Those Damned Democrats and Their Interminable Debates

Our brother and sister-in-law have been in town this week, and we’ve been spending time with them and our parents, but we’ve nonetheless been keeping up with the news. Our family is as weirdly obsessed with politics as we are, so we wound up spending much of Wednesday night together eating Schlotzsky’s sandwiches and watching the second episode of the second round of the Democrats’ presidential debates.
None of us were the debaters’ intended audience, so it was hard to assess who won. Our brother is willing to defend almost anything President Donald Trump does or says or “tweets,” our parents more reluctantly go along with most of it, although he did admit he didn’t like Trump trying to interfere with the Federal Reserves’ fiscal policies, and our sister-in-law is more reticent and circumspect and therefore seems our sort of old-fashioned Kansas Republican. as much as we dislike Trump we have to agree with all of them that these damned Democrats are arguably even worse. Every time we all found ourselves in agreement with any of the candidates we figured he or she was losing points with the more important audience of dumb-assed Democratic voters.
So far as we can tell the from the many press reports Tuesday night’s first episode of the second round of the debates had the same flavor of the little-known relatively center-left candidates warning about the far-left front-runners dragging the country into bankruptcy and even worse a loss to Trump. We’re holding out hope that one of those relatively center-left candidates will prevail, but given even our brother’s reluctant enthusiasm for a couple of them they probably stand no chance of a Democratic nomination.
Some Republicans out there are hoping the Democrats will go whole hog with the free this and free that and open borders and handcuffed law enforcement talk, figuring that even Trump could beat that, and they might just be right. It’s plausible enough that we’re warning all Democrat friends about it, but they don’t seem to be listening. Those Republicans who also desire the most far-left Democratic nominee should be careful what they wish for, though, as it’s not out of the question that he or she could beat Trump.
Trump’s got a very low unemployment rate and the usual low inflation rate and an economy that seems to be churning along at just below the 3 percent gross domestic product growth rate he’d promised, and while his best friend in North Korea is testing new nuclear missiles and his sworn enemies in Iran are doing the same no new wars have yet been started, so any Republican president who didn’t make a point of pissing many people off every day should be riding high in the polls. Trump is a different type of Republican president, though, and even the most recent Fox News poll shows that 47 percent of the public already wants to impeach him, with only 45 percent objecting to the idea. He’s not yet topped a 50 percent approval rating in any public opinion poll, including the infamously skewed Rasmussen Report, and he strikes us vulnerable to anyone the damned Democrats might come up with.
There are only two or three contenders in the Democratic field that we’d consider voting for, but that means they have no chance of getting the nomination, and yet there’s still no one so awful in field that we’d cast an affirmative vote for Trump. For the second presidential election in a row we’ll probably wind up throwing away our vote on some futile independent nominee running on what used to be the Republican platform, and we’ll let the rest of the country decide how badly things turn out.

