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What Seven Years of Hope and Change Have Wrought

After seven years and a month or so of Hope and Change the country is in such a foul mood that it’s threatening to elect either a bumbling socialist revolutionary or a bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star, but President Barack Obama is still keeping his chin up. Returning Wednesday to the city where he launched his first presidential campaign, back in those halcyon days when a hopeful nation first cast its eyes on his heroically-upturned chin and all the young hipsters were chanting his name, Obama spoke with his usual telepromptered eloquence about the current state of politics as if he were once again levitating above that messy fray.
Although he claimed with a straight face that “I still believe in a politics of hope,” Obama nonetheless rued the nastiness of the contests between his would-be successors. With a bipartisan ambiguity, and no names mentioned, he intoned that “We’ve got to build a better politics. One that’s less of a spectacle and more of a business.” Then he launched into some talk about campaign financing and voting restrictions and gerrymandering, meaning that he wants government-regulated speech and rampant voter fraud and differently gerrymandered districts, and of course some laments about petty bickering. He added that “In America, politicians should not pick their voters, voters should pick their politicians,” which might have been an allusion to those fishy Iowa Democratic caucus results and all those “super delegates” that have padded Hillary Clinton’s advantage despite her lack of popularity so far with Democratic voters, but probably not. His talk of “spectacle” might have been an oblique reference to Donald J. Trump, the aforementioned bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star and current Republican-frontrunner, and probably was.
Still, Obama was ambiguous enough to levitate above that messy fray, and the fawning account of the speech in Time Magazine was happy to sustain the illusion. The reporters wrote of the fresh-faced young candidate of that long-ago campaign and contrasted it with his “graying hair and a face wrinkled by the stress of the job,” as if they can be sure it isn’t a result of too many after-dark parties and sun-drenched golf rounds, and how he is “again hoping to rally Americans around in believing that the country’s politics can must be better.” The New York Times’ putative token conservative columnist had already beaten them to that telegraphed punch with a fawning love song about Obama’s scandal-free dignity, and we expect to hear a lot more of that from all sorts of media and historians and documentarians over the coming months and years, but of course it’s all bosh.
All that talk of Hope-and-Change was always interspersed with talk of if-they-bring-a-knife-we-bring-a-gun and get-in-their-faces and punish-your-enemies and and speaks rudely of corporate jet-flying billions and typical white people their gun-and-Bible-clinging ways and everything else in Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” playbook, not to mention passing the likes of Obamacare without a single Republican vote, and all that punishment the Internal Revenue Service inflicted on the president’s enemies, and the subsidies lavished on his campaign bundlers’ phony-baloney and soon-to-be-bankrupt “green energy” scams, and all those executive actions he took to get around the Congress that the voters voted for, so the inevitable results are the garish spectacles now on display in both parties.
We can well understand why the president might resent hearing all the hipsters chant the name of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a bumbling old socialist who’s somehow so hip and up to date he doesn’t feel the need to pretend he’s not a socialist, as the suddenly stodgy and wrinkled Obama still does, especially when it’s a cranky old geezer with no hip-hop cred who freely admits the economy that Obama brags about is actually awful, but we wonder what he might have expected. His own election was celebrated by the doomed Newsweek with a headline bragging “We’re all socialists now,” his best explanation for why he wasn’t a socialist was that even such a right-wing conservative as that all-purpose scapegoat President George W. Bush had brought about that Medicare prescription drug plan and all sorts of other socialistic sorts of things, no one in his party can any longer explain the difference between a Democrat and a socialist, he’s a proud product of an academic establishment that’s been carefully laying the ground work for a socialist revolution the past 50 years or so, and the economy is indeed lousy enough for a more frank socialist to call it the long-awaited Crisis of Capitalism.
The only candidate that’s proudly promising another four years of Obama is his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is also a former First Lady and Senator and a longtime fixture of the Democratic party’s lucrative crony capitalist yet vaguely socialistic establishment, and the fact that she’s been bloodied by a bumbling and even older old socialist such as Sanders doesn’t say much for him. There’s that ongoing scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation over a unsecured e-mail system that he sent correspondence through, all the Wall Street money that both of them took, and the Dodd-Frank regulations that enriched their contributors even as they’re both trying to claim it as a great victory for the anti-Wall Street crowd, and the lies they both told about the deadly attacks on an American consulate in Libya, which Democrats don’t care much about but still feed into a general cynicism about the establishment, so another four years of Obama is now a hard sell even to Democrats. Obama could still let that FBI investigation run its rightful course and then install some candidate more to his liking with the help of all those “super-delegates” that are currently padding Clinton’s numbers, but he’s now assured he thinks the voters should choose their politicians.
There’s plenty of “spectacle” on the Republican side, too, and we also blame Obama for that. After seven years and a month or so of Hope of Change and a socialism that dare not speak its name, an effective plurality of Republican voters have settled on a bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star who always brings a gun to a knife fight, gets in people’s faces, punishes his enemies, tells his vanquished opponents to sit in the back, is a billionaire with the biggest corporate jet this side of Air Force One with his name emblazoned in capital letters, and is a gambling mogul and proud adulterer who boasts of the politicians he’s bought off and claims to speak for typical gun-and-Bible-clinging white folk. He’s switched parties more often than he’s traded in his wives, and would apparently prefer something more socialistic than the Obamacare law that was passed without any Republican votes, but by gum, at least he fights, and after seven years of Hope and Change that’s good enough for a plurality of Republican voters. Trump is a reality TV star, too, and after seven years of Hope and Change and presidential appearances on the late night comedy shows there’s something comfortingly familiar about that.
Still, Obama and his scribes at Time and The New York Times and all those historians and documentarians will probably be able to cast a flattering light on his wizened visage and fondly recall all the telepromptered eloquence about bipartisan compromise and political civility and moderation, and with any luck the next big terrorist attack and the inevitable economic catastrophe won’t happen until the bumbling old socialist or her corrupt and incompetent rival or that bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star or some more right-wing cowboy are installed in office. From this point on, he levitates above the messy fray he’s created.

