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Things Go Further South Down South

That awful Senate race down in Alabama somehow got more awful yet on Wednesday, and by now it’s hard to see how it ends well for the Republican party. Two more women came forward to the Washington Post alleging Republican candidate Roy Moore acted quite creepily toward them when they were teenagers working at the mall Moore was said to hang out at, yet another woman told a similar but even creepier story to the Alabama-based and widely read AL.com site, which brings the running total to eight accusers.
None of the women have any apparent reason to risk their reputations among their mostly Republican Alabama neighbors by telling a lie, all have named and unnamed women who recall them telling the very same stories from time the incidents allegedly happened, and the national and state media have found co-workers of Moore who recall his well known predilection for teenaged girls, along with workers at the mall who recall that Moore was not welcome there because of frequent complaints about his behavior there. Already it adds up a compelling case, with more sure to come, and so far the rebuttal hasn’t been at all convincing.
Moore himself went on Sean Hannity’s exceedingly friendly radio show  before the latest accusations, and wound up answering questions about whether he’d ever dated teenage girls while a 30-something assistant district attorney by saying “not generally, no,” and “it would be out of my customary behavior,” and regarding one of his specific accusers he replied that “If we did go out on dates, then we did, but I don’t recall that,” and offered assurances that “I don’t remember dating any girl without permission from her mother.” The former state Supreme Court justice’s lawyer has proved just as inept, trying to ingratiate himself to the dark-skinned and funny-sounding-named host on a liberal network by noting that different cultures have rules regarding courtship, which prompted his co-host to note that “He’s from Canada,” and he kept referring to an even-darker skinned host on another liberal network by constantly calling him by a chummy nickname, which prompted his host to say “That’s what not what my mother named me, and I’d never call you by anything other than your given name,” and the rest of it went as badly.
Moore still has his defenders in the most die-hard redoubts of the conservative media, but they’re also having a hard time of it. Even Hannity expressed doubts after some advertisers threatened to pull out, although he’s gone back to his presumption of innocence after winning one back. On Wednesday he led his Fox News show with decades-old news about Presidents Bill Clinton’s hound dog ways, rightly recalling how many Democrats who are now offended by Moore’s behavior were willing to give their a man pass for purely partisan reasons, and so far as we can discern the argument is that Hannity and other Moore apologists are therefore entitled to do the same for their man. Right-wing talk radio king Rush Limbaugh reminded his audience that Moore was a registered Democrat at the time he was alleged to have been the creepy 30-something guy hanging out at the mall, and as far we can discern the argument is that whatever Moore might have done it should be held against his Democratic opponent, then went on a longer rant about how it’s all being cooked up by Republican majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and the rest of the rascally Republican establishment, which fears the populist insurgency that President Donald Trump has unleashed.
That’s a popular theory among all the talk radio show callers and the commenters on every conservative web site, too, but it’s a hard sell to the rest of the country. McConnell has indeed clearly stated that he believes the women who have accused Moore, the official national Republican party has withdrawn its financial and logistical support for Moore’s campaign, and several other prominent officials have taken the same stand, but so have such grass roots old-fashioned heartland Republican conservatives such as ourselves. Those establishment Republicans have also let us down more than a few times over the past years, but they’ve a won a few battles along the way, and we have to figure that if they were smart to enough to come up with eight ordinary Alabama women and former district attorney office employees and mall workers with corroborating witnesses and documentary evidence in their devious plots they probably would have been able to repeal and replace Obamacare and pass a massive tax cut by now.
Those establishment Democrats are by now admitting that Clinton was an indefensible hound dog, as Hannity and Limbaugh and the rest of die-hard insurgents gleefully note, but the only ones who have consistently maintained an anti-hound dog stand up to now are those establishment Republicans and such grass roots types as ourselves. Way back before the biggest Clinton scandals McConnell led the effort to expel Republican Sen. Robert Packwood from Congress for sexual harassment, he voted to impeach Clinton for lying under oath about his well-documented hound behavior, he’s applying the same standards of proof during the current imbroglio, so we’re pleased to see he’s earning some begrudging respect from his die-hard Democratic critics.
There’s a big chunk of the party that hates him and the rest of the Republican establishment all the more for it, though, and it’s not clear where the party is heading. Putatively Republican President Donald Trump has only warily waded into the controversy so far, citing his preoccupation with a trip to Asia, and upon his return he pretended not to hear any of the reporters’ shouted questions about Moore, so it’s not at all clear what he’ll do. Trump supported McConnell’s choice in the Republican primary, which mightily annoyed his supporters in the die-hard redoubts of the right wing, and although he did so half-heartedly and with open reservations he’s not tied to Moore, but he did endorse Moore after the primary, and fully cutting ties will be troublesome.
Trump is politically savvy enough to know that he doesn’t want to associated with a candidate who is credibly accused by numerous women of creepy behavior, but he can’t join with his party’s Senate majority leader or his own Attorney General in saying “I believe the women” without the next question asked by those pesky reporters being why the public shouldn’t also believe the larger number of credible women who accuse him of creepy behavior. After an audiotape of Trump boasting to an “Access Hollywood” host that he grabbed women by their wherevers several witnesses went on the record about how he had done just that. A short time later the media dug up an old tape of Trump yukking it up with shock jock Howard Stern about how he liked to invade the dressing rooms at the teenaged beauty pageants he produced, which was followed by by interviews with several former pageant contestants who recalled Trump doing exactly about what he’d bragged about.
Trump won anyway with the Hannity defense that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s hound dog husband had gotten away with worse, because of course none of those women were lying, and therefore Republicans are entitled to a pass, but these days even the Democrats aren’t defending the formerly lovable rascal and most of the American seems fed up with such behavior no matter the hound dog’s party affiliation. The official statement from Moore’s campaign about the latest accusations says that “If you are a liberal and hate Judge Moore, apparently he groped you. If you are a conservative and love Judge Moore, you know these allegations are a political farce.” It’s true enough that if you’re the sort of conservative who loves Moore you probably somehow know these allegations are untrue, and might eke out a win in Alabama, but around the rest of the country and even in the establishment sort of Republican households that’s not a winning electoral majority.
Which seems to leave Trump and the rest of party he putatively leads in a no-win situation. They can enrage a vocal and energetic and significantly sized part of the conservative coalition by jettisoning Moore, or embrace a candidate who was the Democrats’ dream caricature of a Bible-thumping and gay-bashing and law-defying theocrat even before he started looking a lot like the creepy 30-something guy who used to hang out at the mall. The Republicans were already stereotyped as the party of old white men, and as much as it would pain us all to lose a Senate seat in Alabama of all places it might be worth it to avoid the reputation as the party of dirty old white men.

