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Grand Old Party Poopers

With a solid Republican majority in the House of Representatives, a slight Republican majority in the Senate, and a slightly Republican president in the White House, the Grand Old Party should be having a grand old time about now. Alas, things haven’t yet worked out that way,, and after the slightly Republican president sided with the Democrats Wednesday on the latest debt ceiling debate it’s hard to see how they ever will.
These all-too-frequent debt ceiling increases are complicated affairs even in more normal circumstances, so of course this time around it’s all the harder to make sense of it. As always a debt ceiling increase is much needed to keep the government operating and avoiding a federal default that would have far more catastrophic economic consequences, everyone is eager to avoid that politically suicidal fate at any cost, yet everyone is trying to take advantage of the situation to get pet causes included. The usual result is some scary brinksmanship followed by yet another desultory compromise that pleases no one, and we’ll hold out hope for another similarly happy outcome this time.
Democrats typically use this all-too-frequent game of chicken to get further exorbitant spending for all sorts of crazy social engineering regulations, Republicans always try to win severe spending cuts and argue that even though they’re voting for another debt ceiling increase they don’t think we can keep this up forever, and we’ve always been more inclined to the Republicans on the issue. We’re as disappointed as any snarling caller to your local talk radio station that the Republicans always wind up voting for another debt ceiling increase, but we have to admit that at least the annual federal deficits have been halved since the Republicans took over the House and then the Senate back in the ill-remembered days of President Barack Obama, and we guess they’d have doubled if not for all those congressional Republicans who came to the rescue before Trump joined the party.
This time around the debate is complicated by all sorts of things that don’t even involve Trump. An historic natural disaster has lately occurred in America’s fourth-most populous city, another bad storm might be headed for the densely populated east coast of Florida, and a significant down payment has to be made on the budget-busting cost of all that lest a political disaster bear down on both Democrats and Republicans alike. That’s not to mention all the complications caused by Hurricane Donald, who had already threatened to veto anything that didn’t include full funding for his crazy and unpopular idea of a tall and translucent wall across the entire border with Mexico, long been “tweeting” schoolyard taunts against both the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and had won office by railing against the establishments of both parties and promising no entitlements and balanced budgets.
So far as we can tell the latest congressional negotiations had come down to a difference of opinion about how long the latest desultory compromise which pleased no one would last. The Democrats wanted a mere three-month extension, the Republicans preferred a year-and-a-half before they had to go through all this again, everyone was willing to cough up the necessary funds for all those natural disaster victims, and in normal circumstances a Republican majority Congress and Republican president would have at least granted a weary nation that slightly longer respite.
On Wednesday, though, Trump met with the Democrats’ Senate minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and House minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, gave them both videotaped hugs,  and agreed to back their side, which complicated things beyond comprehension. Both Schumer and Pelosi are longstanding villains in the Republican narrative of the way things are, Trump had previously “tweeted” that Schumer was a “clown” and taunted him as “Cryin’ Chuck,” long been at least as unkind to the long-hated-by-Republicans Pelosi, so it came as something of a surprise.
Less surprising if you’ve been following how a certain segment of the talk-radio-listening Republicans have come to hate House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky with a nearly as red-hot hatred, and how Trump tapped into that anti-establishment mood to win the Republican nomination and eventually the presidency. Trump more or less vowed to vanquish the Republican establishment, kept up the feud from his election up to now, and his most die-hard supporters probably like it.
We can’t see what satisfaction they’ll get out of it, though, except for seeing Ryan and McConnell and their establishment Republican types properly irked. The Democratic offer that Trump is backing doesn’t come closer to what every sort of Republican has long wanted from all these all-too-frequent debt ceiling increase debates, and any old Republican should be irked by the satisfaction than the even more loathsome Schumer and Pelosi surely feel. Trump’s staunchest defenders will dutily explain that it’s another master move by The Art of Deal, being played out on a 3-D chess board we cannot comprehend, but that’s harder than ever to believe. The Democratic side basically means that they’ll have all their leverage back in a mere three months, when there’s no telling what disarray the Republicans might be in, the Republican side at least gives them a year and a half to perhaps right ship, and conceding such leverage might work in New York real estate deals but we can’t recall the last time it worked in these complicated legislative negotiations.
It might be for a mere three months or a whole year and a half, but we expect the government will ultimately stay open and continue paying its bills over either span. That grand old time for the Grand Old Party and its long promised balanced budgets seems further away than ever, though, and in the meantime there’s a lot of other very complicated messes to be figured out, We’ll keep following the news, and hoping for the best.

