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The Establishment Strikes Back, Again

Donald J. Trump’s winning of the Republican presidential nomination was supposed to have signaled the end of that Republican “establishment” supposedly hated by all the “real” Republicans, but the ancien regime seems to be faring well enough in the subsequent party primaries. Tuesday night saw a couple of targets of Trump’s “tweeting” wrath winning comfortably against self-described “anti-estalishment” challengers, with Senator Marco Rubio easily winning re-nomination in Florida and Senator John McCain prevailing just as easily in his home state of Arizona.
Trump had scoffed at Rubio as “Little Marco” during their presidential primary rivalry, and the combined power of that schoolyard taunt and the otherwise impeccably conservative’s support for a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” deal in the Senate that swapped vague promises of stricter border enforcement for a vague semi-legalization of those illegal immigrants already here pretty much doomed Rubio’s candidacy, and he even lost his home state’s presidential primary to Trump to by an embarrassing margin. That Trump had four years earlier decried the Republican nominee’s “self-deportation” policy as “maniacal,” and contributed generously to the campaign funds of five of the “Gang of Eight” members, seemed to matter little when Trump was promising all the “real” Republicans that he was going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it and set up a ruthless “deportation force” that would kick out every last illegal immigrant.
By Tuesday night Trump was recently scoffing at the idea of “deportation forces” rounding up more than 11 million people, and no one could really say for certain where he stood on immigration, except that he was still talking about the wall Mexico will pay for and making other huge but vague promises about border enforcement, and that it should be clearer after a long-delayed speech on immigration that will occur after his meeting today with the President of Mexico. We’d wager a few pesos that the Mexican president won’t agree to pay for the wall Trump intends to build, but other than that we have no idea what position Trump might momentarily settle on in the long-delayed speech, and in any case it won’t keep Rubio from a good shot at reelection. Rubio had said he would return to private life after his public humiliation, but what was left of the GOP “establishment” begged him and his formidable fund-raising machine to help keep alive the hopes of a Republican Senate, and by sticking to his for-the-most-part impeccably conservative easily rebuffed a challenged by an “anti-establishment” and very wealthy real estate mogul.
Longtime Arizona Senator and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s heroic sacrifices as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict was scoffed at by the draft-dodging Trump’s sneer that he “was only a hero because he got captured,” but he wound up more or less endorsing Trump’s nomination nonetheless, and Trump wound up giving him a similarly ambivalent on endorsement, and then on Tuesday he ended up with a similarly more-or-less endorsement from the party’s nominee, and the oh-so-establishment and “Gang of Eight” octogenarian wound up winning by a more or less comfortable margin against an “anti-establishment” challenger. It’s a messy race, but another win for the establishment by our scoring.
Both Rubio and McCain still have to square off against Democratic challengers, and there’s no telling how that might turn out in this crazy election year, but the the aggregate of the latest polling suggests they’re both doing at least as well in their respective states as the Republican presidential nominee. In several other states those boring old “establishment” Republicans are polling better than Trump, and in the crucial swing state of Ohio where Trump is currently down by 3.8 percentage eight points in the Real Clear Politics average the soporifically Republican “establishment” Sen. Rob Portman is so far ahead of a generic Democrat that the Democratic donors are abandoning the race. In this crazy election year Trump might yet wind up winning the presidency, but it seems increasingly likely that there will still be both a Democratic and Republican party that he’ll have to deal with.

— Bud Norman

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Webb Withdraws and the Democrats Lurch Leftward

