Advertisements

The Abortion Debate Resumes

Even after all the decades since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down by the Supreme Court the abortion debate still rages, but we’ve noticed in recent years that it rarely shows up on the front pages of the newspapers or the top of the cable and network news broadcasts. The upcoming battle over the appointment and confirmation of a replacement for retiring Supreme Justice Anthony Kennedy is bringing the long-simmering battle back to the figurative front-burner of American politics, however, and we’re already dreading what will ensue.
Here in our usually placid hometown of Wichita, Kansas, the abortion debate has always been especially acrimonious. The very interesting mother of a very interesting high school friend of ours was picketing on the sidewalks outside a local Wesleyan hospital even before the Roe v. Wade decision was passed, and the abortion debate has played an outsized role in local and state politics ever since.
Although Wichita and Kansas are unusually church-going and conservative places by modern secular standards, the state somehow wound up with the most permissive abortion laws outside of China and its one-child policy, and the city was long home to one of less than a handful of doctors in the entire world willing to perform the third-trimester abortions that even the Roe v. Wade decision allowed states to restrict, which our many years of Republican legislatures and Republican governors somehow never got around to restricting. The massive gulf between public opinion and public policy enflamed passions on both sides even more than in the rest of the country, and things got unpleasantly heated around here.
Back in ’91 the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue came to town for a “Summer of Mercy” that involved physically blocking access to the city’s three abortion clinics, all owned by the doctor who performed those internationally controversial third-trimester abortions, and we still remember it as the hottest summer ever around here, notwithstanding the higher temperatures of other summers. Hundreds of church-going and baby-having and lawn-mowing upright citizens willingly went to jail the cause, hundreds of other church-going and baby-having and lawn-mowing upright citizens stopped talking to their neighbors and longtime friends as a result, and we know of at least one marriage because of all the acrimony, and countless Wichitans with no strong feelings about abortion were inconvenienced by the traffic tie-ups next to the main clinic along the crucial Kellogg Avenue freeway on their way home from work.
We were reporting for the local newspaper at the time, which still had a wide readership at the time, and despite our best efforts to be objective and factual about what was going on the sidewalks of Wichita we and our equally objective and factual colleagues wound up incurring the wrath of people on both sides of the debate. Journalists from around the country and the entire world wound up sharing a beer with us at a tavern next door do the clinic on Central Avenue, as the protests brought unexpected attention to Wichita from pretty much everywhere, and they all had the same complaints about how their determinedly objective and factual accounts were received.
In the end, though, Operation Rescue’s radical stand against abortion and its civil disobedience tactics got the worst of it both here and around the world. The most enthusiastic supporters of abortion rights were predictably outraged, the more mainstream anti-abortion groups distanced themselves from Operation Rescue’s civil disobedience tactics, and Congress wound up passing and President Bill Clinton wound up signing some tough laws about access to abortion clinics that those church-going and baby-having and lawn-mowing upright Wichitans did not dare defy. Despite Republican legislatures and Republican governors, that internationally controversial Wichita abortionist continued to perform third-trimester abortions next to Kellogg Avenue in Wichita.
The anti-abortion forces did succeed in making opposition to the practice a litmus test for any Republican candidate seeking any sort of office, no matter how he strident he might be about a tax cuts or deregulation or any other Republican position, but despite Republican majorities in the legislature and Republican governors they somehow never did succeed in imposing the constitutionally permissible ban on third-trimester abortions. That matter was instead settled when a radicalized anti-abortion activist came down from Kansas City and shot Dr. George Tiller in the head during a worship service on a sunny Sunday morning in ’09 at a lovely Lutheran church way over on East 13th Street.
All of the mainstream anti-abortion groups denounced the assassination, and all of the world press we met while covering the trial on a freelance basis seemed slightly disappointed that a church-going and conservative Wichita jury found the assassin guilty after an hour’s deliberation after a trial where the defendant freely admitted his guilt, and since then there have been no third-trimester abortions performed in Wichita. State law somehow still allows any doctor to do so, but no one has dared to do so, and since then Kansas has been more involved in debates about tax cuts and voting regulations and trade policies and other desultory matters.
Since then a majority of Ireland has voted to repeal that very Catholic country’s strict anti-abortion laws, and Mississippi and a couple of other proudly Protestant southern states have passed restrictive anti-abortion laws that press against the limits of the Roe v. Wade decision, but here and around the world the the abortion debate has gotten less ink and airtime than those desultory debates about tax rates and trade policies and the “Russia thing” and the latest outages about President Donald Trump and all the rest of it. As maddening as it all is, we preferred it to the abortion debate.
Justice Kennedy’s retirement and Trump’s power to appoint his replacement brings all the abortion issue acrimony back to the front burner of American politics, though, and there’s nothing we can do about that. Back when Trump was a Democrat he was staunchly in favor of abortion rights, even unto that third trimester, and our guess is that the first abortion bills that passed Trump’s desk were quickly paid, but ever since he decided to run for president as a Republican he’s been even more stridently anti-abortion than even the mainstream anti-abortion groups, and by now one side is hopeful and the other side is fearful that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. The contrarian Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz is somehow a conservative hero for defending Trump in the “Russia thing,” but he’s worried that five-to-four Trump majority on the Supreme Court will result in an opinion banning all abortions on the grounds of a constitutional right to life at the moment of conception, and the better bet is that Trump’s pick will result in all 50 states arguing about abortion without any constitutional restraints.
We don’t see that ending well for anybody, and especially the Republican party. To this day we’re too objective and factual to declare any moral stand on the abortion issue, although we’re still guilt-ridden about the third-trimester abortions of viable fetuses that occurred in our hometown and the cold-blooded  murder of the doctor who performed them, but we can’t see how it’s a winning play for the proudly adulterous Trump or his family values Republican party. Our long and desultory experience of the abortion debate around here tells us that nobody is ever persuaded by any argument the other side might make, that the debate is inevitably murderous no matter which way you look at it, and in the end most of America is just hoping for an easy drive home from work.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Kansas, Kobach, Voter Fraud, and That Darned Popular Vote

