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Living the DREAM

As if they didn’t have enough messy business to deal with this month, the congressional Republicans are now obliged to decide the fate of some 800,000 “dreamers.” The issue involves complicated policy questions, the political considerations are trickier yet, and given the way everything else has been going lately it could well end badly for the Grand Old Party.
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed youths whose foreign parents had illegally brought them to America as children to avoid deportation for several years and be granted work permits and permission to apply for citizenship, and because the policy had been instituted by an executive order of President Barack Obama he’s constitutionally entitled to do so.
There are strong arguments for doing so, as well, starting with the idea that the constitution requires legislative approval, and that six state attorneys general threatened to file a very promising suit about it today. There are also all those oft-made arguments about the economic and social costs of failing to enforce immigration, and if there wasn’t a widespread public sentiment for stricter enforcement Trump probably wouldn’t be president. There’s also a theoretical possibility, at least, that the deliberations of a duly-elected House and Senate might come up with some wiser than the current or previous president could think of, and if they can’t, well, that’s a pretty sad state of affairs for everybody.
There are plenty of arguments being made all over the press that Trump shouldn’t have done it, however, and our guess is that a sentimental public will now find many of them persuasive. The arguments for Trump’s order are legalistic, involve abstract analysis of the very mixed social and economic costs and benefits that any intellectually honest person will acknowledge, and must be so carefully phrased as so to leave no suspicion that any unpleasant racial motivations are involved, all of which leave Trump at a rhetorical disadvantage. The arguments against Trump’s action come with true stories about the plucky offspring of illegal immigrants who have contributed to their schools and workplaces and the American military, the video footage will show many of them to be darned cute, and Trump’s antagonists in the press are very effective at that kind of rhetoric. There’s a valid argument to be made even without the sentimentality, too, as those true stories do demonstrate the social and economic benefits that immigration bring and which any intellectually honest person must acknowledge, and even Trump concedes that the 800,000 people who suddenly find themselves facing deportation to lands they’ve never known are entirely blameless for being here.
There’s surely some wise solution to the problem, but it’s proved elusive to both Democratic and Republican congresses for several decades now, so it’s hard to see how the Republicans of the moment are going solve everything in the six months Trump’s phase-out gives them. Even when Obama was getting great press and polling well and had huge Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress they couldn’t pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, an ugly formulation that yielded the acronym DREAM and that touching “dreamers” description of the children of illegal immigrants, and when Obama decided to enact the same policy by executive order he had to admit it would have been better if Congress had acted. Now that there’s a tough-on-illegal-immigraton Republican majority in Congress and a Republican president who prides himself on being tougher on illegal immigration than anybody, we wouldn’t be much surprised if the Democrats’ DREAM at long last comes true.
Polling shows that cute kids who have contributed to their communities and are here through no fault of their own enjoy considerable public support, far more than for the president and far, far more than the Congress, and the numbers are almost as bad as the ones that sunk their long-promised plan to repeal and replace the Obamacare law. The Republican majorities in Congress don’t march in the same ideological lockstep as that Democratic majority used to, with many taking a more business-minded approach to illegal immigration and appealing to districts that won’t tolerate any suspicion of racial intolerance, and a lot of Republicans these days feel free to clash with the low-polling Trump in ways that no Democrat would have ever dared with Obama. There are enough Democrats still left in Congress that it won’t take too many Republicans in Congress who don’t want to explain to their voters why they’re kicking out that cute and blameless A student who didn’t chose to be here to get some sort of permanent residency for most of the “dreamers” passed, and a lot of the usual arguments about illegal immigration doesn’t apply to a law that deports criminals and requires tax payments and expects social and economic contributions. We can even see Trump signing it.
Our guess is that Trump signed the order in an attempt to further rouse his most hard-core supporters, most of whom are willing to be far tougher on illegal immigration than Trump really is, and even less concerned than he is if you suspect racial motivations, but he also framed the decision as a constitutional matter and hoped that Congress would come up with something that had “heart,” and that sounds suspiciously tolerant. The decision follows Trump’s pardon of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was so famously tough on illegal immigration he was convicted of routinely violating the Fourth Amendment rights of natural-born citizens who looked like they might be illegal immigrants, and a now downplayed threat to force a government shutdown to get funding for a border wall that only the most hard-core supporters seem to want, and Trump does so love those who so love him, so it’s also possible that he’ll wind up vetoing all those cute blameless kids out of the country.
There’s an opportunity to craft some piece of legislation that doesn’t kick those cute blameless kids out of the country but also includes some bipartisan-supported measures that would more strictly enforce the border and mitigate some of the economic and social costs that any intellectually honest person would acknowledge, and for now we dare to dream. The law surely wouldn’t include enough money to build a wall along the entire border of Mexico, but Trump might well sign it anyway. His political strategy of rousing his base might bring out the crowds at his ongoing campaign rallies, but what most seems to please them is anything Trump says or does to outrage all the snowflake liberals in the rest of the country, which by now includes a lot of Republicans and the vast majority of everyone else, but if he gets some extra border agents and an E-Verify requirement that should make up for the cute blameless kids who get to stay in the country.
That’s what we’re hoping for, at any rate, and there’s six whole months to get it done. This month will mostly be about keeping the government open and the Treasury from defaulting and fending off a nuclear war with the nutcase dictatorship in North Korea, as well as the cost of a recent hurricane in Texas and maybe one that seems to be heading for Florida, but after that we expect it will be clear sailing.

