Whose Afraid of the Big, Bad Michelle Wolf?

Going into a happily eventful weekend here in Wichita, we were happily unaware of the existence of a woman named Michelle Wolf. By the time we got home from church and a dreary reading by some grad students in the local university’s creative writing program and much-needed beer at Kirby’s Beer Store just across the street, Wolf was even more viral than the President Donald Trump himself, despite his most virulent efforts.
As we now know all too well Wolf is a comedian best known for her short satiric contributions to the Comedy Channel’s “Daily Show,” one of several late-night over-the-air and through-the-cable channels devoted to celebrity guests and Trump-bashing, but what landed her in all the newspapers and endless hours of an otherwise weekend news cycle on the 24-hour news networks was a 19 minute routine Saturday night at the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual fancy-schmantzy and headline grabbing dinner. As one might expect of a late night comic, her humor about Trump was unabashedly harsh, and she was just as harsh about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House counsel Kellyanne Conway, who were seated uncomfortably nearby, and the routine met with mixed reviews and a dramatic spike in Wolf’s name recognition.
Trump’s die-hard fans were predictably appalled at the lack of respect for a sitting President of the United States, even if he was wasn’t sitting nearby, and took chivalrous umbrage at Wolf’s even harsher treatment of the two distaff Trump administration officials who did happen to be seated nearby. Even The New York Times’ excellent White House correspondent and longtime Trump tormenter Maggie Haberman — recently disparaged in a Trump “tweet” as a “third-rate reporter” he “has nothing to do with” — “tweeted” that she thought Wolf’s act went over the line. Other journalism types from both the left and the right shared their usual gripes about journalists getting all dolled up to hob-nob with politicos in the first place. Some Democratic politicos wound up on the cable news worrying that it would only feed Trump’s narrative that those “enemies of the people” in the “fake news” were out to get him.
While Wolf was getting scattered laughter and occasional applause from her elite Washington, D.C., audience, Trump was somewhere in Michigan wowing a revved up rally of his die-hard fans with an hour-and-19-minute insult comedy routine of his own. He tossed around the usual taunting nicknames and did his usual shtick about the weak Democrats, cast his usual aspersions against the more critical media, and got a big roar from the packed blue-collar crowd by telling them how much he preferred basking in their love to sitting next to some smart-mouthed late comedian regaling a bunch of Washington-type journalists and politicos who hated not only him but all his loyal supporters, and late Sunday, when Wolf’s agent was planning her contract re-negotations, the journalists and politicos were largely doing damage control.
Still, Wolf’s diatribe somehow got more column inches and air time than Trump’s, and she did have her defenders. The most convincing, as far as we’re concerned, came from the right. The National Review’s excellent cultural correspondent Katherine Timpf, whose precociously keen insights into the latest academic and pop cultural absurdities and youthfully geeky good looks have made her some something of a viral sensation, reasonably agrees that Wolf overstepped boundaries, but quite rightly argues that the die-hard fans of such a boundary-overstepping President of the United States as Trump are no longer entitled to gripe about any private citizen’s insult comedy shtick.
These viral viruses tend to pass quickly, though, and that Wolf woman will likely fade into obscurity soon enough, and eventually even Trump’s top-rated reality show is going to be cancelled, one way or another. We’re hopeful that freedom of the press will survive all this craziness, despite the press’ occasional overstepping of boundaries, and we hold out a slightly fainter hope for the institution of the presidency.
For what it’s worth, we thought that a couple of Wolf’s jokes were pretty good, most weren’t, and her delivery could have used a few years of vaudeville training. There’s another woman you’ve never heard of named Desi Lydic who also gets a few minutes on the “Daily Show” and is just as harsh on Trump and a whole lot funnier and kind of cute in a geeky way herself, and we’d like to see her or Timpf at a future White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. In any case the whole contretemps will soon blow over, in one direction or another, and we’ll be left with our nation’s degraded political discourse.

