And So It Begins

The arduous process of picking a new President of the United States begins today in Iowa, as it quadrennially does for some reason or another, so there’s nothing we can do about it now. While at church on Sunday morning we offered up a humble prayer of gratitude that America still has some say in the matter and a plea that it choose wisely, and we suppose that’s the best we can do at this point.
Watching the returns will likely test our faith, however, as any sort of providential outcome seems unlikely. The Iowa Democrats are choosing between former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most thoroughly corrupt and incompetent crony capitalist of our time, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose most admirable quality is his willingness to admit that he’s an outright socialist bent on eradicating capitalism altogether, and that at least he’s not charging big speaking fees to those evil Wall Street types and isn’t under the scrutiny of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Meanwhile the Iowans of our Republican party are reportedly choosing between front-running Donald J. Trump, a real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul who prides himself on his unabashedly corrupt and inarguably competent crony capitalism, and underdog Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose more red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism and strict constitutionalism and unabashed evangelical Christianity have suddenly made him the target of both the “establishment” and “anti-establishment” wings of the party, although there’s still a chance that a conservative-but-more-pragmatic sort such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio might at least do well enough to alter the storyline somewhat through the next less-noticed 49 rounds of the party primary process.
The Democrats’ descent into this madness has been going on at least since George McGovern’s nomination back in ’72, and except for a few brief moments of political sensibility during times of war as far back as Woodrow Wilson’s administration, but the Republicans’ situation seems rather all of a sudden.
Until last summer, Republican presidential nomination races always had a comfortingly familiar feel to them, with us more rock-ribbed and ideologically-grounded conservatives out here in the hinterlands squabbling with those pointy-headed and lily-livered country club types back east over matters of tactics, but eventually uniting for a shared disdain for those outright and all-but-in-name socialists and multi-cultural bullies over on the Democrat side, and if we lost we squabbled over the blame and if we won squabbled over both the credit for what went right and the blame the for what went wrong despite the victory. In any case we all at least paid lip service to the non-crony sort of capitalism, we all grumbled about the breakdown of the constitutional order, and even the most secular country club types acknowledged a certain necessary Judeo-Christian underpinning to the whole western civilization project that we also all agreed upon. Then all of a sudden a real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show star shows up boasting of all the politicians he’s bought off and all the married babes he’s bagged and the billions he’s made along the way, and the four bankruptcies and the failed airline and the defunct football league and the highly dubious if not downright fraudulent eponymous “university” and all the other debacles of his career go unmentioned, and he fires up the population by addressing the unaddressed immigration problem with righteously indignant but outrageously unworkable ideas, and his past employment of illegal workers and his politically criticism of the hated “establishment” Republican Mitt Romney for suggesting a more sensible “self-deportation” policy just one presidential election ago are similarly forgotten, and with a few late night insult comic jabs against prisoners of war and the handicapped and an admirable woman rival’s face he became the politically-incorrect hero of the “anti-establishment” wing. Then he began boasting of how the “establishment” loved him, and its most formerly hated exemplars began to sing his praise, and both talked of how they could cut some good crony capitalist deals together, and suddenly it is hard to see how any red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist and strict constitutionalist and unabashed evangelical Christian can compete against both wings.
One hopeful theory holds that many the fans of the real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul and political newcomers unlikely to brave a cold and long Iowa night of caucusing, or be able to find their way there, but some of the pollsters are calling for what Trump would call a “yuge” turn-out, and they might prove right. There’s not the enthusiasm for red-in-tooth-in-claw capitalism that one might hope for in a state that’s swung a sweet crony-capitalist deal on the engine-corroding and consumer-gouging and doing-little-for-the-ecology ethanol subsidies, which the deal-making real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul has promised to sweeten beyond what even any Democrat has proposed, and strict constitutionalism and evangelical Christianity might not prove as significant a negotiating point. We have no disputes with the Democrats or Republicans of Iowa, and although we’ve found it a hard state to hitch-hike through in the winter we are great fans of Grant Wood and that deep-brown dirt they’ve got, but so long as they’re first in line to pick the next president we don’t see how we’ll ever get rid of that ridiculous ethanol subsidy.
Iowans are disproportionately white and rural and union-enrolled and otherwise atypical of the broader American population, too, but so long as the state’s Democrats keep picking either an establishment or more frankly socialist candidate they’ll been immune from any criticism about, Whatever candidate the Iowa Republicans choose will be subject to all sorts of quota-driven scrutiny. Both candidates will reap much publicity and considerable momentum going into the next round of voting in New Hampshire next week, and after that second round of 50 all the press will be writing their premature obituaries the same way they do after the second of of a best-of-seven professional basketball series. Sometimes those premature obituaries proved prescient, so we will wait and see.
The red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist and strict constitutionalist and unabashed evangelical Christian is at long last blasting away at the real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul’s crony capitalism with an ad we think states the case rather succinctly, and what’s left of conservatism’s intelligentsia is arousing itself on behalf of the cause, and even some of those right-wing radio talkers are suddenly asking questions, but it’s probably too late for today’s voting, and today’s voting will be big story until next week’s voting, so we’ll wait and see. In the meantime, we’ll take whatever deal we can get.

