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Kansas, Back in the Middle of the Country

The Republicans’ seven year quest to repeal and replace Obamacare is currently as dead as a proverbial door nail, and likely to remain so for a long while, so for now the party is mostly concerned with apportioning the blame. Many of the fingers are pointing at our beloved Kansas’ very own Sen. Jerry Moran, and from our wind-swept perspective here on the southern great plains that suggests the party has some hard-to-solve problems.
Moran and Sen. Mike Lee of the equally blood-red state of Utah simultaneously “tweeted” on Monday that they would vote “no” on the Senate’s repeal-and-replace bill, and with Sen. Susan Collins from deep blue Main already voting “no” because of the bill’s stinginess and Sen. Rand Paul from the hard-to-define shade of red Kentucky objecting to its largess, that that was two Republican votes too many for the bill to survive. On Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also from that complicated Kentucky, floated the idea of simply repealing Obamacare with a promise to replace it with something so great it will make your head spin within within two years, but Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of the reliably red state of Alaska and Sen. Shelley Moore Caputo of the West Virginia, which is only recently red but with all the fervor of a new convert, joined together to put the kibosh on that. All will be blamed for the party’s failure to get something passed, but we suspect that many of their colleagues are quietly grateful for the favor.

The Senate bill was polling so horribly it had actually made the hated Obamacare bill popular, which was more than President Barack Obama’s oratorical flourishes and outright obfuscations ever achieved, and every sort of Republican also had some objections. It wasn’t the root-and-branch repeal-and-replacement that the Republicans had been promising since every single member of the party had voted against the damned thing those many years ago, and retained many of the poll-tested but economically unworkable provisions of Obamacare that are currently driving up premiums in a politically potent number of states and congressional districts, so the conservative arguments were hard to refute. The bill also included significant cuts to Medicaid and other entitlement programs, and when Vice President Mike Pence tried to deny that at a governor’s conference several Republican governors politely explained he was flat wrong, and given that they and all those wary Republican congressional members are all polling much better in their home states than either President Donald Trump or his senate there’s no arguing with the political logic.
All politics is local, as the old proverb put it, and as Kansans we sympathize with how complicated that must be for Moran. Ever since the abolitionists came here to fight the Bleeding Kansas pre-civil war the state’s tended Republican, and except for the landslide elections of ’36 and ’64 it’s voted GOP in every presidential races and has only once sent a Democrat to the United States senate, but of course it’s more complicated than that. Those abolitionists were upright establishment New Englanders with high-minded ideas about good government, and of course they were also religious zealots and unabashed radicals, always facing the harsh reality of making a honest living on treeless plain, and those various forces still inform the political debate around here. They were later joined in the party by Swedes and Russians and Germans and the black Exodusters fleeing the slavery of the south, but the party remained in steadfast opposition to the Democrats and the even crazier Prairie Populists and in disagreement about everything else.
For the most part the moderate factions always prevailed, standing firmly against the most radical Democrat ideas but willing to embrace a certain amount of good government. The party generously funded the state’s schools, kept the roads between all the small towns paved, locked up the occasional mass murderers and other criminal types, paid the salaries of all the pointy-headed professors at the regent universities, and provided for widows and orphans. Kansas has always provided fertile soil for a more ruggedly individualistic style of conservatism, though, and it has also exerted an influence on the party.
When the election of President Barack Obama unleashed some of the Democratic Party’s more radical ideas back in ’08 the state was at the forefront of the “Tea Party” reaction, with pretty much the entirety of the Republican Party on board. All of the state’s congressional delegation, including then-First District Rep. Moran, voted against Obamacare and the rest of the Democratic agenda, and the conservative outrage trickled down to the rest of the state’s politics. By ’10 the Republicans in Congress and the statehouse who were deemed insufficiently rocked-ribbed faced primary challenges, the successor to Democratic-governor-turned-Obama-cabinet-secretary Kathleen Sibelius was replaced by the exceedingly rock-ribbed Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, and when some of the Republicans in the state legislature balked at his tax-and-budget-cutting proposals they were largely replaced by primary challengers.
When Brownback relinquished his Senate seat to run for governor Moran beat out the more “Tea Party” Fourth District Rep. Todd Tiahrt in a hotly contested primary, and a couple of years later the curmudgeonly conservative but by-now-establishment Sen. Pat Roberts barely survived a primary challenge from an even more curmudgeonly conservative political neophyte who was related to Obama on the Kansas side of the family tree, but the conservative and anti-establishment faction of the party was clearly in control.
Since then, however, the moderate and establishment wing of the Grand Old Party has been making a comeback. Brownback and Roberts and all the rest of the party won re-election in the nationwide Republican wave of ’14, but by then it was clear that Brownback’s theoritically-sound but admittedly radical tax-and-budget-cutting proposals weren’t spurring the economy and balancing the books as predicted, and that after so many rounds of cuts the schools and roads and prisons and the rest of the states business were bound to be affected, so suddenly the establishment moderate types were winning the primary challenges. Enough of them won in the last election that they were able to join with the Democrats to recently override Brownback’s veto of a tax increase. Tax increases are anathema to a Kansas Republican’s soul, but so are unbalanced budgets and uneducated schoolchildren and unpaved roads and unpunished criminals, and in Kansas as elsewhere politics is complicated that way.
Which is pretty much the complicated place that Moran found himself when he decided to cast a “no” vote that he surely knew would invite plenty of pointing figures, here and in the rest of the Republican precincts of the country. He and Lee shrewdly timed their announcements so that neither could be blamed as the guy who cast the fatal vote against repeal-and-replace, both reasonably explained that a “yes” vote wouldn’t have fulfilled their campaign promises of a root-and-branch repeal and replacement, and both surely have other unstated more moderate reasons that make an undeniable political logic.
Once you get outside the big bad city of Wichita and the trendy suburbs of Kansas City or the booming college town of Lawrence and the recently-recession-plagued state capital of Topeka, Kansas is mostly a scenic but sparsely populated expanse of rapidly aging small towns with a dwindling supply of rapidly aging people. In many of these locales, which are still quite charmingly all-American, the main driver of the local economy and the most crucial local institutions are the local hospitals and old folks’ homes, largely funded by Medicaid, and despite what Vice President Pence says on behalf of President Obama those Republican governors with the healthier poll numbers are probably right about the Senate bill. For all the economic harm Obamacare is doing to the healthy young hipsters of Lawrence and the family guys commuting back to the Kansas City suburbs and the factory guys here in Wichita, we can hardly blame Moran for not wanting to face the wrath of all those paid-up geezers in the rest of the state.
If Moran wants to cynically claim conservative principles to justify his more moderate political instincts, we’ll not blame him for that the next time he’s up for reelection. After a half-century of proud Kansas Republicanism, which instinctively stretches back to the abolitionist Bleeding Kansas days, we’ll not fault a guy for insisting on anything less than an root-and-branch repeal-and-replacement bill, and that a truly free market would have cared for those old folks in those charming small towns, and until then we’ll also figure we have to take care of them somehow.
All the rest of the Republican votes that killed the Republican dream probably have their own local logic. Trump won Utah by the same usual Republican margins that he won Kansas, but he finished a distant third in both state’s Republican primaries, and his polls numbers aren’t sufficient to scare Republicans in many states. The three senators who took the stand against repeal-only are all women, each of whom were excluded from the behind-closed-doors writing of the bill, which is one of the many very stupid things that McConnell did during the failed process, but we credit each of the ladies with more sensible local political reasons for their “no” votes.
Go ahead and blame them all for wrecking the Republicans’ seen-year quest, as they willingly volunteered for the finger-pointing, but from our perspective here on the southern plains there’s plenty of blame to go around. Trump arm-twisted enough House Republicans to pass a bill that he later “tweeted” was “mean” and lacking “heart,” never gave any major speeches with oratorical flourishes or outright obfuscations on behalf of the similar Senate bill, and not even such sycophants as Sean Spicer or Sean Hannity can deny that he didn’t made good on his campaign promises of universal coverage and lower costs and no cuts to Medicaid within 100 days of his inauguration. If you’re more inclined to blame McConnell and the rest of that GOP establishment that Trump vowed to burn down, well, we can’t readily think of any excuses for them.
Those treasonous turncoats might have saved the Republican Party from passing a wildly unpopular bill that set off another round of wave elections, though, and given the party a chance to go slowly according to old-fashioned good government principles and get things right, which is more than those damned Democrats ever did. That’s what we’re hoping for here in the middle of the country, at any rate.

