Of Angry Mobs and Freedom of Speech

There’s always a temptation to get out in front of an angry mob, and these days it is especially alluring, but the problem is that you inevitably wind up with an angry mob at your back. Angry mobs are notoriously fickle, as many on the a left have lately learned.
Consider the the case of Kristian Williams, a writer who until recently enjoyed an impeccable reputation as a brave voice in the academic wilderness for opposing rape and other forms of violence against women. We’re not sure how this entails any bravery, as the pro-rape and pro-violence-against-women lobbies do not seem to wield any formidable power in academia or any other corner of modern society, but it was nonetheless considered quite heroic by the sorts of people who take an ostentatious pride in their opposition to rape and other forms of violence against women. Williams was bold enough to write in an essay last year that there is an unfortunate tendency among the anti-rape and anti-violence-against-women preeners to insist that “the survivor, and the survivor alone, has the right to make demands, while the rest of us are duty-bound to enact sanctions without question. One obvious implication is that all allegations are treated as fact.” We read this to mean that the American criminal justice system should should allow a presumption of innocence, and that even a male should not be deprived of his life, liberty, or property without proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which does not seem to us a unreasonable position, but in this day and age a leftist must muster some genuine bravery to make such a claim. Williams recently found himself shouted down at a “Law and Disorder” symposium at Portland State University by some of that Oregon city’s famously strident hipsters.
A widely-circulated video of the fiasco is somewhat comical, as the fashionably disheveled activists with their obligatory up-turned chins chant that “We will not be silenced in the face of your violence” as a response to Williams’ entirely non-violent writings on behalf of a long-standing and quite sensible legal principle that guards against state-sanctioned violence, and Williams’ perplexed expression is by far the best part. He’s clearly threatened by the angry protestors, and understandably so given the unsettlingly contorted faces he confronts, but it’s a “Law and Disorder” symposium devoted to decrying law enforcement so he can’t call the cops to restore order. The cops eventually do arrive, although it’s unclear from the subsequent press releases who dropped the proverbial dime, but the forces of progress and liberalism do seem to have succeeded in keeping Williams from stating his heretical opinions.
A similar sort of censorship by mob has prevented a conspicuous number of graduating classes from hearing the heretical opinions of notable speakers who had been slated for commencement address. Most of the speakers were arguably from the right, and included such estimable figures as former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but some from the left were ousted because they weren’t quite from far enough to the left. Robert J. Birgeneau was a chancellor of the University of California-Berkely, which ordinarily would be sufficient far-left credentials to ensure entry to anywhere in Academia, but he was prevented from speaking to the graduating class of Haverford College. Despite his otherwise meticulous adherence to the prevailing proprieties of liberalism he had called the cops to evict some squatting Occupy Wall Street protestors from campus facilities a few years earlier, and that was enough to render him unfit to still-innocent minds of the school’s graduates. There’s no comic video to record the moment, but we can imagine the look on his face when he found himself cast into the same purgatory of persona non gratis as Condoleeza Rice.
The well-paid folks at America’s universities are quick to defend academic freedom whenever taxpayers or students’ parents wonder why they’re paying to have their children indoctrinated in the latest liberal fads, but Princeton’s Professor Robert P. George is the latest to discover that freedom extends only so far to the right. George is a longtime advocate of same-sex marriage and pretty much the rest of the homosexual community’s demands, but he’s lately been barraged by criticism for his suggestion that other people might have a right to disagree with him. With everyone from Internet engineers to chicken sandwich peddlers to Home and Garden Television reality show stars under attack from the forces of tolerance, he should have seen it coming.
Despite our begrudging admiration for the actual bravery it took Williams, Birgineau, and George to utter their mild heresies, we can’t shake a nagging suspicions that they’d previously cheered on the similar angry mobs that seek to silence dissent from the right. Aside from the stigma that a still-dominant mass media can impose on a society that isn’t paying much attention, the Internal Revenue Service has bee deployed to harass Tea Party groups and the Department of Justice has declared troublesome investigative reporting a a criminal conspiracy and contributors to the wrong causes have wound up being investigated by any number of regulatory agencies, all of which have been excused by the censorious mobs on the left. For now they’re confident that they’re leading the mob, and until the mob turns fickle they’ll probably enjoy the parade.
Those very rich folks with the fashionable complaints about income inequality should keep this in mind, and remember the headless fate of Robespierre during the Reign of Terror that so many leftists want to revive, but the hard-right folks wanting to purse the conservative ranks of the near-right should also pay heed. We’re all heretics on something or another, and should agree that the banishment of heretics from the public square is a bad idea.

