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On the Half-a-Centenary of the Breakdown of America’s Two-Party System

By now we’re well aware that Tempus does indeed fugit, as those wise old Romans used to say, but it was still jarring to be reminded on Tuesday that the memorable events of the 1968 Democratic National Committee happened in Chicago just a short half-century ago. The after effects of that event still showed-up in Tuesday’s round of mid-term primaries, as in earlier primaries even here in good old Kansas, and for now we worry that time doesn’t really change things much.
Then as now most big American cities were dominated by efficient if corrupt Democratic political machines, but back then Chicago was run by the non-nonsense boss Mayor Richard Daley, whose rough and ready and every-loyal police department laid a serious nationally-televised beating on those hippies and yippies and civil rights types. The civil rights hero and unrepentant Cold Warrior Humphrey wound up winning the nomination, but in the aftermath of the televised rioting no Democrat stood a chance back in ’68. The Republican nominee was former Vice President and Sen. Richard Nixon, who was more hawkish on Vietnam and more ambivalent on civil yet rights, yet whose nomination didn’t create such a ruckus at his later nominating convention in Miami, Florida,and with help from a former Democrat’s blatantly racist racist and nuke em’ all’s third candidacy Nixon wound up losing by a landslide plurality.
By ’72 the Democrats were taken over by the hippies and yippies and they wound up nominating Sen. George McGovern, who was a bona fide World War II hero but also far-left-of-center at the time, and he wound u0 losing in an historic popular and electoral landslide despite the early and retrospectively obvious intimations that Nixon would resign in disgrace just a few years later.These days, after so many years, seem to offer no better alternatives.
In some states and congressional districts and county commission zones the Democrats are offering up reasonable enough candidates, but they’re going far left in the Bronx and Queens district of New York City and in Tuesday’s Florida gubernatorial primary and elsewhere, and even in Kansas’ third district. They’re running some people running crazy left people we could never vote for. Meanwhile our Republican Party seems enthralled of our current President Donald Trump, whose presidency we fully expect and ardently hope will soon come to the same inglorious end as Nixon’s, and for now it’s hard to decide who we’ll vote for. Even after 50 years, we’re still not sure which desultory choices we would choose.

