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The Democrats’ Debate, Part II

For the second night in a row there was a Democratic primary debate on Thursday, this time featuring another 10 candidates, and for the most part it consisted of the kind of loony left crazy talk that might yet get President Donald Trump reelected. We hate to say it, but here we are.
There are so many Democrats who think they have a shot at beating Trump that they had to divide the field into two 10-person debates, with another four or five or six or so contenders left out altogether, and once again the candidates were given a mere 60 seconds to explain how they planned to solve such complicated problems as illegal immigration and America’s imperfect health care system and its ongoing racial tensions. No one wound up speaking for more than a cumulative six minutes during the debate, which made it hard for anyone to stand out in the crowded field, but we’re inclined to believe the conventional wisdom of all the pundits that California Sen. Kamala Harris got the best of it.
Unlike on Wednesday night the National Broadcasting Company didn’t have any embarrassing technical difficulties to delay the debate, but it started with a cacophony of most of the candidates trying to out shout one another, which the moderators were unable to contain. It ended with Harris raising her well-toned arms and saying “Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their tables.” After that, she seemed to command the stage, for better and worse, as far as we’re concerned.
According to all the polls the front-runner in the race is former Delaware Senator and Vice President Joe Biden, followed closely by the self-proclaimed socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and then Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who didn’t make much of her time on stage during Wednesday’s debate, but neither candidate fared particularly well.
Biden didn’t make any of his usual gaffes that can be endlessly replayed on cable news, but neither did he have the bright shining moment that can be endlessly replayed, and he took a lot of flak from pretty much everyone. Some Democrat we can’t quite name started it off by recalling the time he heard Biden give a speech some 30 years ago about passing the torch of Democratic leadership to a younger generation, Biden had a pretty good response about he’s still carrying that torch, but he’s even older than Trump and looked it. On the race question that always preoccupies Democrats he was criticized for recently saying that he once worked segregationist Democrats to get some non-racist legislation passed, which is offensive to contemporary Democratic sensibilities and yet another reminder of how very old he is. Harris also criticized Biden for his stand against busing schoolchildren to achieve desegregation, which is an issue from way back when we were in elementary and junior high school, and although we then agreed completely with the stand Biden took and still do we figure that the relative youngsters who will make up most of the Democratic primary electorate don’t know much about history and their exquisitely sensitive racial sensibilities will be offended.
Most of the field also took aim at Biden for being in on President Barack Obama’s supposedly harsh immigration policies, which surely sounded weird to any Republican ears that happened to be tuned in. Trump likes to blame Obama for the harsh family separation and detention policies he’s controversially imposed, but he also likes to claim that he’s saved us from Obama’s America-hating policy of opening America’s borders to the gang-banging rapists and drug dealers that were flowing into the country. If facts still matter Obama set a record for deportations during his two terms, which was controversial among Democrats even though it prioritized deportations of the gang-banging rapists and drug dealers who were undeniably out there, but Biden somehow had a hard time defending such a sensible policy.
Sanders didn’t commit any endlessly re-playable gaffes, either, at least not if you’re the sort of loony left die-hard supporter who voted for him last time around, but neither did he have his breakout moment, and he didn’t take much flak from the rest of the field. Most of the candidates were trying go even further left in promising free medical care for citizens and non-citizens alike, as well as free college educations and guaranteed incomes and free this and free that, and they all seemed to believe it could be done without adding to our current trillion dollar deficits or 20-trillion-plus national debt. This is all loony left crazy talk, of course, and just the sort of thing that can get Trump reelected, despite the trillion dollar deficits he’s been racking up in what he brags is the best economy ever.
To our eyes and ears the sanest person on the stage was former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, but we’re still registered Republicans and our kooky ¬†Democratic friends probably won’t take our advice when they cast their votes in next year’s Kansas primaries. Hickenlooper much endeared himself too ourselves when he got booed off the stage at a California party meeting by stating the obvious truth that kicking millions of Americans off their private insurance plans is bad policy and even worse politics, and he was met with icy silence on Thursday when he quite rightly said that if the Democratic doesn’t explicitly reject the socialist label Trump would be able tar them with it, which we heartily agreed with.
By most accounts Hickenlooper presided over good times in Colorado for two terms, even if the fact-checkers say he slightly overstates how good, and we hope he somehow sticks around in the Democratic race. He’s a boringly straight white male who’s endearingly lacking in charisma, given how disastrous the past two terms of charismatic presidents have been, and by current Democratic standards he seems quite tolerable. He made a fortune brewing beer, making him the first brewer since the great Samuel Adams of Massachusetts to be a governor of state, which we also find endearing, and he was governor when Colorado legalized marijuana, which is fine by us and should endear him to much of the Democratic party’s primary electorate.
In the first debate we found both Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar relatively sane and centrist by current Democratic standards, and there’s still a chance the Democrats won’t go so far to the loony left that they won’t wind up losing yet another election to the likes of Trump. As much as we hated Obama he lately doesn’t seem so bad, and for now neither does Biden. Trump and the Republicans are already calling Biden “Creepy Joe” because of his unsettling habit of rubbing women’s shoulders and sniffing their hair, but he hasn’t yet been caught bragging about any woman by the pussy. and at our age we find his old school approach to politics slightly reassuring.
That Harris woman is both a Californian and too far left for our pre-Trump Kansas Republican tastes, but she’s also a former California Attorney General who locked up and deported a lot of gang-banging rapist and drug-dealing illegal immigrants, and she seems relatively sane and centrist by current Democratic standards. She’s also a woman and multi-racial, so the Democrats will probably cut her some slack for her relative sanity and centrism, and we’ve noticed that in every interview she’s more well-spoken and fact-based than Trump, no matter what loony left rhetoric she’s spewing.
Trump is currently off to a G-20 summit where he’s insulting our allies and praising the world’s dictators, but he should take note that there’s still a chance the damned Democrats won’t blow the next election.