— Bud Norman

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Palace Intrigue in the Age of E-Mails

The stock market is swooning, new revelations about awful side deals to that awful Iranian nuke deal that would allow the Iranians to choose their own inspectors make it look it all look even more awful, the illegal immigration debate continues to simmer, and other significant news is plentiful, but nothing seemed of particular interest and yesterday was a birthday, so we decided to simply engage in some idle speculation about this e-mail controversy that has been so entertainingly disruptive to Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations.
We love a good tale of palace intrigue, even if we’ve never watched an episode of “Game of Thrones,” which we understand has the added enticement of copious nudity, so the e-mail imbroglio offers a peculiar fascination. By now we’re familiar enough with the conventions of the genre to know that there’s always some unseen character pulling all the strings, and in this particular episodic series of putatively reality television we have anticipated that it will turn out to be President Barack Obama. Thus far his name has been almost entirely left out of the press plot line, but being the binge-watchers we are anticipating his eventual appearance.
The understandably disgruntled conservative press seems resigned to the sad realization that Clinton will never face any legal consequences for her use of a private and dubiously secured e-mail server for public use, and following the president’s Justice Department’s lack of interest in the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative non-profit groups and the Inspectors Generals’ reports on the pork in the stimulus bill and the murder of an ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi and the Fast and Furious scandal that resulted in all those dead Mexicans and all of the rest of the current administration’s record on such things we can’t scoff at their skepticism, but we still see that surprise plot twist coming.
The headlines are already mentioning the FBI and DOJ and vague mention of criminal charges, even if they are attributed to Clinton’s e-mail server and not herself, and the plot seems to have moved too far along to any longer believe that those unseen characters are intervening in Clinton’s behalf. Obama doesn’t seem to like Clinton any better than he did back in that famous moment of the ’08 primary when he sneered “You’re likable enough,” so we’re guessing that he’d prefer someone else to provide him with the third that he’s publicly bragged he would surely win. This introduces the character of Vice President Joe Biden, who is purely comic relief, but who also wins the Black Lives and Black Lives Only Matter vote by virtue of Obama’s implicit endorsement and is suddenly a front-runner over Clinton, whose support among non-black Democrats has lately gone on a white flight to self-described Scandinavian socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Obama could well end up with his chosen successor. It might not end up with Clinton wearing the sort of orange jumpsuit that we’ve been binge-watching on Netflix’ “Orange is the New Black,” but judging by the latest polls and a Democratic panic that has led to the utterance of such names as Gore and Kerry and Warren, it’s enough to suggest that that someone in the executive branch has taken a newfound interest in the possible legal violations of a formerly high-ranking executive official.
There are reports of the Obamas and Clintons recently sharing drinks and convivial conservation at Martha’s Vineyard, and then there’s the matter of whether he would throw the first four years of his administration’s foreign policy under the bus, but we’ve seen all of the “Godfather” flicks and know that the smart players keep their friends close and their enemies closer, and we’ve read enough mainstream news to note that Obama gets away with all sorts of these shell games. He’s not up for reelection, anyway, and he knows that given the current state of academic historians he knows he’ll be treated well by history at least until his death at an old age, so he might as well go with someone less embittered toward him and some that he was less embittered toward, such as the comic relief character of  buffoonish but ever-faithful sidekick Vice President Joe Biden, and to us this seems the most plausible plot line at this point.
We’ve been wrong about these shows before, but but we’re expectant that another Clinton versus feud is a-brewin’. The ratings should be strong, almost as good as that compellingly repellent Donald Trump show over on the Republican side, and at the very least is should prove a fascinating show.

