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On the Sidelines of the Great Schism

Public opinion polls rarely tell us anything we didn’t already know, but it’s nice to have our observations corroborated and quantified. So it was with a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, which shows that right and the left increasingly hate one another these days.
According to Pew’s research the number of Republicans with a “cool” attitude toward Democrats has risen 14 percent over the past two years, with most them being “very cold.” Since 2016 there’s been a 16 percent increase in the Democrats’ coolness toward the Republicans. Some 55 percent of Republicans now say the Democrats are “immoral,” and 47 precent of Democrats say the same thing about Republicans. Some 63 percent of Republicans think Democrats are “unpatriotic,” and they’ll be glad to know that only 23 percent of Democrats say the same about them, although that might be because many Democrats have the same flag-waving and jingoistic definition of patriotism as many Republicans.
You’ve probably already noticed the trend, if you ever venture to talk about politics at the local tavern or church potluck or the line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The animosity has always been there, and we old-timers who can recall the ’60s have seen worse, but there’s no shaking a sense that it’s gotten worse in the last two or three years.
President Donald Trump obviously has a lot to do with it. He deliberately infuriates Democrats, knowing how it endears him to Republicans, and has normalized name-calling and mud-slinging and a Manichaean worldview, with both sides now playing by the new rules. He didn’t create the divide, though, just took shrewd advantage of it.
Back in the ’60s there were only three channels on your television and a few radio stations that would deliver a few minutes of minutes of strictly factual news, but for a long while people have been able to tune into whatever they want to hear. If you want to hear that those damned Democrats are a bunch of perverted dope-smoking hippies who hate God and while folks and America and everything there plenty of programs purveying that. If you’re more inclined to hear that those awful Republicans are a bunch of rich-off-the-poor racists who hate gay people because they’re repressed homosexuals and are intent on destroying the environment, you won’t have any trouble finding it.
The schism is rooted in geographic and demographic and cultural economic realities, too. All the polls, including the reelection results, show that the right is mostly inland and rural and religious and anxious that a fast-changing economy will leave them behind along with the rest of the culture. The left is mostly coastal and urban and secular and firmly convinced that with its smart phones and great and unmatched wisdom it can lead America to a more socialist and sexually liberated Utopia. Those fine folks at the Pew Research Center also found that majorities in both parties say they don’t share even the non-political values of their counterparts, and can’t even agree on the basic facts of what they’re arguing abut. Acrimonious arguments about everything from guns to gay wedding cakes to health care are bound to result, even without all this media fanning the flames.
These days we’re watching all this from the sidelines, where we tend to get along with everybody well enough. We’ve considered ourselves staunch conservative Kansas Republicans since way back when Trump was a registered Democrat and contributing to the Clintons, so we have no argument to make when our more newfangled Republican friends fulminate about the damned Democrats and their unabashed socialism and often outright hostility toward God-fearing and gun-toting and heterosexual white folk. When our Democrat friends fulminate about Trump we rarely have any argument to make, on the other hand, as he also offends our old-fashioned conservative Kansas Republican sensibilities, and we don’t entirely disagree that there’s some racism and sexism and at least some measure of homophobia involved in his appeal.
Sometimes we’re asked to pick a side, but we assert our right as Americans not to, and for now that seems to work. We’re trying to keep everything civil with the dear friends we know to be good and patriotic people on both sides of the political divide, and we’re hoping it doesn’t turn out like the 1960s or the 1860s.

— Bud Norman

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A Very Special Election in North Carolina

Today is election day in North Carolina’s ninth congressional district, which is an odd thing to happen in September on an odd-numbered year, and it’s happening for an odd reason. The regularly scheduled election in November of ’18 was never certified because the apparent Republican victor’s campaign had provably been involved in voter fraud, and even the Republicans in the state courts and election board had to admit it, so after many months without representation in Congress the district is at long last getting around to having a do-over.
There’s enough of a chance that the Republican nominee will lose that both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have jetted into the state to campaign for him, which at this point is not at all odd. The district has been held by Republicans since 1963, and in 2016 Trump won its votes by 11 percentage points, but things have lately changed. North Carolina’s ninth is precisely the sort of reliably Republican and highly educated and well off suburban district that the Republicans have been losing ever since Trump won the presidency, and by 2018 the race was tight enough that the Republican nominee’s campaign resorted to outright voter fraud. This time around the Democratic nominee is a centrist military veteran, the Republican nominee is running as a Trump loyalist, there are Libertarian and Green party candidates to siphon off votes from both, and the polls have it too close to call.
A Democratic victory would be embarrassing to Trump, so naturally he held another one of his rock star rallies to endorse the Republican. As usual Trump mostly talked about himself, and the best argument he could make for the candidate he was campaigning for was that what’s his name would enhance Trump’s power, and that the Democrats are pro-crime and hate America and “your way of life is under assault from these people.” This might prove persuasive enough to drag the Republican nominee across the finish line, but if it doesn’t Trump can always blame it on voter fraud, and there will be plenty of distracting news outside North Carolina’s ninth congressional district.