— Bud Norman

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The Days Grow Short When You Reach September

Labor Day went well around here, with the Wichita Wingnuts heading into the double-A American Association playoffs with a 4-1 regular season finale win over the Salina Stockade that featured several defensive gems, a hospitable old hippie friend of ours charbroiling copious amounts of bratwurst and burgers and other red Kansas meat while handing out Pabsts and blaring old Doors records on the sound system, and the weather was nice and hot. Still, there was no shaking that melancholy feeling the holiday always brings.
Although the autumnal equinox is still a couple of weeks away and the warm weather is likely to linger past that, today nonetheless marks the end of the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. School is back in session, Congress is ending its recess, and by longstanding social agreement everybody else also gets down to serious business. The rigorously timed violence of football has already started to supplant the more leisurely paced and gentlemanly sport of baseball, the white shoes and straw hats are replaced by more somber apparel, school buses are once again slowing traffic, and conferences are being convened all over to assess the various messes the summer has left us in, and what might become of it in the fall.
The reconvened Congress finds itself with plenty of work to do. Summer’s end brought a thousand-year-flood that left America’s fourth-most-populous city under several feet of water, so they’ll have to find some way to pitch in on the calamitous cost of that, which wouldn’t be easy in the best of circumstances. In these circumstances they also face hard and fast end-of-the-month deadlines to pass a continuing spending resolution to keep the government fully open and a debt-ceiling increase to pay for it, which is always hard enough even without a thousand-year natural disaster to help pay for, and that’s not to mention the nutcase North Korean dictatorship that’s been making increasingly plausible threats to start a nuclear war that would make that thousand-year-flood look like a minor inconvenience.
There’s also the complicating factor of Trump, and everything he’s been up to over the summer. The Republican-controlled Congress was never technically in recess, for fear that Trump would make some crazy recess appointment to inoculate himself from the ongoing congressional probes into “Russia,” and nothing that has transpired during their unofficial vacation has likely been reassuring to them. Trump threatened to force a government shutdown unless all the spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases and whatnot included funding for his campaign promise of a border wall, which is a cause few other Republicans and absolutely no Democrats are willing to fight for, but that was before the thousand-year flood happened so there’s some hope Trump once again won’t make good on his threats. He’s also ramping up the anti-immigration rhetoric on other fronts, and although there are plausible arguments for some of them this probably isn’t the best month to be making them.
Throw in the nutcase North Korean dictatorship threatening a nuclear war and Trump’s intemperate responses, the leaks about “Russia” that are reaching thousand-year-flood levels, and the more open animosity between the Republicans in Congress and the relatively newly-fledged Republican in the White House, along with the ongoing fact that the Democrats are as always a complete disaster, and it looks to be an anxious September. The political consequences of not offering needed help to the flooded fourth-most populous city of the country or allowing the government to shut down its assistance would be dire, though, and the federal default that would shortly follow a failure to pass another damned debt-ceiling increase would be comparable to a nuclear war, so we’ll hold out hope that all the self-interested parties involved will reach some mutually beneficial agreement just ahead of the hard-and-fast deadlines.
In the meantime we have own bills our to pay, as we’re sure you do, and we’ll trust that most of the rest of us will somehow get down to such necessary business. There’s still some baseball left to provide solace, and not long after that ends basketball season starts up, with the Wichita State University Wheatshockers looking like a championship contender, and there will always be another summer, perhaps one more lazy yet not quite so hazy or crazy as the past one, and hope springs eternal.

