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Too Much News on an Otherwise Nice Summer Day

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are supposed to be a slow news cycle, but in the age of President Donald Trump the stories keep coming fast and furiously. Wednesday had more big headlines than could fit on the front page of a full-sized newspaper, and none of them were helpful to Trump.
On the day after the Republicans’ seven-year effort to repeal and replace Obamacare had widely been declared dead, Trump was still applying electroshocks to the patient’s chest. After two Republican senators had joined two others in opposing the repeal-and-replacement bill, leaving it two votes short of passage, and three senators killed a backup plan to simply repeal, Trump had “tweeted” that he’d just let Obamacare fail and leave so many Americans in dire straits that the Democrats would coming begging for a fix. He seemed sure the public wouldn’t blame him for the consequences of letting the health care system fail, but just to be sure by Wednesday he was back to urging some immediate repeal and replacement.
The urging was rather heavy-handed, too. Trump didn’t mention the names of Kansas’ Sen. Jerry Moran and Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee, who had simultaneously announced their bill-killing opposition, but he did say “The other night, when I heard a couple of my friends — my friends — they really were and are. They might not be very much longer, but that’s okay.” He was seated next to Nevada’s Sen. Sean Heller, who has not announced his opposition to the bill but has expressed criticisms of it, and said in a sort-of-but-not-really joking way that  Heller would eventually come on board because “Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” The performance demonstrated Trump’s continued commitment to repeal and replace, which will probably satisfy his base of support, but it might not accomplish anything else.
A president with a 38 percent approval rating warning that a vote against a bill with a 12 percent approval rating will have dire political consequences isn’t likely to scare any politicians who won their jobs with solid majorities. Moran isn’t up for reelection until two years after Trump is, he’s savvy enough to know that there are going to be a lot of headlines between now and then, and Heller is probably more worried about what Nevadans think than he is about Trump. Trump’s got enough of a following in the Republican party to create primary problems for any Republicans who don’t fall in line, but even if that succeeded those challengers would be less likely to prevail in a general election than the more-popular-than-Trump incumbents.
Meanwhile, all the stories about Trump and Russia kept coming on Wednesday. The president’s son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman are all being asked to testify in congressional hearings, where there will be a lot to talk about, and some of the Republicans running the committees won’t be cowed from asking some very tough questions that need answering. Trump has assured us via “twitter” that the previously undisclosed second meeting he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit was nothing to worry about, and we’ll have to take his word for as only he and Putin and a Kremlin translator were present, but he’s nonetheless dogged by questions about why it undisclosed and why there were no other Americans present to vouch for the assurances.
Wednesday also brought the news that the Trump administration has ended a covert program to arm and train Syrian rebels opposed to the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad, a staunch Putin ally, but that might be a coincidence and barely fit on the front page.
In the midst of all this, Trump sat down for an interview with The New York Times, of all people, and of course wound up generating another page of headlines. The biggest one was his angry rant about Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from anything to do with the justice departments investigations regarding Trump and Russia, saying “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.'”
By now Sessions is also probably regretting he didn’t forewarn Trump during the job interview that in a few months he was going to give inaccurate testimony to a congressional committee about his own meetings with the Russian government, and would feel ethically obliged to recuse himself from any Russia-related investigations as a result, but it still doesn’t make Trump look good. If Sessions does another honorable thing and resigns, and Trump replaces him with someone free and willing to end any nosiness about Russia, that probably won’t put an end to the headlines.
It was also reported on Wednesday that Arizona’s Sen. John McCain has been diagnosed with advanced brain cancer, and that the prognosis is not good. McCain is a significant historical figure, the news is a human tragedy, and he and all the rest of you will be in our prayers.

— Bud Norman

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Health Care Reform in Surgery Recovery

