The Democrats in the Post-Clinton Era

At this point we haven’t had the chance to pick up a copy of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” a recently released book by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, but it’s being so widely quoted in all the papers that we soon won’t need to read it. We should issue a spoiler alert, but apparently the Clinton campaign was very badly run.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, of course, but the early reviewers have been surprised that it was run even more badly than they thought. The authors were granted complete access to the innermost circles of the Clinton campaign in exchange for an assurance they wouldn’t make anything public until after the election, probably because Clinton wanted someone to chronicle her long-presumed victory, and it looked even worse from the inside than it did to the public. Although Clinton had years to plan and plenty of money to spend, as well an ex-president husband and a decades-old political machine, the book describes a series of amateur mistakes, missed opportunities, and a complete lack of a coherent campaign strategy.
The book describes volunteers being sent out to knock on Wisconsin doors with any campaign literature or training, a campaign manager who declined to spend any money on polling in the crucial state of Florida, a once politically astute husband who agreed that Clinton had the state “in the bag,” and a frustrated aide whose warnings that the director Federal Bureau of Investigation’s statements about her e-mail practices should have prompted a change in tactics went unheeded. There’s also a conclusion that the campaign also failed at the fundamental task of providing a persuasive argument why Clinton should be president.
To be fair, making that argument would be a tough job for even the shrewdest and best-run campaign. Clinton was touted as a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and and presumptive First Woman President of the United States, but her time as First Lady was spending defending her sexual predator husband’s appalling behavior, her brief Senate tenure was entirely unforgettable, and her four years as Secretary of State brought nothing but a lot of baggage about re-set buttons and Benghazi and those e-mail practices the FBI found to be “extremely careless” but not quite illegal. She was indisputably a woman, which some voters found a compelling argument for a candidacy, but that was never going win a majority.
She did wind up winning the popular vote by about three million or so, but that only makes it all the embarrassing she couldn’t figure out how get just a few hundred thousand more in Florida and the Rust Belt states that wound up long the electoral vote. That she lost to Donald Trump, who had plenty of baggage and campaign chaos and no relevant experience and the lowest approval ratings of any president on Inauguration Day, does require a book-length explanation.
We expect that most Democrats will gratefully accept Clinton’s awfulness as a candidate and the awfulness of her campaign as the reason their party couldn’t hold on the White House for another four years, because it doesn’t require them to admit that their party’s control for the previous eight years also had a lot to do with it, and that the party itself is in disrepute some key parts of the country. The 40 percent or so of the party’s primary and caucus voters who much preferred the self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders have already convinced themselves that their guy would have won, and that all the party has to do overcome the Republican’s majorities in both chambers of Congress and most of the nation’s legislatures and governors’ mansions is to become even more insistent on racial identity politics and high taxes and hyper-regulation of the economy and an ever-expanding welfare state.
In other words, do more of exactly what drove just enough voters in Florida and those Rust Belt states as well as all the more reliable red states into the arms of a thrice-married casino-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam university mogul and reality television star whose only compelling argument for his candidacy was that he was the antithesis of all that.
Had the Democrats chosen former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb or the former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, the relative centrists who were knocked out early in the race while polling in the low single digits, we suspect they might have made easy work out of such a flawed candidate as Trump. Some day we’d love to read the inside account of why the party poobahs preferred such a scandal-ridden and charisma-free nominee as Clinton, who was far enough to the left to scare everyone on the right and a whole lot of people in the center without firing up all those Sandersnistas on the left. Trump was scary enough to the left that they would have preferred anyone with a “D” after his or her name, and he was scary enough to a whole lot of people in the center who would have preferred any number of possible Democrats who weren’t Clinton or Sanders, so the Democrats should ponder that.
Trump is now as unpopular as any president has ever been after such a short time in office, and it’s going to take a lot more winning than he’s done so far to change that, so the Democrats are presented with yet another opportunity to blow. They came uncomfortably close to winning a special election here in Kansas’ Fourth Congressional District a week ago with a candidate who liked to be photographed firing semi-automatic rifles and talking a fairly centrist line, and they still have a chance in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District with a young whippersnapper who’s cultivating a very pragmatic public image, but in such a reliably Republican district he’s also likely to come up short, so all the Democrats we drink beer with will probably conclude they should have gone full socialist with a transgendered bisexual of some indeterminate race.
Clinton was an awful candidate who ran an awful campaign, awful enough to lose to the likes of Trump, but the Democrats would be well advised to admit they have bigger problems than that. The Republicans are bound to have their own problems with Trump, but they once again might not be enough.

