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Listening to the AM in the P.M.

A couple of summers ago we fell out of the habit of listening to right-wing talk radio shows, but we tuned in with a morbid curiosity on Wednesday to hear what they had to say about the shellacking the Republicans took in various places around the country on Tuesday. What we heard does not bode well for the Grand Old Party.
We missed Rush Limbaugh’s analysis of the results, but we later learned that the self-elected “Mayor of Realville” basically said the results where what you can always expect from Democratic jurisdictions and had little to do with President Donald Trump. Sean Hannity spent the first half-year hour looking back nostalgically on that night, complete with some gleefully played audio of liberal pundits smugly laughing off Trump’s chances in the run-up to the upset, and during his brief discussion of the previous night’s shellacking was careful not to blame his most favorite president ever for any of it. The growlier and slightly-less-sycophantic Mark Levin was more frank about how a full year of Trump has revved up the Democratic vote, and the growlier yet and antithetical-to-whoever’s-in charge Michael Savage was reminding his coast-to-coast listeners that no matter how much it might love Trump there’s a big chunk of the country that can’t stand him.
Levin’s a cacophonous screamer who played no small part in dragging the Republican party down into the school yard taunt of level of political rhetoric, and he’s a veritable William F. Buckley by comparison to Savage, but we’ll give them both credit for their realism. The year since Trump’s election has brought enough “tweets” and taunts and provoked enough liberal outrage to satisfy his hard-core supporters, along with a Supreme Court pick and some sweeping de-regulations and resulting stock market gains. That’s been eenough to placate the more wary Republicans, and it won four straight elections in solidly Republican districts where they needed to replace representatives chosen for the Trump administration, but Tuesday made it clear it hasn’t played so well elsewhere.
The Democratic rout in New Jersey can be easily dismissed, as New Jersey is a reliably Democratic state and for now all the more so after eight years of Gov. Chris Christie and his double digit approval ratings. Christie once saved the state from insolvency with his tough guy approach to taxes and spending and negotiating with the state’s notorious private sector unions, and was briefly regarded by the Republican party as a leading presidential contender, but he somehow managed to annoy and appall by the Democrats in his state and Republicans elsewhere during a second term. You can’t blame Trump for that, but Christie’s embarrassing obsequiousness to Trump after he was bested in the Republican primary clearly didn’t him any good.
Trump lost Virginia’s electoral votes, too, but a year later the Republican nominee he endorsed and “tweeted” about and did robocalls for wound up losing by a few points more. That can be explained by the fact that milquetoast center-left Democratic nominee Ralph Northam didn’t carry all the baggage that Clinton did, but after all those ads about illegal immigrant gangs and confederates statues and disrespectful-to-the-flag football players it can’t be explained by Republican nominee Ed Gillespie’s failure to more fully embrace Trump and Trumpist policies. The Democrats won all of the statewide and most of the district voting, too, including a transgender candidate who beat out the state’s self-described “chief homophobe,” and a lot of ostensibly straight and white and male legislators were replaced by a more ethnically and sexually diverse lot, which strikes us as a statewide rejection of Trumpism.
All politics is local, and Virginia’s a typically unique state, what with all those Washington bureaucrats in the northern suburbs and all them fancy-schmaltzy universities in the hinterlands, but all the exit polling confirms our educated suspicions that the Republicans lost a lot of educated and well-paid suburbanites who might have voted for the George W. Bush-affiliated Gillespie who had narrowly lost to an entrenched Democratic senator four years earlier but couldn’t pull the level for the Trumpified Gillespie of Tuesday, and that can have implications for all sorts of places around the country.
Such populous states as California and New York and Illinois reliably cast their electoral votes for the Democratic presidential nominee, but they all have some reliably Republican districts, and along with that the current Republican majorities in the House and the Senate come in large part from such populous swing states as Ohio and Florida. These districts tend to have a high percentage of well educated and well paid white people, who tend not to be easily assuaged by Trump’s taunts and the liberal outrage they provoke, which they have to hear about at the office the next day and can’t bring themselves to defend, so we’d advise to not offend them further.
Several of the various Republican tax plans that are currently floating around the legislative ether, though, propose to repeal those Republican redoubts in enemy territory of an income tax deduction for the income tax pay they pay to their state and local governments. The change isn’t much of a big deal here in Kansas, where you can say whatever you want about those stingy Republicans but most Kansans pay so little to Topeka they aren’t eligible for the deduction, but it’s a darned big deal to some well educated and well paid and potential Republicans in potentially Republican districts in Orange County, California, and Westchester County, Pennsylvania, and any of those other occasional Republican redoubts in between where the the damned Democrats in the rest of the state charge so much the deduction is worth more than the promised cut in the rate.
That’s what they get for living in a state that didn’t vote for Trump, a Republican friend of ours recently explained to us over a beer, but we’d only had the one and it didn’t seem a winning political strategy. Any old political party can use all the help it can get from the well educated and well paid sorts of people, white or otherwise, and there’s no reason for the Republicans to to be antagonizing the persuadable ones with childish taunts and punitive tax increases. If the party persists we’re sure most of those Republicans from those high-tax redoubts will put their constituents before party, which might be enough to sink the whole reform effort, and even if it doesn’t the effort isn’t poling well thus far. That’s the view from here on a Wednesday after a Tuesday shellacking.

