The Exponential Possibilities and Faint Hopes of a Crazy and Octagonal Election Year

The most tiresome cliche of this crazy election year is that it’s a “binary choice,” which is meant to hector that landslide majority of Americans who find both of the major party presidential candidates unfit for the highest office in the land to nonetheless choose between the two. A failure to vote for one is a de facto vote for the other, the arguments goes, and its logical corollary is that a vote for neither is somehow a vote for both of those awful people.
Even in this crazy election year it’s highly likely if not yet entirely certain that one of those awful and unfit major party candidates will become president, so the argument has some merit, yet in another very real sense it is utterly untrue. When we wander over to the local Lutheran Church to cast our votes next fall the presidential ballot will also include a Libertarian and a Green and probably a Constitutionalist, and here in Kansas there’s always a Prohibitionist nominee on there, and it might also include some fellow we’d never heard of before today named Evan McMullin. When you throw in the very real possibility of that meaningless write-in vote we’re thinking of casting for Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse that’s at least eight possibilities, and we think that’s an octagonal choice but we’re not sure what the proper mathematical term is for an election with so many choices.
That McMullin fellow seems an intriguing possibility for a vote or two, based on one day’s reading of the news. So far as we can tell from the initial reports he’s a former Central Intelligence Agency official who shares our grave doubts about both the Republican and Democratic nominees’ foreign policy instincts, along with much of the rest of the erstwhile Republican Party’s foreign policy brain trust, as well as our objections to the Democrats’ typical liberal bossiness and the atypical authoritarianism of this crazy election year’s Republican nominee. He’s a bachelor, which would ordinarily raise alarms but somehow doesn’t in a crazy election year when the Republican nominee’s third wife can be seen stark naked in sapphic poses on the front page of the same New York City tabloid that has endorsed him and the Democratic nominee’s husband is the notorious cigar-trickster Bill Clinton. He’s already got a relatively well-funded “Super PAC” supporting his candidacy, he’s a Mormon from Utah, and except for a successful stint at the hated-by-left-and-right Goldman Sachs bank, which also has ties to the major party campaigns of this crazy year and the past several election cycles, he’s thus far scandal-free.
None of which gives any hope that he’s not just another Don Quixote tilting at windmills, but in this crazy election year we’ll consider whatever quixotic possibilities we can get, and whatever small way they might screw up that “binary election.” The relatively penurious “Super PAC” backing McMullin might wind up outspending the Republican this time around, and the national press will happily provide some of that “free media” that the Republican has long relied on in order to cut a few percentage points into the Republican’s poll numbers, and in the event of a unusually close election an upset win in the clean-living Mormon state of Utah could deprive either of those awful major party candidates an electoral majority and send it to the House of Representatives, where the erstwhile Republican majority might yet come up with someone more or less acceptable.
In an eight-way race where no one is particularly popular there are all sorts of possibilities. McMullin is already too late to get on the ballot in several states, but in those states where he does show up he’ll probably draw votes from people who would have reluctantly voted for the Republican if it truly had been a binary election. The Green Party nominee Jill Stein will probably get a similar number of votes from people who would have reluctantly supported the Democratic candidate if not given the option, and the Libertarian Gary Johnson will probably wind up denying a ore less equal number of potentially decisive votes from both of the major parties. The Constitutionalists and the Prohibitionists and the rest of the quadrennial cranks will also have their slight quixotic effect, and at this point we can only hope it all adds up to some providential vote of the erstwhile Republican House of Representatives and a more acceptable outcome..
There’s no discerning what vote might best bring about that miraculous conclusion to an otherwise disastrous election year, and in case it’s a long shot. The smart money bets that one of those two awful major party candidates will be the next president, and that either one of them will start out as the most unpopular president ever and go downhill from there, and it’s just too, too confusing to us to figure out which would be the worst outcome for such erstwhile Republicans as ourselves.
The most likely outcome, of course, is that one of those two unfit major party nominees will be the next president. In either case we’re quite sure that either will be as awful as the landslide majority of Americans expect, and at this point we’re mostly concerned that some principled opposition to both will be around in the aftermath with some integrity intact. In any case, we’re glad there’s some faint hope left that at least it’s not a binary choice.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Mid-Season Race

The New York Yankees have traded away their three best players and pretty much the rest of the season in exchange for better prospects in the hopefully near future, The Wichita Wingnuts are holding a comfortable 6.5 game lead in the double-A American Association’s southern division, and with help from an adorable rifle-toting teenaged girl America has already staked a lead in the Olympics medal count. As the stock markets are closed over the weekend our next check of the standings is the Real Clear Politics average of presidential polls, which currently shows the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton edging up to a 7 point lead over Republican nominee Donald J. Trump.
This strikes us as a fair assessment of the race at the moment, given how widely reviled both candidates are and how Trump had an even worse past week than Clinton did, which took some doing. There are a couple of polls showing Trump behind but within the margin of error, but a couple of others showing Clinton with a landslide lead, and even most Trump’s loyal analysts agree that it all averages out to a substantial if not insurmountable lead for Clinton of 7 or 8 or even 9 points or so. When you throw in the third and fourth options of Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein, both of whom are polling conspicuously far better in their crazy election than their parties ever have done, the Clinton lead is narrowed to 6 or 7 or 8 points or so. A savvy sports fan’s closer look at the all-important electoral map will reveal that he’s behind but still in contention in some key swing states, clinging to a slight lead in a couple of others, losing ground in several more, and suddenly having to worry about a few states that more traditional Republicans long took for granted.
There’s a whole lot of baseball and presidential politics left to be played between now and the cool of November, and we’ve been following both sports long enough to expect surprise endings, but at this point in a season the teams that come from behind are usually making adjustments. Nothing in the political press suggests that Trump is making any personnel changes, or adopting new tactics, or even bothering to master the fundamentals of the game. Trump is being outspent on the widely-watched Olympic broadcasts and the rest of the airwaves to make the case that he’s a puppet of Vladimir Putin, a President of the United States who somehow has an over-50-percent approval rating and is therefore the most admired man in American politics is making the poll-tested argument that he lacks necessary temperament to be commander in chief, and Trump is responding with the schoolyard taunt that his opponent is “Unstable” Hillary “Rotten” Clinton, which will no doubt delight his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters but do little to convince that pesky 60 percent or so of the rest of the country that he’s particularly presidential.
Clinton is indeed rotten, as we’ve been publicly complaining since long before Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and telling everyone what a great President she would be, and it appalls us that the current rotten president is so unaccountably popular, but we’d much prefer a Republican nominee who could make that case in more compelling terms than a schoolyard taunt. That seems to be where the race stands, though, and from now on we’ll try to pay more attention to baseball.