— Bud Norman

The Eye of the Hurricane

The storm that has recently hit southeastern Texas and now heads to southwest Louisiana has been an historic natural disaster, with at least 22 people dead and many thousands more left homeless and property damage that will eventually be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, but like everything else in the news these days it’s eventually another story about President Donald Trump.
Trump was largely out of the spotlight while the cable news networks filled their 24 hours of dramatic footage of homes flattened by hurricane winds and streets submerged in water reaching the second stories of buildings, as well as the usual encouraging reports of heroic rescue efforts and the luckier people on higher ground offering food and clothing and shelter to the victims, and he might have been wise to stay there.
Despite the 22 deaths the usual stories about looting and price-gouging and bureaucratic inefficiencies and other less-than-heroic things that always occur in a natural disaster, the general impression one gathers from a 24-hour-news cycle is that things could have gone a whole lot worse, and thus far the best efforts of Trump’s most strident critics to hold him to a higher standard have probably not been successful. Trump’s most ardent admirers have tried to claim him credit for the all the good work that has been done by career federal government employees and state and local officials and individual citizens and the rest of the establishment, which also probably hasn’t been successful, but so long as Trump stayed out of the limelight and wasn’t doing the boasting himself he was likely to get some small opinion poll bump out of it.
That’s not Trump’s style, though, so on Tuesday he embarked on a fact-finding and photo-op trip to Texas that provided his strident media critics and all the late-night comics with plenty to gripe about and his staunchest supporters with a lot to explain.
Even before Trump boarded Air Force One in a windbreaker and ball cap with “USA” emblazoned on the front, there were already a couple of troublesome controversies seeping up from the back pages and bottom of the hour. As well as the predictable op-ed pieces trying to pin the blame on Trump’s climate change policies there were some more reasonable questions about the relief funds might be affected by his recent threat to shut the government down rather, and some reporters with time on their hands dug up how Trump’s budget proposals proposed slashing the budgets for all the agencies he’s now praising, and of course some years-old “tweets” about how ridiculous President Barack Obama looked during his natural disaster photo-ops.
Obama did look pretty damned dumb standing there in the rain in his windbreaker and ball cap, but all presidents do in their obligatory post-natural disaster photo-ops, and Trump should have known that he wouldn’t fare any better. Perhaps it should be obligatory that presidents provide some visual image of national unity at a time of national tragedy, and we recall several occasions, from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to President Franklin Roosevelt’s oration after a day that would life in infamy to the plainspoken thanks and determination that President George W. Bush shouted through a bullhorn atop the rubble of the World Trade Center, when a few sage presidential words in a fitting setting truly were a balm to the nation. Since then presidents seem to have lost the knack, though, and we never expected that Trump had it.
Trump seemed to think that the post-natural disaster fact-finding mission and photo-op was another one of his endless campaign rallies, and opened his remarks by noting “What a crowd, what a turnout.” He noted the “epic” and “historic” nature of the storm, a theme he’d already repeated throughout 22 “tweets” featuring 16 exclamation marks, and he somehow came across as more impressed than horrified by the storm’s power. He modestly said that he’d save his self-congratulations for after he’s made everything better than ever, generously shared some of the credit with the mostly-Republican state and local officials and even that Obama-era holdover he appointed to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and conceded that his work is not yet done, so it could have been worse.
Still, it could have been better. We couldn’t find the part where he praised the private charities that are raising funds and providing relief, or urged that Americans participate in the effort, or expressed any recognizable expression of empathy for those who have seen their loved ones and lives’ work washed away by a storm. Nor did he take the opportunity to assure those people that the longstanding relief efforts won’t be halted by a stubborn insistence on his fanciful notion of a large border wall across the entire Mexican border, and at a time when one of America’s most racially diverse cities was doing a pretty good job of dealing with a thousand-year-flood we thought he missed a ripe opportunity to speak of national unity.
There were some other “bad optics,” too, as they say in the politics biz. That “USA” ball cap Trump was wearing also had “45” emblazoned on one side and “Trump” in the back, and if you go to the Trump campaign web site you can purchase one just like it for $40, and the snarkier of his strident critics found that tacky. He was also accessorized by First Lady Melania Trump, who boarded Air Force One looking her usual dazzling self on a drizzly morning with a pair of dark aviator sunglasses, a faintly military style jacket, sensible black shirt and pants, as well as a pair of stiletto heels. It’s our policy to leave First Ladies out of our commentary, except on those sorts of occasions that Michelle Obama would occasionally provoke, and we’re not at all the sorts to notice women’s footwear, but the stiletto heels did strike us as an odd choice for a natural disaster photo-op, so we can hardly blame the snarkier critics for having their fun with it.
In any case, we don’t think Trump will take the same hit that Bush took after a disastrous storm struck New Orleans, or what Obama should have suffered for similar failures during other natural and man-made disasters. In Bush’s case the failures were largely due to the storm hitting one of the most dysfunctional cities in one of the most dysfunctional states in America, both of which he could have plausibly blamed on the Democratic Party’s longstanding rule there, but he chose instead to manfully accept his share of the blame. In Obama’s case the media weren’t so eager to notice his botched response to an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or how he barely seemed to notice a catastrophic flood in Nashville, and he shrewdly stayed out of the spotlight as best he could. Neither of these options, of course, are available to Trump.
No president should be given the blame for any national disaster, of course, neither should any of them be given much credit for the way that the country always seems to make the best of it. Our advice to Trump is to leave it that, and not let a stubborn insistence on stupid border wall muck things up, and tend to all those leaks about “Russia” that are starting to becoming another historic flood.