— Bud Norman

On Indifference and Outrage

Those high-brow fellows over at Commentary magazine recently published a fine essay on the art world’s self-inflected irrelevance, and we recommend it to all our culture vulture readers who still take an interest in such things. We’ve already fulminated a few times on these pages about pretty much the same unhappy point, though, and what most struck us was an opening anecdote that nicely illustrates an even bigger problem with what people are now indifferent to and what still offends them.
The author, who seems such a reasonable thinker that we are pleasantly surprised to note he is somehow the Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art at Williams College, recalls showing one of his classes the grainy black-and-white film documentation of a 1971 performance art piece by the late Chris Burden, which involved having a friend shoot him in the arm with .22-calibre rifle at close range. We can still recall how the alleged artwork provoked a wide range of reactions even at such a late date in modernity as 1971, but the 21st Century students who watched were mostly interested in the legal ramifications and tried hard to it put into the context that savvy art students now understand their professors expect, but were otherwise indifferent. The professor seems somewhat surprised at such a dispassionate reaction to the spectacle of a man being shot in the arm at close range by .22-calibre rifle, but we are not. As the professor notes in the rest of his essay, even by the time Burns got around to it this sort of shock-the-squares stuff had already been going in the art world since approximately the end of World War I, and that Burns had to top it by having himself famously crucified atop a Volkswagen Beetle, and that subsequent attempts at giving offense have required ever more over-the-top outrages, so by now indifference to such efforts is both the sophisticated and sensible reaction.
What strikes us as odd, and went unmentioned by the professor, is that these same 21st Century students are the ones who require “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” and protection from “micro-aggressions” and outright censorship of Ovid or Mark Twain or The Bible or that vaguely Republican commencement speaker or any other vestige of pre-World War I Western Civilization that might call into question the comforting consensus of academic opinion. Such strangely differing standards of what should be met with indifference and what should be met with offense are by no means confined to the academy, or to those corners of the world only culture vultures still take an interest in, but also define the broader public’s approach to politics.
Thus The New York Times is outraged by the four traffic tickets that Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio has received over the past 20 years, but seemingly indifferent to the four brave Americans who were killed in an American consulate in Libya that failed to receive requested security from Democratic presidential contender and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her ill-fated war against Libya. Thus the civil rights establishment is aroused to hash-tagging “black lives matter” and rioting in the streets when a black man is killed by police in even the most justifiable circumstances, yet indifferent to the vastly greater number of black men killed by other black men, and further indifferent when that horrible number inevitably increases after the hash-tagging and rioting inevitably hamper law enforcement efforts in poor black neighborhoods. Thus it is that polite opinion holds the insane profligacy of the Greek government is not only to be tolerated but forever to be subsidized, while a corporation that prefers not to pay its minimum wage employees any more than they produce is considered outrageously greedy. Thus it is that the mass executions of homosexuals in the Islamic world is met with sincere attempts to understand context and generally with indifference, while some Baptist confectioner’s reluctance to bake a gay wedding cake is met with widespread outrage.
A couple of years after Burden’s performance art piece provoked widespread outrage the public was so shocked by executive lawlessness that President Richard Nixon was forced to resign, with the second article of impeachment being that he had dared raise the possibility of using the Internal Revenue Service to harass his political opponents, but these days the president flouts immigration law with powers that even he had previously stated he does not constitutionally possess, and the stories about how the IRS actually did harass his political enemies and then engage in a Nixonian but up-to-date cover-up continue to trickle out, yet it is met with indifference. Perhaps it’s the same process of the public becoming inured to indifference by endless repetition, but that can’t explain why there’s still plenty of outrage left for far less inconsequential matters.
We continue to read about those high-brow culture vulture issues even in this age of art’s irrelevance, and to follow all those silly academic quarrels going on within the “safe spaces” from “micro-aggressions,” even as we recognize that by now they are of far less importance than the first four dead Americans from a failed foreign policy and the overlooked black lives that are taken while the police are under indictment and the eventual global consequences of the profligacy of the Greeks and just about everyone and the horrible fate of homosexuals in the Islamic world and the injustice being done to traditionalist confectioners in the name of homosexual rights, because we think they also matter. A society that can no longer recognize the difference between art and some nihilistic nutcase inviting a friend to shoot him in the arm, or prefers the comforting consensus of contemporary academic opinion to the challenging truths of of Ovid and Mark Twain and The Bible and that vaguely Republican commencement speaker or any of the rest of pre-World War I western civilization, is unlikely to choose wisely about what should be met with indifference and what should be met with outrage.