— Bud Norman

An Olympian Disappointment

The Olympic games get underway today, and in a more perfect world they would provide some much needed distraction from the awful presidential race that’s lately been getting all our attention. Alas, in this imperfect world the Olympics are just as much a gruesome spectacle of incompetence and corruption.
Before the opening ceremonies have even begun in all their quadrennial gaudy splendor the Olympics have already been tarnished by the International Olympic Committee’s usual greasy-palmed awarding of the games to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, where much of the local population is infuriated by the government’s spending of much-needed public funds to to the benefit of a few wealthy and well-connected parties, and is beset by rampant crime and one of those apocalyptic tropical diseases and all the inefficiencies of what is still a second-world country at best. The mess has caused many of the world’s top basketball players and golfers and other elite athletes to stay home, and we confidently expect that incompetence and corruption will also play a part in deciding the winners of several of the subjectively scored sports, and that better living through chemistry will once again play a role in the more rigorously timed and measured events.
Which is a shame, really, because the Olympics used to be the most riveting and inspiring thing on the fuzzy black-and-white three-channel televisions of our youth.
Our earliest memories of the Olympics date back to the ’68 games in Mexico City, when Bob Beamon jumped a full foot and a few inches farther than any human had ever jumped before, the future heavyweight champion of the world and grill-machine magnate George Foreman celebrated his gold-medal boxing performance by waving a couple of small American flags, the great Dick Fosbury forever changed the sport of high-jumping with his gold medal-winning “Fosbury flop,” and Kansas’ own Al Oerter became the first track and field athlete to win a fourth consecutive gold medal with another extraordinary throw of the discus. Even then we were aware of the student protests that disrupted the games, and how gold medal-winning Tommie Smith and bronze medal-winning John Carlos flashed the “black power” salute of an upturned and black-gloved fist while standing on the winner’s platform as the “Star Spangled Banner” played, and that Lew Alcindor had declined to the join the basketball team even before he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other exceptional black athletes had boycotted the games, but America handily wound up winning the medal count and it bolstered our vague notions of American exceptionalism.
The ’72 Olympics in Munich were in living color, and featured the handsomely mustachioed Mark Spitz winning a record seven gold medals in swimming against a clearly cheating commie squad, the scariest-white-boy-you-ever-saw Dan Gable annihilating one steroid-pump commie after another on his way to a wrestling gold medal, skinny Dave Wottle and his backwards baseball cap coming from way way way behind to beat some fast muscle-bound commie in the 800 meter race, and as well as the hated Soviet Union beating an American basketball team that didn’t have the hippy-dippy Bill Walton or paying for play Julius Ervin on the most outrageously corrupt play-calling in Olympic history. Then there was the massacre of the Israeli team by a radical Islamist Palestinian terror group, and the quick exit of the Jewish Olympic hero Spitz, and Gable’s ill-advised grousing that his win had been overshadowed, and the questionable decision by American Olympic boss Avery Brundage to continue playing the games.
Since then the Olympics have proved less riveting. In ’76 the games went to nearby Montreal, Canada, and America came in an unaccustomed third place in the medal during its Bicentennial Year. The highlight from a patriotic perspective was a handsome young fellow named Bruce Jenner winning the decathlon and the unofficial “world’s greatest athlete title,” and of course he’s now better known as Caitlyn Jenner and was last seen as a honored guest at the Republican National Convention proving how very tolerant even the Republican are about men who think they’re women. America didn’t compete in the ’80 elections in Moscow after President Carter decided to boycott the games as retaliation for the Soviet Union’s invasion of Africa, which kept our junior high and high school classmate Darnell Valentine from a good chance at a basketball gold medal, and when the Soviet bloc boycotted the ’84 games in Los Angeles the Americans won so much they got bored with winning. The ’88 Olympics were in Seoul, we vaguely recall, and America was back in third place behind the Soviet Union and its East German puppets. The ’92 Olympics were in Barcelona, Spain, where professionals were at long last allowed to participate without any pretense of amateurism and the most memorable result was a basketball team featuring Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and nine other all-timers that seemed to prove once and for all how well capitalism works. Some homosexual-hating nutcase set off a bomb at the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, and except for America’s return to the top of the medal count we can’t recall much else.
By the ’00 Olympics in Sydney there was no Soviet Union and the American victory in the medal count didn’t seem so exceptional, and Marion Jones had two return two of those golds when she was found to be a chemical cheat, and the ’04 Olympics in Athens are best remembered for all abandoned venues that now broke country built for the games. The ’08 games in Beijing were basically a propaganda campaign for China’s totalitarian government, just like the ’36 games in Munich where that same old Avery Brundage wouldn’t let Jewish-American athletes compete for fear of offend his fellow Jew-hating hosts and thus allowed the black Jesse Owens to wind up spoiling the show, and except for Michael Phelps breaking Spitz’ record with eight gold swimming medals we can’t recall a thing about the ’12 games in London.
This year’s Olympics would have been in Chicago if President Barack Obama had his way, and there were reports when he flew off to Switzerland with Oprah Winfrey to make the pitch for his hometown that he envisioned it as a worldwide celebration of the fundamental transformation of America he had wrought by his second term and is pitch to the IOC was mostly predicated on how it would give the Olympics meaning to have them held in his own sanctified hometown. Of course he also hoped it would benefit his longtime consigliere Valerie Jarrett and all the other well-connected slum lords in his Chicago circles, but we suspect the city at large is happy to let the even more crime-ridden city of Rio De Janeiro pick up the tab.
Still, we’ll hope for some uplifting diversion during the games. Surely someone will run faster or jump higher or lift a greater weight than any other human ever has, and there’s a Wichita kid competing with the boxing team, and he might have better luck than the great Wichita miler Jim Ryun or our old basketball-playing classmate or any other local boy has done in the Olympics since James Bausch won the decathlon and the “world’s greatest athlete” title way back in ’32, and there might even be a moment where a good guy or a good gal from any old country wins a moment of well-deserved glory. That would make for a nice diversion right about now, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