— Bud Norman

Choosing Sides in a Civil War

We like to think ourselves the ruggedly individualistic and rebellious and anti-establishment type, not just despite of but also because of our unabashedly old-fashioned conservatism, and we proudly bear a few scars to back it up.
In our elementary school days we watched on television as American cities burned to the ground in protest against “the establishment,” and it struck us a damned fool thing to do even if the impeccably establishment and academically-credentialed Kerner Commission and all the cool kids thought the arsonists had a point. By junior high the left’s “long march” through the educational establishment had already begun, and even as we watched with dismay as President Richard Nixon’s “law and order” administration collapsed under the weight of its own lawlessness and disorder we continued to resist any sort of riotous indoctrination, to the detriment of our grades. By high school we were were listening to country music of the genuinely good ol’ boy KF’n’DI AM radio on the cold winter drive to show up early to devour the library’s otherwise unread copy of the notoriously-right wing National Review, and looking up the high-brow philosophers and economists and historians it cited to develop an intellectual framework for our temperamental distaste for the Carter era, and of course that didn’t do our grades any good. After two more years of a higher education establishment where the left’s long march had reached as far as a heartland cow college we defiantly dropped out, which entailed years of endured servitude handing out copy and working as a “dethwriter” on the obituary desk before we got a by-line, and even that hard-earned honor entailed another twenty years of daily in-fighting with the powers that be on a metropolitan daily newspaper, even here in the heartland.
Now we we prefer to write whatever the hell we have to say without the infuriating constraints of those respectably humorless and highly credentialed yet utterly uneducated metropolitan daily newspaper editors, even if it isn’t nearly so remunerative, and we like to think we’re still as surly and anti-establishment and ruggedly-indvidualistic and old-fashioned conservative as that long-haired snot-nosed punk of our junior high days, but suddenly the definitions of “conservative” and “establishment” and “Republican” and “Democrat” and everything else in our political lexicon seems up for debate. While the Democrats are choosing between an outright socialist who give the governmental establishment unparalleled authority and the most thoroughly corrupt crony-capitalist of the republic’s history, who struggles to explain why she’s not a socialist, the Republicans — our people, in whom we have long sought solace — are now engaged in a great civil war testing whether conservatism or any movement so conceived and so dedicated is defined by all those high-brow thinkers and principled arguments made by the likes of those fancy-pants know-it-alls at the now notoriously lily-livered and supposedly establishmentarian National Review or a blind fealty to the “Make America Great Again” juggernaut of real estate and gambling mogul and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer Donald J. Trump.
With the war already underway and the Iowa Republican caucus just a mere week away from tomorrow, now seems a time for choosing. We’re tentatively going in with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and are proud to join with those still-ruggedly individualistic writers at National Review in going all out against this Trump fellow. The venerable magazine — and it’s not a “paper,” as Trump incorrectly insists — has assembled a wide range of conservative thinkers for formidable argument that Trump’s proposed trade wars with China and more socialistic-than-the-socialist’s health care schemes and promises of all sorts of favorable insider deals do not portend well for the economy, that his meanderings between a let-Russia-lead to “bomb-the-s**t out of them” foreign policy also do not bode well, and that a thrice-married and four-times-bankrupt and very recent Democrat who has never felt the need to seek God’s forgiveness is an unreliable ally of the more religious and culturally traditional wing of conservatism. We also note that except for the predictable schoolyard taunts that Trump prefers, and the frequent outright racist screeds from supporters won’t hold Trump responsible for, and there’s the strangely anachronistic argument that anyone who isn’t marching in lockstep with Trump must be supporting some evil creature called “Jeb!,” but the most common retort from Trump and his acolytes is that “at least he fights.”
By “fighting” they seem to mean that Trump and his people are “tweeting” the most ill-natured tantrums against the allegedly irrelevant National Review or whatever less-than-beauty-queen woman has dared disagreed with the man who would make America great again, and his willingness to mock the handicapped and disparage America’s prisoners of war and crack cringe-worthy menstruation jokes and otherwise strike blows against “political correctness” while going along with the politically correct line on racial quotas and other matters of real concern. By “establishment,” we no longer have no idea what Trump’s supporters mean to describe.
