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A Man of the People, Redefined

The ten leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination had a debate on Thursday, and it was a spirited contest. Each of the contenders were nearly as critical of one another as they were of President Donald Trump, and sometimes the raucous crowd would ooh at perceived low blows. Our favorite part came afterwards, though, when the candidates were asked about the greatest adversities they had faced in life and how that had affected their politics.
The question was a slow and straight pitch aimed chest high, and of course each candidate took a swing at the opportunity to come off as a bona fide human being voters can relate to. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the last centrist standing in the field, spoke of her father’s alcoholism, and how he overcame it with with help from court-ordered treatment. Former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian talked about growing up in a single-parent home. Former Vice President Joe Biden recalled the tragically premature death of his son and beloved family members, High tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang mentioned the numerous failed businesses he had started and the huge debt he had acquired before achieving success.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had a rent-controlled Brooklyn apartment and a penniless immigrant father to talk about. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke chose to talk about the resilience of his hometown of El Paso, which suffered a mass shooting O’Rourke partly blames on Trump’s racial rhetoric. California Sen. Kamala Harris explained the difficulties of being the first female and mixed-race Attorney General of her state, and  this being a Democratic debate was obliged to defend prosecuting as a respectable occupation . South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg is openly homosexual, and that’s not always been as fashionable as it is now. Earlier in the debate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren mentioned she had grown up in Oklahoma and once been a public school teacher, were surely won plenty of pity from a Democratic audience.
None of the candidates bragged about having been in a little log cabin built by their own two hands, and with Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard failing to qualify for the debate no could talk about any military experience, but it was all fairly heartwarming nonetheless. Should the general election come down to which candidate has the more inspiring hard-luck tale, Trump will be at a disadvantage.
Trump is quite unapologetic about being born into opulent wealth, and clearly revels in his whiteness and maleness and heterosexuality and enjoys whatever privileges that might confer. He grew up in Queens rather than Manhattan, which still seems to rankle, but lived in the fanciest house in the less fancy borough.
His father was by most accounts a cold and ruthless man who withheld affection and praise from his children, but Trump can’t hold that against anyone. The old man sent him off to one of those strict military schools where incorrigible rich kids wind up, but Trump boasts of having been the big man on campus. He had to suffer the indignity of a year at relatively downscale Fordham University before the old man got him into the University of Pennsylvania, but he just leaves that unmentioned. At some point Trump suffered from bone spurs, which kept him out of military service during the Vietnam war but don’t seem to have interfered with his golfing and nightclubbing.
Trump is by no means America’s first plutocrat president, but he is the first to flaunt it so brazenly. The Adamses and Roosevelts and Kennedys came from old money and elite educations, but they had also inherited an understated gentility and a deeply felt sense of noblesse oblige that Trump never acquired in Queens. On the contrary, Trump flouts such old-fashioned business and prefers street-level vulgarity and unabashed self-promotion
Interestingly, it seems to to have endeared him to a large segment of the proletariat, which regards him as a “blue collar billionaire.” They prefer it to the perceived condescension of past wealthy politicians, and share Trump’s seething resentment of the most well-mannered upper class, and appreciate the way he appalls all the right people. We also suspect that although they can’t identify with Trump’s much bragged about billions, they can vicariously enjoy the way he spends it on golf outings and private jets and porn stars rather than boring tea parties in the Hamptons. A lot of Trump fans figure he’s just like them, or at least like they would be if they had his money.
Trump is also selling the idea that he was born with the Midas touch, and that his alpha male “bigliness” has always made him impervious to any adversity, so America should be grateful to ride along on his predestined path to greatness, which is arguably more compelling than being a former school teacher or having had to endure poverty or prejudice. The same sales pitch got people to invest in his casinos and airlines and professional football teams, and to enroll in Trump University, and if the economy stops slowing by the next election day it might work yet again.

— Bud Norman

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Well, At Least There’s Still More than a Year and a Half Left in the Race

