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The Democrats’ Debate, Part II

For the second night in a row there was a Democratic primary debate on Thursday, this time featuring another 10 candidates, and for the most part it consisted of the kind of loony left crazy talk that might yet get President Donald Trump reelected. We hate to say it, but here we are.
There are so many Democrats who think they have a shot at beating Trump that they had to divide the field into two 10-person debates, with another four or five or six or so contenders left out altogether, and once again the candidates were given a mere 60 seconds to explain how they planned to solve such complicated problems as illegal immigration and America’s imperfect health care system and its ongoing racial tensions. No one wound up speaking for more than a cumulative six minutes during the debate, which made it hard for anyone to stand out in the crowded field, but we’re inclined to believe the conventional wisdom of all the pundits that California Sen. Kamala Harris got the best of it.
Unlike on Wednesday night the National Broadcasting Company didn’t have any embarrassing technical difficulties to delay the debate, but it started with a cacophony of most of the candidates trying to out shout one another, which the moderators were unable to contain. It ended with Harris raising her well-toned arms and saying “Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their tables.” After that, she seemed to command the stage, for better and worse, as far as we’re concerned.
According to all the polls the front-runner in the race is former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, followed closely by the self-proclaimed socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and then Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who didn’t make much of her time on stage during Wednesday’s debate, but neither candidate fared particularly well.
Biden didn’t make any of his usual gaffes that can be endlessly replayed on cable news, but neither did he have the bright shining moment that can be endlessly replayed, and he took a lot of flak from pretty much everyone. Some Democrat we can’t quite name started it off by recalling the time he heard Biden give a speech some 30 years ago about passing the torch of Democratic leadership to a younger generation, Biden had a pretty good response about he’s still carrying that torch, but he’s even older than Trump and looked it. On the race question that always preoccupies Democrats he was criticized for recently saying that he once worked segregationist Democrats to get some non-racist legislation passed, which is offensive to contemporary Democratic sensibilities and yet another reminder of how very old he is. Harris also criticized Biden for his stand against busing schoolchildren to achieve desegregation, which is an issue from way back when we were in elementary and junior high school, and although we then agreed completely with the stand Biden took and still do we figure that the relative youngsters who will make up most of the Democratic primary electorate don’t know much about history and their exquisitely sensitive racial sensibilities will be offended.
Most of the field also took aim at Biden for being in on President Barack Obama’s supposedly harsh immigration policies, which surely sounded weird to any Republican ears that happened to be tuned in. Trump likes to blame Obama for the harsh family separation and detention policies he’s controversially imposed, but he also likes to claim that he’s saved us from Obama’s America-hating policy of opening America’s borders to the gang-banging rapists and drug dealers that were flowing into the country. If facts still matter Obama set a record for deportations during his two terms, which was controversial among Democrats even though it prioritized deportations of the gang-banging rapists and drug dealers who were undeniably out there, but Biden somehow had a hard time defending such a sensible policy.
Sanders didn’t commit any endlessly re-playable gaffes, either, at least not if you’re the sort of loony left die-hard supporter who voted for him last time around, but neither did he have his breakout moment, and he didn’t take much flak from the rest of the field. Most of the candidates were trying go even further left in promising free medical care for citizens and non-citizens alike, as well as free college educations and guaranteed incomes and free this and free that, and they all seemed to believe it could be done without adding to our current trillion dollar deficits or 20-trillion-plus national debt. This is all loony left crazy talk, of course, and just the sort of thing that can get Trump reelected, despite the trillion dollar deficits he’s been racking up in what he brags is the best economy ever.
To our eyes and ears the sanest person on the stage was former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, but we’re still registered Republicans and our kooky  Democratic friends probably won’t take our advice when they cast their votes in next year’s Kansas primaries. Hickenlooper much endeared himself too ourselves when he got booed off the stage at a California party meeting by stating the obvious truth that kicking millions of Americans off their private insurance plans is bad policy and even worse politics, and he was met with icy silence on Thursday when he quite rightly said that if the Democratic doesn’t explicitly reject the socialist label Trump would be able tar them with it, which we heartily agreed with.
By most accounts Hickenlooper presided over good times in Colorado for two terms, even if the fact-checkers say he slightly overstates how good, and we hope he somehow sticks around in the Democratic race. He’s a boringly straight white male who’s endearingly lacking in charisma, given how disastrous the past two terms of charismatic presidents have been, and by current Democratic standards he seems quite tolerable. He made a fortune brewing beer, making him the first brewer since the great Samuel Adams of Massachusetts to be a governor of state, which we also find endearing, and he was governor when Colorado legalized marijuana, which is fine by us and should endear him to much of the Democratic party’s primary electorate.
In the first debate we found both Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar relatively sane and centrist by current Democratic standards, and there’s still a chance the Democrats won’t go so far to the loony left that they won’t wind up losing yet another election to the likes of Trump. As much as we hated Obama he lately doesn’t seem so bad, and for now neither does Biden. Trump and the Republicans are already calling Biden “Creepy Joe” because of his unsettling habit of rubbing women’s shoulders and sniffing their hair, but he hasn’t yet been caught bragging about any woman by the pussy. and at our age we find his old school approach to politics slightly reassuring.
That Harris woman is both a Californian and too far left for our pre-Trump Kansas Republican tastes, but she’s also a former California Attorney General who locked up and deported a lot of gang-banging rapist and drug-dealing illegal immigrants, and she seems relatively sane and centrist by current Democratic standards. She’s also a woman and multi-racial, so the Democrats will probably cut her some slack for her relative sanity and centrism, and we’ve noticed that in every interview she’s more well-spoken and fact-based than Trump, no matter what loony left rhetoric she’s spewing.
Trump is currently off to a G-20 summit where he’s insulting our allies and praising the world’s dictators, but he should take note that there’s still a chance the damned Democrats won’t blow the next election.