— Bud Norman

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A Rocky Road to An Electoral Decision

Being unable to bring ourselves to cast a vote for either of this crazy election year’s awful major party presidential nominees, we’ve lately been looking into possible alternatives. It turns out this isn’t a binary choice after all, no matter how many times we’ve heard that tiresome phrase, as we seem to have a wide range of options.
Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson will be on the Kansas presidential ballot, and he merits some consideration. He served two successful terms as a tax-and-budget-cutting governor of New Mexico, is proposing the sort of free market economic policies that warm our heart, and we figure that the legalized marijuana he advocates will surely come in handy over the next four years no matter how the race turns out. There’s also his eerie resemblance to the late character actor Sterling Holloway, a childhood favorite of ours, and his humble and easy-going personality and self-deprecating sense of humor are especially appealing when compared to those awful major party nominees. On the other hand he has occasionally been glaringly uninformed on important issues, hews to the Libertarians’ let-the-world-go-to-hell foreign policy, and he’s not at all libertarian on matters of religious liberty, so we kept looking.
Also on the Kansas presidential ballot is Green Party nominee Jill Stein. She seems a nice enough woman, so far as we can tell, but c’mon, she’s the Green Party nominee, which we call the Watermelon Party, because it’s green on the outside but red on the inside, so the search continues.
There’s also a widely popular write-in option on the Kansas ballot, which allows for literally millions of constitutionally eligible candidates, some of whom are surely better than either of those awful major party presidential nominees. Kansas only reports the write-in votes for those candidates who have applied and paid a nominal fee for write-in eligibility, and there only 21 of those, but we still like our odds of finding someone more suitable than those awful major party nominees in even that small number.
Among them is Andrew Basagio, who is running on “a quest to lobby the US government to disclose its teleportation secret so that teleportation can be adopted on a global basis to help humanity achieve planetary sustainability in the 21st century,” according to the web site of his “Project Pegasus,” which promotes his theories about time travel and the “Mars cover-up.” We’re not clear on what sort of shenanigans on Mars are being covered up, or by whom, and it all sounds a bit far-fetched, but time travel is an appealing daydream and in this crazy election year we can’t completely dismiss anything. Another option is Michael “Lev” Levinson, who is running “4 President then World Peacemaker” on a very beatnik free verse poem of a platform. That strikes us as kind of kooky, too, but given the major party candidates of this crazy election year we’re grading kookiness on a curve.
Also eligible for write-in votes in Kansas are the nominees of some more established political parties. The Prohibition Party has offered a candidate in the state every four years since 1872, and this time around it’s James Hedges, whose two terms as the tax assessor for Thompson Township in Pennsylvania made him the first party member to hold elective office since 1959 and give him more government experience than one of the major party nominees, and he seems a very sober fellow. We like almost all of his platform, but we can’t get around that Prohibition plank they seem so intent on, as we figure that beer will also come in handy the next four years no matter how this race turns out. The Socialist Party has been around since 1901, and got a significant chunk of votes when the legendary Eugene Debs was running from a prison cell, and you’d think they’d be ripe for a comeback in a such a crazy election that self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was a Democratic contender and both major party nominees probably belong behind bars, but this time around they’re running someone named Gloria La Riva, whose standing in solidarity with that recent Indian uprising over something or another up in the Dakotas, and she doesn’t seem to have the old radical chic pizzazz, and she’ll likely be splitting votes with the Peace and Freedom Party’s Monica Moorehead, whose web site for some reason features a La Riva banner.
Once upon a happier time in America Donald Trump was vying for the nomination of the Reform Party, that bunch of crazies created by the original nutcase billionaire presidential candidate Ross Perot, and this remains of that effort give us the option of Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, who also has the nomination of something called the American Delta Party. His website notes that the Reform Party’s “history and significance in America’s political history is well known,” the American Delta Party “is focused on bringing positive political change to our country,” and their candidate is “focused on exposing the corruption of our political system and restoring integrity to our Democracy,” and it’s hard to argue with any of that. De La Fuente isn’t the only “Rocky” in the race, though, as there is also a Rocky Giordano with write-in eligibility. He’s the nominee of the Independent American Party, a self described “God fearing, gun carrying” “Sinner saved by grace,” by far the most normal looking person ever to run for president of the United States, and so far as we can tell his call flat-out call for a flat tax is the only thing distinguishing his vague proposals from that awful Republican’s vague proposals.
The old-school sorts of conservatives can also choose either Darrell Castle, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War and happily married family man with a successful law practice who is the nominee of the Constitution Party, or Tom Hoefling of the anti-abortion and frankly old-fashioned America’s Party, neither of whom have anything worth ridiculing in their brief internet appearances. All we could find about candidate Lynn Kahn is that her “vision is an America that works for everyone with no one left out,” which sounds reasonable enough, and so far as we can tell American Solidarity Party nominee Mike Maturin is also favor of policies that benefit the people, so that’s worth considering. There’s something slightly fetching about that J.J. Vogel-Walcutt woman, a self-described “scientist, innovator, passionate American, proud parent, lover of bright red shoes,” who’s write-in eligible, too.
There’s scant information about most of the rest of them, except for a couple of inconspicuous Facebook pages one’s name turning up only a few hundred dollars worth of contributions in a Federal Elections Commission filing, and other names turning up nothing at all, but we were pleased to note that Evan McMullin is also on the list. The more assiduous news readers know him as the fellow who has an outside shot of winning Utah’s electoral votes and perhaps sending this crazy election year into further craziness, which has lately been getting him some very mainstream press attention. He was a longtime Central Intelligence Agency operative in some very dangerous spots, a successful employee of the Goldman-Sachs investment company, is by all accounts a straight-arrow type in his personal life and an old-school conservative in his public life, and he’s widely touted by what’s left of the respectable conservative press. We like almost all of his proposals, and his plain-spoken way of putting them, and are quite susceptible to his pitch of conservatism without any of the vitriol and scapegoating and demagoguery and downright bullying boorishness that have become associated with this cause in this crazy election year.
There are a few other names we’d rather write in, such as Nebraska’s stalwart Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, but they wouldn’t show up on that final tally, and in this crazy election year that makes some small difference to us. It’s nice to know that such a random selection of just 21 names turns up at least one that’s clearly superior to either of those two awful major party nominees, though, and in times like these we’ll settle for that.