— Bud Norman

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Begging One’s Pardon

As old-fashioned Republican conservatives we have long argued for strict border enforcement, “law and order” more generally, and a reasonable tolerance for whatever unpleasantness that might necessarily entail, and for just as long we’ve insisted that there’s nothing the least bit racist about that, but President Donald Trump’s pardon of Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio doesn’t make the chore any easier.
Even before his presidential pardon “Sheriff Joe” was nationally known as the strictest border enforcer of them all, and he widely publicized the unpleasantness he inflicted on the suspects arrested by his department, so of course to a certain type of old-fashioned Republican he was widely celebrated as a sort of western movie hero. He was the staunchest of the “birthers” insisting that President Barack Obama had not been born in the United States, too, and flouted “political correctness” more defiantly than anyone on the political landscape up to that point.
To almost any sort of old-fashioned Republican conservative there was a certain appeal to it. There were law enforcement officials in more fashionable districts who were defiantly refusing to do their duty to the country’s immigration laws, often with disastrous consequences to their citizens but always with no harm to their own careers, and it was hard not to like a guy who seemed intent on protecting the citizenry by bucking fashionable opinion. Lodging jailed suspects under tents in the Arizona heat and forcing them to wear pink undergarments was undeniably harsh, but there were always stories about some more fashionable jurisdiction where they undeniably lax. There was never any reason to buy into the “birther” nonsense, but there was plenty of reason to believe that Obama was more cosmopolitan than American in his world view, with disastrous consequences tot he citizenry, and by now almost everyone admits that much of that “political correctness” is an even more ridiculous load of nonsense.
To a certain sort of old-fashioned conservative Republican, though, Arpaio always seemed more problematic than heroic. The reason he was offered a presidential pardon is because he was convicted of violating the order of a duly appointed court of law to stop violating the constitutional rights of citizens in his jurisdiction, his cocky acceptance of the pardon is as acknowledgement that he was unrepentantly guilty, so for our certain sort of old-fashioned conservative Republicans the pardon can’t reconcile with all the talk about law and order. We’re quite willing to buck fashionable opinion when it comes to a suspect who has been properly arrested with probable cause and turns out to be legitimately suspected of violating the immigration laws, and we heap Republican scorn on those law enforcement officers who won’t report that to higher authorities for merely fashionable reasons, but Arpaio’s department was systematically was stopping motorists and pedestrians just because they looked like they might be illegal immigrants, and we never signed up for that.
Maricopa County encompasses almost the entire metropolitan Phoenix area, and if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to be there in the winter you know it’s a lovely and very up-to-date big city with a lot of illegal immigrants and a lot of people who might look like they might be illegal immigrants but whose families have been living in the state for much longer than anybody named Arpaio. The Arpaio policy wound up snaring a lot of illegal immigrants who might otherwise have escaped justice, some of whom might well have otherwise done something awful, but it also wound up subjecting a lot of taxpaying and law-abiding American citizens of long generational standing to some entirely unnecessary and sometimes extreme unpleasantness. We enjoy bashing those squishy liberal judges as much as any old-fashioned Republican conservative after their all-frequent crazy rulings, but in this case we have to admit that an honest reading of the plain language of the Constitution says you can’t stop and detain people just because they look like they might be illegal immigrants.
That’s the Constitution, too, which is the highest law of the land and the one most needed to maintain our still somewhat civilized order.
To a certain certain sort of new-fangled Republican this makes us “RINOs” and “cuckservatives,” mere Beta Males too timid to undertake the harsh measures required for the current crisis, but by now we think they’re all crazy. We’re as law and order as ever on border enforcement and pretty much everything else that old-fashioned Republican conservatives care about, but only so long as it’s lawfully enforced with due respect for those law-abiding but darker-hued citizens who are just trying to get home after a hard day’s work, and our day-to-day encounters with all sorts of fellow citizens are pleasant enough we don’t see any pressing need to suspend the constitution and impose martial law.
We are now forced to admit, though, that there’s another sort of old-fashioned Republican conservative out there who openly yearns for such authoritarian measures. There’s also an authoritarian impulse on the left, to be sure, and the authoritarian right will always present itself as the last defense against its disastrous consequences, but if it comes down to one of those street fights you saw in the last days of Germany’s Weimar Republic we’ll probably sit it out in the comfort of our home. We’re still hoping the center will hold, and that law and order can be achieved lawfully, but the Arpaio pardon doesn’t help.
Trump oh-so-coyly promised the pardon to a raucous campaign rally crowd a few days earlier, saying Arpaio had been “convicted for doing his job,” but he actually granted the pardon just before a historic and headline-grabbing storm fell on Texas and Louisiana, and a raucous crowd that didn’t seem include anyone who might look like an illegal immigrant cheered on the idea that violating the rights of certain taxpaying and law-abiding citizens is just part of a lawman’s job. The governments of Poland and Turkey and the Philippines have lately expanded their authoritarian rule over the press and local officials and other troublesome members of the civic society, each got congratulatory calls from Trump, who also ran on recently repeated campaign promises of war crimes, and we can no longer deny there’s a certain authoritarian streak within our Republican party.
We’ll continue to argue with our Democratic and darker-hued friends that immigration law should be enforced within the strict limits allowed by the Constitution, and without any racist intent, but it’s going to harder to argue that our Republican party is on board with that. We’ll also continue to argue with the Black Lives Matter movement that some indulgent degree of rule of law is needed to keep a lot of black lives from being lost to murder, but we can no longer promise that the inevitable provable cases of police brutality won’t be tolerated. Trump did joke to a gathering of law enforcement, after all, that they shouldn’t be so careful not cause head injuries when putting suspects under arrest.
At least we can take some comfort from knowing we’re not the only old-fashioned Republicans who are uncomfortable with all this Alpha Male stuff. At that Phoenix rally Trump also railed against the state’s two Republican Senators, but both defied the insults by steadfastly denouncing the pardon, as did the Arizona governor and Phoenix mayor. The Republican Speaker of the House stated his disagreements, too, along with several other Republicans and the most old-fashioned of the Republican media. Most of the law enforcement community also criticized the jokes about police brutality, too, few elected Republican officials seem on board with all that authoritarianism abroad, and so far the opinion polls show the center holding.
Arpaio is 85 years old, the misdemeanor charge he’d been convicted of but not yet sentenced for carried a maximum of seven months that he never would have been forced to endure in a tent shelter while wearing pink undergarments, so he’s neither a heroic figure nor a pitiable victim at this point. What matters is the clear message that his pardon sends to both Trump’s most ardent admirers and his most fierce critics.