There was a bewildering amount of news out there for an extended Fourth of July weekend, what with the Republicans’ health care reform efforts stalling and all the “tweeting” about other things about by the president, but it was the story about the newly created voter fraud commission that caught our eye. The issue of voter fraud has long been of general interest to us, now has some specific political implications right here in Kansas, and we’re not sure what to make of it.
So far as we can tell the voter fraud commission has been newly created because President Donald Trump believes some three million illegally-cast votes denied him his rightful popular vote victory in the past election, and he wants an official body to back up the “tweeted” claim. We’re not at all sure that anyone will ever prove that to everybody’s satisfaction, and note that a system so well-rigged it can manufacture three million votes wasn’t able to spread a mere hundred thou or so of them over the three states where they could have tilted the Electoral College outcome, but that’s no reason not to have a commission making sure that the voting in our democratic republic isn’t entirely on the square.
Some of our Democratic friends insist that although people might rob and rape and murder but no one has ever stooped so low as to commit voter fraud, but we’re not so sanguine about it. Historians have definitively documented several cases of past stolen American elections, including the one that elevated future President Lyndon Johnson to the Senate, in more recent years there were some reasonable suspicions about the razor-thin counts in a gubernatorial race in Washington and a Senate race in Minnesota, and except for that Florida re-count in the ’00 presidential race all the ties have gone to the Democrat. There really are an awful lot of non-citizens in the country, too, and we can’t vouch for each of them, but reasonably assume the minority of that might try to vote will vote for the Democrat, so we can’t blame the Republicans for wanting to restrict voting to eligible voters.
Three million ineptly dispersed votes are awfully hard to account for, though, and the Republicans are facing other political problems. The Democrats are protesting that in a zeal to limit voting to eligible voters the Republicans will wind up disenfranchising many eligible voters, most of them poor and minority people inclined to vote for Democrats, and thus far the courts have found that’s exactly what wound up in happening in North Carolina when the state’s Republicans passed its voter integrity law, and of course much of the media and the public are also sympathetic to the argument. The commission is run by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the latter being the the country’s most notorious Republican hard-liner on voter fraud, so we can’t blame the Democrats for suspecting that the commission is seeking federal laws along the same lines as North Carolina’s.
Several Democratic secretaries of state have defiantly refused to provide all of the information requested by the commission, and the president and several conservative news sources have plausibly inferred it’s because they have something to hide, but the Republicans also have a problem with several Republican secretaries of state who have been similarly defiant for very Republican reasons. Mississippi is hardly a fever swamp of Democratic liberalism, but its Secretary of State responded with a letter citing state’s rights and individual privacy and other concerns before advising the commission to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.” Alabama, home of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also declined to cooperate with many of the requests for similarly southern reasons. Arizona, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Texas were also defying at least some parts of the federal order. Even Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was forced to confess to The Kansas City Star that the state’s very Republican privacy laws prohibited him from fully complying with own demands.
Up until Trump decided he’d been robbed of his rightful popular victory, Republicans generally believed that elections were a business handled at the state and county and precinct level, where things have lately been going pretty well for Republicans. This still seems reasonable to our Republican sensibilities, the last presidential popular vote notwithstanding, and we’re heartened to see that so much of the party establishment is also opposed to federalizing elections. We’re steadfastly for restricting voting to eligible voters, steadfastly opposed to disenfranchising even those eligible voters who might be inclined to vote for Democrats, and at this point don’t really care much about Trump’s pride.
We voted for Kobach both times he ran for secretary of our state, and we don’t regret it. The photo identification laws for voting and other election reforms he helped enact seemed commonsensical and proved not at all inconvenient, and despite the best efforts of the state’s Democrats they haven’t come up with anyone for the state’s media to interview who’s been disenfranchised as a result. Every time we vote we run into Democratic and Republican poll watchers we trust, and the local election officials are up for re-election every few years, and although we can’t vouch for California or certain parts of Philadelphia we have confidence in the system around here. Kobach’s critics like to note that in nearly eight years in office he’s only found nine convicted cases of voter fraud, which is nowhere near enough to affect even the closest races in this reliably Republican state, and even on a per capita basis can’t negate that three million vote loss in the last presidential popular vote, but we figure that demonstrates that his Jean Valjean-like zeal is working pretty well.
We’re not sure we want to impose that on Mississippi or even California, though, and we’re not sure if we’ll be voting for Kobach when he runs for governor next year. He’s still a steadfast proponent of current Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-and-budget cutting stands, which worked in theory but left the state with annual budget shortfalls in practice and were recently repealed when a coalition of Democrats and recently-ascendant moderate Republicans overrode his veto, and at this point we can see him losing to a moderate Democrat even in this reliably Republican state. We still like that economic theory of Brownback’s and expect it would work well in practice at some more fortuitous future date, but for now we’ll be happy to balance the books and avoid all the political acrimony our state has lately endured.
There’s also something unsettling about how Kobach seems intent on proving Trump’s unlikely claims about the popular vote, Republican principles about federalism and privacy and every citizen’s right to vote notwithstanding, and the party’s seeming unconcern with Russia’s obvious meddling, and we’re not sure how that will play with the rest of the state. Trump won the state by the usual Republican margins, and he has his defenders here, but those old-fashioned budget-balancing establishments types who prefer to avoid all the acrimony lately seem ascendant, and we’ll give them a good look before casting our votes in the gubernatorial primary.