— Bud Norman

A Very Hard Brexit

Should you ever despair about the state of America’s politics, as we so often do, console yourselves that it’s even worse elsewhere. At the moment, even the United Kingdom finds itself in a very sticky wicket over its “Brexit” from the European Union.

We’re avid Anglophiles in our literary tastes and cherish America’s longstanding “special relationship” with Great Britain, so we try to keep up with the news from across the pond. Lately it’s all been bad news, as the messy business of “Brexit” plays out. The traditionally Tory Prime Minister Theresa May had to resign as a result of her failure to find a solution, and untraditionally Tory successor Boris Johnson doesn’t seem to be doing any better.</div<

The controversy all started back in 2016 when the British people narrowly approved a referendum to withdraw seem from the European Union. There were all sorts of reasonable arguments for doing so, as the European Union imposes all sorts of rules and regulations about immigration and how to measure the weight of bananas, and although the United Kingdom wisely didn’t abandon the Pound Sterling for the one-size-fits-all Euro that keeps creating problems there were many persuasive arguments for British sovereignty.
All along the counter-argument was that the UK’s alliance with the EU gave it un-tariffed access to the European economies that collectively comprise the third-largest market in the world, and that was also compelling. Should Britain take a “hard Brexit”from the EU its economy will direly suffer, and if it doesn’t the government will defy the narrowly expressed will of its people. Which makes for a complicated mess, and this Johnson fellow doesn’t seem to be up to it.
Johnson is a “Britain First” kind of guy, often compared to to American President Donald Trump, and he has an arguably even uglier head of hair, and so far he’s been flailing. He tried to suspend Parliament, which is arguably even crazier than Trump suspending Congress, as it’s a more longstanding institution. Even Johnson’s better-coiffed brother has resigned from the government, there’s talk of special elections, creepy left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn awaits in the wings, and as much as we love the Brits they seem in yet another very bad spot.
The Brits have been through plenty of those over the last few centuries, on the other hand, and we we hold out hope they muddle through this one as well.