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On the Wisdom of Leaving Bad Enough Alone

Up until he took that famous escalator ride down to the lobby of Trump Tower and announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, we happily paid little attention to Donald Trump. Since then we’ve been forced to pay attention, though, and have noticed that he never backs down, always fights back, and never fails to leave bad enough alone. President Trump demonstrated those same qualities yet again on Tuesday, and as usual they didn’t serve him well.
The whole mess started last Friday when a few hundred armed-and-armored Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis and various other white supremacist types from around the country descended on the picturesque and impeccably liberal college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, for a rally to protest the removal of a statue of Confederal Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park and to more generally “Unite the Right.” Of course a larger crowd of counter-protestors turned out, there were predictably many street brawls between the more violent elements of both crowds, and it culminated with a muscle car driven by one of the white supremacists plowing into a crowd of peaceful counter-protestors and killing one while injuring 20 others. Several hours after the fatal incident the president addressed the nation, condemning the “hated, violence and bigotry, on many sides,” repeating “on many sides” for emphasis.
Except for the most loyal news outlets and their most steadfast callers and commenters, and the former Grand Wizard and the “alt-right” spokesman who co-hosted the rally and “tweeted” their thanks for the statement, the reviews were not kind. The entirety of the left, almost the entirety of the middle, and all the more respectable segments of the right were offended by the apparent moral equivalence between the KKK and neo-Nazis and the people who engaged in the fights they had clearly intended to provoke. Both the moderate and more traditionally conservative Republicans in Congress were more unequivocal in their denunciations of white supremacism, so were several administration officials, including the Vice President and that Attorney General the left considers a stone-cold racist, as well as the president’s favorite daughter, and by Monday Trump was reading a teleprompter-ed speech that actually named the KKK and neo-Nazism and racism in general while singling them out for specific presidential opprobrium.
The entirety of the left doubted that his heart was really in it, and most of the middle and those respectable quarters of the right were openly wondering what took him so long, but at least it gave his apologists in the administration and the most loyal news outlets something to work with. There were bound to deal with predictable some sidebar stories, which in this case involved a few Fortune 500 executives and organized labor honchos resigning from a presidential advisory board in protest of the president’s handling of the situation, but a careful moment of silence might have helped quiet the storm of negative coverage. Tuesday also brought news of the North Koreans doing their usual backing down from their usual bellicose rhetoric in the face’s of Trump’s more-bellicose-than-usual rhetoric, the latest leak about the “Russia” thing actually bolstered the president’s much-in-need-of-bolstering claim that he had nothing to do with it, and the stock markets were up and employment was still down and the weather was nice here in Wichita, but by now we’ve seen enough of the guy that we’re not the least bit surprised Trump chose to instead make the Charlottesville mess the top story for yet another day.
Instead, Trump started the day with a round of “tweets” insulting the business executives and labor leaders who had resigned from his manufacturing advisory panel.The first of them had been the head of the Merck pharmaceutical company, one of the few black CEOs to hold such a position, and Trump had already accused him “ripping off” his customers. The next two were the predictably white and male heads of a software giant and a prominent sports gear manufacturer, then the president of the labor-affiliated Alliance for American Manufacturing and the American-Federation of Labor-Congress of Interational Organizations. Trump tweeted back that there were plenty of good people willing to replace them and that they were “grandstanding,” apparently unaware of what a hoot that was to all but his most loyal supporters. In a later press conference he said the executives were leaving out of “embarrassment” about their companies’ reliance on foreign labor, which is also something of a hoot if you’ve been following the practices of his still-held businesses and those of his favorite daughter.
Facing the press, and its inevitable questions about that widely-panned first statement blaming the fatal violence that resulted from a KKK and neo-Nazi rally on “many sides, on many sides,” Trump again characteristically refused to back down, Monday’s teleprompter-ed back down notwithstanding. The Monday statement had included the presidential boilerplate about love and unity, but in the press conference he struck to the more unscripted hostility and divisiveness that has long characterized his interactions with the press. In between gratuitous insults of the press as an institution and certain reporters in particular, Trump defiantly defended his earlier moral equivalence between the KKK and the neo-Nazis and the people they wound up having street fights with, insisted there were some “very fine people” marching alongside those Confederate-and-Nazi-flag waving Klansmen and neo-Nazis, and worked in some recently rosy economic statistics.
There was enough truth to it to give Trump’s most loyal supporters something to work with, but they should resent that he’s once again made their job of persuading the rest of the country all the more difficult. The mostly placid and hippy-dippy counter-protesters did indeed include some of the violent “antifa” idiots who always show up itching for a fight, and indeed the left has all too often been reluctant and unequivocal in denunciations of their violence, but when they inevitably provoke the next round of unpleasantness their apologists will now be entitled to recall the last time around when the violent idiots on the right started it all and the right was slow and equivocal in its denunciations. We’re sympathetic to the arguments that the south is entitled to acknowledge its troubled history with a certain sort of ambiguous gratitude, and that there’s something unsettlingly Taliban-esque about the new one true faith wiping out any trace of any previous civilization, but we can’t imagine any sort of very fine people who might make these arguments while marching alongside torch-bearing and armed-and-armored Confederate-and-Nazi-flag-waving Klansmen and neo-Nazis.
Another thing we’ve noticed about Trump since his famous escalator ride to the lobby of Trump Tower is that he’s not much of a student of history, so of course he wondered aloud if the removal of a Gen. Robert E. Lee statue would ultimately lead to the removal of monuments to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, who were similarly tainted by the sin of slave ownership. He touched on a true point well worth considering, that America’s all-too-human past should be judged by where it ultimately led and might yet lead rather than all the all-too-human stops it’s made along the way, but Tuesday was a particularly inopportune time in history and Robert E. Lee a particularly wrong example to make the case. Washington was the general who won the country’s independence and established a high example of leadership as its first president, Jefferson was a reluctant slave-holder who wrote the Declaration of Independence that President Abraham cited as his authority to quell the Confederate rebellion and abolish slavery, whereas Lee was the general who led a rebellion against the country that was explicitly explained by the rebels as a defense of chattel slavery, and despite Lee’s many martial and other virtues the aftermath of a deadly riot provoked by the KKK and neo-Nazis and other white supremacists is not a ripe moment to come to his defense.
During that typically disastrous press conference Trump also asserted that the matter of public monuments in such towns as Charlottesville are best left to the local citizenry, and we couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. He seems not to have noticed that the mayor and city council and the general consensus of the picturesque and impeccably liberal town of Charlottesville and its mayor and city council had decided not to have one of its most picturesque parks devoted to the memory of Lee, however, nor that the opposition were almost entirely a bunch of armed-and-armored Klansmen and neo-Nazis and other white supremacists from out of town.
Yes, Trump is quite right that the Washington and Jefferson memorials should forever stand, but when we eventually get around to that argument he won’t have helped the case.
Trump still isn’t backing down, continues to fight back, as ever refuses to leave bad enough alone, and so for now at least we have to admit that it’s worked out pretty well for him so far. He’s indisputably the President of the United States, as he often reminds everyone, and indisputably we are not.
We can’t help but wonder, though, how many fights this tough guy can start and still somehow come out on top. By now Trump is feuding not only with the entirety of the left and most of the middle and the more respectable quarters of the right, along with much of his own administration, but also the Boy Scouts of America and several of top law enforcement officials in America’s most populous cities and a loud segment of the Fortune 500 as well as all the late-night comics, so we’re not surprised the latest poll has Trump at a 34 percent approval rating. Other and older polls have him in the low 40s, but even the most favorable have a majority expressing disapproval, and we doubt that Trump’s never-back-down and always-fight insticts will serve him well. He’ll need those Fortune 500 executives to get his tax agenda passed, and could have used some help from the organized labor honchos and the votes of their hard-hat rank-and file on his infrastructure plans and immigration policies, and we can’t see any compensating votes he’s picked up in the last few days.
Better Trump had stuck to the teleprompter-ed script and left bad enough alone.

