That Shrinking Feeling

America’s economy made a brief appearance in the headlines Wednesday, jostling for space on the newscasts with illegal immigrants, the latest gun-grabbing frenzy, and some predictable anti-homosexual aspersions cast during the pre-Super Bowl hype. The news was that the economy shrank by a tenth of a percentage point in the last three months of the past year, which is bad, so the media will likely let the matter drop soon.
It’s the kind of news that demands some brief acknowledgement from even the most reluctant reporters, though, so most of the press organizations immediately began spelunking for some heartening information that might be hidden inside in the dark cavern of the Commerce Department’s grim report. The decline was a “surprise” according to the headline writers, who always seem surprised when anything bad happens in the age of Obama, and the lead stories were quick to mention that it all means the Fed will continue to keep the money-printers working overtime. Most reports were also happy to prominently feature the Democrats’ view that this was the “best-looking contraction in U.S. GDP you’ll ever see.
A fellow named Paul Ashworth, the chief economist for Capital Economics, was able to make that claim without giggling because the report indicated that most of the decline was attributable to cuts in the defense budget and a decline in inventories. Both of these are a “one-off,” Ashworth contends, and thus the economy should soon be roaring back to its previously sluggish pace. The appointment of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is just the latest indicator that we haven’t seen the last of cuts to the defense budget, the drops in inventory investments and exports can’t easily be explained by any temporary circumstances, and the phenomenal 85.2 percent increase in dividend income that kept the decline from being much worse is also a “one-off” caused by investors trying to get ahead of the coming economy-slowing tax hikes, but Ashworth and his many re-Tweeters can be forgiven their incurable optimism.
If you’re not convinced by such happy talk, the Democrats have a back-up argument that it’s all the Republicans’ fault. White House press secretary Jay Carney helpfully explained that investors were frightened by the appalling spectacle of Republicans in the House of Representatives balking at the president’s prudent plan of massive tax hikes and endless deficit spending during the recent “fiscal cliff” negotiations, and he even blamed the defense cuts on those notoriously anti-military Republicans. The reason the Republicans insist on such shenanigans, Carney further explained, is to make sure that “tax loopholes remain in place for corporate jet owners.”
Carney was not asked to explain why Obama’s never-ending stimulus is still needed if the latest report indicates that the private sector continued to chug along despite a purported decrease in government spending, which is a shame, because we would have enjoyed hearing it. We’ll likely have to settle for more illegal immigrants, gun-grabbing, and Super Bowl hyperbole, and none of it will be quite so much fun.

— Bud Norman

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Illegal Immigrants, Illegal Moves

