The Damned Democrats’ Debate

The six candidates who still have a plausible shot at winning the Democratic party’s presidential nomination had a debate Wednesday night in Nevada, which is having one of those weird caucus rituals on Saturday, and it was a raucous affair. All of the contenders spent so much bashing one another they had little time left to bash President Donald Trump, who surely enjoyed the show.
According to the latest polls ¬†the clear frontrunner in the race is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist and the darling of the loony left portion of the Democratic party, which is plenty big enough to give a him a 32 point plurality in the crowded field, with fellow loony lefty Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren fading into fourth at 12 percent. Former Vice President and former frontrunner Joe Biden, who is courting the party’s relatively sane centrists, is in second with 16 percent, but that’s barely ahead of the 14 percent by billionaire media mogul and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is courting the same votes. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar have 8 and 7 percent respectively, which also come from the relatively sane centrist faction.
All of which led to Wednesday’s brass knuckle free-for-all, with the relatively sane centrists attacking one another as well as the loony left contenders, and the loony left contenders also firing in every direction. As best as we can score the bout, Bloomberg got by far the worst of it.
Bloomberg skipped the opening contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, and has carefully avoided any public appearances or interviews with the media, so his recent rapid rise in the polls is entirely due to the $50 million of his own money that he’s poured into national advertising on radio and television and the internet, and one big question was how he’d fare on his first debate stage since his mayoral campaigns. Not vey well, as it turns out.
Everyone in the Democratic party and most of the independents they’ll need to win in November have by now had their fill of New York City billionaires, so all the other candidates gleefully piled on. Warren blasted Bloomberg’s longstanding reputation for saying outrageously things in public and the numerous lawsuits brought by women against his company for fostering a hostile workplace and having women bound by nondisclosure agreements, which seems to be what New York City billionaires do, and Warren succinctly summarized his response as “Well, I’ve been nice to some women.”
Klobuchar criticized Bloomberg’s failure to release his tax returns, another one of those thing New York City billionaires seem to do, and although he promised he’d get around to it soon his explanation for the delay only emphasized that he’s suspiciously rich. Sanders whole platform is anti-billionaires in general, so he further demonized Bloomberg to his fans. Others on both the left and center criticized the “stop and frisk” policing policies aimed mostly at minorities that Bloomberg championed as New York mayor, and although Bloomberg has fulsomely apologized for it that probably won’t do him much good in the largely-Latino Nevada caucus or the majority-black South Carolina primary that’s coming up next.
Everyone but Warren argued that Sanders’ self-described socialism might render him unelectable in a country that’s still mostly center-right, and was forced by the centrists to defend the economic feasibility of his pie-in-the-sky health care proposals, but Bloomberg drew a gasp an then boos when he accused Sanders of being a communist. The 78-year-old Sanders recently suffered a heart attack and was roundly criticized for failing to keep a promise to release his full medical records, and he offered the same explanation that Trump did about his undeniably grueling campaign schedule, but he didn’t seem on his game.</div div style=”text-indent:20px;”>Biden went largely unscathed, but the lack of attacks seemed to emphasize his slow decline into irrelevance, which will rapidly accelerate if he doesn’t do very well in Nevada and then South Carolina, and he still not much of a campaigner and didn’t do much on Wednesday to turn things around. That’s good news for Buttigieg and Klobuchar, who could now overtake both Biden and Bloomberg for those relatively sane centrist Democratic voters. Buttigieg criticized Klobuchar for failing to remember the name of the Mexican president during a recent interview, but she admitted to the understandable momentary lack of memory and made Buttigieg look rather pedantic. On the whole, we think she got the better of it.
Sanders has run afoul of the hotel and casino and restaurant workers union that is largely Latino and a huge chunk of the Nevada caucus-goers, who don’t like his plan to take away their hard-earned health benefits package as part of his single-payer “Medicare for all” plan, which gives the relatively sane centrists a chance at a much-needed win. As bad as Bloomberg was in his first public appearance he probably won’t be the beneficiary, no matter how much money he spends, and we expect Biden to continue underperforming, so that’s an opportunity for either Buttigieg or Klobuchar.
Buttigieg is openly homosexual, and although that didn’t matter to the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and doesn’t offend our old-fashioned sensibilities any more than Trump’s tawdry sexual history, the largely Latino voters in Nevada and the black majority of voters in South Carolina might not be so open-minded, and even in this day and age it eventually will raise unavoidable questions about his electability, a sanely centrist with impressive military experience though he might be. Which is good news for Klobuchar, a happily married heterosexual woman and mother who has won every race she’s ever run even in Minnesota’s most Republican districts, and can brag of the bills she’s written that got passed and signed even in this polarized age, and she doesn’t want to take away anyone’s private health insurance.
As we scored the free-for-all cage match Klobuchar had a pretty good night, which is the only bad news of the evening for Trump. Eventually Warren will drop out and her 12 percent will join Sanders’ 32 percent, but if Klobuchar is the last relatively sane centrist standing she could have 45 percent of the party on her side, and even more if the Democrats decide that their socialist utopia can wait another four years and beating Trump is the party’s top priority. Trump will come up with some taunting nickname to tar Klobuchar as a loony leftist, and he won’t be able to resist making some outrageously sexist comment about her less-than-beauty-queen looks, but that won’t endear him to the educated suburban Republican women he have left the party in droves over the past three years, and we think she’d be a formidable foe. She also punches back, and she’s pretty darned good at it.
There are still 48 states and all those territories to go, though, and a big chunk of the Democrat party is clearly intent on leaping off that loony left cliff, so we’ll see how it turns out. The scariest part is that even the looniest left Democratic nominee could come up with a bigger plurality in this polarized nation than Trump.

