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Playing Tough in a Tough Game

The late and great comedian Rodney Dangerfield had a joke we liked about how tough his high school was. “I’m telling you, it was really tough,” he’d say, tugging nervously at his collar before adding, “after the football team sacked the quarterback, they would go after his family.”
That jibe somehow came to mind as we were reading about the newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives’ wide and widening investigations into the businesses and campaign and transition team and inaugural committee and administration of President Donald Trump. Letters of inquiry and warnings of subpoenas have been sent not only to Trump’s longtime personal secretary and senior vice president of the Trump Organization and the longtime Trump Organization chief financial operator and keeper of secrets, as well as White House associates Hope Hicks, Sean Spicer, and Steve Bannon, but also Trump’s namesake son Donald Trump Jr. and other son Eric Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
We’re telling you, politics is really tough — tug nervously on your collar for full effect — and that newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives seems ready and eager to play it tough.
Which is not to say that they’re wrong to do so, and we guess that as Trump tugs nervously at his collar he gives them some begrudging respect for it. Trump has always prided himself on his toughness, and as recently as last Saturday was describing his critics as “very sick people” who “hate America” and are “like a crazy person.” He’s alleged all sorts of criminal and downright treasonous crimes against previous presidents and other political opponents, Republican and Democratic alike, and he’s not been shy about going against their families. Back when the Republican nomination was down to him or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump “re-tweeted” an internet “meme” with an unflattering shot of Cruz’ wife juxtaposed against a gauzy glamour photo of Trump’s third trophy wife, and threatened to “spill the beans” on the relatively homely housewife. When one of Trump’s longtime lawyers started spilling the beans on Trump’s hush money payments to porno performers and other business practices, Trump “tweeted” to the Justice Department and the rest of the country that it was more important to find out about the lawyer’s father-in-law’s dirty dealings. We almost forgot, but he also directed everyone’s attention to a National Enquirer scoop that Cruz’ father might have been in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, but by now even such a rock-ribbed Republican as Cruz seems have for forgiven and forgotten and bended to Trump’s will.
Politics is indeed a tough game, with some very tough players on both sides, but for now the rules of the game seem to favor that ruthlessly tough Democratic majority in the House, as well as some well-established matters of fact. Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is soon headed to a three-year stay in federal prison for various crimes, so he had nothing to lose when he stopped by a congressional hearing to testify that he committed his various crimes on behalf of and at the request of Trump, and he had various documents to back him up, and he credibly named the Trump Organization’s longtime secretary and vice president and its chief financial operator as corroborating witnesses, so letters of inquiry and threats of subpoena seem reasonable. We’re not at all Democrats, even if at this point we’re not blindly Republican, and we’d also like to hear what those potential White House witnesses have to say under oath and penalty of law.
At this peculiar point in history, we don’t even mind that those damned Democrats are going after the family. Donald Trump Jr. has already coughed up an e-mail chain admitting that some Russians he knew to be tied into the Russian dictatorship had told him they had some dirt on Trump Sr.’s opponent as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” to which he replied “I love it!” The younger Trump took that meeting, it’s now acknowledged, and after a number of now-acknowledged lies have been told about he seems fair game for another round of congressional testimony. Eric Trump is one of the executives in charge of President Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses and a trustee of the recently ended family charity, and given that the Justice Department’s southern district and the special counsel investigation and the many media inquiries into various matters about that he also seems a fair target.
As for that son-in-law, he frankly reminds us every son-in-law joke we ever heard. As it turns out the very best person that Trump could find to bring about peace in the Middle East and end America’s opioid crisis and reinvent the federal government was his son-in-law, who according to a credible and mostly undenied New York Times report got a top level security clearance from his father-in-law despite the objections of the intelligence and national security agents who had investigated him. What with politics being such a tough game we’ll add that Kushner’s dad is a felon who was on c0nvicted on tax evasion and witness intimidation charges by Trump’s short-lived transition chief and former federal prosecutor and New Jersey governor and vanquished campaign rival Chris Christie, and that the story is even tawdrier than that. If those damned Democrats haul him before Congress to testify why those intelligence and national security investigators didn’t want to give him a top secret security clearance, we won’t mind a bit, and will be eager to hear his live-on-television and under-oath and penalty of law answers.
Politics is indeed a tough game, but with no particular dog in the fight at the moment we’ll sit back and see how it plays out. We still retain a rooting interest in America and the truth, though, and will anxiously await the outcome.