— Bud Norman

How Not to Win Friends and Influence People

Back when he started to woo evangelical Christian voters President Donald Trump liked to boast that the pastor at the Presbyterian Church he had attended as a child was Norman Vincent Peale, saying “You could listen to him all day long,” but it never seemed clear what lessons he had learned from the sermons. Peale was better known as the author of the famously best-selling self-help book “The Power of Positive Thinking,,” and it does seem clear from Trump’s recent battles with his own party’s congressional leadership that he learned all the wrong lessons from that tome.
Trump escalated his ongoing war of words with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday with another series of “tweets.” He criticized both for rejecting his advice to attach a controversial debt ceiling increase to a popular Veterans’ Administration reform bill that recently passed with bipartisan support, claiming “Could have been so easy — now a mess!” A short time later he once again “tweeted” that McConnell was solely to blame for the Senate’s failure to pass an unpopular bill to repeal and replace the formerly unpopular Obamacare law. That came shortly after Trump had quite clearly criticized both Senators from Arizona in front of a raucous campaign rally crowd, even as he complimented himself for being so presidential as to not mention either man’s name, which followed several insulting “tweets” aimed at various other Republican congressmen who had criticized Trump’s response to the deadly violence that followed a white supremacist rally in Virginia.
No matter how much Trump positively thinks nones  of which seems likely to win him any new friends or influence anyone who isn’t already a die-hard supporter.
The idea that something as controversial as a debt ceiling increase could be easily snuck into a VA bill without anyone noticing, or everyone in both parties raising a fuss that would sink even such a popular and important piece of legislation, suggests to anyone at least vaguely familiar with the legislative process that the Senate majority leader and the House Speaker know a lot more about it than does the relatively neophyte president. McConnell does indeed bear much of the blame for the Republicans’ failure to get that unpopular health care reform bill passed, but there’s enough blame to spread around that fiasco that some of it surely falls on a Republican president who had run on a campaign promise that on the first day he’d repeal Obamacare and replace it with his beautiful but not very specific plan that would cover everyone and lower costs and it would be easy for your head will spin, and Trump would do well not to give his many critics another chance to mention that. Trump’s attempts to spread around the blame for the deadly violence that occurred at a white supremacist rally have not played well with the general public thus far, and he’d be wise not to drag that out any longer.
All of which seems to complicate some already darned complicated negotiations regarding that debt ceiling increase, along with a continuing spending resolution and various other matters that must be dealt with prior to some very hard deadlines looming in the near future in order to avert all sorts of political and economic disasters. Many congressional Republicans won their seats on the promise of ending the federal government’s endless borrowing and doing so without tax increases by drastically cutting spending, others ran on the same basic principles but with a begrudging acknowledgement that it would take some time and a lot of compromises on continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases all the rest of that nonsense, and Trump exponentially complicates that internecine Republican complicatedness.
Trump became the Republican president with the usual Republican promises of low taxes and balanced budgets, but also some proudly anti-Republican promises of not touching the big entitlement programs that are driving the debt and adding at least a trillion dollars of infrastructure spending, as well as his assurances that he’d done enough big real estate deals that it would be easily achieved. We’ve never been in on any big real estate deals, but we’ve been watching how Congress works a lot longer than Trump seems to have done, so we’re skeptical that can keep all those promises and won’t further complicate things.
He added even more complications during that raucous rally in Phoenix, where he hinted he’d rather force a partial government shutdown than sign any continuing spending resolution that doesn’t include full funding for his campaign promise of a tall and formidable border wall stretching across the entire border with Mexico, which he now promises will also be translucent so you can see what those wily Mexicans are up to. During the campaign Trump routing led his die-hard supporters in a chant that Mexico will pay for the wall, as president he’s threatening that he’d cause a partial government shutdown and perhaps even a federal default if the Republican-led Congress doesn’t pay for it with taxpayer funds, and we can’t imagine of the Democratic minority wanting to help him out.
From our Republican perspective out here on the prairie it seems that Trump is less interested in averting political and economic catastrophes than in making sure he once again doesn’t get blamed for them by his most die-hard supporters. McConnell and Ryan and the rest of the Republican party are easy enough targets, we must admit, so there’s a certain self-interested reason for those insulting “tweets.” As pillars of the Republican establishment they’re already reviled by the entirety of the Democratic party, and they do indeed shoulder a share of the blame for the Grand Old Party’s recent failures to make good on the opportunity of its recent political dominance, and the talk radio talkers and most of their grassroots listeners have bitched and moaned out long enough that Trump got nominated and even more improbably elected on the promise to burn the down the establishment.
At the time we wondered how Trump’s mostly-reluctant 46 percent share of the popular presidential vote was going to prevail against the combined might of both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as all the economic and civic and academic and religious institutions that comprise the much-maligned establishment, and thought that “burn it down” was a peculiar rallying cry for conservatism, and at this point we’re hoping that some semblance of the pragmatic Republicanism we always voted for will somehow prevail. At this point that means rooting for the likes of McConnell and Ryan and against Trump and his and ridiculous border wall idea, and hoping there are still enough sensible Democrats to join with averting the looming political and economic disasters, but so be it.
For all their failures both McConnell and Ryan still strike us as more serious men than Trump, and we’re heartened they don’t seem at all influenced by Trump’s “tweets.” Ryan did his best to ignore Trump’s “tweeting” on Thursday, and instead had an impressive “town hall” appearance at a Boeing factory in the Seattle area, where he made a clear case for the Boeing-friendly corporate tax reforms that both he and Trump are working for. Some of the questioners questioned Ryan’s support for de-funding the Export-Import Bank that Boeing has taken generous advantage of, and he gave a very detailed explanation about how other reforms he’s pursuing would leave the company just as well advantaged, and we can’t imagine Trump giving a better answer. One Boeing employee asked a rather frank question about how he was dealing with Trump’s latest public pronouncements, which she seemed to find troubling, and Ryan deftly replied “It’s a day-by-day deal,” adding “I am kind of joking.”
We can’t find any press reports of questions about Trump’s protectionist trade policies, which aren’t likely to benefit Boeing’s largely export-driven business, and although Ryan is far more a traditional Republican free-trader than we suspect they were both glad of that. At this point we’re liking the Republican establishment that Trump vowed to burn down than we’re liking Trump, but we can’t say that give us a hopeful feeling.
Even a partial government shutdown would be a political disaster that can’t plausibly be blamed on that darned Democratic minority, a federal default would be a catastrophic global economic disaster that makes everyone in the American body politic culpable, so surely some sort of desultory-to-all-sides deal will eventually be struck, We’d feel a whole lot more hopeful, though, if any of the players seemed more interested in averting the looming catastrophe than avoiding any blame for it.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Contretemps and the Coming Deadlines

