Grand Old Party Poopers

With a solid Republican majority in the House of Representatives, a slight Republican majority in the Senate, and a slightly Republican president in the White House, the Grand Old Party should be having a grand old time about now. Alas, things haven’t yet worked out that way,, and after the slightly Republican president sided with the Democrats Wednesday on the latest debt ceiling debate it’s hard to see how they ever will.
These all-too-frequent debt ceiling increases are complicated affairs even in more normal circumstances, so of course this time around it’s all the harder to make sense of it. As always a debt ceiling increase is much needed to keep the government operating and avoiding a federal default that would have far more catastrophic economic consequences, everyone is eager to avoid that politically suicidal fate at any cost, yet everyone is trying to take advantage of the situation to get pet causes included. The usual result is some scary brinksmanship followed by yet another desultory compromise that pleases no one, and we’ll hold out hope for another similarly happy outcome this time.
Democrats typically use this all-too-frequent game of chicken to get further exorbitant spending for all sorts of crazy social engineering regulations, Republicans always try to win severe spending cuts and argue that even though they’re voting for another debt ceiling increase they don’t think we can keep this up forever, and we’ve always been more inclined to the Republicans on the issue. We’re as disappointed as any snarling caller to your local talk radio station that the Republicans always wind up voting for another debt ceiling increase, but we have to admit that at least the annual federal deficits have been halved since the Republicans took over the House and then the Senate back in the ill-remembered days of President Barack Obama, and we guess they’d have doubled if not for all those congressional Republicans who came to the rescue before Trump joined the party.
This time around the debate is complicated by all sorts of things that don’t even involve Trump. An historic natural disaster has lately occurred in America’s fourth-most populous city, another bad storm might be headed for the densely populated east coast of Florida, and a significant down payment has to be made on the budget-busting cost of all that lest a political disaster bear down on both Democrats and Republicans alike. That’s not to mention all the complications caused by Hurricane Donald, who had already threatened to veto anything that didn’t include full funding for his crazy and unpopular idea of a tall and translucent wall across the entire border with Mexico, long been “tweeting” schoolyard taunts against both the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and had won office by railing against the establishments of both parties and promising no entitlements and balanced budgets.
So far as we can tell the latest congressional negotiations had come down to a difference of opinion about how long the latest desultory compromise which pleased no one would last. The Democrats wanted a mere three-month extension, the Republicans preferred a year-and-a-half before they had to go through all this again, everyone was willing to cough up the necessary funds for all those natural disaster victims, and in normal circumstances a Republican majority Congress and Republican president would have at least granted a weary nation that slightly longer respite.
On Wednesday, though, Trump met with the Democrats’ Senate minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and House minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, gave them both videotaped hugs,  and agreed to back their side, which complicated things beyond comprehension. Both Schumer and Pelosi are longstanding villains in the Republican narrative of the way things are, Trump had previously “tweeted” that Schumer was a “clown” and taunted him as “Cryin’ Chuck,” long been at least as unkind to the long-hated-by-Republicans Pelosi, so it came as something of a surprise.
Less surprising if you’ve been following how a certain segment of the talk-radio-listening Republicans have come to hate House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky with a nearly as red-hot hatred, and how Trump tapped into that anti-establishment mood to win the Republican nomination and eventually the presidency. Trump more or less vowed to vanquish the Republican establishment, kept up the feud from his election up to now, and his most die-hard supporters probably like it.
We can’t see what satisfaction they’ll get out of it, though, except for seeing Ryan and McConnell and their establishment Republican types properly irked. The Democratic offer that Trump is backing doesn’t come closer to what every sort of Republican has long wanted from all these all-too-frequent debt ceiling increase debates, and any old Republican should be irked by the satisfaction than the even more loathsome Schumer and Pelosi surely feel. Trump’s staunchest defenders will dutily explain that it’s another master move by The Art of Deal, being played out on a 3-D chess board we cannot comprehend, but that’s harder than ever to believe. The Democratic side basically means that they’ll have all their leverage back in a mere three months, when there’s no telling what disarray the Republicans might be in, the Republican side at least gives them a year and a half to perhaps right ship, and conceding such leverage might work in New York real estate deals but we can’t recall the last time it worked in these complicated legislative negotiations.
It might be for a mere three months or a whole year and a half, but we expect the government will ultimately stay open and continue paying its bills over either span. That grand old time for the Grand Old Party and its long promised balanced budgets seems further away than ever, though, and in the meantime there’s a lot of other very complicated messes to be figured out, We’ll keep following the news, and hoping for the best.

