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Watching the Sausage Get Made

There’s a wise old saying, apocryphally attributed to Otto Von Bismarck, that “Laws are like sausages, it is better not see them being made.” In this reality show age of politics and food shows the gruesome spectacles are always on display, however, so Tuesday brought the live-on-television opening round of negotiations between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer over an upcoming spending bill. Suffice to say it provided more melodrama than anything the competing soap operas had to offer.
To sum up the episode up in a TV Guide-sized synopsis, Trump insists any spending bill include at least $5 billion for a big and beautiful wall across America’s entire southern border, Pelosi and Schumer don’t want want to give it to him, and Trump is threatening a partial government shutdown if they don’t. Most followers of the ongoing political saga already have a rooting interest in either Trump or Pelosi and Schumer, and will cheer their heroes and boo their villains accordingly, but for those of us worriedly watching from the sidelines it just seems a damned mess. At this point in the plot our best is guess is that there won’t be any significant funding for a wall, there will be a partial government shutdown of unknown duration, and no one comes out of it looking good.
Nobody looked at all good on Tuesday. Trump and Pelosi and Schumer each played their reality show parts to their usual hilts, and their discussion of the nation’s pressing issues was as full of sound and fury signifying nothing as a typical cable news show’s panel debates or one of those pro wrestling skits Trump used to participate in, with both sides asserting their dominance rather than making rational arguments based on agreed facts.
As far as that went, we’d have to say that awful Pelosi woman and that awful Schumer guy got the better of the power play than that awful Trump fellow. Trump boasted live-on-air that for the next few days he can muster the votes in House of Representatives to give funding for his border wall, but he also admitted that because of the 60-vote rule for spending bills he didn’t have the needed votes in the Senate, and Pelosi could rightly note that when a sizable Democratic majority is installed in the House early next month he won’t get any border wall funding there. The Democrats clearly have the stronger hand, to borrow a poker metaphor, and even after seeing all his casinos go bankrupt Trump still doesn’t seem to know when to cash in.
Trump can rightfully boast he somehow how has the powers of the presidency, including the veto power that would lead to a partial government showdown, but we can’t see how that does him much good. Even partial government shutdowns are always unpopular, and Trump once “tweeted” back during the Obama that they were proof of a failure of presidential leadership, now he’s boastfully threatening one, and although that big beautiful border wall is always an applause line at Trump’s rallies it also doesn’t poll well. Pelosi and Schumer are more veteran players of politics, which is still mostly played by the constitutional and legal and traditional rules Trump is still learning, so we don’t see them folding to a president who has preemptively claimed credit for an unpopular government shutdown over an unpopular wall.
A more objective and deliberative consideration of government and border security would be welcome, but both sides would be still look bad. Those damned Democrats are far too weak on border enforcement for our tastes, and some of them are downright crazy about despite Pelosi’s and Schumer’s assurances, but Trump’s longstanding pledge of a big and beautiful border wall has always struck as one of the most cockamamie campaign promises ever made. Even if Trump could keep somehow keep his even more cockamamie campaign promise to have Mexico happily pay for it, which he no longer mentions, the wall is opposed by most Americans residing near the southern border and all of their Republican and Democratic representatives, its cost would surely exceed Trump’s pie-in-the-sky budget estimates just in court expenses for eminent domain seizures that offend our old-fashioned conservative sensibilities, and the money could surely be better spent on high-tech surveillance, border walls at a few essential points, and cracking down on the vast majority of illegal immigrants who arrived via airplane and outstayed their visas.
A smart and fair and vigorous enforcement of America’s border laws would surely round up several employees of Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses, and probably cause some Democrats much embarrassment along the way, so we don’t see that happening. Instead we expect a prolonged partial government shutdown and legislative gridlock, plenty of booing and hissing according to partisan preferences, and that separate subplot about the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” proceeding apace to its cataclysmic conclusion.
Oh well, at least it could be worse if either side were to win.