— Bud Norman

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Moore Is Less in Alabama

Alabama’s special Senatorial election was already crazy enough, but it got even crazier on Thursday with a Washington Post report that Republican nominee Roy Moore is accused of molesting  a 14-year-old girl when he was a 32-year-old prosecutor and pursuing relationships with three other girls aged 15 and 16 around the same time. Given that Moore is running on his long-cultivated reputation as a champion of Christian values, it’s especially incendiary stuff.
Moore unequivocally denies the allegations, and is as entitled to a presumption of innocence as any citizen, but the four now middle-aged women who are publicly making the charges are just as entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and the rules that prevail in the court of public are very different from the ones imposed in a court of law. Most of the callers to the talk radio shows and the commenters on the conservative web sites seem to have instinctively reached their verdicts immediately upon hearing the widely-disseminated news, the late night comics and all but one of the cable news channels and everyone of the leftward side of media did the same, and as if it weren’t crazy enough America’s politics went crazier yet.
If you haven’t been following this classic Southern Gothic novel from the beginning, the Alabama special Senatorial election has been weird from the get-go. In the first place they’re holding an election in December on an odd-numbered year because longtime Sen. Jeff Sessions had vacated his seat to become President Donald Trump’s Attorney General, which has since spun into too many fascinating sub-plots in the broader political reality show to recount here. Sessions was temporarily replaced by a fellow named Luther Strange, who as appointed to the position by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who a short time later was forced to resign after pleading guilty to lying about an extramarital affair.
Alabama Republicans were appalled by Bentley’s betrayal of his wife and the Christian values he had campaigned on, so of course they held it against Strange. Strange voted consistently with the Republican caucus, just as Sessions had done, but he won the endorsement of the Senate majority, so Alabama Republicans further resented him for being an establishment sell-out. A crowded field of primary challengers included an unabashed low-tax and lean-government conservative named Mo Brooks that all the talk radio show hosts and what’s left of the “tea party” loved, but Trump disappointed them all by endorsing Strange, and then Trump disappointed Strange when his big rally speech turned out to be all about Trump with a few tepid mentions thrown in, and a solid plurality of Alabama Republicans wound choosing Moore and his full-throated and defiant campaign for Christian values.
Moore was once removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying a federal court order to move a Ten Commandments monument he’d installed on public grounds, and a second time for defying the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriages, and the Republicans in the state largely loved him for that. Moore is also on the record that homosexuality should be illegal, and he’s never ruled out the possibility of the death penalty, and he’s by far the most out-the-closet theocrat we can ever recall being a likely Senator of the United States, but most Alabama Republicans seem comfortable with that as well. He was also found to have been taking a sizable salary and other filthily lucrative benefits from the Foundation for Moral Law that he’d claimed to have been selflessly serving without compensation, but his poll numbers survived that.
Allegations of 32-year-old prosecutor molesting a 14-year-old girl are surely another matter for any God-fearing Alabama Republican, but so far most of them seem to be sticking to their man. They don’t believe anything they might from hear from what all the talk radio shows call “The Washington Compost,” even if the socialist rag does have four named women on the record and another named woman and some 20 other unnamed women who will verify that their accounts match what they were told by the accusers at the time, because they do believe that all sorts of nefarious folks are out to get such God-fearing Republicans as Moore and themselves,
That’s not entirely untrue, of course and alas, but from our seat on the bench in the pox-on-both-their-houses sidelines of today’s politics there’s something about the Washington Post’s accounts that rings true. Far too many of the paper’s “fake news” stories have been later verified by sworn testimony and other incontrovertible evidence to summarily dismiss its reports, and the one about Moore strikes our veteran eyes as especially well-sourced. The story about Moore later luring the 14-year-old to his rural home and removing her outer clothing begins with him approaching the girl and her mother outside a domestic court room where the mother was about to testify in a divorce hearing, then offering to keep watch out for the girl rather than have her hear the likely hurtful testimony, and the paper has the documentation of the event and the fact that Moore was a 32-year-old prosecutor working in the building at the time.
Pretty much everything that can be corroborated about the other three women’s accounts of Moore’s advances also checks out, including the more than two dozen women who vividly recall hearing same story all those years ago, but there’s no way to corroborate what can’t be checked and Moore is denying it all and is entitled as any other citizen to a presumption of innocence in a court of law. In the court of public opinion we’re all entitled to reach our own conclusions about anyone’s character, and so far a lot of Republicans are sticking with their man and sticking it to any Republicans who might have doubts about it.
So far we’re hearing from the talk radio callers and the internet commentators that The Washington Compost probably made these women up, and that if even if they do exist they’re probably some hairy-legged feminists out to get Trump and Moore and other God-fearing Republicans such as themselves, but by now countless media have confirmed these women’s existence and at least three of these seemingly very typical Alabama girls are telling them they’re still supporters of Trump. Some God-fearing Alabama Republicans and self-described conservatives elsewhere are already taking the fallback position that it was a long time ago and nobody’s alleging that anybody went all the way and that the 16-year-old was at least at the age of consent in Alabama, and some have even reached for absurd Biblical excuses. Unless you fully believe Moore’s categorical denial the alleged behavior, and are willing to categorically dismiss the claims four of middle-aged Alabama women who are staking their reputation among the Alabama Republicans they live with and love, and have no apparent reason to risk those reputations on a lie, any other excuse will will be hard to square with Moore’s image as a champion of Christian values.
As much as we believe in the Ten Commandments on a spiritual level, and as much as we despise that Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage on strict constitutionalist grounds, we always found Moore’s defiant stand on both issues more self-aggrandizing than self-sacrificng. We have Old Testament beliefs about sexual morality but New Testament notions about hating the sing but loving the sinner and it’s brought an abundance of homosexual friends, so we also never went along with that “lock ’em up” stuff can’t imagine anyone throwing the first stone. Something about the guy reminded of of the scripture’s warnings about “the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others,” and the other parts about rendering unto Caesar and obeying civil authorities, and given that Jesus Himself assured Pilate that He had not come to establish His kingdom on Earth we found Moore’s claims that he could pull it off to be a bit both blow-hardy and blasphemous.
What’s left of Alabama’s Democratic Party went and nominated itself a white guy who’s got the career resume you’d expect of Senate candidate and is clean-cut and never claimed to a champion of Christian values even if you did come up with some long-ago dirt on him, but he’s also an abortion rights absolutist right up to the minutes before birth. This is yet another matter for a God-fearing Alabama Republican, and since none of the sex acts that Moore stands accused of were potentially procreative that might carry him to the Senate. At this point there’s little chance of replacing Moore as the Republican nominee on the ballot, and even if he bowed out of the chances of winning a write-in campaign for the hated Strange or the third-place challenger Brooks or any Republican alternative would be iffy even in Alabama.
If the Republicans do win in Alabama it could it hurt it chances elsewhere. Ever since the Reagan days Democrats have run scare ads about the Christian right imposing a theocracy that stones homosexuals and denies abortion even in life-of-the-mother situations, and for the first time they’ll have an elected Republican Senator to make it sound undeniably plausible. Several high-ranking congressional suggested that Moore should pull out of the race if the allegations were true, and within minutes the talk show lines and internet message boards were lit up about the damned establishment bailing betraying the one true faith once again, which seems to suggest that much of the Republican party doesn’t much care even if the allegations are true.
We’re giving those four former Alabama girls who are now middle-aged Alabama women the benefit of the doubt, even as we presume Moore’s innocence, and will leave the rest of to all those Alabama Republicans and Democrats to sort it all out. We don’t see it ending well, though, for Alabamans or any of the rest of us.
— Bud Norman