— Bud Norman


The Democrats’ Dilemma, Not Ours

These are the times that try our traditional Republican souls, but we suppose it’s even harder on a Democratic.
A mere eight years ago the Democrats won the White House back with the most hyped candidate in the history of presidential, along with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, clear control of the House of Representatives, and had enough votes on the Supreme Court to get away with its most grandiose ambitions. Those congressional majorities quickly vanished, now the White House has also been lost, and it seems likely that a conservative Supreme Court will be getting in the way of Democrats for another ten to twenty years no matter how future elections play out. Republicans control most of the state and local governments, too, with the Democrats’ dominance confined to the west coast and the upper northeast and a few big but shrinking cities in between.
The latest election results don’t represent a clear victory for the Republican party we once knew or the conservatism it once represented, but there’s no way to read them but as a resounding defeat for the Democrats and the liberalism is has come to represent. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the popular vote due to running up the score in the west coast and the upper northeast and those few big but shrinking cities in between, and her party also won most of the Senate votes thanks to two Democratic candidates in California and no one running in Texas, but pretty much everywhere else the Democrats and their ideology were overwhelmingly rejected. Obamacare and the Iran deal and all those executive actions on immigration and everything else the Democrats have accomplished in the past years has been found wanting and will soon be erased, the noisy and angry race-class-gender sort of identity politics that the Democrats have peddled to ascendant minority-majority for the past many years has been beaten by an equally noisy and angry identity politics among a still mostly white and working class and almost entirely male or female population that doesn’t feel the need apologize for its race or class or gender, and at the moment the Democrats seem out of any other ideas. Whatever they get in the way of infrastructure spending or protectionist trade barriers or isolationist foreign policy will come courtesy of the reviled Republican president-elect Donald Trump, and none of it is likely to help the Democrats’ future electoral prospects, or anything else for that matter.
This has prompted some long overdue soul-searching within the Democratic Party, along with the usual finger-pointing and squabbling, but so far the results have not been promising. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, who was Speaker of the House back in the good old days of six years ago but has been consigned to minority leader status ever since, has somehow retained her leadership position despite losing 63 of her caucus’ votes to challenger Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, and think the Democrats missed a chance there. Seventy-six-year-old Pelosi represents a district in San Francisco, a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants and every sort of race and class and gender identity refugee you can think of, and was the one who made sure that Obamacare passed so that we could as see what was in it and pushed that trillion dollar infrastructure spending “stimulus” boondoggle and pretty much everything else that voters have now soundly rejected. Ryan seems a rather middle-of-the-road to Democrat to our old-fashioned Republican eyes, but he’s only 43 years old and represents a district in Youngstown, a hard luck town chock full of the sorts of disgruntled white folks who used to vote for Democrats but are lately responsible for the Republicans’ monopoly of political power, so he might have been able to drag the party at least slightly closer to where most of the country is.
The Democrats are also forced to choose a new National Chairman or Chairwoman or Chairperson of Indeterminate Gender, the last two women who held the post having been forced out by scandals of collusion with Clinton, and thus far the leading contender seems to be Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. He’s also gone by Keith Hakim, Keith X, Keith X Ellison, Keith Muhammad and other variations during his long career from the virulently anti-white Nation of Islam to a more mainstream form of Islam that is merely anti-western to his current status as America’s first Muslim congressman, and although his views on all those newfangled gender issues seems more in keeping with Democratic scripture than the Koran and he’s right on all the minimum wage and corporate taxes stuff he’s got all sorts of ties to some some unsavory segments of the Muslim world. At a time when a relatively recent Republican is winning a majority of the electoral votes by stoking the public’s very rational fears of radical Islamist terrorists, Ellison seems an odd choice as the chairman of a major American political party.
Both Pelosi’s and Ellison’s races are a result of the predictable divide in the party between those who feel that its liberalism is at fault for their predicament and those who blame it for not being liberal enough. There’s a sizable segment of the party that believes that should have gone with the self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and although that’s based on some polling from ages ago and doesn’t take into consideration that incredible amount of opposition research any Republican could have unleashed on that unkempt nutcase it’s at least theoretically possible. Another segment blames Sanders’ insurgent primary challenge to Clinton for making her unpopular among the most idealistic sorts of Democrats who’d prefer someone less indebted to Wall Street and corporate boardrooms, as if Clinton’s appalling record of dishonesty and corruption was already obvious, and as if such idealistic Democrats were a significant voting bloc, but we suppose that’s also theoretically possible. The 70-year-old Clinton will probably still have some sway in the party, although she not only but she lost to the reviled Trump, and 67 year old Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is probably the most prominent high-cheekboned face of the Democrats, but a party of scolding old white women will have a hard time going up against a party of angry old white men, and we’ve seen enough of those arguments to know that it won’t do anyone any good.
Not being Democrats, we’ll leave to them to sort it out. We used to be Republicans, and we’ve got our own worries.