— Bud Norman

His Back Against the Wall

President Donald Trump has lost the first round of negotiations for his promised border wall, big league, and he should be glad of it. If he plays it just right, he might be able to wriggle his way out of the ill-advised promise altogether.
That won’t be easy, though, as Trump made it the centerpiece of his campaign. His rally audiences would serenade him with chants of “Build That Wall!,” which was also emblazoned on many of the t-shirts in the crowded arenas, and he frankly admitted to The New York Times that “You know, if it gets a little bit boring, if I see people starting to so of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, ‘We will build the wall,’ and they go nuts.” As the negotiations for the big spending resolution started he insisted that funding for the wall be included but he was already starting to be a little less insistent when he told the Associated Press over the weekend that “People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall. My base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall.”
Trump always played The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as he exited his rallies, too, so the base should have been forewarned that some promises would be hard to keep. He’d also promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, and when he’d ask his rallies “Who’s gonna for pay for it” they’d chant back Mexico, so asking Congress for the money was already a big concession. Trump did “tweet” his reassurance that “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying in some form, for the badly needed border wall,” but he eventually was forced to concede that it’s not the thing most badly needed at the moment.
If some spending resolution or another doesn’t get passed by Friday, right around the time everyone will be writing their “First 100 Days” stories, the government will go into another one of those occasional partial shutdowns. They’re fine by us, but most people seem to intensely dislike them, and they always get the most awful press, and no matter what all the fuss is about the Republicans always seem to get the worst of it. With the Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House even most the creative talk radio hosts would find it hard to blame it on the Democrats, so at the moment job one is avoiding poll-damaging unpleasantness.
Trump seems to have thought this would give him the needed leverage to get the money to start building the wall he’d promised his base, and within the 100-day deadline he’d promised, but he quickly realized that these sorts of negotiations are different from a real estate deal.
As much as those people at the rallies wanted the wall, all the public opinions polls showed that a solid majority of the country was against it and only 38 percent or so had any real enthusiasm for the idea. The opposition included all the Republican-held border districts, too, where landowners were facing eminent domain seizures of old family ranches and Indian reservation land and the occasional non-Trump-owned golf course, and all sorts of local economies were going to be inconveniently cut off from valued neighboring customers and friends. There were also unanswered questions about the wall’s cost and whether the money would be more effectively spent on drones and increased patrols and checking up on visa overstays and other more traditional methods of border enforcement, and just how Mexico might be forced to pay for it, and whether such a strain on relations with a neighbor was really needed at a time when net migration from Mexico is about zero, so there were likely to be some other Republicans resisting as well.
With his own approval ratings around 42 percent in an average of all the polls Trump doesn’t enjoy the kind of political capital that would cow a border Congressman enough to defy his district, and those other reluctant Republicans are also in districts where some distance from the president might be advised, so he shrewdly agreed that he’d sign whatever spending resolution the congressional Republicans could come up with to avoid a shut-down. A big victory for the base in time for those 100 day stories would have been nice, but having all the stories be about a government shutdown because of the president’s insistence on a wall that most people don’t want and even members of his own party opposed would have been disastrous, and Trump understands the publicity game well enough to know that.
Trump “tweeted” enough tough talk that his rally-going supporters can console themselves that “at least he fights,” and we expect most of them will be satisfied with that. They’re still promised that Trump will fight again for the wall, eventually, in some form, but it’s hard to imagine any time in the near future when there won’t be some new spending resolution or other impending crisis that’s more pressing, and all the arguments those border counties and the rest of the country are making will still be valid, and Mexico almost certainly won’t be any more inclined to pay for it. At this moment the wall seems another case of you can’t always get what you want.
“But if you try sometimes,” as the Stones’ song goes, “you might just find you get what you need.” Trump’s already touting all the more traditional border enforcement that he’s beefed up, most of which we and a majority of the rest of country heartily approve of, and we’re quite confident that the funding for it won’t be affected whatever spending resolution the congressional Republicans come up with to avert a government shutdown. This is a happy enough resolution for us, at the moment.
After all the court interventions and more moderate counsel the president has been getting lately his more-muscular-than-Obama approach to border enforcement is pretty much what all of those supposedly soft-on-immigration Republican presidential contenders endorsed, and about the same as the Mitt Romney plan that Trump then decried as inhumane, but the base will probably be satisfied by the familiar argument that only Trump could have made such an audacious opening bid with something so outrageous as a wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean as a brilliant ploy to reach these common sense solutions. His more ingenious apologists are also fond of saying that you have to take Trump seriously but not literally, and Trump is already suggesting that c’mon, he was talking metaphorically about common sense border enforcement and not an actual big, beautiful wall that no Mexican could find a ladder long enough to climb over, because c’mon, that idea’s so outrageous no one would take it literally.
We think a lot of those people at the rallies took it literally, and were looking forward to seeing some chastened Mexican handing over a literal check, but sooner or later they’ll come around. Although some of his supporters are already sore about his newfound moderate positions on issues ranging from China’s alleged currency manipulation to a Syrian missile strike that didn’t seem to have an “America First” rationale, if Trump keeps up the robust border enforcement he can let his big, beautiful wall fade into memory without taking too much of a hit in the polls. Gradually dropping the wall issue probably won’t win over any of Trump’s most determined critics, but it will deprive them of a potent issue, and he’ll have easier dealings in the future with certain Republican congressmen to accomplish something more popular.
Trump was shrewd to take a loss this round, and we hope he’s shrewd enough to lose that crazy wall idea altogether.