The Not-So-Quite Grand Old Party

These should be the best of times for the Republican party, what with complete control of the federal government and most of the states, but Tuesday seemed more like the worst of times. The party’s latest effort to repeal and replace Obama proved as futile as the previous ones, the Senate candidate backed by both the party establishment and the anti-established President Donald Trump lost to a full-throated theocrat in an special Alabama primary, and another shoo-in incumbent moderate decided not to make another run for Congress, along with all the other assorted bad news.
No one was surprised by the party’s latest failure in its seven year crusade to repeal and replace Obamacare, which went down without a vote for the same reasons it did on the previous tries. The GOP’s majority is in the Senate is too slim to lose even three votes, there are moderates who don’t like any of the offered health care bills because they’re too austere, conservatives who don’t like any of them because they’re too profligate, and every attempt to modify the bills to appease one faction inevitably offended the other. Each of the bills had something for everyone to dislike, all the opinion polls they were even more unpopular than the hated Obamacare law, and no one in the party could muster much of a sales pitch.
That conspicuous lack of a sales pitch was partly because the Republicans were in too much of a hurry to make one, for no good reason we can discern, but it’s also due to a lack of salesmanship in the party. The Republicans did spend seven years making a strong case against Obamacare, to the point that all the opinion polls showed it was widely hated, and steep insurance premium rate hikes in most markets made it all the easier, but they had less luck pitching the alternatives. They couldn’t talk the public out of liking the provision that insured coverage people with pre-existing conditions or the subsidies that allowed many millions of Americans to get some sort of policy, and since those were the market-distorting features that resulted in those sky high premium rate hikes that made Obamacare so unpopular it was hard to come up with an alternative, much less sell it to a wary electorate.
Neither the moderates nor the conservatives in the party were up to the task, and despite his reputation for salesmanship Trump couldn’t offer any help. During his presidential campaign Trump had promised coverage for every American at greatly reduced price and care that would be so great your head would spin, but he clearly didn’t have a plan that would have accomplished that, and of course no Democrat or Republican or independent knew how to do it, so he was never an enthusiastic supporter of what was on offer. He threw a beer party for the Republicans in the House of Representatives after they passed a repeal and replace bill on a second try, but the later “tweeted” that the bill was “mean,” and except for one little-seen speech on a weekday afternoon his efforts were mostly limited to trying to bully reluctant Republicans into voting for anything he might get on his to sign.
Trump’s salesmanship also fell short in Alabama, where a clear majority of Republican voters chose the state’s former Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore over Trump-backed incumbent Luther Strange in a race that reveals all sorts of internecine Republican squabbles. Strange was the incumbent because he’d been appointed to the seat after longtime Sen. Jeff Sessions was appointed to be Trump’s Attorney General, which has turned to be a complicated matter, and had been a loyal ally to Republican majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, whose political action committee donated generously to Strange’s campaign, yet despite these impeccable establishment credentials he was also endorsed during an open primary round of voting by the same Trump who was blaming McConnell and the establishment for all the party’s recent failures. The open primary featured a fellow named Mo Brooks who was so severely conservative that all the talk show hosts and numerous other Trump apologists were touting him, all of whom come right out and griped about Trump’s endorsement, and when Strange and Moore wound up in the run-off they all sided with Moore. The final days of the campaign saw former Trump “chief strategist” Steve Bannon and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, both of whom had proved their populist credentials back when Trump was contributing to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign, giving fulsome speeches on behalf of Moore.
Trump’s efforts on behalf of Strange, meanwhile, were less enthusiastic. He tried to convince Alabamans that Strange hardly knew McConnell and was a true fellow disestablishmentarian, but no one was buying that. By now too many rank-and-file Republicans in Alabama and elsewhere loathe McConnell and the Republican establishment even more than they love Trump, and Trump seems to sense this with his usual keen political instincts. He showed up for a 57 minute speech at a raucous campaign rally for Strange last week, but he spent most of it bragging about his popularity and blasting Republican Sen. John McCain and starting a feud with the National Football League that took up most of the news cycle, and in one of the few mentions of Strange he admitted that “I might have made a mistake in endorsing the guy.” He also promised to campaign for Moore if that’s how the election turned out, and although we’re sure he’ll keep that promise it remains to be seen how it will work out for the Republicans.
Moore is the favorite in his special general election against Democratic candidate and former U.S. attorney Doug Jones, if not as heavy a favorite as Strange would have been, but we doubt he’ll play as well as a Republican standard-bear in the other 49 states. In the recent Republican past we have proudly supported the party’s stand that the Judeo-Christian traditions which have done so much to create our enviable western civilization should continue to inform our decisions into the future, and steadfastly insisted that such time-tested principles enhance rather than threaten our freedom and democracy, but we have to admit Moore really is the theocratic Republican that Democrats have always caricatured. He was twice removed from Supreme Court seat, once for defying a federal order to remove a Ten Commandments sculpture from public grounds and the second time for ordering lower Alabama courts to ignore a Supreme Court decision to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and in both cases he made clear that God’s law should supersede civil law, which is pretty much the dictionary definition of theocracy.
We’re the church-going sorts of Republican Kansans who think it ridiculous that anyone would object to the Ten Commandments taking up some small space in the public square, and we had our old-fashioned constitutional originalist reasons for disagreeing with that Supreme Court decision that found a previously hidden right to a same-sex marriage license, and we still don’t think the government should compel anyone to baking a wedding cake, yet we’re not entirely comfortable with Moore. If fate should ever compel us to choose between following either God’s law or man’s law we hope we’ll opt for the former, and we give thanks that hasn’t to us happened yet, but there’s God’s law according to Moore and God’s law according to us and God’s law according to the rest of you, and we’re left here on Earth to sort it out. Our version of God’s law includes verses about rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and obeying civil authority, and a Savior who came not to establish His heaven and not on earth, and as crazy as that sounds we invite everyone to share our faith but won’t try to compel anyone to do so.
Maybe Trump will muster more enthusiasm for it. He’s a thrice-married and six-times-bankrupt casino-and strip club mogul who has bragged about all the married babes he’s bagged and said at a religious gathering he’s never felt the need to ask God’s forgiveness for anything, and talked fulsomely about the lesbian and gay and bisexual and transexual communities at the Republican convention, of all places, but he’s somehow big with a lot of the Christians in Alabama and elsewhere and has a keen political instinct. How that will play with the rest of America, of course, also remains to be seen.
Tuesday also brought the news that Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker was bowing out of the Senate. He’d had a long and admirably unnoticed career holding off the crazier Democratic ideas and letting down the party on its crazier ideas, and was regarded as one of the party’s wise old hands on foreign policy matters, so naturally he was a frequent target of Trump’s “tweets.” His departure provides an opportunity for a more Moore-like or Trump-friendly candidate to win the Republican nomination, and be a slightly-less-favored front-runner for the seat, but it’s hard to say that would play elsewhere.
There’s still a chance for the party to make the best of it. Surely there’s something better than Obamacare that the Republicans can come up with, and even if it doesn’t cover everyone at lower prices and is so great it makes your head spin a regular order of hearings and deliberation and compromise and public protests to match what the Democrats have been staging could prevail. Those time-tested Judeo-Christian principles will surely survive Moore’s attempts to impose them on a wary populace. There’s speculation that Corker is bowing out to set up a primary challenge to Trump, and that will prove interesting.

