The Latest from a Desultory Campaign Trail

Has there even been a more awful presidential race in the history of the American republic? Every day seems to bring a fresh batch of headlines reminding us why we don’t want either of the likely winners anywhere near the White House.
Thanks to the efforts of the last honorable men and women left at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the dogged right-wing watchdogs at Judicial Watch, the public now has access to some 15,000 e-mails that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton tried to keep from outside scrutiny, which is a scandal in itself, and they reveal that big-money contributors to her family foundation had a better than 50 percent chance of getting some sit-down time with her while she was Secretary of State. Even such polite media as the Associated Press and The New York Times and The Washington Post felt obliged to give it front page prominence, and to concede that it looks very, very bad for the Democratic nominee. To our more historically informed eyes, it looks even worse than that.
We’re old enough to vaguely recall a time before all the political scandals had the word “Gate” affixed to them, in honor of the gold standard “Watergate Scandal” of the Nixon-era 70’s, and instead they’d include the word “Dome,” a reference to the previous champion “Teapot Dome Scandal” of the Harding-era ’20s. Our long-ago public schooling taught us that “Teapot Dome” resulted in a Secretary of the Interior going to prison for peddling some influence on the sale of a Navy petroleum reserve at someplace in Wyoming improbably called Teapot Dome, and the philandering and gambling and foul-mouth Harding forever being consigned to the bottom ranks of presidents in all those historian polls, and yet that suddenly seems small beer compared to a Secretary of State doing the same sort of wheeling and dealing on a geo-political level. By one of those odd historical coincidences a young Clinton was a newly-fledged lawyer on the staff of the Democratic committee investigating Watergate, before she got she fired for overzealous incompetence, but after nearly 30 years of Cattle Futures-gate and Whitewater-gate and Travel-gate and File-gate and Monica-gate and the many other -Gates we can’t quite recall at the moment, along with all of this more recent and even damning e-mail-gate and family foundation-gate stuff, she by now surely deserves her own suffix.
Still, she’s leading in the average of national polls, things look even better for her in the average of the polls in the swing states and the rest of the suddenly convoluted electoral map, and the only explanation for such a strange phenomenon is that she’s running against Republican nominee Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul is entirely blameless of peddling favors for contributions as a public official, never having held any public office in his 70-year-long life, but he openly bragged on Republican debate stages about buying influence from both Republican and Democratic officials during his varied careers. He even contributed to Clinton’s family foundation, and all the great deal-maker seems to have gotten out of it was her attendance at his third marriage to that foreign-born naked woman in the sapphic poses on the front page of the Trump-endorsing New York Post, so he’s got his own problems winning the public’s trust.
Trump won the Republican nomination largely because he was more full-throated in his opposition to illegal immigration than the rest of the vasty more qualified 16 challengers, but he went column-inch-to-column-inch on the front pages of the polite press by seem to stake a noticeably more squishy position on his signature issue. After rising to the Republican nomination with vows and assurances of “believe me” that he was going to build a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border that Mexico would pay for and that all 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country would be rounded up and deported, and that any of those RINO Republican squishes who thought this fanciful were all for amnesty and “open borders” just like Obama and Clinton and the rest of the “establishment,” Trump has lately been taking a more establishmentarian tack. After hiring a pollster as his new campaign manager he had a meeting with some of the Hispanics he’s been horribly polling with, and he announced a major speech on immigration that was later postponed, and in an interview on Monday with the Fox News Network’s Bill O’Reilly he wound up saying that he’d keep doing what President Barack Obama has been doing “perhaps with a lot more energy.” Trump’s scant ad buys have both time for a spot alleging that Obama has opened the borders, but in the interview he noted that both Obama and President George W. Bush had enforced many deportations, basically agreed with their “felons not families” priorities, dismissed any notion of mass deportations, and couldn’t quite explain how his current stand on amnesty differed from all those squishy Republicans he’d vanquished in the primaries.
This might well moderate Trump’s image to that pesky majority of the country that regards him as an extremist xenophobe, especially those who have noticed what an historically corrupt harridan the Democratic nominee is, but it might also dim the enthusiasm of the extremist xenophobes who have comprised a certain essential percentage of his support. In any case we can’t see it helping his reputation for intellectual or moral integrity, nor find any reason to believe this isn’t the most awful presidential election in the history of the American Republic.