— Bud Norman

From the Tea Party to Anti-Trump

The presidency of Donald Trump is already well underway, and so is a spirited opposition to it. So far, neither seems at all likely to make great America again.
Trump took the oath of office in front a sizable and enthusiastic crowd at the Washington Mall on Friday, but there was no disputing that the turnout for the next day’s protests was much larger. The Trump administration went right ahead and disputed it any way with some widely and justly ridiculed “alternate facts,” but it could have more reasonably argued the numbers of people on the streets waving signs for one side or another another don’t really matter. There’s also no disputing that Trump is the duly elected President and the leader of a party that controls both chambers of Congress and will almost certainly soon have the judiciary as well and occupy state and local offices in numbers not seen since the Coolidge days, even if he did lose the popular vote by nearly three million votes, and all the polls that correctly predicted it but got the Electoral vote just wrong enough now show him unfavorably regarded by a majority of the public, but none of that tells you anything about who’s right and who’s wrong in any of the inevitable upcoming arguments.
The anti-Trump turnout over the weekend, in cities all around the country and all around the world, was indeed formidable by any modern mass protest standards. It was far bigger than the Tea Party protests that started percolating during back when President Barack Obama was in the White House and his party controlled both chambers of Congress and seemed poised to control the judiciary, and those didn’t start happening the very day after the Obama administration began with an electoral majority of support and honeymoon-high approval ratings and the overwhelming support of the media. Although the Tea Party movement’s protests were at first ignored and then ridiculed it managed to re-take the House of Representatives for the Republicans in the ’10 mid-terms, and despite Obama’s re-election with a smaller majority in ’12 it continued to make congressional gains, and by ’14 it had delivered a Republican majorities in both the House and Senate that managed to stave off the Democrats’ control of the judiciary, so there’s no telling what those anti-Trump protestors might accomplish with their obvious head start.
After a short bust of angry public outbursts the Tea Party stopped waving signs and chanting slogans on cold street corners and started recruiting candidates and compiling e-mail lists and making donations doing all the rest of the dreary and dirty chore of bringing out political change, and it remains to be how many of those women who took the streets in pink wool “pussy caps” and the men who showed up with the seductively sympathetic slogans on their signs will do the same. We attended enough of those Tea Party protests to run into several fine friends of ours that we knew to be serious people of a well-considered conservative mindset, so despite the ridicule of the Obama administration and its liberal media allies we were not surprised that it proved so successful. Because we rarely check in on Facebook we weren’t aware of the local well-attended anti-Trump protest until it had already occurred, and they started too early on a too cold Saturday morning anyway, and even in the best of the weather we couldn’t be sure that our anti-Trump sentiments were at all aligned with the rest of the crowd, so we skipped the festivities, but we do know several of the people who were they and we know them to be to serious people whose liberalism has been carefully if incorrectly considered, and we don’t doubt it might also come to something.
What it might come to also remains to be seen, but we’re not hopeful. We had high hopes that the Tea Party was the vanguard of a movement toward limited government and personal and fiscal restraint and a foreign policy in defense of the same underlying value of liberty, and sure enough it did put a stop to Obamacare-sized entitlements and pare the the deficits down to the half-trillion size of the George W. Bush years, but at this point it seems to have had the usual mixed results. In retrospect there were a lot of people at those rallies who were convinced that Obama was born in Kenya and that he was just a continuation of the Bush family’s New World Order regime and that the whole Constitutional system seemed rigged, and when the Republicans didn’t undo the Obamacare that had happened before they got back regained the Congress and Hillary Clinton didn’t go to jail they decided that everyone from both parties and all previous political positions had to be purged, and they wound up electing an advocate of seemingly unlimited government with no sense of fiscal or personal restraint who has a dangerous affinity for Russia’s authoritarian leader. We share the anti-Trump movement’s disdain for his unabashedly sexist and arguably racist and altogether unsavory character, but we can’t go along with the Obama-era liberal craziness that comprises the most of it, we’re quite certain that the sudden shared suspicion of the Russkies is opportunistic and temporal, and we suspect that those serious friends of ours with the well-considered liberalism will also be dismayed by how far it might go.