The more dedicated chess buffs among you will recognize the term “zugzwang,” which denotes a position that would give a player an advantage if only he weren’t compelled by turn to make one of the disastrously disadvantageous moves available to him. Republicans have lately been finding themselves in zugzwang with an infuriating regularity, and the issue of illegal immigration has done to them it again.
Four years of economic sluggishness have slowed the flow of illegal immigrants to a trickle, so of course the president and his media allies would prefer to talk about illegal immigration rather than the economy. The president took an expensive trip to Las Vegas Tuesday for a speech on the topic, with the usual pack of sycophantic reporters in tow to make sure it dominates the news cycle to an extent that forces a Republican response, and on Monday a group of eight Senators tried to beat him to the punch by announcing their own plan. Among the eight were some prominent Republicans, and they apparently figured they were making the least worst move on the board.
Although the Senators’ plan was short on details, which will likely prove devilish, it does include what is politely known as a “path to citizenship” and impolitely known as “amnesty.” There are also provisions for a program that will verify a potential employee’s immigration status, requirements that back taxes be paid, and promises of stricter border enforcement, but amnesty by any name is the problematic part of the proposal. The right-wingers who comprise the Republicans’ base loathe the idea of offering citizenship as a reward to people who have successfully broken the law for a long enough period of time, as do many middle-of-the-roaders and a sizeable chunk of Democratic-leaners, but even such a conservative standard-bearer as Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio has apparently concluded that the cost of offending the growing the Hispanic population would be even greater for the party.
An inexplicable lack of enthusiasm among the white working class to defeat Obama was a problem for the Republican presidential candidate in the last election, and that will surely be exacerbated by a capitulation to the president’s demand for amnesty, but the Hispanic votership’s inexplicable enthusiasm for Obama was an even bigger problem in the past two campaigns. Several explanations have been offered for the latter phenomenon, but the widely accepted theory is that the Republican party’s opposition to illegal immigration has allowed them to be successfully caricatured as a bunch of Meskin-hatin’ rednecks, and that will surely be exacerbated if the Republicans refuse to budge from an anti-amnesty position. With the Hispanic population expected to keep growing until the next election, Republicans find themselves in an untenable position.
Many Republicans, including failed presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, believe that their party should be able win a over Hispanics by stressing their support for entrepreneurship and small business while remaining steadfast in opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and the left’s naked antipathy to the Catholic church. The pitch worked well enough for Spanish-speaking Texan George W. Bush to win a sufficiently large minority of the Hispanic vote, but it is overly optimistic to hope that it will soon woo an actual majority. Obama won a huge share of the Hispanic vote despite being as avidly pro-abortion and same-sex marriage as a candidate can be, while he was being sued in court by the Catholic church for attempting to impose his own notions of morality on the ancient religion, and if Mexicans are habitual capitalists there is no explaining why Mexico has had nearly 90 years of uninterrupted rule by something called the Permanent Revolutionary Party. The Republicans might well increase their share of the Hispanic vote by embracing amnesty, but if the Hispanic vote grows as expected they’ll still wind up ceding more actual votes to the Democrats.
Nor are the Republicans likely to gain any compensating advantage from a hard-line opposition to amnesty. The benefits of illegal immigration are mostly enjoyed by agricultural and construction businesses that might otherwise be inclined to support Republican candidates, while the costs are paid mostly by low-wage workers and displaced African-Americans who will be voting Democrat no matter what. A concerted effort by the mainstream press will portray the debate as xenophobic white guys versus hard-working would-be Americans and their enlightened protectors, and any efforts by the Republicans to drive a wedge into the Democrat coalition will be thwarted.
The best riposte by the Republicans would be to talk about the sluggish economy that renders the illegal immigration meaningless. This is not a legal move, however, and thus the Republicans find themselves in zugzwang yet again.

— Bud Norman

The Power of Stigma

Stigma is back in style, but like so many other revived fashions it’s not quite the same the second time around.
For many millennia societies around the world successfully used widespread social disapproval rather than the law to discourage certain behaviors deemed harmful to a society, such as bearing children out of wedlock, but sometime in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s America stopped doing that. An ascendant counter-culture deemed such informal social prohibitions judgmental and intolerant, and in its collective judgment that could not be tolerated.
Now that the counter-culture has completely supplanted the culture, however, it has become quite comfortable stigmatizing various behaviors. The new rules are often complicated and inconsistent, but are somehow widely understood. All of the words once considered unfit for prime time are now bandied about at all hours as a sign of linguistic liberation, but racial slurs are strictly forbidden to all but the slurred groups, and previously respectable terms such as “merit,” “responsibility,” and “liberty” are shunned as racist code words. Smoking marijuana is tolerated, but smoking tobacco is not. All manner of sexual behavior is to be celebrated, but the cheesecake calendar hanging in the mechanic’s garage is considered unforgivably sexist.
New rules are being added rapidly, sometimes replacing contradictory rules just recently adopted. Bullying the obese has lately been considered uncouth, for instance, but now a former senior lecturer at Harvard’s medical school is insisting that overweight people be “shamed and beat upon socially.” It will come as a surprise to fat kids everywhere that there is a lack of stigmatization against them, but Daniel Callahan, now the president emeritus of the Hastings Center think tank, states that “Only a carefully calibrated effort of public social pressure is likely to awaken them to the reality of their condition.” Others are going so far as to say that obese people should be denied medical care for any health problems that might result from their extra pounds, arguing that the country’s newly collectivized health care system makes a person’s weight and other matters previously considered his own business a matter of public interest. This strikes us as an argument against collectivized health care, but we are not au courant on the current values.
There is also a concerted effort afoot to make gun ownership socially unacceptable, if not outright illegal. Attorney General Eric Holder was at it as far back as 1995, when he gave a speech urging the use of “brainwashing” to convince young people that any possession of a weapon is “not cool,” and in recent weeks the campaign has become something of a national frenzy. This effort will likely face more than the usual resistance, however, partly because gun owners tend to be the sort of people who are unusually immune to social fads, partly because the same Hollywood stars demanding gun control have done such a fine job of glamorizing gun violence, and mainly because so many Americans still have the common sense to know that being defenseless against a criminal element with little regard for social custom is also quite uncool.
The push stigmatize gun is part of a larger effort to render any opinions contrary to modern liberalism as socially unacceptable. President Obama took the opportunity of pushing his gun control agenda to take yet another verbal shot at the Fox News channel and radio pundit Rush Limbaugh’s program, two of the few widely consulted media that dare criticize his policies and publicize the results, and we have already noticed that in polite society both are already considered an affront to good taste. The new rules were apparently neatly explained by a recent episode of painstakingly politically correct television show “Girls” on HBO, where the lead character reportedly engaged in a previously stigmatized and currently celebrated inter-racial sexual relationship but was forced to dump the poor fellow after finding out that he’s a Republican.
One needn’t be O. Henry to appreciate the irony of a counter-culture that so giddily rebelled against any form of social restraint learning to love wielding the power of stigma. It would be nicely ironic, too, if these ever more restrictive rules inspire a counter-counter-culture and the squares get the satisfying frisson of bravely defying convention.