— Bud Norman

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The Race is On, and Off to a Slow Start

The Democratic party held its first presidential primary debate Wednesday night with ten candidates on the stage, and another ten slated for the stage in tonight’s part two, and another six or so contenders are being left out of the mix. What’s sure to be a prolonged reality show got off to a rather boring start, we thought, but it might gain steam as the contestants begin getting voted off the island.
The debate started off with some embarrassing technical problems from the National Broadcasting Company, and the format that followed was also problematic. Each candidate was given 60 seconds to explain how he or she would solve such complicated problems as climate change and gun violence and a majority-Republican Senate, which is more than we could do even in our very fast-talking high school and college debate days, and they each wound up with less than eight minutes of air time to talk to the Democratic primary electorate. As a result we don’t think anyone clearly lost or won, but that didn’t stop all the pundits from picking winners as losers.
We were most impressed by Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who talked about how the Democrats need to regain their former reputation as the party of the working class instead of the Ivy League and Hollywood and certain racial and sexual identity groups, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who stressed her record of winning in Republican precincts and getting bills passed and signed with bipartisan support, but we’re still registered Republicans and won’t be voting in the Democratic primary. Our many Democratic friends probably saw it differently.
The polls say the front runner of the ten randomly picked candidates who had met the party’s threshold for inclusion in the debates was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and she didn’t make any glaring mistakes, but neither did she say anything that people will remember when the voting starts in the Iowa caucus some eight months from now. Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker seem to have at least improved their name recognition numbers, judging by the Google search results, along with New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and former San Antonio mayor and Housing Secretary Julian Castro, but none of them scored a knockout.
Gabbard is young and surprisingly physically attractive by political standards, and she also has an impressive military record that the aged and ugly and draft-dodging President Donald Trump can’t compete with, but she lost us when she made clear that she was even wimpier than Trump about enforcing a Pax Americana on a question about Afghanistan. Booker seems a bright fellow, but he also seems to exemplify the identity politics that Ryan rightly warned against. The white DeBlasio got a lot of Google searches when he mentioned his black son, but we think he’s been a disastrous mayor of New York City, even if he probably would win New York City and New York state’s votes by a landslide. Castro probably endeared himself to Spanish-speaking Democratic voters with some Spanish lines, and dealt a clear blow to former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s efforts to court that constituency, but we don’t habla much espanol and weren’t much impressed.
We were slightly surprised that none of the candidates went on at much length about Trump, although it’s a given that none of them like him and it’s pointless to argue about who hates him the most, but we were even more surprised to see that none of them took aim at former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, the front runner in all the polls who will hold center stage in tonight’s debate. The other nine candidates who qualified to share the stage with Biden will probably be more critical, but for now the Democrats don’t seem to be forming their usual circular firing squad.
At this point, we’re only hoping our Democratic friends choose the least kooky of their options.