— Bud Norman

The Two Choices in a Discontented Age

The most popular politician in America at the moment, according to all the public opinion polls, is President Barack Obama. He’s not all that popular, only recently barely nudging past a 50 percent approval rating for the first time in several years, but at this discontented moment in history that’s plenty good enough for first place.
Our only explanation for this thoroughly awful president’s modest bare majority of approval, even as supermajorities of the public describe the country as “on the wrong track,” is that no one’s been paying much attention to his still thoroughly awful presidency lately and instead are focused on the thorough awfulness of both of his most likely successors. We also note that nothing and nobody are very popular these days, though, so anything over 50 percent is something.
Nowadays the most popular television shows are watched by only fractions of the nationwide audience that used to tune into mediocracies as “M*A*S*H” and “All in the Family,” few people over the age of 30 can name any of a currently popular pop music star’s hit songs, the latest hit movie is probably some comic book super-hero flick that you probably won’t bother to see, even such literary types as ourselves couldn’t tell you what’s currently on the best-seller lists, and the rest of the entire culture is similarly disdained. Government and business and organized religion are widely despised, and both of the most likely successors to our thoroughly awful president seem to suffer any consequences for their disdain of the First Amendment, which most of the under-30 set already agrees has got to go, and even the longstanding and generally acceptable social arrangement regarding men using the men’s room and women using the women’s room is by now widely disdained enough that neither of the thoroughly awful likely successors to the thoroughly awful president who proposed this thoroughly awful change is willing to take a forthright stand against it.
This is partly because of the largely beneficial diversification of the marketplace, of course, and all that creative destruction our capitalist sensibilities usually appreciate. There are now a gazillion channels on television and the internet and whatever new technology we’re not yet aware of, so it’s inevitable that even the best shows won’t get the same chunk of the audience that even the worst shows used to get when there were only three channels. The internet allows us to listen endlessly the great music of the past, as it does to anyone no matter how less refined their tastes, so it’s hard to imagine anyone achieving that Elvis Presley or The Beatles ubiquity that made even the over-30 set aware them. Although there are fewer movie theaters in most towns than there used to be there are far more screens, and there are no more “Gone With the Winds” and “Casablancas” and “Godfathers” with lines that everyone knows by heart. There are all sorts of notions afoot about how government and business and organized religion should be run, and by now everyone has a problem with somebody’s use of the First Amendment, and even that tiny sliver of the public that’s upset with current social arrangement regarding bathrooms has a hit show compared to what the rest of the country has divided itself into.
We also believe that the thorough awfulness of the overwhelming majority of it all also plays a part. Once upon a time in the glorious history of American music there were singular artists in a wide range of styles who truly earned this widespread popularity against challenging competition, but these days only the most addled of the under-30 set insist that any of is any good. There are a few good shows on television these day, in most cases better than the hit shows of the past, but these days there’s only niche mark for such fare. There are some very good movies, and without comic book super-heroes, but they can’t become hits like very good movies used to do. The last best-seller we were aware of a self-described feminist Sado-Masochistic porn novel, which of course was made into a well-publicized movie, and we’re slightly relieved that despite all that publicity a vast majority of the country never read the book or watched the movie. Government and business and organized religion have all their problems lately, too, but the current unpopularity of the First Amendment and that longstanding and generally agreeable social arrangement regarding restrooms can only be explained by how very discontented our country has become.
Politics is the only marketplace in our culture where consumers are still faced with only two choices, although we’re still holding to some faint hope that the culture’s penchant for creative destruction might change that final longstanding and once generally-agreeable arrangement, so it’s not surprising that the widely diffused ratings of mostly thoroughly awful shows have turned up two such thoroughly awful final options.