— Bud Norman

The Secret Life of Barack Obama

Had you been standing nearby and armed with a feather you could have easily knocked us over when we read President Barack Obama’s claim that he shoots skeet “all the time.”
What we know of the activity seems so startlingly incongruous with what we know of the president’s personality, after all. Old movies indicate that skeet shooting can be an upper-crusty pastime, and is even a favorite sport of super-rich arch-villains, but out here on the prairie we associate it with that bitterly gun-and-God-clinging segment of the rural working class commonly known as the good ol’ boy. This is not to imply that Obama isn’t good, old, or a boy, but he does seem to possess a certain metrosexuality that defies the description.
Our own experiences of skeet shooting date back to our boyhood days of hurtling “clay pigeons” for the old man, an erstwhile country boy who had retained a keen eye even after moving to the suburbs and an executive office. He would occasionally haul us out to a remote field on the outskirts of Wichita, now the site of a gargantuan Home Depot store, and have us wear out our arm flinging disks from a primitive spring-loaded device as he knocked down one after another. The old man tried his best to impart the skill to the next generation, but we had no knack for it, and we sadly confess that if the country is ever invaded by skeet we will contribute little to the national defense. We did gain an appreciation of the art, however, and try as we might we just can’t envision Obama shooting skeet.
Still, the story comes from The Telegraph, which is pugnaciously British and generally reliable. Lending further plausibility is the detail that Obama does his shooting while at Camp David, where a skeet shooting course has almost surely been installed by one or another of those past Republican presidents, presumably with one of those fancy-schmantzy machines that will spare the presidential daughters the onerous chore of hurtling the skeet, and we were also convinced by the lack of any extravagant claims about the president’s skill. The Telegraph’s correspondent slyly insinuates that Obama might merely be attempting to reassure gun-owners as he pushes an unprecedented gun control regime, but we would never be so cynical as to suggest such a thing.
Learning of Obama’s gun-toting exploits did get us to wondering what other unknown proclivities he’s been keeping private, however, so we consulted with a source close to the president. Those readers who are unaware of satire should be forewarned that our source is entirely fictional, and his information completely made up, but we felt his observations worth passing along nonetheless.
It turns out that the president is also partial to pickup trucks. “He has a special fondness for Ford F-150s,” our source said. “Get him out in one of those babies on a muddy road with a tree stump that needs pulling, and he’s a happy man.” The presidential pickup is apparently well stocked with cassette recordings of country-and-western music, as well. “Obama’s favorite is probably Buck Owens and his Buckeroos, especially from the era when Don Rich was adding that great high-lonesome harmony,” our source told us. “But he pretty much likes anything with that Bakersfield sound — Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, you name it. He’ll play Tommy Collins’ ‘Opal, You Asked Me’ over and over, and it always cracks him up. Says it reminds him of Michelle.”
Our source also reports that the White House chefs have been required to master the preparation of chicken fried steaks and fried okra, that a room near the Oval Office has been re-decorated as an exact replica of Elvis Presley’s jungle room at Graceland, and that Obama has complained to friends about Bill Clinton already laying claim to nickname “Bubba.” All those unwashed yokels in flyover country who didn’t vote for Obama should be reassured to know that he’s such a regular skeet-shooting kind of guy, but we suggest they take a long hard look at his gun control proposals anyway.