— Bud Norman

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A Tough Crowd at West Point

President Barack Obama is fond of giving speeches at colleges, where he can still rouse some of the old rock star enthusiasm among the empty-headed multi-cultural studies kids who haven’t yet returned to their parents’ basements and started paying off their student loan debts with their tips from the artisanal sandwich shop, but for some reason the military academies have always proved a tough crowd. Wednesday’s commencement speech at West Point, which was much ballyhooed as a major foreign policy address, is the latest example.
The sympathetic reporters at CNN described the response from the graduating cadets as “pretty icy,” while the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail generously upgraded that to “tepid,” but we would dispense with the meteorological metaphors all together and say the infrequent and scattered applause was perfunctory or grudgingly polite. According to CNN this was because the speech was “philosophical,” rather than the obscenity-laced sort of battle cry that George C. Scott delivered at the start of “Patton,” we presume, and aside from the stony silence the network didn’t find much fault with the oration. We suspect the reaction had more to do with the absolute balderdash that the speech contained, and that those rigorous engineering courses required at the academy have somehow enabled the graduates to think clearly through the speech’s frightening implications.
In keeping with commencement speech custom, Obama began with a jocular reference to the campus sporting teams, an apparent reference to his “Choom Gang” days as an addled schoolboy, and the obligatory flattering of the graduates. He then flattered himself with a suspiciously rosy assessment of the world today, including a “growing economy that can provide opportunity for everyone who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home,” a decreasing dependence on foreign energy, freedom being championed in public squares around the world, and unrivaled American military supremacy. The record number of people who have given up looking for work, the president’s blocking of oil pipelines and closing of federal lands from drilling and efforts to regulate the tracking revolution that have made us more energy independent, the routine crushing of those who speak for freedom in an increasingly chaotic and less democratic world, and the president’s proposal to reduce America’s military spending to a level less than the annual debt payments all went unmentioned but apparently not unnoticed by the icy audience.
From that point the president started talking tough, bravely battling the usual straw men opposing his policies. There are those who would ignore the rest of the world and those who would launch constant wars against it, the president helpfully explained, but in his wisdom he has found a third option. America will continue to lead and enforce international order, he assured the graduates, but he established some rather strict criteria for when it would use military force to do. The country will still respond to a direct attack against the homeland or the country’s “core interests,” although it is not reassuring that a president feels obliged to offer such assurances, but the president seemed to imply that anything less will be death with by strongly worded statements and hashtags and “multi-lateral actions.” As proof of the wisdom of this approach the president cited Iran’s nuclear endlessly ongoing negotiations over its still-chugging nuclear weapons programs, aid to the Syrian rebels who are being thoroughly routed by the red-line-crossing regime, the sparsely attended recent election in chaotic and menaced Ukraine, and of course the negotiations over those still-kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls that the president mentioned several times, so it’s hard to imagine this getting much applause even from the multi-cultural studies students at the average university.
The scariest part was when the president warned that “We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by the United States Senate…” It’s scary that the president makes mention of the Law of the Sea Convention, which has been a pipe of the dream of the globalist left ever since they started negotiating the thing back in the early ’70s, and has been a dead issue in American politics ever since President Ronald Reagan showed what real foreign policy leadership is by nixing it in ’82. The president says that all of his military advisors believe it will make the country safer, apparently because they’d rather enforce an international border that insists on limits that China and all the other potential major military adversaries dispute, but he also says that every economists agree that bringing another 10 million or unskilled non-English-speaking immigrants into the country will revive the economy. Scarier yet is that the president has announced to China that he’s unable to resist its increasingly belligerent claims on its neighbors territory until the little-known yet widely hated treaty that has been dead since the ’70s is ratified. He might as well announce that we’re unable to help any kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls or other female victims of Islamic radicalism until the Era Rights Amendment is passed.
We don’t wonder why the newly commissioned officers of West Point were so unenthusiastic toward the speech, but of course they weren’t the intended audience. More important to the president were those increasingly anxious supporters who still bother to listen to his speeches, and with a few remnants of the old Bush-era anti-war movement protesting outside the campus with papier mache drones he was anxious to reassure them that although he has to pander to the blood-lusting general public he’s not going all neo-con on them. The tough talk was also intended for the potential adversaries who might be calculating that now’s the time to make that long-desired land grab or smash that long-troublesome foe, but they probably understood the speech as well as those West Point graduates seem to have done. Nervous allies in Kiev, on the bombed-out battlefields of Syria, in the Israeli and Saudi bureaus that are following the Iranian nuclear program, and all over the South China Sea probably offered even less applause.