— Bud Norman

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About That Poll

Everything seems to be spinning out of control, from foreign affairs to the domestic economy to those ever more scandalous scandals, but everyone on the right has been taking some time out to enjoy that Wall Street Journal-National Broadcasting Company poll that shows that President Barack Obama is at last taking some of the blame for it all. The poll shows widespread disapproval of the president’s handling of the economy and especially of his foreign policies, with an especially precipitous drop in his popularity among Hispanics, and it’s bad enough that such a reliable apologist as NBC’s Chuck Todd has declared that “Essentially the public is declaring that (Obama’s) presidency is over.”
Obama’s presidency won’t actually be over for another two and half years, alas, but there is some consolation in reading that so many Americans have belatedly concluded that it should be done. The poll bodes well for the Republicans’ chances in the mid-term elections, which traditionally reflect the popularity of the sitting president, and that offers a chance a to at least limit some of the damage over the last two years of the era of hope and change. Deeper in the poll there are also contains some numbers on presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton that provide hope for the presidential election in ’16. and the possibility that some of the damage can be undone. We can’t begrudge anyone the faint glimmer of optimism that the poll provides, but it remains to be seen if the Republicans will once again squander its possibilities.
Much of the public’s dissatisfaction is with the administration’s foreign policy, which will likely also be a problem for the former Secretary of State who is the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the Republicans will find it difficult to offer a popular alternative. The last Republican administration’s forceful response to Islamism’s war against America remains unpopular, even if the public is just as discontented with the results of both Obama’s apologetic and appeasing repudiation of that approach and his bomb-first-and-ask-questions-later adventures in Libya and Pakistan and elsewhere, and the next Republican nominee will have to find an appealing middle ground that eschews long commitments of troops without letting the international order slide into chaos. The presumptive Democratic nominee and her as-yet-unknown challengers will be trying to strike the same balance, and while they won’t be able to promise deterrence through a stronger and better-funded military they will have a helpful press explaining that all of the world’s problems are still the fault of the last the Republican administration. Events are proceeding at such a pace that is impossible to predict the challenges that will be debated in the next but election, but it is safe to say they’re headed in a direction that will make the debate lively and difficult for both sides.
Things are going so badly from Ukraine to the Middle East to the South China Sea that foreign policy will play a larger-than-usual role in the next elections, but the pocketbook issues will as always be important. This should also play to the Republicans’ benefit, especially when Obamacare has been fully implemented and the consequences of all those foreign policy mistakes become apparent at the gas pump, but the Republicans’ penchant for political ineptitude could also negate that advantage. The Democrats have already indicated that they’ll run on the argument that the problem isn’t the impoverishment of the middle class that their policies have caused but rather the wealth of a few people that Republican policies have allowed, and human nature being prone to envy it will be a popular line. The presumptive Democratic nominee has lately encountered some unaccustomed bad press because she’s one of those wealthy people her party wants the public to resent, but the Democrats can always come up with another nominee who’s been getting by on a few hundred thousand dollars a years from government or academia, or come up with some more satisfactory explanation for why they’re running a woman who got filthy rich on writing books and giving speeches for the corporate world.
That precipitous drop in the president’s popularity with Hispanics is also encouraging, especially if it reflects a realization that his kind-hearted Hispanic-kids-get-in-free policy has created a humanitarian crisis for tens of thousands of Hispanic children, but the Republicans will still have to make a convincing case that their more hard-headed approach will have less heartbreaking consequences. The growing Hispanic population will remain a political challenge for the Republicans, and the demographic trends that are providing more unmarried women and children of unmarried couples bring challenges that will be hard to overcome with just a strong case for better policies.
Still, those poll numbers provide a grumpy right-winger will some small measure of satisfaction. These days, we’ll take whatever  we can get.

