The Desultory State of the Democrats

President Donald Trump is facing an impeachment trial and numerous other pressing problems entirely of his own making, but he can console himself he’ll likely wind up running for reelection against a Democrat. Judging by the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses that kick off the primary election race, the Democrats have problems of their own.
According to all the many polls going into the debate there were four candidates within the margin of error for winning or losing the Iowa caucuses, with a few others with realistic hope of catching up, and according to our traditional Republican instincts and what our Democratic friends are telling us they’re all flawed. Our more emotional Democratic friends revile the so the so-called centrists in the race, while our more cerebral Democratic friends worry that their party is veering too far the left, and from our current perspective here on the political sidelines we don’t like any of the candidates any more than we do Trump.
Nothing that happened in Tuesday’s debate will likely change many minds.
At this point, and as usual, the Democrats are obsessed with all that race and class and gender stuff, so that started off the debate. Putative Independent yet Democratic candidate and self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was recently accused by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts of saying a female candidate could not win a presidential election, which is arguable given the nation’s history but nonetheless a gross breach of Democratic etiquette, and as both are among the four front-runners and vying for the emotional left-wing Democratic vote it was a very big deal. Warren stood by her claim, Sanders didn’t exactly deny it but pledged his support only Democrat who might win the nomination, and after some back-and-forth that also included the centrist Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the only other woman on the stage, he seemed to come out all right.
We have a mostly delightful but severely feminist Democratic friend who so loves Sanders she would sit out an election even against Trump if Sanders weren’t the nominee, and was outraged that her sister and the mainstream media would make such a slanderous claim, and we’re sure she’ll be satisfied with the answer.
The rest of the debate was mostly limited to foreign trade and international affairs and health care and homelessness and other boring topics of greater importance. We can’t say how the candidates fared with a Democratic audience in Iowa or elsewhere, but from our traditional Republican seats here on the political sidelines we were unimpressed by the entire field.
Our traditional Republican instincts are appalled by Trump’s assaults on the carefully established international free trade order that has enriched both America and the rest of the world over the past few post-Reagan decades, and we’re thus far unimpressed by what he’s negotiated in return, but the Democrats are mostly as protectionist as ever. Biden is old enough to remember a time when there was a bipartisan consensus for the free trade agreements that have since made America and the rest of the world richer, so we give him credit for his unapologetic stance in favor of the so-far so-good status quo, but for the most part the Democrats. Even the most centrist Democrats seem more isolationist in the rest of foreign affairs than Trump, and are annoyingly apologetic about it.
We’ll give the Democrats credit for at long last having a serious debate how to pay for their pie-in-sky promises about how to make health care more universal and less costly, but so far they haven’t come up with anything better than what Trump has to offer, which isn’t saying much. We’re glad they acknowledge the homeless problem, not only in Democratic states but in places like here in Wichita, but the best that can be said for their solutions is that they’re less intentionally cruel than Trump’s.
The growing national debt didn’t come up, much to the relief of both parties, and nobody stood out as the next President of the United States. Given our desultory choices we might pick the front-running pick Biden, in the unlikely case we were Democratic primary voters, but that within-shouting-distance Klobuchar has decisively won races against Republican men in Republican districts of Minnesota, and she seems as sane as anyone in politics these days, and quite electable as well. Our endorsement will surely doom her in a Democratic primary race, though, so we’ll withhold that for now.
One of the Democratic front-runners is openly homosexual, another has falsely claimed Native American status, another has been videotaped acting creepily around young women, and the other is a self-proclaimed socialist. Which would not ordinarily bode well for the Democratic party, but they’re lucky to be running against Trump.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is admittedly a homosexual, but he’s also a decorated military veteran, which is more than Trump can say, and Trump isn’t an exemplar of traditional Judeo-Christian morality. Biden has been videotaped acting creepy around girls and is gaffe-prone, but he hasn’t been heard boasting about grabbing women by the genitals and can’t keep up with the daily gaffes Trump’s fans don’t seem to mind. Sanders did falsely claim Native American heritage, but if it comes down to a one-on-one debate she’s feisty enough to cite all the false claims Trump has made over his spotty career. Sanders is a socialist kook, but he seems to actually believe all the nonsense he’s spewing, which makes him the more “authentic” candidate. That nice Klobuchar woman from Minnesota could do well in a general election, and might even win our vote and make a good president, but she’s still a long=shot in a Democratic primary race.
There’s a lot of politics between now and November, though, so we’ll try to enjoy the warm weather and hold out hope.

