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Let the World Keep Its Cup

Some fellow on the radio tells us that the United States’ soccer squad has been eliminated from the World Cup competition by a team from some country called Belgium. Being properly patriotic sports rooters we were disappointed to hear it, especially as Belgians are apparently some sort of Europeans, and it’s always embarrassing to lose to those guys in anything, but we must confess some relief that the nation’s attention can once again be diverted from our pressing economic and political problems by baseball.
Go ahead and watch soccer if you want to, as we are of a libertarian bent and therefore tolerate all kinds of cultural rot, but as a mindless distraction from the world’s woes we much prefer baseball this time of year. This prejudice might well be proof of what old-fashioned fuddy-duddies we’ve become in our middle age, as well as the nativist xenophobia and heterosexist preoccupation with phallic symbols and all that stuff that is so typical of people with our right-wing political views, but we make no apologies. We’re Americans, damn it, and prefer an American game.
We’re Americans of a certain age, too, which we means grew up playing sports other than soccer and haven’t failed at the game nearly enough to appreciate the talents of those who play it well. Soccer fans have tried to convince us of the aesthetically-pleasing athleticism and subtle strategies that they swear are involved in the seemingly random meanderings of the players, but we remain unconvinced. Despite our best efforts at objectivity, we find the sport suspect for several reasons.
You can’t use your hands in soccer, for one thing, and this strikes us as an offense against both God and sport. We used to suspect that soccer was a communist plot to keep America’s youth from hurling hand grenades against the invading Russky hordes, and although soccer seems to have outlasted the Soviet Union and we can’t think of any other plausible conspirators it still strikes us as damned suspicious.
All those foreigners in the game are troublesome, too. Soccer fans seem to regard the overwhelming presence of foreigners in the sport as proof of its worthiness, and will wax poetic about the “world’s game” and cite their affinity for the game as evidence of how very cosmopolitan they are, but we are unimpressed by their claims of being citizens of the world. When the world ratifies a constitution that guarantees our rights of freedom of speech and bearing arms and not having soldiers quartered in our homes we will consider renouncing our American citizenship and embracing a game that doesn’t allow the use of hands, but at the moment the world seems downright hostile to these ideals and unhealthily willing to forego the use of hands.
Nor does the rest of the world seem any more civilized than the average American baseball, basketball, or football fans. The stadia where the National Football League conducts its brutal contests are famous for the fisticuffs and boorish behavior that pervade the stands, but the most face-painted fans there are a veritable PGA gallery compared to the hooligans that predominate at soccer games. Even the Oakland Raiders don’t have such a grisly death toll as soccer, and their fans are more well-behaved than the hooligans who populate the seats at soccer games around the world. Racists taunts are reportedly common at soccer games, by both players and fans, but rarely heard at American sporting events where almost everyone has a rooting interest in a competitor of another race. One of the more intriguing side stories of the World Cup was about the Mexican fans’ traditional chant of “puto” against a certain hated foes, which we’re told translates as “homosexual prostitute” and is intended as a most hateful epithet, and it was fun hearing the politically correct press reconcile its revulsion for anything homophobic with its indulgence for anything foreign.
Such exquisite sensitivities seem an essential part of soccer’s appeal, and another reason we’re indifferent to the game. When soccer first became a part of the American sporting scene it was through the American Youth Soccer Organization, and all the bumper stickers that adorned the minivans hauling the kiddies to the little league “pitch” promised that “Everyone plays.” This is taking egalitarianism too far, as even the most carefully raised youngster intuitively understands that playing time should be earned by superior performances, but has an understandable appeal to the doting modern mom. Those “soccer moms,” so assiduously courted by Democratic candidates for the past many election cycles, also seemed to prefer soccer to baseball because it didn’t involve the supposedly soul-crushing failure involved in a sport where even the best major league teams will lose 60 games a season and the most skilled batters fail to get a hit more than 60 percent of the time. Soccer is a fairly rough sport, judging by all the melodramatic flopping that the players indulge in whenever they make contact with a momentarily outstretched limb, but we can’t imagine that it inures a kid to life’s inevitable failures the way an 0-for-4 day at the plate does.
Go ahead and watch soccer if you want to, though, and we’ll hope you enjoy it. Perhaps you’ll notice that aesthetically-pleasing athleticism and those subtle strategies we keep hearing about, and we really wouldn’t want to deny the satisfaction. None of the teams will be wearing “USA” on their jerseys, but feel free to root for any country that isn’t currently at war with us. The Wichita Wingnuts have a home stand coming up, though, so we’ll be down at the ballpark watching men use their hands.