— Bud Norman

Battering Rams in Wisconsin

This is America, where a citizen is free to express opinions and participate in politics without fear of retribution. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, but the ideal seems to be slipping away. The diminution of fresh speech is not just a matter of the increasingly confined parameters of polite opinion, enforced by boycotts and restricted career opportunities and the howling of mobs, or even the usual heavy hand of government, such as the harassment of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service or the politicized prosecutions by the Department of Justice or the extra regulatory scrutiny applied to those businesses donating to the wrong candidates. It has now come to the point that armed agents of the government have been invading homes, seizing property, and bullying ordinary citizens into silence for no reason other than their political beliefs.
If this sounds like the most far-fetched sort of paranoid right-wing fantasy, we’d urge you to read David French’s chilling article, headlined “Wisconsin’s Shame: ‘I Thought it Was a Home Invasion,'” at The National Review. Although there had already been scattered reports about the outrageous “John Doe Investigation” that a renegade prosecutor and a rubber-stamping judge had launched against various groups that supported Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to reform the state’s collective bargaining laws regarding public sector unions, a fishing expedition which was eventually halted by a higher court that rightly considered it a clear attempt to intimidate the prosecutor’s political opponents into silence, only now are those targeted in the investigation coming forward with stories about doors being broken down with battering rams, computers being confiscated, children being terrified, neighbors being scandalized, and dozens of heavily armed police officers shouting warnings that no lawyers were to be contacted and no was to be told. The descriptions evoke Nazi-era Germany or the Soviet bloc, but it happened in Wisconsin, the birthplace of the “progressive movement.”
One can hope that it was a rare occurrence, now ended by the prevailing cooler heads of a higher court according to constitutional design, but one can only hope. There’s no way to be sure that other similarly terrified citizens are still staying silent as warned, and that an indifferent press is happy to leave it to the likes of a high-brow and relatively little-read right-wing publication such as The National Review to report on such inconsequential news if they ever come forward. Given the gleeful ostracizing of anyone who dissents from the consensus of progressive opinion regarding same-sex marriage or global warming, the hateful lies of the lynch mobs that are roused by racial hustlers and Rolling Stone fabulists and the “community outreach teams” of the Justice Department, the presidential rhetoric that warns any critics their dissent “needs to stop,” the increasingly apparent realization that no one at the Internal Revenue Service or the Justice Department or any of those regulatory agencies will ever suffer any consequences for their misdeeds, the indifference of the press, and the sheer seething hatred toward anything conservative we hear from all the liberal media and all the liberals we know, a hatred that seems to have overwhelmed whatever love they once had for freedom and the rule of law, we are no longer surprised to hear even the stories that evoke Nazi Germany and the Soviet bloc.
Please pass along that chilling story about what happened in Wisconsin, because we expect that most of the mass media will regard it as local and of little consequence and not nearly so important as anything slightly embarrassing they might come up with about Gov. Scott Walker. At the risk of a battering ram at the door, we’ll say it’s a matter of the greatest consequence. This is America, after all, where a citizen should be free to express an opinion and participate in the political process without fear of retribution.

— Bud Norman

The Wising-Up of a Country

In such strange times as these we were heartened to read that 61 percent of America of thinks the president is a liar. Ordinarily we would find this a worrisome development, but in these extraordinary circumstances we consider it good news that the suckers are wising up.
The poll was conducted on behalf of the Fox News network, so feel free to dismiss it as just another fabrication by the vast right-wing conspiracy. There’s lately been a conspicuous lack of polling that indicates widespread trust in the president’s honesty, however, and we’re inclined to think the 61 percent figure sounds suspiciously low. Only a plurality of 37 percent of the poll’s respondents believe the president lies “most of the time,” with another 24 percent who will only go so far as to say he lies “some of the time,” and we’re left wondering what the rest could possibly be thinking.
Just off the top of our head we can recall the president assuring Americans that they if they liked their health care plans that they could keep them under Obamacare, that the average American family would save $2,500 a year on his premiums, and that all Americans would be covered. We remember a campaign promise that his health care reforms would not include an individual mandate, along with promises that no one making less than $250,000 a year would see any sort of tax increase, that the irresponsible and un-patriotic deficits of the Bush administration would be halved with four years, and that after too many years of drone strikes and interventions America’s international standing would be restored by smart diplomacy. There was that whopper on the late night comedy show about the murderous attacks on America’s consulate in Benghazi being a spontaneous reaction to some obscure YouTube video, and the whole bit about al Qaeda being on the run, the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative groups being the work of a few rogue agents in Cincinnati, and talk of the “most transparent administration ever,” and if we were inclined to spend the next several days on Google we’re sure we could come up a long list of other things that can be described as blatant lies.
Die-hard apologists for the administration could probably come up with numerous examples of the president being more or less honest, and if you count all his idle chit-chat about the weather and sleeping time they might even make a case that his lies don’t fill “most of the time,” but it’s hard to fathom how anyone could think they don’t take up at last “some of the time.” Another 20 percent allowed only that the president lies “now and then,” which seems overly generous, and 15 percent insist the president “never” lies, which seems downright worshipful and ridiculous. It’s been a couple of millennia since there was anyone on Earth who never lied, and the president clearly is not the second coming of that fellow.
The same poll shows the president’s approval rating at 42 percent with only 51 percent disapproving, so apparently there is a large number of Americans who believe he is a liar but don’t mind. We’ve even met a few earnest liberals who have offered apparently sincere explanations that the lies were told in the service of some greater good, such as foisting a health care reform law on the country that doesn’t keep any of its promises but screws things up badly enough to make an even worse single-payer system possible, and they clearly believe they are justified in telling further lies. They are acting out of deeply-felt affection for the average working American, as they explain it, and apparently the poor fellows are just stupid to handle the truth.
The latest poll shows that 39 percent of Americans haven’t yet figured out that the president lies somewhere been “most” and “some” of the time, so maybe those earnest liberals are on to something.

