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Hell Comes to Kansas, Or Maybe Not

On even a short drive around Kansas these days there’s no avoiding the campaign advertisements on the radio, especially if you’re tuned into the oldies and country and talk radio stations we favor on the AM band, and as annoying as they all are the most irksome is for a Republican gubernatorial candidate named Ken Selzer. Somehow it seems to encapsulate all the most annoying arguments one hears in Republican politics these days, both here in Kansas and around the country.
The conventional wisdom in Kansas, which usually proves reliable in this conventional state, holds that the race is between Secretary of State Kris Kobach and current Gov. Jeff Colyer, both of whom have far better name recognition. Kobach is by now nationally known, for better or worse, as his two-term tenure in a usually overlooked office has made him a controversial figure in the contentious debates over illegal immigration and voter fraud and other issue dear to the heart of his ally President Donald Trump. Colyer’s name is far less well known outside the state, but that might be for better rather than worse, as he’s well known in Kansas as the guy who took over for controversial Gov. Sam Brownback when Trump appointed Brownback to be something called Ambassador for Religious Freedom, and if his name recognition isn’t quite so high as Kobach’s that’s probably because he’s somehow avoided any serious controversies during his year-and-a-half as governor, which a lot of Kansas Republicans, including ourselves, much appreciate
.Faced with this formidable fund-raising and name recognition disadvantage, Selzer’s ju-jitsu pitch is that he’s the scrappy common-sense businessman outsider trying to bring down the hated establishment, and is thus untainted by any past involvement in the government that has wrought the Dante-esque and Bosch-ian hell that is Kansas. What’s needed to rescue our beloved Sunflower State from its current infernal condition, Selzer suggests, is a rank amateur with utter contempt for every judge and legislator and civil servant and locally elected official in the state. Which strikes us as noisome nonsense on a number of levels.
For one thing, Selzer is currently the state’s Insurance Commissioner, an elected position that is just as much a part of the hated establishment as Secretary of State or even governor. It’s a usually overlooked office, but Kathleen Sibelius used it to get elected Governor as a Democrat, and during her second term President Barack Obama appointed her Secretary of Health and Human Services, and she seemed well on her way to a national career until she so throughly screwed up the roll-out of Obamacare that Obama had to request her resignation. For all her faults Sibelius never affected our home and auto insurance premiums much, and for all his faults neither has Selzer, but we’ll always regard Insurance Commissioners with the same wariness as any other politicians.
Nor do we buy the argument that Kobach’s and Colyer’s more prominent positions in the state government are inherently disqualifying.
We started souring on Kobach when he volunteered to chair a national commission proving that Trump had been robbed of rightful popular victory by more than three million illegal voters, an effort that was disbanded when both Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State refused to hand over the requested data, and even Kansas had to refuse some requests based on state law. After that he was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for the strict voter registration requirements he had imposed on the state, and despite his impressive law school credentials his self-defense wound up losing the case in such embarrassing fashion it made for national headlines and a very funny skit at the local “Gridiron” satirical review. Still, we found his controversial photo-identification requirement at the polling places and most of his other election reforms sensible and not at all onerous, and we happily voted for him in both his races, and we still give him the credit due to the man in the arena.
As for Colyer, we rather like him. We’ve also rather liked Brownback since way back when we were interns together in the office of Sen. Bob Dole way back in the ’70s, and shared his Reagan-era philosophy of surgical budget cuts and optimal rather than maximal tax rates, but we’re forced by facts to admit that Brownback’s axe-swinging budget cuts and not-quite-optimal tax cuts left the state in a deep fiscal hole and its schools and roads and prisons and other essential services operating at bare bones budgets. Since Brownback’s departure with a Nixon-ian 24 percent approval rating Colyer and the old-fashioned sorts of Republicans who re-won their primaries have adroitly dealt with the more obvious flaws in the Brownback tax plan, and despite Trump’s trade wars the state’s economy is faring fairly well, and Colyer’s ads are stressing his plan to restore Kansas’ former reputation as a state with excellent schools, and with his calm-spoken he appeal to the Republican party that used to run the state back in the supposed good old days. He’s been remarkably uncontroversial, too, which lately seems a political liability around the country, but such Kansas Republicans as ourselves appreciate it.
In any case, Kobach and Colyer seem the quintessence of the two warring factions of the Republican party, both here in Kansas and elsewhere around the country, so if they’re both part of the broken system then so is the entire Grand Old Party. Even at this dire moment we’d still hate to admit that’s true, and even if we did we don’t thank that some moderately successful small businessman and one-term Insurance Commissioner is the only one who can rescue our state from its existential crisis.
For that matter, we don’t think things are really all that bad around here. On our drives around town we notice new offices and apartment buildings sprouting in the center of town and another couple of miles of suburban sprawl on both the east and west sides, and despite the swooning commodity prices during the trade war the corn and other crops look tall and healthy as we drive out in the country during this rainy summer, and for the most part our encounters with our fellow citizens are quite pleasant. So far as we can tell there are no civil wars or race riots of constitutional crises afoot at the moment, and our state and our Republic have somehow weathered all of those, so for now we’ll place more faith in our long established political institutions than we do in some demagogue who swears that only he can save us from Armageddon.
There’s also a rich and largely self-funded third party candidate whose ads claims that the two-party system is at fault for Kansas’ and America’s sorry state, and that only he can rescue us, and his ads are also pretty annoying. The pitch has lately worked well enough before around the country, but here in Kansas Colyer seems to have the lead at the moment and none of the Democratic candidates are all that scary, and we expect our beloved Sunflower State will work it all out according to the longstanding traditions that have brought us through so many hard times. We’ll hold out hope the rest of the country is as sensible.