— Bud Norman

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The Latest Round in Trump’s Bout Against Mexico

As it turns out President Donald Trump won’t be imposing drastic new tariffs on Mexican imports, an idea he proposed that alarmed every serious economist and all the stock markets and big businesses and small farmers and even more than a few congressional Republicans, and he’s proclaiming a great victory about the concessions Mexico has yielded in response to the threat. At the very real risk of being called enemies of the people, we think Trump merely averted disaster.
Trump threatened the tariffs to get Mexico to do more to stop the flow of migrants from Central America, and Mexico has apparently agreed to deploy some military units to its southern border and detain on its own soil the asylum-seekers who have recently reached its northern border while the American justice system sorts out all the tricky legal details of their numerous cases. That’s enough that Hugh Hewitt, the conservative commentator and radio talk show host who was a fellow steadfast Never Trump type until Trump won the Republican nomination, proclaimed in the headline of an op-ed piece in The Washington Post — of all places — that “Trump’s big win leaves critics sputtering.”
With all due respect to the once-respectable Hewitt, the critics don’t seem to be sputtering. In its usual careful and confident cadence The New York Times reported that the Mexican government had already agreed to both demands months before Trump issued the threat, other conservative and liberal media have noted without any discernible stuttering that the Mexican government has been either unwilling or unable to make good on promises made in the face of Trump’s even crazier threat to shut down the entire border between Mexico and the United State. For now it’s probably best to wait and see if Trump’s big win resolves or even slightly eases the admittedly serious situation on our southern border, and to hold out only faint hope.
Trump responded to The New York Times with an extended “twitter” tirade, concluding that “the failing @nytimes, & ratings-challenged @CNN, will do anything to see our Country fail! They are truly The Enemy of the People!” He returned to “twitter” to gripe that if President Barack Obama had struck such sweet deals “the Corrupt Media would be hailing them as Incredible, & a National Holiday would be declared.” We’re supposed to pity Trump even in his moment of triumph, as there are clearly seditious sorts out there who dare question what he says, but it looks like sputtering to us, and poorly punctuated sputtering at that.
The disaster that surely would have followed those threatened tariffs or a complete border shutdown has for now been averted, though, and for now Trump is entitled to crow about that. Sooner or later Mexico’s nationalist instincts will be roused to resist Trump’s nationalism, on the other hand, and there’s no telling what Trump do then, except to say it will work out badly for all involved. Mexico will probably get the worst of it, which will allow Trump to claim another big win, but that doesn’t mean that America will be any better off.

— Bud Norman

A DREAM Deferred, and Other Raisins in the Sun of a Political Stalemate

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would offer a path to citizenship for an estimated two million people who were illegally brought to the United States as children, which for better or worse would resolve a pressing problem that has been hotly debated for more than a decade, but unless you were paying attention to the back pages of the papers or the bottom of the hourly news broadcasts you might not have heard about it. That’s because it really doesn’t matter.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has already made clear the bill won’t be brought up for a vote in the upper chamber of Congress, and even if it does the narrow Republican majority in the Senate probably wouldn’t pass it, and even if a few Republican members did buck the party line there wouldn’t be enough of them to override the inevitable veto of President Donald Trump. Such is the state of play, as well, with all the other pressing problems that have been been hotly debated for more than a decade.
Which might be for the best, as both parties have some damned dumb ideas and for more than a decade have used a two-year window of opportunity of one-party control of both the Congress and the White House to enact some of them into law. There are some especially damned dumb ideas afoot in the Democratic House we’ll be mercifully spared — for the time being — because of that slight Republican majority in the Senate and the Republican president’s veto power, and some similarly damned dumb ideas proposed by the President and the Senate that won’t happen because of the overwhelming Democratic majority in the House. Our old-fashioned conservative souls give thanks to God for our founding fathers’ wisdom in devising such a convoluted system.
Even so, sooner or later we mere mortals and our elected officials will have to come to some agreement on issues that are hotly debated for good reason, and the current state of play suggests it will be for the worse rather than the better. Some members of both parties also have a few pretty darned good ideas, and in some cases they aren’t so very far apart, but too many members of both parties are unwilling to sit down and hammer out the details with the hated other side.
This inconsequential yet grandiosely named American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 that the House passed on Tuesday strikes us as something that could be negotiated into a good deal for everyone all around in a better state of American politics. We considered ourselves rock ribbed Republican hard-liners up until Trump won the nomination and the new standard was family separations and wholesale treaty violations and maximum cruelty and unabashed xenophobia, and we retain our disdain for many of the Democrats’ enthusiasm for wide open borders and all the rape and rapine and heroin-pushing and Democratic voting that would surely follow, but the bill that passed the House Tuesday with a few Republican votes strikes us a rather modest proposal.
The proposed law would grant the so-called “dreamers” who have been living here most of their lives through no fault of their own 10 years of legal residence so long as they could demonstrate they hadn’t been raping or robbing or pushing heroin or otherwise being a bother to the public, then “green cards” that allow them to work for a living in this country if they could show they were in the military or pursuing a higher education or had already been gainfully employed for at least three years, and after that a chance to apply for American citizenship. As rock ribbedly Republican and hard-line anti-immigration as we remain, we’re not so hardhearted that we want to throw soldiers and college kids and working stiffs out of the only country they’ve ever known. If we could gain a few concessions from the Democrats on a few miles of border wall where it’s actually needed and other immigration debates, as any skilled negotiator probably could, we’d take the deal.
Both Trump and pretty much all of the damned Democrats are itching to spend buttloads of money on America’s roads and bridges and levees and electrical grids and all the rest of our expensive infrastructure, which do indeed need tending, but at this point that also seems unlikely to happen. The Democrats want to shovel all those buttloads of money to their bureaucratic and labor union buddies, Trump envisions something that would benefit his corporate buddies and and campaign contributors, and there’s still an old-fashioned rump faction of the Republican party that objects to spending buttloads of federal money on projects and would prefer to pass the problem along to local local governments closer to the problem.
For now, in our sorry state of politics, neither party has any incentive to reach any agreements that might work out for everyone all around and thus redound to the benefit of the hated other side. That House bill that passed Tuesday strikes us a chance for the Republicans to prove that they’re not hardhearted sorts who hate hate even the most law-abiding brown-skinned people, and for the Democrats to show that they’re not committed to opening the borders to raping and robbing and heroin-pushing miscreants, but neither side can abide that the other might benefit. The Republicans spent six bipartisan years of President Barack Obama’s administration futilely trying to repeal Obamacare, which heartened the party base even if they couldn’t take advantage of of the two years of one-party rule that followed, and the Democrats will resist Trump with similarly futile attempts to Trump even if they won’t be able to do much with the two years of Democratic rule that might well follow. The crazier elements of both parties are awaiting the next inevitable two-year window of one-party rule opportunity when they can impose their craziest ideals, and for now the saner members of both parties who’d like to hammer out the details of those things they’re not that far apart on seem outvoted. Until the next election, and probably beyond, we expect most of the news will be about investigations into the other side’s perfidy, of which both sides have plenty.

