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The Bright Side of the Scandals

There are so many scandals currently swirling about the White House, each with so many convoluted subplots, that even the most avid enthusiast will find it hard to keep up with the latest twists. As much as we’ve been enjoying the spectacle, especially the hilarious answers being offered up by an administration unaccustomed to hard questions, following all the developments is proving so exhausting that we’re thinking of switching to “Breaking Bad” or some other trendy episodic television series.
The scandals are so numerous, and the damning details so voluminous, that there is some concern among the administration’s critics that their effect will blunted. Some worry that with each scandal vying for news space and attention none of them will get the attention nor provoke the outrage that it individually warrants. Others worry that the stories are so constant the public will soon come to regard such abuses of governmental power as normal, in much the same way that they’ve become accustomed to trillion dollar deficits or Obamacare. Yet another theory, more compelling to us, holds that the stories are distracting attention from more consequential scandals such as trillion dollar deficits and Obamacare. No one on the right seems confident that anyone will ever be held responsible, that any meaningful reforms will be enacted to prevent such outrages in the future, or that the opposition to the administration will even gain a political advantage from all the muck.
Despite being temperamentally inclined toward such pessimism, we are cautiously hopeful that the revelations of all the scandals will ultimately have some beneficial effect on the nation’s politics. Despite a virtual declaration of war upon them by the Justice Department the media still aren’t covering any of the scandals with the same screeching indignation that they brought to the non-scandal of George W. Bush’s 30-year-old Air National Guard records or the celebrification of Valerie Plame, which would be too much to hope for, but a surprising amount of attention is being paid. At this point even the most determinedly uninformed Americans have heard enough snippets of stories to sense that something is awry, and they’re not hearing anything reassuring. Occasional editorial efforts to assure that the public that the scandals are of no importance have the same curiosity-inducing effect of a policeman telling passersby that “here’s nothing to see here,” and the administration’s claims that the needless deaths of four Americans in a far-flung Libyan consulate happened a long time ago, that the president’s chief of staff didn’t want to bother the president with the news that the Internal Revenue Service was harassing his political enemies, and that the Attorney General was righteously offended by the warrants he’d signed to treat investigative journalism was a criminal conspiracy are not likely to satisfy anyone but the most loyal partisans.
What’s more, the general impression to be gleaned from all the noise is that the government is not to be trusted, neither for competence nor honesty. This sobering realization, which has been a bedrock assumption of conservatism since at least the days Edmund Burke, will inform the debate on any number of issues. Although it is possible that the Congress will pass a bring ‘em on immigration reform bill under the cover of the scandals, those paying attention will be more likely to heed the skeptical voices noting that the amnesty proceeds the long-awaited border enforcement and other promises intended to reassure the conservative majority. The shocking abuses of the IRS will strengthen the arguments against Obamcare, which hands unprecedented powers to the rogue agency, and should revive efforts to replace the irreparably corrupt tax system with something flatter and simpler. The brazen attempt to silence dissent in both the IRS and Justice Department scandals will also embolden both the Tea Party and the press, maybe even lessen their bitter rivalry, and it can be expected that even more whistle-blowers will free to come forward with even more revelations.
Perhaps it’s too much to hope for, but we can’t help thinking that maybe those phony “green jobs” programs with their million-dollar-a-job price tags will be looked at with a newfound skepticism, and even the trillion dollar deficits that they’re adding to will be reconsidered. A long, hot summer of scandals slowly trickling into the news will lead nice into the 2014 election season, and if the conservatives don’t take advantage it will be their own fault.