— Bud Norman

Back Where They Came From

Sunday was a slow news day, so naturally President Donald President gave all the media something to write and talk about with another controversial “tweet.” This time he suggested that four minority congresswomen should go back where they came from.
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” Trump “tweeted” in his usual idiosyncratic prose style. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.” He later added that “I’m sure Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
Trump was apparently referring to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. All four have lately been prominent in the news for their attempts to drag the Democratic further to the left, and their willingness to publicly criticize House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her relatively centrist positions.
There’s some speculation in the media that Trump was attempting to further divide the Democratic party, but it had the effect of united Democrats in their condemnation of the “tweet.” Pelosi replied that Trump was trying to “make America white again,” all of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination denounced the “tweet” as racist and divisive, and the rest of the party piled on. Most of the media were similarly appalled.
There were no criticisms from congressional Republicans, but neither was anyone in the Grand Old Party offering praise. When acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan was asked about it on “Face the Nation,” he said “You’re going to have to ask the president what he means by those specific ‘tweets.'”
The die-hard fans will surely love it, on the other hand. “Donald comes right and says what we’re all thinking,” the die-hard fans always say, and they’ve always thought that dark-hued people from “shit hole countries” should go back where they came from. There are excellent and not at all racist arguments for conservative stands on every issue from economics to border enforcement, and we miss a Republican party that used to make that case, but in the third year of the Trump administration the brazen appeals to prejudice are what fires up the base.
Which is not say anything nice about Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley and Tlaib and Omar. They’re all loony-left, as far as we’re concerned, to the point that our pre-Trump Republican selves and even Trump himself are in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable position of rooting for Pelosi. They all advocate a failed socialism and a radical environmentalism and a divisive ethnic identity politics, and their anti-western alliance foreign policy instincts are arguably worse than Trump’s.
An educated and articulate president would be able swat away such left-wing silliness with a few minutes of factual and logical rhetoric, but Trump is not at all that president. Tlaib and Omar have both made statements that even fellow Democrats considered anti-Jewish, but Trump’s denunciations made it clear he was anti-Muslim. As ridiculous as Ocasio-Cortez’ “New Green Deal” is, Trump made up things that aren’t in the plan to ridicule. We’re not sure what Trump’s beef with is Pressley, other than she’s black and a woman and liberal from Massachusetts, but that should suffice for Trump’s base to want her send her back with the rest of them to where she came from.
Unfortunately for Trump and the die-hard fans, Ocasio-Cortez comes from New York, Pressley comes from Massachusetts, and Tlaib comes from Michigan. Omar was born in Somalia, which was indeed a failed state even then, and was then a refugee for four years in Kenya, but she can hardly be blamed for that, and at the age of 10 she was granted asylum by a more welcoming America and became a naturalized citizen at the age of 17. She’s a hijab-wearing Muslim with crazy ideas about everything, but she’s a certifiable American citizen and duly elected member of the United States Congress, and for now there’s no sending her back where she came from.
Trump gave the die-hard fans something to cheer about, but we doubt he won any new fans in the process. He has more than year before the next election to woo those non-racist and mostly female educated suburban voters who used to vote Republican and are satisfied with the economy and relative lack of war but hate pretty much everything else about him, but Trump apparently believes he can win reelection with the “lock ’em up” and “send ’em back where they came from” vote.
Unless the likes of Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley and Tlaib and Omar get their way, it seems a long shot bet to us.

— Bud Norman

A Brief History Lesson for the Young Democratic Whippersnappers on the Other Side of the Generation Gap