— Bud Norman

Football, Politics, and Other Hard Hitting Sports

The youngsters will never believe it, but we recall a time when Americans could take weekends off from politics and watch sports. These days politics permeates the entire popular culture, though, and even the football stadia and basketball arenas don’t offer a safe space. Over the past weekend the biggest sports stories were all political stories, with President Donald Trump playing his usual leading role in all of them.
Sunday’s slate of National Football League contests featured the usual pin-point passes and fancy football and hard hits, but the most-watched highlights were the widespread protests staged by the players during the playing of the national anthem. In case you don’t follow either football or politics, the fad started last season when the San Francisco 49ers’ back-up quarterback, a fellow named Colin Kaepernick, knelt to one knee during the anthem to draw attention to the “Black Lives Matter” movement protesting police violence against minorities. All the polls showed that most Americans found the act disrespectful to the country’s most cherished symbols, but it gave Kaepernick a certain cachet among a significant percentage of the population, and a fame far greater than what he’d earned on the gridiron, and then a few other players in the NFL and the National Basketball Association joined in. All the sports talk and politics radio stations talked about it, but they eventually moved on to the next insignificant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things sports squabbles.
Although Kaepernick had shown great promise in his first two starting seasons his performance had dropped precipitously since then, and when he was cut from the ’49ers no other teams chose to add him to their rosters for this season, but of course the story didn’t end there. Some pointed to his past signs of promise and argued he was blackballed in retaliation for exercising his free speech rights, while others pointed to the recent decline in his performances as the reason for his unemployment, so that argument was revived through the entire off-season. We figured that Kaepernick had his free speech rights to be a pretentious jerk but that any team owners who didn’t want to hire Kaepernick for whatever reason were entitled to their opinions, and we aren’t at all qualified to evaluate football-playing horseflesh, nor do we take much interest in the game at all these days, so we were hoping the whole fracas would finally fade away.
Which it might have done by now, if not for that speech Trump gave to a raucous in a packed Huntsville, Alabama, sports arena last Friday. The speech was quite a doozy even by Trumpian standards, and we urge any students of classical rhetoric to study it carefully and revise all theories accordingly. Trump bragged at length about hid electoral victory, assured the crowd the Russians had nothing to do with, basked in the crowd chanting “lock her up” about his vanquished Democratic opponent, had everyone lustily boo Arizona’s Republican Sen. John McCain, lobbed some schoolyard taunts at the now-nuclear-armed nutcase dictator of North Korea, and made a couple brief mentions of the Republican candidate for Senate he was ostensibly campaigning for, including an admission that he may have made a mistake by endorsing by the guy, who’s currently trailing in the polls to a more zealously Christian conservative. He also marveled at how Alabamans love him so much despite the fact that he’s a much richer guy than any of them “who lives on Fifth Avenue in the most beautiful apartment you’ve ever seen,” and regaled the audience in the football-crazed state with his gripes about the professional game.
First Trump complained that the game is becoming sissified, with attention-seeking referees throwing penalty flags for what would have been considered hard but clean hits back when the game was great. This probably would have been a talk radio topic on both the sports and politics shows, given the mounting evidence that players suffered high rates of debilitating and even deadly injuries to the head other and vital body parts back when the game was great, but Trump also revived the whole national anthem brouhaha from last year.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now Out. He’s fired. He’s fired,’ Trump said, with the language left unexpurgated here because that’s by now apparently one of those things that connect him with Alabama values, as the crowd seemed to love it. Trump predicted that the first owner to do so would immediately become the most popular man in America, where the most pressing problem seems to be a few overpaid athletes you might never have otherwise heard about kneeling during a national anthem, and even scored a few points about all the on-field rules the league has imposed regarding end zone celebrations and some right-of-center statements some players have made tried to make.