— Bud Norman

Of Espionage and Press Releases

We’ve watched a lot of cloak-and-dagger movies in our day, and like to think ourselves savvy to all the conventions of the espionage genre, but we’ve never encountered a plot twist where a Central Intelligence Agency operative’s top secret cover was compromised by his name and position being included on a White House press release. Such broad farce is too far-fetched for even most the irreverent spy-movie spoof, and can only occur in real life.
Yes, a White House press release handed out during President Barack Obama’s recent photo-op with the troops in Afghanistan did indeed identify the CIA chief of station who has been running the intelligence-gathering and drone-warfare the enemy has found so vexing. The top-secret spook was apparently among the guests of honor at the photo-op, no doubt conspicuous by his black tie and tuxedo among all the camouflage and the president’s butch bomber jacket, and somebody in the White House thought he therefore deserved mention to the press. A Washington Post reporter thought this odd and potentially dangerous, but only after his story had been filed and quickly published on the internet, and by the time he drew the government’s attention to the matter the name was available to any of the vexed enemy with a working internet connection. Another White House spokesman assured that the White House chief of staff had asked the newly installed White House counsel to look into the matter and make recommendations on “how the administration can improve processes and make sure something like this does not happen again,” and anyone screenwriting yet another spy-movie spoof will be hard-pressed to improve on that.
That Post reporter deserves some credit for his belated realization of his security breach and bringing it to the government’s attention, and his paper redacted the operative’s name from subsequent editions and most American publications have also properly declined to repeat the name, but otherwise most of the media have done their usual dreadful job on the story. Almost none have given it the same outraged attention that was given to the naming of CIA worker Valerie Plame, who wasn’t a covert agent at the time and who was named by an associate of Secretary of State Colin Powell, the only Bush administration official that the media didn’t want to destroy, in an apparently innocent effort to explain why Plame’s husband had been sent off to the Middle East to file a much-publicized and highly-dubious report about his half-assed investigation into charges that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire yellowcake uranium. The press went wild for the story, hoping it would lead instead to the revelation that the administration had deliberately endangered a brave spy’s life in order to discredit a noble whistle-blower, and they kept telling it even after it fell apart. The Washington Post even revived it in the account of the Afghanistan press release, falsely recalling “when former CIA operative Valerie Plame was exposed as officials of the Bush administration sought to discredit her husband, a former ambassador and fierce critic of the decision to invade Iraq.” The Los Angeles Times got it even more wrong, stating that Plame was identified by Scooter Libby, a former assistant to the vice-president who was convicted of a lie about the non-crime during the multi-million dollar investigation of the matter.
A desire to revive even false memories of the bad old Bush days is understandable, though, given how very inept the current administration looks. The naming of the CIA operative ruined the fine optics of the president looking so very Commander in Chiefy in that butch bomber jacket, so the press was almost obliged to throw in some compensatory Bush-bashing, no matter how inaccurate, and we expect the story will fade away before that special counsel fellow makes any recommendations. The bigger story is the president’s latest schedule for bugging out of Afghanistan, which will have the boys back home just in time for the next presidential election, and no one seems especially concerned that it might be handled just as ineptly as the administration’s public relations. Even such friendly publications as the aforementioned Los Angeles Times are starting to a notice a pattern of incompetence by the administration, from shovel ready jobs that aren’t quite shovel ready to crashed web sites to bankrupt solar panel companies to a gun-running operation for Mexican drug gangs to misspelled “reset” buttons that were going to charm the Russians into good global citizenship, not to mention Benghazi and the Veterans Administration and countless other examples, so a suddenly-endangered CIA operative is another embarrassment the press would rather not dwell on.
We wish that compromised CIA spook well, and hope he fares at least as well as Valerie Plame. She got a glamorous Vanity Fair photo spread and a Hollywood movie out of it, but this fellow will be lucky to get a book deal. His story is too far-fetched for a movie, even if you could get Will Ferrell or some other over-the-top comic to star, and it makes the wrong president look bad.

— Bud Norman

The Uncivil War Comes to Kansas

One of the battles in the uncivil war within the Republican Party is being fought here in Kansas, where longtime Sen. Pat Roberts is being challenged in the primary by Dr. Milton Wolf. Roberts has been around too long to escape the “establishment” tag, and Wolf is a political neophyte who eagerly embraces the “Tea Party” label, so it’s one of those “Establishment versus Tea Party” races that the press loves to go on about.
The regular folk around here, on the other hand, don’t seem as interested. Wolf’s campaign initially attracted some attention due to his distant relation to President Obama from the Kansan rather than Kenyan side of the family, and his fundamental argument that Roberts is too deeply entrenched in the Washington mire was bolstered by the widely publicized revelation that Roberts has no home in Kansas, but he hasn’t sustained any momentum into the summer. Roberts’ bad press was quickly offset by the well-publicized revelation that Wolf, a radiologist in the Kansas City area, had recently posted patients’ X-rays on his Facebook page along with the sort of gallows humor that doctors usually share only with one another, and ever since his advertising budget seems to have shrunk. The angry spots that used to air on the local talk radio stations have disappeared, Roberts is now on the local television channels with slick ads featuring a handsome young fellow who’s an ex-Marine just like Roberts, and most of the people we’ve talked to recently are entirely unaware that the Republicans have a Senate race afoot. Any Washington-based reporters who decided to venture into the heartland for their think pieces on the internecine squabbles of the Republican Party are going to have a hard time coming up with those obligatory man-at-the-bar quotes.
We’ve been following the race, as we are irascibly Kansas Republicans and have far too much time on our hands, but we’d advise those Washington-based reporters not to read too much into it. Should they encounter us at one of our local haunts and agree to put a beer on their expense account we will tell them that Roberts looks like a safe bet in the primary and then a lock in the general election, but don’t go weaving that in to any obituaries for the Tea Party. At this point we’re inclined to vote for Roberts, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not sympathetic to Wolf’s quixotic campaign. Roberts has been around long enough to have voted for some of the most insipidly bipartisan legislation ever passed, we wouldn’t want to be judged some of the rather noir cracks we made back in our obituary-writing days, and our desire for the most conservative Congress possible does not have the same practical restraints here in Kansas that it does elsewhere. The case for Roberts is that his lengthy service provides seniority and experience and a generally reliable track record in coming battles against the Democrats, that at least we knew enough not to post our death-writing japes in public view, and Roberts has lately been voting and speaking pretty darned conservative. We also rather like Roberts on a personal level, having covered one of his past campaigns for a state newspapers and spending just enough time to be charmed by his gruff drollness, and he’s spent enough time on the campaign trail that a sizable share of the Republican primary electorate feel the same way.
Roberts was in especially fine fettle last week when he took to the Senate podium to deliver a rousing oration against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s slanderous obsession with the Koch brothers and the Democrat Party’s appalling hypocrisy on the subject of billionaire donors and its outrageous attempts to undermine the First Amendment and the left’s broader assaults on free speech and civility. We couldn’t find fault with a single word of it, and were pleased to have our Senator say it. It was what the lefties calling “speaking truth to power,” only it was true and was spoken to the people who are actually in power.
The few die-hard conservatives with the Wolf yard signs in their lawns would say that Roberts is only pandering to the simmering anti-establishment mood in the state, and they might be right. We’d prefer to think that Roberts had become enraged at the same steady rate as the voters who have constantly elected him, but one can never tell. If rightward drift of the Republican has been carry Roberts along, Wolf’s campaign will have accomplished something no matter the primary results. Those Washington-based reporters can write their obituaries for the Tea Party, but the bigger story is the re-birth of the Republican Party as an evermore conservative outfit.