At the outset of Trump’s campaign we assumed he meant the likes of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who have so frequently angered such rebellious and old-fashioned conservatives as ourselves by signing off on big government crony-capitalist scams from ethanol subsidies to private property land-grabs to big-bank bail-outs and all those deficit-spending budgets, but now we’re told by Trump himself that Cruz was a loose cannon to have opposed all that as a Senator and that nobody in the establishment likes him as a result so the master deal-maker is best suited make the deals that will increase the ethanol subsidies that Iowa voters have a special interest in and uphold that “wonderful” Supreme Court decision that allowed him to tear down a widow’s home and build a parking lot for his casino and assure the next round of bail-outs that he didn’t think were big enough the last time around and pass a plan that cuts taxes and doesn’t decrease spending and will somehow end with a surplus. As Trump now touts his half-hearted endorsements from Dole and his lingering Congressional pals we guess the “establishment” is now those much-maligned ink-stained wretches still toiling for The National Review, still standing athwart history shouting “halt!,” still mustering their reasoned arguments and long-held principles and quoting those old high-brow economists and philosophers and historians, and sounding so very effete and faggy to the true Trump believer. One commenter huffed that she’d never heard of The National Review until this attack on Trump, and she seemed to think that made her more credible.
The true Trump believers will counter that we just don’t get it, and those illiterate internet commenters often think the argument more persuasive if they write it as the more un-parsable “You. Just. Don’t. Get. It.,” but in fact we readily understand the anger and frustration they have with the “establishment,” both on the left and to a somewhat lesser degree on the right as well. We’ve been railing against it for years, and likely will until our dying day, but we will confess that we truly do not get how an oft-bankrupt real estate and gambling mogul and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer who openly boasts about how he made his fortune to by doling out contributions to the likes of the Democrat’s thoroughly corrupt establishment and the Republicans’ hated Senate Majority Leader, and now proudly proclaims their support in his “anti-establishment” campaign against that loose cannon who challenged them, is supposed to hold his all-knowing thumb up against the poll winds and find the cure for what ails us.
Trump was the loudest to proclaim his opposition to the bi-partisan and ultimately disastrous establishment consensus on unfettered legal and illegal immigration, if not the first, but he was scolding Mitty Romney for a milder and more sensible “self-deportation” policy as recently as the last presidential race, and he now says his big beautiful wall on the border is going to have a big beautiful door, and he’s talking all sorts of deals with the bi-partisan establishment, and we’re pleased to note that we don’t have to settle for Jeb! on the issue. The next Republican candidate will have a tough stance on border enforcement, and would have without Trump, and that’s more to do with the party and the people at large than anyone who might hope to lead it.
All sorts of playground taunts might come our way, but we’re used to that, and we’ll be missing that tempting opportunity to burn the Republican Party down to the ground that so many Trump supporters urge, but even in our disgruntled middle age that seems a damned fool and not all conservative thing to do, so we side all with those effete eggheads at The National Review and all their reasoned arguments and the high-brow economists and philosophers and historians they cite, as well as that good ol’ boy sensibility that also informs our decisions, and all the timeless truths they have formulated. As a general rule we don’t trust white knights in shining armor promising Hope and Change or to Make America Great Again, and we once got the same whiff of a disastrous cult of personality from the man peddling the former as we do from the man now peddling the latter, and it’s all the more suspicious when it comes from the make-believe world or academia and community-organizing or reality television and insider deal-making.
At this late and perilous date we’ll go with Sen. Ted Cruz, the loose cannon with the fixed principles. That’s our anti-establishment and old-fashioned conservative instinct, and if you don’t like it, and you think it sounds effete and faggy and sure to lose against an outright socialist or a crony-capitalist who got large donations from a supposedly “anti-establishment” Republican on the other side of that corrupt establishment, well, at least we fight.

