Advertisements

Nat Hentoff, RIP

The first notable death of the year is that of journalist and author and critic Nat Hentoff, who died Saturday at the age of 91, and although that’s a ripe old age we wish he could have stuck around a bit longer. For the most of his seven-decades-long career and even right up to the end he was one of those durned back east big city liberals we’re always railing against, but he was one of the rare principled sorts who really did believe in life and liberty and individualism and everything else that liberalism claims to champion, so such principled conservatives as ourselves will need such stubbornly independent allies in the coming years.
Hentoff was born to Russian and Jewish immigrant parents in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, which way back then was a hotbed of both orthodox Judaism and radical politics, and by the age of 12 he was spending Yom Kippur conspicuously eating a salami sandwich on his tenement’s porch steps to signal his affiliation with the latter influence. A star student at America’s oldest public high school, Hentoff went off to Northeastern University, where he ran in to trouble as the student newspaper’s editor by publishing accounts of anti-Semitism at the the school, but still graduated with honors and started a career in journalism.
The jazz-crazed Hentoff’s first gig was as a music columnist with Downbeat, at that time the very Bible of jazz criticism, but despite an avid readership he was forced out after a few years because of his outspoken insistence the magazine hire more black writers. He then started a short-lived but briefly influential jazz journal of his own, and would later write several important books about the subject, and although he liked all that noisome be-bop and modernism more than we did his writings celebrated the glorious freedom of both the old and new jazz with a passion that’s still worth reading.
After that Hentoff wound up at the Village Voice, which was then as now the very Bible of radical chic liberalism, and at that point he was so eager to get out of the contentious field of jazz criticism that he started covering politics. He mostly concerned himself with any governmental attempts to restrict freedom of expression or pretty much any other freedom, and way back in the ’50s and into the ’60s he could find plenty of material about censorious right-winters and foul-mouth comedians and gay bars and Watergate to satisfy his avid liberal readership. He was still at it when we first started reading him in our junior high’s library in the ’70s, and although we picked up the Village Voice mostly because it gave our teenaged punk sensibilities a certain satisfaction to refute its radical chic liberalism we usually had to admit that the Hentoff guy had a point. Something in our own much-later prairie protestant upbringing in a hot bed of conservative orthodoxy had imbued a similar philosophy of First Amendment absolutism, and we vowed not to abandon that even for the sake of our side.
By the time we started our own journalism career in the early ’80s the liberals had been in charge for a while, at least in part because of Hentoff’s compelling arguments, and we already were noticing that they were suddenly the censorious and bossy ones. Conservative speakers were being literally shouted down at campus appearances and orthodox religious viewpoints were being excluded from public discussion, and all sorts of folks were suddenly confronted with new rules and regulations they never voted on. Hentoff couldn’t help noticing, either, and we have to admire that he wouldn’t abandon his First Amendment absolutism even for the sake of his side. He wrote column after column excoriating the rescinded commencement address invitations to conservative speakers, the silliness of a campus culture that insisted on ideological purity, the charges of racism leveled against any who dared speak out against the ostensible consensus on race, or the charges of homophobia against anyone who hewed to traditional religion, or any of the familiar rest of it. Of course it didn’t play well with his erstwhile avid readership on the left, and neither did it gain him much from respect from his erstwhile enemies on the right, but that’s all the more reason we’re going to miss the guy.
In his final years Hentoff was still as outspokenly atheistic as ever, but he was every bit as anti-abortion as any Orthodox rabbi, making a case for life from the very moment of conception to the end that was probably all the more convincing to many readers because it was grounded in the scientific and secular principles he’d always championed, and he even wound up writing admiringly of the radically anti-government Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul during that past crazy election year. Although we’re not so crazy about Paul ourselves neither are we crazy about the Republican president-elect with the censorious streak and the crazy idea that his government can make America great again, and although Hentoff was still a back east big city atheist liberal to the end we think we could have used his help in a time when principled conservatives few few and far between. In any case we wish Hentoff well, and hope that the God he never believed in will nonetheless welcome his soul to the perfect freedom he always wanted for the rest of us.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Commiserating With the Enemy