As you might have expected, and by now surely know if you follow either sports or politics, an unprecedented number of NFL players made some gesture of disrespect to the flag during Sunday’s games. Most of the players and coaches and whatnots on both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars chose to stay off the field during the anthem, several other teams chose to stand arm-in-arm during the anthem rather than with a hand over the heart, every team had some player making some sort of statement, including players holding a hand on a kneeling teammate’s should while pledging allegiance. Jaguars owner Shahid Kahn, the leagues only Muslim owner, joined his team in its protest, as did the Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, whose team name entails enough trouble already, and Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. Thirty of the 32 owners issued statements expressing various degrees of disagreement with Trump, including a few who had been big money donors to his campaign, and not a one of them fired any of the disrespectful sons of bitches, if you’ll pardon an old Alabama expression.
Odd as it may seem to have a president of the United States engaged in a “twitter” war with the National Football League, it’s been a longstanding feud between Trump and those haughty football elitists. They first locked horns way back before the ’83 season, when an NFL franchise cost about $80 million and Trump instead invested a mere $6 million in the New Jersey Generals of the newly-formed United States Football League. The USFL was based on the sound idea that Americans love hard-hitting football but only get it in the fall and early winter, so a league that offered fairly well-played games in the spring and summer should draw a profitable number of ticket holders, but Trump had other ideas. He persuaded his fellow owners to move to a fall and early winter schedule, and when the networks inevitably chose to broadcast the superior brand of NFL football to sue the league for a violation of the anti-monopoly law and win billions of dollars.
Trump’s lawyer, Roy Cohn, who’d previously worked for Sen. Joe McCarthy and various mafioso, won a verdict for the plaintiff, but the jury only awarded the USFL a one dollar in damages, given how ridiculous its new business model was, although the judge trebled the amount, but the three dollars didn’t keep the league from going bankrupt shortly thereafter. By now it’s obvious that Trump was scheming to win a settlement that would have him in possession of the an NFL franchise at the bargain-basement price of $6 million plus legal fees, didn’t much care which of his co-owners didn’t get in on the planned league expansion, and clearly came out the loser in his first clash with the NFL. Trump still talks about how he “hammered” the league, but he can also boast that at least there wasn’t a single New Jersey General who was seen disrespecting the flag on Sunday.
Back when he was signing two consecutive overrated Heisman Trophy winners to multi-million dollar contracts Trump boasted that he could have easily afforded an NFL franchise such as the Dallas Cowboys, but that he’d rather create a professional football powerhouse from scratch than be the poor sap who inherited a powerhouse and got no credit for its continued success or all the blame for its off-seasons. Thus Trump wound up losing an estimated $22 million on his fantasy football team, bona fide billionaire Jerry Jones wound up buying the Cowboys for $140 million and now owns what Forbes magazine estimates is worth $4.8 billion, and Trump surely feels some lingering resentment. He was turned down on a bid for the lowly Buffalo Bills franchise, too, and as they say on talk radio that’s got to smack.
Still, we can’t argue with the idea of standing up for the flag, and we suspect Trump has shrewdly that a vast majority of America does as well. The points these overpaid athletes you might never have otherwise heard about are making involve more complicated questions than most of them realize, and if they wind up with less policing in black communities they could very well result in the loss of those black lives matter, and it’s really quite ridiculous that football players who give one another head injuries for a living are so prominent in the discussion. Trump might just have picked a winning political battle.
The broader culture wars seem lost, though. That flag we stand for at every sporting event we attend stands for freedom, which is why we stand and take off the hats and put hands over the hearts for however long it takes, and merely roll our eyes and heave a sigh at the pretentious jerks who act otherwise for whatever reason they might have. If everyone took a similarly tolerant stand in this all too modern age we think the sports and political talk radio would be much more pleasant and enlightening, and we could all get on with the rest of that ready Monday-through-the-Friday-night-news dump, but there’s a lot to tolerate these days.
All the political talk on radio and television and “twitter” is screamed these days, and all of the screaming from the sports and entertainment and media and corporate and occasionally the military segments of the establishment is screamed at Trump, and even Trump can scream only so loud. Trump can gloat that the NFL’s ratings are down, and that all the flag-disrespecting has something to do with it, but there’s also a guilty feeling about watching all the head injuries all that annoying penalty-flag-throwing is trying to prevent, and the undeniable fact that the NFL is more popular than either Trump or the USFL.
This was going to be the year we completely gave up on football, but so far the Kansas City Chiefs and the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the Wichita Heights High School Falcons all look like championship contenders, so we’ll be obliged to look up those scores. If none of those work out we’re done with the game for good, and if we can somehow figure out how to escape politics we’ll be done with that as well.