— Bud Norman

The Climate and the Political Climate

Perhaps it would all make perfect sense if only we held the fashionable faith in the gospel of anthropogenic global warming, or the divine omniscience of President Barack Obama, but a reported plan for the administration to go around the usual constitutional requirements and oblige the United States to a treaty that would restrict its carbon emissions and thus save the world from climatic catastrophe seems wrong in every way.
As heretical as it might sound in this devoutly post-religious age, we remain skeptical that there is any anthropogenic global warming going on. Such skepticism is now considered somehow anti-science, an odd state of affairs, but we’ve read the hacked e-mails where the global warming alarmists were alarmed by the 18-year-pause their almighty models didn’t anticipate, and noticed the lack of predicted hurricanes and tornados and other calamities that were confidently predicted but have not materialized on schedule, and find ample reason to suspect the science isn’t so darn settled that we should hobble the American economy because of its tentative conclusions.
Even if there is a problem, there’s no reason to believe that the proposed treaty would solve it. Most countries will ignore it, including such heavy carbon-emitters as China and India as well as such erstwhile economic allies as Australia and Canada, and happily take up whatever profitable and job-creating enterprises the United States high-mindedly relinquishes for the sake of a futile gesture. The New York Times’ hopeful description of the plan says it would “name and shame” countries to force them into compliance, but it’s hard to imagine any country sacrificing economic growth for fear of being named and shamed by Obama. We’re nearly six years into the Age of Obama, and thus far the rest of the world still seems to be acting in its own perceived self-interest without much regard for Obama what thinks about it.
That part about going around the usual constitutional requirements is troubling, too. On issues ranging from those pesky immigrations laws that the president never liked to the eponymous Obamacare legislation that the president himself signed into law, Obama has already drawn criticism not just from his usual Republican critics but also the more principle liberals about his disregard for the constitutional restraints on his power, and this treaty ploy or a rumored amnesty for millions of illegal aliens and especially a combination of the two would have to be considered a constitutional crisis. We rather like the constitution, and would prefer to see it survive the present administration, and we’re sure most liberals would as well if the next administration turns out to be Republican, and a non-solution to a non-problem seems an especially poor reason to jettison such a successful system of governance.
There might be some political advantage that the president stands to gain from the gambit, but we can’t spot it. Heretical skepticism about global warming is widespread, and even most of the people who read about it in the paper and figure it must be true are not going to pleased that Obama has kept his campaign promise to make electricity rates “skyrocket.” Administration officials freely concede that they’ll try to bypass the 67 votes in the Senate that the constitution requires for ratification of a treaty because there’s not a snowball’s chance is global warming that they’ll ever find enough suckers in the chamber to vote for this awful policy, and that implicitly acknowledges that public sentiment is such that even in the most red states even the most entrenched senators would fear the wrath of their constituents. Like the threatened executive action granting amnesty this might be meant to provoke an impeachment, which would rally all those dispirited Democrats who see no reason that Obama shouldn’t be granted dictatorial powers, but he’s picking the fight over stands that the public overwhelmingly oppose and are likely to bring those opponents to the polls in record numbers.
The only explanation is that the president has not only a fashionable but a very sincere belief in the gospel of anthropogenic global warming, and an even more fervent faith in his own divine omniscience. That is not reassuring.