— Bud Norman

“Truthful Hyperbole” vs. Truth

Late in his hour-and-a-half long speech to a rally crowd in Cincinnati on Thursday, President Donald Trump assured his adoring audience that AIDS and childhood cancer will soon be cured, which is something most presidents would have mentioned earlier. The boast probably would have gotten more attention if anyone believed it were actually true, and there weren’t another hour’s worth of similar unverifiable and untrue boasts for the fact-checkers to go over. Trump believes in what he calls “truthful hyperbole,” and apparently so does his nominee to replace Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence.
Rep. John Ratcliffe was a controversial choice for the job from the outset, given his apparent lack of relevant qualifications for the job, but Democratic opposition has grown stronger and Republican support less solid since it’s become clear he has a Trumpian tendency to overstate his accomplishments.
Earlier Ratcliffe had been forced to admit he wasn’t as successful a prosecutor of terrorism during his brief term as an acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas as he’d earlier claimed. It turns out there weren’t a whole lot of terrorism cases to be prosecuted in east Texas during his short stint on the job, and that Ratcliffe played a more limited role that he’d bragged about in the cases that did come up. He did get a psychologically troubled Iraq war veteran to plead guilty to possession of a pipe bomb, but that seems to have been his biggest contribution to the war on terrorism.
Ratcliffe has also boasted on his congressional web site that he arrested 300 illegal immigrants in a single day, which on its face is as fanciful as boasting of curing AIDS and childhood cancer, and now he’s been forced to admit that was overstated. He was involved in a five-state sweep of poultry plants that resulted in approximately 300 arrests, but of course it was Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers who actually did the arresting, and the results were underwhelming. Only 45 of the arrestees were actually prosecuted by Ratcliffe’s office, and six of the cases were dismissed, in two instances because the defendants turned out to be American citizens, one of whom was a 19-year-old woman dragged from her bed by immigration agents in a pre-dawn raid.
Trump can hardly object to such harmless exaggerations, nor does he seem to mind the apparent lack of qualifications for the job. Coats had been a Representative and Senator with a stellar reputation for his service on the intelligence committees in both chambers, and then served four years as ambassador to Germany before taking charge of the the national intelligence agency, but he constantly annoyed Trump by agreeing with the rest of the intelligence community that Russia meddled in the last presidential election on Trump’s behalf. Ratcliffe has signaled that he’ll take the word of Trump and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin that no such thing happened, so there’s no need to do anything to prevent it from happening again, and that’s the only qualification Trump needs.
If Ratcliffe doesn’t have a traditional intelligence background, so much the better as far as Trump is concerned. “We need somebody who can really rein it in,” Trump told reporters, “because as I think you’ve all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok. They run amok.”
Trump’s own Secretary of State and Central Intelligence Agency director and Federal Bureau of Investigation director and the rest of his intelligence appointees don’t seem to have learned the lesson, though, as they’re all running amok and agreeing with Trump’s outgoing National Intelligence Director and special counsel Robert Mueller and anyone who’s been paying attention that Russia did indeed middle in the last election. They also all agree that Russia’s gearing up to do it again, and we’re more inclined to take their word for it rather than Trump’s and Putin’s and Ratcliffe’s.
Ratcliffe never did win Senate confirmation as a U.S. Attorney, and it’s hard to say if he’ll fare better at his next confirmation hearing, as there are a few Republicans who are openly skeptical of his fitness for the job, and it’s easy to predict he won’t be getting any Democratic votes. We’ll also go out on a limb and predict that Trump won’t soon cure AIDS and childhood cancer, and cautiously hope that Ratcliffe doesn’t rein in America’s intelligence from countering Russia meddlesome plots.