— Bud Norman

Things Get Moore Strange in Alabama

There’s an awful lot going on in the world these days, with another round of hurricanes in the Caribbean and a second big earthquake in Mexico and the escalating war of schoolyard taunts on the now nucqearized Korean Peninsula and all those recent “Russia” revelations, but we can’t keep our eye off that special election t coming up next Tuesday in Alabama. President Donald Trump is scheduled to be in the state today to campaign for his preferred candidate, which suggests the matter also commands his attention despite everything else going on in the world these days, and of course his involvement makes the whole thing even harder to figure.
In case you don’t usually follow Alabama politics, as we usually don’t, the state is finally getting around to picking a successor to Sen. Jeff Sessions, who resigned his seat to become Trump’s Attorney General. Sessions seems to have been Attorney General forever by now, and we’re sure it seems even longer than that to him, but they take their time about doing things down south, and the Republicans are just now getting around to choosing their candidate for a general election that will occur somewhere down the road and  whichever Republican will surely win. One reason for the delay is that the Republicans had to hold an open-first primary to select the two run-off candidates, and given the nature of Alabama politics and the Republican party as a whole and the further complications of Trump’s intervention that was hard not to watch.
In the primary there were three credible and intriguing candidates. One was Rep. Mo Brooks, a one of those hard-line conservatives who voted against anything that wasn’t hard-line conservative enough no matter what the rest of the Republican caucus was going along with, and he was favored by all the talk radio hosts and the nationalist and populist Steve Bannon wing of the White House. Another was former state Supreme Court Judge Ray Moore, best known for twice being removed the bench for refusing to comply with Supreme Court rulings regarding public displays of the Ten Commandments and same-sex marriage, who was enthusiastically supported by the same evangelical voters who supported Trump. There was also the former state Attorney General Luther Strange, who had been warming Session’s seat as a temporary replacement and was a chosen son of the much-reviled-by-talk-show-listeners and Trump and most other Republicans Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, but for reasons no one can explain Trump also endorsed Strange.
As confusing as it must have been to the average Republican Alabamian, where he’s statistically likely to be a big fan of Trump, the open primary somehow ended with with Moore and Strange in the run-off. As popular as Trump is in the state, though, the talk-show-backed Brooks immediately endorsed Moore right after his near defeat, the more defiant sorts of evangelical voters have stayed loyal, and the president flies into the state in support of a candidate who’s far behind in all the polls. That’s Trump’s base resisting Strange, too, which is a noteworthy development in the ongoing war within the Republican party.
At this point it’s hard to see it working out well for the Grand Old Party in any possible case.
If Moore wins the Republicans will at long last be saddled with a Senator who actually closely resembles the Democrats’ caricature of the party’s extremist religious zealotry. Moore has reassured Alabama’s voters that he’s not in favor of executing homosexuals, but other than that he hasn’t gone out of his way to allay any secular fears about his religious fervor.. We’d like to think we’re as evangelical and Republican as the next guy, and we share Moore’s concerns that God is being banished from the public square, and we try our best to adhere to those ten commandments that Moore defiantly erected on public grounds, but we also note the New Testament scripture about rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and obeying civil authorities, and that part about “come let us reason together,” so the mixed martial arts afficionado Moore strikes us as suspiciously prideful for a prophet.
If Strange wins so does McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment, which is by now hated by the entirety of the Democratic party and most of the independents and pretty much all the Republicans except for a few old Never-Trumper types such as ourselves, even Trump is today campaigning on behalf of Strange. Strange would likely end up on the repeal and replacement of the debate about Obamacare Trump now favors, and might help out on other issues, but given his establishment credentials he’s bound to cross paths with Trump at some point, and we don’t see him as the unifying figure the party needs right now.
If Brooks had somehow survived the open primary that probably wouldn’t have helped, either. He might have wound up sinking the last ditch attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare because it didn’t repeal and replace it enough, and although he’d have had a good enough case that Strange or Moore couldn’t refute it would have still been scored another loss for both the party and its president. Brooks’ enthusiastic endorsement of Moore, along with all the polls, suggests that Alabama Republicans prefer the ten commandments to Trump, which seems about right to us, but it’s still hard to see this ending well for anybody. From our far away from Alabama perspective we’re hoping for Strange, as weird as it feels, and we’re still hoping that in any case Moore won’t be all that bad.