Mean old rock-ribbed old-school conservative Republicans though we are, we’ve lately been having some rather commiserating conversations with our bleeding-heart liberal Democratic friends. They all seem depressed that their pristine political philosophy has been dealt a blow by their party’s obviously corrupt and dishonest presumptive nominee, and they can only console themselves that at least the crazy notions of the other philosophical side and their party have turned up something even worse, and although we’ve long known how very crazy their notions are, and can see many reasonable arguments that what they’ve turned up this time around is even worse that what our party has to offer, we always wind up waving a beer and offering some empathy.
The most recent such conversation occurred at a favored ghetto dive with one of our favorite conversationalists, a delightfully opinionated fellow who is not only instinctively and intellectually a Democrat, but also professionally. By that we mean that he was once a Democratic State House Representative, has served in the party in various other capacities, and his current legal career is now largely predicated on the party’s last remaining shreds of political power in this reliably Republican state. He’s therefore quite reasonable by the standards of the liberal Democrats we run into at ghetto dives, and his statehouse career was mostly devoted to getting some state-funded railroad bridges installed north of downtown that have wound up saving us countless hours of counting boxcars and calculating how late we’ll be to that appointment on the east side, and despite his lapsed-Catholic ways he was always careful not to get too pro-choice in his heavily Hispanic district, and even if he did wage an ill-advised and quixotic campaign for drivers-licenes-for-illegals he’s mostly been a pragmatic fellow who always supported the more moderate sorts of Democrats that he thought might win something around here. He’s also the admirable sort of bleeding-heart who has done some earnest pro bono or otherwise unpaid legal work on behalf of some loser friends of ours who screwed up and needed the help, and he’s never held our mean old rock-ribbed old-school Republican conservatism against us, so we quite like the guy and usually give due consideration to his opinions.
We were heartened by our friend’s admitted distaste for his party’s obviously dishonest and corrupt nominee, and even more so by his lament that the only hiighly-popoular alternative was a self-described socialist, which he knows will never play in Kansas, or perhaps by some crazy chance some equally desultory choice imposed by the party’s dishonest and corrupt establishment at the convention, and he seemed heartened by our insistence that at least we wouldn’t be voting for the obviously dishonest and corrupt presumptive Republican nominee. He rightly predicted that we wouldn’t be voting for the obviously dishonest and corrupt most likely Democratic either, and glumly added that it was still a de facto vote for the Republican, and when we replied about how many of our conservative and Republican friends are now accusing us of a de facto vote for the Democrat he seemed sympathetic to our plight.
The argument about which candidate is actually worse inevitably followed, but neither side’s heart was in it. Despite another glorious prairie sunset our shared view from that ghetto dive was that America must have done something awfully wrong to be faced with a choice, and although we of course disagreed about what had gone wrong we could at least agree what something has gone awfully, awfully wrong.
Our friend remains cautiously optimistic that his party’s admittedly dishonest and corrupt candidate will prevail over our party’s admittedly dishonest and corrupt candidate, and as usual he makes some convincing arguments. We readily agreed that our party’s presumptive nominee isn’t so nearly as rich as he claims and nowhere near rich enough to fund a usual presidential general section campaign, and that much of the mass media would oppose him, and that all the usual electoral and demographic rules still apply, but when we pointed out that none of the usual rules would have vomited up these two awful choices he admitted to some uncertainty. His biggest complaint with the dishonest and corrupt likely Democratic nominee seemed to be that she might actually lose to the dishonest and corrupt presumptive Republican nominee, even if he predicted otherwise with an obviously false bravado, and his predictions are no more reliable than ours, so he also had to admit that his been a crazy year.
So that’s the view during a gorgeous prairie sunset from a ghetto dive in the middle of the country. At least a few of us on both sides of the center hope that the center will hold, and friendships will persist, and that somehow better choices will eventually come along.