— Bud Norman

The Rising Price of Dissent

A friend of ours is an outspoken proponent of same-sex marriage, even though he is quite heterosexual and otherwise seems to have no enthusiasm for the institution of marriage, and he was recently exulting about how his side seems to be winning. He pulled his little telecommunications machine out of his pocket and showed us a commercial produced by the Honey Maid corporation, which told of show they had taken all the negative letters mailed to them about another recent commercial showing a same-sex couple and turned them into some sort of conceptual artwork, and he seemed pleased that the power of corporate America and Madison Avenue had at long last been turned the final holdouts of hateful bigots still opposed to same se-sex marriage. We mentioned that the highly-regarded chief executive officer of a large internet company had recently been forced to resign because of his past donation to an anti-same-sex marriage campaign in a California referendum, and our friend noted rather defensively that the fellow had after been given a chance to recant his previous position.
Although we have grown weary of the whole same-sex marriage controversy, the conversation was unsettling. We found the Honey Maid advertisement about the same-sex coupling offputtingly smug and self-satisfied, and its theme of “This Is Wholesome” particularly preachy, but it didn’t bother us because we doubted it would persuade anyone to purchase the company’s products or reconsider their political viewpoints. The part about allowing the embattled internet executive to recant his views was rather chilling, though, as it evoked the image of bespectacled, violin-playing intellectuals confessing their political thought crimes to before the cadres of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. We couldn’t help wondering if re-education camps might be looming. Whatever misgivings we might have about same-sex marriage as a result of our our Burkean cultural instincts and Judeo=Christian religious upbringing we have almost reached the point where we’re eager to see all our homosexual friends rendered as domesticated as the rest of us, but this broader business of punishing any heterodoxy against the liberal pieties is becoming intolerable.
It’s not just same-sex marriage but a much broader ranger of issues that will bring down the wrath of the newly fledged establishment on anyone who dares utter a dissenting word or write an offending campaign contribution check. Despite the indifference of much of the press the Internal Revenue Service has harassed conservative non-profit groups, a matter the president has dismissed as a “phony scandal” even as the IRS honcho at the center of it all is very genuinely invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Anyone skeptical of the the most alarmist warnings about anthropogenic global warming is scorned by polite opinion as a “denier” or member of the “Flat Earth Society,” which hardly hurts our feelings, but when such a formidable writer and wit as Mark Steyn finds himself in an expensive court case over some well deserved ridicule of a thoroughly debunked “climate scientist” it is is a daunting reminder of how very far the alarmists will go to quash debate. Our favorite local billionaire has lately been denounced on the floor of the United States Senate by the majority of that once-august body as “un-American” for promoting his pro-capitalist views, and the poor fellow and his brother are publicly protested even when they throw a hundred million or so to a new hospital wing. In academia conservative speakers are routinely met with brown shirt tactics by censorious mobs, and conservative scholars are frequently denied tenure. Conservative politicians are subject to special scrutiny not only by the increasingly inconsequential media but also by the evermore powerful prosecutors.
We are constitutionally inoculated against the blandishments of Madison Avenue and have always enjoyed a voluntary relationship with corporate America, and we’re confident that our friend will draw the line at guillotines and a full-blown reign of terror, but the bare-knuckles nature of the progressive movement and its corporate and political allies will likely prove more troublesome. Anyone who’s endured “sensitivity training” in a corporate job knows that the prospect of re-education camps isn’t so far-fetched, and any of the increasing number of dissenters who have been subjected to the scrutiny of the IRS or any of a countless number of other acronym agencies, or have been hauled into a court to account for the opinions, knows that something sinister is afoot. Once upon a dark time in America punishing people with economic and legal consequences for the political opinions was known as “McCarthyism,” but ow we’l have to find some more polite term for it.