Arizona Sen. John McCain is currently recovering from surgery, and for as long as that takes so is his Republican party’s attempts to reform America’s health care system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has once again delayed a vote on a Senate health care proposal, not because McCain is a former party presidential nominee or exceedingly senior congressional member or otherwise an especially respected member of the party, but rather because at this point not a single a Republican vote can be spared. This point arrives after seven years of every establishment Republican and every anti-establishment Republican vowing repeal and replacement of the hated Obamacare law, with a solid Republican majority in the House and a sufficient one in the Senate and some sort of Republican in the White House, so the Republican effort to make good on that constantly made promise seems conspicuously sickly.
The prognosis for McCain’s recovery is reportedly good, and we certainly wish him our very best and offer our prayers, but the chances for that long-awaited Republican repeal and replace effort seem more iffy. Health care is complicated, as that putatively Republican president discovered shortly after he took office, and the politics of the issue are more complicated yet, so it’s foolish to make any bold promises such as the all of the Republicans have been making. The party’s congressional majorities might yet pass something, and that some sort of Republican president will surely sign it, but at this point there’s no guessing how that might turn out well.
That hated Obamacare law is indeed hateful, full of all the restrictions on individual liberty and increased costs for the middle class that the Republicans predicted, utterly lacking in the promises the Democrats made about keeping your doctor and your plan and pocketing a big chunk of change at the end of year, and the Republicans won three state congressional election and one-of-two presidential elections on the issue. The law never polled well, even when Obama was winning re-election, so replacing the damned thing should have been an easy enough task for a Republican congress and Republican president to do. Replacing it, though, has proved tricky even for the co-author of “The Art of the Deal.”
Some of Obamacare’s most unworkable provisions have always polled well, such as that guaranteed coverage of pre-existing conditions, and at least a few million photogenic and sympathetic folks have derived advantages from it, and it also expanded Medicaid coverage to a few more million folks in states that voted in Republican governors and senators and representatives. Obamacare still doesn’t poll particularly well, but both the House and Senate versions of repealing and replacing it are faring far worse, and at this point in this age of cynical pragmatism we can’t hardly blame any Republicans up for re-election in a year and a few month’s time.
Those poor politicians’ political calculations are further complicated by the complex nature of Republican politics at this point. One of the unsure Republican votes is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who voted against Obamacare when it happened and is about as right-wing a Republican as you could hope for in a such a liberal state as Maine but is nonetheless reviled by the all the right-wing radio talkers in the red states and is voting against the Senate bill because it’s too austere. Another wavering vote is Sen. Ran Paul from McConnell’s own state of Kentucky, whose standing with the right-wing radio talkers is hard to assess at the moment, because the thinks the bill too spend-thrifty. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is holding out for an amendment that would allow young and healthy consumers the choice of low-cost and low-coverage plans for catastrophic care, which warms our traditional Republican hearts, but the Republican president called him “Lyin’ Ted” all the right-wing talk radio hosts aren’t sure what to make of the Cruz amendment.
Almost everyone on talk radio and the rest of the party still seems on board with that putatively Republican president, who ran on promises of coverage for everybody and the government paying for it and no cuts to Medicaid and lower costs somehow resulting, and he now tells his televangelist interviewer that he’s waiting in the Oval Office with his pen to sign anything the Republicans might put on his desk. He’s not given any speeches or even any “tweets” about why the Republican plan is so great it’ll make your head spin, but if the Republicans in congress do give him something to sign he’ll gladly take credit for it. If they don’t, he’ll be able blame it on those gutless and devious moderate and conservative establishment types of Republicans that he that he vowed to destroy, and we’re sure all those talk show hosts will heartily agree.
There’s a Republican case to be made for those widely unpopular House and Senate bills the Republicans came up, and for the compromise that should have been reached with complete Republican control of the government, and they might yet make it. Such Republicans as that putatively Republican president keep talking about how shrewd McConnell is at getting things done, and we note that he held a Supreme Court seat open long enough for the putatively Republican president to take credit for getting a conservative confirmed, but the Republican president ran on the argument that he or any other professional politician couldn’t get anything done, and that only a real estate developer could do the job.
If the Republicans don’t get the job done there will be plenty of blame to spread around, and we’re sure they’ll all do their best to spread it elsewhere. If something does get passed and sign, they’ll probably all claim credit, then start deflecting the blame somewhere down the electoral road.

