Hope and Change and Motor Homes

Oh, how well we still remember that heady late spring of ’08, when all of our liberal friends were somehow entranced by the media-amplified celebrity of a youthful and fashionably swarthy young Senator who was standing in front of faux-Greek columns promising hope and change and a fundamental transformation and a lowering of the sea levels. A mere eight years or so later the grayer and more pallid President Barack Obama was in Elkhart, Indiana, “The Recreational Vehicle Capital of the World,” bragging to the locals about the modest comeback of the motor home industry during his administration, and clearly annoyed that he’s already been eclipsed from the spotlight and is now in danger of being replaced by the media-amplified celebrity of an aging and orange-skinned reality show star who’s promising to make America great again and somehow has most of our conservative friends warily going along with it.
The speech was little noted and will soon be long forgotten, to borrow a line from a better day of political oratory, but we think it worth some brief ridicule. Obama attempted to defend his economic record, refute the arguments of his would-be Republican successor, and imply some further annoyance that his would-be Democratic successors aren’t exactly running on his record, and we found it embarrassingly unconvincing in every attempt.
We concede the unemployment rate and the stock market indices and other usually reliable economic indicators are better than when Obama took office at the tail end of a steep recession, and that there’s always an argument to be made that we could have done worse, yet we remain quite unimpressed. We’re a bit older than the president, and started paying attention to these things long before he did, and by now we’ve been through enough recessions to have noticed that whatever’s left of the free market system always pulls out of those slumps no matter what cockamamie solutions the government of the moment might provide. We judge just how harmful those policies are by how quick and broad and persistent the ensuing recovery is, and how much debt was racked up to keep it going, and by those standards the Obama record has been abysmal. The decline in the unemployment rate is largely explained by the unusually high number of potential workers who have dropped out of the labor force, the stock markets are high mainly because capital has nowhere else to go in a time of zero and even negative interest rates, and whatever good news you find in the rest of those leading economic indicators is probably a result of all that fracking and the resulting lower energy costs that the heady campaign of ’08 promised to prevent, and of course we also have all those trillions of debt that will eventually have to be dealt with.
This is also the first time in American history that a two-term president didn’t preside over a full year of at least 3 percent of national economic growth, but he can claim that it has averaged around 2 percent, which inarguably could be worse, and is a full percentage point within 3 percent, and his still-loyal and his mostly economically illiterate and innumerate supporters won’t notice that it’s actually a full 50 percent off the previous historic low benchmark. All in in all Obama needs a better case than that rebound in the motor home market, which was probably already doomed to low-growth no matter how much fracking occurs with the demise of road-loving bohunk seniors who used to show up at the annual local Polkatennial across town at the Cotillion Ballroom on their tours of the polka festivals, and he didn’t seem to have it.
His refutation of the would-be Republican successor’s policies was even more unconvincing, as he seems to have been paying no attention to what his orange-skinned fellow reality star has been saying. Without mentioning the presumptive Republican nominee by name, which we appreciated, the President ascribed to him all sorts of stereotypical Republican positions. He noted that “economic anxiety” had caused an “unusual election year,” which is truthful enough, and argued that “provocative ‘Tweets'” are not enough to support a candidate, which would be truthful enough coming from anyone but Obama, but he went on to add that the Republican would “lower wages, eliminate worker protections, cut investments in things like education, weaken the safety net, kick people off health insurance, and let China write the rules for the global economy.” He further ridiculed the notion that the many billions of dollars of regulatory compliance costs have somehow hampered the economy, and fondly recalled all those Nixon-era regulations that have kept us from doom. The president must have had such old-fashioned and cruel-hearted Republicans as ourselves in mind, because the party’s current presumptive presidential nominee is open to giving a yuuge raise even to the most inept minimum wage workers, promises no changes whatsoever to those debt-driving entitlement programs, likes the single payer system of Canada and the outright nationalized British style of health care and promises “we’ll take care of everybody,” seems intent on a disastrous trade war with China, and promises that he’ll regulate the entire economy right for a change.
No wonder the president seemed to annoyed that neither of his would-be Democratic successors aren’t enthusiastically running on his record. One is a self-described socialist who talks down the Obama economy more derisively than the Republican, and we don’t doubt that Obama would be annoyed to be succeeded by the first president who was at least blunt enough to be a self-described socialist, and the other is a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State who was so awful in every capacity that she makes the presumptive Republican nominee look respectable. It’s not the hope and change and fundamental transformation that was promised back in those heady days of ’08, and the sea levels continue their centuries-old rise, but here we all are in the “Recreational Vehicle Capital of the World.”