— Bud Norman

Just Because You’re Paranoid …

All the conspiracy theorists are busy trying to figure out what the heck happened to that missing Malaysian airliner, but there are some less mysterious plots afoot that also deserve attention.
The crazed suspicions of paranoid right-wing nutcases everywhere that highly-placed officials at the Internal Revenue Service were out to get them, for instance, have now been convincingly confirmed. A 141-page report from the House Committee on Oversight and Government contains ample evidence that Lois Lerner, formerly the woman in charge of the IRS division concerned with non-profit organizations, wanted special scrutiny given to any non-profit organizations espousing a conservative point of view. In e-mails obtained by the committee Lerner criticized the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and the need to “fix the problem,” personally directed that groups thought to be affiliated with the “tea party” movement be subjected to “multi-tier view,” discussed the “need to be cautious so it isn’t a per se political project,” and later signed a statement blaming the extra scrutiny on the organizations applying for tax-exempt status. The report further notes “public pressure from President Obama and other Democrats,” cites credible testimony that the White House’s explanation that any problems were caused by a few low-level employees in Cincinnati was a lie, and provides plenty of other evidence to vindicate the right wing’s paranoia.
“The majority has no interest in the facts,” responded Lerner’s attorney, adding that “the facts interfere with keeping the conspiracy theory alive through the election cycle.” Because he has advised his client to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination we won’t hear her version of the facts, alas, so the words quoted from her e-mails should indeed keep the conspiracy alive through the next election cycle and one can only hope the one beyond that. President Obama and other Democrats continue to dismiss it all as a “phony scandal,” though, and judging by the scant attention being given the report by the media obsessed with that missing Malaysian airliner it is possible that the Republicans will have to rely on continued public dissatisfaction with Obamacare and the lousy economy as a campaign strategy.
The Democrats are hoping that the numerous conspiracies of the nefarious Koch brothers and their annoying habit of promoting capitalism will provide a distraction from such problems, but it remains to be seen if anyone outside the already hepped-up progressive circles will care more about how a couple of billionaire siblings spend their money than about being forced into more expensive health care plans while struggling to get by in eternally sluggish times. Should the public get into a sufficient huff about billionaires the Democrats will have to hope that no one notices the ones funding more politically causes such as Democratic candidates, but this is not a far-fetched hope. Those who do care about the Kochs are quite passionate, at least, to the point that some high-minded progressives even protested by the opening of a new hospital wing in New York City that was paid for by David Koch. Such philanthropy seems neither nefarious nor conspiratorial to us, and even strikes us as laudable, but we are neither high-minded nor progressive. According to the oversight committee’s purloined e-mails Lerner was also concerned about the influence of the Koch brothers, and her willingness to use her position to deny their First Amendment rights does strike us as nefarious and conspiratorial, but we are paranoid right-wing nutcases.
Paranoia is so prevalent these days that even such a high-minded progressive as Sen. Dianne Feinstein is charging that the Central Intelligence Agency has been spying on her computers and intimidating witnesses from testifying about enhanced interrogation techniques. The agency has denied the allegations, which would suffice for the media if a Republican made the charges, but the indignation of such a powerful Democrat as Feinstein will likely prompt more thorough coverage. Should the facts prove embarrassing to the administration the coverage will likely diminish, and if another story supplants it on the front page the conspiracy theorists will certainly wonder why.
Perhaps another airliner will mysteriously go missing, and it will turn out that the Koch brothers had it diverted to the company headquarters here in Wichita to be fitted with improperly tax-exempt eaves-dropping technologies to find out why the CIA would want to eavesdrop on someone so boring as Sen. Feinstein. Absent that, we’ll be made as hell about Obamacare and the sluggish economy and that supposedly phony scandal at the IRS.