— Bud Norman

God on the Left

God was back in the news this week, and even for those of us who believe He is omnipresent He was popping up in some unexpected places.
The Almighty made a few cameo appearances, for instance, at the presidential inaugural. This will come as no surprise to those who believe that President Barack Obama is the Almighty, but more skeptical observers such as ourselves were startled to hear God mentioned so often during the inaugural address. Obama modestly credited God with the gift of our freedom, but added that “It must be secured by His people here on earth,” and he apparently had it on the highest authority that this could only be achieved by full implementation of the Obama agenda. He then implored the country that “a little girl born into the bleakest poverty” should know that “she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own,” and given the increased numbers of little girls in poverty since Obama’s first inauguration the plea seems especially urgent. Obama also said that his oath was to “God and country,” and ended with the traditional presidential request that God bless America, but God’s most prominent appearance came when the president claimed that his “green jobs” program “is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.”
Nobody in attendance booed any of the mentions of God, as they did at the Democratic National Convention that nominated Obama, but the president’s decidedly secular base of support must have felt a bit uncomfortable. Several of the more ardent Obama fans of our acquaintance have assured us such talk is merely shtick intended for the rubes, that the president is far too smart to really believe any of that God nonsense, and such prominent supporters as the professional blasphemer Bill Maher have said the same thing, but these same people were fashionably insouciant about the president’s “spiritual mentor” bellowing a plea for God’s damnation on America. We do not claim to know Obama’s true religious beliefs, but we suspect he does believe he has God’s blessing for his hugely expensive and disastrously ineffective “green” boondoggles. With science offering little support for Obama’s claims about climate change causing “the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” he will have to find a more persuasive argument in theology.
We have lately come to think of California as the most godforsaken place in the union, but God also made an appearance in the gubernatorial inauguration there. He even got a co-starring role along with Montaigne and Yeats in the oration by Gov. Jerry Brown, who re-told the Genesis story of Pharaoh’s dream of seven cows and Joseph’s sage interpretation that Egypt should set aside a portion of the coming seven harvests for the subsequent seven years of famine. California is currently flush with cash from the recent soak-the-rich tax hike that “Gov. Moonbeam” championed, and will be back to yearly deficits just as soon as the state’s last remaining rich people can re-locate to Texas or Florida or some other temperate and income-tax-free jurisdiction, so Californians would be wise to heed this ancient Hebrew financial advice, but we doubt that the free-spending Democrats of the Assembly will be persuaded by some Old Testament scripture.
God also weighed in on the gun control debate, in form of the National Cathedral’s Very Rev. Gary Hall, and it turns out He does not approve of the Second Amendment. Hall offered a statement to that effect at a press conference for Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a state that is apparently in the grips of a full blown religious mania, as she unveiled her unprecedent gun-grabbing bill. This should be sufficient to keep the secularists from objecting to the very existence of a National Cathedral, which does seem slightly antithetical to the First Amendment’s prohibition of any law respecting an establishment of religion, and we expect that the anti-gun nuts won’t object to having God along so long as He’s on the right side of the issue. Any ministers who cite Jesus’ admonition to the apostles that “he that has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one” should expect to be chided for dragging God into the matter.
There is something satisfying about hearing people on the Left acknowledge God’s existence, and we hope that to whatever extent their beliefs are sincere they will be enriched by religion in their personal lives, but we’d hate to see them gain any political advantage by claiming God’s endorsement. The left is bossy enough in its cocksure belief that they’re bringing heaven to earth, and if they got it in their heads that they’re also bringing social justice to heaven it would be unbearable. We close with the words of C.S. Lewis, who looked deeper into the wisdom of God’s word than most.
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satisfied; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