Ryan Grim strikes us as another one of those wild-eyed liberals looking to take over the Democrat party, and the sort of revisionist young whippersnapper who still calls President Ronald Reagan “a C-list actor,” but we think his op-ed piece in Sunday’s Washington Post correctly identifies the current fissure among the Democrats as a generation gap.
So far as we can tell Grim is a bit too young remember the late ’60s and early ’70s when the hippies and the hard hats were fighting it out on the streets and “generation gap” was a familiar part of the political lexicon, but he’s familiar enough with Reagan’s landslide victories and the Republican party’s ascendancy in the ’80s to understand why some Democrats are still spooked by it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and front-running Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are all aged enough to remember how President Richard Nixon a landslide over the hippie favorite Democratic nominee Sen. George McGovern in ’72 despite an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam. They remember that the carefully centrist President Jimmy Carter won office in ’76 only because of the Watergate scandal, but was decisively ousted four years later by Reagan, who won a record 49 states in his reelection bid.
They also well remember how many of their longstanding congressional colleagues were voted out along the way. Such liberal lions as McGovern and Sen. Frank Church and Birch Bayh and the most senior Sen. Warren Magnuson from the New Deal era were voted out during the ’70s, and the likes of wild-eyed conservative Rep. Newt Gingrich were voted in. Reagan won a third term of sorts when his Vice President George H.W. Bush, and any Democrat old enough to remember that still shudders at the thought. President Bill Clinton ended the Republicans’ 12-year White House reign in 92′ and won reelection in ’96, but he ran as a centrist and won by mere pluralities with considerable help from nutcase third-party populist candidate Ross Perot peeling off conservative votes. In ’94 the Republicans even took the House of Representatives after 40 years of Democratic control, a result of Clinton offending the public with such divisive ideas as allowing gays to serve in the military and the government taking a greater role in the health care system, but Clinton won reelection mostly because he and Gingrich had come up with a rare balanced budget and revived the Reagan economic expansion after a short and mild recession.
Republican President George W. Bush succeeded Clinton with a plurality and razor-then electoral majority and then won reelection with a slight majority of the popular, which drove all the Democrats crazy, even though the increasingly wild-eyed conservatives in the Republican party found both Bushes far too centrist for their tastes. President Barack Obama succeeded the second Bush and then easily won reelection, which drove all the Republicans crazy even if the younger of the increasingly wild-eyed Democrats now consider Obama far too centrist for their tastes. All of which explains why such liberal but seasoned septuagenarians as Pelosi and Schumer and Biden are reluctant to veer too far left of the center.
Much younger and less experienced and better-looking and more wild-eyed Democrats as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker now have considerable sway in the Democratic party, and although the aging self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and ripened Massachusetts Sen. Warren are on their side Grim seems correct in surmising that a generation gap will be the story of the Democrats’ upcoming presidential primaries. Grim apparently believes that youthful idealism and its resulting recklessness will eventually overwhelm old age’s hard-earned experience and its resulting caution, and he seems to wish for it, and although we hope he’s wrong we worry he might be right.
At this point in our late middle age we must admit, however begrudgingly, that a lot has changed since Nixon won a landslide reelection but lost a popular culture back in ’72, and that things have changed far even more rapidly ever since. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” that allowed homosexuals to serve in the military so long as they remained closeted cost Clinton the House back in ’94, but it seems quaint in this age of constitutionally guaranteed same-sex marriage. The government intrusion into health care that Clinton’s wife proposed was less ambitious than what Obama wound up getting passed, and lately it polls well, and the Republicans couldn’t come with any alternative they could pass even when they held the White House and both chambers of Congress, so the crazy ideas that these young Democrats are proposing will have some appeal to a significant portion of the population. “Socialism” is no longer the damning term of opprobrium that it was during most of our lives, although it still should be, as far as we’re still concerned, and will probably get a lot more votes than Eugene Debs ever did back in a more sensible era of America.
Which is a shame, especially given the currently wild-eyed state of the Republican party in the era of President Donald Trump. It’s not the admirably wild-eyed conservatism of the Republican party that opposed the New Deal programs President Franklin Roosevelt wrought during his party’s six-decades dominance of American politics, nor is it the centrist and internationalist Republicanism of President Dwight Eisenhower that ended that long reign. It’s not the small government and free markets conservatism of Republican nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater, who lost by a landslide in ’64. Trump has the same tough-talking anti-hippie and pro-law-and-order rhetoric that Nixon won with in ’68, but Nixon won reelection after establishing the Environmental Protection Agency that Trump rails against and abandoning the Gold Standard monetary policy that Trump’s Federal Reserve Board appointees want to reinstate, and Trump has made his disdain Republican nominee back to Reagan quite clear.
Despite a pretty good economy America is adding the same trillion or so to the national debt that Obama was racking up in the wake of a deep and long lasting recession, The Repubicans’ big tax cut bill went mainly to the rich while the poor are probably paying even more for Trump’s tariffs every time they go to Wal-Mart. As bad as Obama was Trump has done even more to buddy up to dictatorships while undermining our the post-World War II military and trading alliances that Eisenhower and both Republican and Democratic presidents wisely established. We also note that his promise of proposing such a wonderful health care policy that your head will spin has not yet been kept.
On the other hand, Trump has outraged those damned Democrats even more than Nixon or Reagan or either of the Bushes ever did, and the more wild-eyed Republicans seem satisfied with that. He’s threatened governmental retribution against the free press and promised to lock up his political opponents, enforced our border laws with extreme cruelty and questioned the legitimacy of any federal judges of Latino heritage, has kinder words for the leaders of Russia and North Korea than he can must for our North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners, and is even coarser than Nixon ever was in his “twitter” denunciations of the damned hippies.
As much as the die-hard fans love it, it’s not at all the conservatism and Republican party we signed up with. With ur old-school sensibilities we’re free press absolutists, and we worry how that Third World “lock ’em up” stuff might play out if the damned Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress yet again. We have nothing against Latino citizens and legal immigrants, and rather enjoy their music and food and construction and road-paving efforts and occasional judicial opinions. We prefer our classically liberal democratic allies to the authoritarian populists popping up around the world, and by now we’re friends with a lot of dope-smoking hippies, and our hard=hat friends are also taking atoke  or two.
Which is not to say that we agree about anything with anyone on the left. Even the aged and relatively wised-up Democrats toward the center have always been too far left for our centrist tastes, and Grim’s favored youngsters strike us as at least as crazy as Trump.
There’s always some hope that the upcoming congressional impeachment investigations will result in some deus ex machina that delivers the Republican party some nominee other than Trump, and that the Democrats won’t go full-blown socialist. We can’t envision any scenario where the budget gets balanced, or any sort of budget actually gets passed and signed into law, or health care becomes universal and inexpensive, or all the ethnic and sexual groups learn to love another, but we hold out hope the center will hold and the republic will somehow persist.
When we were born Eisenhower had reconciled the Republicans with Social Security and most of the rest of Roosevelt’s New Deal,  and until recently the Democrats have only arguing about how much to tax the free markets that Goldwater and Reagan had championed, everyone more or less agreed on the post-war world order that Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and Kennedy and Nixon had sustained, and for the most part it worked out well enough. At this point in our late middle age we believe the sole purpose of the Democratic party is to keep the damned Republicans from imposing their worst ideas on a great nation, and that the Republicans exist solely to save the country from the Democrats dumbest ideas.
For now both parties are seized by a wild-eyed youthful idealism, which we’ve noticed from our reading of history is the most destructive force on the planet, but old age and experience and its resulting caution still stand a fighting chance. We’ll probably wind up casting another futile protest vote on some write-in candidate, but hope the rest of the country chooses as wisely as possible, given the circumstances..