— Bud Norman

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Farewell, Michelle

Minnesota’s Rep. Michelle Bachmann has decided not to run for a fifth term in Congress, and she will be missed. Those on the right will miss her courageously outspoken defense of conservative principles, while those on the left will even more dearly miss hating her guts.
Perhaps some day psychiatry or one of the social sciences will provide a explanation for the red-hot hatred that Bachmann has long provoked among her ideological opponents, but for now it remains a baffling mystery. The vile and vulgar vitriol directed at Bachmann was always inordinate to her political influence, which peaked with a win in one of those pointless Iowa straw polls during her short-lived presidential campaign, and even her national fame was mostly a result of the obsessive coverage by her adversaries in the press. She was the unapologetic sort of conservative that always draws the wrath of liberals, but no more so than any number of lesser-known congressmen who sat beside her in the back benches of Congress, and there was nothing noticeably hateful or otherwise remarkable about the way she articulated her more or less mainstream beliefs.
Only Sarah Palin has been more thoroughly ridiculed, reviled, and rudely cussed than Bachmann in recent political history, though, and the comparisons between the two point to possible reasons for the hatred directed at them. Both are women, and according to liberal orthodoxy they are therefore traitors to the cause of feminism for daring to think for themselves. They’re both physically attractive women, too, and that only compounds the offense. Worse yet, they’re happily married, baby-having, unabashedly middle class women who have retained old-fashioned notions of femininity even as they availed themselves of the career opportunities that modernity had provided. Both were so outrageously indifferent to the contemporary pieties that they even embraced a common cause with the so-called Tea Party, the most ridiculed and reviled political movement of modern times, and that probably proved the ultimate affront.
There will be much gloating among liberals that they have at last forced Bachmann out of office, but they might be giving themselves too much credit. The congresswoman says that she’s acting in accordance with her belief in a four-term limit, which is precisely the sort of the populist principle that she’s always adhered to, and it’s also believable that she sees opportunities to serve her causes more effectively outside of government. Bachmann’s opponents in her reliably Republican district were always well-funded by out-of-state donors, and the relentlessly negativity of the national press offered an even more substantial in-kind contribution, so her last race was uncomfortably close, and a minor scandal concerning some campaign finance rules during her short-lived presidential campaign would have been given far more attention than Benghazi or the Internal Revenue Service’s harrassment of the Tea Party and any number of other Democratic scandals, but Bachmann has never seemed the type of women who would back away from such a rowdy fight. Given that the Tea Party has gained a newfound respectability from its persecution by the IRS and that Obamacare and the economy and a slew of scandals provide a more favorable next time around there is no reason to believe that Bachmann couldn’t have kept her undefeated streak in Minnesota politics going for at least another round.
Whatever the future holds for Bachmann, we wish her well. Anyone who can drive the liberals so thoroughly crazy must be doing something right.

— Bud Norman

A Blast From the Past

Bob Dole was back in the news on Tuesday after an unnoticed long absence, earning a few final headlines with some pointed criticism of the Republican party, and it evoked a nostalgic feeling. The name still provokes strong feelings for everyone here in Kansas, where Dole dominated the political landscape for more than a generation, and for some of us it rekindles very personal memories.
Way back in the sultry summer of ’78 we were interns in the office of Sen. Dole, who had already achieved national prominence as the vice presidential candidate of the Republican party just two years before, and we remain grateful for the enriching experience. Among our fellow interns were two future governors of the state of Kansas, as well as several other soon-to-be eminent personages, so perhaps it didn’t enrich us as much as it could have, but it was a teenaged blast. We got to ride through Washington in a limo with the Senator, write a speech that he read verbatim on the radio, do a bit of pointless research, and get paid for little work and responsibility. The job also allowed us to enjoy his famously acerbic sense of humor, quake at his fearsome temper, and develop a generally favorable impression of his personality.
During our years working for a large state newspaper we crossed paths with Dole often, and it was almost always less pleasant. At one news conference during a minor scandal over a rather inconsequential violation of some obscure fund-raising regulation we wound up in a locally legendary spat with the senator, fueled by his characteristically personal animosity toward the paper, which had admittedly been making more of the story than was warranted, and by one biographer’s account we wound up getting the better of it. Dole never courted the Kansas press as assiduously as he did the big city papers back east, and we suspect he still holds the grudge.