— Bud Norman

A Scandal in a Sentence

Sometimes a scandal can be succinctly summed up in a single sentence. The Watergate affair was famously encapsulated in Richard Nixon’s stubborn insistence that “I am not a crook.” Bill Clinton’s numerous affairs are best remembered by his finger-wagging assertion that “I did not have sex with that woman.” It now seems likely that the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya, will ultimately be remembered only by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s rhetorical question, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Clinton uttered the memorable line during Wednesday’s testimony before Congress, when Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin asked why she had not taken the simple step of questioning the survivors about the nature of the carefully planned terrorism attack before falsely telling the public that it had been a spontaneous response to a little-seen video posted on the YouTube internet site. Johnson was scornful of Clinton’s explanation that she didn’t want to interfere with an investigation by the FBI, and Clinton responded with her own loudly shouted, table-pounding scorn that “With all due respect, the fact is that we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill so some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is, from my perspective, less important today looking backward as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice.”
Johnson backed off his aggressive line of questioning at that hard-to-parse point, perhaps because he was understandably intimidated by Clinton’s menacing glare, and according to most of the big-time journalists Madame Secretary got the better of the exchange. Reuters’ correspondents described a “forceful” Clinton, “by turns emotional and fierce,” and told of how her “voice cracked as she spoke of comforting families who lost relatives in the incident.” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote approvingly of how Clinton “served up a potent brew of righteous outrage,” noted with undisguised glee that the “rookie Senator” “did not attempt a rebuttal,” and called the response a “dressing-down of Johnson.” “Emotional and defiant” were the terms used by the McClatchy chain’s reporters, who also chose “confident” and “even combative at times.” The carefully edited snippets of testimony that showed up in the brief radio reports we heard all afternoon gave a similar impression, and all of the news media were obliged to mention the fawning compliments offered to Clinton by all of the Democrats and more than a few of the Republicans.
No mention was made of any diplomatic accomplishments that might justify such praised, although we were most curious to know what they might be, and of course almost no one was so ungallant as to note that it actually did make a difference whether Clinton told the truth or chose to peddle a politically expedient lie. Clinton’s claim that that the FBI’s investigation obliged her to tell the public a soon-to-be-proved falsehood about the attacks deserves all of Johnson’s scorn, and her indignant claim that she was seeking the responsible terrorists rather than a more convenient scapegoat is a contemptible lie, but the media that have been doing their best to ignore the whole affair are naturally disinclined to say so.
All of the many other appalling aspects of the affair have been given the same respectful treatment. Even the most aggressive Republicans on the investigating committees failed to ask about the military action in Libya that precipitate the tragedy, even though the intervention seems to have led to the recent violence in the neighboring countries of Algeria and Mali, with weapons from the deposed regime being used in both bloody conflicts. Clinton delegated responsibility for the lax security given to the Americans sent into the chaos of post-bellum Libya, angrily explained that those lower level employees had not been fired because the government doesn’t fire people simply for a demonstrated inability to do their jobs, then attempted to blame the allegedly budget-cutting Republicans for the problem. The fact that the administration chose to falsely blame a previously unknown low-budget filmmaker for exercising his First Amendment rights rather than admit that organized terror groups remain a pressing national security concern was somehow overlooked in almost every report, as was the fact that the filmmaker is the only person to be punished as a result of this whole fiasco, and all in all the press seemed quite satisfied with her answers.
A series of legalistic excuses and strange maladies delayed Clinton’s testimony until the election was over, her boss officially sworn in to a second term, and the public’s scant interest in the whole affair long since exhausted, so in a purely cynical sense she has some reason to sneer that at this point it makes no difference. She even claimed responsibility for the whole affair, if not any consequences, and the press was also mightily impressed by that. Come 2016 we expect to hear supporters of Clinton’s presidential campaign to boast about how she bravely took the blame for a monumental screw-up that left four brave Americans dead and their country weakened.
What difference, at this point, does it make?