— 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

Beto and the Way-Too-Early Buzz

Thursday’s news was chock full of significant with stories, as an unexpected dozen Republican senators voted against President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, missiles were lobbed into Israel from the Gaza Strip, the United Kingdom still can’t find a way to make its Brexit from the European Union, Boeing’s 737 remains grounded around the world, and a couple of Hollywood celebrities have been charged with cheating their kids into fancy colleges. Even so, all the big news outlets found front page space and top-of-the-hour time to report that a former congressman and failed senate candidate named Beto O’Rourke has announced that he’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The attention paid to this back page and bottom-of-the-hour story seems so inordinate, however, that we’ve decided to ignore all the rest of that stuff and write about and opine about it ourselves.
Let us begin by griping that it’s far too early to be writing anything about the 2020 presidential election. Did anybody at this point in the past many election cycles warn the country about the upcoming presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Barack Obama and Trump? Not sufficiently, at any rate, even at the end of a two-year-long slog, and we don’t expect the big news outlets will do any better at this point this time around.
Nor do we think this O’Rourke fellow is the next big deal that all the big news outlets seem to think he is. He was very popular representing the El Paso part of Texas during a few terms in the House of Representatives, but was little noticed elsewhere. He came close enough to knocking off stalwart conservative and entrenched incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a statewide race in such a reliably stalwart conservative state as Texas to tantalize a national Democratic audience, but in the end he did fall short by more than a couple of percentage points. O’Rourke’s undeniably a telegenically youthful and handsome and physically fit fellow with a punk rock band on his resume, which could pose problems for Trump in this reality show era of presidential politics, but it’s no guarantee he’ll win a Democratic nomination. Among the crowded field of Democratic contenders are some rather hot-by-politician-standards women, some of them women of color, and given the identity politics of today’s Democratic party the primary electorate might well prefer that to some white pretty boy, enough if he does have a Latin nickname.
One of the right-wing talk radio talkers is already calling O’Rourke “O’Dork,” which seems to be the height of conservative wit these days, and Trump took time during a news conference with the Irish Prime Minister to ridicule O’Rourke’s hand movements, asking “Is he crazy or is just the way acts?,” and he took care not do the usual weird imaginary accordion or flag-groping thing president does. The rest of the conservative media are similarly eager to take on his wild-eyed leftist extremism. Meanwhile, some of the late night comedy show hosts and the rest of the the liberal media are insinuating hat O’Rourke is a centrist sell-out. Late night network wag Seth Meyers is a relentless Trump-basher, and pretty darned funny about it, but he’s consistent enough to react to a Democrat’s quote as if Trump had said it, and when he read O’Rourke’s recollection to Vanity Fair of a campaign speech when “Because every word was pulled out of me, like by some greater force, which was just the people there,” and used the usual Trump impersonation, it got the same big laugh as one of Trump’s typically absurd quotes.
If this O’Rourke fellow really is the centrist sell-out his critics contend we him wish the best, even if he does seem to have a similarly annoying reality show appeal and knack for ridiculous quotes as Trump, as we’d rather not see the Democratic party go so far to the left as it very well might. At this point there’s no telling what the Democrats might do, however, and to the extent we’ve be following the race they have some relatively sane contenders, including a couple of relatively hot-by-politician standards and hot-for-their age women, which seems to matter in this age of reality show identity politics, and many Democrats seem more concerned with beating Trump than achieving a socialist utopia. Given the way things have lately been going in the courts and Congress and the economic forecasts, it’s also well within the realm of possibility that the eventual Democratic nominee won’t be running against Trump.
Starting Monday, therefore, we’ll resume paying more attention to the more pressing news of the day.