— Bud Norman

As the Republican Party Turns

The more politically obsessed news-readers have no doubt already heard that California Rep. Kevin McCarthy has withdrawn from the race for Speaker of the House, a position that was open following the resignation of Ohio Rep. John Boehner, and that it all bodes ill for the Republican Party. The “establishment” favorite McCarthy apparently has withdrawn, Boehner did indeed announce his resignation, and given how many things do prove to bode ill for the Republican Party that last part might also be true. Still, we’ll await the final outcome and assume that it won’t be consequential.
Much of the media has gleefully seized on the storyline that those crazily far-right and reckless “Tea Party” types in the party are in open revolt against the more cautious and accommodating and country club-going moderates that are still left, which is a fair enough assessment of the situation. All that gleefulness is because much of the media assumes that the public will be revulsed by those conservatives and their extreme positions, however, and we question the assumption. Boehner was driven to resignation and McCarthy was forced to withdraw from the race mostly because they were thought to be insufficiently resistant to executive actions throwing the borders wide open, unleashing an aggressively anti-business Environmental Protection Agency and nixing the XL Keystone Pipeline, negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran that will surely end up with nuclear weapons in that nutcase country, and various other affronts to conservative sensibilities, but none of these positions are so extreme that they don’t poll solid majority support from the public. There’s always the realistic hope they’d shut down the non-essential services of the government to get their way, which usually does not poll well, but even the most kamikaze sorts of conservatives wouldn’t do that late in an election cycle.
McCarthy’s departure was prompted by a boneheaded gaffe that will in the short term help the Democrats. Under fire from one of those conservative cable television channels, McCarthy boasted about how Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers have dropped as a result of the House investigations to the Benghazi tragedy. A better way to put it was that the Congress was committed to getting to the bottom of an important matter that involved the death of an Ambassador and four other Americans and that if the facts reflected poorly on Clinton so be it, but the in-artful phraseology seemed to confirm the Democrats’ preferred story that the Republicans are just out to get their poor woman. The same conservative pundits who had egged on the Benghazi investigation were quick to denounce McCarthy, his even more conservative colleagues in the House were happy to cite the quote as proof of his incompetence, his majority was in doubt even before the gaffe, and suddenly there’s much uncertainty regarding who will lead the Republican Party in Congress.
Although much of the media are serenely resigned to death and taxes, they have an affinity to anything uncertain. Such disorder as you find in the Republican Party of the moment is anathema to liberal sensibilities. Thus the storyline about sensible and moderate Republicans striving to stave off their more unruly colleagues will prevail, at least until the general election when those previously more sensible and moderate types are also portrayed as right-wing crazies, and the inevitability of Clinton’s scandal-plagued candidacy will be offered in soothing contrast, unless new marching orders are given on behalf of gaffe-prone Vice President Joe Biden. They might even pull it off, but it seems a hard shot.
Clinton’s poll numbers should go down as a result of the facts of the Benghazi tragedy, as well as the e-mail scandal that is closely related and all the other scandals she’s become involved in over her 30 years or so in the public eye, and we expect that will be more on the public’s mind come Election Day ’16 and that an in-artful attempt to placate a conservative cable television host by a little-remembered loser in a House Speaker will be long forgotten. Unless the Republicans wind up picking someone just awful as the Speaker of the House the whole episode will only be recalled by the most obsessive news-readers. Someone just awful is a possibility, of course, given the Republicans’ history, but it doesn’t seem likely. The most extreme conservative they might pick would still be on the winning side of all the big issues, the squishiest moderate they might wind up with
would still be far better than the last Democratic Speaker of the House, who was as far-left as a liberal might hope for and wound up giving the Republicans their problematic majority, and in any case some other issue will decide the next round of presidential and congressional elections.
There’s also faint hope the Republicans might do something right, and pick someone who can rally conservative support without provoking any futile confrontations with political reality. The name of Rep. Paul Ryan, who was once such a conservative hero that presidential nominee Mitt Romney picked him as a running to placate the base, but who has since become tarred with the “establishment” label, but he’s reportedly not interested in the job, which speaks well of him, and we have to assume that there’s someone in that Republican majority that’s up to the task. If they dispense with seniority and reject advice to let the Democrats in on it they could find someone that will help the party on Election Day ’16, and even then his or her name will probably not be widely known. Being obsessive news-readers ourselves, and suckers for any tale of intrigue, we’ll continue to keep abreast of the latest development nonetheless.