— Bud Norman

That Awful Speech

A few of the more irrationally enthused pundits have been comparing to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address to Abraham Lincoln’s. They must assume, probably with good reason, that the past many years of high school history classes have not required anyone to read Lincoln’s speech.
Lincoln’s second inaugural address is not just a masterpiece of political oratory but also of English prose, a speech of such simple eloquence and profound wisdom that it inspired a nation in its darkest hour. The Obama effort, on the other hand, was an overwrought and overlong bunch of hooey.
Lincoln forthrightly addressed only the issues that were of overriding importance at the time of his address, but Obama made just passing mention of the issues that most concern the Americans of today. With more Americans out of work than on the day he was first sworn in, and the sluggish economic pace slowing, Obama assured the nation’s unemployed that “Economic recovery has begun.” There was some lofty blather about investing in new technologies, but it seemed to be mostly about the “green energy” program that has already blown billions of dollars with little effect. He offered sympathy and scapegoats rather than solutions by noting that “we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do well and a growing many barely make it,” but if he believes that people have concluded the growing many are barely making it because the shrinking few are doing well he should have corrected that dangerous misunderstanding.
The nation’s debt has grown by 60 percent since Obama’s first inaugural address, and the second inaugural address made no mention of this problem. All that investing Obama wants the government to do will likely be quite expensive, and he also used his speech to engage in some characteristic demagogy against anyone who might suggest changes to the money-guzzling entitlement programs, so the omission seemed conspicuous.
Like Lincoln, Obama spoke of war, but where Lincoln spoke of “the progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends,” Obama simply declared that “a decade of war is now ending.” The speech did not make clear if the war is also ending for America’s numerous declared enemies, who seem to be as deadly as ever lately, or if America will simply be ceasing its efforts, and we would have liked to have had the point clarified. Obama attempted to reassure us neo-con warmongers that “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the world,” which should provide plenty of action for our shrinking military, and that America will “support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East,” but he did not explain how military aid to the Muslim Brotherhood will further this noble cause.
Most of what Obama did get around to in the speech was primarily of interest to his most doctrinaire admirers. He gave a shout-out to his homosexual voters, promised the ladies that he’d deal with their mythical wage discrimination problem, expressed outrage about all the illegal immigrant engineers that are apparently being “expelled” from the country, and did the usual fretting about the poor folk. Although Obama didn’t dare get so sternly theological as Lincoln did in his second inaugural address, he did make mention of God when going on about climate change. Lincoln was duly humble about evoking God’s name, noting that “The Almighty has His own purposes” and recognizing that he was right only to the extent “as God gives us to see the right,” but Obama was quite confident that God wouldn’t mind being used for the higher purpose of promoting a cap-and-trade boondoggle.
The speech was all wrapped up in red-white-and-blue bunting, complete with approving references to the founding fathers. There was even a line about how Americans “have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all of society’s ills can be solved through government alone,” although it was unclear if this was meant as a compliment or complaint. A recurring theme of the speech was that the Founding Fathers began a journey that will only be completed once the Obama agenda has been fully enacted and “all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hill of Appalachia to the quite lanes of Newtown know they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.” We took that to be a call for stricter gun controls, but we figure it will be a long journey indeed if it only ends when everyone is safe from harm and we hope that we’ll still be allowed to arm ourselves until journey’s end.
There was plenty of the usual highfalutin rhetoric, and although we only read the transcript we assume it was delivered with the usual sonorous baritone and upraised chin, but unless Obama gets all the educational reforms he hoped for it is unlikely that schoolchildren will find anything so rote-worthy as “With malice towards none, with charity toward all.” Obama struck a slightly similar note when he insisted America cannot “treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” but it rang rather hollow after winning his spot on the inaugural stand by slurring his opponent as a tax-cheating, woman-killing, dog-torturing, contraception-snatching square. All in all, we expect that the world will little note nor long remember what Obama said on Inauguration Day.

— Bud Norman

No Refuge on the Sports Page

Throughout Monday we did our best to avoid the news. This was a difficult chore for such habitual news consumers as ourselves, but we simply couldn’t bear any exposure to what we knew would be worshipful coverage of the inauguration. Longing for the pleasant diversion of athletic derring-do and old-fashioned sportsmanship we turned instead to the sports section, but alas, it offered no refuge from scandals, bad behavior, and further evidence of America’s sad decline.
There was lingering talk of Lance Armstrong, of course. One needn’t even be a sports fan to know that Armstrong was the gritty American cyclist who whipped testicular cancer and went on to beat those snooty Europeans in a record seven Tour de France competitions, as the feat made him so famous that he starred in sneaker commercials, gave his name to a well-funded cancer charity with its very own colored ribbon, and had a much-publicized marriage to a rock star before getting a much-publicized divorce. Last week he went on a two-part Oprah special, where all properly contrite celebrities go to offer confession, and admitted it was all done with various banned drugs and medical procedures. The story involved blood transfusions, testicle amputations, Oprah, and other subjects that give us the willies, yet we read far enough to see that yet another American hero had proved too good to be true.
Armstrong’s all-too-predictable downfall jostled for space on the sports pages with the quite unpredictable saga of Manti Te’o’s imaginary dead girlfriend. Those who follow college football will recall how Te’o, a soft-spoken yet fearsome linebacker for the University of Notre Dame’s legendary squad, was shaken by the deaths of both his beloved grandmother and his eerily perfect girlfriend on the same day yet somehow found the inner strength to lead his team to an upset victory over Michigan State just moments later. It was a mawkish tale even by the cornball standards of collegiate football, but the sports media played it to its full tear-jerking potential. Then some skeptical internet scoops discovered that the girlfriend never existed, and that the highly-paid sports press had fallen for an appealing myth with the same willing gullibility of their colleagues on the political beat, and now Te’o is the focus of so much ridicule that if you type his name into a search engine “jokes” is one of the automatic suggestions. We have no desire to pile on this thoroughly tackled young man, who is said to be a sensitive soul, and who might even be another victim of the hoax, somehow, but we will note that it’s a sad day when a big time college football star can’t find what Robert Goulet would call “a real, live girl.”
The professional footballers have gone a few weeks without killing anyone, so far as we know, but they remain as obnoxious as ever. One of the Baltimore Ravens’ star players celebrated the team’s hard-fought victory of the New England Patriots by accusing the defeated foe of arrogance, for instance, and described them with a word which is commonly used in locker rooms but prohibited here. The description might very well be apt, but it pains us to see athletes stoop the same sort of disrespectful trash-talking we have come to expect from our politicians.
Politics also intruded onto the sports pages with the latest news about Phil Mickelson, golf’s lovable “Lefty,” who announced that his touring schedule will likely be affected the new soak-the-rich tax code. Numerous professional triumphs and an affable appeal as a pitchman have made him Mickelson one of the rich, and by his accounting he’ll be paying as much as 63 percent of his gross income to various levels of government under the new rules, so it might prove more profitable for him to play less golf. Mickelson is a rich white guy who attained his immense wealth by playing a rich white guy’s game, and even someone with his marketable likeability is making himself an inviting target for the culture’s prevailing class resentments by speaking out about his tax burden, so his statements are as daring as some of his famed trick shots from the rough. Typical of what Mickelson can expect is a report at the all-powerful ESPN sports network, which somehow finds reason to wedge admiring references to the president into the most apolitical sports events, wherein the unabashedly disgusted correspondent seems to believe the government is entitled everything “Lefty” earns and that he should be grateful for whatever he is left with.
We applaud Mickelson’s stand, with the same enthusiasm we cheered his first Master’s victory, and hope that he’ll get people to thinking about how the new tax rates might similarly discourage other people from doing something even more important than golf. This is unlikely, of course, as some new sports scandal will soon divert the public’s attention from such complicated political matters. We’ll soon be back to the political pages, though, as this sports stuff is simply too dispiriting.