— Bud Norman

On the Half-a-Centenary of the Breakdown of America’s Two-Party System

By now we’re well aware that Tempus does indeed fugit, as those wise old Romans used to say, but it was still jarring to be reminded on Tuesday that the memorable events of the 1968 Democratic National Committee happened in Chicago just a short half-century ago. The after effects of that event still showed-up in Tuesday’s round of mid-term primaries, as in earlier primaries even here in good old Kansas, and for now we worry that time doesn’t really change things much.
Then as now most big American cities were dominated by efficient if corrupt Democratic political machines, but back then Chicago was run by the non-nonsense boss Mayor Richard Daley, whose rough and ready and every-loyal police department laid a serious nationally-televised beating on those hippies and yippies and civil rights types. The civil rights hero and unrepentant Cold Warrior Humphrey wound up winning the nomination, but in the aftermath of the televised rioting no Democrat stood a chance back in ’68. The Republican nominee was former Vice President and Sen. Richard Nixon, who was more hawkish on Vietnam and more ambivalent on civil yet rights, yet whose nomination didn’t create such a ruckus at his later nominating convention in Miami, Florida,and with help from a former Democrat’s blatantly racist racist and nuke em’ all’s third candidacy Nixon wound up losing by a landslide plurality.
By ’72 the Democrats were taken over by the hippies and yippies and they wound up nominating Sen. George McGovern, who was a bona fide World War II hero but also far-left-of-center at the time, and he wound u0 losing in an historic popular and electoral landslide despite the early and retrospectively obvious intimations that Nixon would resign in disgrace just a few years later.These days, after so many years, seem to offer no better alternatives.
In some states and congressional districts and county commission zones the Democrats are offering up reasonable enough candidates, but they’re going far left in the Bronx and Queens district of New York City and in Tuesday’s Florida gubernatorial primary and elsewhere, and even in Kansas’ third district. They’re running some people running crazy left people we could never vote for. Meanwhile our Republican Party seems enthralled of our current President Donald Trump, whose presidency we fully expect and ardently hope will soon come to the same inglorious end as Nixon’s, and for now it’s hard to decide who we’ll vote for. Even after 50 years, we’re still not sure which desultory choices we would choose.