— Bud Norman

Recounting the Inevitable

Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s quixotic effort to recount the presidential election results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, where her quixotic campaign won enough votes to account for the slight Trump victories that won him a majority of the Electoral College’s votes, have apparently come to naught. The Wisconsin recount wound up yielding only another three hundred ballots to Trump’s previously announced win, and the courts in the other two states have concluded that a recount isn’t worth the bother. There’s still a slight chance that 37 electors in states Trump apparently won will not vote for him, and one has vowed in a New York Times op-ed that he won’t and several others are requesting intelligence briefings about Russia’s alleged involvement in the election, which suddenly seem plausible given the apparent president-elect’s announced appointments, but even in such a crazy election year as this that seems unlikely to change the already crazy enough outcome.
There’s a long and colorful history of “faithless electors” casting their votes against the will of the majority or plurality of their states, and depending on what state you’re in or what judge you wind up in front of it might be quite legal, and there are sound historical and constitutional arguments to be made on their behalf, especially in such a crazy election year as this, but they’ve never once changed the outcome of an election. Even in such a crazy election year as this it seems unlikely to occur, and even if it did it wouldn’t provide a happy outcome.
One highly unlikely scenario has those 37 electors switching their votes to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and making her the president, which would arguably be even worse than Trump taking the office, and we note that the country has wasted much of the past year and a half arguing about that very question and come to mixed results about it, so we can’t see that happening. The electors could also decline to vote for either of the major party nominees, as we did, in which case the matter would be left to the House of Representatives, where the Republicans hold a majority and would most likely wind up holding their noses as so many of our Republican friends did and vote for Trump. At this point in this crazy election year there’s still a one-in-a-gazillion chance that neither Clinton nor Trump will become president, and we will bitterly cling to that faint hope until it is inevitably dashed, but we’re already girding ourselves for what’s to come.

— Bud Norman

Recounting All the Craziness

Sometimes it seems this crazy election year will never come to an end. The weather around here has turned from a glorious indian summer to a windy chill since Election Day, but that awful presidential race is still being disputed and both sides are claiming its all rigged.
None of it is likely to change the apparent Election Day outcome that Republican nominee Donald Trump is the president-elect, and will be duly designated as such after the Electoral College meets next month, but in such as a crazy election year when something like that happens almost anything is still at least slightly possible. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s apparent Election Day lead in the popular vote has grown to nearly two percent as all the votes have been counted, Trump is “tweeting” that the popular vote was tarnished by millions of illegal ballots cast against him, three states where Trump won by 1 percent or less to give him is Electoral College majority are now being recounted due to a challenge by a third party candidate, with Clinton joining in on one of them, and as always there’s still a long shot the Electoral College will wind up doing something crazy like choosing someone less widely reviled than any of the aforementioned contenders.
Probably not, even in this crazy election year, but we’re bemused by the spectacle nonetheless. The third party nominee shelling out for the recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is the Green Party’s Jill Stein, whose 2 or 3 percent of the votes in each of those state could have swung them all to Clinton, and we can’t imagine why she’d shell out a few million dollars of Green Party funds to highlight that embarrassing fact. Green Party nominee Ralph Nader’s 1 percent in the Florida presidential race of ’00 would have overwhelmed George W. Bush’s infinitesimal 500-or-so vote victory that won him the Electoral College despite a popular vote loss in that crazy election year, which wound up causing quite a fuss, but at least even Nader had the good sense not to be party to the ensuing lawsuits.
The differences in the contested states this time around are in the thousands rather hundreds, and there aren’t any hanging chads this time around, or at least none that have been reported yet, but we expect the next few days of melodrama will still provide plenty of fodder for any conspiracy theorists who want to theorize that Trump somehow stole the election. The races in the contested states are very close, if not quite 500-votes-and-a-few-hanging-chads close, and with voting being a government-run business there will always be a certain of margin of error. There will be renewed debates about voter suppression and voter fraud, as well, and yet more argument about the hard-to-deny fact that Clinton won the popular vote.
Trump denies that she did win the popular vote, of course, and has taken to “tweeting” that it only seems so because of millions of ballots cast by illegal immigrants, the deceased, and other ineligible voters. His source seems to be Alex Jones’ “Infowars,” which is also the source for all those stories about the Twin Towers terror attack being an inside job and Barack Obama being born in Kenya and reptilian shape-shifters running the Illuminati’s secret world government, and plenty of Republican election officials around the country share our skepticism of the claim. We’re strong advocates for photo identification requirements and periodic reviews of the registrations, as well as other common sense protections against voter fraud, and we’re not ones to put anything past the Democrats, but we find it easier to believe that Clinton really did win the popular vote than that such an inept candidate somehow managed to slip an extra couple million votes into the boxes.
No matter how it all turns out, even in the craziest popular scenarios, we’re sure that much of the country will remain convinced it was all somehow rigged. They’ll have ample reason for it, too, and even that shape-shifting reptilian Illuminati theory will seem slightly plausible. Which is for the best, probably, because at the end of such a crazy election year as this we have to start considering all the possibilities.