— Bud Norman

The Progressives’ Assault on Progressivism

The latest outbreak of the nationwide academic craziness epidemic is occurring at prestigious Princeton University, and seems to mainly be about expunging the institution’s past association with President Woodrow Wilson, so we have very mixed feelings about the matter. As stuffy old prairie Republican autodidacts we have no patience for the campus hijinks of pampered Ivy Leaguers, and any attempts to expunge the past are an affront to our Burkean sensibilities, but of course we can’t resist some satisfaction in seeing Wilson’s reputation at long last under assault from the left.
Way back in the days of our public education Wilson was still regarded by our approved textbooks’ opinion as the exemplar of progressivism. There was some embarrassed acknowledgement that he led the country into World War I, and that his populist rival William Jennings Bryan had quit his post as Secretary of State in protest of the still-debated decision, and that certain provisions of the Constitution were effectively repealed by the Sedition Act for the duration of the war, but otherwise Wilson always seemed to come in a close second to President Franklin Roosevelt as one of the Democratic Party’s great presidents. Back then Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were duly acknowledged as Republican rivals, even if Lincoln’s unabashed capitalism and constitutionalism were always unmentioned while T.R.’s more free-wheeling progressivism was always stressed, but Wilson was very much a member of that same presidential pantheon. Wilson was acknowledged as the father of a newfound philosophy that would bring war-time coordination of industrial efficiencies to peacetime economies through the latest scientific power over human nature, and bring eternal peace through a League of Nations if only the Treaty of Versailles weren’t too harsh on those poor Germans and Ottomans, and of course you know he was once President of prestigious Princeton University, in contrast to that hayseed prairie populist Bryan who didn’t even go to college and lost three elections for the Democrats and wound up as the anti-evolutionist villain in “Inherit the Wind.”.
Even at that young age, and with the usual youthful yearning for heroes and all the addling effects of a public school education, it all seemed rather suspicious. Being seditious sorts we read beyond the approved textbooks to learn that Wilson’s war-time restrictions on the Constitution were seemingly intended to last well into peace-time, that the post-war economy never really recovered until the the hated Coolidge’s “return to normalcy,” that the whole government-economy idea never has worked out, and that the League of Nations didn’t prevent a World War II, and probably not because the Treaty of Versailles was too mean to the Germans. We were also unsurprised to learn that Wilson was an unapologetic racist who praised the Ku Klux Klan and re-segregrated the federal government after policies that had been imposed by Republicans from Roosevelt all the way back to such supposed Republican retrogrades as Ulysses S Grant. By that point we were even cynical of that Princeton pedigree, which still loomed large in the Wilson myth.
All of which further mixes our feelings regarding the current controversy at Princeton University. The students demanding his name be banished from the university’s history don’t seem concerned with all those dead doughboys of World War I, who were no doubt war-monger Republicans, and they aren’t the least offended by his disregard of the right of free expression, which is currently all the rage on America’s campuses, and certainly not by his cocksureness that such Ivy League educated gentlemen as himself could more efficiently run an economy than a society of free men and women, which is taken as a given, but rather all that racism. So far as we can tell all the World War I stuff that so troubled our textbook-writers is long forgotten, but that infamous White House screening of “A Birth of Nation” and the re-segregation of the federal government and all the rest of the old-school stone-cold racist stuff can no longer be overlooked. Our reading of the history that most of the current Princetonians have probably never read suggests that America’s game-changing entry into World War I was about the only saving grave of Wilson’s presidency, given the Lusitania and all the other sunken American ships and the German campaign of sabotage on American soil and intercepted Zimmerman memo that outlined a plot by Germany to revanche the southwest quadrant of the United States to Mexico and the possibility of longtime allies France and England falling to a world order dictated by Prussian militarism, and that even Wilson’s idealistic and utterly naive post-war diplomatic blunders do not deny him some credit for sending in those doughboys.
Even the most Orwellian efforts cannot change the fact that Wilson was once the President of Princeton University, too, and that it was perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his career. A presidential trivia question that always stumps our liberal friends is what two United States Presidents previously served as presidents of Ivy League universities, and they’re never able to recall that one was Dwight Eisenhower, who briefly served as president of Columbia University after a more noteworthy career in the military and before a more noteworthy two terms as President of the United States, they all know that Woodrow Wilson was once President of Princeton University, although they never remember he also served as Governor of New Jersey. That famous connection once added a certain sheen to Wilson’s reputation, and in turn his formerly textbook-approved standing once added to Princeton’s prestige, so we wonder if the protesters demanding his repudiation understand how their actions might diminish the economic value of the Princeton degrees they’ll probably wind up with. The whole effort reminds us of the ancient and recent Islamist conquerers who immediately set about destroying all the artifacts of the civilizations that preceded them, or the Khmer Rouge that proclaimed a Day One of history after its slaughter, or the villains in every dystopian novel or movie who set out to re-write the past and all its good examples and dire warnings. or even those more benign and seemingly well-intention efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from the top of the Gen. Robert E. Lee muscle car in the old “Dukes of Hazard” television show, although in one of these cases was anyone so bold as to throw away the prestige of an Ivy League degree.
Although we revile the anti-constitutional authoritarianism and economic control and credentialed elitism and outright racism of Woodrow Wilson, we can’t help thinking he’d be pleased with his legacy in both international affairs and academia. His greatest hope of the post-war era was that American subordination to some sort of international tribunal would yield international peace, an an ephemera still chased after by his bi-racial and supposedly post-racial successor, and during his tenure as President of Princeton his pedagogical philosophy was that “The purpose of a university should be to make a man as unlike his father as possible.” All of Wilson’s dreams seem to have to been finally achieved, and nobody on either the left or right seems at all happy about it. Our feelings, certainly, are mixed.

— Bud Norman

The Cultural Contradictions of Liberalism

There was another mass shooting in another “gun free zone” last week, so of course there is the usual clamoring for more restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. This time around the President of the United States has gone so far as to praise the gun laws of Australia and Great Britain, where the right to keep and bear arms has essentially been revoked altogether, and we were once again reminded of the strangely contradictory logic of modern liberalism.
The smart fellows over at Powerlineblog.com smartly observed that the same president who sneers it would be absurd to even contemplate rounding up and deporting an estimated 11 million or so illegal immigrants is now suggesting the country emulate laws that would involve rounding up and confiscating an estimated 350 million presently legal firearms. We are told by open borders advocates that rounding up and deporting so many illegal aliens would require not only a police state but a society of snitches and would foment open rebellion, and we take their argument seriously even as we insist on some level of enforcement of the immigration laws, yet they offer only a condescending chuckle in rebuttal to the argument that rounding up a far greater number of weapons from law-abiding citizens long accustomed to exercising their constitutional and God-given rights to self-defense might raise similar concerns. We’ve known enough gun-owners during our long life on the plains to understand that all that talk about prying guns out of cold, dead hands isn’t just bumper sticker braggadocio, and in the circles we run in we’ve also met enough anti-gun zealots to know they’d happily cooperate with whatever police state was required to satisfy their bien pensant souls, and on the whole we think it would be a far messier project than enforcing a border, but somehow the more liberal eye sees it otherwise.
Similar contradictions occur elsewhere in the immigration debate. We’re always struck that the same people who decry the incurable racism and xenophobia of American society are the ones assuring us that the introduction of tens of millions of foreigners into a rotten-to-the-core country, at an unprecedented rate that currently exceeds the number of jobs being created by a debt-laden economy, will prove no problem at all. Although we don’t share the same low regard for our fellow countrymen, most of whom seem to be enjoying all the excellent authentic Mexican and Asian restaurants that are suddenly flourishing in our town, and otherwise getting along with everyone reasonably well, we do understand human nature well enough to worry about how two separate cultures might co-exist within the same space. In our extensive reading of history we haven’t encountered any previous occasions when this occurred, but we’re aware that modern liberals tend to get their history from other books.
The immigration debate has lately been enlivened about what to do with the mass of reggaes fleeing the outbreaks of war in the Middle East, where the president is boasting about the peace he has wrought, and the same people who decry the incurable sexism and homophobia of American society are insisting that our allegedly Judeo-Christian culture can bring in tens of thousands of people from cultures that don’t allow women to feel sunlight on their faces and toss and homosexuals off tall buildings without any ensuing cultural conflicts. This is also with precedent, of course, and will strike anyone other than a doctrinaire liberal as unlikely.
All the rest of that blather about about the racist and sexist and homophobic nature and the moral equivalence of societies that condone slavery and forced genital mutilation of women and toss homosexuals off tall buildings seems rather contradictory, too. We can think of other examples of the mutually exclusive arguments offered by modern liberalism, but the hour is growing is late and at this point we’ll be satisfied if the latest gun-grabbing proposals are easily repelled as the more modest proposals that were put forth after the last mass shooting. The latest mass-shooting was by a mixed-race nutcase with an apparent animus toward Christians, so there’s little chance we’ll be having one of those “national conversations” about anything else.