— Bud Norman

Another Jacksonian Age, For Better or Worse

President Andrew Jackson is back in the news again, despite being dead the past 172 years, this time around because of President Donald Trump. Jackson’s portrait has been given a prominent place in Trump’s Oval Office, Trump took the opportunity of a trip to Nashville this week to lay a wreath at Jackson’s home, and the current president frequently makes a point of comparing himself to his rough-hewn and populist predecessor.
The last time Jackson was in the news was when he was demoted from his place on the $20 bill in favor of the anti-slavery and civil rights heroine Harriet Tubman. Originally the idea was to demote former Revolutionary War hero and first Treasury Secretary and all around Founding Father Alexander Hamilton from his spot on the ten-spot, probably because Jackson was the founding father of the Democratic Party and Hamilton had views that sounded suspiciously like what the later Republican Party would espouse, but Hamilton’s reputation was somehow rescued by a big hip-hop Broadway musical that noted his illegitimate birth and immigrant status and his life-long impeccable anti-slavery credentials and a vision of an urbanized America where a meritocratic elite was allowed to flourish, and all that budget-balancing small government stuff and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism that Hamilton espoused was forgotten. Around the same time even the Democrats were admitting that Jackson was an enthusiastic slave-holder who had waged avowedly genocidal wars against various Indian tribes and forced a mass relocation of other tribes that left at least 4,000 Cherokees dead along the infamous Trail of Tears, and that his crackpot economic theories which so closely resemble the most Democratic Party’s didn’t exactly work out for him, and thus Jackson wound up with the currency demotion.
All of which makes Jackson an odd choice for a modern Republican president to tout as his favorite, but then again Trump is an odd sort of modern Republican president. and one can easily see the reasons for his Jacksonian affinity. Jackson was an undeniably colorful character, and even Trump’s most strident critics will acknowledge that he is as well, and he ran as a pugnacious and proudly crude outsider who would defend his fellow common men from the nefarious machinations of a nebulous elite, which is pretty much the same storyline that Trump is peddling, and he was so beloved by the poorly educated of his time that his picture wound up on money, which is probably what Trump is aiming for.
There was other comparisons, too. Jackson was the first president who had not been born to the colonial aristocracy that had fomented the War of Independence and crafted the Constitution and tended the already-globalized economy, just as the self-proclaimed billionaire Trump proudly wears a chip on his shoulder that he had to make big campaign contributions to get the Clintons to come to his third wedding and is still hated by the older-money smart set. Jackson followed the mixed-results administration of John Quincy Adams, the son of a previous president who had been educated at the best schools and spoke several languages been involved in high-level diplomacy from a young and whose intellectual credentials were impressive by any standards, and had won the presidency with what Jackson called a “corrupt bargain,” just as Trump defeated a previous president’s son in the primaries and then succeeded President Barack Obama, who pretended to have Adams’ intellectual credentials and whose legitimacy Trump had challenged with a similarly fact-free conspiracy theory. Both men were mean old score-settling scorched-earth types, too, which in both cases endeared them to their many ardent admirers.
Such eerie similarities do little to comfort our old-fashioned Republican souls, though, and we can’t imagine they will make any self-respecting Democrat any more favorably inclined to either Trump or their own party’s founder. It might not matter much to Trump’s most ardent fans, but Jackson’s unapologetic-to-the-end pro-slavery stand and all that entirely unnecessary slaughter of peaceable and culturally integrated American Indians still rankles our Lincolnian sensibilities, and we’re sure that by now most Democrats would even agree, and anyone who bothers to read up on it will find that Jackson’s populist economics didn’t work out. The friend of the common man’s distrust of financial elites was such that he provoked the Panic of 1837, the nation’s worst financial crisis until the Great Depression, and Jackson’s dealings with the central banks of his time is eerily similar to the confrontation that’s brewing between Trump and the Federal Reserve Board, and although Trump is closer to self-described socialist and thorough Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders on the issue we suppose that this time around the Republicans will take all the blame.
At least Jackson fought, as his admirers said, just as Trump’s admirers say, but the comparison isn’t friendly to Trump. Jackson literally fought, first as a pre-teen soldier in the Continental Army, when he was captured by British troops and took a permanent facial scar by defying his captors’ orders, later in numerous battles with his state militia in the Creek campaign, most famously as the commander of the pirates and escaped slaves and swamp Indian and backwoods brawlers who won the Battle of New Orleans, followed by numerous pistol duels and sword fights and slaps across the cheek over matters of honor, and in his lattermost years he was known to strike out at any insult with the cane he was forced to use. Say what you want about his outdated racial sensibilities or cockamamie economic ideas, “Old Hickory” was undeniably a badass even by the most up-to-date hip-hop standards.
Trump, on the other hand, insists on being taken seriously but not literally, and that’s how he fights. He dismissed such heroic American prisoners of war as Jackson and Sen. John McCain by saying “I prefer a guy who didn’t get caught,” but a series of educational deferments and some bone spurs a family doctor attested to kept Trump out of the Vietnam War, and except for that time he body-slammed Vince Mcmahon and shaved his head in one of World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Wrestlemania” extravaganzas his fighting has been limited to lawsuits and press conference taunts and insulting “tweets.” Despite those momentarily pesky bone spurs Trump was apparently an above-average high school athlete, and apparently remains a competitive golfer with the help of a notoriously enterprising caddy, but we doubt he’d be dissing the looks of a political opponent’s wife so freely if that sort of thing were still being settled by pistol or sword duel.
Our man Hamilton died in such a duel, at the hand of the famously self-interested demagogue Aaron Burr, and we guess that makes him a loser in Trump’s book. In the history books and the latest Broadway shows Hamilton still looms large, though, and we’d like to think that his sound notions about small government and balanced budgets and letting the meritocracy rise and not unnecessarily slaughtering the darker folks will persist. We’re glad Hamilton will at least continue to smile at from our ten dollar bills, and wryly enjoy his current status as a hip-hop star, and although we don’t like this Taliban-like tendency of the modern left to blast away at the relics of history at least it’s a gun-toting and Bible-believing Republican and badass-in-her-own-right black woman such as Harriet Tubman who’s forcing Jackson into the corner of twenty. For now Jackson’s ghost can enjoy his moment back in the presidential sun, but the comparisons won’t do his reputation any good over the long run.