— Bud Norman

Strange Bedfellows

Try as we might, we can’t make any sense of this so-called “Cromnibus” budget deal that might or might not have been passed and signed into law by the time you read this. None of the smart publications that had confidently reported it would pass in routine fashion seem to be able to make any of sense of it, or even explain why it has been called “Cromnibus,” and of course no one in congress has offered a plausible explanation for what’s going on. We suspect there just isn’t much sense to be made of it.
Still, it makes for an interesting spectacle. The $1.1 trillion, 1,600-page bill was said to be a bipartisan compromise with something for everyone to like, just what all the pundits are saying the public is yearning for, so of course some on both sides of the aisle found something to dislike. Conservatives had no problem finding plenty to hate among the $1.1 trillion and 1,600 pages, including such outrages as a year’s worth of money to continue implementing the wildly unpopular Obamacare law at whatever pace the president chooses and a couple of month’s of funding for the Department of Homeland Security of all people to carry out the president’s unwise and unconstitutional and even more wildly unpopular decree to grant amnesty to several million illegal immigrants. Liberals had to dig deeper into such a complete Republican capitulation to find something they didn’t like, but eventually came up with a a couple of provisions that would amend the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law to allow federally-insured banks to trade in certain sorts of derivatives in some convoluted way or another and increased the limits on campaign contributions. This was sufficient for a minority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats to hold up passage of the bill in the House until late Thursday night, and a similar coalition might also prove troublesome in the Democrat-controlled Senate today.
This unlikely convergence of the rabid Tea Party right and loony left-wing progressives is fun to watch, at least, and one can hope that it might even save the country from all the stupid ideas that are found in the moderate middle and therefore funded by the bill. In any event, it has at least revealed some interesting fissures within both parties. House Speaker John Boehner was using whatever clout he has left with his party to win passage of the bill, but his promises to start getting tough about illegal immigration once the calvary of the soon-to-be-installed Republican majority in the Senate is installed and that couple of months of funding for DHS has passed was not believed by the party’s base , who flooded the congressional phone lines and stiffened the spines of the numerous Republicans who voted no. The president also used whatever clout he has left with his party to win passage of the bill, which didn’t stop the Associated Press from describing how that Republicans had “muscled” the bill through the House, but among those who ignored his advice were the likes of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi from San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and Rep. Maxine Waters from the same Compton that Niggaz With Attitude came straight outta. Leading the Democratic charge against the bill in the upper chamber is Massachusetts’ Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is widely touted as a more left-wing alternative to Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee, and it will be fascinating to find out what would-be presidential candidates among the Republicans will buck the GOP’s increasingly reviled leadership.
The best guess is that the lousy deal winds up passing more or less intact, though, and that what’s left of the combined clout of the president and the Republican congressional leadership will prevail. The alternative seems to be not funding the government at all, which for some reason remains even more unpopular that a lousy deal full of Obamacare and illegal immigrants and those nasty bankers and big-money donors getting their way. The Republicans took a hit in the polls with the last government shutdown, even if it had happily dissipated by the time the mid-term elections rolled around, and that was over something as comprehensibly outrageous as Obamacare, so they’ll pull out all the stops to make sure that doesn’t happen again even if it’s about something more comprehensibly outrageous than those millions of illegal immigrants. The Democrats’ fondness for government makes even the most limited and unnoticeable government shutdowns unthinkable, and we can’t see them taking the responsibility for a government shutdown over something incomprehensible and probably sensible as allowing federally-insured banks to trade in certain sorts of derivatives according to some convoluted system.
The fissures will remain, though, and it will be interesting to see what seismic rumblings they produce once the lame duck congress has been retired. Rep. Waters told her fellow delegates “don’t be intimidated by Obama,” showing some attitude of her own, and we expect the president will be increasingly un-intimidating to many other Democrats as his final term plays out and his poll numbers dip with every veto of a popular bill passed by the Republican congress. If the Republican leadership doesn’t get those bills passed, and do a far better job of thwarting the president’s authority and dismantling his legislative legacy than they’v done in this lame duck session, challenging their authority will not only be easy but necessary for political survival from the pitchfork-bearing base.