— Bud Norman

Keeping Up With the Fashions

Being a movie star seems awfully hard work, if only because of the effort involved in keeping up with the latest fashions. We don’t mean the latest in haute couture, as there are no doubt well-paid consultants to deal with all that, but rather the even more exhausting chore of keeping up with the even faster-changing trends in liberalism. Consider the case of screen actress Patricia Arquette, who offered up the obligatory political rant at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony and then found out in the trades that her opinions as well as her hair style are embarrassingly out-of-date.
Arquette seized the opportunity of her award for best supporting actress to cry out for equal pay for women, which seems a safe cause, having already been enshrined in federal law for the past several decades, but she managed to offend the more sensitive sensibilities by asking “all the gay men, and people of color, to fight for us now.” This strikes us as a meticulously inclusive invitation, and a solid if slightly hackneyed statement of solidarity with the right sorts of people, but that shows how much we know about the latest in liberalism. A writer at Buzzfeed scoffed that “Patricia’s comments show the danger in not being hip to this whole intersectionality thing,” and the “reproductive rights” web site HR Reality Check lamented that Arquette “erased gay women and women of color and all intersecting iterations of those identities,” and the United Kingdom’s Independent ran a round-up of outraged “tweets” that was summarized as “Many pointed out the irony of a wealthy white woman begging people who are worse off in society to help her out.”
Not being hip to this whole intersectionality thing ourselves, and realizing that an acceptance speech’s mention of all the endlessly extrapolating intersecting iterations of political identity groups would take so long that the band would start playing and Bob Hope himself would arise out of the grave to drag a mere best supporting actress off the stage, we can only sympathize with Arquette. She did get some fawning coverage from the likes of The Christian Science Monitor, which is apparently also un-hip to the whole intersectionality thing, and her reputation for Hollywood bravery will be burnished by the criticism she received from the conservatives at Fox News and elsewhere, who rightly pointed out that her “77 cents” figure is pure nonsense and that the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton senatorial office had wage discrepancies between their male and female employees more glaring that, but those unkind “tweets” must surely sting. We are unfamiliar with Arquette’s work but understand that she is the granddaughter of Cliff Arquette, who created the lovable “Charley Weaver” character, and the sister of Rosanna Arquette, who has contributed many memorable nude scenes to the America cinema, so we’d like to assume the best about her intentions.
Even such an impeccably up-to-date liberal as the actor Sean Penn managed to stir up a bit of indignation from the left by greeting an Academy Award winner from Mexico with a joke about green cards. We are familiar with Penn’s work, which is occasionally quite good but all too often in the service of preachy liberal melodrama, but he’s better known for his outspoken political views. He’s sort of the Paul Muni of the present day, and if you’re not one of those hard-core old-time film buffs who still remember Paul Muni that only makes our point. Penn’s liberal credentials include palling around with Latin American dictators, and he used to show up at such George W. Bush-made disasters as Hurricane Katrina to paddle canoes through waters so treacherous only the most brave paparazzi would follow, and he probably assumed that entitled him to some friendly joshing with the Academy Award winner from Mexico, who is reputedly Penn’s friend, and reportedly not at all offended by the joke, but he should have seen the criticisms coming. The joke wasn’t very funny, and Penn is a famously humorless fellow who once chastised another Academy Award presenter for making jokes about an actor named Jude Law, whose work we are also unfamiliar with, but the bigger problem seems to be that the old liberal tradition of making ironically racist jokes to prove that one isn’t racist has been lost. This is a shame, as we know lots of racist jokes and are ever eager to prove ourselves not racist, and we can be just an ironic as any liberal, but Penn should have seen it coming.
Race was the big theme of this year’s pre-Oscar hype, after all, what with so many of the nominees being people of non-color, or non-people of color, or whatever the currently correct locution for white people might be. Having seen absolutely none of this year’s contending movies we have no idea if the nominations and awards reflect racial prejudice or aesthetic discernment, yet we’re still weary of the topic. America still hasn’t achieved a perfection of racial justice, and will likely fail to do so as long as Americans remain humans, but surely there’s been enough progress to have an Academy Awards show not devoted to the topic.
The most intriguing brouhaha to come out of the Academy Awards started the day after, when a former beauty queen turned local news station morning show hostess was having a televised chat with her co-host about Lady Gaga’s performance of a medley of songs from “Sound of Music.” Effusing about the usually lurid chanteuse’s well-reviewed ability with such wholesome material, the young hostess blurted out that “It’s hard to really hear her voice with all that ‘jigaboo’ music that she does, or whatever you want to call it.” This rather jaw-dropping language naturally provoked numerous protests, even if she was on a Fox affiliate, with an audience presumably comprised entirely of racists well-accustomed to such language, and she immediately “tweeted” an apology with the explanation that she had no idea the word “jigaboo” carried any offensive racial connotation.
It is an unusually pleasing sign of the times that her explanation is entirely plausible. This seemingly ambitious young woman spoke the term without apparent embarrassment or defiance in front a black co-host, who was hired despite the Fox affiliation, and seemed slightly befuddled by the word as she spoke it a second time. More importantly, “jigaboo,” like a number of other once-familiar racial slurs, is by now virtually extinct from the American language, to the extent that the darned spell-check system on our computer keeps wanting to change it to “gigabyte,” and we can easily believe that a 20-something woman of sufficiently good rearing to win a beauty pageant and landed a local affiliate morning’s show has somewhere heard the term but not in any context that she was able to discern its meaning. The term is hardly apt for Lady Gaga’s usual material, which we would describe as techno-caucasian, and probably hasn’t been used to describe any musician since Al Jolson was singing “Swanee,” and even at a Klan rally the word would probably sound as dated “copacetic” or “twenty-three-skidoo.” There’s still a stubbornly persistent use of the “n-word,” mostly among people of color, or certain colors, although they substitute an “a” for the “er” and thus render it into an acceptable political statement, but otherwise racial slurs have become so uncommon that a reader would not know what we were talking about if we tried to clean up the “j-word.”
Even right-wing bastards such as ourselves refrain from such foul language, except when the news forces our hand, but at least we’re old enough and right-wing enough to have the advantage of knowing all the terms that we’re not using. Another advantage of conservatism is that it does not require keeping up with the latest fashions.  Conservatism is a consistent philosophy based on a timeless understanding of human nature,  will always be out of style, and none of us are likely to ever be standing on stage of the Academy Awards ceremony accepting a gold statuette. Liberalism has its career advantages, we suppose, but our bemusement is ample compensation.