— Bud Norman

Kansas, Kobach, Voter Fraud, and That Darned Popular Vote

There was a bewildering amount of news out there for an extended Fourth of July weekend, what with the Republicans’ health care reform efforts stalling and all the “tweeting” about other things about by the president, but it was the story about the newly created voter fraud commission that caught our eye. The issue of voter fraud has long been of general interest to us, now has some specific political implications right here in Kansas, and we’re not sure what to make of it.
So far as we can tell the voter fraud commission has been newly created because President Donald Trump believes some three million illegally-cast votes denied him his rightful popular vote victory in the past election, and he wants an official body to back up the “tweeted” claim. We’re not at all sure that anyone will ever prove that to everybody’s satisfaction, and note that a system so well-rigged it can manufacture three million votes wasn’t able to spread a mere hundred thou or so of them over the three states where they could have tilted the Electoral College outcome, but that’s no reason not to have a commission making sure that the voting in our democratic republic isn’t entirely on the square.
Some of our Democratic friends insist that although people might rob and rape and murder but no one has ever stooped so low as to commit voter fraud, but we’re not so sanguine about it. Historians have definitively documented several cases of past stolen American elections, including the one that elevated future President Lyndon Johnson to the Senate, in more recent years there were some reasonable suspicions about the razor-thin counts in a gubernatorial race in Washington and a Senate race in Minnesota, and except for that Florida re-count in the ’00 presidential race all the ties have gone to the Democrat. There really are an awful lot of non-citizens in the country, too, and we can’t vouch for each of them, but reasonably assume the minority of that might try to vote will vote for the Democrat, so we can’t blame the Republicans for wanting to restrict voting to eligible voters.
Three million ineptly dispersed votes are awfully hard to account for, though, and the Republicans are facing other political problems. The Democrats are protesting that in a zeal to limit voting to eligible voters the Republicans will wind up disenfranchising many eligible voters, most of them poor and minority people inclined to vote for Democrats, and thus far the courts have found that’s exactly what wound up in happening in North Carolina when the state’s Republicans passed its voter integrity law, and of course much of the media and the public are also sympathetic to the argument. The commission is run by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the latter being the the country’s most notorious Republican hard-liner on voter fraud, so we can’t blame the Democrats for suspecting that the commission is seeking federal laws along the same lines as North Carolina’s.
Several Democratic secretaries of state have defiantly refused to provide all of the information requested by the commission, and the president and several conservative news sources have plausibly inferred it’s because they have something to hide, but the Republicans also have a problem with several Republican secretaries of state who have been similarly defiant for very Republican reasons. Mississippi is hardly a fever swamp of Democratic liberalism, but its Secretary of State responded with a letter citing state’s rights and individual privacy and other concerns before advising the commission to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.” Alabama, home of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also declined to cooperate with many of the requests for similarly southern reasons. Arizona, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Texas were also defying at least some parts of the federal order. Even Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was forced to confess to The Kansas City Star that the state’s very Republican privacy laws prohibited him from fully complying with own demands.
Up until Trump decided he’d been robbed of his rightful popular victory, Republicans generally believed that elections were a business handled at the state and county and precinct level, where things have lately been going pretty well for Republicans. This still seems reasonable to our Republican sensibilities, the last presidential popular vote notwithstanding, and we’re heartened to see that so much of the party establishment is also opposed to federalizing elections. We’re steadfastly for restricting voting to eligible voters, steadfastly opposed to disenfranchising even those eligible voters who might be inclined to vote for Democrats, and at this point don’t really care much about Trump’s pride.
We voted for Kobach both times he ran for secretary of our state, and we don’t regret it. The photo identification laws for voting and other election reforms he helped enact seemed commonsensical and proved not at all inconvenient, and despite the best efforts of the state’s Democrats they haven’t come up with anyone for the state’s media to interview who’s been disenfranchised as a result. Every time we vote we run into Democratic and Republican poll watchers we trust, and the local election officials are up for re-election every few years, and although we can’t vouch for California or certain parts of Philadelphia we have confidence in the system around here. Kobach’s critics like to note that in nearly eight years in office he’s only found nine convicted cases of voter fraud, which is nowhere near enough to affect even the closest races in this reliably Republican state, and even on a per capita basis can’t negate that three million vote loss in the last presidential popular vote, but we figure that demonstrates that his Jean Valjean-like zeal is working pretty well.
We’re not sure we want to impose that on Mississippi or even California, though, and we’re not sure if we’ll be voting for Kobach when he runs for governor next year. He’s still a steadfast proponent of current Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-and-budget cutting stands, which worked in theory but left the state with annual budget shortfalls in practice and were recently repealed when a coalition of Democrats and recently-ascendant moderate Republicans overrode his veto, and at this point we can see him losing to a moderate Democrat even in this reliably Republican state. We still like that economic theory of Brownback’s and expect it would work well in practice at some more fortuitous future date, but for now we’ll be happy to balance the books and avoid all the political acrimony our state has lately endured.
There’s also something unsettling about how Kobach seems intent on proving Trump’s unlikely claims about the popular vote, Republican principles about federalism and privacy and every citizen’s right to vote notwithstanding, and the party’s seeming unconcern with Russia’s obvious meddling, and we’re not sure how that will play with the rest of the state. Trump won the state by the usual Republican margins, and he has his defenders here, but those old-fashioned budget-balancing establishments types who prefer to avoid all the acrimony lately seem ascendant, and we’ll give them a good look before casting our votes in the gubernatorial primary.