— Bud Norman

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Ryan and the Old School of Republicanism Bow Out

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced Wednesday that he won’t be running for re-election, so for now his vituperative critics on both the left and right won’t have him to kick around anymore. These days we’re not sure where we land on the political spectrum, but from our current position here on the sidelines we’re going to mostly miss the guy.
Not so long ago when we and our readers considered us rock-ribbed conservative Republicans, Ryan was our guy. He not only talked the necessary talk about averting America’s quickly accruing national debt and eventual bankruptcy, but walked the necessary walk along the perilous path of the painful entitlement reforms and budget cuts that are required to keep America solvent without even more painful tax increases. Such sensible if unappetizing prescriptions naturally outraged the left, which produced widely-seen advertisements depicting Ryan throwing your beloved grandma off a cliff, and he politely but quite resolutely endured the slanders to stand his ground.
Such civil defiance of the Democratic left naturally endeared Ryan to the tax-cutting and budget-balancing “tea party” Republican right of the time, and thus he wound up way back in 2012 as the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket with presidential nominee Mitt Romney to reassure the party’s conservative base that Romney was all right. Romney on his own seemed a sound enough Republican to us at the time, and we still think he’d have been a far better president than incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama, but he’d somehow once been governor of the loony left state of Massachusetts, and had wound up signing into law something that looked an awful lot like the hated-by-Republicans Obamacare act that Obama had signed, and his pick of the steadfastly anti-Obamacare Ryan as a running mate and potentially heartbeat-away-from-the-resident was reassuring to the those of us on the right as it was appalling to those of you on the left.
Both Romney and Ryan wound up enduring the slings and arrows of the left with the civility and calmly convincing arguments we’d come to expect from the best of the Republican party, but they also wound up losing to the hated Obama, and since then the Grand Old Party hasn’t been quite it as it once was. It turns out that a lot of those “tea party” types we once rallied with like their Medicare and Social Security more than they hate the welfare payments that account for a far smaller share of that once-scary national debt, and by 2016 a decisive plurality of the Republican party had concluded that civility and calmly convincing arguments were no longer a match for the slanderous slings and arrows of the left.
Which wound up with putatively Republican President Donald Trump. Trump ran on promises that he wouldn’t mess with any tea partier’s Medicaid or Social Security, somehow balance the budget without any tax increases, build a “big, beautiful” wall too keep Mexicans away and somehow force the Mexicans to pay for it, and he outdid even the right-wing talk radio hosts in talking tough about all those damned Democrats and left-wingers, and he didn’t bother with any of those dull but calmly convincing arguments. Trump wound up losing the popular election by a few million votes, so he eked out enough ballots in a few states Romney narrowly lost, including Ryan’s own Wisconsin, that the former casino mogul and reality show star wound up winning the electoral vote.
Since then it’s been a different American political landscape in general and a wholly different Republican party in particular, and at the moment neither Ryan nor ourselves seem to know where we fit in all of it. Like us Ryan took a principled Republican stand against Trump early in the Republican primary process, and even after Trump had secured his party’s nomination he gallantly declined to defend Trump’s outrageous statements on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women by their where-evers, but since Trump’s election he’s been more conciliatory.
Aside from the occasional criticisms of Trump’s crudity, he successfully guided a Republican tax-cut bill through the House which also passed the Senate and wound up with Trump claiming all the credit when signed it. He made good on a promise to get the House of Representatives to repeal the hated Obamacare law, although a slimmer Republican majority in the Senate couldn’t do the same and Trump never got to sign it, and he dutifully endured the opprobrium that the right heaped on the GOP ‘establishment” and never questioned the new party’s religious faith in Trump’s divine deal-making abilities. The one-time champion of fiscal sobriety also spared Trump the political problems of a government shutdown by helping passage of a deficit-funded and worse-than-Obama budget busting spending bill that didn’t address any of the nation’s looming fiscal woes or those ginned-up immigration problems Trump is always railing about, and willingly accepted the slanderous slings and arrows of the right.
None of this will placate the newly-fangled right that regards Trump as the epitome of au courant conservatism, and the stubbornly old-fashioned left will still revile him as the son of a bitch who threw your beloved grandmother off the cliff, but from our view on the sidelines we take a more sympathetic view of Ryan’s career.
Our lazy asses don’t have to worry about reelection, however, as we never stood a chance of getting elected to anything in the first place, so we’ll not sit in judgment of a poor politician such as Ryan. Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee in the last presidential election, after all, and despite everything we’ll readily forgive any Republicans who went ahead and voted for Trump. It was Trump’s populist campaign that made meaningful entitlement reform impossible, so we’ll generously assume that Ryan intended to keep the government operating just long enough to confront fiscal reality, and he generously allowed Trump to take credit for the big defense spending increase, and despite the rants of the right wing talk radio hosts he did persuade a majority of the House to repeal that damned Obamacare.
None of which will squelch the left’s glee at Ryan’s departure. Even as the recent Republicans decry Ryan as a “Republican in Name only” and “establishment” “deep state” “globalist” sell-out, the current Democrats still regard him as the guy who who pushed your beloved grandmother over the cliff. The more high-brow leftists still give Ryan credit for his civility and calmly stated arguments, but that’s all the more reason that Trump-loving Republicans will regarding him as a squishy sort of beta-male.
That scant plurality of remaining Trump-loving Republicans should note, though, that Ryan is just the most prominent of an unprecedented number establishment Republicans who no longer know where they fit on the political landscape and have decided not to seek reelection. At this relatively early point in the Trump era of the Republican party several GOP House seats in suburban districts and even a Senate seat in usually reliable Alabama have flipped to the Democrats, even the Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero was in danger of losing his own race, and no matter what uncivil taunts Trump might “tweet” that political landscape seems fraught for both the best and worst sorts of Republican candidate.
Ryan insists that he’s stepping down to spend more time his children, who have thus far known him as a “weekend dad,” and his more generous critics on both the left and right agree that he’s the decent sort of family man fellow who would take that into account. We’re sure it’s at least partially true, and we’ll wish him and the rest of his family well. Still, his temporary departure from the pubic stage doesn’t augur well for either the Republican Party or the rest of the political landscape, and the national debt is bigger than ever, and we expect an acrimonious outcome.