— Bud Norman

“BoJo,” “Brexit,” and Trump

Over the past many decades there have often been intriguing similarities between America’s presidents and the United Kingdom’s prime ministers.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a conservative Tory and President Franklin Roosevelt a liberal Democrat, but both men came from aristocratic backgrounds and excellent educations and they shared an instinctive abhorrence of Nazism, and Churchill came to share the Cold War stage with President Dwight Eisenhower. Prime Minister Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher was an iconoclastic conservative Tory whose election paved the way for President Ronald Reagan’s equally iron-willed and controversial conservative Republicanism. Reagan was succeeded by the more cautiously conservative President George H.W. Bush at about the same time that was followed by Prime Minister John Major, a cautiously conservative tory with the same sort of establishment pedigree as his American counterpart. President Bill Clinton ended 12 years of Republican presidencies by promising a centrist “third way,” and he was soon joined by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who ended a long run of Tory residence at Number 10 Downing Street on a similar centrist platform.
Since then Republican presidents have sometimes had to get along with Labour Prime Ministers and Democrats have overlapped with Tories, but for the most part the Special Relationship persisted. Putatively Republican President Donald Trump often clashed with Tory Prime Minister Theresa May, who had a more refined style and didn’t share his nationalist instincts, but she’s lately been forced to resign, and will now be replaced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is about as close a copy of Trump as the United Kingdom can find.
Johnson has a longstanding reputation for making up facts that suit him and bluntly insulting anyone who disputes his version of the truth, he’s a Britain-first nationalist who shares Trump’s distrust of international alliances and institutions, he was born in New York City to a wealthy family, and he arguably has an even more ridiculous hair style than the American president. Trump had signaled he would have preferred the even more anti-European Union politician Nigel Farage, who campaigned for Trump during his presidential race, but we expect that he and Johnson will get along quite well at the upcoming economic summits.
Johnson first gained notice in Britain as a journalist, which is a marked contrast from Trump, but we think Trump would have liked his style. He was an anti-European Union crusader at a time when Britain’s entry into the economic alliance was a hotly debated issue. There were plenty of good reasons for Britain to retain its independence, including nosy regulations and open border policies and one-size-fits-all currency, but Johnson wasn’t satisfied with that and invented all sorts of fanciful tales about condom size regulations and other outrages, getting fired from the Times of London for falsifying a quote but later finding a home at the Tory-leaning Telegraph. He parlayed his popularity into eight controversial but not at all catastrophic years as Mayor of London, and then somehow wound in May’s cabinet as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Britain’s limited involvement in the European Union remained a controversial issue, with the country eventually voting by a slim margin in a referendum to “Brexit” from the agreement. Negotiating the terms of the divorce proved difficult, however, and eventually brought an end to May’s prime ministership. The United Kingdom had wisely followed Thatcher’s advice to retain its Pound Sterling currency rather than accept the Euro that the poorer country’s were using to rack up ruinous debt and require huge bailouts, but it had agreed to accept some very stupid immigration rules and other annoying violations of its sovereignty, so there was ample reason to cut ties with the continent, but on the other hand EU membership also offered very lucrative free trade with the world’s third biggest economy. The EU naturally used that leverage to demand concessions that Johnson and Farage and Trump and other “hard Brexit” advocates resented, and May wound up resigning in frustration with her failure to please anyone.
Perhaps Johnson will have better luck with the negotiations, but the conventional wisdom of American and Fleet Street media is that he’ll have the same problems as May. His Conservative Party and the “Brexit” are both unpopular, Britain’s economy needs the EU more than the EU needs Britain, the country has lately been having its oil tankers seized and harassed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a problem that will require North Atlantic Treaty Organization assistance, and much like Trump he’s widely regarded by the establishment types as a rank amateur who’s in over his ill-coiffed head. The anti-EU Trump has said he’ll reward Britain with a sweetheart trade deal if it makes a “Brexit,” but no matter how sweet it probably won’t be worth as much as free access to the far closer and nearly as large EU economy, and Johnson and Trump have some disagreements on matters ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the importance of the NATO alliance.
Still, we wish “BoJo” and Trump the best of luck working it all out, as America and the United Kingdom have helped one another do ever since that unpleasantness back in 1812. In a couple of years there might a crazy left Democratic president and a crazy left Labourite prime minister who find themselves simpatico, and if so we’ll hold out work that doesn’t end badly.

— Bud Norman

The Next Big Debt-Ceiling Fight

Yet another fight over once again raising America’s debt ceiling is coming up, and we expect it will be even uglier than usual. For one thing the September deadline will come as the presidential and congressional primaries are heating up, which always complicates things, and for another thing the federal government is more dysfunctional than ever.
Treasury Secretary has met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the matter, but Pelosi is for now insisting on a two-year budget deal. Several Republican Senators also want an actual budget instead of yet another continuing resolution that provides at least two years off from these every six months or so squabbles, but that’s easier said than done.
There hasn’t been an actual budget passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by a president for more than a decade, and you have to go back to the days of President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich to find one that balanced. Since then both parties have waited until the last minute before the global economic catastrophe that would result from the government defaulting on its very large debt, playing brinksmanship to extract whatever concessions the parties could gain from another, and wound up a with a deficit-spending resolution that kicked the can another six months down the road. This time will probably be the same, but different.
This time the congressional Democrats are more restive than usual, with Pelosi publicly feuding with several recently famous freshman members of her caucus, and all the Democratic presidential contenders pushing the party further to the left. Not long ago Pelosi was the Republican party’s poster girl for San Francisco-style liberalism, but these days she’s the relatively sane center of the Democratic party, and she’s always been a pragmatic enough politician to cut those last minute deals that saved the global economy from catastrophe. For the moment she seems firmly in control of her party, but September’s a long time from now.
For the foreseeable future President Donald Trump is firmly in control of the Republican party, but that’s not reassuring. Trump ran on the argument that he’s history’s greatest master of the art of the deal, based on his business record, but so far he’s proved no more successful in negotiating deals with the congressional Democrats than he was with his six-times bankrupt casinos. While he “tweets” schoolyard taunts against Senate majority leader “Cryin'” Chuck Schumer and t”Nervous Nancy” Pelosi, he’s yet to best them in a political showdown on almost anything. He crashed claimed credit for the last of those occasional partial government showdowns, then blamed the Democrats when the shutdown didn’t poll well, and wound up signing off on another continuing resolution that fully funded lots of bleeding heart social programs beloved by the Democrats.
This time around should be the same. The talk radio talkers will grouse about Trump’s concessions, but they’ll quickly move on to what the damned Democrats did, and Trump’s die-hard fans will forgive him anything. There are also a few on-the-fence voters who will give him credit for his centrist pragmatism, nobody will be able to blame him for the default that brought down the global economy, and that this point nobody cares about those several Republican senators’ old-fashioned idea of getting back to passing budgets with bi-partisan support and a presidential signature. Trump’s position of strength gives him every incentive to cave.
At this point large portions of both parties only care about depriving the other party of any tangible victory, and won’t yield an inch toward any kind of national consensus about how to spend the public’s money. They wouldn’t mind a global economic catastrophe, either, so long as they could blame it on the other side. As the presidential and congressional primary races heat up, those elements will have some influence on the debate.
Still, we expect this time around will be largely the same as the last many times around. We no longer have much faith in the leaders of either party, but we retain a cynical and hopeful faith in human nature. None of our elected leaders want to have been around during a global economic catastrophe, if only because it’s a bad career move, even if they could plausibly blame it on the other side. At some point, according to our observation of recent politics and human nature, both sides will eventually blink, and both will get enough and give enough for their voters to brag and grouse about.
Which is about the best we can hope for these days. That idea Pelosi and those prominent Senate Republicans have about a two-year budget seems pretty far-fetched for the moment. The idea that it might be balanced is preposterous.

