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Labor Day and its Laborious Aftermath

Labor Day is the most bittersweet holiday. It affords a welcome day of rest from the labor that it honors, but unofficially marks when the carefree days of summer give way to the seriousness of autumn and winter. As much as we enjoy the bratwurst and beer and the day of rest, we still feel the annual resentment of the Huckleberry Finn freedom of summer vacation coming to an end with our forced return some stern schoolmarm’s classroom, along with all the adult responsibilities that are supposed to kick back in with the cooler temperatures, and this being a leap year we’re also obliged by a quadrennial political cliche to start paying even more attention to that dispiriting presidential race.
Here in Kansas, at least, we don’t acknowledge Labor Day as the actual end of summer. The kids have already been back in school for a couple of weeks, a form of child abuse we were happily spared back in our school days, those slowing-to-a-crawl school zone speed limits are back in effect along with all the rest of the adult responsibilities that never did really go away, and politics is a constant obsession even in off-years, so some arbitrary date on a calendar doesn’t mean much around here. The warm weather usually persists at least the first few weeks into September, sometimes even into October, until the big bluegrass festival down in Winfield and the Kansas State Fair over in Hutchinson have concluded no one around here will call it a summer, and we’ll keep wearing a straw fedora until the temperatures require a cloth cap, no matter what rules of hat etiquette they might have cooked up in the frigid northeast.
We’ll take today off, too, and enjoy family and friends and good food and the absence of labor, along with the strangely perfect weather we’ve been lately been having around here, and we suggest you do the same. Tomorrow is another work and school day, and there’s that dispiriting presidential election lurking in the day’s news, and it would be good to face it well rested.

— Bud Norman

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On the Coming Conflagration

Wednesday obliged us to attend the funeral of an old and dear friend. The melancholy chore involved driving along back roads through fifty miles or so of God’s glorious Kansas countryside from Wichita to Hutchinson, one of those pleasant and picturesque small towns that people have somehow fashioned out of the rough prairie soil, and the drive took us past endless acres of corn that had withered on the stalk in this summer’s relentless sun as well the green sprouts of various other crops that looked like they might just make it to harvest. Along the way we contemplated the past life of an unknown but excellent American individual and the possible futures of our collective America.

Rush Limbaugh was holding forth on the AM radio, and as is our wont we were tuned in with rapt interest. The leftward segment of America regards Limbaugh with an ostentatious disgust and loudly accuses him of being hateful, but we’ve always found him an endearingly upbeat fellow who giddily champions a system that would allow anyone to follow his dreams even when Limbaugh thinks those dreams are a bunch of namby-pamby politically correct nonsense. On Wednesday he was uncharacteristically downbeat, though, and admittedly worried that the country might soon be choosing a wrong path.

We share that concern. We see that in the past four years the country has been dragged more than five trillion dollars further into debt, and five trillion dollars closer to the impending economic catastrophe that has already befallen Greece and Spain and every other nation that ever followed such a path. We see that millions of our countrymen are out work, and that millions more have been tempted into a degrading state of dependence on the labors of strangers. We see that the promised stimulative effects of such profligacy have produced only economic stasis at best and steady deterioration at worst, and that the subsidies for failure and disparagement of success have hastened an already precipitous cultural decline. We see the country on a road to serfdom, and we see polls showing that a near majority of the country prefers this to the frightening uncertainty of freedom and mere opportunity.

Some clamor for a third way, one that would keep the checks coming for the rest of their lives without resorting to ever more confiscatory taxation and totalitarian regulation of the private sector, but no one can say where that way lies. The only real choices available are the collectivist society on the left and the individualism of the right, and they cannot be reconciled. Conflict is the inevitable result, and though we have been blessed with a political system that allows us to resolve such conflicts peacefully there is nothing to prevent it from getting very ugly. Already the left has resorted to the most outrageous slanders to discredit their opposition, including false charges of complicity in the unfortunate death of a woman whose widower has allowed her to be used for the most disgraceful sort of political propaganda, and even worse can be expected. People who believe they are creating a utopia feel justified in using the most ruthless tactics against those who would impede them.

Still, we hold out hope that it all ends up with one America. The fellow we bid farewell to on Wednesday was one of those on the other side, and we wish he were still around to cast the wrong vote. He was a quirky sort and an independent thinker, and he shared our downright Burkean traditionalism on matters of language and aesthetics, but we never did succeed in persuading him to adopt a similar view of government, economics and politics. Somehow we didn’t mind that he was a bleeding heart pinko, and he forgave our cold-blooded conservatism, and we got along together very well.

Let us resolve that the country will do the same. Let us fight it out, and every man and woman take a stand on either side of the great divide, but let there be some ungoverned and apolitical space where we can come together and share what we still have in common. There are still some beautifully empty spaces in Kansas, so perhaps we can do it there.

— Bud Norman