— Bud Norman

Something There Is Doesn’t Love a Wall

So far the big news story of the year is President Donald Trump’s long promised plan to build a big and beautiful wall along the entirety of America’s border with Mexico, and the longer and more painful than usual partial government shutdown that has resulted from the Democrats’ refusal to pay for it. Trump has announced a short oration on the matter tonight, and the “fake news” organizations at the American Broadcasting Company and the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcast System the Cable News Network have all agreed to air it live, along with the Fox News Network and the Fox Business News Networks, so it should get great ratings.
Both the wall and the resulting partial government shutdown are polling quite badly for Trump at the moment, however, and we doubt that Trump’s self-proclaimed reputation for salesmanship will be able to change that. There are plenty of persuasive arguments for more stringent enforcement of America’s border laws, and we proudly note we were publicly making them long before Trump latched on to the issue, but Trump generally prefers what his ghost-written bestseller “The Art of the Deal” describes as “truthful hyperbole,” which is to say baseless but nonetheless appealing claims.
Inevitably and undeniably there have been murders and rapes and other crimes committed by criminals illegally crossing the border, but Trump has always exaggerated their share of America’s alarming level of violence. He similarly overstates that number of Middle Eastern terrorists seeking to cross the southern border, even as he vows to continue a partial government that has diminished America’s security efforts at its airports, where most would-be terrorists attempt to arrive. Trump also implies that a border wall would keep all the illegal immigrants out of the country, even though most of them have arrived at legal ports of entry and outstayed their welcome, and that the cost of a border wall would divert funds from any efforts to expel them. There are other high-tech and more cost-efficient means of securing the border that the funding Trump wants to his wall could pay for, too. Perhaps the simplest solution to illegal immigration is to crack down on the businesses that hire illegal immigrants, but that would include the Mar-a-Lago resort and other still wholly-owned companies of Trump.
Lately Trump has claimed that President Ronald Reagan tried in vain for eight long years to build a sea-to-sea border wall, and that several past presidents have confessed to their regret that they didn’t accomplish what Trump now bravely strives for, but that’s all entirely untrue. Neither Trump nor his friends at Fox News or on talk radio have come up with a single sound-bite from Reagan about a wall, and all Reagan’s still-living advisors on immigration issues have told the “fake news” that’s because Reagan never said any such thing. All four of the living ex-presidents have also convincingly contradicted Trump’s claims, and the spokesman for recently deceased President George H.W. Bush declined comment on the grounds that it was too soon for Bush “to be dragged into such debates.”
So it will be interesting to see what new claims Trump makes tonight. He has plenty of compelling arguments at his disposal for the need to main the hundreds of miles of border barriers that have already been built, as well as a few hundred miles more, but the Democrats have already voted to fund the maintenance of existing barriers and signaled a willingness to cough up a couple billion more dollars for another few hundred miles, but it’s not in his nature to settle for that. After Trump bragged on national television that he’d be proud to shut the government down over a border wall he’s hard pressed to blame the Democrats for the partial government shutdown, and they have no apparent reason for helping Trump out with the beating he’s taking in the polls. Trump also promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, and although Trump makes some convoluted arguments that the money America’s going to eventually come from the profits private businesses make from a renegotiated-yet-not-ratified-by-any-country trade agreement the Democrats can confidently consider themselves off the hook.
There’s still a chance that both sides will agree that enhanced enforcement of America’s immigration laws is an urgent national priority, but that a big and beautiful sea-to-sea border wall isn’t, and the the airport security and the Coast Guard need to start getting paid again and the farmers need their subsidies and the national parks have to resuming taking out the garbage. We surely hope so, as it seems sensible enough. This Trump fellow seems to have negotiated himself into a corner, though, and those damned Democrats for now seem to have both the opinion polls and the objective facts on side, so the big story of the day seems likely to linger. For most of us it will likely be soon supplanted by other big stories, but all those airport security employees and Coast Guardsmen and farmers and national park-goers should gird themselves for the long haul.