— Bud Norman

The Race Plods Along

The votes keep coming in, but so far they haven’t added up to a clear winner in either of the presidential races. There are two front-runners who continue to front-run, but neither can feel comfortable with their leads.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and once-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton continues to slog it out with self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, of all people. Clinton picked up another convincing win in Mississippi on Tuesday, continuing a winning streak in southern states where all the white people have long since registered Republican and the Democratic parties are dominated by blacks, who for some vague reasons seem to prefer Clinton to the nebbishy socialist from a lily-white state whose efforts at identity politics have often been clumsy, but she lost a squeaker in Michigan, where the racial demographics are more typical of the country at large, and which the Democrats rely on in general elections.
This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it keeps happening, and this is before Clinton is either indicted on felony charges or has the Federal Bureau of Investigation furiously leaking all the reasons she should have been indicted but was saved solely by naked political favoritism, which can’t help, so we expect this race to continue. The peculiar rules of the Democrat’s delegate selection process seem to award Clinton a “super delegate” or two no matter how she performs at the ballot box, and it remains to be seen how the broad diverse tapestry of the Democratic party will respond to some nebbishy white guy’s call for a socialist revolution, and she continues to more-or-less front-run in the polls, but we have to imagine there is some panic afoot in the party’s smoke-free back rooms. They might even decide to go ahead and let the woman get indicted just to get her out of the race and allow some hair-plugged white knight or faux Indian princess to come to the rescue, or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on our part, but any scenario seems bleak for the Democrats.
They do have the last-resort advantage of running against Republicans, though, and the loyal opposition seems determined to help out. After wins in Michigan and Mississippi and Hawaii, the front-runner is still Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-and-scam-university mogul, whose national unfavorable ratings in one recent poll hit an eye-popping 67 percent, which is even worse than Clinton’s, which is saying something. The wins added to a solid but not insurmountable lead in the delegate count, and was sufficient for Trump to boast that it’s all over and time for the entire party to rally around his vaguely defined cause, but surely he’s a shrewd enough negotiator to know that’s not going to happen. A consistent two-thirds of the party continues to vote against him, with a large chunk of it having highly unfavorable views of him, and much more than a few of us are willing to fight him until the very end and beyond, and a careful look reveals that all the undecideds who haven’t yet become enamored of Trump after so many months of saturation media coverage of his garish insult comic routine are predictably deciding they don’t like him, and all this is just as the effective-because-they’re-true negative ads have been starting to come out.
Worse yet, from Trump’s bottom-line perspective, the fractured field that has allowed his pluralities to prevail in so many contests is narrowing, with Tuesday’s results effectively knocking Florida Sen. Marco Rubio out of the race, although he might risk humiliation by continuing to campaign in his home state. Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s narrow-third place finish in neighboring Michigan won’t keep him from contesting his home state as a favorite son, but if he wins that he denies Trump some much-needed delegates, and if he doesn’t it will all come down to Trump against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who picked up another upset win in Idaho and once again out-performed the polls in his losing efforts, leads Trump in head-to-head matches in the polls, and is clearly eager to be alone on a debate stage with Trump.
This might end in a race between two of the most deservedly disliked and distrusted people in America, or a nebbishy socialist and an evangelical capitalist, or some combination thereof, or maybe even some hair-plugged white knight or faux Indian princess will come to the rescue, and we’ll even hold on to some faint hope of another deus ex machina.