The fallout from President Donald Trump’s response to the deadly violence that ensued from a white supremacist rally in Virginia over the weekend continued on Wednesday. Several more Republican congress members announced their objections to Trump’s statements, and the Fox News network reported that it couldn’t find any who were willing to speak on camera in the president’s defense. The Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement that was clearly an implicit rebuke of their Commander in Chief’s comments, and several administration officials were anxiously leaking that they had nothing to do with any of it. Also, the mayor of Phoenix asked Trump to cancel an upcoming rally in the city, and Trump had to shutter two advisory panels comprised of the nation’s top business executives and labor leaders rather than accept the mass protest resignations that were soon coming.
Sooner or later the news will move on to something else, including fresh twists on the old stories about “Russia” and White House in-fighting and the Republicans’ stalled agenda of unpopular legislation, but Trump will wade into all of them as a weakened president. The opprobrium of everyone from the leaders of the Democratic and Republican party to the nation’s top military brass to the chief executive officer of Campbell’s Soup will only shore up Trump’s “anti-establishment” credentials with his most stubborn base of support, but although they’re still numerous enough to fill an arena in Phoenix he’s going to need more help than that to start winning.
That stalled agenda of unpopular Republican legislations was already stalled and unpopular largely because of Trump’s low poll numbers, which are lower than any previous presidents’ had been at this point in a first term, and its hard to see how Trump’s past few days will win any new supporters. Trump’s past feuds with his party’s congressional leadership and his own cabinet members and the military’s top brass and the economy’s most successful executives were also largely responsible for the Republican agenda being both stalled and unpopular, which is what’s mostly driving those low poll numbers, and heightening the hostilities seems a questionable strategy.
An unpopular and defiantly anti-establshment president is going to have muster some some pretty ubermensch-ian will to power to prevail against the established order and the popular consensus that sustains it in the more consequential stories that are bound to soon come. The world is at least a troubled place as ever, with more than usual number of hot spots that have lately been forgotten, and it’s worth noting that many of our democratic allies Trump had already been feuding with also stated their objections to his statements on that white supremacist rally in Virginia. The Republicans’ stalled and unpopular agenda is coming up against some very hard deadlines next month, too, and some unifying presidential leadership is going to needed to avert all sorts of catastrophes.
By the end of September the Congress needs to pass some sort of convoluted continuing resolution or some such congressional gobbledygook to keep the government open for business, as well as yet another debt-ceiling increase to pay for it, lest the government suspend many services and perhaps even default on its debt. Both Trump and the more usual sorts of Republicans ran on a promise of a return to good old days of budgets bills that went through committee and got passed by both chambers of congress and were signed into law by the president, as well as promises of a quickly balanced budget, but at this point they’re highly unlikely to keep those promises right away, and even that convoluted continuing resolution and another round of borrowing is going to be hard to achieve.
The mild political consequences of a partial government shutdown and the far more dire economic ones of a default on the national debt give every Republican member of Congress some leverage in the upcoming negotiations on that convoluted continuing resolution, none of the Democratic members will have motive to offer the majority party any help, and Trump’s reputation as a master deal will be tested more severely than it was in any of his real estate or casino negotiations. When Trump’s casinos went bankrupt he came out many millions ahead while his creditors lost collective billions, and during the campaign he temporarily roiled the world’s markets by suggesting that American could win with the same methods, so we wouldn’t be surprised if the next dreary round of continuing resolution and debt-ceiling debates involves more than usual amount of brinksmanship.
We’ll hold out hope that most dire circumstances will somehow be forestalled, just as the more-than-usual-amount of brinkmanship with the North Koreans seems to have provided a brief respite from that round of news, and we’ll count on some sort of established order prevailing at least a little while longer. If the president could be please refrain from picking any more fights with the growing majority of Americans who aren’t among his most stubborn fans we’ll feel better yet.