— Bud Norman

The Down-Ballot Blues

One of our final chores leading up to every election day is dong some cursory research on all the down-ballot races, and this year that meant reminding ourselves of the name of the Republican who’s running for Kansas Secretary of State. The fact we had to look it up is further evidence of the currently sorry state of the Republican party in this reliably Republican state.
By now even the most apolitical Kansans are surely aware that the Democratic nominee for Secretary of State is Brian “Bam” McClendon, “the Google guy from Kansas.” He’s saturated the radio and television airwaves and especially the internet with advertisements touting his experience as the Google executive who oversaw the development of its undeniably impressive Google Map, which has McClendon’s hometown of Lawrence as the center of “Google Earth,” and they make a persuasive argument that such high tech savviness qualifies him to oversee the state’s computerized voting systems and deal with the other boring business of the office.
Meanwhile, we haven’t seen nor heard a single advertisement for the Republican nominee, a former small business owner and pharmaceutical executive and current state Representative whose name turns out to be Scott Schwab. After we looked that up we noticed the name on two or three lawn signs during our drives around town, but they’re vastly outnumbered by the ubiquitous “Bam!” signs that urge voters to “Google it!,” and Schwab’s been vastly out-spent and out-campaigned. Which doesn’t usually happen to Republicans around here.
Schwab won the nomination by a plurality against four other little-known contenders, and we vaguely recall that he got our vote, as he seemed the most reassuringly boring of all of the candidates. Schwab and his main contender both vowed to continue the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirements for voter registration, although they’ve been ruled unconstitutional by the federal courts, but otherwise he seems determined to make the Secretary of State’s office a boring down-ballot entity once again. After the last eight rock-’em-sock-’em years of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, it would be a welcome respite.
Kobach used the office to gain a national profile as a hard-liner against voter fraud in general and illegal immigrant voter fraud in particular. He won our vote when he first ran for office with excellent educational credentials and some common sense reforms he was proposing, and we voted for his reelection because we thought that some sort of official photo identification isn’t an onerous requirement for voting, but since then we’ve soured on him. He was appointed by President Donald Trump to head a commission to prove that Trump lost the popular vote because of three million votes illegally cast by illegal aliens, but that effort was abandoned when both Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State refused to cooperate with a federal takeover of their constitutional state rights, and even Kansas couldn’t legally comply with the commission’s requests. Then Kobach got sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for the far-more-onerous-than-a-photo-ID requirements for newly registered voters, and he represented himself in the case and not only lost but wound up paying some contempt of court fines.
Somehow Kobach won the state Republican party’s gubernatorial nomination by 300 or so votes over the reassuringly boring Gov. Jeff Colyer, who had taken the office when the very unpopular Gov. Sam Brownback made his way out of the state to become President Donald Trump’s “ambassador for religious freedom,” whatever that is. Kobach is promising to continue the Brownback tax-and-budget policies that never quite panned out as promised, and the Harvard and Yale and Oxford graduate spent the summer driving around in a red-white-and-blue painted Jeep with a replica machine gun, he’s fully embraced Trump and has been fully embraced in return, yet somehow finds himself in a too-close-to-call race against the reassuringly boring Democratic nominee state Sen. Laura Kelly. Kelly’s endorsed by all but one of the state’s living past Republican governors, two of the three of its living past Senators, half the current Republican legislature, and such lifelong Republicans as ourselves.
Which makes the Secretary of State race a hard call for us.
Based on his web site and the scant coverage from what’s left of the Kansas media this Schwab guy strikes us as a fellow boring establishment Kansas Republican white male, and he seems at least smart enough to hire some high tech savvy Google guy from Kansas to keep the state’s computers safe, which is exactly the sort of Republican we’ve routinely voted for over our many years. These days they’re damnably hard to find, though, and we feel a certain obligation to protect this endangered species.

On the other hand, that “Bam!” fellow is clearly what Trump would consider the more “high energy” candidate, and although we’re instinctively distrustful of energetic people he seems likely to devote his energy to keeping the state’s computer’s safe, and he’s apparently politically savvy enough not to facilitate any massive illegal immigrant voter fraud. He’s the sort of Democrat we’ve occasionally and reluctantly voted for, and in this midterm election there are several of them./div>

We have until tomorrow afternoon to make up our mind, so we’ll put it off until then. We’re also mulling some of the other down-ballot races. too. We always vote to retain any judges we’ve haven’t heard of, as we we figure that means they’re doing a good enough job, and we’ll be voting for the incumbent Republican state Attorney General according to the same logic.
So far as we can tell the Republicans aren’t running anyone here in our fashionable Riverside district of the House of Representatives, so we might wind up voting for the crazy lefty and old childhood buddy who represents. There’s an intriguing Sedgwick County Commission race around here, too, with an unabashedly progressive Democratic single mother and folk singer challenging the notoriously stingy and anti-establishment Republican incumbent, and the Republican incumbent’s stubborn stinginess and anti-establishment attitude has alienated a lot of local Republicans who like business as usual, and even when we drive past Riverside we notice she’s winning the yard sign war by a rout.
We’ll make up our minds about it by tomorrow afternoon, and hope for the best. Here’s hoping you’ll do you’ll some cursory research on all of your boring yet consequently down-ballot races, too, and that it also works out for the best.