— Bud Norman

The Week that Wasn’t

This should have been a great week for the Republican presidential nominee.
The Democratic presidential nominee gave an interview with one of those Democratic-biased networks which was so awful that all the other biased Democratic networks had to concede that she lied about what the Federal Bureau of Investigation said she lied about in that lingering e-mail matter that most Americans agree should have led to her indictment on national security charges. Those same biased networks were also forced to report on the latest economic news from the current Democratic administration, and to acknowledge that it was also very bad. They were also forced to acknowledge some hard-to-sort-out controversy about a $400 million ransom allegedly paid to the Iranian government by that same current Democratic administration. Each of which reinforced a widely and reasonably held opinion that the Democratic presidential nominee is disqualifying-ly dishonest and devious, as well as the objectively provable conclusion that her party’s economic policies have produced the worst recovery from an economic recession since World War II, and a general sense that neither she nor her party should be allowed anywhere near America’s foreign policy.
These are the Republican’s quadrennial campaign themes, after all, which have proved persuasive even in less fortuitous election years over the relatively recent past, so all that was needed was for nice little Republican poll bump was for the nominee to do some serious tsk-taking about how awful the Democrats are and otherwise stay the hell out of the news. It would take quite a feat of self-sabotage to turn that into a worrisome little dip in the polls, for that matter, but this time around the Republican nominee is Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-scam-university-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul has long had a knack for generating headlines, and he obligingly provided those biased Democratic networks plenty of reason to write and broadcast about something other than the Democratic nominee’s awful week.
There were the ongoing aspersions against a Muslim couple whose son had died fighting for America in the Iraq War, a hearty defense of the Fox News head honcho who was shown the door after decades of sexual harassment charges along with some off-the-cuff remarks about how strong women don’t get sexually harassed and that if they do they should up and leave like his nepotistic and well-funded daughter and of course very strong daughter would, as well as a rather bizarre by five-times draft deferred civilian that he’d always wanted to get a Purple Heart. That’s on top of an undeniably disastrous-even-by-the-conservative-media interview where he promised — believe him, write it down — that Russia wouldn’t invade Ukraine even though it did so two years ago and is still there, then admitting he wouldn’t mind if it stayed that way because he’d “heard people say” that those conquered Ukrainians like it that way. Throw in a speech to the richest county in America about how hard they’ve got it, his failure to endorse his party’s Speaker of the House in a primary against a long-shot challenger as well as a former Republican presidential nominee, and his blatant attempt to out-bid the Democrats on a stimulus-sort of “infrastructure spending” and other insults to the old-fashioned conservatives in his party, along with that hard-to-sort-out incident with a crying baby that all the Democratic-biased media happily ran with, and it was plenty for those biased media to talk about other than the Democrat’s awful week.
All of which reinforced the widespread and reasonably held opinion that the Republican nominee is a religiously intolerant and cluelessly sexist chickenhawk who really doesn’t understand foreign policy at all and doesn’t represent a coherent and united political philosophy and will make whatever promises he thinks a gullible public will buy and is pretty much a nutcase as well. These are the Democrats’ quadrennial political themes, and they’ve proved all too persuasive even against less fortuitous candidates over the recent past, and so far it’s good for an outside-the-margin-of-error lead of 5.1 percent in the Real Clear Politics average instead of the slight bump that a more savvy Republican could have effortlessly achieved.
Trump is already blaming it all on Democratic media bias, and most of his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters are already parroting the claim, and there’s no denying they’ve got a strong case. Last time around the same biased Democratic media were making a big deal of the more polished and polite Republican nominee saying “binders full of women” rather than “binders full of women’s resumes” and talking about the time he put his dog in a cage atop his car and otherwise finding trivial reasons to ignore the ongoing catastrophes of the incumbent Democratic administration, and there’s no reason to think that even the most blameless Republican nominee wouldn’t have the same problem this time around. Even so, Trump is making it so very easy them that even such staunch defenders as former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Trump’s very own vice presidential nominee are finding it hard to make the quadrennial arguments.
Whatever reasonable complaints one might have with Islam in general and those Muslim parents of a fallen American soldier in general it is never a good idea to disparage a Gold Star family of any faith, and the censure of usually Republican biased veterans’ groups proves the point. Any candidate that already has absolutely abysmal approval ratings among women shouldn’t be defending rich pals who have accepted big buy-outs in exchange for resignations in the wake of sexual harassment charges nor disparaging the alleged victims as weaklings. Those remarks about Russia would never go into Ukraine and so what if it did are even more appalling from a Republican point view of than a Democratic one, and all that talk of “infrastructure spending” and that ungallant support for a Republican House Speaker who has swallowed hard to support the nominee are unlikely to unify the party behind a coherent political philosophy. Throw in that weird encounter with the crying baby, and that talk about how he always wanted to get a Purple Heart, and it takes a true believer to believe that the current Republican nominee isn’t at least a little bit of a nutcase.
We’re still somewhat sympathetic to the argument that the awful Democratic nominee’s awful week was even worse, and that everyone should thus get on board with the idea that the awful Republican nominee is going to make America great again, but we can’t help pining for what might have been. One of the more intriguing scenes from the past week came when Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, a former Congressman and Governor and one of those polite and polished “establishment” types that Trump ran against, encountered criticism from a military family. At a rally in Lima, Ohio, a woman came forward during the question-and-answer period an identified herself as the mother of a Air Force airman, which earned polite applause from the crowd, but when it became apparent that she was criticizing Trump for his feud with the Muslim soldier’s parents the crowd started booing her, which of course gave the Democratic biased media the opportunity to write headlines about a military mom being booed at a Trump rally. The more objective media showed how Pence quelled the booing by honoring her sacrifice, however, and telling the crowd that “This is what freedom looks like,” and then reasonably responding to the broader issues at hand. It’s something for the conservative media to work with, and something that the liberal media will further compromise their credibility by ignoring, and it makes one wonder what a more politically experienced and slightly less nutcase Republican nominee could have done with the past week.