— Bud Norman

The Very Early Presidential Polling

The world hasn’t yet revolved halfway through 2019, and the next presidential election isn’t until the 11th month of 2020, but all the political prognosticators are already busily prognosticating. We’ve seen far too many presidential elections to take any of it seriously, as pretty much every one of them turned out differently than what anybody expected at this early point in an election cycle, with the last time around being a perfect example.
Still, we can’t help noticing that despite his characteristic cocksureness President Donald Trump already seems nervous about his reelection chances.
Politico.com and then The New York Times reported that Trump’s own campaign polling shows him faring poorly against the leading Democratic candidates in several of the battleground states that narrowly handed him an electoral college victory, with the Times reporting that Trump had ordered his staff to lie about it, and Trump naturally responded that it was “fake news” fabricated by the “enemies of the people.” The American Broadcasting Company then reported it had copies of the internal polling which verified what the other media had released, and Trump’s campaign manager eventually admitted the numbers were real but insisted saying that it was data from three months ago and they they’d seen a dramatic shift in Trump’s favor since then, although he wouldn’t divulge the newer numbers. Over the weekend Trump fired his campaign pollsters, apparently for leaking the real unhappy numbers that Trump insisted the “fake news” had made up.
Throw in the facts that Trump won in 2016 with a mere 70,000 votes in four crucial states, all of which were within the pollsters’ margins or error, despite the losing the national popular vote by the three million million or so ballots that the pollsters predicted, and that no poll since has shown him within shouting distance of majority approval, except for the Rasmussen company that only surveys the oldsters who still have land line phones, which has never shown him over 50 percent, and we’re more inclined to believe the mostly reliable “fake news” rather than the constantly lying president. As of last March, at least, the president who promised his supporters they’d grow tired of winning seemed clearly to be losing.
Perhaps things have since turned around, as the president now claims, but he’s not releasing the updated numbers from the recently fired polling firm to back it up, and we can’t see what would have caused the claimed uptick in the polls. With the unemployment rate under 4 percent and the gross domestic product growing at an acceptably modest 3 percent rate or so Trump has rarely fallen under 40 percent in his approval ratings, but lately the economic data have been less rosy, and even a few congressional Republicans have timidly suggested that Trump’s trade wars with pretty much the entire world might have something to do with it. We haven’t yet entered any new wars, but his sworn enemies in Iran and the brutal North Korean dictator that Trump said he “fell in love” with are threatening them, and even a few congressional Republicans are expressing misgivings about how he’s handling that.
Last time around Trump had the good fortune to run against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and presumptive first woman president Hillary Clinton, who was arguably the worst major party presidential candidate ever, but even then he lost the popular vote and barely squeaked out an electoral victory in a few states she foolishly neglected. Much of the public had doubts about the thrice-married and six-times bankrupt and constantly sued and tax cheating real-estate casino-and-real-estate mogul’s character and honesty, and Trump has done nothing since then to reassure them that he’s the Christian leader God has chosen him to make America great thing. Nor has Trump come through with any of those great deals with the Democrats and the rest of the world that he promised to Rust Belt centrists would revive their outdated economic models.
Trump has taken extraordinary and extra-legal measures to build a few more miles of the wall along the southern border that he promised, although he no longer claims that Mexico will happily pay for it, and he’s enforced our immigration policies as cruelly as possible, and he has taunting nicknames for all of his critics, so that will probably placate most of the die-hard fans. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to have won many converts.
Next time around Trump might get lucky yet once again, on the other hand. The leaked polls show him losing by wide margins in those key states to former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, who is a relatively mainstream politician compared to most of his 21 or so primary challengers, and currently enjoys a sizable lead in the primary race, but these damned Democrats are every bit as crazy as the damned Republicans, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the Donkey party chooses someone so far left they’re arguably worse than Trump. At our advanced age we can remember the election of ’72, when President Richard Nixon of all people won a huge popular and electoral landslide victory over the principled war hero but too-far-left Sen. George McGovern, which was shortly followed by Nixon resigning in disgrace as a result of the Watergate scandal. Although a lot has changed since then human nature has remained pretty much the same, and we can easily imagine something like that happening again.
We don’t much care for Biden, who is gaffe-prone and rightly called “Creepy Joe” by Trump for his behavior around women, even if he’s never grabbed any of them by the genitals, as Trump has bragged about doing. Nor do we much like any of the other Democrats, although that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar seem somewhat acceptable to us, which probably dooms them in the Democratic primaries. Neither do we have any respect for President Donald Trump’s character or policies, and we can at least be sure that he’ll once again be our Republican party’s nominee for president.
We’d like to think that November of next year is a long time away, and that anything could happen in the meantime, but at our advanced age we know that it’s just a blink of the eye and human nature doesn’t much change.