— Bud Norman

Lies For the Greater Good, or Something

One problem with practicing deception, aside from the obvious moral hazards, is that a perpetrator can never claim credit for having successfully pulled it off. The temptation to boast about one’s cleverness in fooling the gullible was too great for Jonathan Gruber to resist, however, and he’s been caught on tape proudly explaining all the lies that were told get Obamacare passed.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor is widely known as the “architect” of Obamacare, having served as a technical advisor to the eponymous Obama administration during the law’s drafting, and with a surprising bluntness he admits that it was built on a foundation of lies. Speaking at a 2013 panel discussion during the University of Pennsylvania’s annual Health Economics Forum he said “The bill was written in a tortured way to make sure (Congressional Budget Office) did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scores the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.” That lie was also made necessary by the lie President Barack Obama told during the ’08 campaign that he would not allow any tax increases on anyone making less than $250,000 a year, and was acknowledged as a lie when the administration’s lawyers insisted the president always called a “mandate” was indeed a “tax” in order to win the Supreme Court’s approval for the law, but Gruber did not stop there. He also told his admiring audience that “If you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in, you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed,” which is basically an admission that the sales pitch about people keeping their plans if they liked their plans and the average American family seeing a $2,500 reduction in their annual health care costs and not adding a dime to the deficit and all the rest of it was a lie intended to obscure the redistributionist nature of the law. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber added, “and basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really critical for the thing to pass.”
Lest one think that Gruber enjoyed bamboozling his stupid fellow Americans as much as he seems to relish the re-telling, he insists that “I wish … we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.” Despite his admissions of dishonesty we’re inclined to believe this disclaimer. We don’t doubt that he’s quite disappointed to live in a constitutional republic with so many stupid people who must be lied to in order for his policy preferences to be imposed on them, or that he truly believes he knows better than 300 million people he has never met what is in their best interests, and would much prefer some system that allowed him dictatorial powers without resort to such unpleasant obfuscations. The attitude is infuriatingly widespread these days, and enjoys such intellectual respectability that the likes of Gruber are not at all embarrassed to express it in a public forum, so we’ll regard such heartfelt regret as sincere.
So long as he was unburdening himself, we wish Gruber had further conceded that pretty much the entirety of the modern liberal project is also based on lies being told to the people that modern liberalism claims to champion. Modern liberalism is basically a plan to rob Peter to pay Paul, but Peter is presumed to be an idiot who will fall for promises of some payoff down the road at some richer fellow’s expense, and Paul’s support can be counted on no matter how the plan is presented, and it’s all in the name of social justice, and those Republicans Peter might be tempted to vote for if the plan were more frankly stated are such awful people, so the liberal conscience is untroubled by any liberties that might be taken with the truth. The theory that the best policies derive from a democratic process of public deliberation based on honest arguments by opposing sides is quaintly old-fashioned, given a population too stupid to appreciate the obvious brilliance that is Obamacare, and cannot assail the modern liberal’s religious faith that he knows best.
Honesty and a decent respect for the democratic rights of their fellow citizens would be nice, but they’d rather have the law.