— Bud Norman

The Craziness in Kansas

The politics in Kansas are quite crazy at the moment, even by the prevailing national and global standards of political craziness.
More than a day after the primary polls closed on Tuesday we still don’t know who the Republican gubernatorial nominee is, although Secretary of State Kris Kobach holds a lead of fewer than 200 votes over serving Gov. Jeff Colyer in the initial count. Such a slim margin of victory requires a recount or two, which for now will be overseen by Secretary of State Kobach, which has raised some concerns with Colyer and his supporters, and it will be interesting to see how that works out.
Whichever candidate wins, we do at least know that he’ll be facing longtime state legislator Laura Kelly as the Democratic nominee in the general election, and in this cray year in Kansas we expect she’ll be formidable opponent. President Donald Trump won Kansas’ electoral votes by the usual 30 point rout, but that’s only because running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as he was a distant third in the Republican caucus and his protectionist policies aren’t playing well here and neither is his rich tough guy from New York shtick. Kelly is scandal-free so far as we can tell, talks knowingly of technical adjustments to state policies rather than radical transformations, is plain-faced and plain-spoken in a reassuringly Kansas way, and either Republican will have a hard time making her out to be nearly so scary as that awful Clinton woman.
Meanwhile, the Democrats went crazy in a very un-Kansas way up in the Third Congressional District, where they chose a lesbian Native American and former mixed martial arts fighter named Sharice Davids as their candidate. We have nothing against lesbians or Native Americans, but we draw the line at mixed martial arts, and it objectively strikes us bad politics even by the Kansas Democratic party’s sorry standards. The Third is morstly comprised of largely black and poor Wyandotte County and the predominantly wealthy and white Kansas City suburbs of Johnson and Miami counties, the sort of district that’s been losing Republican support in all the special elections since Trump got elected, but it’s still Kansas, for crying out loud, and we can only bear so much intersectionality of gender identity politics around here.
The Democrats might have blown a ripe opportunity to flip another suburban Republican seat in the Third, but in the Second Congressional District they took the more characteristically Kansan cautious choice. Their nominee, Paul Davis, is a straight white male and a longtime legislator and former gubernatorial party nominee who won the district in his bid, and he easily defeated the candidate that self-described socialists Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander and New York’s Democratic congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-both campaigned for. and he’s always played well in a district that includes the crazy college town of Lawrence and well as the government-infested state capital of Topeka.
Current Rep. Lynn Jenkins announced months ago that she wouldn’t be seeking re-election in exactly the sort of prosperous and well-educated district that Republicans have been losing since Trump’s election, but the Republicans came up with a formidable challenger of their, at least as far as we can tell from down here. He’s an Army veteran, and he beat out two other Army veterans, one of them a retired law enforcement officer, and he seems the polite and well-mannered sort of suburban who would never think of grabbing a woman by her wherever. By the time all the outside money pours into what will surely be a “toss up” race they’ll be both seen as the slimiest individuals you’ve ever laid eyes, but until then we’re hoping for a nice clean fight.
Down here in the middle of Wichita and the surrounding bounty of the Fourth Congressional District things are no crazier than usual. The Republicans re-nominated Rep. Ron Estes, who easily withstood a challenge from Ron Estes, which is not one of the sloppy mistypings we occasional commit. Turns out there’s another Ron Estes in the Fourth, and no one knows if it was a Democratic dirty trick or just for personal yucks, but he paid the nominal filing fee and got on the ballot. The Secretary of State’s office decreed that the incumbent Estes would be identified as Rep. Ron Estes, while the challenger would lack the honorific and have a middle initial added, which made things pretty clear, so it’s worth noting that the other Ron Estes got 18.6 percent of the vote.
The Democrats re-nominated attorney James Thompson, who came within seven points of beating Estes in the special election that followed Rep. Mike Pompeo’s appointment to head the Central Intelligence. A seven point would be shameful for a Democrat in a lot of districts, but around here it was a 23-point improvement on the usual butt-whippings, and by a sliver-sized margin he actually won Sedgwick County, which is mainly urban and ethnically and socio-economically diverse yet instinctively conservative Wichita, and the crazy Democrats we run into around here never give up hope that we’ll soon be a socialist paradise.
Thompson came within shouting distance in that special election partly because the Republicans were contented and the Democrats riled up by Trump’s victory, and Thompson’s ads featured semi-automatic rifles and talk of his military record and absolutely nothing that could be considered scarily far-left. This time around he let Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez come and campaign for him, which hasn’t impressed our far-left Democratic friends has our more seasoned and pragmatic Democratic friends slapping their foreheads. Estes is just another Ron Estes, and certainly can’t compare to the shooting star of his successor, who is now Secretary of State and plotting every move according to presidential ambitions, but we expect the Fourth won’t flip anytime soon.
Meanwhile, and as usual, everything seems so serenely sane out there beyond the city in the vast and sprawling First Congressional District of Kansas. If you’re a fellow urbanite who longs for wide open spaces, with gently rolling hills of native grasses and lush crops unmarred by strip malls and modern architecture, and Frank Capra-esque small towns full of kind hearts and gentle people, you can still find it in the First. The district encompasses all of harsh and mostly empty western Kanand bumps up against the other districts to the east. The district includes some rough towns that never got over their old west ways, and the many southeast Asians and northern Africans they’ve brought into man the meatpacking plants that largely sustain the district’s economy out west has introduced some uncomfortable racial and socio-economic diversity to once lily-white communities, but they seem to manage their business well enough.
The Republican renominated incumbent Rep. Roger Marshall, and although the Democrats didn’t bother to hold a primary his past opponent Alan LaPolice will be on the ballot as an independent,so it’s pretty much a done deal that Marshal will win a second term. He won his first term by knocking off Republican incumbent Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a burn-it-down anti-establishment who’d been elected in the dark days of President Barack Obama and the Tea Party fervor of the time. When Huelskamp’s never back-down and punch-back-tens-times-as-hard style got Kansas kicked off the House Agriculture committee for the first time ever and wound up delaying a farm bill and it’s much needed-subsidy checks over some fiscal principle the First regained its sanity and chose the more mild-manner Marshall, who is more in line with Bob Dole and all the other future Senators and establishment types the First has sent to higher office, and so far they seem to like him.
Things might be just as crazy as in your neck of the political woods, and if so we wish you well. If it works out for the worse, we hope you have a nearby safe space to beat a hasty retreat.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, at the Democratic Ranch

