A Sorry State in Mississippi

Our policy regarding primary contests between the “tea party” and “establishment” factions of the Republican Party has been to support the more conservative candidate anywhere he can win the general election, to settle for the more moderate candidate in those states and districts where he would be the only plausible hope of defeating an even more liberal Democrat, and to urge both sides to unite behind whichever candidate comes out on top against whatever damned Democrat he’ll be up against. This seems to us a both amicable and sensible policy, but it is hard to apply after that Senate primary on Tuesday in Mississippi.
Entrenched incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran beat the more rock-ribbed Republican challenger Chris McDaniel in the run-off race, but he did so by such sleazy methods that it will be hard for any principled conservative to muster any enthusiasm for any candidacy. Although Cochran had won a solid plurality in the preliminary round of the primary he fell short of the 50 percent needed to secure the nomination, and because contested primaries are always a referendum on the incumbent it was widely expected that the throw-the-bums-out sentiment within the party would prevail, so Cochran won by luring people outside the party into the state’s unaccountably open primary. Worse yet, he did so by arguing for more federal pork spending and with a naked racial appeal to the African-Americans of his state that implied conservatism is essentially racist. The effort included automated phone messages and old-fashioned fliers warning that the “tea party” was seeking to prevent blacks from voting, that McDaniel was opposed to federal financing of public education, and that he was determined to eliminate “food stamps.”
These are the same misleading smears that Democrats have long used against the populist brand of conservatism that has been dubbed “tea party,” and their use by a Republican candidate is unforgivable. Pork barrel politics has been wisely reject by a critics number of today’s Republican voters, even in such cash-strapped states as Mississippi, and imputing racist motives to this view is outrageous. The scurrilous charge of preventing blacks from voting can only be understood as a reference to photo identification requirements for voting and other common sense safeguards against election fraud, and every wised-up Republican and even most of the general public understand the need for these policies. Mississippians and Americans everywhere should welcome the opportunity of local control of their children’s public education, which is only attainable with local funding, and any suggestion otherwise is an affront to Republican or even republican sensibilities. Any critics of the ever-expanding welfare state who truthfully observe that minorities are disproportionately represented on the assistance roles is derided as a racist, and is simultaneously derided as a racist for the “disparate impact” their proposed cuts would have on minorities, but no one taking such a sensible stand should be subjected to these inane and contradicting indictments from a putative Republican.
Still, it worked well enough that a proponent of deficit-funded pork barrel spending and federal control of local school curricula and rampant voter fraud and the most toxic sort of racial identity politics is likely the Republican Party’s candidate in for Senate in Mississippi, and the most callous sorts of professional Republicans have dealt a blow to the party’s populist base. This leaves the Mississippi Republican with only bad choices, and we cannot offer any advice. Weasel that he is Cochran was at least among the unified Republican Party that voted against Obamacare, and any Democrat would be prone to repeat such a mistake, but it is disheartening and infuriating to settle for that. We’ll maintain our usual policy when the establishment candidates prevailing the states where they need to ward off even more liberal Democrats, so long as they do as they do so by ethical means, but we might make an exception in Mississippi.