— Bud Norman

The Establishment Strikes Back

Kansas seems to have reverted to its old respectable Republicanism on Tuesday, for better or worse, and the rest of the country would do well to take note. Over the years such ideas as abolition and prohibition and the most noisome sorts of populism have spread out in all directions from this state, and something similar might once again be afoot.
The big story out of the Kansas primary was the First Congressional District race between incumbent Rep. Tim Huelskamp and challenger Dr. Roger Marshall, which actually did get a lot of national attention, especially from the conservative media, as it provided an interesting plot twist in the popular press narrative about the ongoing Republican civil war. Huelskamp was one of those fire-breathing conservatives who brashly challenged the “establishment” and won, while Marshall proudly positioned himself as a more traditional type of Republican. What turned out to be a blow-out win by Marshall, therefore, is being headlined around the country as a win for House Speaker Paul Ryan and whatever’s left that of that erstwhile “establishment.”
All politics really is local, though, as the old cliche would have it, and of course it’s always too complicated to fit into a headline. So far as we could glean from what’s left of the Kansas press and all those attack ads that were blasting out of the Wichita radio stations and into the nearby First District, and based on our long experience of Kansas politics, the big issue in the race was that Huelskamp was so darned fire-breathing in his anti-“establishment” stance that he wound up getting kicked off the Agriculture Committee and voting against a pork-laden Farm Bill that was considered quite generous to the farmers and ranchers who are pretty much the entirety of the First District’s economy. The challenger was a handsome and polished obstetrician who endeared himself to the formidable anti-anortion vote by delivering a large share of the few babies being in born in the aging district, and he had the financial backing of not only the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Livestock Association but also some well-heeled outsiders with a rooting interest in defeating the fire-breathers. Huelskamp had his own anti-abortion credentials as the adoptive father of two African children, and a pristine voting record on the issue to go along with it, and he had the backing of the Wichita-based and national liberal bogeymen Koch brothers and some shrewd political operators from the insurgent side, but the gruff personality and ideological purity that once endeared him to the “tea party” voters of a few election cycles ago didn’t contrast well with the smoother Marshall and had been a bit grating since he got the First District kicked off the Agriculture Committee for the first ever.
Huelskamp had been an outspoken supporter of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ presidential campaign and never got around to endorsing Republican nominee Donald Trump, who was somewhat more enthusiastically supported by Marshall, which of course complicates that whole Trump versus Ryan version of the insurgents versus the “establishment” narrative. Our guess is that neither Trump nor Ryan had much to do with the race, as neither man in is very popular in Kansas, and those subsidies in that Farm Bill were of far greater local importance. Trump came in a desultory second place finish in the Kansas caucus, and that ag station out of far west Kansas that we listen to during the sunny days when its signal reaches our car radio doesn’t seem to mind his stand on borders and Muslims and all that but does fret how his protectionist trade talk is going to affect wheat exports, and it doesn’t play well here in the aviation-dominated Fourth District, either, but neither do Kansans care much for the likes of Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and all their corrupt wheeling-and-dealing that doesn’t even wheel or deal any meaningful pork to our state.
We note that Trump is withholding his endorsement from Ryan in his own primary race against a more fire-breathing “anti-establishment,” even though Ryan has offered a most tepid and frequently apologetic endorsement of Trump, but all politics is once again local and all reports indicate that in Ryan’s locality they’re quite happy to have a Speaker of the House representing their district’s interests, so given Trump’s poor primary showing in that state we expect that the headlines will succinctly state a clear-cut win for Ryan in that personal battle. Although it remains to be how the larger battle between Trumpism and Ryanism plays out, we expect that Republicans and all sorts of human beings will continue to vote in their perceived self-interest.
Interesting, then, that Kansas seems to perceive that a more respectable and less fire-breathing sort of Republicans is in its self-interest. Across town a friend of ours who’s also a fire-breathing sort lost his County Commission seat to a more polished fellow who promised to be just slightly less fire-breathing and more amenable to federal largesse, and we think it might have had something to do with the incumbent’s widely-publicized speech against radical Islamist terrorism that made sense to us but was not at all carefully worded and really didn’t have anything to do with anything before the Sedgwick County Commission, and it seems in keeping with a local weariness about politics. The state has been pursuing a rather radical tax-and-budget-cutting agenda ever since the fire-breathing Sam Brownback was elected governor, then won a fire-breathing legislature that ousted some long entrenched respectable sorts, and the liberals have been shrieking about it, and the results have thus far been mixed and the national media have gleefully made hay of that, and both the high church and the low church Christians are embarrassed by the ugliness of the politics of the moment, and we sense a certain nostalgia for a more polite era.
Down on the south side of town another friend of ours, this one a crazy-assed tax-and-spend nanny-state liberal, lost a Democratic primary for a state house seat. He used to be a local television reporter until he accidentally let loose with a profanity on the air, which is likely the reason he lost in race that drew only a few hundred voters, so even the Democrats, even on the south side, seem to be pining for some sort of respectability. This could be a trend.

— Bud Norman

Another Trip to a Republican Primary

At some point today we’ll stroll a few blocks over to the lovely Gloria Dei Lutheran Church here in the fashionable Riverside neighborhood of Wichita and cast our vote in the Republican primary, mostly because we always vote on an Election Day. This year there isn’t much reason other than ingrained habit for doing so, except for a certain old-fashioned sense of civic duty and a self-interested point of pride to keep a 38-year perfect attendance streak intact.