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb never did have a chance to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, so his withdrawal from the race on Tuesday won’t much affect the race. The reasons for his early departure say much about the current state of his party, however, so we do find it noteworthy.
Once upon a time, not so long ago that we can’t recall it clearly, Webb would have made a formidable candidate and an even more formidable nominee, but his parting speech frankly acknowledged that at this particular moment in history “my views on many of the issues are not compatible with the power structure and the nominating base of the Democratic Party.” This should have been apparent to Webb even during his little-noticed campaign announcement speech, but it simply could not go unnoticed after the party’s first presidential debate. Webb was forced to defend his past support of the Second Amendment and his past opposition to race-based affirmative action policies, was the only candidate to voice any commonsensical skepticism about the last seven years of foreign policy in general and that awful Iran nuclear bomb deal in particular, and even as he went along with the rest of the candidates he was clearly the least enthused about providing subsidized health care and other expensive government benefits to the untold millions of illegal immigrants that the Democratic Party is intent on inviting to the country. Throw in a few other heresies against the latest Democratic orthodoxy he uttered during his few minutes of airtime, and Webb was the glaringly obvious answer to one of those “which one of these does not belong” questions on all the standardized tests.
Webb was even so gauche as to note that he not only fought in Vietnam but had also served his country as Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, which one liberal Politico “tweeter” immediately characterized as “Jim Webb admitted he killed people.” We don’t remember any liberals being so critical of John Kerry, who “reported for duty” as the Democratic nominee on the basis of his dubious war record rather than the more indisputably documented anti-war activities that launched his career at another radical point in Democratic party history, or raising any objections to President Barack Obama’s boastful claims about killing Osama Bin-Laden, as if he’d rappelled down from the helicopter and done the deed with his own bare hands, but with Webb the reaction from the debate audience and the attending press was plainly apoplectic. We found ourselves almost liking the guy, despite his unenthused support for expensive benefits to untold millions of illegal immigrants and his many other heresies against conservative orthodoxy, but of course that only further confirmed his unsuitability to the current mood of the Democratic Party.
Our liberal friends love to repeat that old cliche about how the Republicans have lurched so far to the right during the past decades that even Ronald Reagan could no longer win its nomination, and we’re sure it seems so to them as they lurch ever further to the left. From our perspective, which has admittedly been fixed here in the middle of the country at the same rightward spot ever since we started reading National Review back in junior high, it is hard to see how GOP’s nominations of George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole and George W. Bush and John McCain and Mitt Romney demonstrate any rightward lurching since Reagan, and we don’t see anyone in the current field that’s likely to lurch it the right of that sweet spot, and yet all that leftward lurching on the Democratic side seems apparent.
Our beloved Pop still likes to recall how President Harry Truman stood firm against the Commies, we were raised on tales of PT-109 and that John F. Kennedy speech about bearing any burden and paying any price to ensure the ultimate victory of democracy, and from our childhood we recall how President Lyndon Johnson had the hippies outside the White House chanting “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” despite all his Great Society liberalism. From our own adulthood we still remember when Washington Sen. “Scoop” Jackson and a few other hawkish Democrats had prominent standing in their party, not to mention the Bosnian-bombing President Bill Clinton and peacenik war hero Kerry and Bin-Laden-killing Obama among other recent Democratic warmongers, so the sudden Democratic repulsion to Webb’s much-decorated martial spirit strikes us as a significant development.
Webb’s admitted support for the right to self-defense and opposition to affirmative action policies that favor Obama’s Sidwell Friends-educated children over some Appalachian coal miner’s more promising kid were also respectable opinions within the Democratic circles of our relatively recent recollection, too, and even that unmistakable hesitancy about giving expensive benefits to untold millions of illegal immigrants and the rest of his unforgivable heresies he uttered would have easily been forgiven by the power structure and nominating base of the Democratic Party. At this particular point in the party’s history, though, the putative front-runner Hillary Clinton is running against her husband’s record of tough-on-crime measures and defense of traditional marriage and insouciance about sexual assault while the self-described socialist and surging insurgent and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is arguing that even after seven years of Obama the economy is horrible because we jut haven’t lurch far enough left yet, the party seems to agree that Black Lives Matter and others don’t,  and from our fixed position seem awfully far left at the moment.
Although admittedly situated to the right, we suspect that our position and Webb’s is closer to the center than his former rivals. There are still an awful lot of white people and even among the Democrat kind of them there’s bound to be some resentment that Obama’s Sidwell Friends-educated children have some legal advantage over their own kids, and Americans of all colors and party affiliations have become accustomed to the right of self-defense, and a commonsensical appraisal of the past seven years of foreign policy in general and that awful Iran nuclear in particular will be skeptical, and it takes a certain sort of Democrat to be sufficiently enthused about paying expensive benefits for untold millions of illegal immigrants, so Webb’s departure does not seem to bode well for the Democratic Party’s general election fortunes. The Republicans seem intent on screwing up such a golden opportunity, of course, but it still does not bode well.
Webb’s much-decorated martial spirit was still on display as he retreated, saying that while his party is not comfortable with many of his policies “frankly I am not comfortable with many of theirs.” He hinted at a third party-challenge, a one-in-a-zillion shot that seems his best bet for the presidency at this point, and we’d like to think it might drain a few votes from Democrats who still believe all the traditional Democratic nonsense but aren’t so leftward lurched that they buy into all the latest nonsense. We’re not sure how many Democrats fit this projection, though, and he might wind up stealing a few Republican votes if Donald Trump wins the nomination, so at this point we’re not sure how noteworthy is withdrawal really is.