— Bud Norman

The Republican Race Just Got Angrier and Better

The average Republican primary voter’s seething anger toward the party’s congressional leadership has been the driving force in the party’s presidential race thus far, to the point it’s driven the electorate so stark raving mad that until recently itDonald Trump has been pushed to the top of the polls, and this looming budget deal that the leadership has concocted with President Barack Obama is not going to calm any conservative’s temper.
The deal is just plain awful in every way. It effectively ends the “sequestration” budget cuts that lowered the government’s share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product from 25 to 20 percent and reduced the annual budget deficits back to the level of the Bush administration, which admittedly doesn’t seem like much, and it also caused cuts in defense spending that are painful to conservative sensibilities, but it was arguably the best the leadership could get and inarguably the most that the leadership could brag about. This is in exchange for promises of budget cuts in 2025, which are unlikely to be worth as much as the magic beans that the Democrats had also offered, and basically represents a complete and utter capitulation to Obama and his free-spending ways. There’s nothing in the deal that addresses Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts business or the Environmental Protection Agency’s rapaciousness or any other other conservative budget complaints, it goes the wrong way on entitlement reform, and it outlasts the Obama administration and thus spares him any more fights over how he spends the public’s money.
As awful as it is as policy, it’s even worse as politics. Aside from infuriating their own average primary voter, and in a futile attempt to lure the sort of uninformed general election voter who is far more likely to be lured by whatever free and shiny object the Democrats are offering, the Republican party’s official leadership are weakening their position with the solid majority of respondents to almost every poll we’ve ever seen who think the government should spend less and do less. The official Republican leadership’s spin on it seems to be that Boehner shrewdly sacrificed his standing with his party’s vast membership, such as it was, to ensure that incoming Speaker John Ryan can begin his more steadfastly conservative reign untainted by the sins his predecessor had so selflessly taken upon himself. This is all going to going down with Ryan’s gavel, though, and he’s not going to get any credit for it from the more establishmentarian organs of the mainstream press, who are already gearing up to portray him throughout the presidential campaign as the right-wing crazy that he used to be back in the good old days of ’12 when he was chosen as the party’s running mate to placate a conservative base weary of the establishment nominee Mitt Romney. Since then Ryan’s gone wobbly on illegal immigration and government shutdown brinksmanship and other causes dear to conservatives’ hearts, however, and by now no knowledgable observer expects a reign more steadfastly conservative than Boehner’s. Thus we have an emboldened left, a dispirited right, and an uninformed middle that will be reassured by the 3l-second network news snippets in between pop songs that the Republicans are still crazily right-wing and the Democrats are still winning.
The average Republican primary voter gets his news in three-hour chunks from talk radio and in page after pixelled page of reliable conservative news sources on the internet and sometimes even on a printed page, and his response to all of this will naturally affect the presidential race. Our guess is that the already flourishing anti-establishment candidates who are completely untainted by any previous elective office will continue to do well, and it will be interesting to see if blustery real estate billionaire Donald Trump or soft-spoken physician Ben Carson gets the best of it, or if the formidable but fading high executive Carly Fiorina can get back in the mix. As the best-selling author of “The Art of Deal,” with a hard-to-deny reputation as a ruthless dealmaker, Trump should gain some advantage, although we’re still convinced what kind of a deal the relatively recent Republican and only occasionally conservative fellow consider would consider good. Among the establishment politicians, both Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are presented with an excellent opportunity, and it will be interesting to see which one makes the most of it. Given the understandably seething anger of the average Republican primary voter, we expect they’ll try to out-do one another in their willingness to gum up the works. If we were betting men, and if he we had any money to bet, we’d go with Cruz.
Both men came into office by besting the “establishment” candidates in their states, with Rubio the most celebrated because he had upset the hated Rockefeller Republican and soon-to-be Democrat Charlie Crist in his primary, and in a swing state at that, but since then Cruz has proved the more reckless provocateur. His filibustering attempts on previous budget showdowns were widely blamed for the inevitable frenzy of news stories about National Parks closing and old folks dying while their Social Security checks went undelivered and Earth spinning out of its orbit that inevitably followed, as well as the electoral disasters that also didn’t happen, so of course the average Republican primary voter, if not the uninformed voter hearing those 30-second news snippets, has looked kindly upon him ever since. As the most notoriously anti-establishment of the elected officials, he’s well positioned to lead a charge here, and he strikes as the sort who seize it.
Rubio might surprise us, though. We still fondly recall the handsome young fellow who vanquished Crist, and all the rousing speeches about capitalism and constitutional guarantees of liberty and all that full-throated Cuban anti-communism, and we can’t help thinking he’d make a good pick against whatever crazy lefty the Democrats might come up with. Although the 30-second news snippets will continue to characterize him as a right-wing crazy he still needs to shore up that credential with we actual right-wing crazies, so a good old-fashioned Jimmy Stewart-style filibuster would do him even more good. It would also remind the public that he’s a Senator doing his job, which further refutes a minor controversy about all the Senate votes he’s been missing lately while out on the campaign trail, and ensures his name showing up in a lot of headlines that even the most uninformed voters are likely to spot.
Former Florida governor and Bush family scion “Jeb!” Bush tried to exploit the mixed votes in this weeks presidential debate, and the general consensus of pundit opinion is that Rubio responded nicely by contrasting his record with presidential candidates ranging from Sen. John McCain to Sen. Barack Obama, and that Bush’s already faltering campaign took another hit. We can’t see how the oh-so-establishment candidate from the oh-so-establishment family ever thought he stood a chance, and we can’t see how he’ll get one out of a budget deal that confirms every seething angry anti-establishment suspicion of the average Republican voter. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also had a good night slapping around the media in the last debate, but he has a certain East Coast attitude about guns and a shoddy record on Muslim jurists and other issues dear to the hearts of more heartland conservatives, as well as the audio of him of praising Obama’s Hurricane Sandy efforts and photos of them hugging together on the New Jersey shore like the end of some of Will Smith-Josh Rogan “bromance,” so he also never stood a chance and doesn’t stand to gain one from this awful budget deal.
Whichever candidate winds up winning the nomination on the seething angriness of the seething angriness of the average Republican primary voter, we don’t worry that all the pandering will hurt their chances in a general election against what left-wing crazy the Democrats put up. For all the effort packed into those 30-second spots to make the Republicans look extreme, the Democrats are staking out wildly unpopular positions on guns, illegal immigration, law enforcement, abortion, and even on the economic issues that take more than 30 seconds to explain. If Rubio or Cruz have to explain their brinksmanship on a budget showdown to a general electorate, they can say that they did it so that the government would have to spend less and do less, which always polls well, especially after the National Parks are re-opened and the old folks never did miss a Social Security check and Earth stays in its orbit. Given the mood of the average American voter, who by now regards both the Democrats and Republicans with a seething angry suspicion, the candidate that is mostly convincingly running against both parties stands to do well.