He still got our vote in every race he ever ran, including the ill-fated presidential campaign against Bill Clinton in ’96, but that was mostly because he was running against Democrats. Most reporters were resistant to Dole’s charms because he was a Republican, and he probably assumed that his occasional disputes with us were for the same reason, but we were frustrated that he wasn’t nearly Republican enough. As the Fox News reporter noted in the recent interview, Dole was a longtime champion of the food stamp program, Social Security, and the Americans With Disabilities Act, and he was always willing to cut a deal with bigger government and fought hard against the Gingrich House’s efforts cut back. Although he could be admirably conservative on some important issues, and was always well to the right of anyone he ran against, Dole became an exemplar of the squishy moderate Republicanism that the party faithful are now rebelling against.
Which is what brought Dole back into the news on Tuesday. In an interview with the Fox Network he offered some mild criticism of President Obama for insufficient schmoozing with congressional leaders, but saved his harshest words for his own party. “I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says ‘closed for repairs’ until New Year’s Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas,” he said, adding that the party has moved so far right that it wouldn’t nominate Reagan or Nixon today. For good measure he criticized the parliamentary maneuvering that has allowed the Senate Republicans to thwart several of the Democrats’ worst ideas, and called for the same sort of backroom deal-making that marked his own career.
It was infuriatingly nonsensical, especially the bizarre notion that the same party which nominated John McCain and Mitt Romney in the past two elections has gone too far right for Reagan, but it probably served Dole’s purpose of garnering some last favorable reviews from the purveyors of bien pensant opinion. Even before the interview we’d been hearing the local progressives lament the demise of the respectable Kansas Republican party epitomized by Dole, William Allen White, and Dwight Eisenhower, which they much prefer to the decidedly more rock-ribbed variety of Republicanism afoot everywhere in the state except the Kansas Senate, and Dole’s remarks will further endear him to these people. They hated him back in the day, of course, and always portrayed him as the arch-conservative “hatchet man” he’d been when he was the last Republican go to down on Nixon’s sinking ship and then as Gerald Ford’s stir-the-base running mate, but now that he’s safely in the past and no longer a threat to any Democrat he can be safely praised by his former enemies.
Why the 90 year old Dole still clamors for the approval of his enemies, rather than the respect of those disreputably right-wing Kansas who reluctantly supported him through his career, is less clear. Listening to the interview we were struck by very frail and aged Dole sounded, a stark contrast to the physically intimidating presence we recalled from his days in office, when he dominate any room he walk into just by projecting a palpable power that was only enhanced by the crippling injuries he had sustained during his heroic service in Italy during World War II, but he has neither mellowed with age nor hardened into the true conservative his admirers always wanted him to be.
Much respect is due to Dole for his service to the country in the past, but his counsel on the politics of the present should be rejected. There are no deals to be cut with the softly tyrannical quasi-socialism being imposed on the nation, no accommodations to be made that will fend off the impending insolvency of the national economy, and the Republican party has nothing to offer but the staunchest possible resistance. This won’t win the party any friends in the newsrooms of the big papers back east, but in the end they didn’t do Bob Dole any good, not when came down to him or a Democrat such as Bill Clinton, and such people are of absolutely no use in the current crisis. Dole’s fighting spirit is much needed, but he’s fighting the wrong people.

