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Watching Liberty Booed Off the Stage at Two Conventions

Despite our particular aversion to the whole “reality show” genre of television, and our general disdain of the entire medium altogether, we did make a point to log onto the internet Wednesday evening to watch and listen to C-Span’s coverage of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ address to the Republican National Convention. Our oddball tastes in entertainment include an affinity for political rhetoric, and Cruz is as good at it as anybody these days, and his address did prove a most fascinating episode. The Senator seemed to deliver a robustly persuasive argument against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but he he only once mentioned the official Republican nominee by name, and at no point was there an unambiguous endorsement, so those who have been closely following the plot of this dreary tale are sure to have noticed some fascinating further ambiguities.
If you’ve been happily distracted from this dreary tale you need to understand that Sen. Cruz is better known to fans of the habitually lying official Republican nominee as “Lyin'” Ted Cruz, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, and that back when they were the last two contenders still vying for the nomination the now-official Republican nominee threatened to “spill the beans” on Cruz’ wife and “tweeted” out his gloat that she was uglier than the now-official Republican nominee’s plagiarizing-from-Michelle-Obama third super-model trophy wife, and claimed that Cruz was actually an oh-my-God punting-on-third-down Canadian and that his Cuban-born father had been in on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, based solely on the reporting of the official Republican nominee’s good friends at The National Enquirer, so the address was full of intriguing plot lines. There was a gracious and specific congratulation to the now-official Republican nominee who had shamelessly and ridiculously slandered Cruz’ wife and father and personal history, and a rousing denunciation of the undeniably awful presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but in terms that don’t reflect well on the now-official Republican nominee.
His strikingly brief address quite persuasively made the case that the traditional Republican value of freedom of speech is at odds with a presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee who would overturn the Citizens United ruling that people are free to criticize her, and generously neglected to mention that the official Republican nominee has promised that anyone who criticizes him will have “problems, such problems” should he win. He affirmed the right of homosexuals to pursue their preferences but stood up for the right of others not to be involved, without mentioning that both of America’s major parties now seem on board with more authoritarian post-sexual-revolution measures, and he spoke against open borders while also speaking well of the father who legally came to this country from communist Cuba and all the other legal immigrants who had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy. He spoke about giving parents a choice in educating their children, which neither party’s official or all-but-certain nominees ever mention, and the state’s rights on everything from marijuana to California-style taxation that also largely go unmentioned. All in all it was a stem-winding speech against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but hardly a ringing endorsement of the now-official Republican nominee.

Which of course wound up with him being booed off the stage by the Republican National Convention. He ended by saying that “We will unite the country by standing together for shared values by standing for liberty,” and in this sorry virtual reality show that seems to define our actual reality that will get you booed off any of the available stages. We’d have preferred that he defended the honor of the one wife of his youth and the pro-American immigrant father who surely had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy, no matter what craziness the official Republican nominee’s friends at The National Enquirer concocted, and been more frank about the lies being told by both of the major party candidates, but at this point we’ll argue that “Lyin’ Ted” was at least more truthful than either of the official and all-but-certain major party nominees and made a stronger case against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee than the now-official Republican nominee ever could, and we’ll hold out faint hope that next time around will be better.

— Bud Norman

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America, Still in the Top 20 For Freedom

It’s a free country, according to an oft-used expression, but we can’t help noticing that America is not nearly so free as used it be. The good folks at the free-market Cato Institute have corroborated this observation in their latest “Human Freedom Index,” which surveys a wide range of indicators of personal and economic liberty, and finds that America is now only the 20th freest nation in the world.
Although we’re surprised to find America ranking behind such countries as Hong Kong and Chile, the rest of the report seems about right. The authors say America has fallen three spots in the rankings since 2012, and that “the decline reflects a long-term drop in every category of economic freedom and in its rule of law indicators,” then note that “the performance is worrisome and shows that the United States can no longer claim to be the leading bastion of liberty in the world.” We’re pleased to know that it’s as worrisome to them as it is to us, but presently an even greater worry is that so much of the public seems not at all concerned. The Democratic candidates seem more concerned with the problem of “income inequality,” which apparently will require ever more rules and regulations and limits on equality, while The Republican Party seems disinclined to put much of a fight against it, and all those independents who will decide the matter tend to vote for free stuff rather than freedom.
We can’t tell if the Cato Institute is taking into account such petty rules as light bulb bans and no smoking in even the seediest honky-tonks and mandatory seat belt use and limits of the size of soda one can purchase, but there are by now so many of these offenses against personal autonomy that even the communist Chinese rules of Hong Kong can’t keep up. More significant freedoms have also been noticeably diminished. The freedom of the press has declined to a point that reporters are being kept in roped enclosures at public events and their investigative reporting is being treated as a criminal conspiracy by the Department of Music. People are still free to attend church on Sunday, but freedom of religion no longer means that you can no longer act according to the beliefs taught there if a same-sex couple wants you to bake a cake for their wedding. Freedom of speech is still largely free of government regulation, unless you make a YouTube video that is critical of Islam and makes a convenient scapegoat for a failed Libyan policy, but the howling mods of the easily offended are doing a good enough job of constricting public debate. As for economic liberty, just ask any businessperson you know about how many permits and inspections and taxes and employment laws and equal opportunity requirements and reams of forms to be filled out they have to deal with.
Once upon a time in America the people would have been boiling tar and plucking feathers to be at least as free as the people of Hong Kong or Chile, and if you re-read the Declaration of Independence you’ll realize that Americans once went to their muskets over far less, but these days few seem to mind. The average citizen of the 20th freest country is now content with that status, so long as some of the income is redistributed his way and the games are playing on cable and there’s an illusion of broader freedom because everyone’s cussing on the comedy shows and everyone’s got a tattoo and those restrictive old notions of sexual morality are being punished by the state.
The economy and illegal immigration and the continuing difficulties with the more belligerent sorts of Muslims and the rest of the issues dominating the presidential debate are all important, but we’d love to see a candidate for the presidency or any other office make it his foremost issue to return to America to its rightful place as the leading bastion of liberty in the world. Such a project would do wonders for the economy, involve the necessary enforcement of America’s immigration laws, and strengthen America’s commitment to the freedom that those more belligerent sorts of Muslims threaten. We suspect would like it, too, just as Americans used to back when this really was a free country.