— Bud Norman

For the Children’s Sake

May God bless Nancy Pelosi’s bleeding heart. The former Speaker of the House and current Democratic minority leader recently traveled where the recent invasion of unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors is being stacked up in hellish makeshift detention centers, and with admirable empathy declared that she would like to take them all home with her.
Even the fabulously wealthy Pelosi’s multiple mansions apparently aren’t quite big enough to accommodate the tens of thousands of illegal youngsters who have crossed the border in the month, alas, but we’ll graciously assume that it was only out of a sense of fairness that Pelosi returned to her swank San Francisco digs without even the few hundred or so of the youngsters that she could have housed and fed. Still, she described the humanitarian crisis on the border as a “humanitarian opportunity” for those politically powerless communities that will be welcoming the invasion and those ungenerous taxpayers she expects to pick up the tab. The poor souls who traveled across Mexico from Central America are mostly “children,” as Pelosi pointed out, and she simply couldn’t bear the thought of anything so cruel as sending them home to their families.
The vast majority of these children are over the age of 16, an advanced enough age in the slums of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador that they managed the long trek across Mexico atop freight trains and drug-smuggling routes and are now causing problems in those makeshift detention camps with their rampant sexual activity, but such an exquisitely sensitive soul as Pelosi’s regards them as children nonetheless. That in many cases they carry disease, gang loyalties, no skills that might contribute to the American economy, and considerable costs for their care is of matter once the word “children” has been invoked.
That the invasion began after the president signed an executive order deferring deportation of minor illegal immigrants and this “humanitarian opportunity” is a direct result of that oh-so-compassionate policy is also to be overlooked, lest one be indifferent to the plight of mere children cast upon our land by cruel fate. The sight of illegal immigrants stacked up in makeshift camps and being flown around the country to cash-strapped communities unable to afford their care should even make Americans all the more amenable to a comprehensive immigration reform law that would bring millions more similarly burdensome immigrants to a land that already has a record number of people out of work.

If this doesn’t strike as a caring policy, then you just don’t care as much about the children as Pelosi’s bleeding heart.