— Bud Norman

Humor, Heart, and Hillary

Back in the days when Johnny Carson used to host “The Tonight Show” he occasionally featured a comic who joked that “I do impersonations of people, and I’m often mistaken for one.” Although we’ve long since forgotten the comic, we were reminded of the line by a New York Times report about Hillary Clinton’s most recently revised campaign strategy.
The Times isn’t so impolite as to say that she is going to attempt an impersonation of a actual person, but its headline does hilariously promise “Hillary Clinton to Show More Humor and Heart, Aides Say.” According to the lead paragraph the humor will include “no more flip jokes about her private email server,” and the heart will supposedly be demonstrated by “no rope lines to wall off crowds, which added to an impression of aloofness,” as well as “new efforts to bring spontaneity to a candidacy that sometimes wooden and overly cautious.” If she’s looking for some intentional humor as well she’s welcome to that old line, but we doubt that her aloof and wooden delivery would put it over.
A woman who hasn’t driven a car or microwaved a burrito or figured out how to send an e-mail for the past 25 years is hard-pressed to convince anyone that aw shucks, she’s just a regular gal at heart. One that has ruthlessly dealt with her husband’s serial sexual harassment victims and too-honest White House travel office managers and obscure anti-Islamic videographers and any big-money donors to her family’s foundation, and not nearly so ruthlessly with the likes of Vladimir Putin and the Chinese communists and the mullahs of Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood almost everywhere, will find it a particularly hard act to pull off. Clinton was never any good at it, even before all the baggage and the years of pampered living accumulated, and her crack team of public relations experts seem no more suited to the task than they were back when her inevitable candidacy lost to a little-known radical back in ’08.
The little-known radical Clinton currently trails is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose humor and heart are such that he’s a self-described socialist and a plausible advocate of all sorts of Democratic craziness that Clinton’s many corporate boards and big money donors won’t allow her to pursue, so no matter what folksy accent she might try to impersonate Clinton will be hard pressed to match her opponents insane but undeniably authentic appeal. There’s also talk of Vice President Joe Biden getting in the race, who would immediately enjoy the apparent imprimatur of the same Obama administration that is currently pursuing a criminal investigation in the matter of Clinton’s suddenly humorless private email server, and although even his most ardent supporters admit he’s something of a buffoon even his harshest critics concede that he’s a humorous and heartfelt buffoon. No matter what Democrats might decide to enter a suddenly winnable race, Clinton will be at a disadvantage regard humor and heart and the ability to impersonate an actual person.
The problem is such that some polls show Clinton trailing the top Republican contenders, even the ludicrous front-runner Donald Trump. This situation is dire not only for Clinton but for the country at large, which would be faced with a choice that makes Nixon versus McGovern look like a golden age of American politics, but it does suggest a more realistic strategy for Clinton to pursue. Although we have no use for the bombastic braggadocio of Trump we will concede that he’s at least honest enough to eschew all that aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-regular-guy hokum, and that it seems to be working for him. He flashes the bling and dishes the disses with all the sneering disdain of the most hard-core gangsta rapper, and well enough that he’s getting an uncanny-for-a-Republican 25 percent of the black vote, although we suspect his hard-line stance on illegal immigration also has something to do with that, and it suggests that the public isn’t necessarily looking for a regular guy to be president.
The guy who served the last two terms ran on the exoticism of his life story, emphasizing the interracial birth and the hauntingly absent father and the hippie grandmother and the Indonesian madrassa schooling and the typical white people grandparents who sent him through an elite prep school and Ivy League education, with the strange halo effect in all the press photographs and the crowds chanting his name as if he were some of maharaja, so the Democrats are at least as susceptible such nonsense as Republicans. In the past Clinton has brusquely assorted her immunity from criticism, such as that time she scolded a congressional committee looking into those four deaths at an insecure consulate in the anarchic country of Libya by sneering “What difference, at this point, does it make,” and all the Democrats stood and cheered. A bold declaration by Clinton that she’s still immune to criticism, and still entitled by some birthright to her rightful place on the American throne, and too frightening a harridan to be opposed, might well be the winning argument. It’s worked so far, at least among the Democrats who will be nominating the party’s nominee.
In any case, it would be more convincing than her impersonation of a person.