— Bud Norman

A Short Cut to the Invasion

Let us suppose, quite hypothetically, that your country has lately been invaded by many tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have hopped a train through Mexico from Central America. Further suppose, hypothetically again, that your country is $17 trillion in debt and another $100 trillion or so short of what it has promised the citizens that are already here, that your social service agencies are already straining under the burden of a moribund economy, and that the country’s inability to cope with the influx of adorable youngsters with adorable gang tattoos that has piled up in makeshift detention centers or been transported through angry protest barricades to a town near you has resulted in what everyone agrees is a humanitarian crisis. What would you do in such in an unlikely scenario?
If some vestige of common sense inclines to you to suggest sending the youngsters back home to their families as quickly as possible, and making it clear to any potential future invaders that no matter what nonsense they’ve heard about imminent amnesty and the welcoming arms of a generous welfare state they are not going to get in, then you are clearly unfit for public service. The more enlightened savants of the federal government have suggested that we allow the youngsters to skip the unpleasant train-hopping through Mexico and come directly and at our expense to the imminent amnesty and the welcoming arms of a generous welfare state.
Our source is The New York Times, and we hope that all the “Dr. Strangelove” aficionados will recognize the allusion to a line from that absurdist masterpiece about the “doomsday machine.” “Hoping to stem the recent surge of migrants at the southwest border,” the plucky Timesmen hopefully report, “the Obama administration is considering whether to allow hundreds of minors and young adults from Honduras into the United States without making the dangerous trek through Mexico…” How such generosity would stem the recent surge of migrants at the southwest border is never explained, no doubt an oversight due to deadline pressures, but we are assured of its good intentions. The children are fleeing gang violence in their native lands, we are told by the Times’ administration and activist group sources, and thus are entitled to refugee status.
Some 70,000 or so gang members are believed by the always-reliable United Nations to be active in the Central American countries that have lately been shipping their children northward to the United States, the Times helpfully adds, but that seems a dangerously low standard of peril to be granting refugee status to their compatriots. The world is ringed by slums from Calcutta to Johannesburg to Rio de Janeiro to Shanghai to Belgrade that are menaced by similar numbers of gangsters, and such communities as the one on the south side of Chicago that our current president once organized have similarly dangerous streets, so housing and feeding and educating all of them and imprisoning the predictable portion of them will likely prove more costly than America can afford. The same people who scoff at the notion of American exceptionalism are apparently convinced that America is exceptional enough to care for all of the world’s needy people, but they are willing to share the costs of the attempt.
Public opinion and its cussed common sense might yet scuttle the plan, which is so far just another one of the proposals that the savants of the federal government routinely come up with, but the Times warns that “the plan would be similar to a recent bill proposed by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who proposed increasing the number of refugee visas to the three Central American countries by 5,000 each,” so there’s still the chance of a bipartisan nonsensical solution. Some Republican opposition is already rearing itself, and could effectively prevent the proposal from becoming policy, but hat option of sending the youngsters back home to their families as soon as possible and issuing a meaningful warning to the rest to stay home also seems unlikely. Whatever compromise is eventually adopted, America might as well get ready to start housing and educating and feeding a few billion new arrivals.