— Bud Norman

Sen. John McCain, RIP

Over the past many decades we had several serious disagreements with Arizona Sen. John McCain, as did just about anyone of any political viewpoint who was paying attention to the news, but we always disagreed with all due respect to the man, as did any fair-minded and well-mannered person of any political viewpoint. McCain died on Saturday at the age of 81 after a courageous fight against brain cancer, and we worry that an age of rough and tumble yet duly respectful American politics might pass with him.
McCain always laughingly admitted that he didn’t earn much respect at the United States Naval Academy, where he was a legendarily mischievous midshipman and finished sixth-from-last in his class, but after that his military career was distinguished by strength and skill and physical courage and patriotic selflessness as extraordinary as anything in America’s horrible and glorious history of war. He’d only gone to Annapolis because his dad and granddad were both four-star Navy admirals with impressive war records, and several other ancestors had served with similar distinction, and the rebellious youth didn’t plan to make a career of the Navy, but he’d been inculcated with a sense of duty to God and family and country that required him to play some small part during his deployment. Although a deadly and unpopular was being in waged in Vietnam, McCain signed up for and then easily passed the Navy’s rigorous fighter pilot training program, and thus volunteered for combat duty in the worst of it.
He was top gun enough to return from 22 risky combat missions, including one very-near miss, but on the 23rd try he was shot down in enemy territory, where his gruesomely broken body was quickly captured by enemy troops, who immediately added several more serious injuries at they dragged him away. For the next five-and-a-half years he survived routine torture at the “Hanoi Hilton” — the most notorious prisoner-of-war camp since the Confederacy’s Andersonville prison — and made only the most meaningless concessions. At first the torture was worse than usual because the captors were aware that McCain’s father was commanding America’s Pacific Fleet, but the North Vietnamese then thought they might gain some political advantage and demoralize his fellows by offering him early release because of his family ties, and no fair-minded American of any political viewpoint can deny that McCain earned everlasting respect by signing up for a few more years of torture rather than hand the enemy a propaganda victory and his leave his men behind and betray everything he ever believed about God and family and country.
The undeniably tough old cuss somehow survived it all, and wound up limping out of a post-war Air Force plane to a brass-band-and-red-carpet hero’s welcome on a landing strip in his home state of Arizona in the good old United States of America. He finished out his Naval obligations in a series of desk jobs as he more or less recuperated from his injuries, and then he naturally went into politics. McCain’s gruesome yet undeniably all-American heroism made him a natural candidate for a House of Representative seat, but after all those years in a bamboo cage he could also articulate a persuasive case for the vigorous foreign policy and limited domestic government that was the Republican fashion of the time, and he soon demonstrated an unsurprising knack for getting by and getting things done with unpleasant but necessary compromises.
After a couple of easy House elections in oh-so-Republican Arizona, McCain succeeded the then-quintessentially conservative Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater in the Senate, and after that he both earned respect and caused serious disagreements with just about anyone of any political viewpoint. He voted with the ever-evolving Republican caucus on most fiscal matters, and was as hawkish as any of them on matters of national defense, but he also seemed to take a mischievous delight in bucking his party on certain of his party’s ever-evolving stands. Sometimes it was some long forgotten continuing budget resolution or another, on other occasions the border-state Senator with lots of Latino Republican voters was bucking the base on on the simmering matter of immigration, and our free speech sensibilities strongly disagreed with his awful McCain-Fiengold Act.
Way back in the long-forgotten headlines of the late-’80s McCain was one of the “Keating Five” Democratic and Republican Senators who were caught up in a corruption scandal involving donations from a shady savings-and-loans finagler right before the savings-and-loan meltdowns of ’89, and although he was largely exonerated by the subsequent investigations McCain repented by joining left-wing Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold in coming up with some campaign finance rules that we considered an affront to free speech. That was one reason we opted for Texas Gov. George W. Bush over McCain in the ’00 Republican primary, along with the fact that Bush had been a pretty good chief executive of a large and largely Latino state, and seemed less leery of dangerous and unpopular wars. Thus Bush made his case and we cast our vote with all due respect to McCain.
As things turned out President George W. Bush wound up signing that awful McCain-Feingold Act, and the Supreme Court eventually wound up overturning the worst of it in that Citizens United decisions the left is is still squealing about, and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, left the Republicans embroiled in a couple of unpopular wars. Bush nevertheless narrowly re-election against decorated combat veteran but defeatist Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, and McCain vigorously campaigned for the Republican. After that the Iraq War become an even less popular slog, and McCain once again bucked the party by advocating a more vigorous effort rather than a retreat. When Bush followed the advice with a so-called “surge” the American casualties fell by more than 90 percent, McCain was vindicated and wound up winning the Republican nomination for the presidency.
McCain might have had a chance if the economy had kept going as well the war, but about a month before the election the stock markets melted down as a result of some long-forgotten subprime mortgage regulations from the long-forgotten administration of President Bill Clinton, and America was plunged into a deep recession. After eight years of constant media griping about Bush any Republican faced a hard race against a such charming and charismatic Democratic nominee as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, whose African heritage promised an improbable chance at national racial redemption that even McCain’s heroic war record could not trump. By the end McCain knew he was fighting another losing war, and he accepted his faith with a sense of honor to God and family and country.
Even by 2008 the the ever-evolving base of the Republican party wasn’t fully on board with McCain’s old-fashioned Republicanism, and he steadfastly refused to go along with their partisan fever for rather than his principles. When his Republican rally-goers denounced Obama as an “Arab” and anti-American scoundrel, McCain insisted that Obama was merely a decent American family guy with some crazy liberal ideas, and we think it was at that very point when the ever-evolving base of the Republican party abandoned him. McCain was frequently critical of Obama, and as far as we’re concerned he was completely vindicated in his criticism of Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq, but at that point the base of the Republican party regarded anything less than complete vilification of Obama as insufficient.
Way back in ’12 the Republicans wound up nominating the even more old-fashioned Republican nominee Mitt Romney, whose dad had been a centrist Republican governor and one-time presidential contender, but the ever-evolving Republican base was even less enthused and Obama cruised to reelection. After another four years of Obama’s odious administration the ever-evolving base of the Republican party had decided that such fair-minded and well-mannered candidates as McCain and Romney weren’t up to the fight against those damned Democrats, no matter how heroic their war records, and they wound up choosing President Donald Trump.
Say what you want about both Bush and Obama, and their bitter political fights with McCain, the candidates of all parties paid due respect to the man they opposed. By the late summer and early fall of ’16, Trump won the Republican nomination and then the presidency despite sneering on videotape that MccCain was “only a hero because he was captured. I hate to tell ya’, but I like a guy who didn’t get captured,” and another audio recording about grabbing women by their private parts,” and mockeries of people’s looks and physical disabilities, and boldly proclaiming a new style of presidential politics. So far it’s working better politically than the more polite practices of McCain and Romney, at least for now, although we still wish either of them had beaten Obama, and we still expect it to work out badly in the end.
In all of his obituaries McCain is getting far more praise than he did back when he challenged the media darling Obama, and almost as much as he did when challenged the media pariah Bush, but the right media have been less muted, and so far Trump has only briefly “tweeted” his prayers and respect for McCain’s family, and although the flags have been lowered to half-mast there’s no official presidential statement about it. Trump had family-doctor-attested bone spurs that prevented him from serving in Vietnam, even if they didn’t prevent him from playing golf and tennis and chasing casual sexual encounters in New York City’s swankier nightclubs while McCain was being tortured inside a bamboo cage, and being such a self-proclaimed tough guy Trump can’t recant his infamous slur that McCain was “only a hero because he got caught.”
At such a sad time and such a low moment in political disourse we hate to take a swipe at Trump, but McCain made clear that he would be honored to have both Bush and Obama speak at his funeral and would not appreciate Trump’s presence at all, and we can’t say we disagree with this final request. At the end of a horrific and heroic and admittedly imperfect life, the best of which he attributed to his years of getting by and getting things done in the public service, we pay due respect to McCain and his dying nostalgia for a more rough and tumble yet duly respectful era of American politics.