— Bud Norman

Hail to the Chiefs

Football has a lot of its appeal to us in recent years, what with all the head injuries and thuggery and political spats and endless video reviews, but we weren’t going to miss Sunday’s LIVth Super Bowl. Watching the big game is pretty much a patriotic obligation, and here in Wichita rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs is a civic duty.
The game proved quite entertaining, even if it was bogged down with a longer-than-usual halftime and even more commercial interruptions than a regular season game. After an early field goal by the San Francisco ’49ers the Chiefs took the end-of-the-first quarter lead with a touchdown by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but the bad guys got the better of the second quarter and the teams went into locker room tied at 10 to 10. Things looked bleak for the Chiefs after the ’49ers scored another field goal and one touchdown during a third quarter of offensive futility for the Chiefs and their superstar quarterback, but the good guys had overcome bigger fourth quarters deficits in winning their two previous playoff games, as well as the regular season finale that earned them a first-round bye and home field advantage, so nobody around here was changing the channel.
Sure enough, the Chief’s underrated defensive unit shut down the ’49ers, Mahomes snapped out of a brief slump and his underrated running backs and receivers and offensive line came up with big plays, and after three unanswered fourth-quarter touchdowns the Chiefs won by a deceptively convincing score of 31 to 20. There were gunshots and fireworks and audible cheers on our way home, as the Chiefs fans celebrated the team’s first championship in 50 years, so the pent up emotion was understandable. That last championship was so long ago that we and some of the neighborhood kids played a pickup game in the backyard during the uneventful halftime show, there’s a famous picture of the Chief’s then-star quarterback Len Dawson smoking a halftime cigarette in the locker room, and the game was still called the AFL-NFL World Championship, although it’s been retroactively re-named Super Bowl IV.
All the rest of Super Bowl’s much-ballyhooed sideshows also reminded us of how much things have changed in a mere half-century. As we recall the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl half-time show featured a guy flying around with a James Bond-style jet pack and a brief performance by the aging but still-beloved Broadway diva Carol Channing, but since then audiences have come to expect something far more extravagant. The acts have included such baby-boomer favorites as The Rolling Stones and Sir Paul McCartney, along with some younger and hipper entertainers we’d not previously heard of. This year’s show featured Jennifer Lopez, who’s so famous that we have heard of her, although we couldn’t name a song she’s recorded or any of the famous men she’s been famously involved with, and another woman we’d not previously heard of named Shakira.
We must admit, it was quite extravagant. Both women are quite comely and extremely callipygian, and were accompanied by what seemed a cast of thousands of comely and callipygian and similarly scantily-clad backup singers dancers, along with some high-tech and state-of-the-art stagecraft that seemingly plunged them all into an infernal pit of orgiastic excess as fireworks went off and laser lights beamed. Both of the undeniably gorgeous and talented women are reportedly more than 40 years old, which some of our 40-something female Facebook friends proudly noted, and they included a lot of cute kids singing something vaguely patriotic toward the end, but a much younger friend we’ve known since her birth predicted the halftime show will eventually wind up on Pornhub.com.
These days the interminable advertisements are part of the ostensible appeal of the telecast, as Madison Avenue always unleashes its most ambitious efforts on the most-watched and most-expensive show of the year. We pride ourselves on being inoculated to Madison Avenue’s most market-tested enticements, but we try to assess their creativity and chuckle-worthy cleverness with the objective eye of a cultural critic, and we give this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads a mixed review. Part of the problem was that the ads were populated with celebrities we are supposed to recognize but don’t.