— Bud Norman

In Memoriam, Clyde Suckfinger

Today is Memorial Day, and we plan to charcoal some meat, drink a beer, and fly our Kansas flag from the front porch. In keeping with our holiday custom, we will also spend the day missing Jerry Clark.
Clark, who was also known as Clyde Suckfinger and Chief Two Toes, was a good friend from way back in our newspaper days. When we broke into the newly computerized newspaper racket at 19-years-old as glorified copy boys he was an aging photographer who’d been shooting since the days of those massive accordion-lens cameras with the searchlight-sized flash bulbs, but we hit if off immediately. He liked that we had been born in Manila in the Philippines while our father flew single-engine prop planes there to play of his AF-ROTC debt, for same reason, and that we were the last-ever hires for the old Wichita Beacon where he had started. The twenty-something college grads who then dominated the reporting ranks were often embarrassed to have him along on assignments, with his rumpled suits and conspicuously ugly shoes and his ties marked with holes from the chemicals that splattered around in the dark room, not to mention his ribald sense of humor and uncomfortable candor and unabashed Kansasness, so we naturally regarded him as the coolest cat at the paper. At every opportunity we’d hang out with him in the darkroom or the smokers’ lounge and swap jokes, the dirtier the better, and he’d tell stories of the old days when the reporters wore fedoras and shouted “get me re-write” into candlestick phones and everything was in glorious black-and-white. Most of the stories were funny, often risqué, and always infused with a necessary cynicism about the business he was in, but he’d still get choked up at the recollection of a murder or some other grisly crime scene he’d rushed to, or the sorry state of the slums he covered, or the tornado that wiped out the tiny town of Udall just south of Wichita.
The photographs Jerry took of the aftermath of that tornado were reproduced around the world and won him a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize, but you had to get to know him a while before he’d tell you about that, or anything else he’d done that was worth bragging on. Eventually we got to know him well enough to hear about his Great Depression boyhood in an Atchison orphanage, where all the kids rooted for the Detroit Tigers because the team was rough and ugly and all the town kids with parents rooted for the more respectable St. Louis Cardinals, and how he spent his sixteenth year in a sort of indentured servitude to a bakery in Hutchinson. When he turned 17 years old Jerry Clark was inducted into the Army and shipped off to the Pacific to fight a war, and after a while he even talked about that.
One hot summer day Jerry seemed less than his usual ebullient self, and we assumed it was because the young fools from out of town who were running the paper had pulled him off the street and relegated him to darkroom duty, but he scoffed at the idea and explained it was the anniversary of the worst day of his war. He told how a landing craft had stopped too far ashore of one of the Pacific Islands he was obliged to invade, and that he had gone charging out that deployed door and started sinking deep into the ocan under the weight of his helmet and boots and gun and pack. He managed to jettison all the gear and make his way to the beach, but found himself in the middle of battle without helmet or boots or gun or pack, and had to lie still in a shallow hole for a full day as bullets whizzed overhead and mortar fire landed close enough to spray sand on to his back. He had re-lived that experience on the same day every year since, he said, and nothing the young fools from out of town who were running the paper could do would be quite so bad. On another occasion he told of us his regular assignment to leap into enemy foxholes and personally dispatch the soldiers there to prevent explosive charges from being magnetized to the bottoms of the tanks that passed over. He preferred to talk about the time he got to see a zoot-suited Cab Calloway play swing music during a leave, or the time he was in the boxing ring with Joe Louis, who served as a referee during a morale-boosting tour of the training camp where he boxed in a lightweight tournament, or the friend and fellow soldier who contracted a particularly amusing case of testicular elephantiasis from a Singapore prostitute, but it was clear that he had a lot of bad days in the war.
We’ve forgotten how Jerry Clark came to be known as Clyde Suckfinger, although we vaguely recall that it couldn’t be recounted in such a respectable publication as this in any case, but we clearly remember how he came to be known as Chief Two Toes. One day in the early ’90s Jerry took ill and was taken to the Veterans Administration, where we found him lying in bed with his feet sticking out of the blankets. One foot had only the big toe and the pinkie toe, and when he caught us looking he told how the missing digits had been blown off by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Battle of Manila. He gave us the full story, which is still troubling to remember and far too gruesome to recount here, but suffice to say that it ended with him spending two years in a Honolulu hospital recovering from his wounds. He told us that one of the poor fellows in the next bed hadn’t been so lucky, and when he passed away Jerry was given possession of the man’s camera and spent the rest of recuperation figuring out how to use the thing, so when he was eventually shipped back to Kansas he got off the train at Wichita’s downtown Union Station and walked a few blocks to the Wichita Beacon where he swore to the dubious editors that he knew how to use a camera. That’s how he came to be a newspaperman, and Jerry regarded it as one of the lucky breaks he’d had in life. Those Honolulu doctors never did get all the Japanese shrapnel out of his legs, though, which was why he was back in the hospital all those years later. The war was still trying to kill him, he said, and he was still determined that it wouldn’t.
Jerry spent the rest of his career in the dark room, where he always said he was doing “the three and the five,” which alludes to an old Army joke that cannot be told in polite company such as this, and was forced out before he wanted by the young fools from out of town who were running the paper. At his retirement party the Vietnam vet who was then the photography editor made sure everyone got a look at Jerry’s Purple Heart, along many of the remarkably good shots Jerry had taken over the years, and even the most callow twenty-something reporters were unsettled by how shabbily he’d been treated. We like think he got his revenge with a few good years of retirement, savoring the company of his longtime wife and a son who’d gone off to sea with the Navy, indulging in a variety of hobbies that did not involve photography or newspapers, and we are happy to say he was always in high spirits and low-brow humor when we’d see him.
Jerry died several years back in a seizure-induced automobile accident, and from what we heard that Japanese shrapnel and its ongoing effect on his bloodstream might have had something to do with it. The war finally killed him, but it’s a testament to the toughness and stubbornness and Kansasness of our friend that it took about 50 years. That it never stopped the hearty laughs he’d get from a dirty joke or the pride he took in his son’s military service or the pain he felt from the ordinary sufferings of his fellow human beings was all the more remarkable. He’d be annoyed to hearing us saying so, and quick to insist that he was no different from any of those other hard luck sons of bitches who had the historical misfortune to be called on to don the uniform at a time of war, so we’ll take a moment to day the miss the rest of them as well. We still miss Jerry, and the America he exemplified for us, and Memorial Day is an annual reminder.
This year the holiday is accompanied by newspaper accounts of gross mismanagement and substandard care at Veterans Administration hospitals such as the one where we visited our friend and discovered his missing toes. The same VA used to send Jerry two pars of those conspicuously ugly shoes every years, with one featuring a personalized padding to fill the space of those missing toes, which he also regarded as a lucky break, and it is infuriating to hear that they’ve failed so many of the men and women who made the same sorts of sacrifices and suffered the same lingering effects of war as our friend. We read that the President of the United States was 13 minutes late to a press conference to announced that he’s awaiting some bureaucrat’s report before being “madder than hell” about it, and that’s standing by the Secretary who has presided over the past five and a half years of this outrage, and the decline from the days of Jerry Clark seems depressingly apparent.
By all means enjoy some charcoaled meat and a beer today, and fly a flag from your front porch, if the weather perm is, but come tomorrow be resolved to inset that we do better by the likes of Jerry Clark. Not just in the VA hospitals, but everywhere in America where that hard luck son of a bitch toughness and unabashed Kansansness is lacking.