— Bud Norman

On Politics, and Trying to Talk About the Weather Instead

One thing we can say for this crazy election year, as awful as it’s been, is that at least the weather has been unusually perfect here on the Kansas plains. A mild and almost snow-free winter made the desultory results of the early primaries somewhat more tolerable, then an early and warm and eerily storm-free spring provided a pleasant distraction from the ominous clouds that continued to gather on the political horizon. The summer had just enough of those stifling hot days to feel like summer but mostly provided ideal conditions for long walks through the lush local parks as the two worst presidential candidates in American history wrapped up their party’s nominations, and a glorious Indian summer of a fall has stretched clear into November and the final week of a crazy election year and its incongruously stormy political climate.
There’s a chance of storms for today in the weather forecast, with a weeklong drop in the temperature expected after that, which somehow seems appropriate, but the storms aren’t likely to be severe, the next week’s temperatures will probably only drop into the not-bad-to-this-time-of-year 60s, and after that we can hold out hope for another mild winter. The political forecasts are all over the place, though, with that awful Republican clearly gaining on that awful Democrat, and that awful Democrat still clinging to a slight advantage in the national average of the polls and a slightly better advantage in the average of the polls in the states that everyone thinks will decide the matter, and all the partisans clearly quite nervous about how it might turn out.
All of the more mathematical pundits are calculating the odds for all the various possible scenarios, including the popular and electoral votes once again disagreeing, or neither nominee getting an electoral majority and the matter being settled in the House of Representatives, where that guy from Utah that nobody’s ever heard of would have at least a one-in-a-million shot because at least nobody hates him the way both of the their majority party nominees are hated by a majority of the country, not to mentioned the even more far-fetched possibilities. We have a friend who plays harmonica and does pen-and-ink sketches well and is willing to bet money that there won’t be an election next Tuesday, another friend who is one of the better heavy metal drummers in town and agrees that a reptilian race of super-human alien invaders have already rigged the results, and we have a Republican nominee who has intimated that a former primary rival’s dad had President Kennedy offed and also says the election is rigged, and a Democratic nominee that makes it all very plausible, so at this point in such a crazy election year we can’t dismiss any possibility.
What doesn’t seem at all possible, from our perspective here on the Kansas plains, is any sort of happy outcome. The one thing all the polls agree on is that either nominee would be the most unpopular president ever on Inauguration Day, all the pundits on both sides of the partisan divide have made clear they keep this crazy election year’s fights going, but from our position in the middle of the country and on neither side of this awful race we’re just hoping for a mild winter and storm-free spring.