— Bud Norman

All Lives Matter, Some More Than Others

While what’s left of the old media were paying such rapt attention to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s latest cries for attention, we were more intrigued by the spectacle of a far less-publicized Democratic presidential candidate apologizing for saying that all lives matter.
Trump’s latest publicity stunt is just a spat of playground taunts with equally attention-seeking Arizona Sen. John McCain, a playground taunter in his own right for whom the best we can say is that he would have made a better President than Barack Obama, which is damning with faint praise, and that he served his country with uncommon courage and valor during the Vietnam War, which is saying something, but the relatively sissified Trump’s taunts concerned that very same distinguished military record, and it did indeed make the Republican party look rather ridiculous to have Trump suddenly leading its pack of contenders and McCain among its past two nominees, so we can well understand the old media’s avid interest. Even so, we had futilely hoped that some attention would be paid to a Democratic contender being booed off a liberal stage for making the seemingly reasonable claim that all lives, even white lives, matter.
This actually happened to somebody named Martin O’Malley, who is apparently a former mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland and is apparently challenging former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and all that Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, during a public interview at the “Netroots Nation” convention. “Netroots” is one of those political neologisms, a portmanteau denoting the internet presence of the very roots of Democratic Party craziness, with the nation part borrowing from the sports lexicon of “Boston Red Sox Nation” and “University of Kansas Jayhawk Nation” and the rest of that pretentious silliness, so of course the “Netroots Nation’s” annual convention has thus became an important ritual of the Democratic Party’s nominating process. Long-shot challengers O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders both seized the opportunity to demonstrate their heartfelt Democratic craziness, but despite his best efforts to pander to the crowd O’Malley was shortly shouted down by a large portion of the crowd chanting “Black lives matter.” This is by now a familiar slogan of the political movement that has been peacefully and violently protesting against the use of deadly force by police in a number of American cities the past year and a half or so, and the tactic of shouting down conversation about other issues has also become familiar to the patrons of restaurants that have some reason reason or another been subjected to the same treatment. By most accounts the restaurant clientele usually respond with polite inattention, but both the interviewer, of whom we might as well come right and say seems as an ostentatiously effeminate fellow, and O’Malley feel obliged to cede the stage to their hecklers. They might have been moved to their protest by O’Malley’s record as mayor, which empowered police and reduced black homicide rates, or his record as governor, which continued such as a tough-on-crime approach, but they don’t seem to mention that, and instead continue to chant out names and slogans and their latest hash-tags conspiracy theories, as well as projecting a hip-shaking self-righteousness as they stood on stage. After much indulgence the exquisitely effeminate moderator insists that O’Malley be given a chance to at last respond, and after some “I know, I know” and to his hecklers and some talk of the civilian review boards he established and the death penalty he abolished O’Malley sputters the now infamous words that “every life matters, and that is why this issue is so important, back lives matter, white lives matter all lives matter.” We have no use for this O’Malley fellow, whose tenure as mayor of Baltimore was marked by the same social and economic policies that made the city un-policeable no matter how tough they came down, and whose tenure as governor was such that even Maryland elected a Republican to succeed him, and whose main qualifications seem to be that he’s a relatively handsome fellow who is photogenic in beach shots, but we can’t imagine why he should be greeted with boos only for his rather bland opinion that all lives, even white lives, matter. The fact that he was seems at least noteworthy as the latest Trump antics.
There’s a journalistic case to be made that Trump is hot and O’Malley is not, given that Trump has a small plurality is a field crowded with numerous more qualified likely candidates and that O’Malley is polling single-digits in most states and far behind not only front-runner Hillary Clinton but also self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been hogging what little attention is paid to the Democratic contest and has little to worry about on the race issues because he’s spent his entire life in the second-whitest state in the union. All the hubbub about the noticeable but ultimately insignificant slice of the Republican poll respondents who are for the moment supporting Trump and his tantrums is therefore a preferable topic for the old media, but they would do well to note that the “netroots” of the leftward segment of the body politic that used to pay attention to the old media are now joining in booing the previously uncontroversial notion that all lives matter, and that such Trump-worthy nonsense is by now an unquestioned dogma of the Democratic Party, and entrenched enough to force O’Malley to apologize on the “This Week in Blackness” radio program for his heresy.
Black lives do matter, of course, and any time one is taken by police force the matter should be thoroughly investigated and conclude wherever the facts of the matter ultimately lead, and so far as we can tell none one of the Republican candidates, including the repugnant Trump, would disagree, but the “black lives matter” movement believes that only those black lives taken by police force matter, no matter how necessary and justifiable even an Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department could deny, and that the far greater number of black lives taken by other blacks as a result of inadequate law and order matter not at all, even when those numbers climb as a result of the intended police retreat, and of course there’s also something unsettling about the obvious implication that only black lives matter. One of the women who commandeered the stage took care to mention both black and brown lives, but that still leaves a numbers of hues that apparently don’t matter. The Democratic Party’s candidate will pick a few votes from among them, whoever he or she might be, but we’re starting to become hopeful that the Republicans might actually a cobble an electoral majority from the rest of them, the best efforts of Donald Trump and John McCain notwithstanding. We’re also hopeful that the winning candidate will affirm that all lives do indeed matter, and offer no apologies for saying so.