— Bud Norman

A Rainbow Jumper in Indiana Hoops

Our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers won’t be playing in the “Final Four” of the college basketball championship tournament this weekend, having lost to a tough Notre Dame squad in the “sweet sixteen,” but at least they won’t be accused of homophobia for playing in Indianapolis. The entire state of Indiana is being boycotted by the more fashionable sorts of people because of its recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics allege will unleash a torrent of anti-homosexual hatred in the Hoosier State, and a team that’s already so politically incorrect it plays its home games in Charles Koch Arena and has a fan base comprised largely of blue-collar types who make corporate jets and a mascot that’s hardly gluten-free doesn’t need that kind of trouble.
The impeccably up-to-date cities of Seattle and San Francisco have announced boycotts of Indiana, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has signed an executive order barring state employees from visiting any state with a similar law, and a “hashtag” campaign is currently recruiting more boycotters. The chief executive officer of the Apple computer company has written an op-ed for the Washington Post denouncing Indiana, and of course all the celebrities are “tweeting” about it. Even the National Collegiate Athletic Association that is hosting the tournament in Indianapolis has issued a statement affirming that it is “deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our athletes” and “will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill.”
Our guess is that any homosexual hoops fans who are well-heeled and lucky enough to have scored “Final Four” tickets will find Indianapolis a most hospitable host, despite the recent restoration of religious freedom there, and that any homosexual “student-athlete” competing in the tournament should hire a good agent to look over all the book and movie deals that will surely be coming his way. The federal government has had a Religious Freedom Restoration Act since the Clinton days, 19 other states have followed suit, each have simply reaffirmed legal principles that have prevailed for decades, and until recently the idea wasn’t at all controversial, yet the social trend has been toward ever greater tolerance for homosexuality. The trend has proved so inexorable that by now the cultural left no longer demands mere tolerance but is intolerant of any dissent on questions of sexual morality and intends to impose its own views through force of law.
Restoring religious freedom was all well and good when it meant that Native Americans could use peyote or the Amish could ride buggies or Muslims could wear beards, or some similarly sympathetic group demanded some similarly unusual right, but the idea that a plain old Christian businessman might be able to decline baking cakes or creating floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding ceremony, as Indiana’s new law allows, is just too weird for fashionable opinion to put up with. Seattle and San Francisco might be among the most racially segregated and economically stratified cities in the country, but at least they’re willing to force a Baptist baker to violate his conscience. Connecticut has its own religious freedom laws, which makes its governor looks rather ridiculous, but at least the University of Connecticut’s defending national champions didn’t qualify for the NCAA’s tournament and he’s not forced to bar its  state-paid coach from going to to the “Final Four.” The Apple company’s corporate conscience might allow it it do business with Saudi Arabia, where homosexuals are routinely punished with lashes and execution, or China, where all manner of human rights violations occur, but at least it has bad things to say about Indiana. The cultural left will soon move on to another “hashtag” campaign urging closer ties to Cuba, where homosexuals are routinely harassed, and continue its apologetics for the brutally harsh treatment of homosexuals almost everywhere in the Muslim world, but it won’t put up with any white bread businessman’s qualms about same-sex marriage in Indiana.
Next season we expect the ‘Shockers will play their obligatory Missouri Valley Conference games in Evansville and Terre Haute, and we won’t be the least embarrassed to have them playing in the state that not only produced Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael but also Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird. We root for the ‘Shockers because they’re the plucky underdogs going up against the rich and powerful, and if there’s a baker or florist in Indiana that would rather not work on a same-sex marriage ceremony regardless of what the Apple corporation or those “tweeting” celebrities think we’ll be rooting for him for the same reason. The same-sex couple that wanted to buy a cake or some flowers used to be the plucky underdogs, but we seem to have moved beyond that.

— Bud Norman

Hooray for Partisanship

Dick Lugar isn’t the worst Senator in Washington, D.C., not by any means, but an institution that fancies itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body” should be able to do better. The Republican voters in Indiana apparently came to the same conclusion, as they ousted the longtime incumbent in Tuesday’s primary in favor of a fellow named Richard Mourdock.

The result has already provoked much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the leftward end of the pundit class, who fret that the result heralds the end of bi-partisanship, moderation, and reasonableness. Lugar’s 77 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union was high enough for the Republicans to elect him six times, but low enough to win plaudits from the press and the purveyors of respectable opinion, and his opponent was endorsed by those crazed Tea Party types and the National Rifle Association, so the rather lopsided result is widely considered as an affront to polite society. The president even issued a statement lamenting Lugar’s “retirement,” a fitting tribute given that Mourdock often taunted Lugar as “Obama’s favorite Republican.”

Those same people who are lamenting Lugar’s loss to a Republican would have cheered his loss to a Democrat, of course, and we suspect their concern for bi-partisanship is similarly partisan. They define bi-partisanship as Republican willingness to go along with liberal ideas, so it’s quite natural that the more rock-ribbed Republicans of Indiana would eventually grow weary of Lugar for the very reasons he was respected by the left.

What are the great accomplishments of bi-partisanship, anyway? Most of the major legislation passed in recent years with a significant number of votes from both parties has been horrible. During the George W. Bush years it brought us the No Child Left Behind Act, an unholy alliance between Bush and Ted Kennedy that is now reviled by both right and left, as well as the prescription drug benefits, which annoyed the budget hawks while failing to sate the left’s appetite for more control of the health system, and the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which didn’t stave off a recession or cause anyone to reconsider Bush’s reputation as a right-wing extremist. During the first two years of his administration Obama and his huge Democratic majorities in Congress pushed through a stimulus package with little Republican support and an Obamacare overhaul with no Republican votes at all, which means that if only a few Democrats had decided to be bi-partisan those travesties could have prevented, but that’s not the kind of bi-partisanship that Lugar’s eulogists are talking about.

Mourdock could wind up losing the seat to Democratic nominee Joe Donnely, of course, which would leave the Indiana Republicans looking back fondly on the 77-percent-conservative Lugar. There’s reason to believe that he will win, though, given the victory by staunchly conservative Indiana Sen. Dan Coats in the 2010 election that threw out the Democratic majority in the House and the Democratic super-majority in the Senate, and that would be an improvement.

— Bud Norman