— Bud Norman

Every Picture Tells a Story

Perhaps it’s just our skewed right-wing perspective, but President Barack Obama seems to be losing his once unerring knack for public relations.
Consider that carefully posed and widely disseminated photograph of the president with his sleeves rolled up and his tie loosened as he shares a beer and a game of pool with the governor of Colorado. The image is obviously calculated to portray the President of the United States as a regular sort of guy and easy-going fellow you’d like to have a drink with, which is just the sort of thing that helped him win the presidency in the first place, but it seems to us not quite right for a moment so far into a second term. Especially at a moment when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors are pouring over the nation’s relatively nearby southwestern border and even the local Democrats are noisily clamoring for some presidential attention. One of the rare Democratic congressmen from Texas described the photo-op as “bizarre,” “aloof,” and “detached,” and we’re inclined to agree.
The President did fly down to Texas to meet with the state’s Republican governor, who controversially considered forgoing the usual handshake-on-the-tarmac photo-op, but the visit to the Lone Star State was devoted mostly to fund-raisers and did not include a visit to any of the makeshift detention camps where the Central American urchins are being piled up. The oversight is being widely described as Obama’s “Katrina moment,” an allusion to that long-ago time when his predecessor was pilloried in the press and buried in the polls for a perceived indifference to the human toll of a hurricane that had battered the Gulf Coast after he flew over the wreckage rather than land and interfere with the rescue efforts. The press was more eager to seize the moment against Bush, and would have been just as happy to lambaste him for landing and interfering with the rescue efforts, but even the most sympathetic media have lately had a hard time spinning the invasion of unaccompanied minor illegal aliens as a good news story.
Over at The New York Times’ the loyal scribes gave prominence in their coverage to the president’s predictable gripe that the Republicans were out to get him and wouldn’t set aside their petty political ploys to cough the few billion dollars that he expects will solve the problem, but even there it was impossible to pretend that the president hadn’t invited the invasion when he signed an executive order that promised two years without deportation to any kid who could hop a freight to the United States and that the Republicans have always been a bunch of soft-on-border-security sissies. There’s still some faint hope that the President will still win the amnesty-by-euphism “comprehensive immigration reform” that he’s been pining for the past six years, and the press doesn’t seem quite sure how to portray Obama’s sudden role reversal as a tough-talking border enforcer, especially when they can reasonably anticipate that he’ll eventually revert to his former compassionate self.
We suspect that the White House itself hasn’t yet decided how to spin this disaster, except for the usual play of blaming it all on the Republicans. Just as they thought that alleged-deserter-for-five-ferocious-terrorists swap was going to be a public relations boon, and even trotted out the alleged deserter’s Taliban-bearded and Koran-quoting crazy-pants dad for a photo-op in the Rose Garden, they probably thought an influx of adorably sad-eyed waifs would tug at the heartstrings of a weepy American and nudge that amnesty-by-euphemism bill over the line. With most of the arrivals being scary-looking teenagers, and the younger ones in such unpleasant circumstances that both the press and Congress haven’t been allowed a look, which is such bad publicity that one can only assume the pictures and interviews would be far worse, this is looking like just another recent public relations plan that hasn’t worked out.
Maybe that’s just our skewed right-wing perspective, though. No doubt many Americans are still unaware of being invaded by unaccompanied minor illegal immigrants, and thought Obama looked pretty cool hanging out with that regular guy-looking governor. Eventually the invasion will fade from the news, just as those kidnapped Nigerian girls and the shoddy treatment at the Veterans Administration and the illegal harassment of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service have been relegated to the inside pages or dropped from the news altogether, and the image of that cool dude at the pool table will linger.

— Bud Norman

Two More Scandals to Consider

So many scandals are afoot that it’s hard to muster the necessary outrage for any new ones, but the recent revelations about the Veterans Administration and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency are worth noting. Both are outrageous even by the jaded standards of the moment, and both make important points about ongoing debates.
Some government officials are still insisting that there’s no proof anybody died as a result of what happened at a VA hospitals in Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, and elsewhere, but that’s the best spin they’ve been able to put on it. There are allegations that hospitals in those states used off-the-books waiting lists to get around a federal requirement that veterans in need of care be seen within 14 days of calling for an appointment, which had been made after widespread complaints of dangerous delays, and the claims are being taken seriously. Congress has launched yet another investigation, and some Republicans have already joined the American Legion in calling for the secretary of veterans’ affairs to resigns. The president has appointed his deputy chief of staff to investigate the matter, and the even the usually respectful reporters at Reuters acknowledge that “The move demonstrated White House concern that the issue is taking on growing political weight.”
Less attention has been paid, for some reason, to the release by ICE of 36,007 criminals who were awaiting deportation hearings last year. The agency’s catch-and-release program freed 193 illegal aliens who had been convicted of homicide, including one who had murdered a public official, 426 with sexual assault convictions, 303 convicted kidnappers, and more than 16,000 with drunk or drugged driving records. Texas’ Rep. Lamar Smith said it “would be considered the worst prison break in American history, except that it was sanctioned by the president and perpetrated by our own immigration officials,” but few others were willing to address the matter with such candor. Another 36,0007 criminals on the streets doesn’t warrant much attention from the press, which seems more concerned that photo identification requirements might prevent the undocumented fellows from voting, but to the extent that the public is aware it will likely be miffed.
These stories will have to compete for space with the Benghazi and Internal Revenue Service scandals and the continuing sluggishness of the economy and all the crisis that are popping up from the South China Sea to Iran to Ukraine and beyond, but we hope they’ll find some room as the country considers what to do about Obamacare and the millions of people illegally in the country. The poor care being provided for the nation’s relatively small number of veterans should raise doubts about the government’s ability to run health care for the rest of the country, and the administration’s willingness to unloose 36,007 convicted on the streets should bolster arguments that it can’t trusted to enforce any closed-border provisions that might be tacked onto an amnesty plan. If the stories raise further doubts about the government’s ability to manage the entire economy and maintain some semblance of international order, so much the better.