— Bud Norman

The Lynch Mob and the Rule of Law

Nearly every calamity that has ever occurred in the history of western civilization was foretold in the confirmation hearings for the officials involved, where some prescient interrogator or another almost always futilely exposed the candidate’s utter lack of qualifications. The Senate’s recent confirmation hearings regarding potential Attorney General Loretta Lynch, alas, seem especially foreboding.
Those sharp-eyed fellows over at the Powerline web site noticed one especially revealing exchange between Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions and the nominee regarding immigration law. Sessions is one of our very favorite public figures, and we believe he’d even be a front-runner for the next presidential election if he didn’t sound so much like a Saturday Night Live caricature of a Senator from Alabama, and as always he posed some very pointed questions. He went right to the very important issue of the federal government’s enforcement of its duly passed-and-signed immigration laws, asking if Lynch agreed with Holder’s statement that “creating a pathway to earn citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in our country” is “a matter of civil and human rights,” and she stammeringly declined to answer because she was “not familiar with the context of those comments” and had not “studied the issue enough to come to a legal conclusion on that.” Pressing the matter further with admirable fortitude, that Alabama twang adding to the acidity, Sessions asked if a person who has entered the country illegally has a right under the executive order of the president to employment, prompting the memorable reply from Lynch that “So I don’t think — I think that citizenship is a privilege. I think it’s a privilege that has to be earned. And within the panoply of rights that are recognized by our jurisprudence now, I don’t see one that you — as such that you are describing.”
Such un-parsable balderdash is pretty much par for the conformation hearing course, and even Sessions had to agree with the inferred meaning of her ultimate conclusion even as he drawled in that Alabama accent that “I’m a little surprised it took you that long,” but the testimony then took an even more ominous tone. With his usual flair for the obvious Sessions noted the high number of Americans currently out of the labor force and its depressing effect on household wages, and asked Lynch’s views regarding the comparative employment rights of citizens and illegal immigrants. She replied that “I believe the right and obligation to work is one that’s shared by everybody regardless of how they came here. And certainly, if someone here, regardless of status, I would prefer that they be participating in the workforce than not participating in the workforce.” Having established that Lynch believes an illegal immigrant has a legal right to a job despite the fact that federal law prohibits any employer from hiring from him, Sessions asked what sort of legal jeopardy this might cause every employer in the country. Specifically, he asked “Would you take action against any employer who says, ‘No, I prefer to hire someone who came to the country lawfully rather than someone given amnesty by the president?'” Her answer is worth consideration:
“With respect to the — the provision about temporary amnesty deferral, I did not read as providing a legal amnesty, that is, that permanent status there, but a temporary deferral. With respect to whether or not those individuals would be able to seek redress for employment discrimination, if — if that is the purpose of your question, again, I haven’t studied that legal issue. I certainly think you raised an interesting point and would look forward to discussing it with you and using — relying upon your thoughts and experience as we consider that point.”
This is precisely the sort of expertly jargon-laden hemming and hawing and insincere flattery that has won confirmation for countless unqualified candidates for high office over the many years of representative democracy and throughout its many calamities, but this is even more glaringly ominous than usual. A nominee for the office of Attorney General of the United States will not scoff at the notion that the Justice Department wouldn’t sue an employer for discrimination because he declines to violate federal law by not hiring an illegal immigrant, the equivocation raises further questions about the wisdom our immigration policies, as well as the legality of executive orders that not only override by conflict with existing law, and it all seems unlikely to end well. At least you can’t say you weren’t warned, even if it was in an easily mocked Alabama accent.

— Bud Norman