— Bud Norman

Bending the Moral Arc

The Russians are invading Ukraine, the Islamic State terror gang is beheading and crucifying and otherwise slaughtering thousands of people across a wide swath of Iraq and Syria and Libya, and another American aircraft carrier is heading to the contentious South China Sea, but not to worry. Speaking recently about the Islamic State’s beheading of an American journalist, just before another tee time, President Barack Obama assured the country that “the future is won by those who build and not destroy.”
At a news conference on Thursday Obama admitted in so many words that “We don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with the Islamic State, but he seemed to retain his usual faith in history’s happy predestination nonetheless. He and his Secretary of State have dismissed Russia’s massive land grab as a sign of weakness and an embarrassingly out-dated way of doing things, assurances have been made that all of that even more old-fashioned beheading and crucifying and slaughtering that the Islamic State gang has been up to certainly “has no place in the 21st Century,” and thus far these messes have dominated the news thoroughly enough that no one in the administration has been obliged by the press to explain why another aircraft carrier is needed in the South China Sea. “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” as the president is fond of saying, to the point that he had it woven into the Oval Office carpet, and we are expected to share his confidence that the aphorism will prove true no matter what befuddled efforts America might make.
A couple of smarter fellows over at National Review have already written convincingly about Obama’s childish faith that the good guys always win in the end, no matter how wimpy their good guy ways nor how ruthlessly bad the bad guys might be, but we would add that such fantastical notions are characteristic of modern liberal thinking about almost everything. Not just foreign policy, but  economics, social issues, and the very nature of man.
Liberal foreign policy presupposes that the rest of the world closely resembles one of those impeccably multicultural Benneton clothing ads with the rainbow coalition of good-looking hipsters that you can tell are so much cooler and up-to-date than any of those troglodyte Republicans we’ve got around here in America, and that if we just stopped doing the things that mean old George W. Bush used to do humanity would resume its normal state of peace and cooperation. This theory cannot explain why a troublesome portion of the rest of the world remains intent on beheading and crucifying and slaughtering or reestablishing Soviet Empires or making other sorts of mischief, no matter how unlike George W. Bush the American president might be, but this has not shaken the liberal faith. Those Islamic State terrorists with American or other western passports will still be waved past airport security while the wheelchair-bound old white woman heading from Cleveland to see her son in Chicago is given the full search, lest Islamic sensibilities be offended by our outrageous profiling, and it remains a moral imperative that we not acquire any information about the plots afoot by harshly interrogating a prisoner at Guantamo Bay. Diplomacy and sanctions and a chin-up moral superiority will surely sway those who are beheading and crucifying and slaughtering or reestablishing Soviet Empires, and we’ll not ask about that aircraft carrier heading to the South China Sea, and if those miscreants continue such out-of-date behaviors they’ll just look all the worse, at least in the eyes of American liberals.
The same sort of cocksureness infects liberal economics. For all their railing against unfettered American capitalism, liberals apparently believe it is such a magical cornucopia of prosperity that no matter what taxes and regulations and energy costs and cultural scorn that is imposed on it the invulnerable machine will continue to generate enough wealth that it’s just a matter of divvying it out to the right interest groups. When people and companies flee a city, county, state, or country to avoid such impediments they are derided for their lack of patriotism, which liberals define as a mindless obeisance to their agenda, and the resulting economic decline is more than offset by the increase in the liberal sense of moral superiority. America is such a rich country that surely we can do this generous thing or that compassionate thing, we are constantly told, even when those things are entirely antithetical to the capitalist ethos that once upon a time made America rich.
Liberalism similarly holds that you can smash the patriarchy and an army of social workers will fill in nicely for fathers, despite the results apparent on the streets of slums from New York City to Los Angeles to Ferguson, Missouri, and that a moral society can exist absent a moral framework that stigmatizes anything other than a lack of appreciation for homosexuality and contraception and the rest of the sexual revolution. When such rampant licentiousness results in what the feminists are now calling a “culture of rape” at the nation’s colleges we can simply do away with due process and a presumption of innocence for those nasty frat boys who seem the main beneficiaries of that still-lauded sexual revolution, while nuns can compelled to pitch in for the contraception of the more willing co-ed sexual revolutionaries, and with a few other coercive measures we should be able to maintain a more perfect sexual freedom. Some of those mean old Republican rednecks and those dastardly nuns won’t like it, but the addition of a few million more illiterate and unskilled workers from Third World countries to their benighted communities should provide just the right enlightenment and communal peace.
All of this derives from the liberals’ touching but ridiculous belief in the inherent goodness of man. The idea that a noble human spirit once held sway in a pre-agricultural epoch is as old as Jean Jacques-Rousseau’s 18th-century musings on the supposedly idyllic “State of Nature,” and it has done more damage to mankind than all the carbon it ever emitted. Rousseau’s philosophical opposite Thomas Hobbes was more correct in describing the state of nature as “nasty, brutish, and short,” and all the good that have been accomplished over the years was achieved by fierce resistance to the beheaders and crucifiers and slaughterers, all the wealth that has enriched mankind was created by individuals acting in their own enlightened self-interest, and the most tolerant and the most well-ordered societies in human history have been informed by the dour postlapsarian view of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It would be tempting to believe that the moral arc of the universe bends toward the justice that can be found in these timeless truths, but history shows that we have to do the bending, and it looks as if we’re blowing it.