— Bud Norman

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The Dems Get Some Wins

This had been a long and desultory 364 days for the Democratic Party, what with President Donald Trump winning the White House and the rest of the Republicans maintaining control of congress before reeling off a winning streak of four special elections, but on Tuesday night they at long last put some impressive wins on the board. The Democrats decisively won a gubernatorial race in Virginia that was widely seen as a referendum on Trump, as well as all the other statewide offices and a House  of Delegates race pitting a transgender candidate against the self-described “chief homophobe of Virginia” who had authored a segregated restroom bill, and they ended eight years of Republican rule in the New Jersey governor’s mansion with a  far bigger rout.
That Virginia gubernatorial race got the most attention, of course, because it was expected to be close and was by the far the most interesting. The race pitted Republican Ed Gillespie against Democrat Ralph Northam, and the stark contrast in a state that is neither very Republican nor very Democratic had obvious national implications. Both parties, we suspect, will carefully analyze the race.
Gillespie is a longtime Washington lobbyist who served as a counselor to President George W. Bush and ran the Republican National Committee’s state organizing operation and was a senior member of Republican nominee Mitt’s Romney’s campaign, and such impeccably establishment credentials and a mainstream message brought him to a near upset against longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Warner in 2014. By 2016 Trump had won with anti-establishment and defiantly outside-the-mainstream message, and although Virginia was the only southern state that Trump didn’t carry Gillespie decided to pursue a similar strategy. His advertisements stressed Northam’s past support for “sanctuary cities” that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws and promised a much tougher stand, touted his own opposition to the removal of public statues honoring the Confederacy, and included some direct mail showing pictures of National Football League players taking a knee during the national anthem.
The campaign was careful not to mention Trump by name, and reportedly declined Trump’s repeated offers of an appearance on Gillespie’s behalf, but it was hard not to notice the Trumpian overtones. Trump had narrowly lost the state despite huge majorities in the very Southern southern part of the state because of huger majorities in the northern part of state where everybody works in nearby Washington, D.C, so the apparent strategy was to rile up the rednecks in the south without alarming all the more genteel Republican congressional staffers and lobbyists and reporters in the D.C. suburbs who had almost carried him to victory just three years earlier. If Trump were a shrewder politician he would have played along by staying away, but of course he “tweeted” his way into contest with taunts of Northam and no mention of Gillespie, and that didn’t help Gillespie pull of what was already bound to be a difficult trick.
The president predictably “tweeted” while on his Asian tour that Gillespie lost because he didn’t fully embrace Trump, forgetting that Virginia was the one southern state that he didn’t win. A full-throated Trump endorsement might have brought out a few extra votes in those oh-so-southern precincts, but it would have also energized all the Democrats in the D.C suburbs while discouraging those Republican establishment voters who live next door, so there’s no reason to think he would have fared any better in the state this around. The last time Trump was invited to a campaign appearance was during the special Republican primary in Alabama, where he rarely mentioned his preferred candidate’s name and admitted he might have made a mistake in endorsing the guy in the first and got more headlines by fulminating about NFL players, and that guy wound up losing to a full-fledged theocrat who’s Trumpier than Trump himself, who might yet wind up losing in Alabama of all places.
There’s a strong case to be made against “sanctuary cities,” although our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities prefer they not be couched in such frankly racialist language as both Trump and Gillespie have used, and the there’s a reasonable case for preserving those statues honoring confederate soldiers, but no case to be made for honoring the Confederacy, and surely the country has better things to worry about than what some NFL players do during the national anthem, so we’re not sure what good Trumpism did Gillespie even without bringing Trump into it.
Meanwhile the Democrats were running a very mainstream and establishment candidate, who was of course too far left for our tastes and most of the D.C. suburb Republicans, but it could have been worse. Self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the entire Sandersnista wing of the party backed insurgent candidate Tom Perrielo in the primary, but after that fell short Perrielo enthusiastically campaigned on Northam’s behalf against the Trumpian threat, and the party unity carried the day. That’s a lesson Democrats elsewhere would be wise to heed, but so far they don’t seem any smarter about this stuff than the Republicans.
The Democratic blow-out in New Jersey was more predictable, given the state’s Democratic tendencies, but also has implications for Trump and Trumpism. Gov. Chris Christie won the office eight years ago because the longtime Democratic rule had over-taxed and over-spent and over-regulated the state so badly that it went for a rare Republican, and after some initial pain the tax cuts and spending cuts and deregulation had worked out well enough to win him reelection, but since then he’s managed to annoy just about everyone. Hard-core Republicans were appalled when he literally hugged President Barack Obama in the aftermath of a hurricane that hit New Jersey, and of course the Democrats weren’t all placated. He denounced the character and intellect and temperament of Trump when they were both vying for the Republican nomination, and when became an obsequious sycophant after Trump forced him out of the primary of course the Trump supporters weren’t placated. Christie had sent Trump’s son-in-law’s father to prison back in his days as a federal prosecutor and didn’t get a cabinet appointment, which made him look ridiculous, and a bridge tie-up engineered by his underlings and an embarrassing photo of him of sunning his considerable self on a public beach he’d ordered closed during a government didn’t help,
Despite his first term heroics Christie is leaving office with an approval rating below 20 percent, so it’s hardly surprising that an instinctively Democratic state overwhelmingly rejected his Lieutenant Governor to replace him. We’re not sure what lessons Republicans or Democrats should learn from this, except that Trump always complicates things, but it provided another reason for the Democrats to be celebrating on a cold and windy November night for the first time in years.
That four-and-oh winning streak the Republicans racked up during the special elections were in states and districts replacing popular Republicans incumbents who had been tabbed for Trump administration jobs, and although none were very close all were closer than the party could usually expect. Here in the fourth congressional district of Kansas the Democrat ran ads featuring himself firing semi-automatic weapons and distancing himself from the usual Democratic craziness, and he came within single digits of a Republican whose ads showed him wading in the same metaphorical swamp that Trump had promised to drain, and across the country both Trump and Trumpism aren’t polling well.
Trump can rightly claim that the unemployment rate is down and the stock market is up since his election, albeit on more or less the same trajectory that preceded his election, but the mainstream of America and the old guard of its political parties surely surely deserves some credit for that, and what we gather from Tuesday’s results is that as used to be usual whichever party comes closer to the center will reap the benefits.