— Bud Norman

The Democrats’ Surreality Show

The Kansas City Chiefs’ playoff loss to the New England Patriots on Saturday ended our scant interest in the National Football League, and the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ blow-out win over Indiana State University’s Sycamores satisfied our ongoing taste for college basketball by Sunday afternoon, so with nothing else to do on a cold winter night we sat down to watch the latest episode of the Democratic presidential race. Although it doesn’t get the ratings of the Republicans’ mini-series, for some reason, it’s an entertaining reality show in its own right.
Better to describe it as an alternate reality show, or perhaps as a surreality show. The tale takes place in an America where President Barack Obama is the much beloved leader of the land, his proudly eponymous Obamacare is universally regarded as a smashing success but there’s still some discussion of a more outright socialist system, the only problems with the economy are caused by a handful of top hat-wearing and moustache-twirling billionaires and Wall Street bankers who can be easily guillotined and whose vast plunder can be spread in all sorts of socially just ways, the past seven years of foreign policy have been so successful that terrorism and national security don’t merit much discussion, and a D- from the National Rifle Association is considered a scandalously good grade. The main characters are former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who plays the wicked witch with role with a gusto not seen since Margaret Hamilton was flying over Oz, and self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who plays the lovably cranky and kooky old coot next door so well he’s suddenly become the main character. There’s also former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, but not that you’d notice.
Tuesday’s night episode was set in South Carolina, which is an important plot detail. If you’ve been following the story through all it’s twists and turns you know that the lovably cranky and kooky old coot has lately been threatening to beat the wicked witch in both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, which would seriously complicate the long foreshadowed storyline about the wicked witch’s eventual coronation, and therefore a win in the next-up state of South Carolina is all-important to her chances. There’s always a subtle racial undertone to these Democratic storylines, and those who are hip to the nuances will note that Iowa and New Hampshire are mostly comprised of white people, who seem to especially love the lovably cranky and kooky old coot, and that South Carolina is largely comprised of black people, with its Democratic primary mostly comprised of them, and that the wicked witch is assumed to be more popular with black people. The backstory for this peculiar preference is that the wicked witch once worked for the much beloved Obama, who even in reality is still much beloved by the black people of the land as the First Black President, and her husband was once the much beloved leader of the land, and was especially beloved by the black people of the land as the first First Black President, for reasons that no one can any longer recall, so they’re willing to give her a pass on wicked witchiness, and they’re no so crazy about even the most lovably cranky and kooky old coots from states comprised almost entirely of white people.
The wicked witch wasn’t taking any chances, however, and took every opportunity to ingratiate herself to the black people of her audience by associating herself with the beloved Obama. She even took umbrage that lovably cranky and kooky old coot had once dare speak ill of the First Black President, and was downright indignant that he should be so arrogant as to think he could improve on such a perfect creation as Obamacare. She also ventured from her theme to note that any attempt to do so would re-open a debate about health care, and suggested that even in the fantasy world of Democrat-land no one should want to get into all that again, which we thought a nicely subtle allusion to the reality exists just outside the show’s fourth wall. When they finally got around to talking about that terrorism and national security stuff the wicked witch heaped more praise on Obama, almost daring the lovably cranky and kooky old coot to find any fault with the past seven years of foreign policy, but he was of course able to blame it all on the hated George W. Bush, whose evil reign still lingers after seven as a bitter memory in Democrat-land. There was some talk about how many more black people go to prison than white people, a disparity which all the characters found upsetting, although we’re not sure if they intend to remedy this by letting more black people out of prison or sending more white people, especially billionaires and Wall Street bankers, into prison, and our guess is the wicked witch’s pandering on the issue probably prevailed. She also chided the lovably cranky and kooky old cot about that embarrassing D- he got from the NRA, when no self-respecting citizen of Democrat-land would ever settle for any less than a solid F, although we guess that was intended mostly for the white people of the audience.
The lovably cranky and kooky old coot got his digs in, though. It turns out the wicked witch has given speeches to and accepted large amounts of filthy lucre from many of those villainous billionaires and Wall Street bankers, and the lovably cranky and kooky old coot was just cranky enough make an issue of it. The wicked witch shot back that he had also been so sacrilegious as to criticize the much-beloved First Black President over the same sorts of arrangements, and assured the audience she would continue to wield same might sword that her beloved leader has already used to slay billionaires and Wall Street bankers with such successful “regulatory-schemes” as the Dodd-Frank law. As we say, it’s an alternate reality show, and you have to suspend disbelief to embrace its own internal logic, which we admit we haven’t fully grasped yet. The wicked witch was shrewd to use the magical Obama shield, but the loveably cranky and kooky old coot has a good point that she’s wealthy trading favors with the billionaires and Wall Street bankers who so desperately need guillotining to bring about social justice, and by now the audience is probably thinking that of the two only he is pure of heart enough to pull the lever and let the blade come down.
There was even a brief, tantalizing moment of sex scandal that couldn’t have helped the wicked witch. Probably because he realized his network’s broadcast was being routed in the ratings by whatever post-game football shows or “ultimate fighting” cage matches or other manly and somewhat realistic sporting programs were airing elsewhere on your television dial, one of the moderators strayed from the respectful script and asked about the lovably cranky and kooky old coot’s recent statement about the fact that the wicked witch’s beloved former leader and First Black President husband is a serial philanderer and predatory perv. This part of the backstory had gone unmentioned in the previous debate-format episodes, and indeed had gone largely unmentioned in the tales of Democrat-land all along, but lately the wicked witch has been trying to pander to the women people of the realm by vowing to slay all the serial philanderers and predatory pervs who still persist in the land, probably because of those billionaires and Wall Street bankers, so it can’t help sinking into the current plot. The lovably cranky and kooky old coot confessed that he had expressed a negative opinion about the wicked witch’s husband’s past behavior, but only because he had been asked, and felt obliged to respond frankly, but didn’t want to make an issue of it, what with him being more concerned about those billionaires and Wall Street bankers and social justice and all that jazz. He didn’t have make it an issue of it, of course, and we’re sure he’ll be pleased if anyone else wants to mention the matter, as we do, but he’s probably smart to act so lovably gallant about it even if it doesn’t help the ratings. Neither did he mention an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into possible felonies committed by the wicked witch, having already said he’s damned sick and tired of hearing about potentially felonious e-mails, but the question keeps coming up in the show the wicked witch is clearly displeased to have answer and it’s a potential ratings-boosting  plot twist somewhere along the line. At one point the wicked witch said that no bank should be “too big to fail” and somehow also blurted out “and no individual should be to jail,” which got an audible gasp from the audience and had us laughing loudly.
That O’Malley guy dropped in from time to time during the episode, but not that you’d notice. He’s a bit out of touch with the surreality of the showing, and even sounds downright sensible at times, too boring even for a show that won’t even exploit its obvious sex scandal angle, and his major accomplishment in office lowering crime rates in Baltimore and Maryland is somehow offensive to the black people of Democrat-Land, so we don’t see him getting much more air time.
Another off-screen villain that figured in the episode was billionaire real estate mogul and reality show star Donald Trump, formerly of “The Apprentice” but now starring on the Republicans’ presidential race, last seen tying a virginal young lass with adorable ringlets to a railroad track, whom all the characters seem eager to face in next season’s general election race show. Such a storyline would go further into surreality than the combined imaginations of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali fortified by two tabs apiece of Owsley acid could ever reach, but given the sorry state of over-the-air network broadcasting these days that might well be what we wind up with. For those of us who prefer a more realistic and high-toned sort of drama, and especially one with a happy ending, the prospects for this show are not at all heartening.