— Bud Norman

And the Living Is Easy

There is no news on Memorial Day, a strict rule of journalism that most newsmakers gladly obey, and in any case all sensible people ignore whatever does happen out there in the rest of in world. The stock markets are closed, the bureaucrats are barbecuing in their well-tended backyards instead of issuing new regulations or scary statistics, the right-wing ranters on talk radio are running repeats, the editorial pages are devoted to solemn sermonizing about the fallen heroes of long ago, and the troubles of the present are momentarily forgotten.
We spent much of the day listening to old Chuck Berry records, an appropriately apolitical way of rockin’ and rollin’ into the summer, but could not resist some stubborn instinct to glance at the headlines. At the Drudge Report the big story was about Sen. John McCain, who can not resist a stubborn instinct to make headlines even on Memorial Day, traveling to meet with the unsavory Islamist rebels fighting the equally unsavory Assad regime in Syria. The reports were a depressing reminder of what a disaster a McCain presidency would have been, and that the only reason we don’t regret having voted for him is that the alternative proved even worse, as well as the unsettling fact that there are no good options left in Syria. Another story that caught our eye was about a planned Hollywood movie depicting Hillary Clinton’s heroic role in the Watergate hearings, with the famously luscious actress Scarlet Johansson playing the lead role, but that was also too depressing to read.
Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer, which is supposed to be the slow news time of year, but expect no respite from events. The slow trickle of revelations about the various scandals will continue through coming months, no matter how much the media would prefer to ignore it, and both sides of the partisan divide will fight to a draw on most matters. Immigration reform might pass, but not without plenty of resistance from people outside Washington. The quantitative easing of billions of dollars per month into the markets can’t continue forever, and if it ceases this summer the economy will be back on page one after a long and inexplicable absence. Summertime offers a delightful number of distractions, but what’s happening out there in the rest of the world will inevitably intrude.
In the meantime, we wish a happy summer of poolside frolics and good time rock ‘n’ roll music to all our readers.

— Bud Norman

Lest We Forget

All of the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for the United States of America deserve our respect and gratitude, but on this particular Memorial Day we feel obliged to make special mention of J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods. If the names are only vaguely familiar, all the more reason they should be singled out. These are the four Americans who were killed by a ruthless terrorist attack as they served their country at a far-flung diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, and the country these brave and honorable men died for doesn’t seem to care much about them.
There have been hearings and headlines and even the occasional hard-hitting question from someone in the old-fashioned media, but they haven’t generated an appropriate outrage from the public. The Secretary of State who signed the cables denying the necessary security to the men who died in Benghazi remains the most popular figure in American politics according to some polls, and is widely considered a frontrunner in the race to become the next president. The Commander in Chief who went to bed as the men were fighting for the lives, while somewhere down his chain of command two stand-down orders were given to units willing to rescue their comrades, is confident enough in his public standing to unilaterally declare and end to war that resulted in the deaths of four men on his watch. All of the people who went before the public to lie about why the deaths occurred, blaming a little-known low-budget filmmaker who had availed himself of his free speech rights as an American rather than the organized terrorist gang that actually committed the murders, remain on their well-paid jobs.
Various excuses have been offered, and the president even spent a portion of his hour-long address on national securities on Thursday to reprise the thoroughly refuted claim that stingy Republican budget-cutting is to blame, but the administration’s main defense is the public’s disinterest in the whole matter. In one of the rare interviews the president granted during the campaign, to a snide liberal comedian on a cable show, he described the death of the four Americans as “not optimal.” His White House press secretary has recently tried to fend of questions by insisting that it was all “a long time ago.” When the Secretary of State belatedly showed up at a congressional investigation on the matter and was questioned about why she didn’t try to discover the basic facts of the incident before taking to the microphones with a dishonest tale of an incendiary YouTube video she snarled “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
So far the strategy seems to be working, at least well enough to keep the poll numbers from plummeting. The Secretary of State’s callous indifference to the fate of four Americans even won plaudits from the liberal press, who declared the performance proof of her presidential timber. As far as much of the country is concerned, the scandal is that some people keep asking embarrassing questions of an administration they regard as more important than the people it is supposed to protect. An even larger portion of the country just doesn’t want to hear about it, or any of the glum talk about terrorism, and are happy to hear that the president has declared an end to it all.
Stevens, Smith, Doherty, and Woods all deserved better than what they got from the government they served, and they deserve better from the people they sacrificed their lives for. None were active duty military personnel at the time they were killed, and the former Navy SEALs Doherty and Wood employed by a private security firm, but they were assuming the same risks to serve their country as any soldier, sailor, or airman, and they warrant the same respect on this holiday. It does make a difference.