— Bud Norman

The Son-in-Law Also Rises

Most of the chatter on Monday seemed to be about president-elect Donald Trump’s latest “twitter” tantrum, this one provoked by actress Meryl Streep’s obligatory liberal rant at yet another one of those show biz awards shows, but it was the stories about Trump’s appointment of Jared Kushner as a “senior advisor” that caught our eye.
If you’re still unfamiliar with his far less famous name, Kushner is a 35-year-old real estate mogul, having run his family’s sizable business ever since his father went to jail about decade ago for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness intimidation, and he’s also Trump’s son-in-law. Unless the mainstream media and Trump’s “Tweets” have left anything out, that’s about the extent of his resume for a senior advisory position with a presidential administration. We don’t find any aspect of it reassuring, and are troubled for reasons.
Kushner reportedly played a senior role in his father-in-law’s presidential campaign, which thus far seems to have worked out well for the entire family, so we’ll give him that. He’s also played a reportedly big role in the post-election transition, and so far that seems a mixed bag for all involved. Kushner was quite plausibly reported to have been behind the ouster from the transition team of the oh-so-obsequious New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had put Kushner’s dad in jail back in his heroic days as a tough and incorruptible prosecutor, and although that firing might have been a good call by this point in Christie’s decline it does continue a pattern of petty score-settling that doesn’t befit a presidential administration.
Our eyes were also caught by the stories just a couple of column inches below about Kushner’s family business’ ongoing negotiations with one of the biggest banks in China, a country that Kushner’s father-in-law has famously threatened 45 percent tariffs against, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out. A couple of column inches the mainstream press acknowledges that Kushner has offered to relinquish his executive role in his family’s business, but so far we as we can tell and without any reassuring information via Trump’s “tweets” it will still be his family’s business, so that doesn’t allay any concerns. The president-elect has enough ongoing international deals raising conflict-of-interest questions without adding all the scandals of another family of real estate moguls to the daily budget of the last of the newspapers. Trump has been delighted to “tweet” the pretty much inarguable fact that he’s exempt from the conflict of interest laws that apply to almost all federal employees, except for that pesky “emoluments clause” in the Constitution, which we’ll deal with later, and his son-in-law’s “senior advisor” post won’t be subject to congressional approval and will apparently go unpaid and thus also fall into some legal category that Trump’s suddenly huge payroll of lawyers will find, so we expect that for at least a while it go as well as everything else that has been lately happening for the family.
That whole in-law nepotism thing bothers us, too. We’re from old-fashioned Republican stock that once groused about President John Kennedy appointing his brother Bobby to be Attorney General, and in all fairness we have to admit that at least the young punk had once served on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s commie-hunting crusade, and that this Kushner fellow seems to have no record of public service at all on his resume except for chasing Christie away, and even that seems to motivated by petty score-settling. Our experience of fathers-in-law is that sons-in-law are reluctant to offer them any criticism, and ours was a much nicer and less thin-skinned guy than Kushner’s, so we’d much prefer a “senior advisor” to Trump who would likely be more willing to advise some restraint. Something on the resume that indicates Kushner has any familiarity with geo-politics and macro-economics and all those crazy social issues would be reassuring, but these days that’s too much to expect.