— Bud Norman

A Blue Moment in a Red State

After a full week of counting and re-counting votes, the Kansas Republican party at last has a a gubernatorial nominee. The by-the-skin-of-his-teeth winner turns out to be Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and we expect he’s in for a tough general election.
Although a reliably Republican state in congressional and presidential elections, Kansas hasn’t rewarded either the Republicans or Democrats with a third consecutive term since the 1960s, when conservative Democrat Robert Docking won four straight two-year terms, and the past eight years of Republican rule haven’t gone so well. For seven of those years the governor was former Senator Sam Brownback, whose radical tax cut agenda required purges of establishment Republicans in some ugly primary fights and didn’t deliver the promised economic boom and enhanced revenues, and after he resigned to become something called Ambassador for Religious Freedom in the administration of President Donald Trump his Lieutenant Governor and accidental Gov. Jeff Colyer could do little to reverse the state’s fortunes in a year’s time, even though his fellow establishment Republicans had won a second round of ugly primary fights against the hard-liners and some common-sense fixes to the tax code were enacted.
Kobach further complicates the Republican’s problems. He only beat Colyer by a hundred votes or so, with about 60 percent of the party voted for another of the crowded field of candidates, and his audaciously far-right stands on various issues will be a hard sell to a state that’s lately reverting to its cautiously center-right character. Nationally-known for his obsessions with illegal immigration and voter fraud, Kobach won our votes in two races for Secretary of State with such common sense reforms as photo identification requirements for voting, but since his reelection many Kansans such as ourselves think he’s taken things a bit too far.
He was tabbed by Trump to head a federal commission to prove that more than three million illegal immigrant voters had robbed the president of his rightful win in the popular vote, but that went down in flames when both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state refused for both Democratic and Republican reasons to comply with the commission’s demands for their voter data, with even Kansas refusing on the basis of state law to comply with all of it. Some rather stringent voter registrations requirements that we’re not sure we could comply with were challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union, and when Kobach represented himself in the lawsuit he not only wound up on the losing side of the verdict but racked up thousands of dollars in contempt of court fines and much public ridicule in the process. Kobach has fully embraced the snarling Trump style of campaigning and credits the president’s endorsement for his victory, but more than 70 percent of Republican caucus-goers voted against that in ’16 and about 60 percent of Republican primary voters didn’t fall for it in ’18.
Longtime state legislator Laura Kelly won more than 50 percent of the Democratic party’s votes against a crowded field that included such formidable challengers as former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer and the folksy rural legislator Joshua Svaty, and we can’t imagine any Democrat in the state opting for Kobach. Democrats are only about 30 percent of the state, but that’s always a good start in any race, and our guess is that most of Kansas’ numerous independents are leaning Democratic about now, and that many of the state’s stubbornly independent Republicans are getting fed up with their party. Trump won the state’s six electoral votes by the usual Republican landslide, but he was running against the historically horrible Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and such a scandal-free and not-at-all-shrill centrist as Kelly is unlikely to inspire such widespread loathing in the Grand Old Party.
The wild card in the race is independent candidate Greg Orman, a rich businessman making his second electoral run in Kansas. Back in the state GOP’s anti-establshment fervor of ’14 longtime Sen. Pat Roberts narrowly escaped a primary challenge, so Orman ran an independent campaign to the right of Roberts, and the Democratic nominee was so lame that the party withdrew him from the ballot and hoped that Orman would at least remove a sitting Republican from the Senate, but he wound up losing by a lopsided margin and Roberts is still in office and at least resisting Trump’s stupid trade wars. This time around Orman is running on the argument that a two-party system of democracy is a rigged game that has brought the state to its knees, and that only a rich businessman can make Kansas great again, and he’s offering few specific plans.
This strikes us as a losing argument around here, but there’s no doubt some significant number of Kansans will fall for it, so it’s a question of whose voters it will attract. The answer, we dare say, is that the vast majority of Orman’s support will come from the Trump-endorsed Kobach’a column.
Kobach’s national notoriety will probably funnel plenty of out-of-state money to Kelly’s campaign coffers, too, and we expect she’ll spend that far-left money on some very centrist advertisements. We don’t expect Kansas’ nationally notorious mega-donor Charles Koch will make up much of the difference, given Koch’s libertarian views on immigration and genteel aversion to the snarling Trump style of campaigning, and the funding gap will be a problem in the expensive media markets up in those well-educated and well-off Kansas City suburbs that are typical of the places where the Republicans have been having a hard time lately.
November is a long time from now, but the days grow short when you reach September, as the old song says, and on this rainy August day we’re wishing Colyer had won. As things now stand, we might have to vote for a damn Democrat.