— Bud Norman

Messing With the President

In case you’ve just tuned into the latest Washington soap opera, and are wondering why the Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to withhold funding for Obamacare even if it leads to a prolonged government shutdown that poses all sorts of political risks for the party, President Barack Obama has offered an explanation. Speaking to a crowd of adorers in Liberty, Missouri, on Friday, Obama said of the Republicans that “They’re not focused on you. They’re focused on politics. They’re focused on messing with me.”
Another explanation would be that the Republicans genuinely loathe Obamacare because of its budget-busting costs, job-killing mandates, bureaucratic inefficiencies, inevitable cronyism and corruption, intrusions into the people’s most private matters, and assorted other problems which are becoming clearer with each step of its implementation, but one can readily understand why Obama would prefer to think that it’s all about him. Harder to understand is how the Republican opposition to Obamacare could be effective politics if it were not focused on the people who overwhelmingly share their disdain or the law, or why Obama is in such a grouchy mood if it’s not effective politics, but he’s no doubt confident that no one will ever get within shouting to distance who would ask such impertinent questions.
In the upcoming public relations battle over Obamacare the Democrats will have a large government-funded propaganda campaign, the constant help of much of the still-powerful media, an army of unthinkingly loyal activists, and of course the presidential bully pulpit, but thus far they are conspicuously lacking in persuasive arguments. The president continues to make all the old promises about health insurance premiums going down and everyone keeping their existing coverage, but even his most faithful fans will be more inclined to believe the bottom line on the bills that come that do or the regretful explanations of their employers who have cancelled longtime benefit packages. The millions of Americans who can find only part-time work will be assured that Obamacare’s requirement that full-time jobs entail costly and time-consuming health care compensation has nothing to do with it, but more and more people are now hearing otherwise from the people doing the hiring. The president is fond of pointing out that although health care costs continue to rise they are doing so at a slower rate, but when the Republicans get a quote or two in the story for the sake of balance they can point out that the rise started slowing back in ’06 when Obama was still voting “present” as an Illinois state senator.
There’s always the Obamacare provision that allows the young folk to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26, which is said to be popular, but certainly some percentage of those aging dependents would prefer a full-time job and their own health care plan. Expect to hear a lot about Obamacare’s mandate that insurers cannot deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, which sounds very compassionate and continues to poll well, but the public seems to have figured out that there’s a lot more in that 2,000 page law and the gazillions of pages of resulting regulations than just that.
Nor is it likely to be persuasive if Obama makes it all about himself. There are still some true believers out there who will rally round their president no matter the cause, and have plenty of time to do so between unemployment checks, but after the National Security Agency’s snooping and saber-rattling at Syria and the general lack of hope and change that the administration has generated the numbers seem to be dwindling. As much as some people might still love the president, many would prefer to have a full-time job and are beginning to understand that Obamacare makes it harder to get one. For those less enamored of the president from outset his petty and petulant tone will only exacerbate their dislike and stiffen their resistance as the battle gets uglier.
Republicans aren’t opposing Obamacare just to mess with the president, but if it gets him so obviously annoyed that’s an added bonus.