— Bud Norman

Another What-If Episode

Many of the old television shows that used to take up far too much of our childhood would occasionally encounter a creative lull about mid-season and resort to the old gimmick of having the characters transported by harp music and a wavy dissolve into some alternate reality. What if the guys at WJM had met the irresistible Mary Richards when they were single, or Felix and Oscar had never met? What if Gilligan or the Skipper had bothered to check the damned weather forecast before that three-hour cruise?
The Republican Party’s reality show of a presidential nomination race was reduced to the same hackneyed formula Thursday night, inviting viewers to imagine the storyline without the love-him-or-hate-him star-of-the-show-as-always Donald J. Trump. Being on the booing-and-hissing side of the divide of the show’s fans, we happily accepted the invitation.
If you’ve been binge-watching the series thus far with the same rapt attention as ourselves, you already know that Trump wrote himself out of the script because the episode was being broadcast by the Fox News Network, which always elicits booing and hissing from the left and is now the hated by the supposed savior of the right because it employs Megyn Kelly, a most comely and seemingly competent broadcast journalist who had the lese majeste in an earlier to episode to ask Trump about his longtime habit of calling her less comely sisters by such names as “‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.'” When Trump responded afterwards that the seemingly calm and undeniably comely Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes” and “blood coming out of her wherever” it seemed to us to prove her implied point yet nonetheless improved his poll numbers, and viewers will recall it it was one of the highest-rated episodes ever. Trump declined the long-anticipated sequel, with all his fanzines proclaiming it a stroke of tactical genius, and next Monday night’s much-anticipated “Iowa Caucus and Actual Voting” episode might yet prove it so, but we’re hopeful the next episode will reawaken to a different storyline.
Trump might have reasonably calculated that he would be all the more conspicuous by his absence from Thursday night’s episode, but he was only mentioned in passing. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the main rival for the love-him-or-hate-him starring role, got some laughs by doing some Don Rickles shtick and saying “that concludes the Trump portion,” and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is the embodiment of the hated “establishment” hovering over the whole series even in the harp-music-and-wavy-dissolve transition to an alternate reality, sounding quite reasonable and even statesmanlike as he noted the higher tone of the proceedings. For the most part, it was pleasantly easy to close one’s eyes and imagine what it would have been like in an “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Donald J. Trump had never been born. All the candidates would still be talking about the unavoidable costs of both illegal and legal immigration to be weighed against their widely doubted benefits, there would still be same unavoidable discussion about Islamic terrorism and all the other international problems the Democrats don’t seem to want to talk about, there would d be the same talk about free markets and individual liberty, only without all the bragging by the front-runner about the politicians he’s bought off and the powers he would seize, the hated “establishment” would still be hated no matter how reasonable and statesmanlike it sounded, and the storyline would still be lively enough to generate some ratings.
Even in the would-be world of Thursday night’s debate there was a love-him-or-hate-him character in Cruz, and although we’re inclined to love him we think he got the worst of his first night in the crossfire. His opening bit about Trump’s tiring insult comic act played well enough, but a later attempt at ironic humor seemed to backfire when the audience didn’t seem to get his joking threat to leave the stage if he got any more tough questions. His reasonable arguments for his consistent resolve on illegal immigration inevitably got bogged down in talk of amendments and parliamentary procedure and all that stuff that even federal neophytes are bogged down with, and his blunt talk about those ridiculous ethanol subsidies that are so beloved in first-in-line Iowa and hated everywhere else probably did him little good in Iowa but boosted him past the absent Trump everywhere else, so some blows were clearly landed. He came off with the requisite ratings-grabbing feistiness, and landed a few blows of his own here and there, but he probably should have more relished the villain’s role.
There were some good lines by the unimportant New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the bumptious but establishment guy, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the establishment but bumptious guy, and even the loony libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and as always we thought retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was quite good with his brief few lines, and Bush somehow didn’t come across the least bit villainous, but the surprising co-star of the night was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Longtime fans of the show know Rubio was the handsome and youthful character who was once the true-blue conservative hero of an earlier season but then fell in with the Gang of Eight who conspired to unleash the immigrant hordes upon America, and has since been on a mission of penance, but he made a good accounting of himself. He swore his newfound toughness and noted the similarly evolving position of the anti-immigrant horde Trump, who bravely chose to not be around to defend himself from the undeniable charge, and he rightly noted that he was at least more anti-immigrant horde than Bush or any of those other guys, and he bogged Cruz down in all that talk of amendments and parliamentary procedure, and he wound up sounding more electable in a general election than the rest of them.
After the next round of harp music and slow dissolves we’ll be back to real world where there really is a Donald J. Trump, and all that entails, and by late Monday night or early Tuesday morning we’ll find out how the story resumes. We’ve also been watching the Democrats’ mini-series, which is weirder yet, and we’re starting to worry that might be the weirdest of these reality shows.

— Bud Norman

A Good Night for Royals and Republicans

Due to our principled refusal to pay for cable television, and the National Broadcasting Company’s refusal to share its cable affiliates’ content over their internet without recompense, despite their constant rants about evil capitalism and corporate greed and the rapacious one percent and all that share-the-wealth drivel, and because every bar television in town was of course showing the Kansas City Royals battling the New York Mets in the second game of the World Series instead, we missed most of Thursday’s Republican presidential debate. The press accounts describe an interesting contest, though, and apparently it was mostly fought between the ten invited candidates and the panel of CNBC moderators.
Although it is our usual style to use the full name of an institution on first reference, no matter how much more familiar the acronym might be, we’ve made an exception here because we have no idea what CNBC stands for and don’t care to look it up. We assume the NBC is National Broadcasting Company, and that the C is for Cable or Communism or the first name of some executive’s mistress. In any case, the company seems to have gotten the worst of it, at least as far as the Republican audience was concerned. Some questions were booed, and all of the inevitable pushback by the candidates played well. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz reportedly started it off with a rant about the obviously pointed nature of the questions that brought sustained applause, and then Florida Sen. Marco Rubio got off a line about the media as the “ultimate Super-Pac” and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie interrupted by the moderator’s interruptions by saying it was rude even by New Jersey standards.
The Republican National Committee chairman “tweeted’ his own indignation about the the questions, but it’s worth noting that he signed off on CNBC and its choice of moderators despite their long records of on-air anti-Republican animus, so we can only hope that he was expecting the field would prevail against the questioners and it was all part of a diabolical plot. Or perhaps he’s prepping the eventual winner for the post-season, to borrow a sports metaphor, and knows that he or she will need to be inured to such biased questioning. It does seem to have been pretty biased, too, with almost every query framed according to such liberal assumptions as the 77 cent pay rate for women or the inevitable failure of tax-cutting as an economic stimulus or the Republicans’ supposed relative tolerance for deficit spending, or clearly intended provoke fights between particular candidates. In a debate ostensibly devoted to economic issues Ben Carson was asked about his past service on the board of a corporation that provided benefits to same-sex couples, with the clear implication that he was therefore a hypocrite for opposing same-sex marriage, and his characteristically soft-spoken but stiff-spinner reaction seems to have won that round as well.
So far as we can tell from the first round of stories, though, neither Carson nor fellow front-runner Donald Trump had the expected starring roles. Most of the pundits declared Cruz and Rubio the big winners, and given their past strong performances we’re not surprised. None of the candidates who most needed a strong performance are getting any rave reviews, except perhaps Christie, who won’t be the nominee, so our guess is that Carson and Trump will remain at the top of the next polls but that Cruz and Rubio will be the ones who still stand a chance despite having previously held elective office. We expect that CNBC’s ratings won’t much improve, either, and the Royals wound up winning convincingly enough to rest the bullpen that had been worn out by the previous game’s 14-inning victory, so all in all we’ll count it a good night.