There was a Cheetos commercial featuring M.C. Hammer, who was a hip-pop star so long ago that we remember his hit “You Can’t Touch This,” which was amusingly about how you can’t touch anything after eating Cheetos. Another had a woman we used to enjoy on “Saturday Live” and the guy who so endearingly played “Jim” on “The Office” and some other guy pitching for some company’s self-parking car, but at first we didn’t recognize the guy who played “Jim” behind his fashionable, we still have no idea who the other guy is, but at least we got the joke about the Boston accents and the cameo by Boston Red Sox legend Dave “Big Papi” Ortiz, even if we can’t remember what company invented this seemingly amazing self-parking vehicle.
We also got the joke in the Doritos ad that featured rapper Li’l Nas X challenging the taciturn and mustached and gravelly voiced western movie star Sam Elliot to a break-dancing duel on the dusty streets of an Old West town, and Billy Ray Cyrus coming in at the end. As old time country music fans we took an interest when X rose to the top of the country-and-western charts with a western-themed rap number called “Old Town Road,” and how Cyrus was one of the few country stars to object when Billboard pulled it from the country charts as insufficiently country, and how it sparked an interesting debate about what the hell is country music anymore these days? We have our own opinions of the matter, and rather enjoyed the ad, but the joke’s so obscure we can’t imagine it selling a lot of Doritos.
Politics once gain intruded, which didn’t happen last time the Chiefs won a Super Bowl. Starting with President Barack Obama it’s become a custom to kick off the Super Bowl festivities with a nationally televised pre-game presidential interview, and of course that’s the one thing Obama ever did that Trump wants to continue. Obama always gave his interviews to friendly media who allowed him to assure the public that on Super Bowl the state of the union of strong, and Trump granted his time to Fox News sycophant Sean Hannity, who allowed Trump to warn the nation that if he didn’t win reelection the country was inevitably headed toward communism. Fortunately, in both cases the broadcasts were relatively low-rated.
Both Trump and his much-more-billionaire Democratic rival Michael Bloomberg spent $10 million on Super Bowl ads, and we wonder if either of them got more out of it than Cheetos or Doritos or the company with the amazing self-parking car. We missed Bloomberg’s ad, as we were in the men’s room or taking a cigarette break or on a liquor store run, but we hear it was all about his gun-grabbing policies, which is not likely to appeal the considerable good ol’ boy audience tuning into a Super Bowl, nor to many minorities. We did catch Trump’s ad touting his pardon of an elderly and woman non-violent black drug offender, and boasting how he had freed even more black felons by passing a criminal justice reform bill that Obama couldn’t get passed, which seems to be playing to what Madison Avenue euphemistically calls the “urban audience,” which Trump is assiduously courting with the low black unemployment numbers he can credibly claim.
The good old boys should know, though, that the non-violent and elderly woman drug offender Trump pardoned was sentenced at age 41 for leading a multi-million-dollar cocaine ring, and although there was no proof she’d ever committed a violent crime the drug ring she ran had plenty of them. Reality show star Kim Kardashian and wife of Trump pal Kanye West lobbied for her presidential pardon, as they’re somehow related, and although a lot of those felons freed by the criminal reform act some of them probably deserved they release, but most good old boys would agree that some didn’t. Trump’s not likely to win over a decisive majority of the “urban audience,” given his long history, which the “urban audience” by now well knows, and most of it doesn’t know either Kim Kardashian or Kanye West personally, although he still won’t lose any of the good ol’ boy vote.
By the way, as inconsequential as it is, Trump also “tweeted” his congratulations to “the great state of Kansas” for the Chief’s victory. We mostly love the Chiefs here in Kansas, until you get so far west they start rooting for the Denver Broncos, but in fact the Arrowhead Stadium where the Chiefs play and most of the Kansas City metropolitan is located in Missouri. Before Trump could delete and correct the “tweet” people were posting “memes” showing a crude “Sharpie” drawing including the entire Kansas City metro, which is a funny allusion to a previous Trump story about including in Alabama in a hurricane, but by now a bit obscure.
The important thing for the moment, though, is that the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and all the Democrats and Republicans and homosexuals and heterosexuals and socialists and libertarians and good old boys and the “urban audience” around here are at least momentarily happy about it. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another long, long half century before it ¬†happens again,