— Bud Norman

A Good Day at the Court

The Supreme Court has ruled that Michigan doesn’t have to practice racial discrimination if it doesn’t want to, and this is a double dose of good news.
By upholding a ballot measure banning affirmative action in state university admissions, which passed by a 58 to 42 percent margin, the court has struck yet another legal blow to that insipid policy. These thinly-vieled quota systems exacerbate racial tensions, diminish the accomplishments of the most capable minorities, funnel less capable minorities into failure at elite colleges rather than success at more suitable institutions, punish meritocratic notions in the process, produce a less educated country as a result, and are an affront to the essential ideal of a color-blind society. They do little to rectify the past injustices they are meant to atone for, and add new ones by punishing Asians and Jews and other historically oppressed minority groups that nonetheless produce students deserving of admission in numbers greater than their share of the overall population. They certainly do nothing to address the continuing failure of America’s public schools to educate their black and Hispanic students as well they do their white and Asian charges, a social catastrophe which affirmative action implicitly acknowledges, and enables the failure to continue without provoking the wrath of the teachers’ unions.
The court’s decision does not ban the practice of affirmative action, but it does affirm the right of the people of Michigan or any other state to do so. This is a heartening development, too, as it represents an all-too-rare victory for public opinion over the supposedly superior wisdom of the judiciary. There are certain fundamental rights explicitly enumerated in the Constitution which no popular vote can revoke, and the courts have a duty to thwart any temporary public passions about these matters, but on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to affirmative action to environmental regulations the courts routinely substitute their judgment for the clearly stated desires of legislatures and even public referenda. When a priestly caste of black-robed men and women can discern that the Constitution confers an absolute to homosexual marriage or a student of one race’s right to admission to a state university over a more qualified applicant of another race or the Environmental Protection Agency’s right to regulate the exhalations of every citizen, all of which would have been anathema to men who wrote and ratified that Constitution, the document ceases to have any meaning. When the court defers to public opinion, as it did on Tuesday, there’s still a chance of restoring some semblance of constitutional order.
It’s bad news that such a commonsensical ruling seems such welcome good news, and those inclined to worry can note that two justices dissented and a third would have had she not been forced to recuse herself because of a previous involvement in the case. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a 58-page dissenting opinion that asserted those 58 percent of Michiganders who voted for the ban are nasty old racists, and argued that a ballot measure which states that Michigan may not “discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity, or national origin” is somehow a violation of the 14th Amendment. In keeping with the currently fashionable sensibilities she added some balderdash about how affirmative action had benefited her own career, although she stopped short of admitting that she owes her appointment to the court to the practice, but a majority of people in Michigan and the other 49 states are entitled to conclude that she’s another persuasive argument against it.

— Bud Norman

State of the States

Michigan’s decision to join the growing ranks of “right to work” states was doubly satisfying for conservatives. It was a heavy blow to the labor movement in a state where unions had ruled for decades, and even more importantly it was a rare win at a time when conservatism seems to be routed.
The victory thus gives some hope for a conservative comeback, and it also shows how more such victories might be won at the state level. The Republican party has complete control of the state houses and governors’ mansions in 24 states and at least a share of the power in 11 others, even after an election that handed the party a bitter loss in the presidential race and rendered its majority in the House of Representatives largely irrelevant, and Michigan demonstrates how that can still make a difference. Twenty-one states of a Republican propensity are resisting the implementation of the hated Obamacare law by refusing to participate in its subsidized insurance exchanges, others are defying the federal government’s preferences regarding illegal immigration and voting laws, and further helpful mischief is possible.
Some of the action is taking place in states that Obama carried, such as the anti-union measures in Michigan and Wisconsin, suggesting that good ideas can be implemented in even the most benighted jurisdictions. Should the Republicans be able to figure out why Wisconsin will vote for a Governor Scott Walker and Michigan opts for a Governor Rick Snyder but neither will support a President Mitt Romney, the party might be back in business. Alas, we suspect that too many voters in these curious locales expect their state governments to provide only roads, schools, prisons, and other such basic services, and thus prefer the budget-balancing efficiency of the Republicans, but they expect the almighty federal government and its endless money-printing capability for an unattainable utopia, and notice that the Democrats are the only party promising to achieve it.
The states’ resistance to the federal government will only succeed to the extent that the courts allow it, and recent Supreme Court decisions regarding Obamacare and Arizona’s border enforcement efforts to do bode well. Four years hence the courts will probably be even less amenable to states’ rights, and the federal government even more eager to impose its will. All the more reason, though, for the states to put up as much of a fight as possible while they still have some power.