There’s a hotly contested and highly intriguing primary race going on just west of the county line in the huge but rural and sparsely populated First Congressional District, but here in the smaller but mostly urban and more densely populated Fourth District our very acceptable Republican Congressman is running unopposed. Across town an old buddy of ours who is a notoriously stingy bare-bones government right-winger of a County Commissioner is in a too-close-to-call race against a challenger who promises to be just slightly less stingy and a bit more generous to the locally beloved Sedgwick County Zoo and more amenable to accepting federal dollars for whatever crazy schemes the feds are offering, but that crosses jurisdictional lines so there’s nothing we can do about it, and our own district’s even more notoriously stingy bare-bones government right winger of County Commissioner isn’t up for re-election in this staggered year. We’ve been so busy brooding about that godawful presidential election to find out if any Republicans are even bothering to run for our state house seat, but in any case we live in such an anomalously hip part of this otherwise reliably Republican town that it is still sprouting “Bernie 2016” yard signs all over the place and will surely wind up once again with the crazy-assed tax-and-spend nanny-state liberal Democrat who also happens to be an old buddy of ours. Kansas chooses its governor in off years, the more-or-less acceptable Republican Senator who happens to be up for re-election this time around is facing only token opposition from one of those no-name and no-money cranks who always shows up on the ballot, and the only voting we’ll do with any gusto is against that Republican district court judge who was ordered to undergo some sort of “sensitivity training” after confessing to a long history of sexual harassment.

Still, the privilege of participating in the primary process is enough, for now, to keep us officially registered as members of the Republican Party. George Will and Jay Nordlinger and other conservative writers we have long admired have recently penned their reasons for disassociating themselves from the party that nominated Donald J. Trump as its standard-bearer, and we can’t find fault with any of it, but none of them live in a state such as Kansas where the Republican Party still means something and just what it means is still very much up for vote.
That hotly contested congressional race over in the First District is a highly intriguing example of the Republican internecine warfare, and because the First District gets its talk radio and other media advertising from here in the urbanized Fourth we’ve been able to follow all the mud-slinging. Regular viewers of the as-the-GOP-turns soap opera know there’s been a trend in the past eight years or so for hell-bent hard-core conservative “tea party” types to challenge the squishy moderate “establishment” types in primaries, which explains how Tim Huelskamp became the incumbent Congressman in the same First District that had previously produced such stereotypically squishy moderate “establishment” Senators as Bob Dole and Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. Huelskamp has proved so hell-bent and hard -core that he got kicked off the agriculture committee and voted against the pork-laden Farm Bill that his challenged was backed by the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Livestock Association, which can hardly be considered special interests in the First District, but Huelskamp had the backing of the Wichita-based Koch Brothers, which is as deep-pocketed and just as dear to our Kansas hearts, and contributions were also coming from all sorts of donors invested in such Republican squabbles, and all the national talk radio hosts were weighing in, and it wound up a mud-slinging fest with both candidates looking bad. After the initial Marshall argument that Huelskamp was too much an anti-establishmentarian bomb-thrower to get along the challenger wound up going with the theme that Huelskamp was a “career politician” dubbed “Washing-Tim,” which is so utterly ridiculous that we’re now rooting from across the county line for Huelskamp.
We’re rooting for our slightly more stingy bare-bones government right winger of a County Commissioner, too, but we will accept whatever verdict the Republicans in that part of town might render.

We’ll also happily cast a pointless vote for the unopposed Rep. Mike Pompeo here in the Fourth District, as he’s been just as conservative as Huelskamp or any other hell-bent type but has done so with the kind of tactful grace that has actually won him some plum assignments from the party bosses and good ink from the national press and a rising star status in the party. While we’re at it we’ll vote for that squishy establishment Senator running against the no-name and no-money kook who always shows up on the ballot, and figure we could do a lot worse. All the other Republicans down-ballot will get our support, too, and with similar sorts of holding majorities in state houses and occupying governor’s mansions and holding County Commission seats across a wide if sparsely populated swathe of this nation we’ll continue to cast our primary votes and hold out some hope for the Republican Party.