— Bud Norman

Inauguration Day

President Barack Obama took the oath of office for a second term on Sunday afternoon. According to the reports it was an uncharacteristically low-key affair, arranged solely to satisfy the requirements of that pesky constitution, but there is plenty of appropriately expensive hoopla planned for today.
At the risk of sounding insufficiently respectful of the office, we’ll be doing our best to ignore it all. Obama’s first term was marked by the sluggish economic growth, vigorous expansion of an ever more meddlesome government, and declining American power that we had expected at the time of his first inauguration, and we now expect that a nation which voted for four more years of the same will wind up getting far worse. This could have been the day America began putting its finances in order, returning government to its proper limited role, and resuming the country’s leadership role in the world, but an electoral majority of the people decided to put all that bother off in favor another 99 months of unemployment checks.
None of which puts us in a celebratory mood. At least the hype should be more easily avoided this time around, so in some ways this inauguration will be less troublesome than the first.
Four years ago the inaugural festivities were inescapable. After eight years of relentless Bush-bashing from all corners of the media Obama had been elected on vague promises of hope and change, and the inauguration was regarded with an unsettling worshipfulness by a public that had only the vaguest idea what sort of change it was hoping for. There was the added angle of America’s first black president, too, heaping an extra guilt-ridden helping of historical significance onto the occasion. Obama came in to office with the most adulatory press coverage any president had ever enjoyed, compliant majorities in both houses of Congress, and sky-high approval ratings, to the point that there simply weren’t enough stations on the radio to avoid the resulting giddiness.
This time around Obama comes in with a smaller percentage of the vote after a scorched-earth campaign of hysterical vitriol against his political opponents, with a Republican majority in the House that was elected on a promise to rein in his most ambitious legislative goals, and a mere 50 percent approval rating in the latest Gallup poll. What’s left of Newsweek is heralding the inauguration as a “Second Coming,” and similarly religious imagery pops up here and there, but for the most the part the press can’t seem to muster the same messianic enthusiasm it once had. The only person we’ve encountered lately who seemed unduly enthused about the second term was slightly drunk, and even he wound up admitting that the whole Benghazi thing was an utter fiasco and that the debt has been piling up too high and will probably continue to do so.
In other ways, though, this time around feels even worse. It was bad enough to see the country fall for all that hope and change nonsense of ’08 race, and embrace a creepy cult of personality that is entirely unsuited to a free nation, but even more dispiriting to see it re-elect Obama without even the pretense of such optimistic delusions. The only rationale for Obama’s re-election was an obstinate unwillingness to face up to the country’s harrowing fiscal reality, along with a resultant willingness to believe the worst about anyone who might make the hard choices that are still available, and it looks as though the second term will be marked by the same cynical attacks on anyone who dares try to slow the nation’s headlong rush toward to financial insolvency.
The president used the last press conference of his first term to charge that the Republicans wish to see old people starving in the streets, or at least that they are “suspicious” of his heroic efforts to prevent that calamity, and while most of the media have abandoned the implausible claim that Obama is the messiah they’re still willing to echo the message that his opposition is the devil. One can still hope the House will still restrain Obama’s spending, or merely limit its increases to a level that will allow the country to forestall catastrophe long enough to get a more responsible president, and the mass protests against his gun-grabbing proclivities have already begun, but at best it will be a bitter fight with the sort of divisiveness that the president seems to relish.
By strange coincidence this inauguration day falls on what we are told is the most depressing day of every day, the “Blue Monday” when the holiday cheerfulness has entirely dissipated and the reality of a cold and dark winter settles in on the human psyche. Perhaps it’s just this calendar and the climate, but this is a bluer Monday than most.