— Bud Norman

The Democratic Panic

Although the presidential election is still more than 15 months away, and the odious Donald Trump is currently atop the polls in the Republican race, it’s none too early for the Democrats to panic. The situation is now so desperate that such names as Vice President Joe Biden, former Vice President Al Gore, and current Secretary of State John Kerry are being bandied about.
Ever since she lost in ’08 the conventional wisdom has assumed Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic presidential nominee for ’16, but on this date in ’15 it no longer seems so wise. All the opinion polls have lately been brutal, with majorities of Americans finding her untrustworthy, a plurality of Democratic voters in the crucial first primary state of New Hampshire preferring her self-described socialist rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and her lead over potential Republican rivals in swing states has evaporated. The press has lately been just brutal, with apologetic reports dripping out about the Federal Bureau of Investigation involving itself in the matter of the private e-mail account she used to conduct public business, which naturally reminds everyone of the past 23 years of Clinton scandals, and then there’s the problem that she’s an inept politician and a thoroughly unlikeable sort and too tied up with corporations to pass muster with a currently far-left Democratic party. As hard as it is to abandon seven years of conventional wisdom, we’re not surprised to Democrats scrambling for a Plan B.
It is a sign of how very panicked the Democrats are, though, that such names as Biden, Gore, and Kerry are being bandied about. Biden is such a gaffe-prone doofus who has failed in two previous attempts at the presidency that even the leftist clowns at “Saturday Night Live” have taken notice, Gore is by now mostly associated with the “global warming” hysteria that the gleefully carbon-emitting general public isn’t the least bit hysteric about, and Kerry is the guy who lost to someone named Bush and has since negotiated that lousy Iran-gets-a-nuclear-bomb deal that all the polling shows the the public absolutely hates, and except for that faux-Indian woman from Massachusetts who thinks that businesses don’t have to hire security guards because the government is doing such a good job of keeping us all safe, it’s hard to think of a more plausible name the Democrats might come up with. The Democratic party’s current panic seems entirely justified.
Our guess is that the odious Trump’s current poll-leading twenty-something numbers are an absolute ceiling on his support, and won’t suffice when it gets down to a two or three man race, or a two man and one woman race if former computer company executive Carly Fiorina continues to surge, and that he’ll affect the general election only if his formidable ego compels him to run as a third-party candidate.n The eventual Republican nominee will likely be someone with a successful record of political leadership, with far fewer scandals than Clinton, and despite the best efforts of the media will be conspicuously less ridiculous than Biden, Gore, Kerry, or even that faux Indian woman from Massachusetts, We figure they might as well go with Sanders, who seems a likable enough fellow despite his self-described socialism, but coming from the virtually all-white state of Vermont he’s having trouble with the black vote, which is lately booing down his reasonable claim that “all lives matter” and is unaccountably loyal to the Clinton name, and if Obama were to come out for his Vice President or current Secretary of State rather than his mere former Secretary of State that would likely shift the black support and leave Clinton’s already troublesome poll numbers caving. A Gore candidacy would also peel off a significant number of Democrats nostalgic for the era of Hillary Clinton’s husband’s presidency, so almost any scenario makes Clinton’s previously assumed coronation all the more doubtful.
The Republicans could still screw this up, and the odious Donald Trump seems determined to make that happen, but as of now we can see why the Democrats are the ones in panic mode.