— Bud Norman

Bon Voyage, Boehner

We won’t have Speaker of the House John Boehner to kick around anymore, at least not after the end-of-October resignation he announced last week, and we’re glad of it. His cautious style of leadership was ill-suited to these times of constitutional crisis, as far as we are concerned, and we never did enjoy kicking him around.
Although we consider ourselves as rock-ribbed and radical as the next Republican, and are in a very confrontational mood lately, we couldn’t quite work up the same red-hot hatred for Boehner that all the right-wing radio talkers and grassroots activists seem to have cultivated. Maybe we were just suckers for the lachrymose Speaker’s compelling sob story about his rise from a humble home atop his father’s bar in a working class neighborhood to the heights of politics, or it’s that our disagreements always seemed to have less to do with his policy preferences than about the tactics best suited to achieve them, or that we well remember what it was like when San Francisco’s well-heeled Nancy Pelosi so expensively wielded the gavel. To say that Boehner represented a great improvement over his predecessor is to damn with faint praise, of course, but at least the deficits are down since to slightly less scary levels since he took over the House and there haven’t been any bills passed nearly so bad as Obamacare and the rest of what has happening when the Democrats everything, and something in our perpetually pessimistic conservative temperament makes us glad for such small favors.
Those right-wing radio talkers and grassroots activists will rightly note that cap-and-trade and open borders and Iranian nuclear bombs with a $150 billion signing bonus and all sorts of other Democratic craziness that would have passed the Reid-Pelosi Congress have nonetheless been achieved by executive action, and with only feeble resistance from the Republican majorities that were installed in congress to prevent it. This is why we’ve concluded that Boehner had to go, and that so should his counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but we will concede that their leadership has at least reduced the president to executive actions that can be more easily undone by the executive actions of a new and more sensible president.
We’ll even hold out hope that Boehner’s and McConnell’s cowardly cautiousness have made it slightly more more probable that we’ll soon have a new and more sensible president. Already such still-influential press outlets as The Washington Post are gleefully fretting that the conservative elements of the Republican party that forced Boehner out and now have their sights set on McConnell “can’t govern” and will instead rashly shut down the non-essential government, which is most of it, and that all hell will surely break loose. We’re inclined to believe that there’s already far too much governance going on, that progress would be better measured by the number of laws repealed and regulations rolled back and entire agencies abolished, and that a shut-down of all of those non-essential services would be salutary, especially during the winter when few people are planning vacations in those photogenic national parks, and we’re certain that even our left-wing radical president would blink before allowing a default on the national debt, but we acknowledge that not everyone shares our rather right-wing perspective on such things.
There are only so many of us right-wing crazies out there, and a smaller number of the left-wing crazies on the other side, and therefore policy is so often decided by those uninformed voters in the middle. What little information these voters possess usually comes from the 30-second news updates that are wedged in between the latest pop tunes on the radio each hour, and that brief attention span does not take in anything more than a vague awareness that the latest spat is all about those anarchist conservatives wanting to shut the government down. The other day we heard a short National Public Radio report about the latest possibility of a government shutdown explained as the Republicans refusing to fund the women’s health care services provided by Planned Parenthood, with no mention that Planned Parenthood is mostly a network of abortionists and that a series of hidden camera videos have revealed that they routinely sell the remains of late-term fetuses and even live but promptly terminated births for profit, and one needn’t be such a jaded old pol as Boehner or McConnell to worry how a fight on such terms might end up.
Still, we hope that whoever winds up with Boehner’s job, and with good luck McConnell’s as well, is at least somewhat more daring. The last government shutdown was widely blamed on the Republicans, but ended soon enough for the party to win gains in the election, and the next one might be as well-timed. If the Republicans are willing to fund pretty much everything except Planned Parenthood all of those right-wing talkers and a few of the honest press writers might be able to persuade the public that Democrats were the ones who shut down the government for radical reasons, and people might finally notice that a government shut-down isn’t that big a deal after all, and a reasonable Republican candidate might even enjoy support from that uninformed middle as well as all the suddenly enthused right-wing crazies such as ourselves. Something in our instinctively pessimistic conservative temperament, though, urges at least a wee bit of that old establishment caution.