— Bud Norman

On the Darkest Day, and the Days After

The news usually takes a holiday around Christmastime, and thus far we’re relieved to see that this year is no exception to the rule. We can’t quite break our yearlong writing habit, however, so we’ll briefly note the significant fact that the winter solstice occurred early this morning.
We don’t attach any pagan sort of significance to the event, but we’re always happy to see it arrive nonetheless. As the old song says, it’s a long, long way from May to December, but the days grow short when you reach September, and it starts a slow and dreary slide into the darkness of winter, and while there’s still plenty of darkness and cold left until that long awaited vernal equinox it’s good to know that at least from now until the arrival of that gloriously sunlit summer solstice the days will grow imperceptibly yet incrementally longer. This astronomical certainty somehow heartens us, even as we glumly consider everything else we might write about.
The news is still out there, of course, even if the newsmen and newswomen are polite enough and preoccupied enough with personal matters to pay it as little attention as possible. There’s still the matter of whether a “Santa Claus rally” will soothe the stock markets’ recent freakout about an interest rate hike that can only be measured with a micrometer, and what that says about an economy that’s sputtering into a seventh straight Christmas shopping season of sluggish growth and stagnant wages. There are still at least few hundred million crazy people around the world who are trying to kill us, too, and that ongoing debate about how many of them we should welcome in our country as honored guests. The President of the United States assures us that none of it is quite so alarming as the threat of anthropogenic global warming and attributes any discomfort Americans might have about all this to cable news and racism, even as he prepares to take a carbon-spewing jet ride to Hawaii for another lavishly taxpayer-funded vacation, and the two front-runners in the ongoing contest to replace him are a man who sounds suspiciously like your drunk neighbor and a woman who makes Lucretia Borgia look like one of those Little Sisters of the Poor who are being forced by federal law to purchase contraception coverage in their mandated insurance plans.
Put it all together and it seems like the darkest day, but there’s something almost astronomical about these news cycles. Starting today the sunset comes about a minute later, so in a mere ten days there’s an extra ten minutes, and a month from now provides a whole half-hour of extra daylight. Just a month or so from now the Iowa caucus might reshape the Republican race, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation might even come down on that Borgia-esque woman in the Democrat race, and although you’d never know it by what they teach in American history these days the country has been through dark days before and found its way back to sunshine. Just three days from now is an even more significant date, when we’ll join with family to celebrate the age-old good news that still trumps all the bad, and in the meantime we will be hopeful.

— Bud Norman

The Democrats’ Shrewdly Boring Show

The Democrats might well be pursuing a sensible political strategy, but from a television programmer’s point of view they simply have no idea how to put on a reality show. Saturday night’s debate, carefully scheduled against football games and other more compelling fare to make sure no one was watching, is a perfect example.
We had high hopes for the episode, given the intriguing plot twists that had somehow seeped into the news prior to the broadcast, but they were quickly dashed by a group hug reminiscent of the final “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Those who are still following this yawn-fest already know that someone on the campaign staff of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the plucky David character in the tale, had been caught reading confidential material on the computer system of former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who plays the role of Goliath in this all-too-familiar storyline. There was briefly some uncharacteristic acrimony, with Clinton likening the incident to the Watergate break-in, and Sanders grousing that the Democratic National Committee’s threat to deny him access to the party’s voter records was just its latest attempt to sabotage his upstart campaign, but it all ended with Sanders’ groveling apology for the fired employee’s actions and Clinton’s magnanimous forgiveness. If the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of Wherever or the Republican Party behaved so wussily their reality shows would have been cancelled several seasons ago, but somehow the Democrats always get renewed.
To those who have been following the more action-packed cage match that is the Republican primary, it all seems unaccountable. There are plausible reports that the Sanders staffer inadvertently wound up with access to the DNC computer, which is apparently about as fool-proof as that Obamacare web site or the unsecured and illegal e-mail server that Clinton used for all her diplomatic electronic correspondence as Secretary of State, so Sanders had some pretty good spin if it he’d been willing to use it. He’d already declared that he was “sick and tired of hearing about her damn e-mails,” and of course he’s not going to make any more general complaints about the Democratic party’s apparent high-tech incompetence, but still, it’s hard to imagine even the most genteel of the Republicans passing up such a golden opportunity.
Even the viewers who are still rooting for Clinton will admit that she’s thoroughly dishonest, corrupt, ruthlessly amoral and entirely self-interested, just like all the most popular characters on all the reality shows, and just like all the ones who are the last to be kicked off the island or wind up with the hunky bachelor, and Sanders strategy of ignoring those unpleasant facts are hard to explain. Sanders is an unmitigated kook whose only domestic policy is to rip that goose wide open and grab all the golden eggs and whose foreign policy is to pretend that people aren’t trying to kill us, but at least he’s honest enough to concede that he’s a socialist and there’s little doubt he actually believes all that nonsense he spouts, which is pretty refreshing these days and is no doubt the source of Sanders’ limited appeal. He should pressing that advantage rather than retreating with an apology, and exploiting the plain fact that the Democratic Party is indeed thwarting the democratic process on Clinton’s behalf.
Sanders probably spends more time with Democrats than we do, so perhaps he’s correct in assuming they’re not quite so fed up with their party’s leadership as the Republicans clearly are with their own, but he’d surely benefit from stirring that pot at least a little bit. He’s probably also right that his supporters don’t regard Clinton with the same seething hatred that Republicans have for her, or for their own inter-party opponents, but given that Clinton is nearly as far left as he is his only advantage is on the character issue. A Democratic Party that demonizes wealth in general and Wall Street in particular and is suddenly more concerned with climate change and student debt and a “culture of rape” and “Black Lives Matter” than terrorism is expected to nominate a woman richer than Romney with a war chest of Goldman Sachs donations who flies around in private jets and charges universities $300,000 for a half-hour speech and enabled her husband serial sexual assaults and supported his mass incarceration and other tough-on-crime stances. That’s all Sanders has, given that Clinton is pretending to be as far left as he is, and it’s the reason he’s ahead in New Hampshire and within shouting distance elsewhere, and if he’s too high-minded to address this crucial point, just as he’s too high-minded address himself to that radical Islamic terrorism thing, there’s really no reason for him to stay in the race.
The obvious conspiracy theory for the right, which at least imbues some interest in the Democrats’ boring race, is that Sanders is only following the pre-written script needed to fill the obligatory time in a contracted-with-the-networks show about a supposed democratic process. By now it’s starting to seem plausible, but we do find him quite convincing in the role, and we know from countless conversations that his supporters are entirely on board. They’ll all glumly switch to Clinton if she wins, but only for fear of whatever crazed right-wing monster those hated Republicans come up with, so we think there’s still a chance of an embarrassingly real race, and that in any case Clinton will not emerged unscathed.
No matter how gentlemanly the Vermont socialist treats the former First Lady, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is continuing to look into that unsecured and illegal e-mail server of hers, and her assurances that none of her classified communications were breached by China or Russia or the surprisingly savvy IT guys in ISIS are surely undermined by the revelation that some stoned hippy-dippy staffer on the Bernie Sanders campaign was reading her campaign’s most cherished voter information, and sooner or later even the most compliant press will be forced to write something about. Whatever crazed right-wing monster the Republicans come up with will say that’s no lady, that’s Bill Clinton’s wife, and make sure to spend enough money that the matter will be brought to the public’s attention. Throw in all the subpoenaed e-mails that demonstrate how Clinton didn’t know how to use e-mail, and her public excuses about not wanting to use multiple devices and not knowing what “wiping a server” means or any of that other newfangled gadgetry, and of course that famously failed Obamacare web site, and at the very least she’ll look rather out-of-date.
Dishonest, corrupt, ruthlessly amoral and self-interested are one thing, but out-of-date is also the death knell for reality show star. If the Republicans can come up with a crazed right-wing monster who somehow managed to stay on the island didn’t get fired by the the star of “The Apprentice,” the Democrats would probably do well to go with that apologetic Bernie guy.