— Bud Norman

Race, Class, Gender, and the New Rules

Race, gender, and class are the trinity of modern liberalism, and all three are becoming increasingly complicated.
While growing up in the heroic era of the civil rights movement we were taught that the race issue was a rather simple of matter of judging a man by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, but such simplistic notions of racial equality are apparently no longer applicable. The great civil rights cause of recent months has involved a black teenager who was fatally shot while attempting to kill a white police officer, and we read that the organizers of one of the many protests demanding the officer be punished for not allowing himself to be murdered are insisting that only “people of color” participate, although they will generously allow “non-people of color” to stand nearby in solidarity. Aside from the new civil rights movement’s curious insistence on a return to racial segregation, we’re also jarred by its terminology. “People of color” has always struck as uncomfortably close to “colored people,” a phrase that was banned from polite conversation way back in our boyhood days, except at meetings of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which seems to be exempted by some sort of grandfather clause, and we’re not sure if the unfamiliar description of “non-people of color” is meant to imply that we’re not people or just that we’re not sufficiently hued, but in any case the new rules will take some getting used to.
The latest news is also forcing us to reconsider our past lessons regarding what were once called the sexes but is now known as the genders. In our formative years the feminist movement insisted on that same simplistic notion of equal treatment that the civil rights movement once championed, to the point that such old-fashioned acts of chivalry as opening a door or offering a bus seat to a woman were considered insulting and women were allowed to be as irresponsibly promiscuous as the most libidinous man. Feminism thus defined proved predictably popular with the least chivalrous and most libidinous men, and the resulting bacchanal that is contemporary college life has predictably proved so unsatisfactory to those women who retain a traditionally feminine desire for love and commitment that it has been deemed a “culture of rape” and the feminists are now insisting that any woman who has been unhappily seduced be able to have the cad thrown out of school without due process. Contraceptives are still to be subsidized, and anyone who who thinks less of the women who choose to be irresponsibly are faulted for “slut-shaming,” but any man who still plays by the earlier rules would be well advised to get himself a lawyer. The issue is further complicated by the recent invention of several new sexual categories other than male and female, including such exotic and seemingly rare categories as transgendered and omni-gendered and a few others that we’ve had to look up on the internet because the dictionaries haven’t yet caught up with them, and we shudder to think how arcane the rules for their relationships might be.
Class used to be simpler, too. In our younger days rich people were all right so long as they earned their money in an honest and socially beneficial way, poor people were all right so long as their poverty resulted from hard luck or heredity, and most people considered themselves somewhere in between and thought themselves all right as well. Back then the rich people were presumed Republican, the poor people Democrat, and the folks in between chose sides according to their personal preferences. Now the very rich and the very poor tend to be Democrats, which imbues both with a sense of nobility, while the folks in the middle tend to vote Republican, which earns them a reputation as boobs. Because the Democrats’ candidates are invariably from the wealthier end of the party, usually having earned their wealth through political connections and speaking fees and marrying rich widows and other not very honest or socially beneficial ways, it requires a more complex theory of class than Marx and Engels ever conceived. The wealthiest and most liberal communities in America are the most segregated by both class and race, the poorest and most liberal communities can be counted on to continue voting for the policies that have created their segregated squalor, and the new rules somehow allow the former to retain their sense of moral righteousness and the latter to retain an even more spiritually satisfying sense of victimhood.
Keeping up with all these changes is proving exhausting, and we’re inclined to stop trying. Better we should keep on judging men by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, treating women with the respect we would want for ourselves, and assuming that the rich and the poor and the folks in between are all right unless we have reason we think otherwise. This might make us racist, sexist, and classist, but we’re unlikely to avoid those charges now matter how hard we try be up-to-date.