— Bud Norman

Going to the Mattresses

The Republicans in House of Representatives have decided to go to the mattresses over Obamacare, to borrow yet another cliché from the “Godfather” movies, and will likely vote today to withhold funding for the hated health care law no matter what the consequences. We wish them well in the effort, and offer whatever support we can provide, but we can’t quite shake a certain nervousness about it.
Even such slight hesitation will no doubt incur the scorn of all the right-wing talk radio talkers who have been urging the GOP to fight this battle, with ample scoffing at anyone who balks as a squishy establishment “RINO” who secretly likes Obamacare. This sort of name-calling does not persuade us, as we are quite rock-ribbed in our Republicanism, instinctively anti-establishment by temperament, and take a back seat to no one in our loathing of Obamacare, and neither does it allay a suspicion that there might be some other way to do away with the law more permanently and with less political risk. There’s a chance the Republicans’ gambit might succeed spectacularly, and we’ll be ardently hoping that it will, but any cocksureness about it will only increase the chances it could prove a debacle.
After the Republican-controlled House passes a budget without funding for Obamacare it will surely be voted down in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and even in the highly unlikely event that the Senate went along the resulting bill would surely be voted by the president, so the resulting lack of a budget or continuing resolution or some other legislative sleight-of-hand would shut down much of the government for a prolonged period. Democrats cannot abandon Obamacare without admitting they were wrong, a fate far worse than anything the stupid law will wind up inflicting on the country, and they will not fear the public relations consequences of a government shutdown. This is fine by the flame-throwing conservatives who are insisting on this strategy, and it would be no bother and a nice respite from bureaucratic busybodies to us, but with crucial mid-term elections looming in the next year it is important to consider what the apolitical majority of the country might think. A partial government shutdown would only affect the average American to whatever extent the executive branch chooses, as the de-funding faction rightly argues, but somebody is bound to be inconvenienced and it is a sure bet that major media outlets will quickly interview them for a heartbreaking feature story. The stories will be bogged down with lots of blather about mandatory spending and parliamentary procedure and official government statistics, so millions of Americans will simply take note of the headline about evil Republicans sowing anarchy to punish the poor.
None of the numerous past government shutdowns have been the electoral disaster for Republicans that popular myth suggests, as the de-funders rightly argue, but neither have they ever proved popular. Former House Speaker and government shut-down enthusiast Newt Gingrich kept citing all the election results from his time with the gavel when running for president last time around, but he was forced to do so because so many people still remember him as the mean ol’ bastard who wanted to cut government spending while President Bill Clinton is still remembered as the economic genius who somehow delivered a balanced budget. The major news outlets aren’t as major as they were back then, and conservative media have since built up a large choir to preach to, but it is still too soon to dismiss the opinion-making power of the opposition.
This time could be different, the de-funders argue, and there are tempting reasons to believe they are right. Obamacare is hugely unpopular and becoming more unpopular as it creeps into effect, with important Democratic constituencies such as the labor unions now among the critics, and even the most partisan reporters will find it hard to explain a government shutdown without mentioning that it has something to do with the law. The law’s eponymous president is also unpopular, and comes across as churlish and defensive and disconnected from economic reality every time he speaks in defense of it, so even the unloved Republicans will have something close to equal standing with the standing with the public. Those Republicans will have the better argument, too, although that rarely matters in a war for public approval.
Still, there’s something in our rock-ribbed Republican souls that would prefer a more cautious — and dare we say conservative — approach. Obamacare has become more unpopular with every step of its haphazard and politically-motivated implementation, and it seems likely that full implementation would result in complete unpopularity, so letting the damn thing happen to point that everyone’s nose can be rubbed in it would make a complete repeal and utter repudiation possible. This course would do damage to the health care system, allow millions of Americans to start relying on subsidies they will be reluctant to relent, and incur other undeniable risks, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get a policy right. The people getting the subsidies will be out-numbered by those paying for them, at least in the beginning, and the former category is far less likely to vote than the latter, so opposition to Obamacare will be a good issue for Republicans in both the ’14 and ’16 elections. Should Obamacare be somehow stopped before its full implementation the Democrats will spend the rest of our lives waxing poetic about the glorious utopia that might have been, enough of the public will believe it to keep the dream alive, and a rare chance to definitively disprove the nonsense will be lost. This strategy would displease much of the Republican party’s increasingly restive base, many of whom have a distressing tendency to sit out elections even if it means empowering the craziest sorts of Democrats, but at least it would not provide any headlines that would disturb the slumber of the apolitical majority.
The Republicans in Congress have decided to spurn our wise counsel, however, and once they are set on their course we can only hope they will pursue to a satisfactory conclusion. Obamacare must be done away with, one way or another, and if this one works we will be glad of it. Winning the day will require a party unity that we are quite willing to uphold, and plenty of media savvy that we cannot provide, so we will endure our nervousness. We recommend plenty of what the pols call “message discipline,” and can count on the right-wing talk radio talkers for that. The Republicans’ congressional leadership already seems to have distilled this complicated matter down to a “Tweet”-sized message that Obama is willing to shut down the federal government for his hated Obamacare law, which is a fair and compelling summation, and despite our misgivings about the strategy we will try to help it along.