— Bud Norman

Gaining From a Bad Deal

Good policy is good politics, according to an old saying, and like most old sayings it is often but not always true. The congressional Republican’s cowardly capitulation to a “clean” debt ceiling deal on Wednesday might prove one of the frequent exceptions to the rule.
No real Republican would argue that the deal isn’t disastrously bad policy. The legislation basically hands a blank check to the most profligate president in history, guaranteeing the nation’s debt will rise to a staggering $17.2 trillion just after November’s mid-term elections, and achieves nothing in the way of much needed spending cuts or any other curbs on a government rapidly and clumsily expanding into every niche of American life. Although the party leadership and the minority of Republican congressman who followed them argue will that the deal guarantees the full faith and credit of the federal government, an increasingly restive conservative base will not be convinced that adding yet another $512 billion dollars of debt over the next few months is the most fiscally responsible course of action.
Nor can the Republicans point to any immediate political advantages gained from the deal. Indeed, the more prominent media are gleefully quoting the Democrats’ gloating that the deal represents a total defeat for the Republicans in general and their more rock-ribbed Tea Party constituents in particular. House Speaker John Boehner, whose hold on the house speakership grows more tenuous with each passing offense to the party’s most essential voters, couldn’t even win the inclusion of an amendment to rescind some previous unpopular budget cuts to veterans’ benefits that the Democrats probably could have been shamed into accepting. As the most outspoken opponent of the deal and the only Republican to attempt a filibuster Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was rewarded for his noble efforts by some of the most sneeringly disdainful press coverage of his already controversial career, and if the party leadership and its timid followers expected to be lauded by the pundits for their non-partisan willingness to compromise they have been sorely disappointed.
On the other hand, at least the Republicans aren’t being pilloried for their strident partisanship and stubborn refusal to compromise. That’s what happened every other time the Republicans tried to use the debt ceiling as leverage for sensible reforms and essential spending restraint, with the damage done to the party’s popularity evident in all the subsequent opinion polls, and we will generously assume that the Republican leadership was merely trying to avoid yet another hit. Those talk radio hosts shrieking “damn the opinion polls, full steam ahead” are quite right to argue the public should be grateful for the Republicans’ efforts, that government shutdowns are a minor inconvenience at worst and a welcome break from bureaucratic meddling at best, that a federal default would not occur in any case, and that the eventual consequences of all that debt far outweigh any damage done by a protracted political squabble, but they are wrong to assume that an electoral majority of the country can be made to understand any of it.
A crucial percentage of voters pay too little attention to politics to hear these arguments, and even if the arguments were to somehow sneak into the news accounts that occasionally interrupt the average uninformed American’s day he would likely be unmoved. Government shutdowns always sound scary when the news anchors say it, the laws and constitutional requirements precluding default are as a confounding as the economic concepts involved, and the public has become inured to warnings about it since the Democrats started squawking about it back in the Reagan days. When the debt it called due and the inevitable economic calamity occurs it will be big news, but at the moment the weather is a far more pressing matter for the average American.
Unless the bottom falls out before November, the Republicans’ cowardly capitulation could provide them with a slight advantage in the mid-term elections. By that time the deal will be largely forgotten even by the talk radio hosts, who are already shrieking less loudly than after other Republican leadership outrages, and the majority of Republican congressman who opposed the deal will be able to remind their conservative voters that they at least voted “no.” The Democrats won’t have another unpopular showdown to blame on the Republicans, and they’ll still be remembered as the party that promised you could keep your health care plan if you liked it and then cancelled the policy and forced you to pay more money for one covering things you don’t want or need. To the extent that America’s dire fiscal situation is an election issue, even the most cowardly capitulators in the party can claim that they were forced to bankrupt the country by the Democrats.

— Bud Norman

Dancing in the End Zone

A certain amount of taunting and chest-thumping is now an almost obligatory rite of victory in America. This unfortunate trend can be seen in those silly minstrel shows that professional football players perform after every touchdown, in the anonymous trash-talking that is misspelled on the message boards of internet game sites, and lately even in remarks by the President of the United States.
In the aftermath of a perceived victory over the congressional Republicans in the government shutdown standoff, President Barack Obama was as sneering and snotty as an overly-tattooed power forward after a slam dunk when delivering a short speech on Thursday. “There are no winners here,” Obama said, but he had preceded that with a “Let’s be clear” that signaled he didn’t mean a word of it. His attitude throughout the speech was unmistakably triumphalist, albeit unaccountably angry for a putative winner, and he was not at all magnanimous toward his presumably vanquished opponents.
The president showed even less respect for the truth, peppering the speech with dizzying number of exaggerations, half-truths, and outright hogwash. He repeated the dubious claim that a government default would have inevitably followed the passing of the debt ceiling deadline, portrayed the largely unnoticed government shutdown as a major catastrophe, argued that the mere $600 billion budget deficit of the moment is proof of his fiscal rectitude rather than the restraint forced on him by his Republican antagonists in the House, then once more made the argument that unrestrained government is essential to the country’s economic heath. He spoke loftily of the need for growth, as if his policies haven’t been the main impediment to the achieving that goal, and declared that “the American people are fed up with Washington” as if he hasn’t held the most powerful position in that capital city for the past five years.
All the blame, as always, was laid at the feet of those pesky Republicans who dared to defy his imperial edicts. Although he condescended to praise the “reasonable” Republicans who eventually capitulated to his demands, he scolded the “extremes” of the party who “don’t like the word ‘compromise’” and aren’t “willing partners.” Obama is reckoned to have won the shutdown showdown because he was able to compromise less than even his most unwilling adversaries were prepared to do, and by “reasonable” and “willing” partners he clearly means Republicans willing to go along with every detail of his insane agenda, but he does seem to believe that he deserves credit for his generous willingness to work with those anarchistic hostage-taking old-folk-hating terrorists in that other party.
The president’s great victory merely postponed the same old fussing and fighting for a few months, when yet another debt ceiling will be reached and the same old argument that it would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility not to go a few hundred more billion dollars in debt is once again trotted out, but he believes it entitles him to proceed without any bothersome dissent from his vanquished foes. Not only are those Republicans in the House of Representatives are expected to stay silent, but also “the lobbyists, and the bloggers, and the talking heads on radio, and the professional activists who profit from conflict.” Including the “professional activists who profit from conflict” is an especially audacious choice, coming from a man who touted his years as a community organizer to win election, and it’s not as if Obama has demonstrated any sort of aversion to the right sort of lobbyists during his time office, but the disdain for the folks exercising their First Amendment rights to criticize his actions is also quite worrisome coming from a president.
Obama went on to taunt his opponents to “Go out there and win an election. Push to change it, but don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country’s about.” Coming from the man who promised to “fundamentally transform” the country, and was eager to vote against raising the debt ceiling when a Republican was in the White House, and apparently believes that his convoluted socialized medicine scheme is what our predecessors spent over two centuries building, this is rich. Those Republicans who bravely voted against handing yet another few hundred billion dollars of debt to the president did win elections, and they won them on a promise to get rid of Obamacare and at least slow the growth of an ever-expanding government. Such resistance might offend Ocala’s sense of entitlement, but it is very much a part of the system he claims to uphold. Elsewhere in the speech Obama indicated that he will use the next few months of increased debt to pursue immigration reform that will sign up a few more million Democratic voters and a farm bill that continues to churn out corporate and social welfare, and he seemed offended in advance by the predictable resistance.
After some blather about the selfless government employees who endured a lengthy paid vacation during the shutdown, Obama ended with some old-fashioned hope-and-change rhetoric about everyone working together to do whatever his heart might desire. He graciously allowed that there will be some differences of opinion, but with chin aloft he intoned that “It can’t degenerate into hatred.” Not like those anarchistic, hostage-taking, old-folk-hating Republicans, you know.