— Bud Norman

Kansas Lurks Back to Normalcy

The Kansas economy has lately been swelled by the expense accounts of big city newspaper reporters, as much of the national media have rushed to our usually overlooked state to cover its Senate race. There’s no wondering why there’s a national interest in the story, as it could wind up determining which party controls the Senate, and it provides some reason for the reporters to hope that it will  be the Democrats who somehow prevail, and it is a most intriguing tale. The latest developments are more hopeful to the Republicans, however, and even the most partisan presses seem to have noticed.
Ordinarily even the reporters in Wichita and Topeka wouldn’t get out of their newsrooms to cover a Senate race in Kansas, which hasn’t sent anything other than a Republican to Washington since that one time everyone lost their minds early in the New Deal and Dust Bowl days, but this is not an ordinary year. Long-time incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts has been around a long enough time to have found disfavor with the Republican party’s anti-incumbent mood, and he barely survived a challenge to a little known and under-funded and underwhelming neophyte with a Facebook scandal only because a couple of crank candidates split the majority of the party’s throw-the-bums-out vote. Roberts then went into a three-way general election adorned with the out-of-touch and out-of-state label stuck upon him in the primary, hoping that another split of the anti-Roberts vote would save him, but the Democrats went to court insisting that they shouldn’t be compelled to run a candidate just because their party had gone to the expensive trouble of nominating one, and it was suddenly plausible that a well-heeled and largely self-financed independent candidate who was running on an appealing platform of common sense solutions and bipartisanship would win. That the most reliably Republican state in the Union over the past century and a half might allow the Democrats to retain control of the Senate was a tantalizing possibility, and thus the influx of national media to Kansas.
What they’ve found, however, is an impressive all-out effort by the Republicans that casts doubt on the upset storyline. Local newscasts have been saturated with advertisements for Roberts, almost all of which make the essential point that a Republican loss could allow the Democrats to retain control of the Senate, complete with scary pictures of the wildly unpopular President Barack Obama. There are also radio ads that combat the unfortunately true charge from the primary that Roberts hasn’t had a legitimate Kansas residence for years by touting his Kansas birth and Marine service and twangy-gravelly voice and weather-beaten visage and generally conservative voting record to remind voters that he’s still a Kansas kind of guy. Our internet browsing keeps popping up ads from the National Rifle Association touting Robert’s support for Second Amendment rights, the spots running on the local right-wing talk radio stations sound tailored to the concerns of those staunch conservatives who might be tempted to stay at home rather than for a man whose lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is a mere 86 percent, and such anti-establishment heroes as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have taken to the hustings to shore up the base. With the Democrats successfully suing in court to avoid the ignominy of a third place finish the anti-Roberts vote won’t be split, but that and the annoying minority of Kansas’ liberals full-throated support for the indendepent have made it easier to portray him as the de facto Democrat in a state where the Democrats are begging to be left of the ballot.
Meanwhile, independent Greg Orman’s campaign has seemed unready for both Roberts’ sudden aggressiveness and the inevitable scrutiny that falls upon a frontrunner even when he’s front-running against a Republican. At first he tried to dodge the question of whether he would caucus with the Democrats and potentially retain their control of the Senate, then said he’d join whichever side held a clear majority on his inauguration day, and is now trying out the line that it doesn’t much matter which party controls the Senate. He’s also dodged such obvious questions as whether he’d vote to repeal Obamacare, telling a random curious citizen at a small town parade that it’s an “interesting question,” and has otherwise been vague about what he considers a common sense and bipartisan solution on such issues as gun control and the XL Keystone Pipeline. He can’t deny his past campaign contributions to Obama and Democratic Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and other hated Democrats, or his past attempt to run for Senate as a Democrat, or the loud support he’s getting from that annoying minority of liberals, and in his rebuttal ads he’s been reduced to saying that Roberts’ criticism of the Obama agenda is “only half right” and that an equal portion of blame should be allotted to those who oppose that agenda. The argument is likely to fall flat with the vast majority of Kansas who express disapproval of Obama, even if it resonates with those confounded low-information voters who don’t stop to think about such claims,  and if Orman has some third way that both parties will follow toward a golden age, he doesn’t explain it in these 30-second spots.
There’s still plenty of time left for an October surprise, and if it comes it will be during a most peculiar election season, but we sense that Kansas is turning back to its traditional Republican form.