The Cable News Networks has run the first significant Democratic presidential poll since the two-part and too-early Democratic presidential debates of last week. Given the results, we’ll mostly take a day off from our usual bashing of Republican President Donald Trump to note that the Democrats seem intent on nominating someone even arguably worse.
At the outset of the race the clear front-runner by double digits was former Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, who was also Vice President for eight years to President Barack Obama, who somehow remains popular in the Democratic party, even if much of the party now grouses that liberal administration we daily fulminated about wasn’t nearly liberal enough. Part of Obama’s enduring appeal in the party is that he was The First Black President ™, and given all the white flight to the Republican party over the past several decades of the Civil Rights era black voters are a sizable chunk of the Democratic primary electorate, especially in the southern states that hold early primaries, and Biden seemed to enjoy their gratitude that he’d been a loyal ally of Obama. The Democrats also retain a following among the Rust Belt white working class, even if Trump won enough of them last time around to squeak out an electoral majority, and the affable and commuter train-riding “Uncle Joe” and his aged self’s ties to an earlier era of populist Democratic politics made him seem well poised to win those votes back from Trump.
It was never likely to hold up, however, and seems to have taken a severe hit after just an hour of televised debate. The CNN polls shows Biden dropping 10 points, and although he’s still in the lead with 22 percent he’s only five percentage points ahead of California Sen. Kamala Harris, just six ahead of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and just eight ahead of self-proclaimed socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He retains a bigger lead over the other 21 or 22 or so candidates, but several of them still have a chance to break out.
Biden’s hold on the black vote was always tenuous, given that he was running against a bona fide black man with verifiable slave blood in New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker, who can also rightly claim to love in one of America’s most blighted and crime-ridden black ghettos, as well as California senator Harris, who has a Jamaican immigrant father and an east Indian immigrant mother, and grew up identifying and being identified as a black woman. Harris was the one who seized the opportunity during the debates, criticizing Biden for his way-way-back-in-the-’70s position against forced busing to achieve school desegregation, and it gave her a nine point bump in the poll while Biden took a ten point hit.
Harris is too far left and too much an “identity politics” candidate for our tastes, but she’s a former prosecutor and California Attorney General who always comes across as smart and well-informed in every interview, which contrasts to her favor with Trump, and she’s not quite so crazy as many of her competitors, so we warn both Biden and Trump to be worried. Given the current far left and “identity politics” predilections of the Democratic party, she seems a formidable opponent.
Biden’s hold on those aggrieved white Rust Belt blue collar workers was also tenuous, given that pretty much of the rest of the field was willing to outbid him with grandiose promises of free health care and guaranteed incomes and various other free stuff. Anyone who voted for Obama twice but then switched to Trump is not a true-blue Republican or conservative by our old-fashioned standards, and we suspect they were swayed by Trump’s even more grandiose and far-fetched promises of restoring the steel and coal and other Rust Belt industries to their long-long-ago ’50s glory, and now the rest of the Democratic party seems to willing to make to such gullible rubes even more grandiose and far-fetched promises. They can’t make the same make America white again promises as Trump, whose brand of identity politics also offends us, but Obama got their votes two times around and  we think they’ll once again fare well.
The estimable Washington Post editorial writer Eugene Robinson had an editorial on Monday taunting that we Never-Trump Republicans should reconcile ourselves to the idea that the Democrats are going to wind up nominating a Democrat. With all due respect to Robinson we didn’t need him to tell us that depressing news, and note that the three or four Democratic candidates we could conceivably vote for are all polling in the single digits, but we’re still hoping the party will come up with its least crazy possible nominee. Two major parties gone stark raving crazy are two too many, as far we’re concerned.
Our guess is that we’ll wind up once again throwing away our vote on some futile independent candidate, and that all our Democratic and Republican friends will accuse us of de facto voting for the hated other side. Once again, we’ll console ourselves that at least we threw our vote away on something better. How the rest of the country votes is up to the rest of the country.