There was an unusual amount of attention paid to the race for the chairmanship for the Democratic National Party in the press, and all of our Democrat friends could hardly talk about anything else. Given the currently sorry state of the party, which now finds itself out power in the White House and both chambers of Congress and any minute now in the Supreme Court and much of the rest of the federal judiciary, not to mention in the governor’s mansions and legislatures and county commissions of most states, we can well understand the interest in what’s usually a back page story about someone whose only the politically obsessed sorts would usually recognize.
As the sorts of politically obsessed and retrograde Republicans who are as distressed as ever about the state of our own party, we’re not encouraged by how the race played out. From our old-fashioned right-wing perspective it came down to the far-left Tom Perez, President Barack Obama’s former Secretary of Labor and head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, and the even farther-left Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, who is best known as the party’s left-most member and the only Muslim ever elected to Congress. Perez was naturally backed by both Obama and failed party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the rest of what can charitably be called the Democratic establishment, so naturally all of our Democratic friends were avidly for Ellison. All of our Democratic friends are in the same anti-establishment mood that overwhelmed so much of the Republican Party last election it wound up with President Donald Trump, and we try in vain to tell them that no good ever comes of it.
All of our Democratic friends were big for self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the past primaries, who was big backer of Ellison, and they all either enthusiastically voted for Green Party nominee Jill Stein or reluctantly for Clinton in the general election, and none of them have much more regard for Clinton than we do. They all regard her as dishonest and corrupt, which causes us to respect their political integrity, and they also find her insufficiently liberal, which causes us to question their sanity. As far as we can remember any party that loses power to a more conservative or liberal platform figures that it lost because it wasn’t sufficiently conservative or liberal enough, and all our Democrat friends are repeating the pattern. Having lost a winnable presidential race to a Republican who promised a Muslim ban and an immigration crackdown had an undeniable appeal to the sorts of white working class voters who once voted for Democrats, they figure the shrewd move was to pick a black and Muslim and formerly Black Muslim and still race-baiting and left-most-in-the-party kook to head up the party apparatus.
Any honest Republican should recognize the impulse. After it lost a winnable election against Obama in ’16 a huge chunk of the Grand Old Party was hating on failed nominee Mitt Romney, convinced that he’d been far too dignified and reasonable and otherwise establishment to prevail against those hated Democrats, and after Trump’s electoral victory we’re disappointed but not at all surprised our Democrat friends have concluded that she was just too damned dignified and reasonable and otherwise establishment to beat Trump. All of our Democratic buddies are convinced that Sanders’ unabashed socialism would have won the day, especially if it had been fused to the racial identity politics that Ellsion represents, and given the eight years of darkness the Republicans endured during the Obama years it’s altogether too plausible, but we still think the Democrats would have done better last time around with those relatively moderate candidates that were the first to drop out of the primaries.
If we were inclined to offer advice to adversaries, we would remind our Democrat friends that they just went six-for-seven in the last popular presidential votes, their last redoubts are the most populous and influential states, the states that made up the electoral majority were decided by razor-thing margins, and that nothing ever lasts forever in politics. In politics as in chess the center is usually the best space to occupy, and its not as if the victorious Perez isn’t far enough to the queen side. His establishment credentials suggest he might even be more effective in spreading Democratic nonsense than Ellison would have been, which alarms all our Republican friends, but at this point we were hoping at least one party will remain relatively sane.