— Bud Norman

What They’re Thinking, If Anything

All the talk on conservative talk radio lately has been about immigration reform, and mostly it concerns an expected capitulation on some sort of euphemized amnesty by the Republican congressional leadership. The most discussed issue, of course, is about what in the world the Republican congressional leadership is thinking.
Although the expected capitulation is not yet a done deal, and some reliable sources are reporting that cooler heads in the Republican caucus might yet prevail, there is ample reason for concern. Enough Senate Republicans have already gone wobbly to help pass a bill so awful that it has been endorsed by President Barack Obama, several prominent House Republicans have been making worrisome pronouncements in recent months, and last week the party’s leaders issued a statement of principles on the immigration issue that strikes the more rock-ribbed rank-and-file of the GOP as insufficiently principled. Given the leadership’s spotty track record of acting according to its constituents’ will, conservatives can be forgiven for already cussing the as-yet-unannounced deal.
Also understandable is the confusion about what could possibly cause the leadership to act so stupidly. Perhaps they have a sincere belief that a path to citizenship for the industrious undocumented workers who have been forced to live in the shadows as they have contributed so much to our country is the best and fairest economic policy for America, but sincere beliefs are a far-fetched explanation for any politician’s actions, and especially so if it is a self-proclaimed Republican sincerely believing that flooding an already depressed labor market with millions more unskilled laborers flouting the law is either fair or good for the economy. Politics is usually a plausible reason for a politician’s actions, but in this case the leadership’s reported stand would provide the opposition with millions of additional voters while further enraging its own base of support. With neither of these usual explanations at hand, many conservatives have sought to explain the Republican leadership’s inexplicable behavior with strange theories that it’s all part of a plan to limit the party’s widely expected gains in the upcoming mid-term elections and thereby set up a more favorable political climate in the 2016 presidential race or some similarly convoluted scheme.
A more likely explanation is that the leadership is more concerned with the potential donations of the party’s big business wing that is eager for a wage-depressing flood of cheap new labor, but even if that is the case they’re still making the wrong political calculations. After running a series of exceedingly immigrant-friendly presidential candidates who lost the Latino vote by landslide margins it should be clear that the party won’t benefit from further immigration any time soon, and the costs of the full-scale conservative revolt that a capitulation will provoke cannot be paid by any amount of corporate donations. The expense of fending off primary challenges against every single Republican who goes along with this nonsense will eat up most of the money, and when disgruntled conservatives stay home in the general elections the price will be higher yet.
Should the Republicans stand fast against any sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants it would likely bolster their chances in the mid-terms and several elections beyond. Much of the opposition to unfettered immigration comes from such traditional Democratic voting blocs as African-Americans, low-wage workers, and union members, and although it’s unlikely any of them could be persuaded to vote for a Republican the issue could keep many of them at home and safely away from the polls. Even the big business wing of the party might be persuaded to continue contributing the big bucks against a party that wants to flood the market with cheap unskilled labor but simultaneously make it more expensive with a rise in the minimum wage, and the Republicans could truly make the compelling claim that they are a party of competitive free market capitalism and not crony corporatism.

— Bud Norman