— Bud Norman

Another Overseas Adventure

Every time President Donald Trump travels overseas he seems to say a series of things that have us slapping up foreheads, perhaps even more prolifically than he does when does when stateside. His recent trip to Osaka, Japan, and then a few steps into North Korean territory was no exception.
The trip was immediately proceeded by Trump insulting his Japanese hosts by grousing to Fox Business News that our longtime ally has been taking advantage of America’s generosity since the mid-’40s. “We have a treaty with Japan — if Japan is attacked we’ll go in and fight World War III. We will go in and protect them and fight with our lives and treasure. We will fight at all costs,” Trump said, adding that “But if we’re attacked Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch it on Sony televisions, the attack.”
Trump doesn’t seem to realize that Japan is constrained by the constitution that America imposed on it by force in the aftermath of World War II to only self-defense capabilities, and that it has used often those resources on America’s behalf if a non-combat but nonetheless helpful support role throughout the Cold War and in the various wars we’ve fought against radical Islamism in the Middle East, nor that were carefully considered geo-political balance-of-power reasons for that treaty, which still make sense. The average Fox Business News viewer also doesn’t know that, on the other hand, and neither do the die-hard fans, so Trump probably didn’t care much how it badly played in most of the American media and pretty much everywhere in Japan and the rest of east Asia and everyone else at the G-20 and around the world.
Trump was also feuding ahead of the trip with most of the rest of America’s longtime allies and trading partners at the Group of 20 Economic Summit in Osaka, but as usual he was more polite in his face-to-face encounters with the rest of the world’s leaders. He had only nice things to say to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and was on his best behavior with all the European democracies he routinely accuses of ripping us off, but as usual he saved his most obsequious behavior for the murderous likes of Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammad Bin Salman and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
The Saudi Arabian dictator was invited by Trump to stand next to him in the middle of the official G-20 photograph, despite his obvious role in the murder of an American resident and Washington Post journalist, among other recent atrocities. As usual Trump was just as chummy with the Russian dictator, at one point sharing an inside joke with Putin about the Russian election meddling that the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office National Intelligence and the other 13 intelligence agencies and their Trump-appointed leaders all agree did actually happen. The die-hard fans love Trump’s shock jock sense of humor, but the rest of it thought it wasn’t a joking matter.
Worse yet, to our ears, was when Trump yukked it up with Putin about the “fake news.” Trump admitted his envy that there doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem with critical coverage of the government in Russia, where he might or might not know that at least 26 journalists have suspiciously died during Putin’s time in power, but they wound up commiserating with one another that it still sometimes happens even in Russia. America’s “fake news” still got to the pepper the president with questions, though, the foreign trip press conference being one of those rare presidential traditions even Trump can’t ignore, and once again he gave answers to their pesky questions that had us slapping our foreheads to a bright red.
Putin’s trip to Osaka was immediately proceeded by an interview with a British publication in which he said that “Western Liberalism is obsolete,” and when asked to respond Trump said that San Francisco and Los Angeles were in a sorry state because of liberal leadership, which suggests he didn’t quite understand the question. The die-hard Trump supporters might not know nor care, but the rest of the world clearly understood that Putin was talking about the classical Western Liberal tradition of individual rights and representative governments obligated by rule of law to recognize those rights, and not west coast liberalism as it’s understood in the modern context. We share Trump’s contempt for the latter meaning of liberalism, but we do worry he doesn’t share our affection for the the former sense of the term.
Meanwhile, back in the states, California Sen. Kamala Harris was getting headlines by reviving the ’70s era of busing school children to different school districts to achieve racial desegregation in an attack on Democratic primary front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden, so Trump was of course asked about that. We thought it stupid for any Democrat to dredge up a long-dead ’70s issue that was damned complicated at the time and eventually turned out badly for the Democrats’ political standing, but Trump seemed to think it only had something to do with school districts providing students transportation to their local schools. The dark-hued Harris had an inspiring story about she was luckily bused to a fancy and liberal Berkeley school as an elementary student, we’re a few years older and several shades paler and less happily remember the racial tensions at our newly integrated junior high school, so we figure we’re both entitled to our opinions at the time about the long-forgotten issue, but Trump was already a graduate of an all-white school who didn’t seem to notice what was going on elsewhere at the time. He promised the pesky reporters that he’d soon have a surprise announcement of a brilliant policy to solve the busing problem, but he offered no specifics, and as far as we’re concerned he looked damned ridiculous.
After that Trump made history by being the first American commander-in-chief to step foot on North Korean soil since the country came into existence with the stalemate of the Korean War. It was an historic photo opportunity for both the the American president and the North Korean dictator, and both men seemed to relish it together, and both were very chummy, and there’s always a chance it might avert the exchange of nuclear missiles that the past 50-plus years of Republican and Democratic administrations have worried about. On the other hand there’s also a chance that the fat guy with the bad haircut who murdered his brother and uncle to gain power is playing Trump for a chump, and the he’s not so immune to flattery as Trump, who has gushed about he’s “fallen in love” with the dictator who writes him such nice letters.
Even in the immediate aftermath of his historic photo-op Trump was grousing to the pesky reporters that any speculation it might not amount to much is “fake news,” but we’ll go ahead and speculate it might yet turn out that way. We also notice it was followed by an interesting case of the free American press asserting its First Amendment rights even on foreign soil, and Trump’s newly-appointed press secretary Stephanie Grisham getting slightly roughed up in the process.
It all started when the American president and the North Korean dictator agreed to a historic first-ever American news conference on North Korean soil, and the North Korean security forces apparently didn’t get word of it. Being the pesky and pushy people they tend to be the American reporters stormed into the conference room, the security forces responded with the usual authoritarian sternness, and quite a scuffle apparently resulted. To her credit Grisham was apparently screaming the whole time that they were allowed in by mutual agreement, and took a few bruises by doing so, so as longtime newspapermen we hope she learned something about what reporters occasionally go through and how scary it might be to cover a typical Trump rally.
We also read that as the reporters were eventually allowed to enter The Washington Post correspondent Seung Min Kim was temporarily held up, as the natural born American but Korean-descended reporter was briefly barred because the North Korean security forces insisted on “only U.S. reporters,” but that the rest of the press corps vouched for her all-American credentials and eventually got her in.
We hope it all works out for the best, and that this Grisham woman proves better than the long-forgotten press secretary Sarah Sanders, and that a free press and our longstanding alliances and various other norms of political behavior somehow persist.