— Bud Norman

As Long as You’re Looking Good

By happenstance we found ourselves chatting with a most affable Venezuelan fellow the other night at a local bistro. We don’t mean to pretend we’re so cosmopolitan as this atypical evening at a West Douglas hipster dive in Wichita would suggest, but there was also a delightfully bawdy Englishwoman and a couple of polite but circumspect Poles in attendance. At any rate, we commiserated with our newly-fledged Venezuelan friend about the political and economic woes in his homeland, which are even more socialistic and screwed-up than the situation here, and he shrugged his shoulders and waved his hands and said it had been a bad 14 years for his country. We joked that we were surprised President Cristina Kirchner had proved so awful, given that she was kind of hot when the country elected her, but he seemed to take our jest in earnest as he sighed the same disappointment.
From our conversation we had gathered that the fellow has made something of a success of himself in our ruthless local capitalism, and he seemed quite sensible, so it was surprising to surmise that he had apparently expected the stark raving left-wing Kirchner to lead his country anywhere but bankruptcy just because of her past comeliness. Although we’ve long been enamored the sultry appeal of the Latin bombshells, from Lupe Velez and Dolores Del Rio to the invariably naked Sonia Braga of ’80s and the latest offerings from multi-cutural Hollywood, but we’d like to think we’re not such suckers for a pretty face that we’d entrust any of them with a head-of-state position, especially if they were stark raving left-wingers, as most of the probably are. By that point in the evening we were starting to overlook the tattoos on that delightfully bawdy Englishwomen, though, and we had to admit that personal appearance plays a disproportionate role even in our own politics.
In vain we tried to remember the last American major party presidential nominee who was outright ugly. Nixon, maybe, although we expect that in ’68 a still-significant silent majority of the country foun his receding hairline and ski-slope nose somehow reassuringly seasoned, and that in the hirsute year of ’72 it didn’t matter what he looked like against such a grizzled old hippie freak as George McGovern. We got a lot of laughs back in ’04 by asking “Why the long face, John Kerry,” but even he was rescued from outright ugliness by a certain Boston Brahmin quality to his visage. Kerry still lost to the good-old-boyish looks of George W. Bush, Nixon got edged out by the more photogenic John F. Kennedy, and the most physically appealing candidates have usually prevailed in almost every election as far back as we can remember. The buff young fighter pilot that was once Sen. John McCain might have stood a fighting chance against the smooth-skinned Barack Obama and his ivy-covered Afro-cool, but the war-wounded old man who ran instead never had a prayer. Mitt Romney’s wholesome handsomeness was too redolent of those corny old ’50s sit-coms, and were thus trumped by the grayness and wrinkles that four years of fruitless administration had gadded to his opponent’s already ivy-covered Afro-cool. Lincoln is generally regarded as the great of all presidents, even by the egomaniacal current occupation of the office, and he was widely derided for his ugliness at the time of his administration, but that was a pre-electronic age of media that will unfortunately never be recovered.
This disturbing human tendency toward superficiality might yet provide our collective rescue, however. The conventional wisdom’s horrifying conclusion is that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States, and it is reassuring to think we might spared that eventuality by her increasingly haggard and harridan looks. There are ample other reasons to oppose this awful woman’s ascendance to the presidency, but in her case we’ll take whatever we can get. It would be nice if the country could up with a majority for some bland-looking but high-performing chief executive such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry or even better yet but less-handsme Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but we’ll be hoping for an outright ugly Democrat to oppose them.