— Bud Norman

And the Living Is Easy

There is no news on Memorial Day, a strict rule of journalism that most newsmakers gladly obey, and in any case all sensible people ignore whatever does happen out there in the rest of in world. The stock markets are closed, the bureaucrats are barbecuing in their well-tended backyards instead of issuing new regulations or scary statistics, the right-wing ranters on talk radio are running repeats, the editorial pages are devoted to solemn sermonizing about the fallen heroes of long ago, and the troubles of the present are momentarily forgotten.
We spent much of the day listening to old Chuck Berry records, an appropriately apolitical way of rockin’ and rollin’ into the summer, but could not resist some stubborn instinct to glance at the headlines. At the Drudge Report the big story was about Sen. John McCain, who can not resist a stubborn instinct to make headlines even on Memorial Day, traveling to meet with the unsavory Islamist rebels fighting the equally unsavory Assad regime in Syria. The reports were a depressing reminder of what a disaster a McCain presidency would have been, and that the only reason we don’t regret having voted for him is that the alternative proved even worse, as well as the unsettling fact that there are no good options left in Syria. Another story that caught our eye was about a planned Hollywood movie depicting Hillary Clinton’s heroic role in the Watergate hearings, with the famously luscious actress Scarlet Johansson playing the lead role, but that was also too depressing to read.
Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer, which is supposed to be the slow news time of year, but expect no respite from events. The slow trickle of revelations about the various scandals will continue through coming months, no matter how much the media would prefer to ignore it, and both sides of the partisan divide will fight to a draw on most matters. Immigration reform might pass, but not without plenty of resistance from people outside Washington. The quantitative easing of billions of dollars per month into the markets can’t continue forever, and if it ceases this summer the economy will be back on page one after a long and inexplicable absence. Summertime offers a delightful number of distractions, but what’s happening out there in the rest of the world will inevitably intrude.
In the meantime, we wish a happy summer of poolside frolics and good time rock ‘n’ roll music to all our readers.