— Bud Norman

National Insecurity

President Barack Obama delivered a lengthy address on national security issues Thursday, and we are left feeling rather insecure.
There were a few lines in the speech calculated to curry favor with conservatives, including a nostalgic paean to the “long twilight struggle of the Cold War” that actually sounded pleased with the outcome, a much overdue acknowledgement that the Fort Hood shootings were an act of terrorism rather than “workplace violence,” and a humble admission that there are some crazy people out there who are eager to kill Americans even if Barack Hussein Obama is the president, but otherwise it was clearly intended to mollify the left. Much of the speech was devoted to same sneering criticism of the George W. Bush administration that used to wow the crowds back in the ’08 election, as well as some dishonest preening about how he has differed from his predecessor, such as laughable claim that he has “expanded our consultations with Congress,” and the headline-making announcements that he once again hopes to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, will be cutting back on his aggressive use of targeted strikes by armed drones, and has declared something akin to victory in the war against Islamist terrorism and will be winding it all down because “That’s what our democracy demands.”
Less clear is why the president feels the left needs mollification, given that it has thus far been willing to go along with anything he does. There has been some grumbling about the more robust aspects of Obama’s foreign policy at the furthest fringes of the left, such as the founder of the Code Pink group of peaceniks who interrupted the speech with some characteristically rude heckling, prompting the president to assure her that she would be quite satisfied with what he had to say once the speech proceeded, but they are an infinitesimal constituency and cannot be mollified by anything short of complete capitulation to America’s enemies. Perhaps the president simply wanted to talk about something other than scandals swirling around his administration, although he did end up mentioning the Justice Department’s scandalous probe of several organizations because of its putative ties to national security leaks and there was a desperate attempt to blame the Benghazi fiasco on budget problems.
Most lefties who manage to slog through the speech will be pleased with it, we suspect, but anyone a notch or two to the right of Code Pink will find a great deal to argue with. Obama once again asserted that the Guantanamo Bay detention center is provokes such outrage among Muslim moderates that it is causing more terrorism than it prevents, but he did not explain why incinerating a terrorist with a missile from a drone is less offensive to Islamist sensibilities nor did he answer any of the questions about what to do with the detainees that have kept the center open since he signed an executive order to close it way back in ’09. Obama’s schizophrenic indictment and defense of his own drone policy wasn’t convincing, either as an indictment or a defense, and because of his high-minded aversion to detaining or interrogating terror suspect it raised the question of what, if anything, he will be doing instead. He called for an increase in foreign aid, perhaps to further enrich the treasuries of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and similar emerging theocracies, but he was not specific.
Most worrisome was the part about how “This war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” The terrorists who are intent on striking at America see their efforts as just the latest skirmish in a war against the infidels that has raged since Muhammad launched his first jihad more than 1,400 years ago, but they are notoriously indifferent to history’s advice and at this point it seems unlikely they will end it just because that is what our democracy demands. There is always a way for one side of war to end it unilaterally, an old technique called surrender, and we hope that is not what the president has it mind.