— Bud Norman

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All Lives Matter, Some More Than Others

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

— Bud Norman

Ballad of a Switchblade Knife

Last Christmas we received the cherished gift of a switchblade knife. If a switchblade knife seems inappropriate to the spirit of the holiday you should know that it’s a family heirloom, handed down to us by our beloved pop along with an apocryphal story about how he wrested it from some trouble-making punk in an Oklahoma honky-tonk, and that it’s a strangely beautiful object even without the lore. A bone-handled and double-edged 50’s-era Ethan from Italy, where they know a thing or two about cutting people, it’s the same sort of knife that inspired Link Wray and his Ray Men’s “Switchblade” and was used in the murder in “Twelve Angry Men” and the fight scene in “Rebel Without a Cause” and the “cool, man, cool” dance numbers in “West Side Story.”
We also notice that our Christmas gift is probably not much different from the knife that seems to have started the chain of events that has resulted in the riots currently raging in Baltimore.
The rioting is ostensibly an expression of anger about the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries after being arrested by Baltimore police, which followed Gray fleeing from and being chased down and tackled by officers, and although it’s still frustratingly unclear from the news why the police approached Gray or why he chose to flee, or what happened while Gray was in custody, the official reports indicate that a switchblade knife was found on the suspect and no other reasons have yet been offered or any other charges alleged for his fatal encounter with law enforcement. All sorts of knives are strictly regulated in Maryland, a state that also prides itself on strict regulation of gun ownership, so it is at least plausible that all the burned-out businesses and cancelled ball games and violent assaults and other ugliness that have lately been visited upon Baltimore all began with a switchblade knife.
Such a breakdown of the civilized order of society raises all sorts of important questions, of course, and the conservative viewpoint will immediately wonder about the Democratic Party’s monopolistic control of both Maryland and Baltimore, the apparent gleefulness of the supposedly angry protestors as they avail themselves of the free stuff that rioting provides, the post-patriarchal subcultures that foster such seething anger and destructiveness, and the nihilistic disregard for consequences of the rioters’ apologists. Still, from the same conservative viewpoint one should see that at least some small part of the problem is too many laws, a complaint that conservatives regularly voice on other occasions that don’t involve possibly shady young black men dying while in police custody. Conservatives will quite rightly decry the draconian gun laws that impede the rights of Marylanders of all colors to defend themselves in the case of a breakdown of the civilized order, and we hope some questions about that will be put to former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley at some point in his expected presidential campaign, but that also obliges a conservative to wonder why even a possibly shady 25-year-old black man can’t carry a switchblade knife on the dangerous and Democrat-controlled streets of Baltimore.
Before there was Freddie Green there was Eric Garner, a black man who died after a headlock under a pile of New York City Police officers while being arrested for the crime of selling single untaxed cigarettes to passersby. There wasn’t as much as rioting as there has been in Baltimore, although two NYPD officers were gunned down in retaliation, the usual conservative critiques and liberal apologies were bandied about as required, and the absurd taxes that both New York state and city impose on tobacco to create such a petty black market remain in place. A grand jury declined to press charges against any of the officers involved, which struck even such white middle-aged middle-Americans as us as slightly odd, but we can’t claim to have heard all the evidence that was offered and are sympathetic to the argument that even the laws against government-created crimes need to enforced, but we can’t shake a conservative suspicion that too many well-intended laws might have had something do with it. One of the leading academic apologists for the criminal underclass argues that many young black men are precluded from gainful employment and law-abiding lives by the proliferating rules they are required to obey, and although the estimable Heather McDonald does her usual fine job of demolishing the thesis over at City Journal, and as much as we hate to credit a leading academic for anything, we think there might be something to it.
We’re white and middle aged and boringly dressed here in the middle of America, not at all the sorts that the cops are likely to profile, but we’re certain that if some rogue prosecutor in Wisconsin wants to punish us for our admittedly unfashionable political opinions he’ll probably find some obscure legal cause to do so. He won’t be able to get us for that family heirloom switchblade knife, as our state has repealed its ’50s-era ban on the things, which was widely decried by all the high-minded liberals around here, who are the same people who like to think themselves too smart to be swept up in the sorts of conservative hysterias about juvenile delinquency that popped up back in the ’50s, and it looks as if we won’t be patronizing the black markets for beer and cigarettes, as the religiously conservative but staunchly anti-government legislature here has apparently declined to back the governor’s “sin tax” proposals, but somewhere in the thousands of pages of regulations that are enacted each year the authorities could surely find something. If there’s a black market out there for those Thomas Edison light bulbs that we loved so much we’ll probably wind up purchasing a few, and we can’t promise that a sales tax will be properly paid, and we’d like to think that if we were a nun we’d be refusing to pay for the required contraceptive coverage on our government-approved health care plan, and these days there’s no telling what federal rule we might run afoul of next.
Our beloved pop was raised a country boy, and even after three college degrees and many years as a top executive in a Fortune 500 company and travel around the world he remains one to this day, and he long ago inculcated in us the habit of carrying around a Swiss Army knife, even if we never were so careful as he was about keeping the blades well-honed on a spit-speckled whet stone, and it served us well over the years when we needed tweezers to extract a thorn or tiny scissors for some tiny string or a corkscrew for a bottle of wine or an attached tiny screwdriver for repairing our spectacles, but even those small satisfactions have been surrendered to the modern age. Even such an innocuous tweezing and bottle-opening and string-cutting and spectacle-repairing instrument always got us dirty looks from the security guards at the government buildings we are too often required to to enter, there was a frightening freak-out about it one time when the local newspaper assigned us to cover an appearance by the Vice President of the United States here in town, and even white and middle-aged and boringly dressed sorts such as ourselves would just as soon tell any police officer who pulls us over for a failed tail light that we have no knives or other weapons, so we have long since lost this practical link to our prairie heritage. That leading academic apologist for the criminal underclass probably won’t find this so heart-wrenching as her tales of the crack-dealing victims of her new book, and it probably won’t force the Maryland legislature and the Baltimore City Council and the rest of the Democratic Party to reconsider their penchant for devising ever new rules and regulations that might bring a possibly shady young black man or seemingly respectable old white man into a potentially unpleasant contact with the police, even if such a reliably liberal publication as The Village Voice is finding more sympathetic black men harmed much worse for knives put to more useful purposes than ours, but we hope that our fellow conservatives will be more intellectually consistent in their opposition than The Village Voice and rest of liberalism to the over-regulation of an ever-expanding state.
At this point we haven’t the slightest idea what happened to Freddie Gray, or to what extent he was responsible for his demise, and we make no apologies for the rioters who claim to be looting on his behalf, and neither do we blame any boringly dressed white middle-aged conservatives in the middle of America or any other Republicans for what happens in such blood-red states as Maryland, but we’d hate to think that all the harm that has resulted from the riots started with a switchblade knife.