— Bud Norman

A Good Week for Conspiracy Theories

Others might prefer a good old-fashioned whodunit, but for purely recreational reading we relish a good conspiracy theory. They have plots as carefully contrived as any mystery novel, feature villains and heroes every bit as clearly cut, and offer the same refuge from reality with the same reassuring implausibility.
The past week, however, has brought forth more conspiracy theories than even the most avid buff would want. Bombings at the Boston Marathon, ricin-laced letters sent to a senator and the president, an explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant, and the culmination of the gun control debate in a series of Senate votes on Wednesday all had the conspiracy theorists working overtime. There is no reason to believe that any of these events are related, but their unlikely confluence in the span of a few days seems to have heightened the suspicions of the conspiracy theorists nonetheless. Coincidences do no occur in conspiracy theories, a strict convention of the genre, and even the most random dots can somehow be connected.
A quick arrest in the ricin-laced letters case has blunted much of the speculation about the case, although any details that emerge might yet inspire more conspiracy theorizing. The suspect is an Elvis impersonator, a plot twist that the most ingenious mystery novelist could not invent, and thus far it is unclear what motives he might have for his alleged crime. He is reportedly a registered Democrat, which will no doubt come as a disappointment to those eager to blame such events on right-wing extremism, but the choice of a staunchly Republican senator and President Obama as victims suggests a bi-partisan sort of craziness that does not easily lend itself to conspiracy theories. Other reports suggest that the suspect is a conspiracy theorist, however, so perhaps his views will eventually spawn a good legend.
An accident is always a more probable explanation for an explosion at a fertilizer plant than a terrorism attack, especially when the plant is located in such an unlikely target as the small town of West, Texas, but that has not stopped the conspiracy theorists from all sorts of suspicious speculation. That the explosion occurred so soon after the Boston Marathon bombings fueled the speculation, as did the town’s proximity to Waco and it’s upcoming anniversary of the tragic conflagration that resulted when federal agents conducted a raid on a religious cult there, and within hours of the explosion there were several web sites dedicated to the possibility of terrorism.
Terrorism clearly occurred at the Boston Marathon, so all of the conspiracy theorizing has been devoted to identifying a possible culprit. Some are openly hoping that it turns out to be white people with extremist right-wing views, while others are assuming that Islamist radicals are to blame, and thus far neither camp has any real evidence for their theories. Photographs of two possible suspects released Thursday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation are a sort of Rorcshach test for conspiracy theorists, grainy and indistinct enough that one camp will look and see two white men while the other will immediately spot two men of Middle Eastern appearance, and in any case the men are only suspects and their ethnicity provides no proof of their motives. For what it’s worth the men’s rather hip-hop style of clothing strikes us as incongruous with right-wing extremism, but perhaps the right-wing extremists in Boston are more fashion-conscious than the ones we encounter here in the heartland. The debate will rage until some definitive proof emerges, and even then the true believers will continue to insist on their original suspicions.
As with every tragedy of this sort, allegations of a “false flag” government theory are also proving popular. The FBI news conference where the photographs were released was constantly interrupted by one of the more prominent peddlers of this theory, which is based solely on the usual wild conjecture and fevered fear of a government conspiracy behind anything bad that happens, and the notion is also gaining currency on some of the more fanciful talk radio programs. It’s a comforting notion that a nefarious cabal is secretly running the world, at least when compared to the sobering reality that the world is far too vast and complex for even the most diabolical genius to successfully run and tragedy is therefore beyond anyone’s control, and conspiracy theories of this sort will always appeal to the anxious people at both ends of the ideological spectrum. The side that is out of power, as the largely forgotten “9/11 Truth” movement demonstrates, will always be more prone to such conspiracy theories.
Which is not to say that people do not conspire with one another to achieve their common goals, a point that was acknowledged by both sides of the recent gun control debate, but these are usually limited conspiracies conducted in plain view and without any cloak-and-dagger conduct. In a petulant and peevish speech in the White House rose garden Obama seemed blamed the Senate’s failure to pass any of his pet proposals on the “gun lobby” convincing the public that his “common sense” measures were part of a government conspiracy to disarm the citizenry, which is a sort of conspiracy theory itself, and his vice president mocked anyone who doubted his good intentions as a paranoid gun nut and member of the “black helicopter crowd.” There are plenty of politicians and activists who do wish to disarm the citizenry, however, and there are reasons to suspect that Obama is among them, so it isn’t paranoid for those who cherish their gun rights to organize against an organized effort to do away with the Second Amendment.
Guarding against a government’s natural inclination for more power is not the same as suspecting a government plot behind every tragedy, and doing so through the democratic process as in the defeat of the gun control proposals is patriotic rather than treasonous. All these crazy conspiracy theories, alas, tend to discredit the valid ones.

— Bud Norman