— Bud Norman

How the Right Was Framed

Reality always asserts itself in the end, but it is the nature of people to prefer an appealing fiction in the meantime. Exploiting this well known human failing is called “framing the issues” or “messaging” in political parlance, and lately the left has been doing even more than the usual amount of framing and messaging.
Consider the curious case of the debt ceiling. Any discussion of the debt ceiling should begin with an understanding that term refers to the amount of money the government has limited itself to borrowing, and that raising it therefore allows the government to add to its $16 trillion debt. There should also be a general agreement that if the government continues to borrow another trillion or every nine months or so the debt will eventually reach a point where reality asserts itself with a ruthless vengeance, but apparently the fiction that such profligacy can go on forever is too appealing to resist. The president can therefore tell the nation’s press that raising the debt ceiling is simply a matter of “paying America’s bills,” which he implies were racked up by spendthrift Republicans over his penny-pinching objections, and the assembled reporters do not break into howls of derisive laughter. He can even go on to assert that failing to go an undisclosed number of trillions further into debt would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility, and do so not only with a straight face but a rather stern and indignant one.
There is no basis in legal or economic reality for the assertion that failing to raise the debt ceiling will inevitably result in America defaulting on its obligations, but it is unavoidably true that getting by without further borrowing will require deep and painful budget cuts, massive tax hikes reaching far into the pockets of the middle class, or a politically toxic combination of the two. Something untrue is obviously preferable to that sobering conclusion, so the president can safely assume that much of public will be easily persuaded that it would be imprudent not to rack up at least another couple trillion of debt.
Similarly nonsensical messages have been sent on the much-discussed matter of guns. Some of the assertions can be charitably described as debatable, but others have been flatly false. The current president’s claims about the number of unregulated gun sales is provably false, and former president Bill Clinton’s whopper about the incidence of mass killings is so conspicuously at odds with reality that even the Washington Post’s fact-checkers were compelled to say so. Such falsehoods are easily forgiven, though, because they serve a soothing argument that the government can protect all of its people from the tragedies that have always afflicted humankind. Anyone who publicly doubts this tale, and insists that the government allow individuals the means to defend themselves, is just as easily portrayed as a child-hating gun nut.
Conservatives are constantly in search of messages that will frame these sorts of issues in ways that will win the support of the average American, but they are at a natural disadvantage. Numerous pundits have offered suggestions about how the Republicans should talk about the debt ceiling, but anything other than blunt truth abut the hard choices facing the country would betray conservative principles. A friend of ours has shrewdly suggested that the Republicans speak of guns as a feminist issue, standing foursquare for a woman’s right to shoot a would-be rapist not only as a pro-gun rationale but also an effective rebuttal of the party’s sexist image, but even that compelling argument is unlikely to be effective against the less troublesome option of letting the government take care of things.
The fantastical nature of the left’s well-framed messages will sooner or later be revealed, of course, but that will only lead to more framing and more messaging. It will be explained that the country went broke because those parsimonious Republicans didn’t allow the president to borrow even more, that the next murderous outburst by an undetected lunatic occurred only because only because law-abiding gun owners hadn’t been denied of their rights, and that government still isn’t sufficiently empowered. Some people will feel obliged to state things more frankly, but they shouldn’t expect it to do much good.

— Bud Norman