— Bud Norman

Another Annus Horribilis

Years always seem to end in the dead of winter, when the trees are bare and the skies are gray and the prairie winds blow bitterly cold, and thus far 2015 is proving no exception to that desultory rule. In this case it seems altogether apt, as 2015 has been a desultory year. Even the most determined optimist would find it hard to identify much good news from the past six months of headlines, in any section of the paper.
The economy sputtered along steadily enough that the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates a teensy-weensy bit, and the unemployment rate didn’t seem so bad if you just excluded all the underemployed and the huge number of people who’d given up on finding any sort of work, but the working stiff’s wages were still stagnant and even the investor class was having the hardest time making a profit since the legendarily hard times of the Great Depression. The global state of affairs further deteriorated, with the Middle East exploding in an even greater than usual hatred and the deadly repercussions being felt as far away as Paris and San Bernardino, refugees from that troubled region and Central America and elsewhere in the Third World pouring into the west in such numbers that they overwhelmed the resources and generosity of the First World, and elite western opinion blaming it all on capitalism. Academia went utterly mad in 2015, government regulations proliferated at an unprecedented rate, the popular culture offered no compensatory movies or songs or novels or dance crazes that we noticed, and our favorite sports teams suffered frustrating seasons.
The new year that starts tomorrow promises an extra Leap Year day, an inevitable spring, and a long and leafy summer that will lead to an autumnal Election Day that could possibly put some of this right, but the past year doesn’t make us hopeful. So far the Democrats seem more riled up about impoverishing the rich than enriching the poor, and the polls predicts that they’ll nominate a woman who has parlayed political influence into extraordinary wealth to make the point, so there’s little chance for progress there. Meanwhile the Republicans, until recently infuriated by crony capitalism and Russian arrogance and a shallow popular culture, are threatening to nominate a man who brags about buying off politicians and revels in the praise of Vladimir Putin and was the star of a long-running reality television show to make their point. The infuriation of 2015 will make level-headed decision-making difficult in 2016, although we can hope the warmer weather will help.