— Bud Norman

The Political Pre-Season Begins

Alright then, we’ll admit it, we didn’t watch the entirety of the first debate of the Republican presidential nomination race. We’re as addicted to this story as any other reality show watcher, and we already have our rooting interests in the plot line, but our older brother is in town and there’s this great Mexican restaurant over in the nearby barrio and we cut off our television cable years ago, and besides, it all has such a sense of those meaningless pre-season games that the National Football Leagues starts all too early, so we we figured we’d rely on the more diligent internet sources for our opinions of it all.
Pretty much everyone on our right-wing reading list seemed to agree that former Hewlitt-Packard honcho and failed California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina won the “jayvee team” debate among those who didn’t poll in the top ten, with accomplished two-term Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal coming in second, and the arguably even more accomplished two-term Texas Gov. Rick Perry exceeding expectations well enough to come in a credible third. The other three really aren’t worth mentioning, as any experienced reality show viewer can rightly assume they’ll soon be written out of the plot. We’d like to see Fiorina, Jindal, and Perry all get into the prime time debate, and can easily name three candidates we’d be happy to see them replace, so we’re heartened by the reviews.
There doesn’t seem to be much consensus about the main event. which suggests that nobody won. So far as we can tell from the snippets at the Fox News Channel’s website, real estate magnate and literal reality show star Donald Trump apparently was his usual bombastic and buffoonish self, but there’s no telling whether that will add to or detract from his poll-leading numbers. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave a reassuringly ambiguous statement about his past support for the “Common Core” curriculum, the unabashedly libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had a spat about national intelligence-gathering that most of the judges scored a win for Christie, neurosurgeon and political neophyte Dr. Ben Carson seems to have had no gaffes but no impression, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s just-regular-hillbilly-folk schtick seems have done its usual black magic, and the rest of it seems equally pointless.
Of course there’s much chatter about how tough the Fox moderators were in their questioning, but we figure all the candidates should be prepared for far worse then they meet the rest of the press. Our early favorite, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, used the opportunity of a question about his past support for “comprehensive immigration reform” to explain that he was previously wrong but has since been looking at the issue from a more national perspective and is now right, and when we try to imagine Trump speaking the words “I was wrong” we impressed by his candor.
If Trump didn’t commit his inevitable self-immolation and our guy Walker didn’t boost his numbers, and the more worthy contenders didn’t move into contention, we’ll not be worried. This is Grapefruit League and Cactus League stuff, and the numbers won’t count until some very cold days that won’t arrive until winter, and the lady at the bar we were at our brother earlier tonight who was shouting the pre-season football was about to arrive even as a Kansas City Royals victory was underway on the television care mores about that game that we care about this political game. The political game will wind up making a difference, but what happened in that debate we mostly skipped probably won’t.