— Bud Norman

Skyrockets in Flight

The past month, for all its many flaws, was at least easy on the utility bills around here. Although a stubborn winter persisted into the usual spring it did not require us to run the gas-fired furnace at any point, and the few days of high temperatures had us opening windows but not running the electrified air-conditioning, so our energy costs fora the billing period seemed almost reasonable. We plan to savor the satisfaction of writing those two-digit checks we sent off over the weekend, because summer will soon be sizzling on the plains and the Obama administration is intent on making our bills skyrocket.
You could be forgiven for having missed the news, given the media obsession with that five-dangerous-terrorists-for-a-deserter swap the administration had announced a day earlier, but new rules imposed by presidential fiat that will cause electric bills to skyrocket were trotted out by the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday. The stated reason for these new regulations is to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent over the next 16 years, which we are promised will save thousands of lives otherwise lost to asthma attacks and reduce the rate of employee absenteeism, as well as rescuing the earth from global warming and the sexual infidelity that it seems to be causing in the more affluent neighborhoods of south Florida, but we don’t doubt that it also will also cause our air-conditioning expenses during the inevitable prairie heat waves to skyrocket. We base this on the assurances of President Barack Obama himself, who was candid enough during his ’08 campaign to admit that “under my plan of a cap-and=trade system electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket”
You could be forgiven for having missed that quote during the ’08 presidential race, too, as Obama spoke it in a rare moment of candor to a San Francisco Chronicle editorial board that was not inclined to publicize the outrageous boast and instead left it embedded two or three clicks away on a web site where it seems to have gone unnoticed even by the McCain for President for campaign. This led to a President Obama appointing an Energy Secretary who desired that Americans pay as much for a gallon of gasoline as their over-charged European counterparts, which also went unmentioned by most of the media during those heady days of hope and change, but those who were paying acute attention understood that the price of staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer and getting around all year would skyrocket. It’s not cap–and-trade, which even the filibuster-proof Democratic Congress of ’08-to’10 wouldn’t dare pass, but it’s the closest Obama can come  given the the rapidly diminishing restrains of the constitutional system.
In a Memorial Day radio address that was also widely overlooked, President Obama said the newly-imposed carbon emissions would have a salutary effect on the American economy. The theory, as it’s been explained to us by the grandees of the liberal press and the hirsute hipsters who frequent the same dives we do, is that raising the cost of the most readily available and cost-effiicient sources will spur an economic boom in the the currently unaffordable sectors but politically well-cnnected sectors of the energy sector, but none of these arguments promise continued lower utility bills. The  bills will also be higher for everyone we buy things forms, and we’ll not be the only ones buying less of what everyone has to sell when they raise prices to pay for skyrocketing electricity bills, but anyone with an alternative-energy scam who has made the requisite campaign contributions should do well.
Sooner or later we’ll relent to turn on the air-conditioning, even if we’re the hardy types who wait  several days into that annual stretch of 100-plus temperatures, but we’ll take some satisfaction in the political repercussions. The EPA’s never-mind-Congress rules are likely to help Republican candidates in embattled Kentucky and by now rock- olid West Virginia and other parts of coal country, as well as Indiana and other states where 80 percent of the electrical air-conditioning comes from coal, and even in the safest Democratic districts it will be hard to blame those swelling utility bills on the Republicans. Arguing that global warming requires such expensive measures will be harder while simultaneously arguing that a harsh winter was the reason for that little noticed contraction the economy during the lat quarter, and when even National Public Radio and the America Broadcasting System and CNN are playing up the deserter angle on that five-dangerous-terrorists-for-a-deserter-swap it’s going to be hard to sell that higher-energy-costs-are-good-for-the economy claptrap.