— Bud Norman

A Bigger Bite of the Apple

These words are being written on an Apple computer, and there is a good chance that you are reading them on one. We are grateful to the folks at the Apple computer company for this valuable contribution to modern literature, whatever faults they might have, and therefore wish them well in their current spat with the United States government.
The United States government has so many spats brewing at the moment that you might have missed it, but a Senate subcommittee spent much of Tuesday grilling Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook about his company’s shockingly unpatriotic tax dodging. By all accounts the company has paid every penny of taxes that the law demands, which adds up to such an astounding amount of money that Apple might be the world’s biggest contributor to the national treasury, but some Senators are nonetheless shocked that Apple isn’t voluntarily paying many billions of dollars more out of pure love for country.
Apple freely admits that it has availed itself of a number of complicated laws to shelter much of its considerable foreign earnings from America’s corporate income tax, and the Senators think it is unfair for the company to do so. Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, said the company was using “gimmicks” to avoid paying taxes, and Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said the company was exploiting “egregious loopholes that exist in the tax code.” All of the gimmicks and egregious loopholes the Senators refer to are laws passed by the Senate, of course, but apparently it is unsporting for a company to take advantage of such generosity. One way to get more money out of Apple would be to lower the nation’s corporate income tax rate, which is by far the highest in the world, and otherwise amend the tax code to make it economically feasible for companies such as Apple to increase its businesses while paying a reasonable but helpful portion of their profits to America rather than the less-greedy foreigners who offer shelter, but the Senators seem to prefer slicing the goose wide open and grabbing all the golden eggs at once.
The only Senator to side with Apple during the hearings was Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, whose opening and closing speeches were so brilliant that even we cannot improve them. Although we fret that Paul might have the same kooky isolationist streak as his father, libertarian hero Rep. Ron Paul, his performance at the hearing provided yet another reason to regard him as a rising political star. Among other fine arguments he noted that none of his fellow Senators ever pay more than they are legally required, and that it is rank hypocrisy for them to expect others to cough up more than the law demands. We would have seized the opportunity to remind the public how Bill and Hillary Clinton were so scrupulous as to deduct the value of the used underwear they donated to charity, but this is a mere quibble.
There is some irony in Paul rushing to Apple’s defense, given the company’s long history of donating to Democratic candidates and publicly identifying itself with Democratic causes, but perhaps having a Senate subcommittee treating its executives like Michael Corleone in “Godfather II” will cause the company to reconsider its political policies. Admitting its capitalist tendencies might endanger the Apple’s hip and up-to-date image, which has done almost as much for its success as the innovation, reliability, and value of its products, but it could prove more helpful to its bottom line. Besides, the way things are going for big government lately, capitalism might soon be perceived as hip and up-to-date.

