondents cited rising prices as the biggest problem they face, just one point shy of the number who cited unemployment, and other studies have shown that most Americans guess the inflation rate is higher than the official figure. Women tend to see even more inflation than men, and low-income people more than the higher earners, but almost everyone is seeing higher prices than the bureaucrats are reporting. That likely reflects a widespread skepticism about all manner of government economic statistics, including unemployment rates that sometimes drop because of all the people who have given up looking for work, but it’s not because the government knows better than the skeptical individuals about the prices of the things they buy.
Should the inflation rate continue to rise, even the official one, expect to hear a lot of pontificating in the media about the advantages of inflation and how brilliant the federal government has been in staving off the dread deflation. They’ll note that inflation is beneficial to debtors, among its many other virtues, but they’ll probably not mention that the biggest debtor in the history of the world is the federal government. Let us hope that the government doesn’t print up enough money to pay off the current $16 trillion of debt and tell its creditors to use it for a pot of chili.

— Bud Norman