— Bud Norman

Dealing With Defeat

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Republican circles on Wednesday, as the party went down to a widely acknowledged defeat in the great government shutdown battle of ’13.
As a result of a last-minute-before-the-phony-baloney-default-deadline deal the government will be fully back in business on Thursday, which is disappointing enough to any true Republican, and it’s hard to see what the GOP won in exchange in for the bad press and battered poll numbers that it suffered during the much-ballyhooed brinksmanship that proceeded it. The deal does not withhold funding from the much hated Obamacare law, which was the quixotic goal that started all the fuss, nor does it end Congress’ hugely unpopular exemption from the law or delayed its widely hated individual mandate, which we were the backup bargaining conditions of the rebellious Republicans, and it doesn’t seem to offer anything in the way of budget cuts or entitlement reforms or any sort of face-saving fig-leaf at all. The Democratic partisans who predominate in the press are predictably triumphalist, while the conservative outposts of the media are engaged in the usual internecine finger-pointing.
Most of the “RINO” or “establishment” portions of the party, as they’re known to their more rock-ribbed critics, are plausibly claiming vindication for their warnings against the shutdown strategy. Meanwhile the “extremist” or “loony-bird” segments of the party, as they’re known to their more cautious colleagues, are angrily and plausibly arguing that it might have worked if only the party had not been undermined by the weak-kneed defections of those darned “RINOs” and “establishment” types. Both might well be right, at least to some extent, but intra-party sniping is only further proof that the battle did not go well.
About the best that can be said of the deal is that it could have been worse, as it’s all very short-term in extending the government’s ravenous appetite for debilitating debt and record spending, and thus provides future opportunities to attempt to restrain these disastrous tendencies, but that’s not saying much. Partisan rooting aside, and the enthusiastic response of Wall Street to any sort of default-delaying deal notwithstanding, the deal does nothing to address the nation’s most pressing problems but merely puts off the day of reckoning by a few months. A few months hence the same realities of the current political and media landscape that caused Wednesday’s debacle will still prevail, and necessary reforms will likely once again be thwarted no matter how deft or unified the Republicans might be.
Which is why the Republicans should be primarily concerned with changing the political landscape after next year’s mid-term election, and stop in the finger-pointing and aspersion-casting that threatens to turn it into another debacle for the party. The government shutdown affected few people other than some unlucky visitors to the national parks and monuments, most of whom understand that the heavy-handed tactics they encountered there were the fault of officious Democrats, and it will be long forgotten in the eternal span of 13 moths from now. Obamcare’s myriad disasters will still be with us, as will the sputtering economy and overwhelming debt that Obamacare and other administration policies are causing, and the Republican party’s stubborn and poll-defying resistance to such nonsense could prove a winning argument if the GOP doesn’t cannibalize itself in the coming months.