— Bud Norman

The New Un-Americanism

We were not surprised to hear Howard Dean saying that we’re not Americans and should relocate to Russia or Ukraine. The former Vermont governor, Democratic National Committee Chairman, and progressive standard-bearer is an excitable fellow given to such ill-tempered outbursts, and his sentiments are nowadays all too common on the left. We frequently encounter such vitriol in our social encounters, usually from lefties who are fooled by our disheveled appearance and lack of horns and pitchfork into thinking we share their hatreds, and these days even the Senate Majority Leader and the President of the United States are casting the same sorts of aspersions.
Still, Dean’s rant at a rally for a congressional candidate in Colorado was both hurtful to our sensitive feelings and confounding to our logical brains. Dean wasn’t referring to us specifically, just to Republicans and conservatives in general, but we couldn’t help taking it personally. We were also flummoxed how such wholesome Kansas boys and bona fide Eagle Scouts as ourselves could be considered un-American, and even more so by why we should feel more at home in Russia or Ukraine. Back in our childhood days it was the commies who were advised to go back to Russia, and you won’t find anyone less commie than us. The slur seems especially odd given that Dean was speaking on behalf of a candidate named Romanoff. “Go back to Ukraine” is an entirely unfamiliar slur, and we haven’t the slightest idea what it means. If Dean means to imply that we should go to a bankrupt country run along crony capitalist lines that is being bullied by the Russians, we see no reason to inconvenience ourselves with a move.
Dean’s insults were preceded by a claim that Republicans are engaged in some sort of nefarious plot to deny voting rights, but we’re not aware of any such effort and are certainly not involved. We assume he’s referring to checking voting registrations and requiring photo identification and other rules intended to prevent people who don’t have a legal right to vote from casting a ballot or two, but that hardly seems a reasonable cause to deport anyone, especially to such uninviting locales as Russia or Ukraine. We suspect that Dean’s wrath was inspired by the broader range of our constitutionally-limited government and free market capitalist opinions.
Modern liberals such as Dean, Reid, and Obama are so cocksure of their moral and intellectual superiority that anyone who disagrees with them must be so very evil that they’re no longer entitled to share space in their country. Recent revelations about the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservatives, intrusive search warrants based on criminal conspiracy charges against nosy journalists, the banning of right-leaning speakers from academia, and the occasional beatings of protestors by union thugs suggest that they’re intent on enforcing their prejudices. This strikes us as a rather illiberal attitude, but maybe that’s just our evil streak. There’s always an outside chance that massive deficits, strangling regulations and bureaucratic control, a foreign policy based on betraying allies and sweet-talking adversaries, libertine social policies, and bossy rules about everything from light bulbs to school lunches are indeed the way to achieve heaven on Earth, and our inherent evilness simply keeps us from grasping this obvious truth.
Even so, that “un-American” slur seems odd. Anyone who has read Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” as all good liberals have done, should know that Americanism is a creed of avaricious capitalism and unrelenting racism and militaristic imperialism, in dire of need of the transformation that the president promised, and it’s a little late in the game to start claiming that those rich white slaveholders who founded the nation were all up-to-date collectivist Democrats who didn’t add Obamacare to the constitution merely because of an oversight. Reid considers the Koch brothers “un-American” because they exercise their free speech rights to advocate free markets, and Dean thinks it traitorous to restrict voting in American elections to American citizens, and the president seems to think it unpatriotic to oppose anything he does no matter how far it might stray from the Constitution, but it’s hard to reconcile any of that with the liberal critique of America or any historically accurate notion of the country’s creed.
In any case, we have no plans to move to Russia or Ukraine, nor do we intend to stop advocating sensible rules against voter fraud or the economic systems that once made America the most prosperous and free nation in the history of the planet. Dean his his fellow liberals can try to evict us, if they truly want to, but they’d better get on the job before the mid-term elections.