— Bud Norman

Kansas in the Middle, As Always

Today is primary election day here in Kansas, and there are some interesting races afoot. Even if you don’t have the good fortune to live here in the Sunflower State, there are some with national implications worth watching.
The race getting the most attention, both here and around the country, is for the Republican party’s gubernatorial nomination. It’s a crowded field, but looks to come down to serving Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, which is pretty much a proxy war between the pre-President Donald Trump Republican party and the current model.
Trump officially “tweeted” his endorsement of Kobach on Sunday, but by then it went pretty much without saying. Donald Trump Jr. had already twice campaigned in the state for Kobach, who is clearly the most Trumpish candidate in the race.
Kobach was running for office on warnings about illegal immigrants and voter fraud years before Trump took up the cause, and he was appointed by Trump to head a federal commission to more than three million illegal immigrant voters had defrauded the president of his rightful popular vote victory. The commission was disbanded when both Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State refused to cooperate with its requests, and even Kansas had to withhold some information due to state law, but Trump appreciated the effort. More recently Kobach was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union over some very strict voter registration requirements, and although his self-defense failed to win the verdict, and wound up costing him some hefty fines, he made much of the fact that he’d fought with the hated ACLU. His campaign ads featured a red-white-and-blue jeep with a machine gun, kind words about Trump, and he took to calling his opponent “Lyin’ Jeff.”
Meanwhile, Colyer is running on low taxes but not so low that the schools aren’t funded and the roads aren’t paved and the budget is balanced at the end of year, which was a winning Republican platform in this state from the “Bleeding Kansas” days right up until the election of Gov. Sam Brownback.
When Brownback was elected eight years ago the “Tea Party” movement was ascendant, and he ran on a platform of radical tax cuts and deep budgets and a promise that the state’s economy would boom. It took some nasty internecine Republican politics to purge the legislature of the “establishment Republicans” who were wary of such extreme measures, and of course all the state’s Democrats were appalled, but he eventually got it passed. The tax theory was sound, and the budget was due for some cutting, but the details included a couple of tax loopholes that largely exempted every small business in state, and the resulting budget cuts went painfully deep. When the promised outcomes didn’t occur, “establishment Republicans” started winning seats back, and by the time Brownback left to become Trump’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom he was polling in the mid-20s.
Colyer was Brownback’s Lieutenant Governor, which is how he became the serving Governor, but he doesn’t mention that in his ubiquitous advertisements. Instead the medical doctor has patients attesting to his good character, talk about restoring the state’s formerly excellent reputation for public schools, and endorsements from the pro-life and pro-business groups and former Sen. Bob Dole and the rest of the “Republican establishment.” As boring as it might sound, boring sounds pretty good to a lot of Republicans and independents around here these days, and according to the conventional Kansas wisdom he’s a slight favorite to win the nomination.
Which makes Trump’s endorsement of Kobach slightly risky for his presidential reputation, and raises doubts about how much good it will do. Although Trump won Kansas’ electoral votes by the same lopsided margin that any Republican nominee would have had against Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, he finished a distant third in the Republican caucus, and his protectionist policies are not popular with the crucial farm vote in the state, and the best most of our Republicans friends have to say about Trump is that at least he’s not Clinton, which they admit is damning by faint praise. Trump is never boring, but boring is probably the better strategy.
There’s a nice boring race on the Democratic ballot, too, with a trio of centrist candidates promising to pave the roads and fund the schools and balance the budgets without any crazy tax hikes. The frontrunner is longtime state legislator and noted policy wonk Laura Kelly, who bores all our far-left Democratic friends who hold out hope Kansas will go full-blown socialist, but after eight all-too-interesting years the Democrats have a very good chance one of winning one of their every-other-decade governorships. We agree with the conventional wisdom around here that Colyer has the best chance of staving that off, and that Trump’s endorsement won’t rouse many Republicans and won’t play well the independents and just further rile up the already riled-up Democrats to vote for whomever their party nominates.
We’ll not venture any predictions, but we’ll admit to a certain nostalgia that boring old Republican party we used to vote for all the time, and will vote accordingly. If the ancien regime isn’t revived we’re not sure what we’ll do, but none of the Democrats are nearly so scary as that awful Clinton woman, and at this point we’ll pay Trump’s endorsement little heed.

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The Borders Flare as the Center Collapses

The politics of illegal immigration has long been thorny, and a solution has eluded the past several presidents and congresses, but it suddenly seems even thornier in the age of President Donald and his Republican party’s slim and fissiparous majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.
All of the usual tricky questions about how to properly enforce current immigration laws in an effective yet humane and constitutional way, and what to do about the illegal immigrants who are already here, are still awaiting an definitive answer, and there’s still a wide chasm between the most welcoming Democrats and the most exclusionary Republicans. Trump’s longtime rhetoric and recent policies, of course, are making some sort of compromise solution all the more difficult.
Trump’s executive order to rescind President Barack Obama’s executive order for Delayed Action on Childhood Arrivals has made a pressing issue about the fate of the so-called “dreamers,” who were brought here as children and have since lived provably productive and tax-paying lives that have little troubled the American populace, which raises complicated political as well as policy and legal questions. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy has resulted in a couple thousand children separated from their parents and held in circumstances that administration can’t fully account for, and which the Trump administration has denied and blamed on Democrats and insisted is necessary to save the country from imminent invasion, and although he’s since signed an executive order to undo his policy that’s further complicated the debate. His rhetoric about “animals” “infesting” the country and warning of an “invasion” by “millions” of raping and drug-dealing types has brought a long-heated debate to a boiling point.
Trump and his spokespeople have lately taken a dizzying number of stands on these issues — we can’t resist re-telling our joke that he’s got more positions than Stormy Daniels — but he’s always consistently made it clear that he’s not at all fond of those brown-skinned people from “shit-hole countries” who keep showing up at the southern border seeking asylum. He’s spoken sympathetically of a “loving bill” for the “dreamers,” revved up his rallies with talk about the Democrats don’t think a Trump voter’s children are also dreamers, and he made a big show of reversing his family separation policy but not the the “zero tolerance” that he admits will continue to separate families. All those photos and video and audio of crying children and their unaccounted-for whereabouts might have cowed Trump into reversing the policy that 58 percent of Republicans supported, but now Trump is calling it all “phony stories” by the “open-borders” Democrats and their allies in the “fake news” media, who of course are enthralled by the murderous MS-13 street gang and want only the very worst for America.
To show that Trump is very, very strong on border enforcement, and perhaps to demonstrate that they’re not all racist about it, the Border Patrol recently caught a French woman who was visiting her mother in southern Canada and inadvertently jogged a bit out south of the American border, and was detained for two weeks.
There’s at least a kernel of truth to most of it, we must admit. A large influx of human beings from anywhere on the earth will inevitably include some highly undesirable people, and that MS-13 gang from El Salvador truly is a particularly gruesome example, and that suspiciously French 19-year-old did indeed jog into American territory. There are indeed some “open borders” Democrats out there, and we’ve read enough of Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” that we don’t need Trump to tell us how it would work out for America if they somehow got their way. A certain strictness of border enforcement will always be necessary for every country, but it remains if Trump’s will prevail as politics or policy or a legal matter.
Trump is clearly cocky that he will prevail on all three fronts, or at least the all-important political one. Even as he accused the Democrats of using the immigration issue for political advantage he told a group of Nevada Republicans that “Our issue is strong borders, no crime. Their issue is open borders, get MS-13 all over the country.” The Republicans in the House were scheduled to vote on a couple of hard-line and compromise bills, but Trump “tweeted” his advice they “stop wasting their time” and await his predicted “red wave” that would give the Republicans’ true one-party rule. He also “tweeted” that America was no longer obligated to fulfill its duly passed and signed treaty obligations regarding asylum-seekers or comply with the legal precedents that had followed, which is a bit more hard-line than even our rock-ribbed but tender-hearted and constitutionally conservative Republican selves can go along with.
The damned Democrats have all that undeniably heart-breaking photography and video and audio from the southern border, where the Trump administration is having a hard time getting its story straight on what’s happening there, although we’re assured it’s tougher but more tender than anybody has ever seen, so it might take more than a kernel of truth for Trump and his Republican loyalists to triumph. We begrudgingly acknowledge that most Democrats don’t believe in “open borders,” and that includes President Barack Obama, who made a priority of deporting MS-13 gang members and other felonious illegal immigrants rather than breaking up the families of possibly legal asylum-seekers, and even that horrible Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. They’re all far more lax about these matters than even our pre-Trump Republican selves, but for the moment they seem closer to the political center than all thousands at the on-going campaign rallies still chanting “Build that wall!”
By now even the faithful at the rallies don’t expect that Mexico will pay for the wall, and Trump is expecting the Democrats to pay it for as ransom for all the “dreamers” and the kids he got placed God knows where. Which further complicates matters. Pretty much no one but Trump and the faithful at the rallies believe the solution to the thorny illegal immigration problem is a “big, beautiful” and translucent and solar-generating wall across the entirety of the Mexican border, and all the Republican congressional districts along the proposed route think it’s a horrible idea and are threatening all sorts of eminent domain court challenges, and despite the chants at the rallies we don’t think Trump should be cocky about it.
Even at the Nevada rally Trump shared the stage with a far more moderate-on-immigration incumbent who’s facing a tough reelection race, and in Nevada as most of the country the Democrats are nominating candidates who aren’t “open borders” but advocate a more legal and humane means of border enforcement. Trump’s bet that he’ll get an end to some stupid immigration as well as his equally stupid border after a “red wave” might prove as disastrous as his bet on the Atlantic City Trump Taj Mahal.
Nor do we expect that good policy will somehow result. The border must be enforced, international treaty obligations and constitutional law and basic human decency must be respected, and at this point in this long and drawn-out game that seems a long shot.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Triumphant Retreat