— Bud Norman

Meeting the Press

By happenstance we spent much of Wednesday evening in the company of some veterans of the local news media, and not once did anyone mention the government’s latest assaults on their profession. It was a friendly social gathering, with the conversation mostly devoted to the pleasant weather we’ve been having lately and a good bit of personal gossip about colleagues and local notables who were not present, but the absence of any alarmed shop talk was conspicuous nonetheless.
More than 30 years in the news business have taught us that journalists are typically as self-interested as they are self-righteous, and they instinctively regard any perceived infringement of their occupational rights as a threat to democracy and civilization. There are valid reasons for this attitude, aside from how neatly it serves a journalist’s heroic self-image, and it has usually been a popular topic of conversation in journalistic circles. In past years news of the Department of Justice snooping through the Associated Press’ phone records, treating a cable news reporter’s efforts to question sources as a criminal conspiracy, and allegedly poking around in a network reporter’s computer, along with an administration’s longstanding disdain for an adversarial press, would have been topics of inexhaustible interest at a party such we as attended on Wednesday.
The obvious explanation for the noticeable disinterest in these outrages is that they have all occurred during the Obama administration, a cause much of the press has been passionately devoted to since it was first proposed, and we cannot think of anything more convincing. Other than ourselves, one radio guy, and one outsider who has never worked for any media, everyone present at the gathering had voted for Obama or would be embarrassed to admit they had not, and had we been rude enough to broach the subject of the recent bullying of the press we suspect they would have felt obliged to defend their man against any allegations of wrong-doing. The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups for audits and harassment did come up briefly, with one reporter making a brief attempt to defend the practice before backing out of that quicksand, but the conversation quickly moved on the subject of a local celebrity’s wife’s recent weight gain.
This was in Wichita, where the conservative-to-liberal ratio was probably skewed rightward by several degrees relative to the nation at large, and most of the almighty Washington-New York-Los Angeles news media seem even more uncomfortable with the conversation. The editorialists at The New York Times have done some obligatory harrumphing about the administration’s treatment of the press, The Associated Press has been predictably peeved, there has been some rallying around at the usually hated Fox Network, and the administration’s spokespeople have lately been amusingly flustered by unaccustomed hard questions, but it has all been lacking in the outraged vigor of the recent past. Compared to the clamor that would have surely occurred if a Republican administration was responsible it has been rather quiet.
Conservatives have long pipe-dreamed about the possibility of the press turning on Obama, which would surely be a catastrophe for his presidency and an end to his legislative agenda, and the stark evidence of his hostility to a free press has fueled these hopes. A few hours and a couple of glasses of wine with a circle of reporters can dash these hopes, however, and the best that can be hoped for is that the press will be a little bit less adoring of the powers that be.

— Bud Norman

A Bigger Bite of the Apple

These words are being written on an Apple computer, and there is a good chance that you are reading them on one. We are grateful to the folks at the Apple computer company for this valuable contribution to modern literature, whatever faults they might have, and therefore wish them well in their current spat with the United States government.
The United States government has so many spats brewing at the moment that you might have missed it, but a Senate subcommittee spent much of Tuesday grilling Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook about his company’s shockingly unpatriotic tax dodging. By all accounts the company has paid every penny of taxes that the law demands, which adds up to such an astounding amount of money that Apple might be the world’s biggest contributor to the national treasury, but some Senators are nonetheless shocked that Apple isn’t voluntarily paying many billions of dollars more out of pure love for country.
Apple freely admits that it has availed itself of a number of complicated laws to shelter much of its considerable foreign earnings from America’s corporate income tax, and the Senators think it is unfair for the company to do so. Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, said the company was using “gimmicks” to avoid paying taxes, and Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said the company was exploiting “egregious loopholes that exist in the tax code.” All of the gimmicks and egregious loopholes the Senators refer to are laws passed by the Senate, of course, but apparently it is unsporting for a company to take advantage of such generosity. One way to get more money out of Apple would be to lower the nation’s corporate income tax rate, which is by far the highest in the world, and otherwise amend the tax code to make it economically feasible for companies such as Apple to increase its businesses while paying a reasonable but helpful portion of their profits to America rather than the less-greedy foreigners who offer shelter, but the Senators seem to prefer slicing the goose wide open and grabbing all the golden eggs at once.
The only Senator to side with Apple during the hearings was Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, whose opening and closing speeches were so brilliant that even we cannot improve them. Although we fret that Paul might have the same kooky isolationist streak as his father, libertarian hero Rep. Ron Paul, his performance at the hearing provided yet another reason to regard him as a rising political star. Among other fine arguments he noted that none of his fellow Senators ever pay more than they are legally required, and that it is rank hypocrisy for them to expect others to cough up more than the law demands. We would have seized the opportunity to remind the public how Bill and Hillary Clinton were so scrupulous as to deduct the value of the used underwear they donated to charity, but this is a mere quibble.
There is some irony in Paul rushing to Apple’s defense, given the company’s long history of donating to Democratic candidates and publicly identifying itself with Democratic causes, but perhaps having a Senate subcommittee treating its executives like Michael Corleone in “Godfather II” will cause the company to reconsider its political policies. Admitting its capitalist tendencies might endanger the Apple’s hip and up-to-date image, which has done almost as much for its success as the innovation, reliability, and value of its products, but it could prove more helpful to its bottom line. Besides, the way things are going for big government lately, capitalism might soon be perceived as hip and up-to-date.