— Bud Norman

Between Brawls and Debates

On an otherwise slow news day, a couple of stories in The Washington Post caught our eye. One was about a brawl that broke out between some parents at a Little League baseball game in Lakewood, Colorado. The other was about a supporter of President Donald Trump allegedly assaulting a newspaper reporter outside Tuesday’s big reelection announcement rally in Orlando, Florida.
The stories might well strike you as entirely unrelated, and perhaps they are, but we read them as just two more in a daily diet of tales about America’s gradually slide into trash-talking and sucker-punching incivility, which seems to have picked up pace over the past few years. There’s no blaming Trump for human nature’s most savage impulses, of course, but we can’t say he’s done much while in office to encourage what President Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”
Which is not to say the damned Democrats are any better, or aren’t arguably worse. The left includes the black-masked Antifa and other gangs that often smash both windows and heads during otherwise peaceful protests, and for all its good intentions the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality has led to deadly attacks on blameless law enforcement officers. The equally well-intentioned Me Too movement against sexual assault and harassment has harmed the reputations of celebrities whose only crimes seem to be acting like slightly less than perfect gentleman, and conservative youngsters are being kicked out of fancy colleges for some stupid things they said on the internet in their high school days.
There are also plenty of pundits on the left, not just on the far fringes of the vast internet but also in the mainstream media, who encourage such behavior by casting their ideological opponents as spiteful enemies of the common good for their insistence on such radical notions as property rights and individual liberty and low taxes to pay for a limited government. Many high-ranking Democratic office-holders use the same extreme and provocative rhetoric, in some cases as they pursue the highest office in the land, and they’re not setting a good example for Little League parents anywhere.
Alas, neither is the current President of the United States. Trump refrained from urging the crowd to beat up protestors, as he repeatedly during the ’16 campaign, but he goaded the crowd into once again chanting “lock her up” about his vanquished and currently irrelevant opponent Hillary Clinton, and as always he stoked the crowd’s already red-hot hatred of those “enemies of the people” in the free press “fake news” media who were then broadcasting his remarks to the nation. The guy who is charged with assaulting the reporter from the Orlando Sentinel was also charged with public inebriation, and seems to have been kicked out of the rally for that offense, but the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board had endorsed anybody but Trump that same day, and we guess that the alleged and caught-on-video assaulter been emboldened by what he’d heard before being kicked out of the rally.
Some Trump apologists we know and love tell us he’s the leader they’ve longed for who fights fire with fire, and punches back ten times harder, as it’s come down to street-level and existential battle with these damned America-hating Democrats. They hear it on the eight straight hours of talk radio that a local station broadcasts, in most of the evening opinion shows on the Fox Network, and on Tuesday night they could have turned to any news channel and hear Trump accusing his opponents of “un-American conduct” and warning “they want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as they know it.” We have to admit it’s frightening stuff, even a call to arms, but we find it unpersuasive.
There are indeed some dangerously deranged people out there on the left, but most of the damned Democrats we drink beer and do business with and encounter in our neighborhood walks are patriotic and well-intentioned people who happen to have some very stupid ideas about certain things. Lately they’re all talking about whom to choose from a very crowded field of contenders for their Democratic presidential nominee, and they all seem to be weighing who’s mostly likely to beat Trump with the most leftward platform. In these strange times, we find ourselves wishing them the best in figuring it out, along with the advice they choose the least stupid and most electable of the candidates. We’re urging such centrist candidates as Colorado Gov. John Hicklenlooper and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and despite being a Democrat from California with some very stupid ideas the Democratic California Sen. Kamala Harris impresses us with her calm demeanor and carefully parsed answers in every interview. In any case, we don’t expect Trump will once again have the good fortune to run against Hillary Clinton and her long-forgotten e-mails
Many of the Democratic presidential candidates want to impeach Trump, others want to impeach him but only after a fair trial, while some want him to face federal and state charges after he’s removed from office next election, and at this point any of these options would be agreeable to our formerly Republican selves. They’re all running on specific policy positions, however, and although most of those stands strike us as damned stupid we have to give them credit for that. Any candidate of either party who wants to return to debating policy matters rather than questioning the other side’s patriotism and calling for them to be taken out on stretchers will earn our consideration.
Our mostly civilized experience of American life tells us that in a civil and carefully deliberated debate property rights and individual liberty and low taxes to support a limited government would prevail over some of the stupid socialistic ideas so many of the damned Democrats are currently peddling. Infuse that with the idealism of the party of Lincoln’s call for “malice toward none and charity towards all” and we think a Grand Old Party would be cruising to an electoral victory. It’s hard to imagine such words coming from party of Trump, though, so we’ll hunker down here at home and see how it all plays out on the streets, and await a president who appeals to the better angels of nature.