— Bud Norman

The Third of July

As patriotic Americans we don’t want to spend the Fourth of July with another screed about the President of the United States, as it’s supposed to be one of those all-too-rare apolitical and non-partisan days, so we’ll get it off our chest on the Third of July. President Donald Trump seems intent on turning Independence Day into another one of his endless campaign rallies, with a heaping helping of militarism on top, and several million taxpayer dollars thrown in, with big-bucks donors getting front row seating, and we find it outrageous.
Starting with President George Washington it has been a time-honored tradition for presidents to stay out of the spotlight while the country celebrates the birth of America, except for a brief and humble statement acknowledging the occasion, but Trump cares little for time-honored traditions and always on insists on being the center of attention. He’ll be hogging a stage that’s been set up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, claiming credit for the traditional fireworks just as he claims credit for people saying “Merry Christmas” in December, with generals and admirals of the American military standing next to him as tanks and troops march down Pennsylvania Avenue as fighters and bombers fly overhead.
Trump is calling it a “Celebration of America,” as if it were his novel idea to celebrate America on the Fourth of July, but everything about it seems a betrayal of American ideals.
The basic idea of the Declaration of Independence that was signed on the Fourth of July in 1776 is that all men are created equal, none are above the law, none are irreplaceable, and America’s greatness derives from e pluribus unum. Trump openly brags about being exceptional, brazenly violates the rule of law and dares his opponents to do anything about it, has repeatedly said that “Only I can solve,” and claims full credit for supposedly restoring America’s greatness by his clear efforts to divide the country. If he somehow manages not to do so on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the Fourth of July we will be surprised, but his mere presence there seems to imply his usual political rally rhetoric.
America’s military might won our independence from Britain, and has maintained our freedom throughout some very difficult years ever since, so of course it deserves some gratitude on the Fourth of July. Still, the show of strength that Trump has planned is not the way to do it. The top military brass has made it clear to Trump that their soldierly humility makes them uncomfortable flexing their muscles in gaudy parades, the enlisted men and women would probably prefer to have a day off with their families rather than being props in a Trump propaganda ploy, and the whole thing seems more like something you’d see in the old Soviet Union or modern day North Korea rather than in the United States of America. The draft-dodging Commander in Chief bragged the parade would include the Sherman tanks, although there haven’t been any Sherman tanks for more than 50 years, and he also bragged there’d be the newest Abram tanks, although they’re actually called Abrams tanks.In Trump’s skewed worldview America is great because it can kick any other country’s ass in a war, but to our thinking America has that capability because a nation of free men and women and free markets that doesn’t want a fight with anybody made it rich enough and great enough to sustain such a formidable force.
As rich as America is it’s more than $20 trillion in debt, and racking up a trillion more every year even in what Trump calls the best economy ever, and Trump’s show of force won’t help with that problem. He’ll spend millions with the flyovers, millions more rolling tanks and other armored vehicles over streets that weren’t designed to bear such heavy loads and will surely require expensive repair afterwards, and he’s diverting some $2.5 million dollars appropriated for the upkeep of national parks to pay for the stage on the Lincoln Memorial and the other changes to the time-honored tradition of Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, D.C.
Way back in our early teens we had the good fortune to be in our nation’s capital for a couple of Independence Days, and we can say that even Trump couldn’t have made it any greater. They had great fireworks even then, which lit up the skies over the Washington and Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the Capitol and the reflecting pools and the rest of the gorgeous National Mall, and it was jam-packed with Americans of all hues and every variety, and nobody seemed to care much who was a Republican or who was a Democrat. Rich or poor didn’t make any difference, either, and there was a wonderfully palpable sense of e pluribus unum.
Tomorrow we expect there will be a lot of people in those red “Make America Again” ball caps showing up for another Trump rally, as well as a lot of people and that “Baby Trump” balloon showing up to protest the President of the United States, so at least a few fist fights will result. You can add the D.C. and Capitol Hill police department’s costs to the total bill, and subtract that from how great the Fourth of July used to be on the glorious National Mall of our nation’s capital. The big bucks donor who bought the front row seats for Trump’s speech and “Celebration of America” might not notice, but any average American who gets caught up in the potential riot surely will.
Our plan for tomorrow is to watch our city’s annual dazzling fireworks display in front of the Wichita Art Museum on the banks of the Little Arkansas River, which will light up the skies over the  Keeper of the Plains statue on the nearby confluence with the Arkansas River that marks the spot still  held sacred sacred by the plains Indians. We look forward to sharing the moment with Wichitans of all hues and every variety, and not caring who’s a Republican and who’s a Democrat. Wichita still has a palpable sense of e pluribus unum, and now that we’ve got this off our chest we won’t let the likes of Trump ruin that on a Fourth of July.