— 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 Sorry State in Mississippi

Our policy regarding primary contests between the “tea party” and “establishment” factions of the Republican Party has been to support the more conservative candidate anywhere he can win the general election, to settle for the more moderate candidate in those states and districts where he would be the only plausible hope of defeating an even more liberal Democrat, and to urge both sides to unite behind whichever candidate comes out on top against whatever damned Democrat he’ll be up against. This seems to us a both amicable and sensible policy, but it is hard to apply after that Senate primary on Tuesday in Mississippi.
Entrenched incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran beat the more rock-ribbed Republican challenger Chris McDaniel in the run-off race, but he did so by such sleazy methods that it will be hard for any principled conservative to muster any enthusiasm for any candidacy. Although Cochran had won a solid plurality in the preliminary round of the primary he fell short of the 50 percent needed to secure the nomination, and because contested primaries are always a referendum on the incumbent it was widely expected that the throw-the-bums-out sentiment within the party would prevail, so Cochran won by luring people outside the party into the state’s unaccountably open primary. Worse yet, he did so by arguing for more federal pork spending and with a naked racial appeal to the African-Americans of his state that implied conservatism is essentially racist. The effort included automated phone messages and old-fashioned fliers warning that the “tea party” was seeking to prevent blacks from voting, that McDaniel was opposed to federal financing of public education, and that he was determined to eliminate “food stamps.”
These are the same misleading smears that Democrats have long used against the populist brand of conservatism that has been dubbed “tea party,” and their use by a Republican candidate is unforgivable. Pork barrel politics has been wisely reject by a critics number of today’s Republican voters, even in such cash-strapped states as Mississippi, and imputing racist motives to this view is outrageous. The scurrilous charge of preventing blacks from voting can only be understood as a reference to photo identification requirements for voting and other common sense safeguards against election fraud, and every wised-up Republican and even most of the general public understand the need for these policies. Mississippians and Americans everywhere should welcome the opportunity of local control of their children’s public education, which is only attainable with local funding, and any suggestion otherwise is an affront to Republican or even republican sensibilities. Any critics of the ever-expanding welfare state who truthfully observe that minorities are disproportionately represented on the assistance roles is derided as a racist, and is simultaneously derided as a racist for the “disparate impact” their proposed cuts would have on minorities, but no one taking such a sensible stand should be subjected to these inane and contradicting indictments from a putative Republican.
Still, it worked well enough that a proponent of deficit-funded pork barrel spending and federal control of local school curricula and rampant voter fraud and the most toxic sort of racial identity politics is likely the Republican Party’s candidate in for Senate in Mississippi, and the most callous sorts of professional Republicans have dealt a blow to the party’s populist base. This leaves the Mississippi Republican with only bad choices, and we cannot offer any advice. Weasel that he is Cochran was at least among the unified Republican Party that voted against Obamacare, and any Democrat would be prone to repeat such a mistake, but it is disheartening and infuriating to settle for that. We’ll maintain our usual policy when the establishment candidates prevailing the states where they need to ward off even more liberal Democrats, so long as they do as they do so by ethical means, but we might make an exception in Mississippi.

— Bud Norman