— Bud Norman

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Our Favorite Street Artist of the Moment

We’ve been avid art lovers ever since that long ago day when our mother first dragged us along to the Wichita Art Museum to see the Mary Cassatt and the John Steuart Curry and the Albert Pinkham Ryder and the Thomas Eakins and the Winslow Homer and the three — count ’em, three — Edward Hoppers, two of which are very major works, along with the rest of the city’s surprisingly strong collection, but for the past many years we’ve found precious little to like among the new stuff. It’s not just the pointless and overdone abstraction, or the obviously intentional ugliness of it, or that ever-present preachy and polemic quality that Tom Wolfe so brutally described in “The Painted Word,” or even the rigid conformity of the ugly and polemical point that almost all of it seems to be making, but mostly the annoying air of self-righteousness by all those college-educated artists who think themselves “brave” and “transgressive” and “outsider” for scribbling works that are clearly meant to convey the consensus of bien pensant arty world opinion and be safely ignored by the rest of society.
Imagine our delight, then, to hear about the fellow who calls himself Sabo and has lately been creating a bona fide artistic controversy by plastering the streets of Los Angeles with his works. So far as we can tell from the internet images his work is at least somewhat abstractly modern, with the requisite intentional ugliness, and it’s polemic as all get-out, but we have to credit his bravery and transgression and outsider status, because he clearly intends to mock the consensus of bien pensant arty world opinion and let the rest of the society in on his very amusing jokes. One doesn’t need a post-graduate degree in deconstruction theory to see that Sabo is an unrepentant right-wing bastard like ourselves, which is about as brave and transgressive and outsider-y as someone hoping to make an artistic reputation for himself can get, and even the credentialed deconstruction theorists will have to admit that there’s a certain jiu-jitsu genius about using all the stale conventions of “street art” and “guerrilla art” and all the rest of those brave and transgressive and outsider cliches to fight the powers that actually prevail.
Sabo’s latest news-making work is of the conceptual variety, and involves those flashing traffic-signaling signs that the more high-brow critics will note are a poignant symbol of our carbon-emitting automotive society and societal retreat into the stifling hell of suburbia, but he and his co-conspirators have been placing them along the home-to-the-suburb routes inconvenienced by the royal motorcades attendant to the fund-raising of President Barack Obama and presumptive president Hillary Clinton, with such messages as “Democrats Begging 4 Money” and “Hillary Back Begging.” He’d previously attracted Los Angeles’ attention with the more visually polemic works he had ironically and post-modernly mass-produced and then transgressively stuck on bus benches and other public spaces around the city, such as his depiction of one of those scary flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz” carrying a Hillary 2016 sign, and failed Texas gubernatorial candidate and left-wing darling Wendy Davis depicted as a pro-abortion Barbie doll, and his pictures of beloved liberals rendered in an obvious allusion to the style of that Shepard Fairey poster of Barack Obama that was so ubiquitous back in ’08, only with the painted word “Drone” rather than “Hope” at the bottom.
So far our favorite Sabo is a portrait of his apparent choice for president, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is depicted with a cigarette dangling from his sneering lips and a riot of gangsta tattoos on his bare-chested and muscle-bound physique. Cruz apparently likes it, too, as he jocularly “tweeted” that the only inaccuracy he noticed was that he doesn’t smoke cigarettes, and in an ironic and post-modern way it reminds us of what we like about the very suit-and-tied and very Republican Cruz’ very brave and transgressive and bareknuckled style of politics, and we suspect that many of the young and hip former Obama voters who fell for that stupid Shepard Fairey poster back in ’08 might at long last have their conformist assumptions challenged in the way that modern art has always claimed to do while they await a bus or straggle down a Los Angeles street. We’re hoping so, at least, because it’s about time the squares started shocking the avante garde.
Back in ’08 pretty much the entirety of the art world was lined up behind Obama, along with academia and Hollywood and journalism and the rest of the opinion-making establishment, and none of them raised any fuss when one of his lackeys in the federal arts-funding establishment made clear that commissions and subsidies and other official considerations were entirely dependent on their continued support of his agenda, and they all adopted the same noticeably worshipful and therefore un-hip attitude toward their Messiah, which seemed so conformist and unthinking and unsophisticated to us retrograde Christians who already had a Messiah, so Sabo is at least something of a breath of fresh air. Over at the longstanding conservative publication The National Review they’re talking about how the Republicans might regain some “cool” in the next election, what with our own early-choice-for-president Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker looking so very bad-ass on that Wisconsin-built Harley-Davidson motorcycle he likes to ride, and the Democrat’s presumptive nominee looking so very grandmotherly with her pant-suits and back-to-the-’90s rhetoric, and although that seems hopeful, what with transgenderism and a wholly fictional Republican war against contraception and the rest of it being the big stories of the day, this Sabo fellow makes us cautiously optimistic they might be right. Perhaps some other aspiringly brave and transgressive artists will also notice how very cowardly and conforming the art world has become, and add some mockery of their own, and the arty world will at long last help us fight the powers actually be.
Sabo has already attracted the attention of The Huffington Post and The Hollywood Reporter and the bus-riding hipsters of Los Angeles, as well as The Central Standard Times way out here in Wichita, and that’s heartening. We don’t expect that his works will outlast Cassatt or Curry or Ryder or Eakins or Homer or Hopper, or any of those other great artists in the Wichita Art Museum’s surprisingly strong collection just around the corner from our Riverside home, all of whom captured those timeless moments of the human condition that anyone on the left or right could recognize and relish, but for right now and right here at this damned moment in time we think he’s doing a hell of a job.

— Bud Norman