–Bud Norman

To Vaccine, or Not to Vaccine

There’s been a spate of news stories about vaccinations lately, and we’re not sure why. It seems to have something to do with an outbreak of measles that started in California and has since spread to seven other states, Mexico, and the bloodstream of the nation’s politics as far away as New Jersey, as the press has avidly pressed all the prominent public figures about their stands on mandatory vaccinations. Most of the brouhaha seems to involve two of the more prominent potential Republican presidential candidates, rather than what the people who actually make current policy are doing, so we suspect all the coverage might have more to do with partisanship rather than the public health.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul have both been pilloried for offering the opinion that perhaps in some cases vaccinations should be voluntary, with many pundits extrapolating that such anti-science craziness is running amok in the Republican party, but the storyline might lead to conclusions that the press does not intend.
Although we’re not inclined to support the presidential candidacies of either Christie or Paul their comments don’t seem so very extreme, and to the extent they are it’s hardly a craziness unique to the Republican party. Christie reportedly called for “balance” between individual rights and community health and “some measure of choice” before clarifying the comments by saying “there is no question that children should be vaccinated.” Paul waded into deeper waters by claiming vaccinations should be voluntary as they have been associated with mental disorders and saying that parents “should have some input,” which led to the resurrection of earlier quotes likening mandatory vaccinations to martial law, but he’s also done some clarifying by saying that he didn’t mean to find a causation rather than just a correlation between vaccination and mental disorders and the demonstrating his acceptance of vaccination as a medical practice by “tweeting” a photograph of himself getting a booster shot. Both men might be mistaken even in their most carefully clarified opinions, but neither seem to be on the lunatic fringe.
We have no expertise in any medical field that would entitle us to comment on the matter, but our general experience of civilization has inoculated in us a belief that individual liberty and parental rights should not weigh lightly on the scale counter-balancing communal concerns. Nor do we trust blindly in scientific expertise, which has never been infallible and lately seems more fallible than ever. If the people who truly do know what they’re talking about are verifiably correct that such coercive measures as barring un-vaccinated children from school are required to protect the reset of the population from outbreaks of deadly disease we have no problem with those policies, but that conclusion can only be verified by the most skeptical analysis. There’s a long history of public policy and jurisprudence on the question of mandatory vaccinations, with public debate pushing the scales on both sides at various times, and one can only hope that if the debate isn’t shut down prematurely it will lead to the most beneficial outcome this time around.
Skeptical analysis will strike some as a superstitious and anti-scientific attitude, and this may well be one of those occasions when skepticism is overcome by scientific proof, but it is by no means unique to any particular party or political philosophy. The eminently conservative National Review makes an eminently conservative case for mandatory vaccinations, while the anti-vaccination groups are largely funded by liberal donors. Such an influential pundit as Jon Stewart let Robert Kennedy Jr. go on about his anti-vaccination views,  and fellow agitprop comic Bill Maher voiced opinions that go beyond what Christie or Paul ever while said  token Republican guest former Republican Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist was calling him “crazy.” For as long as we can remember the pretty face of the anti-vaccination movement has been former Playboy model and reality television star Jenny McCarthy, and although we’re not sure of her political views on any other topic we doubt she’s a doctrinaire Republican. An instinctive distrust of the medical establishment is now more common among the holistic and homeopathic sort of liberals than it is among those simple rural Republican folk who used to fall for goat-gland quackery but now sign up for insurance that will cover all the latest medical marvels, and if we all die for lack of vaccination it will be hard to pin it on the Republican party or conservatism generally.
This all started in California, as we recall from a few paragraphs ago, and there’s no plausible way to blame the Republicans for anything that happens there. After several giddy stories about Christie’s and Paul’s apparent missteps The Washington Post got around to reporting that even presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton might take a mistaken step in the “political minefield” of vaccination politics, but in her case they worry that her past advocacy of mandatory vaccinations will be a liability and that her brief flirtation with the now-assumed-debunked theory that vaccinations cause autism will also be a problem. Given that Clinton is more likely to be the Democratic nominee than either Christie or Paul are to be the Republican standard-bearer, that story might stick around longer.
In case you’re wondering where the current president stands on this, be assured that a grand total of three reporters among the ravenous pack at the latest press conference put the question to the White House spokesman. It took all three tries and more than an hour, but at they at last elicited the answer that parents certainly should have their children vaccinated, and that therefore every parent will do so,  so the federal government need not force them to do so. This strikes us as very similar to the more controversial remarks by Christie and Paul, and just as incoherent, but it comes from the White House and is therefore assumed to be a very centrist and reasonable position. There were no question regarding the $50 million that Obama’s budget proposes cutting from vaccination programs for the uninsured, but we would have enjoyed hearing the response.
Having no children we don’t have to reach any decisions concerning pediatric inoculations, and unless any of our personal problems can be somehow attributed to some previously undetected form of autism we are grateful that our parents chose to follow the prevailing medical advice of decades past, although we’ve forgone any shots for many years now without any apparent ill effects, but we offer no advice to anyone regarding vaccinations. Whatever you might be forced to choose, you’ll probably make as good a guess as any politician.