— Bud Norman

The New Un-Americanism

We were not surprised to hear Howard Dean saying that we’re not Americans and should relocate to Russia or Ukraine. The former Vermont governor, Democratic National Committee Chairman, and progressive standard-bearer is an excitable fellow given to such ill-tempered outbursts, and his sentiments are nowadays all too common on the left. We frequently encounter such vitriol in our social encounters, usually from lefties who are fooled by our disheveled appearance and lack of horns and pitchfork into thinking we share their hatreds, and these days even the Senate Majority Leader and the President of the United States are casting the same sorts of aspersions.
Still, Dean’s rant at a rally for a congressional candidate in Colorado was both hurtful to our sensitive feelings and confounding to our logical brains. Dean wasn’t referring to us specifically, just to Republicans and conservatives in general, but we couldn’t help taking it personally. We were also flummoxed how such wholesome Kansas boys and bona fide Eagle Scouts as ourselves could be considered un-American, and even more so by why we should feel more at home in Russia or Ukraine. Back in our childhood days it was the commies who were advised to go back to Russia, and you won’t find anyone less commie than us. The slur seems especially odd given that Dean was speaking on behalf of a candidate named Romanoff. “Go back to Ukraine” is an entirely unfamiliar slur, and we haven’t the slightest idea what it means. If Dean means to imply that we should go to a bankrupt country run along crony capitalist lines that is being bullied by the Russians, we see no reason to inconvenience ourselves with a move.
Dean’s insults were preceded by a claim that Republicans are engaged in some sort of nefarious plot to deny voting rights, but we’re not aware of any such effort and are certainly not involved. We assume he’s referring to checking voting registrations and requiring photo identification and other rules intended to prevent people who don’t have a legal right to vote from casting a ballot or two, but that hardly seems a reasonable cause to deport anyone, especially to such uninviting locales as Russia or Ukraine. We suspect that Dean’s wrath was inspired by the broader range of our constitutionally-limited government and free market capitalist opinions.
Modern liberals such as Dean, Reid, and Obama are so cocksure of their moral and intellectual superiority that anyone who disagrees with them must be so very evil that they’re no longer entitled to share space in their country. Recent revelations about the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservatives, intrusive search warrants based on criminal conspiracy charges against nosy journalists, the banning of right-leaning speakers from academia, and the occasional beatings of protestors by union thugs suggest that they’re intent on enforcing their prejudices. This strikes us as a rather illiberal attitude, but maybe that’s just our evil streak. There’s always an outside chance that massive deficits, strangling regulations and bureaucratic control, a foreign policy based on betraying allies and sweet-talking adversaries, libertine social policies, and bossy rules about everything from light bulbs to school lunches are indeed the way to achieve heaven on Earth, and our inherent evilness simply keeps us from grasping this obvious truth.
Even so, that “un-American” slur seems odd. Anyone who has read Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” as all good liberals have done, should know that Americanism is a creed of avaricious capitalism and unrelenting racism and militaristic imperialism, in dire of need of the transformation that the president promised, and it’s a little late in the game to start claiming that those rich white slaveholders who founded the nation were all up-to-date collectivist Democrats who didn’t add Obamacare to the constitution merely because of an oversight. Reid considers the Koch brothers “un-American” because they exercise their free speech rights to advocate free markets, and Dean thinks it traitorous to restrict voting in American elections to American citizens, and the president seems to think it unpatriotic to oppose anything he does no matter how far it might stray from the Constitution, but it’s hard to reconcile any of that with the liberal critique of America or any historically accurate notion of the country’s creed.
In any case, we have no plans to move to Russia or Ukraine, nor do we intend to stop advocating sensible rules against voter fraud or the economic systems that once made America the most prosperous and free nation in the history of the planet. Dean his his fellow liberals can try to evict us, if they truly want to, but they’d better get on the job before the mid-term elections.

— Bud Norman

Rumblings in California

The fault lines running through California are becoming active, and we don’t mean that in the seismological sense.
For some time we’ve been eagerly anticipating the fissures within the liberal coalition to start cracking, leading to a long-overdue political earthquake. Modern liberalism isn’t so much an ideology as a loose confederation of ethnic and economic interest groups, whose interests are often in conflict, and even the rigid discipline that the Democratic party somehow commands cannot keep it stable forever. The big shake-ups and crack-ups that occasionally roil across America’s cultural and political life often originate in California, and two recent stories out of the Golden State suggest that it might be happening again.
One concerned the California Assembly’s attempts to restore affirmative action at the state’s universities, a cause dear to liberal hearts. Affirmative action is especially dear to the hearts of liberal blacks and Latinos, who are allowed admission to the more desirable universities with inferior qualifications than other applicants, but is not as popular with liberal Asians, who often are the other applicants who are denied admission despite their superior qualifications. The old system that California voted down was so convoluted that whites with lesser academic credentials were favored over harder-working Asians, which endeared the scam to liberal whites even if didn’t quite fit with their rationale that affirmative action is rectifying past injustices, but most of the Democrats in the Assembly were eager to restore it.
The measure now seems unlikely to pass, however, because the Asian-American members of the party are refusing to go along. There are enough of them that when you add their total to the Republican Party’s puny representation it can quash such nonsense, apparently, and if they start to realize how often their economic interests coincide with those mean old white men from Orange County or wherever the last few California Republicans come from it might even thwart a lot of the other bad ideas that become law in California.
The other story concerned the far-left’s ongoing crime spree against the high-tech industry. With “economic inequality” currently the favorite gripe of liberalism the more active liberals in Northern California have lately been vandalizing the opulent buses provided by the Google company to its well-paid employees, and in recent days they’ve become tipping over those tiny “smart cars” favored by the high-tech workers. Silicon Valley has been a reliable source of funds and votes for the Democrats for many years, the Google buses are intended to cut down on traffic congestion and fuel consumption and global warming and all those other things that liberals profess to hate, but for now it’s apparently more progressive to hate anyone making a certain amount of money. Those tipped-over “smart cars” even sported the obligatory Obama for President bumper stickers, but even such displays of righteousness will not spare you the wrath of income inequality mob. Some are claiming those Obama bumper stickers suggest the work of right-wingers, as if mobs of mayhem-minded Romney voters are terrorizing the streets of San Francisco, but it would be hard for even the party-loyal anarchist to find a car in that city without one.
The Google executives who’ve found angry mobs on their front yards are loyal Democrats, but perhaps they’ll reconsider as it becomes apparent that the guillotine is being sharpened for them as well as those rich industrialists. Silicon Valley is as steadfastly capitalist as any Kansas oil field, after all, and it’s hard to see how they’ve benefited from all the regulations and taxations they’ve helped to impose on all their customers. We’ve always suspected their leftist leanings were mostly motivated by a desire to be hip, but as they age into proper industrialist maturity and realize that angry mobs and vandalized buses are now the height of hipness they might even take their natural place in the Republican party.
Or maybe not. The discipline of the Democratic party has proved strong, and they’ve been able to cobble together new confederations out of different ethnic and economic interests as some the old ones prospered just enough to move on, and they might be able to whip up enough race- and class-baiting to keep the current one intact. If so, we’ll need fault lines of the seismological sort to solve the California problem.