— Bud Norman

Whatever Happened to the Democratic Race?

A few of our neighbors have planted “Bernie ’16” signs in their lawns, enough of them that we pass by one on any route out of Riverside, but otherwise we might have plumb forgotten that the Democratic party is also having a presidential primary race. The only mention of it we’ve seen lately in the press was Foxnews.com’s report on how the press isn’t mentioning it, and the matter rarely comes up in conversation.
There are perfectly innocent explanations for this, of course. Conventional wisdom and the most up-to-date polling hold that Hillary Clinton’s coronation is all but inevitable, and the Republican race has the attention-grabbing presence of Donald Trump, so it’s understandable that any editors with an eye on circulation figures or overnight ratings would go where the action is. Still, there’s something slightly suspicious about all that silence from the Democratic side.
We’re always suspicious of conventional wisdom and up-to-date polling, for one thing, especially when it doesn’t quite jibe with the anecdotal evidence we encounter in everyday life. Just about every Democrat we know is for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, his yard signs and bumper stickers and lapel pins seem to vastly outnumber Clinton’s around here, and we haven’t yet heard anyone express anything resembling enthusiasm about a potential Clinton presidency. Even if those up-to-date poll numbers are correct the Clinton lead isn’t so large Trump’s in the Republican race, and the conventional wisdom hasn’t yet resigned itself to his inevitability, so for now at least her nomination doesn’t seem any more a foregone conclusion than it was the last time she ran.
As recently as last summer there was a flurry of news about Clinton’s use of a private and unsecured and most likely illegal e-mail server, which led to a renewed interest in her failed Libya policy and the resulting murder of an ambassador and three other Americans in that anarchic country, and the big and enthusiastic crowds that Sanders was drawing was also a hot topic. The e-mail scandal continues to unfold, and there was some slight attention paid to the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation assuring that a strictly apolitical criminal investigation also continues, which seems a rather big deal, and so far as we can gather from scattered local newspaper reports Sanders is still packing the young folks in and racking up a large war chest from small donations, which is slightly reminiscent of the last time Clinton ran and turned out to not be inevitable, yet the stories have stopped.
Last summer’s coverage of the Clinton campaign was so uncharacteristically harsh that we assumed it was intended to clear a path for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Vice President Joe Biden or any other remotely credible Democrat to get into the race, but Warren and Biden both bowed out and there was a sudden realization that there are no other remotely credible Democrats, even by Warren and Biden standards, and ever since we’ve heard only that deafening silence. Better by far to focus on the Republican race, and to give Trump 25 times the attention paid to the rest of the field, and to make sure all coverage has that familiar sorrowful tone about it. The Democratic party’s big-wigs are doing their part by scheduling few debates, scheduling them against the most popular sports broadcasts on Saturday nights, and making sure the candidates are both boringly nice to one another. With Sanders pitching in by stubbornly refusing to go negative, despite the target-rich environment Clinton offers, and despite an anti-establishment sentiment among the Democratic base is that every bit as palpable as the more widely remarked one on the Republican side, we don’t expect to hear much about the Democrats until convention time.
It might work, but we can’t recall the last time any party won a national election by staying out of the news.