— Bud Norman

How to Ruin a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

One of the most prominent conservative talk radio hosts spent most of Wednesday’s broadcast railing at full volume against the Republican Party’s senatorial nominee in Kentucky. This does not bode well for the GOP’s otherwise excellent chances of winning a Senate majority in the upcoming mid-term elections.
The host did not go so far as to endorse the Democratic nominee, but neither did he offer any criticisms of her mostly liberal platform or employ any of his characteristic schoolyard taunts against her. On the whole, she had to be pleased with the broadcast. Early polling suggests the race will be close, with the Republicans needing a strong turnout to prevail, and having a popular voice of the right shreiking against their candidate can only help the Democrats.
Prior to Tuesday’s primary we would have had some sympathy for the host’s fulminations against Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. He scores a solid 90 percent on the American Conservative Union’s usually reliable rating of right-winginess, and his position as the Republican Senate leader suggests he has the respect of the party’s most highly elected officials, but that heretical 10 percent includes some rather egregious transgressions and the party’s pooh-bahs have too often proved timid in the fight against Democratic craziness, so we welcomed the intra-party challenge by the more rock-ribbed investment fund manager Matt Bevin and wished him well in the effort. After Bevin lost by a solid margin of 60-to-40, however, we’d rather that conservatism’s focus is now on the race between McConnell and Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Call us squishy establishment country club RINOs if you want, but we’ll take the Republican Senate leader with the 90 percent ACU rating over any Democrat that even a state such as Kentucky might come up with. Grimes has been running as a moderate, and is shrewd enough to always mention her support for the embattled coal industry when distancing herself from President Barack Obama, but she doesn’t pretend to be as conservative as McConnell. She enjoys the enthusiastic support of Bill and Hillary Clinton, commentators at the far-left Daily Kos site embrace her as “the best we can get,” and Democratic party discipline is formidable enough that she’s certain to wind up ever further left once in office. For all his many failings, and for all the infuriation they caused to conservative sensibilities, McConnell is clearly preferable to Grimes.
We’ll also take respectful note of the indisputable fact that a clear majority of Kentucky Republicans, who were better able to observe the primary race than that radio host or us, preferred McConnell to Bevin. This might have been due largely to the fund-raising advantage that McConnell enjoyed as Senate minority leader, even if Bevin did have contributions pouring in from disgruntled conservatives around the country, but it also seems due at least in part to some embarrassing missteps by Bevin. The unavoidable problem with breath-of-fresh-air outsiders is that by definition they are not seasoned political professionals, and Bevin was often amateurish in the worst sense of the word. His reasonable arguments against McConnell’s vote for the Troubled Assets Relief Program that bailed out the big banks in the first days of the Great Recession was undermined by the revelation that he’d supported it back in his investment fund managing days, he was forced to apologize for a speech at a pro-cockfighting rally, and he couldn’t woo Tea Party darling Sen. Rand Paul or other prominent Kentucky conservatives to his cause. Such missteps and the fund-raising disadvantage suggested he would have been less likely to beat Grimes and her well-oiled political machine, so perhaps that majority of Kentucky Republicans who voted for McConnnell wasn’t entirely comprised of squishy establishment country club RINOs or just plain rubes easily duped by high-priced advertising.
The folks at the Senate Conservatives Fund that largely bankrolled Bevin’s insurgency were quick to endorse McConnell after the results came in, even if the candidate and his talk radio supporters have been less gracious in defeat, so there is hope the party can unify to defeat the far more liberal candidate and bolster the party’s chances to win the Senate and more effectively block whatever foolishness the Democrats had planned for the last two years of the Obama administration. It won’t be the Congress of our fondest conservative dreams, alas, but it would be markedly better than the Reid-Pelosi Congress of our worst nightmares.
Unity requires compromise on both sides of the Republicans’ internecine squabbles, of course. We’d prefer that House Speaker John Boehner and other party big wigs must cease their schoolyard taunts against the party’s more conservative and assertive ranks, and would be happy to see a Republican House and Senate purge from the leadership ranks even if the Republican voters in their districts decline to do so, but are willing to offer our support so long as they do. The “tea party” has suffered many bitter defeats this primary season, but its core principles of limited government and low taxes and individual liberty remains essential arguments even for the most “establishment” Republicans. Those “tea party” candidates that do pick up the occasional win should get the full support of t, but it’s he big donors and party professionals, a fair trade for the votes of those disgruntled conservatives who grumpily trudge to the polls for the likes of McConnell if only to keep the likes of Grimes out of Washington, and let any lingering arguments can be settled by the majority caucuses in both houses of Congress.
With the public belatedly wising up to the incompetence and wrong-headedness of the Obama administration, on everything from the rapidly deteriorating foreign affairs to the still-sputtering economy to all those scandals of bureaucratic bumbling that keep popping up, it will be hard for the Democrats to make a winning argument no matter how much money the unions pump in or how many inches of attacks the press write. The Republicans will be hard-pressed to blow it, but some of them seem determined to pull it off.