— Bud Norman

On the Current Craziness

America is now nearly seven years into the era of Hope and Change, which we were promised would stop the rise of the oceans and begin to heal our planet, and thus far almost no one seems pleased with the results. It’s not just those awful “right track-wrong track” polling numbers, or the discontented popular culture’s output of angry hip-hop tracks and big-budget dystopian zombie movies, or the slumping stock markets and sluggish economy and the seeming disintegration of any semblance of a world order, or the stubbornness of nature, or the conspicuous lack of happy talk anywhere except the White House press office, but it also manifests itself in a sort of insanity on both the left and the right of political spectrum.
The craziness is currently most conspicuous on the left, what with a self-described socialist surging in the Democratic Party’s presidential race and the most godawful woman ever desperately clinging to her presumed front-runner status while a criminal investigation of her outrageous e-mail practices suspiciously proceeds, despite the obvious politicization of the Justice Department, and all the revolting students on college campuses across the country suddenly making the most outrageous and expensive demands, and the promised post-racial era resulting in a bi-partisan repudiation of the policies that had happily led to a decline in the deaths of minorities, and the partisan press more preoccupied with whatever inconsequential scandals they can come up with about some Republican nominee. By now even the news-averse people in the middle have gotten wind of it, we suppose, and share that unease which keep showing up in all those polls.
That self-described socialist’s chances of winning the nomination of one of America’s two major political parties seem pretty good at the moment, given that his only plausible opposition is the most godawful woman ever. It’s not just the suspiciously on-going investigation about her outrageous e-mail practices, or her incompetence and dishonesty and disastrous results in her handling of the terrorist attack on an American consulate in Libya, or her utter lack of accomplishments and Grand Central Station-sized collection of baggage, but her even more damning-to-Democrat-thinking associations with Wall Street and billionaires and the boards of those confounded corporations. The current craziness of the left cannot abide such corporate heresies, even from a bona fide female and one who stood by him during all his sex scandals in order to save women’s reproductive rights from the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, and we clearly have arrived at a moment when being a self-described socialist no longer disqualifies someone for a Democratic nomination.
Even such a once-radical self-designation as “socialist” might no longer suffice on many of America’s college campuses, where there’s suddenly a spate of protests over systemic racism and a “culture of rape” and “micro-aggressions” and such. Apparently some redneck shouted a racial slur from a pickup at the University of Missouri, some otherwise exquisitely politically correct professor at Yale University was insufficiently offended by the prospect of some frat boy donning an offensive Halloween costume, and suddenly students across the country are demanding free tuition and forgiveness of more than one trillion dollars of debt and that their college years be so care-free that not one confront them when with sort of reality. The argument seems to be that America’s colleges and universities are hellholes of pickup truck-drving rednecks and gang-raping frat boys, and that the taxpayer should be obliged to pay for every citizen’s admission to this elite Democratic indoctrination program, and that perfect harmony on Earth is just a few more hashtag campaigns and lavishly-funded diversity programs away, and that surely just a few guillotined billionaires could pay for it all. How this will play with those uninformed folks in the middle who are paying off their junior college wages with a plumbing job remains to be seen, but we expect the partisan press will do its best.
That same partisan press will prefer to emphasize the Republicans’ crazy right-wing insistence on border enforcement and some modicum of sanity on fiscal issues and an old-fashioned notion of constitutional order and a general preference for the First Amendment over political correctness, all of which poll well, while overlooking a more worrisome craziness on the right. One smart fellow over at The Wall Street Journal noticed, though, and his think-piece was headlined “Populism on the Rise in GOP Race for President.” The author noticed the same anti-Wall Street and anti-big business rhetoric in the past Republican presidential debate that has characterized the the recent Democratic debates, as well as some similarly strong anti-free-trade sentiment, as well as some ideas about the Federal Reserve and the gold standard and other arcane issues that differ from the latest consensus of conservative economists. Throw in the fact that the two front-runners in the Republican race have never held any elective office, which seems to be their foremost credentials, and that the billionaire businessman who might yet have the advantage is a past Democrat who unabashedly loves eminent domain and bankruptcy loopholes and a pay-for-play political system, and there’s an undeniable craziness occurring on the right as well.
For the most part, at least, the Republicans’ and the rest of the right’s annoyance with crony capitalism has more to do with the cronyism than the capitalism. In the last debate most most of the criticism was for the Dodd-Frank law and hyper-regulation in particular, and the bail-outs the press loves to credit for the survival of the American economy were damned mostly for bailing out some and not others, and that increasingly irrelevant governor from the swing state of Ohio was roundly booed for saying he would have bailed out some and not others and For now he “populism” that the Wall Street Journal frets about seems to prefer a more red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism that most investors have become accustomed to, which is fine by us, but we hope it won’t succumb to populism’s historically characteristic animosity toward for-profit commerce in general. Not at a time when even much of that uninformed middle has retirement accounts and pension plans pegged to the stock market, and when what’s left of western civilization is dependent on for-profit commerce, as always. We’re inclined to latest consensus of conservative economists about the Federal Reserve and the gold standard and other issues, too, and worry that our conservative brethren are more inclined to make up their minds because of some instinctive revulsion to the Democratic busy-bodies who are trying to shut down their coal mines and force them to bake homosexual wedding cakes, so we don’t count on the Republican primaries turning out well.
We can count on the Democratic primaries turning out badly, though, and we expect that the college kids and the popular culture and general consensus will be increasingly dissatisfied.

— Bud Norman