— Bud Norman

The View from Back East

The fortune cookie that accompanied our meal at a P.F. Chang’s franchise somewhere in the endless sprawl of the Philadelphia metropolitan area told us that “A visit to a strange place will bring you renewed perspective.” The faux-Chinese proverb provided by the faux-Chinese restaurant elicited a slight chuckle, given that the joint was eerily identical to the P.F. Chang’s franchise on the far east side of Wichita, right down to the overly-friendly waiter and the over-priced appetizers, but in truth our rare travel beyond the prairie has offered a few fresh insights.
Modern technology and corporate capitalism have done much to obliterate the regional differences that have long strained the union of the states, but there’s still no mistaking that we’re not in Kansas anymore. The television shows and the offerings at the local movie theaters are the same as back home, and although the local news anchors and anchorettes are different they all have the same handsome and pretty and self-serious look about them and the same bright graphics over their shoulders and the same tales of crime and tax increases to report. We’ve passed countless malls with the same impermanent architecture and the same stores as that we pass by on our drives back home, and although the convenience store market is dominated by something called Wawa rather than the QuikTrip stores that dominate the prairie they have the same gargantuan sodas and high-calorie fast foods and sterile atmosphere. There’s a lot more of everything, though, and occasional other reminders half a continent continues to make a difference in the daily life of an American.
These differences are especially apparent in the quadrennial election results, when the states in the northeast light up in blue and the prairie states turn red, and our perusal of the local press provides plenty of other reminder that folks are far more liberal in this part of the country. The Philadelphia Inquirer is obliged to cover the politics of not only Pennsylvania but also Delaware and New Jersey and the rest of the itty-bitty states that are crammed together around here, and little of it makes sense to someone more accustomed to Kansas politics. Gun-grabbing, Muslim-loving, Obama-embracing Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is considered a Republican by the prevailing local standards, and his commonsensical insistence on balanced budgets and non-punitive tax rates even makes him a relatively radical right-winger in the view of the east coast press, and it is amusing to read the speculation that he might win over enough honest-to-God Republicans in the heartland to win his party’s nomination for president. Such crazy talk is unaccountable to the Kansas kind of Republican, but after just a few days back east it begins to make some sort of sense.
The first thing a denizen of the prairie notices after arriving at Philadelphia’s intimidatingly immense airport is the city’s downright claustrophobic population, which can’t help but inculcate the collectivist mindset that is at the root of liberalism. The vast space of the prairie provides room for the rugged individualism that underlies the conservative philosophy, but getting so many millions of people to live together in such a constrained area apparently requires a degree of regulation that only liberals are willing to contemplate. Class differences are also more conspicuous and no doubt more infuriating here, where the poverty is more glaringly oppressive and the wealth more gleamingly opulent, so the enforced egalitarianism of the liberal program has an understandable appeal. Even as it becomes more apparent that it will lead to everyone but the politically connected becoming equally poor and stupid, we expect that a good many northeasterners will be satisfied with the result.
Still, there’s much to be said for this strange part of the country. Prairie folk will also notice that there’s an immense amount of history here, with elegant homes and businesses that were already old when J.R. Meade established the mud-walled trading post that was the very first edifice of what would become Wichita, Kansas, and we can’t help enjoying that irony that everything in our far more old-fashioned hometown is relatively new compared to what we find in this more up-to-date metropolis. The Philly cheese steak sandwiches at a distinctively local little eatery called Romano’s cannot be duplicated elsewhere, even if no one in this seems to know how to cook a proper chicken fried steak, and there are other only-in-Philadelphia touches that have somehow survived the relentless homogenization of modern America. Most of the folks we’ve encountered have been friendly enough, as well, and the modern technology allowed us to watch the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad extend their thus-far unbeaten season on the internet, even in a place where most people would likely wonder what the hell a Wheatshocker is.
With a return to federalism and a bit of tolerance by both city and country folk, there’s a chance the union might somehow survive that red and blue electoral map.

— Bud Norman