— Bud Norman

Bleeding Kansas Again

Our favorite right-wing radio station has lately been airing an attack ad against Dr. Milton Wolf, and it sounds as if the battle for the soul of the Republican party has once again come to Kansas.
Even if you’re reading this far outside the Sunflower State you might have already heard of Wolf, the Kansas City-area radiologist who is challenging Sen. Pat Roberts for their party’s nomination, if only because he is also a second cousin of President Barack Obama. He’s from the Kansas side of the family and is as severe a critic of Obama as you’re likely to find even among the most outspoken corners of the Republican party here on the prairie, so his long shot race against an entrenched incumbent has piqued some bemused curiosity from the national press. That Roberts apparently sees a need to dip into his campaign chest and reservoir of political capital with a response to Wolf’s numerous withering and widely-aired advertisements, however, suggests that something more significant than an extended family squabble is afoot.
The determination of the more conservative and combative Republican voters to rid their party of its more moderate and accommodating elements has figured in several important contests the past few election cycles, and been widely reported by a press eager to gloat over the occasionally catastrophic results, but when a politician such as Roberts finds himself among the plausible targets it is a new development. Roberts is not only as entrenched an incumbent as sits in Congress, he has also carefully cultivated a reputation for both conservatism and combativeness, so if he is vulnerable to a primary challenge it is hard to imagine anyone in the party who is not. The critique of Roberts’ career is also telling, and seems a template for the attempted reconstruction of the party.
So far as we can understand the rationale for Wolf’s candidacy, Roberts’ entrenched incumbency is the problem. Kansans and other small state denizens have traditionally regarded incumbency as an argument for yet another re-election, given the power of seniority to deliver pork in packages inordinate to the relatively puny size of our congressional delegation, but in an age of $17 trillion debt there is an understandable lack of enthusiasm among conservatives for pork and a reflexive suspicion of anyone that has been around Washington for the extended period of time it has been piling up. Roberts’ time there has been undeniably extended, starting when he arrived after brief stints in the Marines and journalism as an aide to Sen. Frank Carlson in 1967 and stretching through eight terms as the vast First District’s Representative before winning a Senate seat of his own in 1996, so at this point he can hardly claim to be an outsider. The charge has compounded by the revelation that Roberts no longer has a Kansas residence of his own, which is the sort of thing that Kansans quite resent, as gleefully reported by The New York Times, and we suspect that is the reason that Roberts is now taking to the airwaves with his own indignant charge that Wolf’s campaign contributions are coming from out of the state.
What’s missing from Wolf’s advertisements, however, are any substantive policy disagreements with Roberts. Although Roberts once presented himself as a pragmatically conservative politician in the style of Sens. Bob Dole and Nancy Landon Kassebaum and his mentor Carlson, back when the debt didn’t seem so worrisome and that sort of deal-making proficiency still struck most Kansans as good for business, but in recent years his voting record has been carefully in line with the more conservative mood of his constituents. Wolf’s pitch makes much of Roberts’ vote to confirm fellow Kansan and former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services, but that was before Obamacare was passed and since then Roberts has repeatedly demanded her resignation. Roberts was complicit in much of the profligacy of the Bush years, but Bush won landslide majorities of the Kansas vote in both campaigns and since the even greater profligacy of the Obama years Roberts has become reliably stingy. The media onslaught against the partial government shutdown and the Republicans’ intermittent debt ceiling squabbles have not deterred Roberts from voting with the Tea Party caucus on every occasion, and his public pronouncements on the controversies have been filled with all the crusty invective a Kansas conservative might hope for.
Perhaps Roberts has tacked so far to the right only because he held a licked thumb to the winds and noted which way they were blowing, but we’re not sure that such political savviness should be punished rather than put to good use. Given a choice between two candidates who would vote the same way in every instance, there is no compelling argument for the political neophyte with no chance at an important committee position rather than the shrewd veteran whose seniority ensures influence and whose cynicism insures ideological compliance. We share Wolf’s frustration with the establishment, and remain open to his arguments, but he hasn’t yet convinced us that we’d be better served with him as our Senator. Nor has he assuaged a nagging concern that his challenge could be a problem for the party.
Should Wolf win the primary we’ll happily vote for him over anyone the state’s Democrats might put up, we’d just as happily pull the lever for Roberts, and no one here seems at all concerned that a majority of Kansans will do the same, so the Wolf insurgency is unlikely in any case to affect the party’s chances of re-taking the Senate from the strangling grip of the Democrats. A similar restiveness in less reliably Republican states could unseat an experienced politician with a chance of winning and nominating an inexperienced amateur who will lose a winnable election with an another amateurish outburst, however, and the party can ill-afford such zeal. As much as we appreciate to the effort to build a more conservative Republican party, and wish it well in those states where the more conservative candidate can actually win, we would prefer that it reconfigure itself into something effective as well as ideologically pure. What does it profit a party to save it soul if it loses the world?

— Bud Norman

Much Ado About Nothing

The stock markets went wild Thursday on the news that the White House and the Senate’s Democratic leadership have deigned to talk with their Republican antagonists about the ending partial government shutdown. Should the talks lead to an agreement of any sort that actually ends the shutdown there will likely be a boom on Wall Street that leads to champagne bottles being popped and big fat cigars being lighted with fifty dollar bills. In the even more unlikely event that the agreement not only halts the government shutdown but also some eliminates the more job-killing aspects of Obamacare and averts the inevitable collapse under the weight of federal debt, we expect that a $100 bet on a diversified portfolio can be parlayed into a sizeable fortune for those smart enough to cash out quickly.
As much as we hate to dampen Wall Street’s enthusiasm, the long-awaited negotiations seem unlikely to yield anything of lasting importance. The White House would sooner allow a default and all other potentially catastrophic consequences of an un-funded government than allow any changes to its beloved Obamacare, even though the health care reform law is much hated by almost everyone else, and seems confident that its press allies will ensure it suffers no political consequences. The Republicans appear similarly intent on extracting some sort of significant concession from the administration lest they offend their conservative base, even if the press has convinced much of the rest of the country that they’re bunch a anarcho-terrorist hostage takers, and it is hard to imagine them winning enough spending cuts or entitlement reforms to save face.
Both sides seem to be taking a beating in the public opinion polls, though, so some desultory deal or another will eventually be struck. A stop-gap measure that keeps the shutdown out of the news until the upcoming budget ceiling brouhaha is the most likely outcome, we’d wager, and if the Republicans think they have a stronger hand then the country will be right back to where are now. The White House has thus been so determined to keep the Republicans’ hands off Obamacare that they’ve even rejected a proposal to delay the much-reviled individual mandate, which would give them another year to fix their famously fouled-up computer system and put off the wrath of young voters forced to pay for being insured past the next congressional elections, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the administration were just as adamant about the need to increase the federal debt by a few trillion more over the coming years. The Republicans will still be forced by their most crucial voters to fight with any tactic at hand, including a government shutdown and all the resulting bad press, and yet another downturn in the stock markets becomes inevitable.
There’s little chance the government will remain eternally shut down, alas, so the stock markets should eventually recover to whatever extent the new Federal Reserve honcho chooses to keep the printing presses running. Ending Obamacare and restoring sanity to the nation’s finances will await a Republican administration, or such calamities that even a Democratic administration is forced to address them, and whatever bargains are hammered out in the meantime will be of little help in reviving the country’s moribund economy. Everyone involved in the negotiations will be mostly concerned with the political results, and none will realize that a forgetful public will be voting on the basis of their health insurance bills and employment prospects when the far-off mid-term elections at long last come around.
Any Republicans getting skittish about the latest polls should keep in mind that Obamacare and America’s looming insolvency are still going to be around when the votes are cast, and that it will be helpful to remind the public that the party remained steadfast against both even when the public was irked about it. Those frenetic fellows on the trading floors and the talking-heads on the 24-hour news cycle are quite intrigued by what’s going on in Washington in the next few days, but we’ll be paying more attention to football and the baseball playoffs.

— Bud Norman

As the Left Turns

Our conservative friends have been feeling quite dispirited for the past five years or so, for obvious reasons, but these days we are noticing a growing glumness among our liberal pals as well.
There has been a palpable sense of disappointment with th president among our leftward acquaintances at least as far back the past presidential election, when it was not yet so pronounced that they couldn’t be whipped back into the party line by the frightening prospect of the fascist nightmare of fiscal responsibility and free-market contraception that would have surely followed the election of Mitt Romney, but recent events have clearly exacerbated the gloom. Revelations about the unnecessarily widespread snooping by the National Security Agency prompted some tentative grumbling about the government, the administration’s recent demands for missile strikes against the Syrian regime have prompted unprecedented criticisms of the administration, and there are signs of discontent among the usually reliable constituencies about other policies of the once-infallible President Barack Obama.