— Bud Norman

Tragedy on the Plains

On Monday the weather here in Wichita was as close to perfection as the world allows, with a warm sun shining down from a rich blue sky, a gentle breeze cooling the clean and fresh air to an ideal temperature for a top-down drive through the newly-green parks, and much-needed water from the recent rains flowing once again along the Arkansas River. Just a couple hours’ drive down scenic and fast-moving Interstate-35 in Moore, Oklahoma, the weather was destructive and deadly, as bad as the world can be.
Such is life on the plains, where nature remains as irresistible and overwhelming a force as ever. Few people around these parts romanticize nature, a pastime best left to the smart people in their penthouse apartments back east, but nature commands its due respect. Nature can be bounteous in its blessings, murderously cruel in its tantrums, and capricious in its moods, so you learn to cope with it. Still, the scenes of devastation and the accounts of death in Moore are heartbreaking. Although it happens somewhere every spring — and has happened in Kansas towns such Greensburg, Udall, Hesston, Andover, Haysville, and Hesston, where we were hunkered down in a roadside motel hallway while the twister blew our company car down the street — there is no getting used to it.
The Moore dateline makes it all the more personal because that is the town where our beloved father grew up, hunting and fishing in the wide open fields between the wells where his father wrenched oil from far beneath the red dirt, and where he learned the lessons of nature and the enduring values of small town America that were passed on to the next generation. Moore has changed since then, transformed from a hardscrabble small town comfortably far from its neighbors to a relatively affluent suburban community surrounded by the vast sprawl of metropolitan Oklahoma City, but it remains a place where good people live. The latest reports gave a death toll of at least 51, with 20 of them children who were following the same tornado emergency procedures that were drilled into the students at our own prairie elementary school, and all will be properly grieved.
Not everyone will grieve, of course, for human nature can also be cruel. A Senator seized the moment to rant about global warming, as if all that oil that our grandfather brought up were somehow responsible for a natural phenomenon that predated him by many millennia, and similar nonsense will persist for weeks. The comments section at the rock bottom of CNN’s internet story about the tragedy is full of people snidely noting Oklahoma’s recent Republican voting record, high levels of church attendance, and low trust in the global warming hysteria, with suggestions that it would be hypocritical for the state to accept any federal assistance. Hard-luck Okies don’t command the same sympathy from bleeding heart lefties that they used to back in the Dust Bowl days, but we expect these sneering urbanites will soon learn that Okies are a remarkably self-sufficient people who will get by just fine without the assistance of their snooty critics, and that their churches will play a crucial role and that their view of man’s relationship with nature is grounded in a more hard-earned realism.
We wish the people of Moore bright sunny days and the very best of the world, and offer only prayers, sympathy, and whatever meager assistance we can provide.