— Bud Norman

City Guns, Country Guns

During a lazy afternoon in a local tavern a while back we happened to engage in a conversation with a friendly young man who was happily anticipating an impending move to New York City. We were naturally curious to know why he was so eager to leave our humble prairie hometown and move to such a place, and with that starry-eyed look so often on found on youthful faces he told us that “In New York City you can do anything you want.”
His sentiment was certainly familiar. The notion of the Big City Back East as an Eden of unfettered freedom and a refuge from the blue-nosed bossiness and social repression of the heartland has been a staple of American fiction since at least the days of Sinclair Lewis and Sherwood Anderson. A similar assumption has served as the plot basis of countless movies, rock ‘n’ roll music has perpetuated the idea well into our lifetimes, and this perception has permeated the entire popular culture to the point that it is now an unquestioned cliché.
Our young acquaintance had obviously not gotten around to questioning it, so we felt obliged to caution him that he would likely find it is no longer true. In New York City you can do anything you want, we warned, but just trying lighting up a smoke on even the most isolated bench in Central Park. Try putting some extra salt on your French fries, and you’ll notice that the city has taken away the salt shakers. Try to open a small burger stand of your own, and you’ll find that you have to jump through thousands of regulatory hoops and grease countless palms along the way, and if you are able to do so the city will tell you what kind of oil to use for your French fries. There are more rules and regulations per capita in New York City than the hayseed Republicans here in the hinterlands could ever dream up, we explained to the young man, and the unwritten rules of the social compact are even more plentiful and restrictive.
The conversation was brought to mind by reading about the state of New York’s new gun law, which Gov. Mario Cuomo has proudly described as “the toughest in the country.” Hastily passed and signed in order to prevent the state’s citizens from exercising the their soon-to-expire Second Amendment rights, the bill bans a variety of weapons and requires mental health professionals to report on any patient that might conceivably be a threat to others, among numerous other new rules. Every provision of the bill will be duly ignored by the state’s numerous criminals, of course, but at least New Yorkers can take comfort in knowing that there are plenty more laws for the law-breakers to break and that their law-abiding neighbors won’t have any “military-style features” on their guns. It’s the sort of busy-body nonsense that New Yorkers seem ever willing to put up with, and we’d like to point out to that young man in the tavern that it’s unlikely to happen in Kansas.
Say what you will about the rather rock-ribbed Republicanism that has lately reasserted itself here in the Sunflower State, but at least our lawmakers don’t concern themselves with what kind of gun a citizen uses to shoot the bastard that is trying to break into his house. They don’t seem to care how much salt you put on your French fries, either, and if you want to cook them up in trans-fat oil, they’re also cool with that. During one of our intermittent Democratic governorships they banned smoking in the honky-tonks, but through the nine months of warm weather we get around here the smokers can still sit outside behind the makeshift loophole fences and indulge their habit with beer firmly in hand.
There’s a politically significant religious right here, to an extent that annoys the local liberals and would appall a New Yorker, but by this point they seem to have given up the fight against drinking and gambling and the sex-crazed culture, and the only things they still want to keep anyone from doing are getting an abortion or marrying someone of the same sex. These is a relatively minor restrictions, given that neither prohibition would affect our daily lives, no one we know would be affected by both, and despite the best efforts of the religious right the state still has the most permissive abortion laws on the planet and all of our homosexual friends seem to be getting plenty of action.
Perhaps the most plausible explanation for this discrepancy in liberty is population density. The freedom to swing one’s arm ends at the other person’s nose, we are told, and there’s vastly more room to swing one’s arm around here on the plains. In New York City they have to stack the people on top of one another high into the sky, an arrangement requiring a certain degree of collectivism, but Kansas still affords a sufficient amount of space for the most rugged individualism. We’re nestled in a middle-class neighborhood in the state’s most populous metropolitan area, a big bad city by the region’s reckoning, and all the homes have back yards that will accommodate gardens and generators and chicken coops and almost anything else needed for off-the-grid self-sufficiency. A neighbor accidentally discharging a firearm, even one with a “military-style feature,” would be unlikely to harm anyone but himself.
Our theory would also explain the past several electoral maps, which have consistently shown vast swathes of Republican red flecked with tiny dots of Democratic blue. Unfortunately for the GOP, those tiny dots are jam-packed with people demanding ever more rules be imposed on the people upstairs, while those vast swathes are populated by a smaller number of people driving gas-guzzling SUVs and firing shotguns off into the otherwise empty spaces. Democracy being what it is, the people of the densely populated dots get to choose a president for the people of the sparsely populated expanses, but it would be best for the country if they didn’t impose all of their rules on the people living in distinctly different circumstances.
A happy hitch-hike across the surprisingly scenic state of New York many years ago taught us that there are a lot of down-home folks west of The City, including the amiable prison guard who proudly displayed his gun to us when providing a ride into the small town where the corrections industry is a mainstay of the local economy, and they all have our sympathy regarding the new law. That’s New York’s business, though, and so long as it stays there we don’t expect people outside the state to make any trouble about it. Should the federal government try the same thing here, though, it will likely be different.

— Bud Norman