— Bud Norman

Webb Withdraws and the Democrats Lurch Leftward

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb never did have a chance to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, so his withdrawal from the race on Tuesday won’t much affect the race. The reasons for his early departure say much about the current state of his party, however, so we do find it noteworthy.
Once upon a time, not so long ago that we can’t recall it clearly, Webb would have made a formidable candidate and an even more formidable nominee, but his parting speech frankly acknowledged that at this particular moment in history “my views on many of the issues are not compatible with the power structure and the nominating base of the Democratic Party.” This should have been apparent to Webb even during his little-noticed campaign announcement speech, but it simply could not go unnoticed after the party’s first presidential debate. Webb was forced to defend his past support of the Second Amendment and his past opposition to race-based affirmative action policies, was the only candidate to voice any commonsensical skepticism about the last seven years of foreign policy in general and that awful Iran nuclear bomb deal in particular, and even as he went along with the rest of the candidates he was clearly the least enthused about providing subsidized health care and other expensive government benefits to the untold millions of illegal immigrants that the Democratic Party is intent on inviting to the country. Throw in a few other heresies against the latest Democratic orthodoxy he uttered during his few minutes of airtime, and Webb was the glaringly obvious answer to one of those “which one of these does not belong” questions on all the standardized tests.
Webb was even so gauche as to note that he not only fought in Vietnam but had also served his country as Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, which one liberal Politico “tweeter” immediately characterized as “Jim Webb admitted he killed people.” We don’t remember any liberals being so critical of John Kerry, who “reported for duty” as the Democratic nominee on the basis of his dubious war record rather than the more indisputably documented anti-war activities that launched his career at another radical point in Democratic party history, or raising any objections to President Barack Obama’s boastful claims about killing Osama Bin-Laden, as if he’d rappelled down from the helicopter and done the deed with his own bare hands, but with Webb the reaction from the debate audience and the attending press was plainly apoplectic. We found ourselves almost liking the guy, despite his unenthused support for expensive benefits to untold millions of illegal immigrants and his many other heresies against conservative orthodoxy, but of course that only further confirmed his unsuitability to the current mood of the Democratic Party.
Our liberal friends love to repeat that old cliche about how the Republicans have lurched so far to the right during the past decades that even Ronald Reagan could no longer win its nomination, and we’re sure it seems so to them as they lurch ever further to the left. From our perspective, which has admittedly been fixed here in the middle of the country at the same rightward spot ever since we started reading National Review back in junior high, it is hard to see how GOP’s nominations of George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole and George W. Bush and John McCain and Mitt Romney demonstrate any rightward lurching since Reagan, and we don’t see anyone in the current field that’s likely to lurch it the right of that sweet spot, and yet all that leftward lurching on the Democratic side seems apparent.
Our beloved Pop still likes to recall how President Harry Truman stood firm against the Commies, we were raised on tales of PT-109 and that John F. Kennedy speech about bearing any burden and paying any price to ensure the ultimate victory of democracy, and from our childhood we recall how President Lyndon Johnson had the hippies outside the White House chanting “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” despite all his Great Society liberalism. From our own adulthood we still remember when Washington Sen. “Scoop” Jackson and a few other hawkish Democrats had prominent standing in their party, not to mention the Bosnian-bombing President Bill Clinton and peacenik war hero Kerry and Bin-Laden-killing Obama among other recent Democratic warmongers, so the sudden Democratic repulsion to Webb’s much-decorated martial spirit strikes us as a significant development.
Webb’s admitted support for the right to self-defense and opposition to affirmative action policies that favor Obama’s Sidwell Friends-educated children over some Appalachian coal miner’s more promising kid were also respectable opinions within the Democratic circles of our relatively recent recollection, too, and even that unmistakable hesitancy about giving expensive benefits to untold millions of illegal immigrants and the rest of his unforgivable heresies he uttered would have easily been forgiven by the power structure and nominating base of the Democratic Party. At this particular point in the party’s history, though, the putative front-runner Hillary Clinton is running against her husband’s record of tough-on-crime measures and defense of traditional marriage and insouciance about sexual assault while the self-described socialist and surging insurgent and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is arguing that even after seven years of Obama the economy is horrible because we jut haven’t lurch far enough left yet, the party seems to agree that Black Lives Matter and others don’t,  and from our fixed position seem awfully far left at the moment.
Although admittedly situated to the right, we suspect that our position and Webb’s is closer to the center than his former rivals. There are still an awful lot of white people and even among the Democrat kind of them there’s bound to be some resentment that Obama’s Sidwell Friends-educated children have some legal advantage over their own kids, and Americans of all colors and party affiliations have become accustomed to the right of self-defense, and a commonsensical appraisal of the past seven years of foreign policy in general and that awful Iran nuclear in particular will be skeptical, and it takes a certain sort of Democrat to be sufficiently enthused about paying expensive benefits for untold millions of illegal immigrants, so Webb’s departure does not seem to bode well for the Democratic Party’s general election fortunes. The Republicans seem intent on screwing up such a golden opportunity, of course, but it still does not bode well.
Webb’s much-decorated martial spirit was still on display as he retreated, saying that while his party is not comfortable with many of his policies “frankly I am not comfortable with many of theirs.” He hinted at a third party-challenge, a one-in-a-zillion shot that seems his best bet for the presidency at this point, and we’d like to think it might drain a few votes from Democrats who still believe all the traditional Democratic nonsense but aren’t so leftward lurched that they buy into all the latest nonsense. We’re not sure how many Democrats fit this projection, though, and he might wind up stealing a few Republican votes if Donald Trump wins the nomination, so at this point we’re not sure how noteworthy is withdrawal really is.