— Bud Norman

Dinner With the President

President Barack Obama treated a group of Republican senators to dinner at a posh Washington restaurant on Wednesday, prompting much speculation among the chattering classes. Some speculated that the president’s invitation signals a shift away from partisan rhetoric and toward a more conciliatory relationship with Congress, others speculated how the Republicans might respond to such an unexpected tactic, and everyone seemed to be speculating about what was said at the high-powered repast.
Such speculation is no longer necessary, however, as we have a reliable source who by happenstance was seated within eavesdropping distance of the conversation. For the benefit of those readers who are oblivious to satire we will emphasize that our source is entirely fictional and his information completely made-up by us, but contemporary media standards being what they are we felt his account worth passing along nonetheless.
The president arrived nearly 15 minutes after all of his guests had been seated, apologetically explaining the difficulty of finding parking for his motorcade of 20 limousines, sports utility vehicles, and armed drones. A young man in a crisply starched white shirt and black bow tie arrived at the table moments later, identifying himself as “Justin” and stating that he would be the group’s waiter for the evening. After confirming that the president would be picking up the tab, each of the Republican senators ordered a Dalmore 62 single Highland malt Scotch whisky. Obama opted for what our source calls “some kind of Hawaiian girly drink with an umbrella.”
Sports talk dominated most of the early conversation, our source said, with each senator extolling the virtues of his state’s most prominent team. The president spoke at length about the time he scored 42 points against the Philadelphia 76ers to win the decisive sixth game of the 1980 National Basketball Association championship series, apparently confusing himself with Los Angeles Lakers guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and every Senator offered hearty congratulations for the feat. The waiter then brought another round of drinks and offered to take dinner orders, and the president seemed to make a point of repeatedly calling the young man “Jason” while the Republicans consistently addressed him as “Bud,” “Mac,” “you,” “kid,” or “boy.” Our source was unable to overhear every order, but he did note that Obama had the risotto sweetened with Maryland crab and a froth of crab stock cream for an appetizer and lobster thermidor as a main course, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire chose the veal chops with mustard-punched jus and marble-size poached apples alternating with crisp potato croquettes, and Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska requested a chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and fried okra.
Although Obama was seen wincing when Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee drenched his jon dory a la nage, grilled asparagus, and bordelaise reduction in ketchup, and then rolling his eyes when Sen. John McCain of Arizona inquired about an “early bird special,” our source describes the conversation as cordial even as it turned to political matters. As a third round of drinks arrived, Obama opened the discussion by grimly noting the severe pain and hardship that the recent “sequester” budget cuts had inflicted on his public approval ratings. The president mentioned that he had even been forced to eliminate White House tours for schoolchildren, and although he admitted that “it’s nice not to have the little snot-nosed bastards running around the place” he said the situation was nonetheless unacceptable because of its “bad optics.” The senators seemed sympathetic to the president’s plight, and unanimously recommended another round of drinks.
After the fresh libations arrived, Obama modestly sought the senators’ counsel by asking if he should next cut funding for the poor kids or the disabled kids. The Republicans conceded that it was a difficult choice, as they could not decide which group they hated more, and inquired if it would be possible to target the cuts more specifically to affect only children who are both poor and disabled. The president then asked if the senators would please raise income tax rates on the wealthy even further, leading to much laughter and calls for another round.
Fortified by the fifth girly drink, Obama asked with apparent curiosity why the Republicans loved rich people so much. The senators insisted that it wasn’t that they loved rich people, really, just that they hated the poor. Obama then asked if they would pretty pretty pretty please with sugar on top raise the taxes on the rich just an itsy-bitsy bit, and the Republicans responded that they appreciated the food and drinks but that they would sooner burn in hell than betray their fat cat buddies. There was much cackling and moustache-twirling during this exchange, our source tell us, and then cries of “one for the road, boy.”
As the sixth round was consumed the conversation returned to sports, with Obama recalling the time he swished a buzzer-beating jumper over the outstretched arms of Craig Ehlo to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and propel the Chicago Bulls into the second round of the NBA playoffs. One of the Republicans rudely suggested that the president was thinking of Michael Jordan, and Obama humbly admitted that it was so, remarking “Damn, that brother could play some ball.” There was a broad bi-partisan consensus that one more round wouldn’t do any harm, seeing how none of them had to drive, after which the president was heard telling the senators that he really loved them, man.
The bill reportedly came to $3,500, or $3,505 with tip, and all involved described the meeting as “productive.” No ideas about how to cut the nation’s $16 trillion debt were agreed upon, but the country can be assured that the parties are partying together.

— Bud Norman

The Hagel Show

Confirmation hearings may be dull fare for the average American, but to the dedicated current events enthusiast they often provide some of the best theater that politics has to offer. Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel’s appearance on Thursday before a Senate committee, for instance, was classic farce.
The former Senator from Nebraska gave such an inept performance that even the most sympathetic media panned it. Politico reluctantly conceded that he “stumbled,” The Hill described him as “shaky,” and The Washington Post went so far as to concede that he “faced withering criticism.” All of the sound bites that found their way into the radio reports gave the same impression, with Hagel stammering lame responses to the most predictable questions.
Because Hagel is a Republican, and with a fairly conservative record on domestic issues, the administration might have hoped that he would be spared a thorough interrogation by the members of his party. If so, the administration has overestimated the opposition’s party loyalty. Hagel is a throwback to the long-ago isolationist era of the Republican party, with a strange affinity for Iran’s brutal theocracy, a suspicious antipathy for Israel’s embattled democracy, a record of wobbliness on the Iraq war, and the “R” behind his name was not enough to shield him from questions about all of it.
Sen. Jim Inhofe asked about the fact that Iran’s government has explicitly endorsed Hagel nomination, and Hagel replied that “I have a difficult enough time with American politics, Senator. I have no idea, but thank you. I’ll be glad to respond further to the record.” In response to a question by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Hagel described Iran’s government as “elected and legitimate” before walking it back during friendlier questioning from a Democratic Senator. Sen. Ted Cruz quoted comments Hagel had made to the terror-friendly Al Jazeera network about America as “the world’s bully,” forcing Hagel to insist that his words did not mean what they clearly did mean, and Sen. Lindsey Graham asked about Hagel’s stated view that the “Israel lobby” “intimidates” the Senate, forcing Hagel to admit that he could not name one Senator who was intimidated by Israel nor one “dumb thing” the American government has done as a result of Israeli influence. Hagel’s distinguished record of service in the Vietnam War might have been expected to earn him some gentle treatment, but no one out-Vietnam vets Sen. John McCain, who grilled Hagel on his opposition to the surge strategy that allowed an American withdrawal from a relatively peaceful Iraq, and after saying that he would “defer to the judgment of history” Hagel seemed to sputter his insistence that he was still right about the surge being “the worst foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.”
It was so embarrassing that the press had no choice but to admit it, but the reluctant criticism was all about how Hagel was simply unprepared, or out of practice after a few years of retirement from politics, and that he’s a Republican after all. This focus on Hagel spared the press from pondering the possibility that the real problem is his world view, clearly shared by the administration that seeks his appointment, which simply can bear such scrutiny no matter the apologist.