— Bud Norman

This is the “This Week” That Was

Last week’s Democratic National Convention seems to have “bounced” nominee Hillary Clinton back into a slight lead in Real Clear Politics’ average of all the polls, and over the weekend Republican nominee Donald J. Trump got off to an awful start on “This Week.”
For those of you who are either in bed or heading to church during the program, which are the only two places any self-respecting person would be at such an ungodly time, “This Week” is the American Broadcasting Company’s version of those oh-so-serious Sunday morning political shows. It’s hosted by George Stephanopolous, a former Clinton family consigliere who never quite got over the habit, and Republicans have long groused with considerable justification that he strives to make them look stupid. Trump, alas, made the job all too easy.
The interview starts promisingly enough, with Trump boasting that his acceptance speech drew more viewers than Clinton’s, and gloating that “I have one of the great temperaments” and that it is such a “winning temperament” that it beat 16 Republican challengers while Clinton has a “bad temperament” that is such a “weak temperament” that it could barely beat a self-described socialist such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Things started going downhill, though, when Stephanopolous asked “What exactly is your relationship with Vladimir Putin?”
Rather than accusing Stephanopolous of asking a loaded and entirely unfair irrelevant question that is so typical of the biased “lame stream” media, which would have been hard for even Trump to do with a straight face, Trump answered that “I have no relationship with him.” Which of course allowed Stephanoplous to mention the three separate occasions when Trump had boasted that he did have a relationship with Putin, to which Trump offered the explanation that “Because he has said some nice things about me over the years. I remember years ago, he said something — many years ago, he said something very nice about me. I said something good about him when Larry King was on. This was a long time ago, and I said he is a tough cookie or something to that effect.” When Stephanopolous was once again so rude as to mention those three more recent public occasions when Trump did boast of speaking with Putin during their appearance on the same “60 Minutes” episode, Trump acknowledged that their separate interviews on the program were conducted on different sides of the world and demanded to know “What do you call a relationship?”
Asked about the Democrats’ criticism of Trump’s recent statements that he would not necessarily honor America’s North American Treaty Organization obligations, and might recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Trump explained that “They only fear one thing, losing the election.” He explained his remarks on Crimea by saying “I’m not going to be mean to anybody. George, you know me pretty well. I don’t bow,” and clarified his position on NATO by saying “I’m all in favor of NATO. I said NATO is obsolete,” and then claimed credit for the organization’s anti-terrorism stance. Asked why a call for arming Ukrainian rebels to resist Russian occupation was dropped from the Republican platform, Trump insisted he was not involved but admitted that his people were.
At which point the interview went even further awry.
“Well, look, you know, I have my own ideas,” Trump said. “(Putin’s) not going into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand, he’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.” To which Stephanopolous reasonably asked, with a rather stunned look on his face, “Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Trump had a rather stunned look on his own face when confronted with this well-known and indisputable fact, but recovered well enough to say “OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet.”
This was followed by a critique of the Obama administration’s Russian policy, which is indeed a ripe target for a counter-attack, but it’s hard to imagine any other Republican in the history of the party making a bigger mess of it. Pretty much any other Republican in the history of the party would have noted that Obama and the Secretary of State who is now the Democratic nominee had betrayed our Polish and Czech allies by reneging on a missile-defense treaty and then offered that ridiculous “reset” button and promised on a hot mic to offer even greater “flexibility” in a second term, which clearly encouraged Russia’s recent revanchism, and even wound up selling Russia a big chunk of America’s uranium reserves shortly after a couple of generous contributions to the past Secretary of State and current Democratic nominee’s phony-baloney “family foundation,” all of which Trump neglected to mention. Pretty much any other Republican wouldn’t be bogged down by Trump’s even friendlier policy pronouncements, though, or his own sizable contributions to that phony-baloney “family foundation,” or his instinct to link the failures of the Obama administration to that free-loading bunch of bums in a NATO pact that Trump is all in favor of and has said is obsolete.
As bad as it was, the Russo-American issue wasn’t even the part of the interview that generated the worst press of the weekend. Trump was also asked to respond to a speech given at the Democratic convention by Kzir Khan, the father of a Muslim Army Captain who died fighting for America in the Iraq War, who had criticized Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants. Pretty much any other Republican would have gratefully acknowledged the family’s sacrifice, and respectfully made the case that American policy must nevertheless realistically assess the costs and benefits of admitting large numbers of Muslim immigrants that will surely include less patriotic sorts. Pretty much none of them would speculate that the father’s speech had been written for him, or gratuitously note how the fallen soldier’s mother had stood silently by her husband during his speech, or add that “She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say,” and certainly none would have compared their efforts to get rich to the sacrifice of a Gold Star family.
There was also a claim that the National Football League had written a letter to Trump expressing their concerns about the presidential debate schedule, which the NFL promptly denied, and which will probably be more widely noted than any of the rest of it because the NFL is such a big deal. All in all, this week got off to a bad start for Trump on “This Week.”

— Bud Norman

The Democratic Convention and Its Spoiler Alerts

The Democrats wrapped up their four-day and overlong mini-series of a National Convention on Thursday, and more out of a sense of civic duty than with any hopes of entertainment we did our best to follow it at last half-assedly. These quadrennial tawdry teleplays often have an effect on real life, at least to whatever extent there is any of that left these days, so we try to use our many years of experience on the political and theatrical beats to anticipate what harm might be done this time around.
From our theatrical critic perspective we have to give it an overall pan. The show started intriguingly enough, with the plucky heroine of the tale, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President of the United States Hillary Clinton, was embarrassed by the release of a trove of hacked e-mails spilling all over the internet to show that her long-awaited triumph had long-ago been pre-written by the producers of this obvious work of fiction, and the die-hard fans of that wacky self-described socialist character, who had been rooting for him under the delusion that it was actually real life, were in such full revolt they were wearing the same “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts and chanting the same “Lock her up chant” that all the highbrow critics were tsk-tsking about the right crazies wearing and chanting during last week’s Republican mini-series. This seemed a delightful plot twist, but by the next night the script had reverted to predictable formula with that wacky self-described socialist swearing fidelity to heroine he had so persuasively described as a villainess from the evil empire of Wall Street and “the establishment” that those e-mails had proved were running the show all along, and after that one speaker after another seemed the same guy from those “sham-wow” informercials.
The production values were pretty good, though, and we have to admit there was more star power than during last week’s Republican mini-series. One of the few pop cultural names we recognized from the GOP snooze-fest was Scott Baio, who starred as “Chachi” on the long-ago “Happy Days” television show and had a recurring cameo role in a friend of ours’ hilarious tale of a long-ago LSD trip, and one night featured a not-ready-for-prime-time lineup of a Florida State Attorney General who dropped a suit against Trump University shortly after Republican nominee Donald J. Trump made a generous contribution to her campaign, a woman who runs a dubious multi-level vitamin-marketing scheme similar to Trump’s eponymous Trump Network, and Phil Ruffin, who ran a failed dog track and some dingy convenience stores and various real estate schemes here in Wichita before making it into the self-described billionaire ranks in the Las Vegas casino business and is pretty much our local version of Trump, who was best man at Ruffin’s most recent wedding. The Democrats had comedienne and actress Sarah Silverman, who is a typical Hollywood airhead when it comes to politics but nonetheless occasionally makes us laugh and has a certain sultry semitic appeal we cannot deny, and Eva Longoria, who is apparently quite famous for something or another and is so objectively beautiful that even the discerning beauty-pagent-running eye of Trump would have to acknowledge she is more of a “ten” than even the comely yet crazy radio hostess Laura Ingraham, and various other names that the young folks would be likely to recognize.
Political celebrity seems to count for less these days, and once upon a not-so-long-ago time such former Republicans as ourselves would have have been entitled to tsk-tsk about that, but the Democratic convention featured a president and a vice president and a past president and every current office-holder they thought might do any good, whereas two former presidents and two past nominees and several other names that were conspicuous by their absence declined roles in the GOP show, so the Democrats once again had the advantage in “star power.” Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing in a year when anti-establishmentarianism seems a popular theme remains to be seen, but if you’re going by that formerly comforting formulaic script about party unity and all that the Democrats seem to have had the upper hand. Even the best and best-looking and most famous actors are only as good as their script, however, and this year’s show offered the little to work with.
They were clearly at their best when mocking the Republican nominee, a thrice-married and four-times-bankrupt self-described billionaire real-estate-and-failed-casino-and-gambling-joint-and-scam-university-and-multi-level-vitamin-marketing-scheme-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul with a ridiculous haircut whom even such retrograde right-wingers as ourselves and The National Review and The Weekly Standard and those conspicuously absent Republicans and the rest of the old-fashioned “integrity” types can’t help mocking. The current Democratic vice presidential nominee noticed the same annoying tendency by the current Republican presidential nominee to follow every unbelievable claim by stating “Believe me,” but he’s no Rich Little and his awkward impersonation got Trump’s fingernails-on-a-chalkboard cadence of the phrase all wrong. After more than eight years of railing against that awful current President of the United States we’ll at long last gratefully acknowledge that his screed against Trump was prefaced by the generous admission that “What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t Republican and it sure wasn’t conservative.”
The attempts to speak on behalf of the Democratic nominee all fell flat, however, as there’s really nothing to be said for her by either right wingers such as ourselves or even the most earnest and honest sorts of Democrats who spent the week trying to let to go of that crazy self-described socialist. After all, the heroine of the storyline spent her First Ladyship fending off the victims of that past president’s sexual depredations, has nothing to show for her brief tenure as a Senator other than a losing presidential race against an even more briefly-tenured and less-distinguished Senator, and her runner-up prize of being Secretary of State yielded one disaster after another. She’s as mean and vindictive and dishonest and corrupt and morally contemptible as that other guy, and not nearly as entertaining, and by the time she took the stage for the anti-climatic grand finale even most diligent critic would be tempted to walk out on this in-flight movie.
As we don our political reporter’s felt fedora to behold this tale, the perspective doesn’t improve much. Last week’s dreadful GOP convention nudged Trump into a slight lead in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, this week’s Democratic convention has thus far nudged it down slightly, and our guess is that next week’s averages will probably reflect that both these shows are much hated by a majority of the country and that it’s a virtual tie as to which is hated more.