— Bud Norman

The Democrats Put on a Show

Five Democratic candidates for the presidency had a debate Tuesday night, and it made for a most discombobulating spectacle. We sometimes try to imagine how our Democrat friends see the Republican debates, and to understand their cognitive dissonance, but we simply can’t conceive it strikes them as quite so far removed from objective reality as what we observed on Tuesday night.
According to all the candidates everything bad that has happened since President George W. Bush left office in ’09 is still his fault, the problem with the economy is not that you’re poorer but that somebody else out there is richer, the public is clamoring for an influx of millions of low-skilled non-English-speaking workers and a simultaneous raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, if Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts business doesn’t get a big subsidy the health of every woman in America will be endangered, draconian gun regulations are needed to make America an unprecedentedly safe space on Earth but don’t worry that anybody’s coming after your guns, the Middle East will sort itself out, and Black Lives Matter, but not the ones who are killed by the black criminals that all the Democrats want to go easy on and certainly not anybody else’s, and despite all the problems they’re bickering about none of it has anything to do President Barack Obama, who is the best president ever. None of this comports with our experience of reality, or the public opinion polls we routinely consult to make sure we’ve not gone completely crazy, but it seemed to play well with an audience full of Democrats.
There was something about the whole production that was somehow jarringly dissimilar from the Republicans’ shows, as well. The Cable News Networks’ Anderson Cooper struck a deceptively dogged pose as moderator, confronting each of the candidates with the harshest criticisms that have been made of their records, but it always seemed intended to provide them with a chance to offer their well-scripted and focus group-tested responses without any threat of pesky follow-up questions. There were no questions about evolution or Armageddon or anything else that might elicit an embarrassing confession of religious belief, even though it would have been darned interesting to hear their thoughts on the Republicans’ efforts to make contraception pills available over-the-counter, and nothing that wasn’t clearly intended to identify the most impeccably liberal candidate.

This is how a significant chunk of the Democratic primary electorate will be judging the field, of course, so it’s on that basis we’ll try to adjudge the winners and losers. Self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ran the ball further down the left side of the field than the rest, but we think he might have come short of the metaphorical goal line. He was unpolished and sometimes surly and embarrassingly earnest, which of course conveys the sort of authentically populist appeal that the Democrats seem to be yearning for, and his insane rants about Wall Street and the dreaded One Percent and the Iraq War had a subtext about Clinton’s record that we’re sure our most ardently Democrat friends will easily read, and he was shrewdly gallant enough to let her off the hook about that whole endangering-national-security-and-breaking-the-law e-mail thing. This, along with the chorus of sycophancy that followed from the others candidates ensures that it won’t be problem in the Democratic race, and maybe even old new by the time of the general election, but we notice that Sanders got the biggest applause.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and erstwhile presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton did fine. She didn’t have the melt-down that her bullied aids have anonymously worried about in the press, and she had smiling answers to all those seemingly hard questions about the utter failure of everything she’s ever done in her life, and she cracked a joke and got angry and demonstrated other human behaviors, and it was enough that all the pundits were spouting rave reviews in the post-game show. We can’t imagine that anyone who is still loyal to Clinton’s candidacy was put off, but we can’t imagine that she wowed any of those Sanders supporters, so we’ll call it a tie.
Former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley probably picked up a few points in the polls just by virtue of the fact that a few Democrats realized there was someone in the race other than Clinton and Sanders. He had to apologetically explain that the tough-on-crime measures he enacted had saved thousands of black lives, which of course puts him at odds with the Black Lives Matter obsession of the current Democratic Party, but at least he got some air time.
Former Marine combat veteran, Secretary of the Navy, and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb also probably made some gain by the fact that the audience is now aware of his existence. He gave us a nicely nostalgic memory of the long ago Cold War era of Sen. Scoop Jackson and Sen. Daniel Moynihan and similarly hawkish Democrats, but we expect he gave most our Democratic friends of today the chills. Still, one can hope that are still enough relatively sensible Democrats left to nudge his poll numbers into the single digits.
That Chaffee guy, who used to be a Republican and was something or another a couple of times in Rhode Island, was clearly hurt by the fact that the audience is now aware of his existence. The most embarrassing point of the night was when he tried to explain his vote against some crazy financial regulation scheme he said that he’d just come into office and that his father had just died and everyone else was voting against it, and it was the only moment of actual booing in the debate. Surely the producers of this reality show will soon replace his character with Vice President Joe Biden, who will assume the mantle of the gloriously successful and overwhelming popular Barack Obama, and the plot can start to take more interesting twists.
How the general election season play out remains to be seen, but the Democratic plot line is looking altogether implausible. If Donald Trump weren’t the current star of the Republican show, we’d think they have a problem.

— Bud Norman