— Bud Norman

Another Riveting Afternoon of Television

James Holzhauer’s continued dominance of the Jeopardy! game show notwithstanding, the most compelling television show on Wednesday afternoon was Attorney General William Barr’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the “Russia thing.” Barr wound up taking such a beating that he’s declining to participate in today’s scheduled interrogation by the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee, even though that’s likely to be the embarrassing big story of today.
If you’ve been following the “Russia thing” reality show you know that Mueller’s report found insufficient evidence to charge that President Donald Trump colluded with a Russian plot to interfere with the past presidential election on his behalf, despite the indictment and convictions and guilty pleas it won against Trump’s campaign manager and personal lawyer and national security for lying about their numerous contacts with Russian officials, and left it up to the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and the slighter Republican majority in the Senate to decide if Trump’s thoroughly documented attempts to impede the investigation constituted obstruction of justice and the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are impeachable offenses.
Before releasing the redacted 400-plus-pages report Barr released a four page press release summarizing the conclusions, which he chided the press for calling a summary, and it made Trump look a lot better than the eventually released redacted report did, and the redactions are probably even more damned damning. The free if “fake” news media have reported that Mueller and his crack team of investigators thought Barr mischaracterized their findings, so naturally the damned Democrats had some tough questions about that, and for the most part Barr had trouble coming up with answers.
As old-fashioned pre-Trump Republican conservatives we have no rooting interest in these damned Democrats, but we have to admit they scored some points. One of Barr’s inquisitors was California Senator and announced Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who is far too far left for our tastes yet too centrist for the left wingers we watch Jeopardy! with at Kirby’s Beer Store, and as a former California prosecutor she’s probably sent too many young minority males to prison to win a Democratic nomination, but there’s no denying she left Barr stammering. As crazy as she is Harris can eloquently pose a tough question, which Trump’s Attorney General struggled with on Wednesday, and if the Democrats can forgive her occasional resort to common sense she’d probably make a formidable opponent for Trump in the next presidential election.
Trump had clearly hoped that Barr’s four-page summary of the the Mueller report would fully exonerate him of anything to do with the “Russia thing,” but Barr’s testimony on Wednesday and his absence on Thursday will likely keep it in the news for a while. The report confirms the consensus of the national intelligence community and Trump’s own appointees that Russia meddled in the last election on Trump’s behalf, which Trump continues to doubt and has done absolutely nothing about, and we can easily guess why Barr declines today to answer any questions from a Democratic majority on a House Judiciary Committee about that. For now, at least, the “Russia thing” seems likely to linger, and any attempts by Barr and Trump to charge “deep state” conspirators for starting it will only drag it out into the next administration, no matter what it is.
At this point, we wonder if any of it will make any difference at all. By now Trump’s opponents are disposed to believe the the worst about him, even if the Mueller report doesn’t fully oblige them, and Trump’s fans are inclined to believe that he’s making America great again, even if the Mueller report doesn’t quite back up that audacious claim. The economy’s still sluggishly chugging along at the same low-growth rate it was during the last years of the hated Obama administration, more and more brown-skinned people are showing up at our southern border but we’re treating them more harshly than ever, and there are a couple of Trump appointees on the Supreme Court who might or might not back him up in the the looming Constitutional showdowns about all of it, and that’s more likely to settle the next presidential election.
We’ll be watching all the news until then, and taking on an even livelier interest than in Holzhauer’s amazing run on Jeopardy! So far as we can tell, this is serious business.