— Bud Norman

Enemies Foreign and Domestic

The Obama administration has offered an “open hand” to the mad mullahs running Iran, a friendly “re-set” of relations with the kleptocracy in charge in Russia, and F-16s to the Muslim Brotherhood, but warned those pesky Republicans that “If they bring a knife to a fight, we bring a gun.”
We can’t recall the last occasion when any Republican brought a knife to a political dispute, or even any rhetorical sharpness, but such an unaccountable inconsistency is a peculiar characteristic of the modern progressive movement. In the properly progressive view of things any foreign foe is merely a insufficiently placated friend, no matter how theocratic or kleptocratic or female-genital-mutilating it might be, while anyone who espouses certain ideas about balanced budgets or individual liberty or the advisability of letting Kathleen Sebelius micro-manage America’s health care system is to be regarded as a dangerous lunatic and treated accordingly. This is a common refrain of our liberal friends and fellow bar patrons, who will wax poetic about the sincere religious convictions and ancient cultural authenticity of the fellow who is swinging a scimitar around his head and shrieking “Allahu Akbar” but worry that the lawn-mowing Baptist down the street is plotting a fascist conspiracy, and for the past five years or so it has been a consistent policy of the government.
Lately the administration has been talking tougher to America’s geo-political foes, but only because it has become necessary given the failure of all that open-handedness and re-setting friendliness to sufficiently placate them into friendship, and we don’t expect that our foes are any more impressed by the bluster than we are. Secretary of State John Kerry just assured the Israeli-American Public Affairs Council that “We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb, period,” but even the Iranians are well aware that his boss used the same emphatic “period” to assure Americans that if they liked their health plan they could keep their health plan, and that it turned out to be as reliable as his declaration of a “red line” against Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Similarly tough talk has been deployed against Russia after its annexation of a large chunk of Ukraine, which has re-re-set relations with that old adversary to Cold War days, but it’s all about standing with the international community and imposing sanctions and ignoring the reality that the relevant members of the international community won’t go along with sanctions because they’re more reliant on Russian natural gas than on America’s gaseous promises. There’s no longer any talk of supplying the Muslim Brotherhood with advanced military aviation, Allah be praised, but only because a military coup has conveniently removed them from power in Egypt.
However weak the Obama administration might seem in foreign affairs, however, any domestic opponents should remained warned that it is far more ruthless in domestic matters. There are no rhetorical open hands or offers of a re-set to the Republicans, who are routinely derided for wanting dirty air and water an the worst possible outcomes for the poor, and of waging a war on women that stops just short of clitoridectomies but will go so far as to withhold subsidies for contraception. Although the administration eschews any of Nicolo Machiavelli’s pragmatic prescriptions for foreign affairs it eagerly embraces Saul Allinsky’s even more ruthless “Rule For Radicals” when dealing with domestic matters, and anyone who makes a sizeable donation to a Republican candidate or reports a story unfavorable to the administration is likely to soon hear from the Internal Revenue Service o the Department of Justice or some suitably scary regulatory agency.
The IRS operative who has invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid nosy questions about her agency’s harassment of Ocala’s political opponents is being called back to a congressional hearing this week, and although we’ll be interested to hear to what she will or won’t say we expect it will be largely overlooked by a media suddenly interested in events abroad. This seems a shame, as her testimony or lack thereof will likely shed light on how very imposing the administration can be when it puts its mind to it. When Obama unleashes the IRS on Vladimir Putin or the Iranians or any of the other increasingly troubles regimes abroad it will suggest that he’s at last ready to rumble.

— Bud Norman

The Highest Form of McCarthyism

Being of a certain age, we can remember a time when liberalism prided itself on tolerance, dissent, and above all a tolerance of dissent. One needn’t be all that old to recall this bygone era, as it came to an abrupt end only six years or so ago.
The change was immediately and conspicuously noticeable, with all the “Question Authority” stickers adorning the bumpers of the shiny new hybrid cars and rusty fume-spewing VW microbuses replaced seemingly overnight with those dawn-of-a-new-age Obama logos. At the long-anticipated demise of the Bush administration dissent was no longer the highest form of patriotism, much less Pulitzer Prize-bait or a requirement for academic tenure, and questioning authority was suddenly regarded as a sign of dangerous anti-government extremism. The results still resonate in the headlines over stories datelined from New York to Hollywood and all points in between, and it’s becoming all too familiar.
After years of being subjected to self-congratulatory movies about the dark days of McCarthyism when Stalinist screenwriters and fashionably leftist actors were blacklisted for their boldly against-the-grain political opinions, we were naturally struck by two recent tales of Tinseltown. One concerned the comely actress Maria Conchita-Alonso being dumped from yet another performance of “The Vagina Monologues” because she had appeared an a campaign commercial for a candidate associated with the “Tea Party,” and the other was about the Internal Revenue Service’s heightened scrutiny of a group of conservative-leaning actors and other show-biz professionals. We can’t say we’ll miss Conchita-Alonso performance in “The Vagina Monologues,” as we’ve never been fans of ventriloquism, and we assume that club of Hollywood conservatives is quite small compared to other groups that have caught the attention of the IRS, but the irony of their fates is galling nonetheless. As a woman of both Cuban and Venezuelan ancestry Conchita-Alonso knows better than the most the rationale for the limited-government objectives of the Tea Party movement, those openly conservatives actors are far more defiantly non-conformist than anyone who was hauled before the House Un-American Activities ever were, and the lack of protest from their left-leaning peers is pure hypocrisy.
While on the subject of the movies, we also heard that the fellow who made a widely-distributed anti-Obama documentary has now been charged by the feds with making an illegal campaign contribution, something that never seemed to happen to the far more numerous documentarians who flooded the Oscar nomination ballots with celluloid anti-Bush screeds. We’ve already expressed our disappointment that the governor of New York has dis-invited us from visiting his fair state because our political views don’t align with his, but we we have since been further saddened to read that newly-inaugurated Sandanistan mayor of New York City has reiterated that we’re especially unwanted there. At least we’re not black, which would make our views even more slander-worthy to the head of North Carolina’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. If misfortune confined us to a wheelchair we would even expect to be mocked for it because of our political, as Texas gubernatorial candidate George Abbott was by the supporters of the eminently respectable but not-quite-accurate Democratic contender Wendy Davis. Throw in the recent fit that the homosexual lobby threw over some Louisiana redneck reality-show star’s crudely stated preference for vaginas over male anuses, and a pattern becomes clear.
Such liberal intolerance isn’t a recent phenomenon, of course, but it has become more brazen since liberalism seized power. We now encounter it routinely in our social encounters, even here in the Republican outpost of Kansas, and are still struck by the cocksureness of its conviction that whatever was said in the past some sorts of dissent simply should not be tolerated. It strikes us as a sort of narcissism, grounded in the belief that anyone who resists their noble efforts to create a paradise on earth must surely be an awful person deserving oppression, but it should be curable. Get another of those nasty Republicans back in the White House, or even the Senate Majority Leader’s chair, and questioning authority will be back on the bumpers and dissent will once again be the highest form of patriotism.