— Bud Norman

Embracing the Suck

Once in a rare while a statesman will utter a phrase that pithily and memorably sums up the spirit of his times. Patrick Henry did so with his revolutionary cry of “Give me liberty or give me death,” Abraham Lincoln when he urged America to reconstruct itself “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” Winston Churchill with his talk of “blood, sweat, tears, and toil,” and John F. Kennedy as he vowed to “pay any price, bear any burden” in defense of liberty. For this peculiar moment in history we now have Rep. Nancy Pelosi urging her colleagues in the Democratic party to “embrace the suck.”
We had thought that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton perfectly encapsulated the zeitgeist when she defended her deadly incompetence and dishonesty in the Benghazi tragedy by snarling “What difference, at this point, does it make?” to a congressional investigative committee, but Pelosi’s bon mot might top even that. It has a certain vulgarity, illiteracy, and slanginess about it that is better suited to our age, and even more succinctly expresses the fatalistic resignation to decline that characterizes contemporary American culture.
The memorable quotation was reportedly uttered at a caucus of congressional Democrats contemplating a proposed budget bill. According to all the press accounts many of those in attendance were dissatisfied with the proposal because it did not include yet another extension of unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work since the Depression of 1819, but we suspect that the Democrats were also disgruntled about the lack of massive tax hikes, massive subsidies for community-organizing scams, massive abortions for everyone, and any number of other massive progressive wish-list items. As the leader of her party in the House of Representatives, Pelosi was sympathetically agreeing that because of the Republicans’ control of the chamber it “sucks” they can no longer run up trillion dollar tabs for such utopian necessities, but urging them to along with the deal because at least it didn’t allow such radical Republican outrages as a balanced budget. What with the manifest failure of Obamaism in general and Obamacare in particular at long last dawning upon a gullible public it “sucks” to be a liberal for the foreseeable future, Pelosi might have added, but the party should embrace the opportunity to blame the Republicans for not allowing them to do more of it.
With all of the media attention being focused on the rather nasty in-fighting between the crazed anarchist Tea Party right-wingers and the lily-livered RINO establishment sell-outs, it warms a Republican heart to know that the Democrats don’t seem to be any happier or more collegial these days. Conservatives of all temperaments are dispirited that their political leadership have acceded to a deal that continues deficit spending on an ever-expanding government that can’t seem to get anything right and is continually getting in the way of people who could otherwise make good things happen, but they can take some consolation in knowing that at least the government’s growth isn’t so ravenous or it’s debts so debilitating that they satisfy Democratic ambitions. With the budget deal now a fait accompli it might even be a good idea for conservatives to set aside the internecine warfare, await the next elections, and in the meantime embrace the suck.

— Bud Norman

Boehner’s Blues

Maybe it’s just a lingering touch of the holiday spirit, but we believe that a few kind words should be spoken on behalf on John Boehner.
The Speaker of the House has been quite beleaguered of late, with sharp criticism coming from every direction. To the president and his liberal supporters Boehner is an ideologue obstructing a reasonable agreement to avert the “fiscal cliff” for typically plutocratic Republican reasons. As far as the conservatives are concerned, Boehner is all too willing to compromise bedrock principles for mere political expedience. The mainstream press has predictably taken the president’s side, while the conservative radio shows are all demanding that Boehner be banished from the party, and with no one left in the middle these days Boehner has wound up with worse poll numbers than Nancy Pelosi has ever suffered.

This is a sorry state, indeed, given that Pelosi is perhaps the most horrible woman in the history of the republic. Although the Republican party might well require a change of management, as losing ball clubs often do, Boehner certainly does not deserve this ignominy.
We are sympathetic to the conservatives’ complaints, being unrepentant right-wingers ourselves, but it seems to us that Boehner’s critics are not taking into account the difficult situation in which we finds himself. A tax hike on anybody will indeed be harmful to an already unhealthy economy, thorough entitlement reforms truly are urgently required to stave off federal insolvency, and the Republicans are also correct in arguing that they won their House majority running on such sound ideas, but somehow it is also true that Obama was re-elected on a platform of soaking the rich and continuing to throw vast amounts of imaginary money into the governmental sinkhole. Obama is better positioned to keep his promises, having no fear of a “fiscal cliff” that will provide him tax hikes and defense cuts that he much desires and would not otherwise be able to achieve, and Boehner has few options.
Conservative purists continue to insist on the possible policy, which is to keep all the Bush tax rates and start swinging the budget axe in some direction other than the Department of Defense, but Obama’s threatened veto power means that isn’t a possibility at all. The only choices that political realities make available to Boehner are tax hikes on the rich or tax hikes on everybody, and while the former will enrage that base of his party the latter will enrage the entire country. Given the resentful mood of the country and the still-potent power of the press, along with the plentiful blame being ascribed by even the most conservative media, it is an easily foreseeable certainty that the Republican party will wind up being blamed for the inevitable recession by an electoral majority of the country.
Some conservatives, including the usually astute Charles Krauthammer, contend that Obama can be forced into a reasonable agreement because he doesn’t want to be saddled with an economic downturn lasting through his second term. The president didn’t suffer much from the lull that lasted through his first term, though, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be able to use another recession for as much government expansion as the earlier one allowed. Other conservatives argue that the public can be persuaded it was Obama’s intransigence that led the country over the fiscal cliff, but they should consult the most recent election returns before judging the public’s willingness to be persuaded by even the most obvious truths. Still other conservatives are taking the old Roman line of “fiat justitia, pereat mundus,” or “let justice be done, even if the world perish,” but this seems to lack the pragmatism that has traditionally characterized the conservative movement.
Those who would damn Boehner as a spineless political animal for conceding to any “revenue enhancements” should at least credit him with the savvy to correctly assess the political landscape. It is possible that a shrewder negotiator could have won a more favorable deal than what Boehner will eventually get his caucus to agree on, and it is certain that a more telegenic and personable politician would have stood a better chance in the public relations battles, but it is not clear who that remarkable leader might be. One shudders to think of Pelosi returning to the speakership, and even Boehner’s harshest critics on the right will miss him if that comes to pass.