— Bud Norman

Those Darned Computers

These newfangled “computer” thingamajigs are the most mysterious of all machines. Despite our stubborn Luddite tendencies we have figured out how to turn the contraption on, play chess on it, “surf the ‘net” for news and nudity, and even post these daily rants with properly indented paragraphs, but we have no idea how the darned things work. Our more technologically-savvy friends assure us that it has something to do with binary codes and silicon conductors and assorted other gobbledygook, but we cannot shake a suspicion that black magic is involved.
It is good to know, then, that the putatively brilliant boys and girls of the federal government are every bit as baffled by computers. Even our limited abilities in operating computers are sufficient to have brought us a slew of recent stories on the internet that document the government’s inability to run their multi-billion dollar super-computers.
The most prominently featured stories have been about the “glitches,” “bugs,” and other bad things that have bedeviled the computer system intended to enroll a grateful public in Obamacare-approved health insurance policies. No less an Obamacare enthusiast than The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein has declared the system “really bad,” and other reliably administration-friendly media mavens at the MSNBC staff have been forced to offer even harsher reviews. Things have gotten so bad that even Jon Stewart, the snarky “Daily Host” who usually reserves his wittiest mugging for Republicans, was obliged to skewer a blindsided Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the fiasco in a recent program. A friend who occasionally ventures on to Facebook tells us that the Obamacare page is full of comments from presumed “friends” unanimously griping about the frustrations of trying to navigate the web site.
Those who are paid to do so directly by the administration are still arguing that it’s all a matter of too much traffic and therefore proof of Obamacare’s overwhelming popularity, but more objective observers have offered two plausible explanations for the problems. The admirably geekish writers at the Infoworld.com web site blame it on cronyism, citing a number of computer experiences who contend that the companies awarded the contract to devise the site are better known for their political connections than their technical expertise, which strikes us as entirely believable. The writers at the usually-reliable Forbes Magazine theorize that the program was deliberately sabotaged by its all-too-shrewd designers, lest the folks trying to log onto the system discover that their health care costs under Obamacare will be far greater than they had been led to believe, and this also seems well within the realm of possibility. Some sorry combination of both explanations could also be true, given how often the government is both inept and nefarious.
Ineptitude seems the more likely explanation for the second slew of stories about governmental computer problems we’ve recently noticed, which involve the government’s Electronic Benefits Transfer program. Also known as “EBT cards” to those in the know about such things, or “Food Stamps” to those of us still stuck in pre-computer era of the welfare state, the program maintains computerized accounts for its ever-expanding number of beneficiaries which have lately gone awry. On Saturday the program shut down across the nation, leaving countless of would-be shoppers stranded at the check-out lanes of their local grocers without means of payment, and later that night at least two Walmart discount stores in Louisiana went back on line to find that there was no limit on the EBT purchases. The latter foul-up set off a social-media-fueled shopping frenzy at the stores, as even the most Walmart-shopping EBT-dependent people now have computers or fancy cell phones, with hundreds of shoppers filling carts to the brim in hopes of getting out of the store before the computer error could be rectified.
None of these stories inspire faith in the government’s ability to run these ambitious social programs, nor the programs themselves, but we find that slightly reassuring. Having grown up in the era of the dystopian futurist movie craze we well remember a nightmare-inducing thriller titled “Colossus: The Forbin Project,” about a government super-computer that threatened to impose totalitarian control over the entire world, as well as any number of other sci-fi yarns set in the far-off 21st Century about computers conquering mankind, and it is good to see that such scenarios remain far-fetched. Thus far these computer thingamajigs seem to do more to subvert totalitarianism than to advance it, and we’re certainly trying to do our part here, and it would seem that the putatively brilliant boys and girls of the federal government aren’t the equals of their counterparts in the private sector.

— Bud Norman

Something To Talk About

Almost everyone we know is quite happy not to talk about abortion. The weather, the fortunes of the local sports team, the scandalous behavior of a neighbor, something amusing from the previous night’s television programs, even the medical complaints of older people, all are vastly more popular conversational fodder than abortion. The only possible explanation for the Democratic party’s sudden enthusiasm for the topic, then, is that they’d rather not talk about the economy.

A slew of bad economic news was vying for newspaper space and air time Tuesday as the Democrats opened their quadrennial convention, and even the cheerleaders in the national media were admitting that it cast a pall over the festivities. As the first speakers started up the orating the national debt passed the eye-popping $16 trillion mark, and despite the $5.4 trillion of borrowing during the Obama administration all the data suggest that the economy is slowing from its previously sluggish pace. Manufacturing has declined for three straights and most recently at the fastest pace in more than three years, construction spending has dropped, jobless claims are rising, what jobs are being created are mostly low-paying and unpleasant, median household income has declined by 7.3 percent, gas prices are rising, food stamp use is at an all-time high, and the best grade that Obama can give himself on economics is “incomplete.” All of this has caused consumer confidence to plummet, and because most voters are consumers the president’s poll numbers have also been on the decline.

Which is why the Democrats would prefer to talk about how the Republicans are plotting to keep women barefoot, pregnant, and chained to a stove. The Republicans don’t actually plan to do that, or at least they’re not campaigning on that plan, possibly because they sense the economy is a better issue, but the Democrats need something to talk about over three days. There’s also the issue of Mitt Romney’s taxes, although it’s hard to make the case for the president who appointed Timothy Geithner to head the Treasury Department on the basis that his opponent merely paid what was legally required, The convention has already featured lots of talk about higher taxes on the rich in general, a pet obsession of the Democrats’, but thus far they have offered no explanation of how that’s going to improve the economy.

In their zeal for abortion, same-sex marriage, and the more permissive positions on other social issues the Democrats could move farther along the secular path than the country at large is willing to go. The platform committee has proudly omitted a reference to “God-given rights” from the party’s statement of principles, possibly because the notion of a God is just too gauche, possibly because the notion of rights that don’t involve sexual intercourse is problematic, but running as the godless Democrats isn’t likely to win over many swing voters. God still has a lot of fans in this country, probably even more than Obama still has, and almost everybody enjoys the rights He granted.

People like having jobs and a solvent government, too, and sooner or later the Democrats will have to give them a reason to think that things are going to get better if we just keep doing what we’ve been doing.

— Bud Norman