— Bud Norman

Bridging the Scandal Gap

So many scandals are currently afoot it has become hard to keep up. The big one seems to be the manufactured traffic jam that occurred a while back in New Jersey, judging by the media coverage, but we hope the public will find some time for the others.
The New Jersey traffic jam is a big deal, of course. We’re frustrated enough with the relatively light traffic here in Wichita that we can readily sympathize with the poor New Jerseyite souls who had to endure hours of inching across a single lane of the George Washington Bridge in order to get to their jobs in New York City, and we can’t blame them for being outraged that e-mail and text messages seem to have proved it was caused an aide to the New Jersey governor who was highly placed enough to order the lane closings as retribution for a mayor’s refusal to endorse the governor’s re-election campaign. This is not only an outrageous abuse of power that inconvenienced many thousands of innocent people, it predictably endangered the lives of people needing emergency medical treatment, violated the law and every standard of democratic behavior, and has rightly provoked severe criticism of the governor.
Even so, the attention being paid to matter seems inordinate to some of the other scandals. The good folks at newsbusters.org, for instance, have found that in just the past 24 hours the three traditional over-the-air networks have spent more airtime on the traffic jam than they have spent in the past six months on the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of the president’s political opponents. Dedicated news-followers might vaguely recall the IRS scandal, which involved a president rather than a governor, a political movement comprised of millions of Americans rather than the hapless commuters of a New Jersey city, and a systematic attempt to stifle the free speech rights of a significant portion of the country rather than a ridiculously petty vendetta against a mayor. The governor in question has fired the people responsible for the scandal and forthrightly accepted responsibility for hiring them, whereas nobody has suffered any consequences for the IRS misconduct and the president ultimately responsible the agency continues to dismiss it as a “phony scandal.”
Forgive our right-wing cynicism, but we can’t help suspecting that the difference in the media coverage has something to do with the governor being a Republican and the president a Democrat.
That the Republican is widely considered a contender for his party’s presidential nomination probably has something to do with it as well. From our prairie perspective it has always been hard to envision Gov. Chris Christie as the Republican nominee, given his intolerance of gun rights, tolerance of radical Islamism, post-hurricane embrace of Obama, and various other northeastern heresies against the one true Republican faith, but the east coast media take the idea quite seriously. Christie initially appalled the east coast media and impressed heartland conservatives by confronting the public sector unions and cutting his state’s budget, although his efforts paled in comparison to what our Kansas governor has gleefully done in this right-to-work state, but has since charmed the reporters to approximately the same extent he has alienated his fellow Republicans in the rest of the country. Some polls show him as his party’s best chance of beating Hillary Clinton, however, so the media are bound to seize the opportunity of an actual scandal to bring him down. Just as Sen. John McCain learned back in ’08, being the Democratic media’s favorite Republican doesn’t mean you’re not a Republican.
That the Democrat implicated in the IRS scandal is Barack Obama also makes a difference. Affiliation with a racialist religious cult, the Fast and Furious gun-running operation, politically-motivated subsidies for the soon-to-be-bankrupt Solyndra scam, the deaths of four Americans at the unprotected consulate in Benghazi, and countless other scandals that would have dominated the front pages even during a typical Democratic administration, have all been happily downplayed by the media, lest the historic presidency of the media’s anointed messiah be tarnished. After a brief surge of publicity that lasted about as long as the fiction that it was all the work of a few low-level government workers in Cleveland, the IRS scandal has received little coverage. Even the announcement that the investigator officially appointed to get to the bottom of it all is an Obama contributor, a scandal within a scandal has been largely overlooked in all rush to the George Washington Bridge.
There are plenty of other scandals, too, from the Justice Department’s demand that schools discipline students in accordance with racial quotas to the administration’s appointment of a cop-killer’s advocate to a key a civil rights post. Most of them don’t involve a Republican, though, much less a Republican that is perceived as a threat to Hillary Clinton’s historic continuation of the current administration, so there won’t be much airtime or news hole to paid heed.

— Bud Norman