— Bud Norman

On the Cheering in the Press Box

Sports was about the only beat we never covered during our many years of toil for the local newspaper, but there was one occasion many basketball seasons ago when the Wichita State University Wheatshockers and the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats all made the men’s collegiate tournament, and the Lady Jayhawks and Lady Wildcats qualified for the women’s contest, and the sports staff was stretched so thin that even we wound up with some swell court side seats and free eats and drinks and the fanciest hotel rooms of Lincoln, Neb., and all the other media perquisites for the opening two rounds. One of the games involved teams our readers had no interest in and we were not obliged to write about — we still somehow recall it was the Vanderbilt University Commodores pitted against the Pittsburgh University Panthers — but it proved such a compelling scrap that when a skinny young Commodore shooting guard heaved a half-court shot at the buzzer to send his underdog team into overtime we raised our arms and said something to the effect of “wow.” The more seasoned sportswriter we were assisting was visibly embarrassed by such an emotional outburst, and he leaned over to sternly remind us of the old journalistic dictum that “There’s no cheering in the press box.”
That long-ago hard-learned lesson was brought to mind as we read up on a more recent sporting event, the Democratic Party’s first televised presidential debate, where the reportorial young whippersnappers were violating that once ironclad rule with impunity. When self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders declined to make political hay of rival candidate and former First Lady and Senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ongoing private e-mail scandal, and instead snarled that he was sick of hearing about it, which was the event’s equivalent of a skinny underdog heaving a half-court buzzer beater to tie the game, most of  the press room reportedly responded with unembarrassed cheer. Reporter Dave Ruben was so unabashed about it he immediately “tweeted” how “The entire press room just exploded when Bernie said that about Hillary’s e-mails,” another unapologetic “tweet” by his colleague Hunter Walker confirmed “Audible clapping and laughter in the press room after Bernie Sanders’ ‘enough of the e-mails moment,'” and given our long familiarity with the press we have no doubt of it. There might well have been a few more seasoned political sportswriters around who were embarrassed by the outburst, and they might even have offered some sternly glaring reproach, but so far as we can tell none have bothered to deny it happened.
It is hard to say, we must admit, who those cheerers in the press box were cheering for. They could have been rooting for Clinton, who had just been handed the unexpected gift of her most threatening rival taking her most troublesome scandal out of the Democratic primary debate, or they could have been celebrating Sanders, who got all the thunderous applause and came off looking rather gallant to Democratic eyes and seems to have made more hay among his party’s faithful than he ever could have by attacking a female rival before a Democratic audience, or they might have been cheering against themselves, who have lately been obliged to report on the continuing revelations about Clinton’s arguably illegal and inarguably national-security-endangering and obviously-intended-to-cover-up-embarrassing-stuff e-mail practices when they’d much rather be digging into some Republican’s parking tickets or some other Republican’s sensible pronouncements about the inadvisability of electing a Muslim president at this point in time. In any case, our conservative temperament and old school sensibilities are still embarrassed by the cheering in the press box.
As with so many other once iron-clad rules, there were sound reasons for the prohibition on cheering in the press box. When you’re cheering you’re not watching, for one thing, and as the late and great baseball player Yogi Berra once explained, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Whatever portion of those press box cheerers who were rooting for Clinton were probably too preoccupied to observe that Sanders had received the most thunderous applause and came off looking very gallant and confirmed to his most loyal supporters that he’s more concerned with their socialist revolution than any fellow Democrats’ trustworthiness. Those cheering for Sanders did so while neglecting to observe that he actually had just taken her most troublesome scandal out of the primary debate. As for those reporters who were cheering against themselves in hopes they’d at last be freed to write about Republican perfidy, they likely enjoyed their momentary forgetfulness that Clinton’s e-mail scandal is still a bigger deal to most of their readers than some Republican candidate’s most recent misconstrued statement and that they’re still stuck with it through at least several more news cycles of Congressional hearings and criminal investigations and the latest leaks from highly placed administration sources.
The obvious obverse of the old journalistic rule about cheering in the press box is that there’s no booing in the press box, and we think our few friends in the conservative media would do well to comply. Most of the right-wing commentariat seems to have concluded that Sanders declined an opportunity for a devastating attack, and Clinton’s more polished performance thus won the day and made her nomination once again inevitable, but we think they fail to notice that by the very different rules of Democratic politics Sanders seems to have gotten the best of it. Aside from the gallantry and polite insouciance about official misconduct of his gift to Clinton, Sanders’ lack of polish probably appealed to a yearning for even the most rough-hewn authenticity that both parties suddenly seem to have.
Striving to be appropriately stoic here in our self-appointed Internet press box, we observe that the game is still in play. Although we’re not so dispassionate about the contest as we were when the Commodores and Panthers squared off in that memorable game of hoops, we are about equally predisposed to Clinton and Sanders, and we’re trying to follow the game according to these convoluted Democratic rules, so we consider ourselves more or less objective, and to further mix the sports metaphors a bit with boxing we’ll score the round to Sanders. Whether this is something we should cheer or boo remains to be seen, as it depends entirely on which of them proves more palatable to the public and which of the political neophytes or more stridently anti-establishment office holders the Republicans might choose to put against either of these horrible people, so we’ll keep following the game. There will be some cheering and booing, of course, and at times one can’t help raising his arms and saying some to the effect of “wow,” but we’ll try to do that only only when justified by our more dispassionate observations. In the meantime we note that the same Democratic debate press box that cheered for either Clinton or Sanders or against themselves largely did not rise for the national anthem. They were in another room, which might mitigate the seeming disrespect, but it does seem an odd contrast to their more unrestrained enthusiasm for Clinton or Sanders or their own self-loathing.
We always enjoy watching the most seasoned of the local sportswriters at his court side and free-eats and perquisite-laden seat at the ‘Shocker games whenever we get the chance to attend. He always looks so bored, even when a ‘Shocker is heaving a buzzer-beating half-court shot to send in the game into overtime, and although he always, writes it up  with the partisan perspective that his readership expects he rarely neglects to mention the big moment that occurred when everyone was too busy cheering or booing  to notice. He stands for the national anthem, too, and although he also looks understandably bored during that we give him credit for the gesture. There’s something to be said for the old school, and it is always good to know which side the writer is on.