— Bud Norman

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Another Kansas Laughingstock

The catastrophic failure of Obamacare has caused a widespread feeling of schadenfreude among Republicans everywhere, who are all well entitled to one of the most satisfying “I told you so” moments in American history, even as they suffer the expense effects of the law along with everyone else, but the exhilarating sense of vindication is especially sweet for Republicans here in Kansas.
More significant calamities are sure to come, but thus far the most widely acknowledged failing of the new health care boondoggle is the thoroughly botched computer system  and general bureaucratic bumbling that has been unanimously blamed on former Kansas Governor and current Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Her ineptitude in implementing the ambitious reform of one-sixth of the economy has been so stark that even such reliably supportive satirists as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and the wags of Saturday Night Live have been piling on with their ridicule, and no less a purveyor of conventional wisdom than The Hill has dubbed her “the laughingstock of America.” Kansans are by now well-accustomed to having one of their own be the laughingstock of America, sometimes for valid reasons and sometimes for reasons having more to do with the rest of the country’s absurd prejudices, but it is a rare pleasure to have the Kansan in question be a Democrat. When the Democrat in question is Kathleen Sebelius, it’s all the better.
Kansas is a mostly Republican state, after all, and from Alf Landon to Dwight Eisenhower to Bob Dole most of its native sons and daughters who have achieved sufficient prominence to be a national laughingstock have been Republicans. Having the laughs directed to one of our Democratic minority is a refreshing change of pace, and all the more so when it one of the party’s locally beloved figures. If you’re not a true-blue Kansan or a true-blue Republican, and it’s not quite possible to be one without being the other, it’s hard to explain how very mellifluous is the laughter being hurled at Kathleen Sebelius.
It’s hard to explain, for that matter, how Sebelius ever became governor of this state. To begin with you must understand that also Kansans have very rarely sent Democrats to Washington they have a stubbornly contrarian way about them that doesn’t mind sending one of the danged fools to Topeka every now and then. Anti-tax and pro-life Democrats in particular have a history of winning occasional gubernatorial elections in the state, which has the undeniable benefit of keeping the state’s politics competitive enough to limit the complacency and corruption that characterize one-party jurisdictions, and once or twice in the average Kansan’s lifespan there might be even be a Democratic majority in the state’s House of Representatives for a single term. One also must understand the schisms within the state’s Republican party to understand how the likes of Sebelius ever won the governorship.
Prior to Sebelius the state had been guided for two four-year terms by the blissfully unobtrusive hand of Gov. Bill Graves, a successful trucking magnate who was handsome in a distinguished and silver-tinged sort of way and preached free enterprise, kept the occasional crony-capitalism eco-devo deal coursing the legislature, and pursued a more-or-less limited-government agenda that also limited the government’s intervention in such matters as abortion. Kansas survived such governance in pretty good shape, as far as most Kansas were concerned, but a more fervent portion of Graves’ party found it too weak a Republican brew and its fervor managed to win the nomination for a more full-throated champion of traditional social values and free enterprise. The nominee was easily caricatured as a Bible-thumping zealot by Kansas’ liberal-as-anywhere-else media, the reform rhetoric spooked the state’s well-connected Republican establishment, and the Democrats shrewdly nominated Sebelius as the more moderate and reasonable alternative. She was handsome in a distinguished and silver-tinged sort of way, and although a relative newcomer to the state she was the daughter of governor in her native land of Ohio, so there was an aura of competence about her. After decades of Republican occupation of the Insurance Commissioner’s office had led to the inevitable complacency and corruption of one-partly rule Sebelius had won the post, and acted with an anti-corporate bias that was widely perceived as populism, so she also had a plausible record of public service to run on. Throw in a professionally-run campaign financed largely by out-of-state contributions and the usual corporate suspects, along with the unease many of the moderate sorts of Republicans felt about the fire-breathing challenger, and Sebelius was elected by less than a landslide but more than a squeaker.
The first four years of Sebelius’ governorship were barely noticeable, which can be attributed her politically-savvy instincts and the seemingly good health of the national economy, but after that led to her re-election she seemed to be auditioning for a role in the national party. Kansas was suddenly surprised to learn that it had re-elected a rather doctrinaire Democrat as governor, and in addition to a number of liberal initiatives Kansas further enraged the state’s Republican sensibilities by using the tragedy of a tornado that virtually wiped out the tiny town of Greensburg to criticize the Iraq war. Her claim that the town had been denied necessary state assistance because of the war’s use of state National Guard equipment was baseless, and enraged even formerly supportive Republicans, but it endeared her enough to the national party to win a plum cabinet appointment during her second mid-term after the president’s first pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services fell victim to a tax-evasion scandal.
The ostensible promotion was widely expected by the state’s Democrats to be a boon to both her and the party at large, but thus far it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way. She was replaced by her Lieutenant Governor Mark Parkinson, a former state Republican chairman who had left the party as a result of his estrangement with the social conservatives and his ambition to be governor, but after two years of tax hikes and nanny state initiatives he bowed out of pubic life. For the sake of full disclosure we divulge that Parkinson is a friend of ours since high school, and that we once spent a summer painting apartment buildings together and we are also quite fond of his parents and eccentric B-movie-producing brother, but we also came to admire his smarts and they were very much in evidence when he declined to run against former Sen. Sam Brownback, also an old friend of ours and a fire-breathing social conservative and staunch opponent of Obamacare, who would have easily trounced any Democratic rival after eight years of a Sebelius-Parkinson reign.
Meanwhile, back in the rarefied air of Washington and the national scene, Sebelius is now an officially-designated laughingstock. The apparent failure of the Obamacare program that she had been chosen to implement will prove a textbook example of the failure of the “smart government” she had claimed to represent, and the big government philosophy she had so long denied, and the very antithesis of that represented by Gov. Sam Brownback seems likely to win re-election handily. As bad as the damage from Obamacare will be, a Kansas Republican can’t help feeling that some good might come of it.

— Bud Norman