— Bud Norman

A Good Year For Vladimir Putin

The Democrats were loudly cheering some woman’s abortion on Wednesday during their quadrennial party convention, but Donald J. Trump wasn’t about to let them get all the attention. As usual the Republican nominee provided plenty of headline fodder in a Miami press conference, where he addressed the recent hacking and release of Democratic National Party e-mails by telling the Russian government, “Russia — if you’re listening — I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing (from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s accounting during her tenure as Secretary of State). I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

His apologists insist it was just a joke, and we’ll concede that it might well have been, as it’s always hard to tell with Trump, although we notice that he didn’t have to pause for laughs. In any case he gave his critics something to write about than all the embarrassing things that were going on at the Democratic convention, and allowed them tsk and tut and otherwise wax indignant about Trump inviting the interference of a foreign thug in an American election, persuasively argue that if it was a joke it wasn’t a very funny one, and that there’s no assurance the Russians will take it was one, despite that country’s delightfully bleak sense of humor. It also bolstered a recent conspiracy theory that the Russians were behind the hacking and released the e-mails to help Trump, and revived longstanding worry felt on both the left and right about Trump’s apparent chumminess with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, both of which he addressed with his usual un-parseable eloquence.
“Why do I have to get involved with Putin? I have nothing to do with Putin. I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about the man other than that he would respect me. He doesn’t respect our president. And if it is Russia — it’s probably not, nobody knows who it is — but if it is Russia, it’s really bad for a different reason, because it shows how little respect they have for our country, when they would hack into a major party and get everything.”
Which will satisfy his apologists as a perfect reasonable response, but more skeptical sorts are likely to notice that it includes an admission that his past claim before an enrapt Republican audience to have spoken with Putin as “stable mates” on the “60 Minutes” program that broadcast one interview with Putin on the eastern half of the world another with Trump in the western half was of course a ridiculous lie, an even more embarrassing admission that the Republican presidential nominee doesn’t know anything about one of America’s most formidable foreign policy foes except that the fellow will surely respect him, and an absurd insinuation that no country would ever dare think of committing espionage against an America with Trump with in charge. Oh, and that it was all a lead-up to that putative punchline about how very amusing it would be the hackers kept up this disrespectful behavior. All in all, it’s not likely to dispel any conspiracy theories or allay any suspicions about Trump’s Russian policy.
Trump might or might not have anything to do with Putin, although he has long pursued business interests in a country where Putin’s approval is needed to do almost anything, and his campaign manager has long done business with the ex-Ukrainian strong-man who was Putin’s ally and his top foreign policy advisor has long done business with the Kremlin-run natural gas monopoly that Putin wields like a cudgel against the Europeans. Throw in all of Trump’s past praise for Putin’s “strength,” his brushing off of Putin’s assassinations of journalists and political foes by saying “our country does a lot of killing, too,” his short-lived plan to outsource the Syrian problem to Putin, last week’s removal from the Republican platform of a plank to supply weapons to the anti-Russian Ukrainian fighters and Trump’s reiteration that he wouldn’t necessarily fulfill America’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization obligations in case of a Russian attack on a member state and that he’d seriously consider recognizing Russia’s claims to Crimea, and it’s going to take some dispelling and allaying. All in all that conspiracy theory about Putin trying to influence the election in Trump’s favor seems at least as plausible as the one about Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the Kennedy assassination, even if Trump’s good friends at The National Enquirer haven’t yet provided any photographic evidence, and the rest of it suggests to our hardened Cold War sensibilities that Russo-American relations under a Trump administration won’t be at all to our liking.
On the other hand, the presumptive Democratic nominee is the same woman who offered that stupid “reset button” that emboldened Putin’s revanchist ambitions and led directly the the current mess in Ukraine and elsewhere, and the current Democratic president is the one who caught on a “hot” microphone telling a Russian diplomat that he would be even more “flexible” in a second term than he’d been in his feckless first one, and neither that Libertarian guy or that Green Party gal are at all Reagan-esque or even Romney-esque in their anti-Russkie spine, so we figure that no matter the outcome of this election Putin is going to enjoy the next four years more than will we or the rest of the non-Russian world.