— 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

The Audacity of the Last Two Years

The president is going ahead with his long-threatened executive action on illegal immigration, and it’s going to be awful. Amnesty under any name for millions of illegal immigrants will only encourage millions more to flood an already glutted unskilled labor market and further burden already strained education and welfare and penal institutions, doing it by executive action will further weaken already tenuous constitutional restraints on presidential power, and if it works as the president plans it will sign up several million more voters for the rest of his awful transformative agenda.
Even with newly elected majorities in both chambers of Congress the Republicans are unlikely to be able to do anything about it, and we are not confident that the courts will even attempt to offer any relief, so our only consolation is that the president’s already low level of popularity will further decline. Not that he cares, having entered the what-the-hell portion of presidency when he can at last unleash his inner radical and stop pretending to care what the squares think, but we can hope that the disrepute he is bringing to liberalism will pay some dividends down the road. The president might think that he can sell his disastrous ends and unconstitutional means to a gullible public, given his unaccountable yet undying faith in his rhetorical skills and the undeniable evidence of the public’s gullibility in that past two presidential contests, but he’s likely to have no more success than he did with Obamacare or the mid-term Democratic candidates or any of his numerous other lost causes.
One needn’t consult the many public opinion polls to know that there is no great clamoring in America for millions more illiterate, unskilled, non-English-speaking refugees from the most dysfunctional neighborhoods of the Third World, nor for a Philosopher-King form of government. These ideas have a certain appeal to an unlikely coalition of rich businessmen with an economic interest in keeping lower-tier wages low, socialistic types whose championing of the poor brown folk serves their heroic self-images, and Latinos whose sense of racial solidarity supersedes their more patriotic impulses, but they comprise a distinct minority of Americans. The rest of the country, including most of the blacks and many of the Latinos who have been such reliable Democratic voters, are more concerned about the lower wages and higher social costs and cultural frictions that are bound to be exacerbated by the president’s action.
Back when the president was obliged to pretend to care what the squares think, he admitted “Not all these fears are irrational.” In that awful “Audacity of Hope” book that launched his first presidential campaign, he also wrote “The number of immigrants added to the labor force every year is of a magnitude not seen in this country for over a century. If this huge influx of mostly low-skill workers provides some benefit for the economy as a whole — especially by keeping our workforce young, in contrast to an increasingly geriatric Europe and Japan — it also threatens to further depress the wages of blue collar workers and put strains on an already overburdened safety net.” He also wrote “There’s no denying that many blacks share the same anxieties as many whites about the wave of illegal immigration flooding our southern border — a sense that what’s happening now is fundamentally different from what has gone on before.” The oh-so-cosmpolitan president even acknowledged those inevitable cultural frictions we mentioned, writing that “Native-born Americans suspect that it is they, and not the immigrant, who are being forced to adapt. And if I’m honest with myself, I must admit that I’m not entirely immune to such nativist sentiments. When I see Mexican flags waved at a pro-immigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”
Then again, the president has also stated on numerous occasions that he has no constitutional authority to take the actions that he will announce tonight. He has apparently changed his mind, as we are certain that the constitution has not changed, but he will have some difficulty refuting his more sensible past arguments.
He can count on some help from the press, judging by an ABC news radio report we just heard that led with the dubious claim that the president would be acting “as past Republican presidents have,” and NBC’s embarrassed insistence that its own polling a sizable number of skeptical Latinos was not reliable, but there have already been some notable defections from the ranks. The New York Times has noted the president’s previous interpretation of his constitutional powers, The Washington Post has acknowledged the planned executive action would “expand the authority of the executive branch into murky, uncharted water,” USA Today was openly skeptical of the president’s claim that this “position hasn’t changed,” and the Associated Press has reminded its readers that a referendum to deny drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants passed by a 68-to-32 margin even in such a hippie-dippy state as Oregon. Local media will eventually be obliged to report on the budget crises at the local welfare agencies and the scuffles at the local schools and the rest of the local problems that will be too glaring to ignore without losing the last shreds of credibility, and even the most blissfully uninformed will be reading their paychecks.
There might also some be defections from the Democratic ranks in Congress. The Huffington Post reported that soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid urged the president to wait until December in vain hopes of some congressional solution that he might concoct the before the Republican majority is installed, then reported that he apparently figured out that the existing House majority had been the roadblock all along and was urging the president to “go big,” and we suspect a similar ambivalence among the rest of his recently-shellacked Democratic party. The thought of those additional votes is surely tempting, and there’s also the financial support of those rich businessmen with an economic interest in keeping wages low, as well the temptingly heroic-self image of being a champion of poor brown folk, but those votes might not make it to the polls for several years and in the meantime they’ve surely seen the polls and heard the deafening lack of clamoring for millions more illiterate, unskilled, non-English-speaking immigrants from the most dysfunctional neighborhoods of the Third World. Party loyalty will probably prevail, as the Democrats are a remarkably disciplined lot, but we can hope that a few Representatives and maybe a Senator from the more sensible portions of the country will panic and jump ship.
A few Democrats broke ranks over the wildly popular XL Keystone Pipeline project, most notably Louisiana’s Sen. Mary Landrieu in a desperate bid to stave off the wrath of her voters in a run-off election, but not enough to get the necessary lame-duck super-majority, so when the bill passes overwhelmingly in the first days of the next Congress the president will assume all the public’s wrath with his veto. Recent remarks by an irksome professor and upcoming rate increases will make poll-tested reforms in Obamacare all the more popular, and the president’s inevitable vetoes will be correspondingly unpopular. Failure to ratify a lousy treaty with the Iranians will also prove popular, joint investigations made possible the Republican majorities can easily come up with some damaging revelations about the Internal Revenue Service and Benghazi and any number of other scandals, and absent any Republican overreach or excessive caution or other missteps it’s hard to see anything on the horizon that redounds to the president’s political benefit. At some point, every Democrat contending for any office with have to come up with a pitch that they’re somehow different from the president.
That pitch has to be carefully worded so as not to offend the president’s die-hard faithful, which denies the Democrats the pleasures and political benefits of the full-throated denunciations that every Republican candidate will be shouting, but at least it will also have to be more in tune with the majority of the country. We’ll be interested to hear what it is. Two more years of the what-the-hell presidency of an unleashed radical is bound to engender some suspicion of unfettered liberalism, and so far the Democrats seem to the gamut from the Hillary CLinton left to the left-of-Hillary Clinton left, so there’s at least some hope that the Republicans can successfully present a conservative alternative if the country last another couple years. If they do he’ll probably reverse the current president’s executive orders, and not be bound by the law that a more savvy and less power-hungry predecessor could have finagled out of the weak-kneed Republican leaders and their rich businessmen contributors or pushed through when his party had all the power but the president had a reelection campaign in front of him, which would be a nice denouement to this whole sordid affair.