— Bud Norman

On the Idea of a Woman as President

On Monday we ran into a young woman friend of ours who’s a staunch Democrat, and were slightly surprised to learn that she’s not running for president. We joked that pretty much every other woman who’s a staunch Democrat is in the race, as California Sen. Kamala Harris had just announced she’s joining Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Senator Kristin Gillibrand and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in the already-crowded field, but our friend didn’t think it was a joking matter.
Although our young friend is very much an I-am-woman-hear-me-roar sort of feminist, she looked around to make sure anyone else wasn’t listening and then confessed that she wasn’t comfortable with the idea of the Democrats running another woman for president. She needlessly assured us she’d dearly love to see a woman become president some day, but explained that at the moment her most pressing concern was defeating President Donald Trump in the next election, and confessed she was worried that at the present moment in the sexist United States of America any woman nominee couldn’t accomplish that.
At the risk of being accused of “mansplaining” or some other “micro aggression” against feminist sensibilities, we comforted our young that she was being an hysterical flibbertigibbet.
There are indeed plenty of sexist pigs remaining in America, and we can’t deny that the current president is one of them, but we argued that’s no reason for young feminist friend to despair. As  awful a woman as she was Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million or so and only lost the electoral vote by some 80,000 votes spread out over four key crucial states, and given that Trump’s approval ratings are even worse than when he was elected any less awful woman Clinton — a very low bar –stands as good a chance as any man of beating him after the past two years and what’s sure to come in the next two. We also noted the Kansas is by no means America’s most politically correct state, which is one of the things we love about it, yet it recently elected its third Democratic governor and rejected the Trump-endorsed white male Republican. The recently installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives feature a record number of women, including a Native American lesbian kick boxer from right here in Kansas,  several of whom have all the media listening them to roar, and a tattooed folk-singing single mother is now our district’s Sedgwick County Commissioner, and we figure that in modern day America a woman stands as good a chance as anyone in any American election.
None of the Democratic women who have thrown their hats into the ring are to our liking, but then again neither are are any of the Democratic who figure to be in the race, and for old-fashioned Republican and conservative reasons of our own we’re eager to see a president other than that Trump fellow. Our advice to our young feminist friend was to choose whatever candidate or either sex who could win a majority of still mostly centrist America. We’re old enough to remember the election of ’72, when the crooked and unpopular Republican President Richard won a 49-state landslide because the Democrats when too far to the left, and although our young friend hadn’t been born at the time she seems to have learned the lesson, as much as she wants an eventual socialist paradise.
That Harris woman from California is way too far left for our tastes, but she’s a former tough-on-crime prosecutor and seems calmly deliberative and restrained in all her many television interviews, but that probably means she’ll seem too centrist to a lot of today’s radical Democrats, but we still think she’s a contender. That Gillibrand woman from New York was an appealing centrist when she was a congresswoman from a suburban swing district but when far left when she ran for statewide office, and will probably spend the primary race explaining away her previous and more sensible positions. Warren is running on the same platform as self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who might be campaigning on an octogenarian’s walker, and although she’s now impeccably politically correct that Gabbard woman from Hawaii has some explaining to do about past “tweets” regarding homosexuals.
We’d give all of them a fighting chance against Trump, but we told our young friend that we figure there’s better than a 50-50 chance he won’t be the nominee in 2020, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the first woman President of the United States turns out to be a Republican. Former two-term governor of South Carolina and recent United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley is young and ready, her governorships featured old-fashioned Republican fiscal rectitude and the permanent lowering of the Confederate flag from state buildings, her service in the Trump administration was marked by a more traditional foreign policy from her boss and a quiet resignation letter, and the Republicans could shake their reputation as the party of old white men by nominating a central young dark-skinned woman, and even our feminist Democratic young woman friend said she’d go along with that.
Sooner or later some white or dark-skinned woman is going to become president of the United States, and that’s fine by us, so long as she’s a good one.