The NSA scandal was offensive enough to liberal sensibilities, featuring as it did a heroically unshaven whistle-blower and a George W. Bush-era program that had been expanded beyond even Bushian levels of national security state snoopiness, but the Syrian situation has been an especially bitter betrayal by their former hero. Obama had been the community-organizing peacenik with the courage to lift his chin and sneer at the bloodthirsty cowboy Bush’s unilateral and congressionally-unauthorized war against some harmless and loveable Baathist dictatorship in the Middle East over some unverified and slightly suspect accounts of chemical weapons, which along with the vague promises of hope and change and quasi-socialism were the reasons that liberals so adored him, and when Obama announced his intention to go to war against a Baathist dictatorship in the Middle East based on some slightly more suspicious accounts of chemicals, and without the broad-based coalition or congressional approval that Bush had somehow put together before his war, it was a bit more than the true-believing Obama supporter could bear. Throw in the undeniable ineptness of the entire Obama foreign compared to the supposedly stupid Bushies, on top of the apparent failure of the peace-through-conflict-studies that Obama attempted with such earnestness, and it’s downright infuriating to even the most mellow liberal.

Cravenly political types such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi and former Vermont governor and erstwhile liberal standard-bearer How Dean have remained loyal to Obama, and they’ll no doubt rope in a few more for the upcoming votes on war in Syria, but the liberals whose careers are not so closely connected to the political fortunes of the Democratic party are clearly more skeptical about the president’s war plans. The demonstrations haven’t reached any Bush-era levels, of course, but the grousing from the left has been widespread enough to require a begrudging acknowledgment by right-winters of a sudden intellectual consistency among the left. We are no fans of the Code Pink coalition of crazily anti-war women, but we have to admit to a slight respect for their heckling of Secretary of State John Kerry during testimony before the Senate, where he was also forced to give them some credit for maintaining the principles he had so foolishly endorsed in his long-haired youth, and it’s embarrassing to admit how much we enjoyed the spectacle of Kerry suffering the Alinskyite indignity of the at-home demonstration usually reserved for corporate executives and Republican politicians and other approved villains. Polling indicates the sentiment is widespread among the liberals less inclined to such tactics as home invasions, and the discontent is spreading into other issues.
Conservatives should be heartened to note that 40,000 longshoremen have broken ranks with the AFL- CIO over the union’s support for Obamacare, which they blame for all the costs and problems that conservatives have long warned of. The union movement in general has lately been restive about the president’s signature legislation, and when the equally crucial youth vote figures out they’re expected to sign up for more insurance than they need to pay for some old geezer’s hip replacement yet another loyal constituency will be in revolt. Should African-Americans ever notice their collective unemployment rate has been remained while their collective wealth has declined yet another key group of supporters might be less enthusiastic about voting Democrat come the next election, and even the oh-so-politically-correct arts establishment might been noticing that Obamacare has it out for them. The crucial academic community is suddenly under the administration’s regulatory sights, the press is still smarting from the Justice Department’s nosiness in the phone records of the Associated Press and even the legal threats against a Fox News reporter, and Obama know finds himself in the unusual position of being out of favor with the opinion-making establishment.
This turn of events will likely embolden the president’s conservative opponents, especially those who take a principled stand against his war aims, and it will be good to see some revived spirits among the ranks. Still, one hopes there won’t be any of the predictable overreach, or any unrealistic hope that the lefties have at least com around to the right way of thinking. Liberal opposition to the war has little to do with the conservative’s distrust of half-hearted action, and instead only resents the half of a heart that Obama is putting into it, and the liberal solution to Obamacare’s increasingly obvious flaws is a fully-fledged socialist system. Should the Republicans overplay their hands in the upcoming budget-ceiling debates and its inevitable Obamacare issues they might once again find themselves in the same bogeyman role that Romney wound up playing.
Even so, it’s nice to see the opposition as irked as we are for a change.

— Bud Norman

A Poor Excuse for an IRS

The Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of numerous conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt status was quite the scandal a while back, so bad that even the media took notice, the president was obliged to express his outrage, and the government’s more dogged apologists were forced to come up with some sort of explanation. Those bold enough insist there was no scandal at all thought they’d finally come up with the proof, a document indicating that the IRS was also ordered to “Be On the Look Out” for liberal groups, but it now looks as if they’ll have to find another excuse.
Claiming that the agency was mistreating citizens equally was an odd enough defense to begin with, but more information from the Treasury Department’s Inspector General who originally exposed the scandal indicate that it also has the disadvantage of being untrue. In a letter to Rep. Sander Levin, the Michigan Democrat who has been making much of the document, Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George notes that the “BOLO” — in the IRS acronym — did not apply during the years being investigated, and that agency’s treatment of various groups was not equal in any case. In his politely worded slap-down of a letter George further noted that only six groups with “progressive” or “progress” in their names were cited as potential political cases between May 2010 and Mary 2012, while 292 groups with names suggesting a conservative leaning were listed, with 100 percent of the conservative groups subjected to review while only 30 percent of the liberal groups received the same treatment.
As much as some people would hate to believe that anyone in the government might want to punish its law-abiding critics for their exercise of free speech, George’s revelations are hardly surprising. The IRS’ unequal treatment of “tea party” groups followed the President’s expressed opinion that the groups were racist, the Vice President’s likening the groups to terrorists, the Mayor of New York City’s speculation that they were involved in a plot to bomb Times Square which predictably enough turned out to be the work of an Islamist extremist, and vulgar efforts to vilify the anti-tax-and-spend movement by journalists, celebrities, activists, and partisans too numerous to mention. When “tea party” groups are receiving unequal treatment from the IRS in such an atmosphere, it will take more than one document to suggest that it’s mere coincidence.
The latest excuse was better than the previous efforts to blame Republican budget cuts, which became all the more laughable in light of subsequent scandals about the IRS spending habits, but in the end it will only have the effect of getting the scandal briefly back in the news. With so many people willing to overlook this outrageous abuse of government power, the better strategy might be a shrug and hopes that yet another scandal will crowd it out of the news.

— Bud Norman