— Bud Norman

The Real Threat of the Ebola Virus

We still haven’t panicked about the Ebola virus, but the news that President Barack Obama cancelled two days of fundraising to deal with the disease has made us a bit more nervous. Only a matter of the utmost seriousness would interrupt the president’s fundraising, judging by some of the earth-shaking events that haven’t dented the schedule, and we’re not reassured that he’s taking charge.
The news is chock full stories suggesting that we’re all going to die, and even the most optimistically skeptical reader can’t help concluding that the government’s response has thus far been inept, but we suspect that the president’s newfound urgency has more to do with a growing threat to his approval ratings in the public opinion polls, which are lately low enough that the Democratic candidates in flyover country are declining to say if they ever voted for the guy. People get skittish about deadly diseases flying in unimpeded from the third world, and there’s already a widespread public perception that the president spends an inordinate amount of time fundraising and golfing and hanging out with his fellows celebrities while the world burns, so some photo-ops with a few anonymous health care workers and the equally anonymous cabinet are just what the spin doctor ordered.
Thus far Democratic efforts to score political points from the Ebola virus have faltered, with even The Washington Post giving a “Four Pinocchios” rating to the claim that evil Republican budgets are the reason we’re all going to die and the more conservative media having great fun with all the frivolous studies of feces-flinging chimpanzees and other esoteric subjects that the relevant agencies have been spending all those billions on rather fighting deadly viruses that fly in unimpeded from the third world, but the president’s photo-ops might prove more effective. They not only reassure his dwindling fan base that he’s still on the job, but also distract attention from a variety of other unsettling stories. The Islamic State terror gang’s rampage through the Middle East has spilled into the streets of Europe, the stock markets continue to slide in response to a slew of bad economic news, all those long-forgotten scandals are still under investigation, a wily unpopular executive action granting amnesty to millions of people who have already snuck into the country is still being threatened, and the kids are still grousing about the First Lady’s school lunch menus. Success stories for those Democratic candidates in flyover to tout are hard to find, too, so the making the Ebola virus a higher priority than even fund-raising and the fact we haven’t all died yet is bound to help more than another speech about billionaire-loving Republicans in front of a bunch of billionaire Democrat donors.
This might seem a cynical assessment, but the only alternative explanation is that the threat posed by the Ebola virus is as dire as the most alarmist stories suggest and that the president feels he needs to personally take control. This would cause us to panic, and we’d prefer not to.

— Bud Norman

Gaining From a Bad Deal

Good policy is good politics, according to an old saying, and like most old sayings it is often but not always true. The congressional Republican’s cowardly capitulation to a “clean” debt ceiling deal on Wednesday might prove one of the frequent exceptions to the rule.
No real Republican would argue that the deal isn’t disastrously bad policy. The legislation basically hands a blank check to the most profligate president in history, guaranteeing the nation’s debt will rise to a staggering $17.2 trillion just after November’s mid-term elections, and achieves nothing in the way of much needed spending cuts or any other curbs on a government rapidly and clumsily expanding into every niche of American life. Although the party leadership and the minority of Republican congressman who followed them argue will that the deal guarantees the full faith and credit of the federal government, an increasingly restive conservative base will not be convinced that adding yet another $512 billion dollars of debt over the next few months is the most fiscally responsible course of action.
Nor can the Republicans point to any immediate political advantages gained from the deal. Indeed, the more prominent media are gleefully quoting the Democrats’ gloating that the deal represents a total defeat for the Republicans in general and their more rock-ribbed Tea Party constituents in particular. House Speaker John Boehner, whose hold on the house speakership grows more tenuous with each passing offense to the party’s most essential voters, couldn’t even win the inclusion of an amendment to rescind some previous unpopular budget cuts to veterans’ benefits that the Democrats probably could have been shamed into accepting. As the most outspoken opponent of the deal and the only Republican to attempt a filibuster Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was rewarded for his noble efforts by some of the most sneeringly disdainful press coverage of his already controversial career, and if the party leadership and its timid followers expected to be lauded by the pundits for their non-partisan willingness to compromise they have been sorely disappointed.
On the other hand, at least the Republicans aren’t being pilloried for their strident partisanship and stubborn refusal to compromise. That’s what happened every other time the Republicans tried to use the debt ceiling as leverage for sensible reforms and essential spending restraint, with the damage done to the party’s popularity evident in all the subsequent opinion polls, and we will generously assume that the Republican leadership was merely trying to avoid yet another hit. Those talk radio hosts shrieking “damn the opinion polls, full steam ahead” are quite right to argue the public should be grateful for the Republicans’ efforts, that government shutdowns are a minor inconvenience at worst and a welcome break from bureaucratic meddling at best, that a federal default would not occur in any case, and that the eventual consequences of all that debt far outweigh any damage done by a protracted political squabble, but they are wrong to assume that an electoral majority of the country can be made to understand any of it.
A crucial percentage of voters pay too little attention to politics to hear these arguments, and even if the arguments were to somehow sneak into the news accounts that occasionally interrupt the average uninformed American’s day he would likely be unmoved. Government shutdowns always sound scary when the news anchors say it, the laws and constitutional requirements precluding default are as a confounding as the economic concepts involved, and the public has become inured to warnings about it since the Democrats started squawking about it back in the Reagan days. When the debt it called due and the inevitable economic calamity occurs it will be big news, but at the moment the weather is a far more pressing matter for the average American.
Unless the bottom falls out before November, the Republicans’ cowardly capitulation could provide them with a slight advantage in the mid-term elections. By that time the deal will be largely forgotten even by the talk radio hosts, who are already shrieking less loudly than after other Republican leadership outrages, and the majority of Republican congressman who opposed the deal will be able to remind their conservative voters that they at least voted “no.” The Democrats won’t have another unpopular showdown to blame on the Republicans, and they’ll still be remembered as the party that promised you could keep your health care plan if you liked it and then cancelled the policy and forced you to pay more money for one covering things you don’t want or need. To the extent that America’s dire fiscal situation is an election issue, even the most cowardly capitulators in the party can claim that they were forced to bankrupt the country by the Democrats.

— Bud Norman