— Bud Norman

Well, At Least There’s Still More than a Year and a Half Left in the Race

The Cable News Networks has run the first significant Democratic presidential poll since the two-part and too-early Democratic presidential debates of last week. Given the results, we’ll mostly take a day off from our usual bashing of Republican President Donald Trump to note that the Democrats seem intent on nominating someone even arguably worse.
At the outset of the race the clear front-runner by double digits was former Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, who was also Vice President for eight years to President Barack Obama, who somehow remains popular in the Democratic party, even if much of the party now grouses that liberal administration we daily fulminated about wasn’t nearly liberal enough. Part of Obama’s enduring appeal in the party is that he was The First Black President ™, and given all the white flight to the Republican party over the past several decades of the Civil Rights era black voters are a sizable chunk of the Democratic primary electorate, especially in the southern states that hold early primaries, and Biden seemed to enjoy their gratitude that he’d been a loyal ally of Obama. The Democrats also retain a following among the Rust Belt white working class, even if Trump won enough of them last time around to squeak out an electoral majority, and the affable and commuter train-riding “Uncle Joe” and his aged self’s ties to an earlier era of populist Democratic politics made him seem well poised to win those votes back from Trump.
It was never likely to hold up, however, and seems to have taken a severe hit after just an hour of televised debate. The CNN polls shows Biden dropping 10 points, and although he’s still in the lead with 22 percent he’s only five percentage points ahead of California Sen. Kamala Harris, just six ahead of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and just eight ahead of self-proclaimed socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He retains a bigger lead over the other 21 or 22 or so candidates, but several of them still have a chance to break out.
Biden’s hold on the black vote was always tenuous, given that he was running against a bona fide black man with verifiable slave blood in New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker, who can also rightly claim to love in one of America’s most blighted and crime-ridden black ghettos, as well as California senator Harris, who has a Jamaican immigrant father and an east Indian immigrant mother, and grew up identifying and being identified as a black woman. Harris was the one who seized the opportunity during the debates, criticizing Biden for his way-way-back-in-the-’70s position against forced busing to achieve school desegregation, and it gave her a nine point bump in the poll while Biden took a ten point hit.
Harris is too far left and too much an “identity politics” candidate for our tastes, but she’s a former prosecutor and California Attorney General who always comes across as smart and well-informed in every interview, which contrasts to her favor with Trump, and she’s not quite so crazy as many of her competitors, so we warn both Biden and Trump to be worried. Given the current far left and “identity politics” predilections of the Democratic party, she seems a formidable opponent.
Biden’s hold on those aggrieved white Rust Belt blue collar workers was also tenuous, given that pretty much of the rest of the field was willing to outbid him with grandiose promises of free health care and guaranteed incomes and various other free stuff. Anyone who voted for Obama twice but then switched to Trump is not a true-blue Republican or conservative by our old-fashioned standards, and we suspect they were swayed by Trump’s even more grandiose and far-fetched promises of restoring the steel and coal and other Rust Belt industries to their long-long-ago ’50s glory, and now the rest of the Democratic party seems to willing to make to such gullible rubes even more grandiose and far-fetched promises. They can’t make the same make America white again promises as Trump, whose brand of identity politics also offends us, but Obama got their votes two times around and  we think they’ll once again fare well.
The estimable Washington Post editorial writer Eugene Robinson had an editorial on Monday taunting that we Never-Trump Republicans should reconcile ourselves to the idea that the Democrats are going to wind up nominating a Democrat. With all due respect to Robinson we didn’t need him to tell us that depressing news, and note that the three or four Democratic candidates we could conceivably vote for are all polling in the single digits, but we’re still hoping the party will come up with its least crazy possible nominee. Two major parties gone stark raving crazy are two too many, as far we’re concerned.
Our guess is that we’ll wind up once again throwing away our vote on some futile independent candidate, and that all our Democratic and Republican friends will accuse us of de facto voting for the hated other side. Once again, we’ll console ourselves that at least we threw our vote away on something better. How the rest of the country votes is up to the rest of the country.