— Bud Norman

Another Multi-Billionaire New Yorker

There’s another multi-billionaire from New York City who’s running for president, with media mogul and former Big Apple mayor Michael Bloomberg running for the Democratic nomination. Our guess is that the Democrats won’t be interested in the services of a multi-billionaire from New York City, but we’ve been surprised before.
There are some significant differences between Bloomberg and President Donald Trump, of course. For one thing, Bloomberg is verifiably a multi-billionaire, worth several times more than Trump claims to be but declines to prove. For another thing, he’s previously served in public office and actually did a pretty good job of it.
Bloomberg became mayor of New York after the two terms of Rudy Giuliani, and although the youngsters would have a hard time believing it Giuliani had lowered the the city’s taxes and increased its revenues and lowered the crime rate and bolstered the employment rolls, and the city was saved from financial ruin and a dystopian state. Bloomberg ran as a Republican and mostly kept the Giuliani policies in place, and although he later switched to independent status and pursued some strict gun control measures and restored some of the city’s welfare system he mostly remained a low-tax and tough-on-crime mayor through his two terms.
None of this, of course, will endear Bloomberg to the modern Democratic party. Even Trump and most of the Republicans went along with a soft-on-crime criminal justice reform bill earlier this year, and by now a significant number of the Democrats equate law enforcement with racism. That will likely change with the next big crime wave, which inevitably will have an inordinate number of black victims, but for now law and order isn’t a winning issue in a Democratic primary.
Nor are low taxes likely to win any Democrats, who currently seem hell-bent on punitively taxing multi-billionaires such as Bloomberg. Lowering New York City’s top tax rates stopped the exodus of rich people from the city and thus increased the city’s revenues, and raising the top national tax rates would probably start an exodus of rich people’s money from the country if not the rich people themselves, thus lowering federal revenues, but today’s Democrats are more interested in social justice than such arcane economic theories.
Yet another way that Bloomberg differs from Trump is that’s he been hugely successful in building his media empire without suffering any conspicuous failures, but Democrats also don’t care much about managerial expertise, and even suspect it proves a bottom-line indifference to the working class. At this point, they’re also quite right to question if success in the private sector can be easily transferred to success in government.
Even so, Bloomberg apparently figures that a majority of Democrats doesn’t want to go so far left as a very big chunk of the party is clearly intent on, and that the moderate candidates remaining in the field are vulnerable. The Democrats are also very eager to beat Trump, and Bloomberg has a plausible argument that with his bigger fortune and record of sound governance and polite and well-spoken persona he’d be the more appealing multi-billionaire New Yorker.
It’s worth a shot, we suppose, and Bloomberg can well afford to place a bet on it, but we won’t wager any of our more meager money. He’s already announced he’ll be skipping the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and wait until the big states, but that’s the same strategy Giuliani used to dodge farm folks and factories when he ran as “America’s mayor,” still flush from the rave reviews by even the mainstream press and so far away from his current dilapidated and disgraced self, and he was out of the race by South Carolina.
Bloomberg’s path won’t be any easier. The class warriors on the left will cast him as the party’s plutocratic enemy, the moderate candidates have been earning the loyalty of moderate Democratic voters while Bloomberg was earning money, and so far we don’t see a groundswell of support for a candidate little known outside of New York City, no matter how well known and regarded he might be there.
Still, we wish him well. There should be someone on the Democratic debate stage that has a more sophisticated tax policy than ripping up that goose and getting all the golden eggs, and understands that a trillion is a whole lot of dollars, and that’s there’s still something to be said for law and order. Bloomberg’s a gun-grabber with a lot of touchy-feely welfare state ideas and other Democratic party flaws, as far as we’re concerned, but as far as multi-billionaire New Yorkers go we could do worse.

— Bud Norman