— Bud Norman

How to Ruin a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

One of the most prominent conservative talk radio hosts spent most of Wednesday’s broadcast railing at full volume against the Republican Party’s senatorial nominee in Kentucky. This does not bode well for the GOP’s otherwise excellent chances of winning a Senate majority in the upcoming mid-term elections.
The host did not go so far as to endorse the Democratic nominee, but neither did he offer any criticisms of her mostly liberal platform or employ any of his characteristic schoolyard taunts against her. On the whole, she had to be pleased with the broadcast. Early polling suggests the race will be close, with the Republicans needing a strong turnout to prevail, and having a popular voice of the right shreiking against their candidate can only help the Democrats.
Prior to Tuesday’s primary we would have had some sympathy for the host’s fulminations against Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. He scores a solid 90 percent on the American Conservative Union’s usually reliable rating of right-winginess, and his position as the Republican Senate leader suggests he has the respect of the party’s most highly elected officials, but that heretical 10 percent includes some rather egregious transgressions and the party’s pooh-bahs have too often proved timid in the fight against Democratic craziness, so we welcomed the intra-party challenge by the more rock-ribbed investment fund manager Matt Bevin and wished him well in the effort. After Bevin lost by a solid margin of 60-to-40, however, we’d rather that conservatism’s focus is now on the race between McConnell and Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Call us squishy establishment country club RINOs if you want, but we’ll take the Republican Senate leader with the 90 percent ACU rating over any Democrat that even a state such as Kentucky might come up with. Grimes has been running as a moderate, and is shrewd enough to always mention her support for the embattled coal industry when distancing herself from President Barack Obama, but she doesn’t pretend to be as conservative as McConnell. She enjoys the enthusiastic support of Bill and Hillary Clinton, commentators at the far-left Daily Kos site embrace her as “the best we can get,” and Democratic party discipline is formidable enough that she’s certain to wind up ever further left once in office. For all his many failings, and for all the infuriation they caused to conservative sensibilities, McConnell is clearly preferable to Grimes.
We’ll also take respectful note of the indisputable fact that a clear majority of Kentucky Republicans, who were better able to observe the primary race than that radio host or us, preferred McConnell to Bevin. This might have been due largely to the fund-raising advantage that McConnell enjoyed as Senate minority leader, even if Bevin did have contributions pouring in from disgruntled conservatives around the country, but it also seems due at least in part to some embarrassing missteps by Bevin. The unavoidable problem with breath-of-fresh-air outsiders is that by definition they are not seasoned political professionals, and Bevin was often amateurish in the worst sense of the word. His reasonable arguments against McConnell’s vote for the Troubled Assets Relief Program that bailed out the big banks in the first days of the Great Recession was undermined by the revelation that he’d supported it back in his investment fund managing days, he was forced to apologize for a speech at a pro-cockfighting rally, and he couldn’t woo Tea Party darling Sen. Rand Paul or other prominent Kentucky conservatives to his cause. Such missteps and the fund-raising disadvantage suggested he would have been less likely to beat Grimes and her well-oiled political machine, so perhaps that majority of Kentucky Republicans who voted for McConnnell wasn’t entirely comprised of squishy establishment country club RINOs or just plain rubes easily duped by high-priced advertising.
The folks at the Senate Conservatives Fund that largely bankrolled Bevin’s insurgency were quick to endorse McConnell after the results came in, even if the candidate and his talk radio supporters have been less gracious in defeat, so there is hope the party can unify to defeat the far more liberal candidate and bolster the party’s chances to win the Senate and more effectively block whatever foolishness the Democrats had planned for the last two years of the Obama administration. It won’t be the Congress of our fondest conservative dreams, alas, but it would be markedly better than the Reid-Pelosi Congress of our worst nightmares.
Unity requires compromise on both sides of the Republicans’ internecine squabbles, of course. We’d prefer that House Speaker John Boehner and other party big wigs must cease their schoolyard taunts against the party’s more conservative and assertive ranks, and would be happy to see a Republican House and Senate purge from the leadership ranks even if the Republican voters in their districts decline to do so, but are willing to offer our support so long as they do. The “tea party” has suffered many bitter defeats this primary season, but its core principles of limited government and low taxes and individual liberty remains essential arguments even for the most “establishment” Republicans. Those “tea party” candidates that do pick up the occasional win should get the full support of t, but it’s he big donors and party professionals, a fair trade for the votes of those disgruntled conservatives who grumpily trudge to the polls for the likes of McConnell if only to keep the likes of Grimes out of Washington, and let any lingering arguments can be settled by the majority caucuses in both houses of Congress.
With the public belatedly wising up to the incompetence and wrong-headedness of the Obama administration, on everything from the rapidly deteriorating foreign affairs to the still-sputtering economy to all those scandals of bureaucratic bumbling that keep popping up, it will be hard for the Democrats to make a winning argument no matter how much money the unions pump in or how many inches of attacks the press write. The Republicans will be hard-pressed to blow it, but some of them seem determined to pull it off.