— Bud Norman

Free Speech Blues

Being ever vigilant about the right to free speech, our eyes were drawn to two particular stories in the news this week.

One involves the veteran rock ‘n’ roll guitarist Ted Nugent, whose name ordinarily would not appear in this space. Although we still enjoy a recording of “Baby, Please Don’t Go” that he made way back in his days with the Amboy Dukes, a band whose performances at the Orpheum Theater in the early ‘70s left many of our classmates prematurely deaf, we’re not huge fans.

An avid outdoorsman and one of the few outspokenly conservative performers in the rock ‘n’ roll field, Nugent gave a rather fiery speech last weekend at a meeting of the National Rifle Association. In a long rant about the Obama administration, Nugent went so far as to say “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off,” and he predicted that he would soon be “dead or in jail” if Obama were re-elected.

There’s no denying that the language about chopping heads off was overwrought, as one might expect from the self-proclaimed “Motor City Wild Man,” but the prediction he offered seems a little less paranoid after Nugent received a visit from the Secret Service. No arrest was made nor any charges filed, and Nugent later described the interrogation as a “good, solid, professional meeting concluding that I have never made any threats of violence toward anyone,” but there’s still something unsettling about the news that an American citizen is forced to explain his public remarks to law enforcement officials. Perhaps it was just a hyper-sensitivity to threats on the part of the Secret Service, which is no doubt eager to demonstrate that it’s doing something other than consorting with prostitutes, but we suspect that if it had happened to one of the countless entertainers that made similarly outrageous statements during the Bush administration it would be considered a deliberate attempt to deter criticism.

Far more frightening was the speech given Thursday by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, wherein she endorsed amending the First Amendment to allow for regulation of political speech. Still fuming about the Citizens United decision that upheld the free speech rights of people who have joined together as corporations, Pelosi said her party has “a clear agenda in this regard: Disclose, reform the system reducing the role of money in campaigns, and amend the Constitution to rid it of this ability for special interests to use secret, unlimited, huge amounts of money flowing to campaigns.”

It might be assumed that Pelosi’s amendment to the First Amendment would not affect the free speech rights of such corporations as Hollywood movie studios, newspaper chains and broadcast networks, or any industry that can plausibly claim to be “green,” but that could change if they stop behaving properly according to the notions of the Democrats. We gladly support the right of corporations to state their case to the public as well as the public’s right to hear them, and are suspicious of any party that claims it can revive the economy while flouting its contempt for such businesses, but we also worry who might be next on the censors’ list. Every time some strip club, pornographer, or “performance artist” is in any way restrained, even if only by the public’s opprobrium, the left assures us that such a restraint will inevitably lead to the regulation of political speech, but when the left’s own leaders openly call for the regulation of political speech they never seem worried that it might lead to constraints on any other kind of free expression.

— Bud Norman