— Bud Norman

Illegal Immigrants, Illegal Moves

The more dedicated chess buffs among you will recognize the term “zugzwang,” which denotes a position that would give a player an advantage if only he weren’t compelled by turn to make one of the disastrously disadvantageous moves available to him. Republicans have lately been finding themselves in zugzwang with an infuriating regularity, and the issue of illegal immigration has done to them it again.
Four years of economic sluggishness have slowed the flow of illegal immigrants to a trickle, so of course the president and his media allies would prefer to talk about illegal immigration rather than the economy. The president took an expensive trip to Las Vegas Tuesday for a speech on the topic, with the usual pack of sycophantic reporters in tow to make sure it dominates the news cycle to an extent that forces a Republican response, and on Monday a group of eight Senators tried to beat him to the punch by announcing their own plan. Among the eight were some prominent Republicans, and they apparently figured they were making the least worst move on the board.
Although the Senators’ plan was short on details, which will likely prove devilish, it does include what is politely known as a “path to citizenship” and impolitely known as “amnesty.” There are also provisions for a program that will verify a potential employee’s immigration status, requirements that back taxes be paid, and promises of stricter border enforcement, but amnesty by any name is the problematic part of the proposal. The right-wingers who comprise the Republicans’ base loathe the idea of offering citizenship as a reward to people who have successfully broken the law for a long enough period of time, as do many middle-of-the-roaders and a sizeable chunk of Democratic-leaners, but even such a conservative standard-bearer as Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio has apparently concluded that the cost of offending the growing the Hispanic population would be even greater for the party.
An inexplicable lack of enthusiasm among the white working class to defeat Obama was a problem for the Republican presidential candidate in the last election, and that will surely be exacerbated by a capitulation to the president’s demand for amnesty, but the Hispanic votership’s inexplicable enthusiasm for Obama was an even bigger problem in the past two campaigns. Several explanations have been offered for the latter phenomenon, but the widely accepted theory is that the Republican party’s opposition to illegal immigration has allowed them to be successfully caricatured as a bunch of Meskin-hatin’ rednecks, and that will surely be exacerbated if the Republicans refuse to budge from an anti-amnesty position. With the Hispanic population expected to keep growing until the next election, Republicans find themselves in an untenable position.
Many Republicans, including failed presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, believe that their party should be able win a over Hispanics by stressing their support for entrepreneurship and small business while remaining steadfast in opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and the left’s naked antipathy to the Catholic church. The pitch worked well enough for Spanish-speaking Texan George W. Bush to win a sufficiently large minority of the Hispanic vote, but it is overly optimistic to hope that it will soon woo an actual majority. Obama won a huge share of the Hispanic vote despite being as avidly pro-abortion and same-sex marriage as a candidate can be, while he was being sued in court by the Catholic church for attempting to impose his own notions of morality on the ancient religion, and if Mexicans are habitual capitalists there is no explaining why Mexico has had nearly 90 years of uninterrupted rule by something called the Permanent Revolutionary Party. The Republicans might well increase their share of the Hispanic vote by embracing amnesty, but if the Hispanic vote grows as expected they’ll still wind up ceding more actual votes to the Democrats.
Nor are the Republicans likely to gain any compensating advantage from a hard-line opposition to amnesty. The benefits of illegal immigration are mostly enjoyed by agricultural and construction businesses that might otherwise be inclined to support Republican candidates, while the costs are paid mostly by low-wage workers and displaced African-Americans who will be voting Democrat no matter what. A concerted effort by the mainstream press will portray the debate as xenophobic white guys versus hard-working would-be Americans and their enlightened protectors, and any efforts by the Republicans to drive a wedge into the Democrat coalition will be thwarted.
The best riposte by the Republicans would be to talk about the sluggish economy that renders the illegal immigration meaningless. This is not a legal move, however, and thus the Republicans find themselves in zugzwang yet again.

— Bud Norman