— Bud Norman

Bridging the Scandal Gap

So many scandals are currently afoot it has become hard to keep up. The big one seems to be the manufactured traffic jam that occurred a while back in New Jersey, judging by the media coverage, but we hope the public will find some time for the others.
The New Jersey traffic jam is a big deal, of course. We’re frustrated enough with the relatively light traffic here in Wichita that we can readily sympathize with the poor New Jerseyite souls who had to endure hours of inching across a single lane of the George Washington Bridge in order to get to their jobs in New York City, and we can’t blame them for being outraged that e-mail and text messages seem to have proved it was caused an aide to the New Jersey governor who was highly placed enough to order the lane closings as retribution for a mayor’s refusal to endorse the governor’s re-election campaign. This is not only an outrageous abuse of power that inconvenienced many thousands of innocent people, it predictably endangered the lives of people needing emergency medical treatment, violated the law and every standard of democratic behavior, and has rightly provoked severe criticism of the governor.
Even so, the attention being paid to matter seems inordinate to some of the other scandals. The good folks at newsbusters.org, for instance, have found that in just the past 24 hours the three traditional over-the-air networks have spent more airtime on the traffic jam than they have spent in the past six months on the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of the president’s political opponents. Dedicated news-followers might vaguely recall the IRS scandal, which involved a president rather than a governor, a political movement comprised of millions of Americans rather than the hapless commuters of a New Jersey city, and a systematic attempt to stifle the free speech rights of a significant portion of the country rather than a ridiculously petty vendetta against a mayor. The governor in question has fired the people responsible for the scandal and forthrightly accepted responsibility for hiring them, whereas nobody has suffered any consequences for the IRS misconduct and the president ultimately responsible the agency continues to dismiss it as a “phony scandal.”
Forgive our right-wing cynicism, but we can’t help suspecting that the difference in the media coverage has something to do with the governor being a Republican and the president a Democrat.
That the Republican is widely considered a contender for his party’s presidential nomination probably has something to do with it as well. From our prairie perspective it has always been hard to envision Gov. Chris Christie as the Republican nominee, given his intolerance of gun rights, tolerance of radical Islamism, post-hurricane embrace of Obama, and various other northeastern heresies against the one true Republican faith, but the east coast media take the idea quite seriously. Christie initially appalled the east coast media and impressed heartland conservatives by confronting the public sector unions and cutting his state’s budget, although his efforts paled in comparison to what our Kansas governor has gleefully done in this right-to-work state, but has since charmed the reporters to approximately the same extent he has alienated his fellow Republicans in the rest of the country. Some polls show him as his party’s best chance of beating Hillary Clinton, however, so the media are bound to seize the opportunity of an actual scandal to bring him down. Just as Sen. John McCain learned back in ’08, being the Democratic media’s favorite Republican doesn’t mean you’re not a Republican.
That the Democrat implicated in the IRS scandal is Barack Obama also makes a difference. Affiliation with a racialist religious cult, the Fast and Furious gun-running operation, politically-motivated subsidies for the soon-to-be-bankrupt Solyndra scam, the deaths of four Americans at the unprotected consulate in Benghazi, and countless other scandals that would have dominated the front pages even during a typical Democratic administration, have all been happily downplayed by the media, lest the historic presidency of the media’s anointed messiah be tarnished. After a brief surge of publicity that lasted about as long as the fiction that it was all the work of a few low-level government workers in Cleveland, the IRS scandal has received little coverage. Even the announcement that the investigator officially appointed to get to the bottom of it all is an Obama contributor, a scandal within a scandal has been largely overlooked in all rush to the George Washington Bridge.
There are plenty of other scandals, too, from the Justice Department’s demand that schools discipline students in accordance with racial quotas to the administration’s appointment of a cop-killer’s advocate to a key a civil rights post. Most of them don’t involve a Republican, though, much less a Republican that is perceived as a threat to Hillary Clinton’s historic continuation of the current administration, so there won’t be much airtime or news hole to paid heed.

— Bud Norman

The View from Back East

The fortune cookie that accompanied our meal at a P.F. Chang’s franchise somewhere in the endless sprawl of the Philadelphia metropolitan area told us that “A visit to a strange place will bring you renewed perspective.” The faux-Chinese proverb provided by the faux-Chinese restaurant elicited a slight chuckle, given that the joint was eerily identical to the P.F. Chang’s franchise on the far east side of Wichita, right down to the overly-friendly waiter and the over-priced appetizers, but in truth our rare travel beyond the prairie has offered a few fresh insights.
Modern technology and corporate capitalism have done much to obliterate the regional differences that have long strained the union of the states, but there’s still no mistaking that we’re not in Kansas anymore. The television shows and the offerings at the local movie theaters are the same as back home, and although the local news anchors and anchorettes are different they all have the same handsome and pretty and self-serious look about them and the same bright graphics over their shoulders and the same tales of crime and tax increases to report. We’ve passed countless malls with the same impermanent architecture and the same stores as that we pass by on our drives back home, and although the convenience store market is dominated by something called Wawa rather than the QuikTrip stores that dominate the prairie they have the same gargantuan sodas and high-calorie fast foods and sterile atmosphere. There’s a lot more of everything, though, and occasional other reminders half a continent continues to make a difference in the daily life of an American.
These differences are especially apparent in the quadrennial election results, when the states in the northeast light up in blue and the prairie states turn red, and our perusal of the local press provides plenty of other reminder that folks are far more liberal in this part of the country. The Philadelphia Inquirer is obliged to cover the politics of not only Pennsylvania but also Delaware and New Jersey and the rest of the itty-bitty states that are crammed together around here, and little of it makes sense to someone more accustomed to Kansas politics. Gun-grabbing, Muslim-loving, Obama-embracing Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is considered a Republican by the prevailing local standards, and his commonsensical insistence on balanced budgets and non-punitive tax rates even makes him a relatively radical right-winger in the view of the east coast press, and it is amusing to read the speculation that he might win over enough honest-to-God Republicans in the heartland to win his party’s nomination for president. Such crazy talk is unaccountable to the Kansas kind of Republican, but after just a few days back east it begins to make some sort of sense.
The first thing a denizen of the prairie notices after arriving at Philadelphia’s intimidatingly immense airport is the city’s downright claustrophobic population, which can’t help but inculcate the collectivist mindset that is at the root of liberalism. The vast space of the prairie provides room for the rugged individualism that underlies the conservative philosophy, but getting so many millions of people to live together in such a constrained area apparently requires a degree of regulation that only liberals are willing to contemplate. Class differences are also more conspicuous and no doubt more infuriating here, where the poverty is more glaringly oppressive and the wealth more gleamingly opulent, so the enforced egalitarianism of the liberal program has an understandable appeal. Even as it becomes more apparent that it will lead to everyone but the politically connected becoming equally poor and stupid, we expect that a good many northeasterners will be satisfied with the result.
Still, there’s much to be said for this strange part of the country. Prairie folk will also notice that there’s an immense amount of history here, with elegant homes and businesses that were already old when J.R. Meade established the mud-walled trading post that was the very first edifice of what would become Wichita, Kansas, and we can’t help enjoying that irony that everything in our far more old-fashioned hometown is relatively new compared to what we find in this more up-to-date metropolis. The Philly cheese steak sandwiches at a distinctively local little eatery called Romano’s cannot be duplicated elsewhere, even if no one in this seems to know how to cook a proper chicken fried steak, and there are other only-in-Philadelphia touches that have somehow survived the relentless homogenization of modern America. Most of the folks we’ve encountered have been friendly enough, as well, and the modern technology allowed us to watch the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad extend their thus-far unbeaten season on the internet, even in a place where most people would likely wonder what the hell a Wheatshocker is.
With a return to federalism and a bit of tolerance by both city and country folk, there’s a chance the union might somehow survive that red and blue electoral map.