— Bud Norman

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 Race Is On

America and the rest of the world aren’t yet halfway through 2019, but the 2020 presidential election is already underway. Today brings the first Democratic primary debate between ten candidates, tomorrow brings another debate between yet another ten candidates, and so far as we can tell there are at least another five or or six Democratic contenders who are left out of the stages.
We’ll be watching both debates with rapt interest, as we’re slightly hopeful the damned Democrats don’t come up with someone who isn’t so loonily far left that he or she can’t beat President Donald Trump. It’s only a slight hope, though, as the damned Democrats these strike us as arguably even crazier than Trump and the damned Republicans. That very crowded field of Democratic contenders also worries us, even if there are a few among them we could tolerate.
Last time around there were a record-setting 17 candidates in the Republican primary, which meant that a candidate could be leading the field by with a mere 10 percent in the polls. As a former reality show star on television Trump had better name recognition than any of the distinguished senators and governors and successful business executives he was running against, which earned him the podium on the center stage of the debates, and his flair for show biz somehow overwhelmed all the more carefully deliberated and dignifiedly presented arguments of his lesser-known but more distinguished co-stars. He wound up winning a series of state primary races with a plurality of the vote, which fortified his front-runner status, but he never won a majority of the Republican primary votes until all the other contenders had dropped out. Since then at least 90 percent of the Republican party has been willing to defend any damned dumb thing he might say or do, and this time around the Democrats seem likely to make the same mistake.
For now the front runner in the Democratic race is Joe Biden, who was a longtime senator from Delaware and vice president during the administration of President Barack Obama, which is somehow well remembered by about 90 percent of those damned Democrats, and we figure that’s mostly due to reality show name recognition. Biden is gaffe prone, though, and doesn’t seem to have Trump’s uncanny knack for turning gaffes into public relations bonanzas, and all of the 25 or 26 other Democratic contenders are already subtly attacking him from the left flank, so at this point we’re not placing any bets on the current favorite. His latest gaffe was talking about how he used to strike deals on non-racial matters with the segregationist Democratic Senators who used to exist at the beginning of his very long political career, and although much of the Democratic party and the mainstream media were outraged it sounded quite reasonable to our Party of Lincoln Republican ears. The most flamboyant of the even further left Democrats could well wind up winning enough pluralities in the early primaries and eventually wind up in the White House with 90 percent of the damned Democrats defending any damned dumb thing he or she might say or do.
The only thing we can count on is that for the second time in our lives we’ll be voting for none of the above, and holding out faint hope the republic somehow survives.

— Bud Norman