— Bud Norman

One of the most peculiar features of modern liberalism is its tendency to romanticize self-proclaimed enemies abroad while vilifying anyone with a dissenting opinion at home. The dark-hued fellow swinging a scimitar over his turbaned head while chanting “death to the infidels” is to be engaged as an authentic expression of righteous post-colonial rage, while the pale Baptist who has been living peaceably down the street the past many decades is to be regarded as a dangerous religious fanatic, and the antiquated economic customs of the most impoverished third world hellholes are celebrated for their ancient wisdom while any talk of capitalism or fiscal restraint are derided as heartless extremism in any country made wealthy by these principles.
This odd bias has been on bold display lately in two separate stories that have been prominent in the news. President Barack Obama has proudly announced that he will not deign to negotiate on the debt ceiling with the congressional Republicans, whom the president’s spokesman has likened to terrorists, but almost simultaneously he has just as proudly announced his eagerness to enter negotiations with the leaders of Iran, who actually are terrorists.. Aside from the strikingly odd prejudices involved, neither decision is likely to lead to a good result.
By refusing to negotiate with the Republicans who are quite non-violently exercising their constitutionally approved prerogative to spend the public’s funds and limit its debt, Obama is not only ensuring the government shutdown that he has issued the most dire warnings but also risking the wrath of the public which he has seemingly plotted to bring down on his adversaries. There is sufficient public indignation over the Obamacare law that the Republicans have reasonably calculated they can fight it even to a point that it shuts down much of the government for an extended period of time, and if they are correct in their calculations they can throw yet another monkey wrench into the already gummed-up works of the president’s signature legislation without harm to their chances in the upcoming mid-term elections. The president’s loudly stated refusal to even consider a compromise can only help the Republicans’ efforts, and precludes the possibility of any deal that might bolster his own faltering standing with the public. If the president’s pride did not override his political instincts, he could even accept the Republicans’ gift of a one-year delay on Obamacare’s widely hated individual mandate that would buy time for his befuddled bureaucracy to try and get things right while putting off the disastrous results of the policy past the next election cycle.
No such favorable outcomes can be expected from the negotiations with Iran over its ongoing efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran’s recently-elected figurehead president Hassan Rouhani is touted as a “moderate” in much of the press, but nothing in his long record suggests that he isn’t a hard-line Islamist and much of his career has been spent facilitating his country’s nuclear weapons by distracting a gullible western diplomatic corps with his endless talk and empty promises. After Obama’s bungling of the Syrian crisis into the willing hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a nonchalant United Nations Security Council, the wily Rouhani is likely to prove a far more formidable negotiator than in anyone the Republicans have in Congress. The red lines that Obama draws against murderous dictators have proved more impermanent than the ones he draws against the likes of House Speaker John Boehner, and Rouhani has certainly noticed.
Figurative terrorists are always more frightening to the modern liberal than literal ones, however, and the results don’t seem to matter.

— Bud Norman

How the Right Was Framed

Reality always asserts itself in the end, but it is the nature of people to prefer an appealing fiction in the meantime. Exploiting this well known human failing is called “framing the issues” or “messaging” in political parlance, and lately the left has been doing even more than the usual amount of framing and messaging.
Consider the curious case of the debt ceiling. Any discussion of the debt ceiling should begin with an understanding that term refers to the amount of money the government has limited itself to borrowing, and that raising it therefore allows the government to add to its $16 trillion debt. There should also be a general agreement that if the government continues to borrow another trillion or every nine months or so the debt will eventually reach a point where reality asserts itself with a ruthless vengeance, but apparently the fiction that such profligacy can go on forever is too appealing to resist. The president can therefore tell the nation’s press that raising the debt ceiling is simply a matter of “paying America’s bills,” which he implies were racked up by spendthrift Republicans over his penny-pinching objections, and the assembled reporters do not break into howls of derisive laughter. He can even go on to assert that failing to go an undisclosed number of trillions further into debt would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility, and do so not only with a straight face but a rather stern and indignant one.
There is no basis in legal or economic reality for the assertion that failing to raise the debt ceiling will inevitably result in America defaulting on its obligations, but it is unavoidably true that getting by without further borrowing will require deep and painful budget cuts, massive tax hikes reaching far into the pockets of the middle class, or a politically toxic combination of the two. Something untrue is obviously preferable to that sobering conclusion, so the president can safely assume that much of public will be easily persuaded that it would be imprudent not to rack up at least another couple trillion of debt.
Similarly nonsensical messages have been sent on the much-discussed matter of guns. Some of the assertions can be charitably described as debatable, but others have been flatly false. The current president’s claims about the number of unregulated gun sales is provably false, and former president Bill Clinton’s whopper about the incidence of mass killings is so conspicuously at odds with reality that even the Washington Post’s fact-checkers were compelled to say so. Such falsehoods are easily forgiven, though, because they serve a soothing argument that the government can protect all of its people from the tragedies that have always afflicted humankind. Anyone who publicly doubts this tale, and insists that the government allow individuals the means to defend themselves, is just as easily portrayed as a child-hating gun nut.
Conservatives are constantly in search of messages that will frame these sorts of issues in ways that will win the support of the average American, but they are at a natural disadvantage. Numerous pundits have offered suggestions about how the Republicans should talk about the debt ceiling, but anything other than blunt truth abut the hard choices facing the country would betray conservative principles. A friend of ours has shrewdly suggested that the Republicans speak of guns as a feminist issue, standing foursquare for a woman’s right to shoot a would-be rapist not only as a pro-gun rationale but also an effective rebuttal of the party’s sexist image, but even that compelling argument is unlikely to be effective against the less troublesome option of letting the government take care of things.
The fantastical nature of the left’s well-framed messages will sooner or later be revealed, of course, but that will only lead to more framing and more messaging. It will be explained that the country went broke because those parsimonious Republicans didn’t allow the president to borrow even more, that the next murderous outburst by an undetected lunatic occurred only because only because law-abiding gun owners hadn’t been denied of their rights, and that government still isn’t sufficiently empowered. Some people will feel obliged to state things more frankly, but they shouldn’t expect it to do much good.

— Bud Norman