— Bud Norman

Brown, Brownback, and Black

First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech in Kansas over the past weekend, and by all press accounts it was a big hit. The press here is every bit as liberal and inclined to fawn over her as it is anywhere else in the country, though, and the speech was delivered in a state capital that is full of government workers with the same liberal and fawning political proclivities as their public sector counterparts elsewhere. We suspect that the more authentic sort of Kansans shared our skepticism about her remarks.
Distaff Obama did not venture here with any hopes of turning our blood-red state blue, but rather to mark the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision that began the end of segregated schooling in America. Being very traditional Republicans from the Bleeding Kansas days we are opposed to any government-enforced segregation in public institutions, so we also celebrate the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, even if we wish it had been made on strict constructionism and radical Republican-inspired 14th Amendment grounds rather than all that silly social science playing-with-dolls nonsense that permeates the decision, but Obama went far beyond that bedrock principle with more up-to-date notions about diversity that warrant questioning. She argued that this year’s high school graduates should instruct their elders on the benefits of ethnic diversity in schools, bemoaned the success of retrograde racists in re-segregating America’s schools, and left an unmistakable inference that her husband’s brand of liberalism is the solution to lingering racial strife, all of which are unmitigated bunk.
“It’s up to all of you to drag my generation’s and your grandparents’ generation along with you,” the First Lady told Topeka’s diversely-educated graduating high school seniors, urging they correct any offensive opinions that their elders might utter. This seems laudable on those occasions when grandpa goes off on some racist rant about keeping the colored folks in their place, even if we’d urge a respectful “‘c’mon, gramps,” rather than a high-minded oration that might result in a slap to the uppity young ‘uns face, but we can’t help wondering how often that comes up in this enlightened day and age. Brown v. Topeka Board of Eduction was handed down 60 years ago, after all, so most of those graduates’ grandparents matriculated during the post-Brown hippie era and enjoyed the same benefits of a multi-cultural education. Our own experience of public school diversity suggests that the main effect is being beaten up and robbed of lunch money by children of all colors, and we still wonder if a school that stressed readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmetic wouldn’t have been preferable no matter the ethnic composition of the student body, but at it least it taught us not to go off on racist rants about keeping the colored folk in their place even in the comfort of a family gathering. Such rants are even more unlikely in Topeka, where much of the population is gainfully employed by some state-funded diversity program or another, so we are not surprised the youth of that city were so eager to accept the invitation to sassiness. These days racism is so broadly defined that any mild criticism of Obama administration policies is included, and permission to rebuke such outrages understandably plays well with Topeka’s youth.
“Many young people are going to school largely with kids who look just like them,” Obama told the graduates, who were left with the impression that her political opponents must be to blame for this unfortunate turn of events. The students and their parents mixed boos with a few cheers when Republican Gov. Sam Brownback was introduced at the speech, as the state’s press gleefully noted, although it’s understandable in a company town where the CEO is doing some necessary downsizing, but Brownback was predictably pro-Brown v. Board in his brief remarks and presides over a state with a far better record of desegregation than such reliably Democratic jurisdictions as New York or California, and such ham-fisted efforts as school busing and the current administration’s insistence on union rule and discipline-by-quota and resistance to quantifiable readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmetic are the most plausible reasons why so many well-heeled Democrats including the Obamas have pulled their children out of the public schools.
That bit about “kids who look just like them” rankled, too. We’re old enough to recall a time when it was considered an egregious breach of racial etiquette to comment on the resemblance between any two black people, no matter how doppelganger-like that similarity might be, but these days even the President of the United States and his First Lady seem proud to assert that peoples of certain color all do indeed look like. As people of pallor we resent implication that we resemble the late Marty Feldman, and we take umbrage on Denzel Washington’s behalf that anyone would think he looks like that guy who played “J.J.” on the old “Good Times” sit-com. It’s the sort of thing that grandparents should chide their grandchildren for suggesting, if that were still socially acceptable.
Worst of all, to our ears, was the unspoken but unmistakable claim that what’s needed is more of the divide-and-consquer identity group politics that is a hallmark of the Obama administration. The government should be color-blind in dispensing its services, as Brown v. Topeka Board of Education asserted, but it should leave the rest of it to the people to work out. It’s a tricky process but we’re doing a better job of here in blood-red Kansas than in the more enlightened states Back East and Out West, and the First Lady’s advice to rag on ol’ hippie grandpa for grousing about Obamacare issn’t helpful.