— Bud Norman

You Say You Want a Revolution

We have resigned ourselves to the fact that winter will never end. The first week of May has brought snow, sub-freezing temperatures, yet another global warming speech by Al Gore, and a glum realization that the cold and gray will persist for the rest of our days.
The political climate is every bit as dispiriting, but even in this endless winter of our discontent we are not yet readying a musket for an armed revolution against the government. One always hopes things won’t come to that, of course, but one never knows. Revolutions have always become necessary at some point, and there are reasons to believe that many of our fellow citizens expect it to happen sooner rather than later.
One reason is a recent opinion poll conducted by Farleigh Dickinson University, which found 29 percent of registered voters agreeing that “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties.” Only 47 percent of the respondents said they disagreed, hardly a reassuring show of confidence in the safety of our liberties, with 18 percent neither agreeing or disagreeing, 5 percent saying they were unsure, and 1 percent shrewdly refusing to give any answer at all. Those not registered to vote might be more or less inclined to foresee the necessity of an armed revolution to remain free men and women, but in any case there seems to be a very sizeable minority of Americans who share this concern.
The sentiment is so widespread that 18 percent of Democrats concede the possibility of an armed revolution becoming necessary, although it is hard to say what reasons they might have. Perhaps they are worried about the possibility of another Republican administration in the next few years, or they regard the soon-to-be-bankrupt entitlement programs as liberty, or are quietly hoping that a few years of revolutionary bomb-throwing will pay off with a prestigious professorship somewhere down the line just as it did for the likes of Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, and Kathy Boudin. Regardless of the rationale, 18 percent is a significant chunk of the party of Hope and Change and all things government, and an even larger 27 percent of independents also believe a revolution might soon be required.
Republicans are most inclined to think so, with a whopping 44 percent of them agreeing with the poll’s premise, but at least they have made their many reasons loud and clear. On countless issues ranging from health insurance mandates to expanding regulatory bureaucracies to a spread-the-wealth economic program to bans on everything from that rusty old musket to big ol’ cups of soda pop, many Republicans have consistently argued that the constant and rapid expansion of government’s size and power eventually encroaches upon personal liberties to an intolerable extent. This oft-stated theory also holds that when a long train of abuses and usurpations reduce a people to despotism, to paraphrase the Declaration of Impendence, it is the right, it is the duty of the people to throw off such a government, and a good many of the Republicans we know take this very seriously.
Such insurrectionist talk is clearly taken seriously by others. The Department of Homeland Security has famously warned that Barack Obama’s election as president would unleash a wave of white supremacist violence and warned the nation’s law enforcement officials to be on the lookout for disgruntled military veterans, Army training materials explain that Catholics and Evangelical Christians are every bit as dangerously extremist as al-Qaeda’s brand of Islam, and numerous Democratic politicians have publicly fretted that those crazy Tea Party people are going to don their tri-cornered hats and take up arms. Such nervousness about a right-wing uprising are so prevalent in government that we suspect the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who were so uninterested in the Boston Marathon bombers even after explicit warnings from the Russian government felt obliged by multi-cultural sensitivity to be snooping around some Free Republic poster instead. The view is also common to much of the media, who immediately suspect conservatism any time something blows up, and the more strident liberals of our acquaintance are downright doctrinaire about it.
Such worries, we think, are exaggerated at the moment. The Tea Party people that we know are all lawn-mowing, credit card-carrying, fastidiously law-abiding folk who are disinclined by a conservative temperament to quit their hard-earned jobs and wage an armed revolution against the government. They certainly don’t have the same romantic notions about it that Professors Ayers, Dohrn, and Boudin once had, or that the Occupy Wall Street hobos in their Che Guevara t-shirts still have. Instead they believe that prudence will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and instransient reasons, to further paraphrase the Declaration, and they don’t believe we have yet reached the point that rebellion is necessary. Not yet, anyway, and the defeat of the recent gun control bills and the resistance of many state governments to federal over-reach and the prospect of a mid-term election next year all give hope that we can avoid that point through democratic means.
When something blows up and it turns out the work of an Islamist rather than a conservative, as is so often the case, the same people can be counted on to thoughtfully consider what they have done to provoke such an unpleasant act. They never seem to ponder why a full 29 percent of their countrymen, many of them lawn-mowing and cred card-carrying and fastidiously law-abiding folk, might think it possible that they’ll need an armed revolution in the next few years. Nor do they wonder why only 47 percent dismiss the possibility. Perhaps they should give it some thought.

— Bud Norman