— Bud Norman

The Results are In

Some high-profile elections were held Tuesday, and the results provide political junkies with something to talk but nothing for either party to celebrate.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe eked out a win in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, but the margin of victory does not bode well for his party. The former Democratic National Committee chairman and longtime Clinton family bagman had a lavishly-funded and professionally-run campaign machine, his Republican opponent was an unabashed Tea Party type who was thus easily caricatured as a right-wing nutcase by the state’s helpful press, there was also a Libertarian candidate generously funded by an Obama operative to lure some votes from the right, and with the northern half of the state rapidly swelling with grateful employees of the ever-growing federal government the race was supposed to be a rout. All the polls showed that it was going to be lopsided until Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli started reminding people that he had been the first state Attorney General to oppose Obamacare, at which point the polls tightened to a point McAuliffe wound up winning by far less than the share of the vote snookered by the faux-Libertarian. Had the Libertarian’s source of money been known earlier the race would likely have gone to Cuccinelli, and the dirty trick will be difficult to pull off against all the other Republicans lined up to bash Obamacare in next year’s mid-term elections.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie rolled to landslide reelection victory in New Jersey, which is not intended as a fat joke, but even such an impressive margin of victory in such a Democratic state does not justify all the resultant wild talk about his presidential prospects. After an upset victory over the incredibly sleazy incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine and the Democratic machine that had the state on the verge of bankruptcy Christie quickly gained national prominence by taking on the public sector unions to slash an unsustainable budget, and with a colorfully pugnacious style that played well beyond the tough-guy precincts of New Jersey, but conservative enthusiasm waned as it gradually became apparent that on issues ranging from guns to illegal immigration to Islamism he was more a northeasterner than a real Republican, and the straw that broke the conservative camel’s back was Christie’s literal embrace of Obama during the much-hyped phony-baloney Hurricane Sandy recovery effort that reversed the president’s slide in the polls.
Although Christie can claim to have won over blue state voters, much as Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts, and is now every Republican-hating reporter’s favorite Republican, much as John McCain was, these qualifications are unlikely to convince Republican primary voters that he’s a sure-fire winner. He can still boast of having confronted the public sector union beast and set his state’s finances more or less in order, but so can Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker, who survived a bruising recall effort and greater liberal vitriol to do so, and Walker isn’t burdened by Christie’s polite northeastern opinions on other important matters. There’s talk of Christie switching parties to get around these difficult political realities, but it’s hard to imagine anyone whose great claim to fame is an in-your-face hostility toward public sector unions ever winning a Democratic primary anywhere. Christie might take a hard turn to the right now that he’s term-limited from another state race, much as Kathleen Sebelius went crazy left after winning her second term as Kansas’ governor in order to win her currently uncomfortable position in the Obama administration, but it will take some doing to make for him to make sufficient amends with the conservatives here in the gun-loving heartland.
Another Democrat won by a landslide in the New York City mayoral election, and a more-or-less outright commie Democrat at that, but that will ultimately be to the party’s detriment. The victory is a bigger deal than the an inland American’s stereotype of New York would suggest, as it has been a hard-to-believe 20 years since a Democrat won in that overwhelmingly Democratic metropolis, but a mayor bent on waging war against the rich folk who pay for the city’s lavish government will soon remind the city why it went so long without Democrats. In the ‘70s and ‘80s New York City descended into a graffiti-covered and trash-strewn state of lawlessness and insolvency, to the point that such an out-and-out Republican as Rudy Giuliani was given two terms to turn things around with aggressive law enforcement and free-market economics. He was succeeded by Michael Bloomberg, a media magnate and Republican who quickly reverted to an independent status lest he be embarrassed at the town’s tonier cocktail parties, and although he became a national laughingstock with his eat-your-broccoli paternalism he retained enough of the pro-business and anti-crime policies of his predecessor to keep the city successful. The new guy won on promises to stop the police department’s controversial “stop and frisk” rules and to somehow make everyone in the city equally impoverished, and apparently there are enough New Yorkers who can’t recall the ‘70s and ‘80s to make this a winning argument. The results should provide Republicans with plenty of object lessons in coming campaigns.
Things have gotten so bad in Detroit that the city elected a white mayor, its first in 40 years. He’s a Democrat, of course, but it’s still a sign that when things get bad enough people will try anything.

— Bud Norman