— Bud Norman

Fifty Years After a Dream

Much has changed since Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of Lincoln Memorial, and the 50th anniversary observance held on Wednesday demonstrates how very much.
The original “March on Washington” drew an estimated million people to the city, with more than 100,000 of them packed into the National Mall to hear King and a distinguished roster of other speakers and performers, but despite the best efforts of the racial grievance industry only 20,000 or so showed up for a commemoration featuring the likes of the buffoonish Rev. Al Sharpton and the crackpot socialist priest Rev. Michael Fleger, who bravely suggested that young black men refrain from shooting one another for a day. Such glaring disparities reflect the difference between 1963, when racism was widely accepted by American society, codified in its laws, and enforced with frequent brutality, and today.
Although it would be an overstatement to say that King’s dream of a country where men and women are judged by the content of their characters rather than the color of their skin, even the most aggrieved speakers were forced to concede that things have gotten better. Indeed, even the injustices they cited with an old-fashioned fervor proved the point. In 1963 an exceptional young scholar named Medger Evers was assassinated for attempting to enroll in such an unexceptional institution as the University of Mississippi, and fifty years later the only civil rights “martyr” they could cite was Trayvon Martin, a young thug who was shot while slamming a neighborhood watch volunteer’s head against the pavement. In 1963 blacks were routinely denied the right to vote by a variety of rules enforced throughout the southern states, and fifty years later the oft-repeated complaint was that many states throughout the country now require the same sorts of photo identification that are needed to cash a check, buy a beer, or get into the Justice Department to see the black Attorney General. In 1963 a hard-working and underpaid black woman was barred entry to American many stores, and fifty years later the speakers included a billionaire television celebrity who has recently groused that a store clerk was suspiciously reluctant to show her a $38,000 handbag during her recent trip to Sweden.
Fifty years after King’s dream is arguably the best of times and the worst of times in black America, as the brightest and most industrious of race have availed themselves of the opportunities created by the civil rights revolution to move into positions of power and affluent neighborhoods while leaving behind an underclass trapped in slums more brutal and dilapidated and hopeless than any of the segregated black s of the early ‘60s, but what’s left of the civil rights revolution is ill-positioned to comment on either. Any acknowledgement of the progress that has been made weakens the movement’s claim to victimhood, which is the source of its power, and any acknowledgement of the real problems that remain calls into question the most revered assumptions about the government’s role in setting things right.
President Barack Obama, a black man who has moved into the world’s most powerful position and most affluent neighborhood, cited the sobering statistics about black unemployment and family income as if he had been a hapless observer rather than the nation’s chief executive for the past five years. He didn’t mention the gap in educational achievement between blacks and whites, or the former group’s much higher rate of illegitimacy, even though both are the reasons for the disparities in employment and income, but the peculiar politics of race make those topics unmentionable. Fixing the public school that has spectacularly failed black America would require confronting the teachers and embracing such radical notions as the voucher programs that Obama has dutifully opposed, decrying out-of-wedlock births would lead to charges of racial insensitivity and theocratic moralizing, either would entail a criticism of the hip-hop culture that has been such a stalwart Democratic Party constituency, and starting such a discussion might lead people to realize that government policies he has long championed are largely responsible for both problems.
The world will little note nor long remember anything that was said at Wednesday’s rally, a nostalgic celebration of a time when liberalism occupied the moral high ground and didn’t have to confront the complex problems of today, but at least King’s speech still resonates.

— Bud Norman