— Bud Norman.

A Decent Day for the Democrats and a Good Day for the Rest of Us to Deal With Other Pressing Problems

Some annoying automotive and home repair chores and a much-needed dollar-night home game by our Wichita Wingnuts over at the local ballpark kept us preoccupied through most of Tuesday, so we were mostly spared the more irksome task of watching the Democratic National Convention. A quick mid-afternoon look around the internet turned up a Washington Post headline gloating that there was less booing of the soon-to-be nominee than on Monday, although that glum admission seems to have since disappeared from their internet site, and apres ballgame we checked once again to  find that the Democrats had gone right on ahead and made Hillary Clinton their nominee, after a slew of mostly un-booed speeches by former president and presumptive First “Gentleman” Bill Clinton and some other tawdry celebrities, and judging by the general gist of the coverage that awful Clinton woman had a far better day than our more deserving selves.
Monday’s un-ignorable outbreak of booing came mostly from the supporters of self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had waged a pesky but runner-up insurrection against the party establishment’s long preferred candidate, but on Tuesday he took to the stage to confess abject defeat to the party’s hated Wall Street establishment and utter terror of the Republican nominee and urge that all rules once again be suspended on behalf of Clinton to allow her a unanimous nomination vote. At last week’s desultory Republican National Convention the pesky anti-establishment insurrectionist had congratulated the newly established winner on his victory but declined to offer an explicit endorsement and instead urged party members to “vote your conscience,” which gives us hope that there’s still some shred of integrity clinging to the Republican Party’s soul but will surely be spun by most of the media that the Democrats are by now the more united of the two parties. The usual diverse selection of reviews we perused about the rest of it were mixed, to say the least, but all in all Clinton and the Democrats seem to have at long last held their own through a news cycle.
Even the most Never Trump yet Never Clinton and by now reluctantly None of the Above press organs such are ourselves that are left of what used to be called “conservatism” had to scoff at the sight of an old and gaunt and frail Bill Clinton trying to “humanize” his harridan of a wife with nostalgic recollections of their storybook romance and lasting marriage, as if anyone who around at the time won’t recall what a farce the younger and chubbier and more randy President of that long-ago and longed-for era of the Roaring ’90s made of it, and even the more polite “mainstream” outlets wound up acknowledging the need to “humanize” a woman who’s been in the public eye for what seems the past couple of centuries or so. Our lefty friends on Facebook seemed to love it, though, especially those endearingly innocent younger ones whose first inklings of fellatio and cigar tricks and other late night comic fare slightly predated the Roaring ’90s, and even the more seasoned members of the sisterhood who used to talk about inordinate power relationships and other outrages when Republicans did far less were still willing to give him an admittedly less enthusiastic thumbs up. An ideologically consistent feminist Sanders supporters would have decried the obvious hypocrisy of it all, but Sanders himself was calling for the suspension of the rules on her Clinton’s behalf, and the elder sisterhood and the third or fourth or five wave of whatever it is of the most up-to-date feminism was on board, and by now the suicidally committed sort of None of the Above ideological integrity seems to reside only with what’s left of what used to be called “conservatism.”
In our admittedly half-assed perusal of the rest of it, we noticed in a report from former our one-time freelance employer “People Magazine” that one of the acts was the television actress and writer Lena Dunham, best known as that naked chubby chick from HBO’s critically-acclaimed and little-watched “Girls” show, and a more comely young Latina with the unlikely name of America Ferrara, who is apparently famous for something or another, riffing on the Republican nominee’s sexism and racism. The chubby white chick groused that Trump would consider her a “2,” and the comely young Latina said that Trump would probably consider her a rapist because she’s of Mexican descent, although she’s actually apparently of Honduran descent, the joke being that Trump wouldn’t note any difference between a Honduran and a Mexican. We so wish we could object to this quadrennial disparagement of the sexism and racism of the Republican nominee, but Trump actually does have an annoying habit of going on shock jock radio shows and rating women on scales of one to 10 and we can’t help recalling someone we know who said he was going to vote for Trump in a primary because his only other options were a couple of Mexicans, and how when we pointed out that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were actually of Cuban descent he snarled “What’s the difference?” In a typical election year we’d gleefully ridicule the Democrats’ alliance with such celebrity nitwits as Dunham and Ferrara and that awful Michelle Obama woman who was much more all the rage among our liberal Facebook friends a day earlier, and we’ll gladly do so even this year, even if the Republican nominee himself didn’t dare take on the current First Lady in his “twitter” tirades, but this year we are compelled to admit the Republican convention did feature Scott “Chachi” Baio.
From our suddenly objective perspective we’d say the Democrats on Tuesday regained any ground lost on Monday, and might yet pick up a crucial couple of fractions of a percentage point if the nominee can somehow come across seemingly human on Thursday’s acceptance speech. The Democratic National Convention so far is the kind of thing you’ll like if you like that kind of thing, as per the old drama critic joke, and the necessary corollary of that same of joke is that it’s kind of thing you’ll hate if you hate that kind of thing. So far we hate everything on every channel, even to the point we feel a certain angry gratitude for the irksome distractions of automotive and home repairs.
At least the Wichita Wignuts’ four-run second inning was enough for a 4-2 victory over the Lincoln Saltdogs, extending their lead in the American Association’s Southern Division, and they even struck out the designated “beer batter” in the sixth to win the crowd a promotional $3.50 price on a sizable and delicious Shiner Bock beer. At this point there’s no telling who will prevail in this crazy presidential race, but no matter how it comes out, such small favors will sure come in handy.

— Bud Norman

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