— Bud Norman

Ready or Not for Hillary

So it turns out that Hillary Clinton will be running for president, after all. It was all over the news on Sunday after she “tweeted” her announcement, which is apparently the high-tech way that hats are flung into rings these days, otherwise we might not have noticed.
Our annual involvement in an amateur theatrical production has lately brought us in daily contact with Democrats, our frequent meetings to discuss foreign policy with a gray pony-tailed neo-con pal at a local hipster joint provide plenty of opportunities for eavesdropping on Democratic discussions, we always peruse the “alternative” publications on offer there, our occasional appearances on the peripheries of the local art and music scenes routinely expose us to the latest in Democratic opinions, and of course of our infrequent visits to our Facebook are chockfull of Democratic venting, yet we rarely hear any mention of Clinton. Perhaps it’s because Kansas Democrats are too preoccupied with their red-hot hatred of our robustly Republican Governor and Secretary of State and Legislature to bother with their party’s presidential prospects, but the local Democrats’ lack of enthusiasm about Clinton is glaringly conspicuous. After the state’s mid-term elections last November one of our Facebook friends who long ago re-located to Maine, where even the Republicans are Democrats, tried to console her shell-schocked Democrat friends back home that the Republicans’ sweep would only make Clinton’s win in ’16 all the more satisfying, but that’s the only time we can recall any Democrat of our acquaintance even bringing up the name.
The press still regards Clinton as news, and is obliged to write countless column inches about her candidacy, but even there we can’t help noticing a distinct weariness with the topic. There’s lately been more buzz about that Martin O’Malley fellow, who was governor of Maryland or some other small eastern state that was reliably Democrat until he left office, but that buzz is the only reason we’ve heard of him, and we’d wager that at this early point in the campaign not one in ten of our Democrat friends and acquaintances have the slightest idea who he is, and except for some hopeful speculation about Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Vermont’s openly socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders getting in the race, which no Democrats we know are talking about, that seems to be the desultory state of the Democrat nominating process. Given such limited options, it’s no wonder our Democrat friends and acquaintances prefer to talk about that damned Governor and Secretary of State and Legislature we’ve got here in Kansas.
All of them will eventually line up behind whatever candidate the Democrats choose, and will couch their arguments mostly in opposition to the extremist right-wing conservatism of whatever the candidate Republicans choose, but at this point it’s hard to imagine they’ll have any of the religious fervor that informed their support of their messianic candidate of ’08  or even the self-righteous indignation toward the other side that dragged their all-too-human candidate across the finish line in ’12. They’ll be up against a Republican party which is talking a great deal about Clinton and even O’Malley and the other rumored possibilities, and with an increasingly red-hot hatred of their own, and the enthusiasm gap favors the GOP. Everyone in a wide and deep Republican field has such enthusiastic supporters that the intra-party sniping has already begun, much to the delight of the Democratic press, but we can readily imagine them all lining up behind the eventual nominee once the Democrats’ choice has been made.
Being temperamentally Republican we are inclined to gloominess, but at this point the race seems seems tantalizingly winnable despite the press and the seemingly permanent blueness of some populous states and the ever-present gullibility of the American public. Whatever candidate winds up winning the Republican nomination could still blow it, but even the Democrats don’t seem excited about that possibility, and we suspect they’d prefer four years of hating the incumbent to the difficult task of defending her..

— Bud Norman