— Bud Norman

The Brawl about Kavanaugh

The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh got off a to an unruly start on Tuesday. Judiciary committee chairman Sen. Chuck of Louisiana was just 13 words into his opening statement when he was interrupted on a point of order by California Sen. Kamala Harris, who request the hearing be postponed was met by loud cheers from an unruly group of Code Pink protestors, with Grassley ignoring them as he tapped his gavel and continued saying something or another.
Given what’s at stake for both sides of our increasingly angry political discourse, and who’s at work in the judiciary committee, we don’t expect things will get any friendlier. It’s most likely the whole hubbub will wind up with Kavanaugh getting confirmed by the committee’s Republican majority and then by the Republican majority in the full Senate, but the Democrats aren’t going to make it easy.
The Democrats can’t deny that Kavanaugh has all the Ivy League credentials and prestigious clerkships and the long experience of legal work in the executive branch and on the federal bench, and have to admit he seems a nice enough guy, but they don’t like the way he’s almost certain to vote several issues dear to their hearts. At this point they’re not holding out any hope that such hated-by-the-left decisions as Citizens United and Heller will be overturned anytime soon, but they can still wish for a Justice who would allow a few of the campaign finance regulations that Citizens United did away with and perhaps chip away at the individual right to gun ownership established by Heller. More importantly they have good reason to believe that Kavanaugh might be the fifth vote needed to overturn such beloved-by-the-left decisions as Roe v. Wade, which legalized most abortions, and Obergfell, which established a right  same-sex marriages, as well as all sorts of cases involving labor unions and environmental laws and other matters that all too often wound up being settled in the Supreme Court.
Although they’re out-voted until at least December, the Democrats do have a few things going for them. Opinion polls show that many of the ways Kavanaugh is almost certain to vote are widely unpopular with the general public, and only a slim plurality of 41 percent wants to see him confirmed. The Roe v Wade decision is lately enjoying a 63 percent approval rating, and although the Republican party has long vowed to overturn it some of the members are probably skittish about actually doing so. Kavanaugh was also nominated by President Donald Trump, whose latest poll numbers are back down in the high 30s, which provides the Democrats with a possibly persuasive talking point.
Between the “Russia thing” and the hush money payments to a porn star and a Playboy playmate and a suspicious family charitable foundation and the many unprecedented interactions between his still wholly-owned businesses the government Trump runs, Trump has more than the usual president’s share of legal woes. There’s a good chance that some or even all of it will wind up before the Supreme Court, and while Kavanaugh was working as a lawyer for President George W. Bush he had a very expansive view of presidential power, which shouldn’t give only Democrats pause. Trump has lately “tweeted” his view that the Justice Department shouldn’t indict popular Republicans, and Kavanaugh did once write that a sitting president cannot legally be investigated by anyone in the government, so we’ll expect some pointed questions in the coming days and hope for some pretty persuasive answers.
The Republicans also have some things going in their favor besides their slim Senate majority. Kavanaugh does indeed have the impeccable credentials, he comes across as a nicer guy than any of those unruly Code Pink types that the capitol cops kept hauling out of the room, and in most cases there’s sound legal reasoning behind even the decisions that his critics hate most. Once upon a time in America such credentials would win a quick and bipartisan decision, but that was long before Trump came along, and he hasn’t done much to restore civility.
Sound legal reasoning is too complicated for most busy Americans, and it’s easier to take sides on an issue based on how you feel about abortion or same sex marriage or owning a gun than to consider the underlying constitutional issues. For the politicians who are on the committee and will be starring on television for the rest of the week, it’s far easier to pander to those prejudged opinions. Among the players in this week long reality are at least two Democrats and two Republicans who are potential contenders for their party’s presidential nominations, and at least three are clearly eager to get high ratings.
The aforementioned Sen. Harris of California and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker are clearly near the front of the line for the next Democratic nomination, and both did their best to take advantage of the airtime. Harris’ early point of order to call for a postponement was based on the legitimate gripe that Kavanaugh’s White House handlers had provided 42,000 pages of long-requested documents just hours before the hearings began, and we’re sure those Code Pink punks weren’t the only Democrats who appreciated her futile effort. Her opening statement was a familiar but fairly well-stated litany of all the instinctive reasons liberals will hate the way Kavanaugh is almost certain vote on so many issues dear to liberal hearts, and she well made the good points about what might happen if Trump winds up as a litigant before the Supreme Court. Booker’s turn at the cameras and microphones was even more conspicuously a campaign stump speech, invoking the holy liberal trinity of race, class and gender, and the former mayor of Newark even put in a pitch for the beleaguered farmers out here on the prairie states.
Both were a bit too over-the-top with the righteous liberal outrage shtick to our old-fashioned ears, but we can see them playing well with our more righteously outraged liberal friends.
One of the Republicans who valiantly rode to Kavanaugh’s defense was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and we think that the former national collegiate debate champion handled himself rather well. Cruz came in second in the latest Republican primary race to Trump, and having ended a bitter feud with his former rival he might be next in line in ’24, or even ’20 is those don’t turn out so well for Trump, but first he has to survive a surprisingly close reelection run against a young and telegenic and well-funded Democrat named Rep. Beto O’Rourke, so of course he relished the air time. Despite his aw-shucks Texas persona Cruz is a Harvard Law graduate, and couldn’t help complimenting Kavanaugh’s impeccable Ivy League credentials “even though you did go to Yale,” but then proceeded to make a more persuasive case for Trump’s nominee than Trump ever could, and even fit a clear explanation of originalist legal theory into his time.
Cruz is clearly eager to get Trump’s nominee confirmed, and Trump has lately “tweeted” that he’s seeking the biggest stadium in Texas to campaign for his loyal Senate soldier, but all the Democratic money is putting up billboards all over the state remind voters of earlier Trump “tweets” about “Lyin’ Ted” and his ugly wife and how Cruz’ father might have been in on the Kennedy assassination and how the Senator was “all talk and no action.” Next we expect all of the Cruz quotes about Trump being a narcissist and a pathological liar and intellectually and temperamentally and morally unfit for office, and although we expect Cruz to eventually win reelection in reliably Republican Texas we’re not surprised that the polls have it close.
If Trump doesn’t even make it to the ’20 race, which does not seem at all outside the realm of possibility, the young and telegenic Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse will be well positioned to win the Republican nomination, and we thought he had the best turn at the camera. He rightly decried that Supreme Court confirmation hearings have been partisan brawls since at least President Ronald Reagan’s failed nomination of Robert Bork way back when we were young, and yearned for the “elegant and fair” process that confirmed justices who cases based on facts and law. Sasse made the case that Kavanaugh’s resume and work record suggest he will rule in the same time-honored way, and defended nice enough family guy’s character against the liberal slurs that are sure to come, and pleaded with his colleagues for a civil deliberation.
If Trump doesn’t make it to the ’20 election it will be because of the “Russia thing” or various shady business dealings or the Constitutions emolument clause or the 25th Amendment, or any number of things that might derive from that narcissism and pathological lying and general unfitness for office that Cruz used to talk about, and not because of his tax and deregulation policies of and the judicial policies that all the liberals hate. Sasse is the rare Republican who will openly criticize Trump for the crude disrespect for well-established traditions and the brazen corruption and crazy “tweets,” and as a farm state Senator he’s none too pleased with Trump’s trade wars, but on every traditional Republican thing Trump wants to do he’s been a reliable vote. As we say, this will leave him well positioned in a post-Trump race in ’20, if that should come to pass, which is not outside the realm of possibility.
Kavanaugh finally got an opening statement of his own, and we thought he did well enough. He made the familiar case for his originalist theory of legal interpretation, talked about his dad some and his mom a lot more, and talked about coaching his daughter’s basketball team, and how grateful he is to all the coaches had along the way. He noted the disproportionate-to-the-population number of law clerks who were female or of some ethnic minority, which took some of the wind out of the sails that both Harris and Booker had raised, and didn’t seem at all the type to poison the air or force back alley abortions or any of the other things he stands accused of.
All in all it was reassuringly bland, which we much prefer to the more common righteously outraged politics on both the left and the right these days, so unless the Democrats come up with some convincing evidence that Kavanaugh was nominated to rig the system in some upcoming Trump-related case, which is not entirely outside the realm of possibility, we’ll take that Sasse fellow’s word for it and give him the benefit of the doubt.