— Bud Norman

Labor Pains

Back in our newspaper days the corporation we worked for once asked us to temporarily fill in for some striking reporters at their subsidiary in Detroit. We declined the rather lucrative offer, not because of any moral objection to “scabbing” but rather because Michigan seemed a dangerous place to be running afoul of a labor union.
The incident was brought to mind by Tuesday’s big news out of the Wolverine State, where the legislature and governor have decreed that citizens will no longer be forced to pay union dues as a condition of earning a living. The measure at long last restores to the state a fundamental right to work, which is why such measures are known as “Right to Work” laws, and those responsible should be lauded not only for their good sense but also their courage. Not just political courage, which merely means a willingness to lose office for a good cause, but also a physical courage rarely required of America’s public servants.
There will be blood,” said Doug Geiss during a speech on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives, “there will be repercussions.” Whether this was meant as a threat or a warning is open to interpretation, but in either case the Democratic legislator was not exaggerating the inevitable results of the law. Demonstrations outside the state capitol during the vote involved the usual union thuggery, from the destruction of a conservative activist group’s tent to a reporter being punched to tear-gassed efforts to block access to the building, and worse behavior seems likely. “We’re going to have a civil war,” James Hoffa told CNN, and as the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters he should know.
During the protracted effort against the public sector unions in Wisconsin there were physical assaults of lawmakers, and that battle involved mostly teachers and bureaucrats backed up by bongo-beating neo-hippies, and it was in the relatively placid state of Wisconsin. The combined efforts of the teamster, automotive, and machinist unions in Michigan, a state with a long history of labor violence, could easily prove much harsher. Workers eager to stop paying dues and any businesses considering relocating to the state with non-unionized workforces should also be concerned, and hope that the state’s unionized law enforcement officers will continue to be vigilant in their duties.
Whatever mayhem the unions have in mind, Michigan will soon find that the right to work is well worth the trouble. The state’s disastrous economy, government-dependent industries, and decimated cities are a direct consequence of union rule run amok, and reining in their influence should help to reverse decades of decline. At the very least, the unions will be required to extort their dues by their own thuggish efforts and the state’s conscience will finally be clean.

— Bud Norman

When a Win is a Win

Every now and then the car radio scans past one of the sports talk stations, usually in the middle of a caller heaping such scathing criticism on a team’s performance in a recent contest that the listener is surprised to learn he’s talking about the victor. The day-after news reports on the Michigan and Arizona primaries had a similar tone.

Mitt Romney won both halves of Tuesday’s double-header, one of them by a large margin, but listening to the nit-picking of many of the pundits one might have mistaken him for the ’72-’73 Philadelphia 76ers or the ’62 New York Mets.

The former Massachusetts governor’s 20 point victory in Arizona went largely unmentioned, presumably because there was little fault to be found in it, while all of the critical attention was focused on Michigan. Because Romney was born and reared in the state, and his father was once its governor, his three point victory there over former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was widely considered a woeful underperformance.

This analysis overstates Romney’s “favored son” advantage, we think. If Michiganders are anything like Kansans they’re no doubt inclined to feel a bit insulted that someone would desert their beloved state, especially for a place like Massachusetts, and George Romney was the governor a long, long time ago. It is worth noting that Romney lagged in the polls until his advertising stopped touting his past ties to Michigan and began emphasizing his solutions to the state’s present problems.

The critics also understate Santorum’s advantages in the state. Santorum belongs to that exceedingly rare species of Big Labor Republicans, and Michigan is a state so heavily unionized that even the Republicans are members. Despite the old media’s insistence that Santorum only talks Satan and birth control, Santorum’s campaign has long stressed an economic plan to bolster manufacturing, a subject dear to most of the workers in the state, and among the farmers who comprise the rest of the state’s workforce the talk of Satan and birth control apparently played well. The popular perception of Santorum as more blue collar and less blue blooded than Romney should have been enough for a victory in a state such as Michigan, grease-stained hands are de rigueur.

Given Romney’s home field disadvantage, the win seems at least good enough. Although he wound up splitting the delegates with Santorum due to the state’s proportional distribution rules, Romney at the very least staved off the denunciations that would have surely ensued had he actually lost the Michigan primary, and at best it strengthened his claim to most-electable status going into next week’s important “Super Tuesday” contests.

Those sports talk callers like to repeat the late football mogul Al Davis’ famous admonition to “just win, baby,” and it seems apt here.

— Bud Norman