— Bud Norman

A Tale of Two Cities

You could have knocked us over with a feather from an organically-fed free range chicken when we learned that Portland, Oregon, does not have fluoridated water. This surprising tidbit came to us courtesy of the Slate.com internet newsmagazine, which reported about an upcoming referendum on a proposal to begin adding fluoride to the city’s water supply, and it caught our eye because our very different town of Wichita, Kansas, had voted last November to reject a similar plan.
The local pro-fluoride forces made much of the fact that only four other large American cities don’t use the stuff, an obvious attempt at peer pressure, but we can’t recall them ever mentioning Portland is one of them, perhaps because Portland is widely considered such an impeccably hip civic peer that it was assumed no one would be embarrassed by the association. Slate, a news outlet also widely considered impeccably hip, is clearly confounded that such a paragon of progressive politics as Portland hasn’t embraced the practice and seems slightly flustered by the realization that the city’s progressivism is the reason why.
Among the groups the joining the cleverly-named Clean Water Portland coalition to lead the resistance to fluoridation are the Pacific Green Party, Nutritional Therapy Association, Organic Consumers Association, the Oregon Association of Acupuncture, and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, although Slate takes pains to claim that the lattermost group is the “only local organization representing people of color that has come out against fluoride” and tries for the first time in the history of liberal journalism to dismiss the group’s political significance. Judging by the boisterous behavior described at town hall meetings and other political events it seems that the grassroots opposition to the initiative is similarly counter-cultural in its leanings. Slate reports with apparent alarm that the anti-fluoride forces are also joined by The Cascade Club, “a local libertarian think tank,” as well as the Kansas Taxpayers Network, described as “a far-right group that recently merged with the Americans for Prosperity,” but it concedes that the anti-fluoridation campaign in Portland carefully eschews conservative rhetoric and that “Such tactics would never work in this liberal city.”
The leftward opposition to fluoridation does not come as such a surprise to us, as all of the relatively small band of Occupy Wall Street sorts in the otherwise proudly un-hip town of Wichita were also adamant in their objections. Groups such as the aforementioned and Kansas Taxpayers Network were more prominent in the local debate, and naturally had no reluctance to couch their arguments in unabashadly conservative terms, but the far-lefties around here were an influental part of the alliance. We couldn’t help teasing the ones we’re friendliest with, regaling them with our imitation of Sterling Hayden’s “fluoride is a commie plot” speech from “Dr. Strangelove,” but they took it in good humor and for the most part seemed to get along with their unlikely allies.
Another unlikely alliance sprang up on the other side of the debate, with the more upscale liberals joining with the more moderate conservatives in citing the consensus of the academic establishment and insisting that Wichita get in step with the rest of the country. Upscale liberals and moderate conservatives are always very much impressed with the consensus of the academic establishment, and around here they’re both very sensitive to perceptions that we’re out of step with the rest of the country, so perhaps it wasn’t such an unlikely alliance. Fluoride advocates such as the Slate reporters tend to overstate the unanimity of scientific on the subject, and fail to mention such dissenting research as a study from oh-so-respectable Harvard University that links fluoride to a decline in human intelligence, but there does seem to be enough of a consensus for the people who are cowed by that sort of thing.
The far left, though, for all its faults, retains an admirable skepticism of establishment opinion. Slate explains that the anti-fluoride campaign in Portland relies on “attachment to the environment and natural health care, as well as the current mistrust of pretty much all institutions.” That last cause is the one that allowed the far- left to work so peacefully with its far-right counterparts on the anti-fluoride campaign here, and it could point the way to alliances on other issues. Wichita also had a referendum a while back on the city government’s sweetheart deal with some out-of-town hotel developers who had taken a strange interest in local politics during the preceding fund-raising efforts by some local politicians, and the crony capitalism deal was soundly defeated with votes from conservatives appalled by the cronyism and liberals offended by the capitalism. The same coalition on a national scale could help eliminate all the public-private boondoggles buried in the stimulus bill and various other Obama initiatives, although it will be hard to pry even the most far-left activists away from their party loyalties. If they can ever be made to understand that the essence of the liberal project is to further empower the institutions they distrust, however, anything is possible.

— Bud Norman