— Bud Norman

Our Ambivalent Endorsement of Gina Haspel

In the extremely unlikely case we found ourselves a United States Senator we’d be inclined to vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence, Gina Haspel, but we’d do so with some ambivalence. Some of the arguments made for and against Haspel seem reasonable enough, but the rest of the arguments we’re hearing, both pro and con, strike us as downright dumb.
The fact that Haspel would be the agency’s first female director is entirely irrelevant, as far as our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities are concerned, so we were disappointed but not at all surprised that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “tweeted” that any opposition to a nominee with such career credentials as Haspel must be motivated by sexism. Way back in the ’16 presidential former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had the far more relevant career credentials for the job of president, despite the many reasons that awful woman was clearly unfit for the job, and even such Trump-averse Republicans as ourselves scoffed at the notion that anyone should ever vote for a candidate based on his or her sex. We still reject that silly claim, and Trump’s White House press secretary — of all people — playing the gender card strikes us as sillier yet.
The Democrats’ opposition to Haspel’s nomination has been led by up-and-coming and potential presidential contender California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose feminist credentials are by far more unassailable than Sanders’, and are based on on an arguable complaint that Haspel’s otherwise exemplary career in the CIA included a stint at overseeing an overseas outpost where where she oversaw an operation that included harsh interrogations of captured suspected terrorists. Haspel admits giving the green to light to “waterboarding” and other undeniably harsh interrogation techniques that Democrats then and now regard as torture. Although she testified has testified before congress that we will eschew such methods in the future, Haspel has also has refused to condemn their use in the past, so the Democrats’ opposition to her nomination doesn’t seem at all hypocritical even if she is a woman potentially empowered to be the first woman director of the CIA.
On the the other hand, we’re not at all convinced that Haspel was overly harsh in the interrogations she oversaw. They happened shortly after Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks killed more than 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, after all, and didn’t involve anything that American troops weren’t trained to endure as they went off to fight various wars in response to that aggression. We’re the queasy sorts who are unable to watch a Quentin Tarantino movie, but even after all these years we’d still countenance getting medieval on some suspected terrorists in those extraordinarily rare “ticking time bomb” situations that only seem to occur in the movies, and we acknowledge it’s a complicated question Haspel faced during an otherwise exemplary career.
On yet another hand, neither are we comfortable with Trump’s and his reconfigured Republican party’s newfound enthusiasm for torture.
During the campaign Trump slanderously excoriated Republican President George W. Bush for lying his way into mercenary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also blamed his processors for being weak-kneed against Islamist terrorism. He vowed that he would he would go way beyond mere “waterboarding” with suspected terrorists, not just in a rare “ticking time bomb” situation but on a regular basis, kill all the families of any suspected terrorists, summarily shoot any suspected terrorists with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, and fire anyone who defied to his orders to commit such internationally-regognnized war crimes. He also derided all his Republican primary opponents who disagreed as “pussies,” and somehow that vulgar argument wound up winning the Republican nomination and eventually the presidency.
Among the few Republicans opposing Haspel’s nomination in Arizona Sen. John McCain, who suffered five years of undeniable torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp during the Vietnam war, three of them voluntarily after he selflessly refused an early release because of his family’s clout rather than desert his comrades and hand the enemy a propaganda victory, which gives us respectful pause about Haspel’s nomination. During the last campaign the draft-dodging Trump said that McCain was only a hero “because he got caught, and I hate to tell you but I like a guy who didn’t get caught,” and although we’re still proud to vote cast our vote despite our many complaints about  Republican nominee McCain way back in ’12 we are also proud that we didn’t vote for either Trump or that awful Clinton woman back in ’16.
All the Trump apologists on the talk radio shows are damning McCain as as traitor to the country, and administration officials are joking about how the brain cancer-striken Senator and war Hero and former Republican presidential standard-bearer will soon be dead anyway. At that this point in ’18 we’d probably vote for Haspel’s confirmations if we were somehow Senators, but we’d feel ambivalent about her ambivalence in answer those questions the damned Democrats are asking about what she’d do if Trump kept his campaign promises and ordered her to commit a war crime without a “ticking time bomb” rationale.

— Bud Norman