— Bud Norman

Obamacare on Ice

If it were merely one of those Irwin Allen disaster movies from the ‘70s, without the real-life consequences, the history of Obamacare would make for a most entertaining spectacle. Even with our inevitable death by bureaucratic bungling looming over us, however, there’s still something slightly amusing about the whole debacle.
The latest joke in this ongoing comedy is the government’s oh-so-quiet announcement on the eve of Independence Day that it will wait another year to begin enforcing a key provision that mandates all businesses with more than 50 employees provide them with a health insurance plan. Critics of the Obamacare scheme had warned from the outset that the provision provided a disincentive for any business with 49 employees to ever hire another one, and that a good many businesses would be forced to lay off the suddenly more expensive employees already on the payroll, but supporters of the law responded that this was a lie told by lying liars who hated poor people and only wanted what was worst for everybody. Employers across the country have lately made it quite clear that the prediction is already coming true, though, and the administration’s decision is an acknowledgement of the fact. The administration doesn’t mind the dire economic consequences, of course, but it would prefer to put them off until after next year’s mid-term elections.
Some observers regard this as a political masterstroke which will help the Democrats regain the House of Representatives and thus ensure that Obamacare remains the law of the land forever and ever, and given how little attention is paid by the average American they might be proved right. Still, there is reason to be hopeful that they won’t pull it off. The delay will likely forestall many firings, as even the most hard-hearted businessmen are inclined keep an employee on the payroll so long as it’s economically beneficial to do, but it won’t do much to spur hiring by businessmen who are looking past the next election, which is one of those strange habits businessmen have which the political class finds so incomprehensible. Obamacare’s job-killing traits should be so apparent by election day that even a Republican can make the case, and with insurance premiums on the rise, doctors fleeing the health professions, and millions of Americans still without insurance and suddenly have to pay for the lack of it, defending the law will be a daunting challenge.
Democrats are convinced that the public can be persuaded to like something awful if only enough advertising dollars are spent and enough celebrities are on board, a theory that was proved true in the ’08 and ’12 elections, but the strategy hasn’t worked well for Obamacare yet. A tax-payer-funded advertising campaign has prevented a steady slide in the law’s approval rating in all the opinion polls, which showed that it was widely unpopular to begin with, and it’s gotten to the point that the National Football League and other intended propaganda outlets are declining to participate. Even such friendly press outlets as the Washington Post seem to have tired of touting Obamacare’s promised benefits, and we would venture a prediction that least a few of those Democratic candidates hoping to re-take the House will also jump ship. As a last resort the Democrats can blame Republican obstructionism for the law’s complete failure to deliver on any of its extravagant promises, but that will also be an acknowledgement that it didn’t work.

— Bud Norman