— Bud Norman

If Only Obama Knew

The scandal about the Veterans Administration grows more infuriating by the day, and we are assured by a high ranking official that the President Barack Obama is “madder than hell than about it.” Whether he is angry about the off-the-books waiting lists and substandard service that possibly cost the lives of as many as 40 people or the potential political costs of their public revelation is unclear, but in either case his anger is at least somewhat reassuring.
That “madder than hell” declaration is accompanied by the usual promises that any problems will be forthrightly addressed and quickly solved, and some high-ranking VA official or another has already resigned shortly before his long-planned retirement date, but by now it’s hard to take all that seriously. The president is still standing by the VA Secretary, who haas politely declined to upstage his boss by declaring that he is merely “mad as hell” about what was going on during his watch, and the outrage has become increasingly unconvincing with repetition. Similar outrage was expressed by the president about the Fast and Furious scandal, and he still stands by the Attorney General who was cited for contempt of Congress for stonewalling an investigation into the truth of that deadly matter. More presidential anger attended the four deaths by terrorism at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, but the high-ranking officials are now saying “Dude, that was, like, two years ago.” The president again waxed livid about a few Cleveland-based rogue agents of the Internal Revenue Service harassing his political enemies, but when a high-ranking official invoked a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and it became apparent that the plot seeped deep into Washington he dismissed it as one of those “phony scandals.” The pattern is so obvious that even the slow-witted wags of the Republican National Committee have noticed, putting together an amusing montage of the president’s recurring wrath, and it seems unlikely that this time around will yield actual results.
Even so, it’s heartening that the VA story has sufficient legs to force yet another statement of the president’s anger. Every time Obama goes into his angry mode he sounds so very convincing that the average voters wind up wishing that he could be president so he might do something about it, and one can only hope they’ll eventually notice that he has been president for more than five years. The president’s spokesmen are disputing reports that he knew about the VA’s deadly practices back in ’08, and insist that he only learned of it by reading the latest newspapers, and even if that date sticks he’ll have the ready excuse of blaming it on the all-purpose scapegoat of the George W. Bush administration, but there’s faint hope the public won’t buy it yet again. Presidents have traditionally been expected to know more than what they read in the newspapers, and for all his faults George W. Bush can’t plausibly be blamed for what Obama hasn’t done over the past five years.
The dangerous inadequacies of the VA certainly do stretch back to the Bush years, and probably all the way back to its very beginning. Congressional Republicans are responding to the problem with a proposal to allow the VA Secretary to actually fire someone, rather than risking any political problems by calling for the firing of a former Four Star General who became a Democratic darling by criticizing Bush’s Iraq War policies, and it demonstrates the inherent problems of efficiently running a federal government bureaucracy. This should raise questions about the ability of a federal government bureaucracy to administer health care for everyone, and not just a relatively small number of veterans, and we expect the president will be angry about that. Pretty much the entire Obama agenda is based on the argument that government knows best and can be trusted, and in any case Obama deserves such trust, and the argument is not bolstered by the latest revelations about the VA.

— Bud Norman

Getting Back in Our Subprime

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it, according to George Santayana’s famous adage, but those who remember the past incorrectly are likely to create brand new catastrophes. The Obama administration’s current efforts to re-inflate the housing bubble through the same old subprime lending methods will eventually demonstrate the point.
Surely our youngest and most oblivious readers will vaguely recall the Crash of ’08, the unhappy effects of which still linger today, but even at the time it was not widely understood what had caused it. The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression occurred at the end of George W. Bush’s administration, and after eight years of relentless criticism of everything from his Iraq War policy to his decades-old Air National Guard service records to his mangling of the word “nuclear” most people readily accepted the explanation that he was solely responsible. How he had managed to bring down the American economy was never specified, but candidate Obama and his many friends in the American media were happy to allow a a consensus to form that it must have had something to with that Republican fetish for de-regulation or the tax-cuts-for-the-rich or just an inclination to let those greedy bankers get ever richer by making huge loans to people who would never be able to re-pay them. That there had been no significant de-regulation of the financial sector and instead thick book of new regulations from Sarbanes-Oxley had been added, along with a few new battalions of regulators to enforce them, did not matter. Nor did the fact that the tax cuts had been for everybody, including the half of the country that did not pay federal income taxes, or that they had increased the federal revenues as promised. The obvious illogic of greedy bankers giving hundreds of billions of dollars in mortgage loans to people who were bound to default didn’t make much difference, either.
Already forgotten at that point was the decades of criticism those greedy bankers had endured for failing to make loans to people who couldn’t pay them back, and that at some point in ’90s they were cajoled, incentivized, and ultimately compelled to do so. When it all started President Bill Clinton and his Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Andrew Cuomo, were quite pleased to let people know they had threatened legal action against various banks with the Community Re-Investment Act, which had been passed in the waning days of the Carter but lightly enforced during the years of Reagan and the elder Bush, and they even set up agencies to let targeted groups such as single women know that they banks were now obliged to dole out money to people with poor credit ratings. The mortgage kings Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were directed to invest half their portfolios in subprime loans, Activists groups such as ACORN also got in on the action, picketing and squatting in banks that were so stodgy they would only loan to the credit worthy, and an obscure civil rights attorney and former community organizer named Barack Obama was among those who sued banks to force loans to people who would wind up in default and disastrous financial circumstances. This was known as “affordable housing policy,” much as Obamacare would later be dubbed The Affordable Care Act, and when it’s only obvious effect was a suspiciously steep spike in property values it was considered proof of Clinton’s economic.
When interest rates finally rose and the prices finally flattened and those borrowers less-than-credit-worthy borrowers ran out of gimmicks and started defaulting in droves and leaving the banks with hundreds of billions of losses, it was naturally taken as proof of the younger Bush’s hilarious stupidity. Never mind that Bush and Senators John McCain and Elizabeth Dole had made a futile effort to reform the policy and was blocked by Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a Congressional Black Caucus that it racist to deny a minority member a loan just because he could not pay it back, and the rest of the Democratic party. the greedy banker and his laissez faire Republican enablers was just too familiar a cliche to resist. The man who had sued a bank to force them to make loans to his indigent clients won election to the presidency on a vow to fight “predatory lending,” Bush was vilified and McCain and Dole both went down to defeat, Cuomo became Governor of New York, Dodd and Frank got to re-write pretty much the entire financial code, and four years later Obama won re-election on the argument that electing a Republican would be like handing the keys over to the fool who had run the car into a ditch.
All in all, the “affordable housing policy” proved such a smashing success for the Democrats that they’ve decided to do it again. It didn’t work out so well for the country at large last time around, and there’s no reason to believe it will work out any better this time, but if history can repeat itself precisely the crash won’t come until some after Hillary Clinton has finished a second term and some Republican with peculiar pronunciations is conveniently installed in office. If all goes according to plan the public still won’t wise up, and that is something they really can bank on.

— Bud Norman