— Bud Norman

Playing Out the String, Sloppily

Even the most avid sports fans tend to pay less attention to the regular season scores after their team has clinched a playoff spot, and even the most dedicated political buffs often stop checking the primary results after the nominations are locked up. In both cases they might be missing something important, because a late slump by a complacent team can carry over into the post-season and a relatively weak showing in the late primaries can reveal weaknesses that might harm a candidate in a general election.

Tuesday night’s largely ignored primaries in Kentucky and Arkansas illustrate the point. Presumptive nominees Mitt Romney and Barack Obama won their respective parties’ contests, as expected, but a closer examination of the box scores reveals some interesting problems for both men.

In the Kentucky primary Romney finished more than 54 points ahead of his closest competitor, the famously stubborn Ron Paul, but only garnered about 67 percent of the total votes in a four-way race. The results were similar in Arkansas, where Romney took about 69 percent of all the votes, with Paul and fellow also-ran Rick Santorum picking up about 13 percent each. Given that all of Romney’s competitors have stopped campaigning, and even offered mild and begrudging endorsements of Romney, the numbers suggest that the all-but-certain Republican nominee still needs to arouse some enthusiasm among the party’s hard-core conservative base, especially in the South.

More notable, though, were the scores on the Democratic side. In Arkansas, Obama lost about 40 percent of the vote to a quadrennial crank candidate named John Wolfe, and in Kentucky he lost 42 percent of the vote to “uncommitted.” Coming just two weeks after an embarrassing showing in the West Virginia primary, where Obama lost 37 percent of the vote to a candidate currently serving time in a federal prison, the results suggest that a sizeable minority of Democrats are not satisfied with their party’s nominee.

The Obama campaign and its allies in the news media will do their part to ensure that the primaries remain largely ignored, and for those who do take notice they’ll downplay the results as peculiar to small redneck states that aren’t going to vote for the president’s re-election anyway, but it’s impossible to argue convincingly that such large numbers of defectors don’t represent a problem. There are Democratic rednecks in every state, after all, and even in such respectable jurisdictions as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maryland the president hasn’t topped the 90 percent threshold that is to be expected for an incumbent president running against nominal or even non-existent competition.

After all the talk about the hard-fought Republican primary, the Democrats suddenly seem the less united party.

Those die-hard Republicans who continue to insist on voting for Paul, Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or any of the other conservative also-rans aren’t going to cast a vote for Obama. A few of them will stay home on election day, but we expect that the looming possibility of a second Obama term will be sufficient to get most of them to the polls to vote for Romney. Those Democrats who voted for a felon, a crank candidate, and “uncommitted,” on the other hand, might very well be persuaded to vote Romney.

— Bud Norman

The Prisoner and the President

Readers of a certain age will remember that President Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for re-election in 1968 after losing the Democrats’ New Hampshire primary to Sen. Eugene McCarthy. Those readers will be mis-remembering, as people of a certain age are wont to do, because Johnson actually scored a 49-42 win over McCarthy in that race, but the margin was sufficiently close for a sitting president in his own party’s primary to embarrass Johnson out of the race.

We don’t expect an announcement that Barack Obama will not seek and will not accept the nomination of his party for another term as our president, but the result of Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary in West Virginia was pretty darned embarrassing. Obama lost 41 percent of the vote in the closed primary to a challenger by the name of Keith Judd, a more comfortable victory than Johnson eked out back in ’68 but a far less impressive showing given the caliber of the competition.

Eugene McCarthy was a United States Senator, after all, as well a respected leader of the Democratic party’s liberal wing and a principled opponent of the increasingly unpopular war that Johnson had entered in Vietnam. Keith Judd, on the other hand, is an inmate at a federal corrections institution serving a long sentence for extortion. Not extortion in the sense that he told a group of bankers that he was the only thing standing between them and the pitchforks, as Obama had done, but rather in the legal sense that lands you in a federal corrections institution.

Press reports say little about Judd’s platform, which apparently included opposition to Obamacare on constitutional grounds and a call to repeal the law depriving felons of voting rights, but it seems likely that his strong showing reflected discontent with Obama more than a widespread enthusiasm for Judd’s confined campaign. West Virginians are an ornery lot, in our experience, but they’re not usually inclined to vote in such large numbers for someone currently in prison. They’ve been known to elect people who had been in prison, or soon would be, but they rarely turn out for someone who is behind bars on election day.

Obama’s apologists in the press have downplayed the large protest vote in West Virginia, saying it’s peculiar to a small state that Obama hadn’t planned to contest in any case, and they have a point, at least to the extent that Judd-mania probably won’t be sweeping the nation in the coming months. Still, the Obama campaign should take note. The administration’s rhetorical and regulatory on coal is the most commonly cited reason for West Virginia’s disgruntlement, a logical conclusion given the state’s reliance on that industry, but West Virginia isn’t the only state that mines coal, and cheap energy is popular everywhere. Nor is coal the only industry on Obama’s enemies list, and many other states also have some large employer of their own that’s been in the administration’s sights. Other press reports are blaming West Virginian racism for the result, and there are indeed some racists in that state, as in every other state, but we don’t expect that the current economy would be any more amenable to them if a white president were in office.

There’s a reasonable argument that the West Virginia vote was only so bad, but there’s no attempt to argue that it was good. It’s common to hear someone say that they’d vote for Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck over some incumbent or another, but neither Mouse nor Duck have ever been convicted of extortion.

— Bud Norman