— Bud Norman

Getting Back in Our Subprime

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it, according to George Santayana’s famous adage, but those who remember the past incorrectly are likely to create brand new catastrophes. The Obama administration’s current efforts to re-inflate the housing bubble through the same old subprime lending methods will eventually demonstrate the point.
Surely our youngest and most oblivious readers will vaguely recall the Crash of ’08, the unhappy effects of which still linger today, but even at the time it was not widely understood what had caused it. The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression occurred at the end of George W. Bush’s administration, and after eight years of relentless criticism of everything from his Iraq War policy to his decades-old Air National Guard service records to his mangling of the word “nuclear” most people readily accepted the explanation that he was solely responsible. How he had managed to bring down the American economy was never specified, but candidate Obama and his many friends in the American media were happy to allow a a consensus to form that it must have had something to with that Republican fetish for de-regulation or the tax-cuts-for-the-rich or just an inclination to let those greedy bankers get ever richer by making huge loans to people who would never be able to re-pay them. That there had been no significant de-regulation of the financial sector and instead thick book of new regulations from Sarbanes-Oxley had been added, along with a few new battalions of regulators to enforce them, did not matter. Nor did the fact that the tax cuts had been for everybody, including the half of the country that did not pay federal income taxes, or that they had increased the federal revenues as promised. The obvious illogic of greedy bankers giving hundreds of billions of dollars in mortgage loans to people who were bound to default didn’t make much difference, either.
Already forgotten at that point was the decades of criticism those greedy bankers had endured for failing to make loans to people who couldn’t pay them back, and that at some point in ’90s they were cajoled, incentivized, and ultimately compelled to do so. When it all started President Bill Clinton and his Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Andrew Cuomo, were quite pleased to let people know they had threatened legal action against various banks with the Community Re-Investment Act, which had been passed in the waning days of the Carter but lightly enforced during the years of Reagan and the elder Bush, and they even set up agencies to let targeted groups such as single women know that they banks were now obliged to dole out money to people with poor credit ratings. The mortgage kings Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were directed to invest half their portfolios in subprime loans, Activists groups such as ACORN also got in on the action, picketing and squatting in banks that were so stodgy they would only loan to the credit worthy, and an obscure civil rights attorney and former community organizer named Barack Obama was among those who sued banks to force loans to people who would wind up in default and disastrous financial circumstances. This was known as “affordable housing policy,” much as Obamacare would later be dubbed The Affordable Care Act, and when it’s only obvious effect was a suspiciously steep spike in property values it was considered proof of Clinton’s economic.
When interest rates finally rose and the prices finally flattened and those borrowers less-than-credit-worthy borrowers ran out of gimmicks and started defaulting in droves and leaving the banks with hundreds of billions of losses, it was naturally taken as proof of the younger Bush’s hilarious stupidity. Never mind that Bush and Senators John McCain and Elizabeth Dole had made a futile effort to reform the policy and was blocked by Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a Congressional Black Caucus that it racist to deny a minority member a loan just because he could not pay it back, and the rest of the Democratic party. the greedy banker and his laissez faire Republican enablers was just too familiar a cliche to resist. The man who had sued a bank to force them to make loans to his indigent clients won election to the presidency on a vow to fight “predatory lending,” Bush was vilified and McCain and Dole both went down to defeat, Cuomo became Governor of New York, Dodd and Frank got to re-write pretty much the entire financial code, and four years later Obama won re-election on the argument that electing a Republican would be like handing the keys over to the fool who had run the car into a ditch.
All in all, the “affordable housing policy” proved such a smashing success for the Democrats that they’ve decided to do it again. It didn’t work out so well for the country at large last time around, and there’s no reason to believe it will work out any better this time, but if history can repeat itself precisely the crash won’t come until some after Hillary Clinton has finished a second term and some Republican with peculiar pronunciations is conveniently installed in office. If all goes according to plan the public still won’t wise up, and that is something they really can bank on.

— Bud Norman