President Donald Trump prides himself on never admitting a mistake or backing off a stand, but on Wednesday he signed an executive order to end his own policy of separating children from parents detained as illegal immigrants. His Homeland Security secretary had previously said the policy didn’t exist, which was a lie, and Trump had also said it did exist but that he hated it and it was forced on him by a “Democrat law,” which was also a lie, and Trump and his die-hard defenders had also said the policy was unfortunately but necessarily strong, which might have been arguably true but is less persuasive in the wake of Trump’s executive order to end the policy.
We ran into one of Trump’s die-hard at the Vagabond dive bar over in Delano Wednesday night, and he was still defending the family-separation policy and was sorely disappointed that Trump had uncharacteristically caved to overwhelming public opinion, but we think our friend lost the ensuing conversation and his side was clearly losing the broader public debate. In every news medium but Fox News the coverage was full of cute and crying girls being ripped from their mothers’ arms, and and the administration’s media response was contradictory lies and endlessly-repeated footage Trump’s one-time campaign manager — not the one who’s currently in jail, but the one who manhandled a woman reporter at rally — responding to an account of a 10-year-girl with Down’s Syndrome being torn from her mother’s arms by sarcastically whining “Whaaah Whaah.” Needless to say, the administration was losing the news-cycle, bigly.
The opinion polls showed two-thirds of the country opposed to the policy, prominent and previously loyal congressional Republicans also disapproved, and Republican and Democratic governors withdrew their National Guard units from border enforcement, and a couple of major airlines apologized for flying some seized youngsters off to such far-flung locales as New York City and promised to never do so again. Every living First Lady went on record against the policy, including the one currently more or less married to Trump, along with First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and such a ratings-conscious president as Trump realized that no matter how contrary it was to his lifelong instincts he had to back off a stand.
Not that Trump admitted a mistake, of course. During a signing ceremony he still blamed the Democrats for a President George W. Bush-era law that he dishonestly says requires family separations as a matter of routine policy and couldn’t be undone by executive order, even as he boasted that he’s the first president since Dwight Eisenhower with the “political courage” to end the inhumane policy that he had been first to enact with an executive. He also reassured his die-hard defenders that he was still “very strong” on border enforcements, unlike the “open borders” Democrats who apparently enjoy Latino gang murders, even if he wasn’t willing to endure the sob-sister photographs and videotapes and audio tapes of cute brown-skinned toddlers crying for their mommas.
The news cycle probably doesn’t end here, though, despite Trump’s best efforts. The executive order Trump signed doesn’t address the two-thousand or so children who have already been separated from their parents and are currently alarmingly unaccounted for, and their fates will surely fuel some heartbreaking and all-too-real stories from the “fake news” for enough months to reach the mid-term elections next fall. Trump is still sticking the the administration’s announced “zero-tolerance policy” to prosecute every allegedly illegal border crossing, albeit with the parents and children confined in nearby cages, or “partitions with chain-mail walls” as a Fox News host put it, and there’s going to be newsworthy court cases going all the way to the Supreme Court about that. In the meantime federal law only allows the detention of foreign minors for 20 days, and although Trump recently lied to the National Federation of Independent Businesses that there are “thousands of immigration judges” there are in fact only 335, and due process requires complicated and time-consuming deliberations, so in 20 days or so the badly planned family separation policy will be dominating yet another a news cycle, barring any bigger developments in the trade wars or the “Russia thing.”
At this point, we’re mostly hoping those ninos will somehow be someday reunited somewhere with their madres and padres, and hold out fainter hope that America can still somehow enforce its borders in accordance with international law and basic human decency.

— Bud Norman