Advertisements

Too Much News on an Otherwise Nice Summer Day

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are supposed to be a slow news cycle, but in the age of President Donald Trump the stories keep coming fast and furiously. Wednesday had more big headlines than could fit on the front page of a full-sized newspaper, and none of them were helpful to Trump.
On the day after the Republicans’ seven-year effort to repeal and replace Obamacare had widely been declared dead, Trump was still applying electroshocks to the patient’s chest. After two Republican senators had joined two others in opposing the repeal-and-replacement bill, leaving it two votes short of passage, and three senators killed a backup plan to simply repeal, Trump had “tweeted” that he’d just let Obamacare fail and leave so many Americans in dire straits that the Democrats would coming begging for a fix. He seemed sure the public wouldn’t blame him for the consequences of letting the health care system fail, but just to be sure by Wednesday he was back to urging some immediate repeal and replacement.
The urging was rather heavy-handed, too. Trump didn’t mention the names of Kansas’ Sen. Jerry Moran and Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee, who had simultaneously announced their bill-killing opposition, but he did say “The other night, when I heard a couple of my friends — my friends — they really were and are. They might not be very much longer, but that’s okay.” He was seated next to Nevada’s Sen. Sean Heller, who has not announced his opposition to the bill but has expressed criticisms of it, and said in a sort-of-but-not-really joking way that  Heller would eventually come on board because “Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” The performance demonstrated Trump’s continued commitment to repeal and replace, which will probably satisfy his base of support, but it might not accomplish anything else.
A president with a 38 percent approval rating warning that a vote against a bill with a 12 percent approval rating will have dire political consequences isn’t likely to scare any politicians who won their jobs with solid majorities. Moran isn’t up for reelection until two years after Trump is, he’s savvy enough to know that there are going to be a lot of headlines between now and then, and Heller is probably more worried about what Nevadans think than he is about Trump. Trump’s got enough of a following in the Republican party to create primary problems for any Republicans who don’t fall in line, but even if that succeeded those challengers would be less likely to prevail in a general election than the more-popular-than-Trump incumbents.
Meanwhile, all the stories about Trump and Russia kept coming on Wednesday. The president’s son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman are all being asked to testify in congressional hearings, where there will be a lot to talk about, and some of the Republicans running the committees won’t be cowed from asking some very tough questions that need answering. Trump has assured us via “twitter” that the previously undisclosed second meeting he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit was nothing to worry about, and we’ll have to take his word for as only he and Putin and a Kremlin translator were present, but he’s nonetheless dogged by questions about why it undisclosed and why there were no other Americans present to vouch for the assurances.
Wednesday also brought the news that the Trump administration has ended a covert program to arm and train Syrian rebels opposed to the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad, a staunch Putin ally, but that might be a coincidence and barely fit on the front page.
In the midst of all this, Trump sat down for an interview with The New York Times, of all people, and of course wound up generating another page of headlines. The biggest one was his angry rant about Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from anything to do with the justice departments investigations regarding Trump and Russia, saying “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.'”
By now Sessions is also probably regretting he didn’t forewarn Trump during the job interview that in a few months he was going to give inaccurate testimony to a congressional committee about his own meetings with the Russian government, and would feel ethically obliged to recuse himself from any Russia-related investigations as a result, but it still doesn’t make Trump look good. If Sessions does another honorable thing and resigns, and Trump replaces him with someone free and willing to end any nosiness about Russia, that probably won’t put an end to the headlines.
It was also reported on Wednesday that Arizona’s Sen. John McCain has been diagnosed with advanced brain cancer, and that the prognosis is not good. McCain is a significant historical figure, the news is a human tragedy, and he and all the rest of you will be in our prayers.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Health Care and the Waiting Room

Republicans have been waiting for seven years to repeal and replace the hated Obamacare law, and it looks as if they’ll have to wait a while longer. The Senate’s majority leader has postponed a vote on a Republican alternative until after the summer recess, which will likely include some encounters with constituents that won’t make them any more eager to take up the matter when they return.
The Republicans have a president in the White House and a large majority in the House of Representatives and a slight majority in the Senate, the same advantage the Democrats held back when they rammed Obamacare through without a single Republican vote, but their revenge was never going to come easy. That Republican president ran on promises of no cuts to Medicaid and coverage for everybody, that House majority is largely comprised of more doctrinaire conservatives, and slim Senate margin includes both doctrinaire conservatives and more pragmatic sorts of Republicans from purplish states. Although they all ran on promises of repeal and replacement, the Republicans never did agree on what that should look like.
Back when the Democrats had the House and Senate and the White House they were all in general agreement on the basic principles that the government should be interfering more thoroughly in the health insurance market, consumer choices should be restricted, and more government spending should be allotted, so they had an easier time getting their bill passed. Even with a president boasting approval ratings in the 60s and plenty of support from support from the establishment media, however, the Democrats took until just before Christmas and had to resort to some bare-knuckle politics to ram through what was already an unpopular law.
Although the eponymous President Barack Obama won re-election three years later, the Obamacare law was unpopular enough that it was largely responsible for a Republican president and Republican majorities eight years after his supposedly transformative election. Such are the consequences of ramming unpopular legislation down the public’s throat on a strictly partisan vote, along with all the skyrocketing premiums and punitive mandates and other pains that have been inflicted on so many Americans, so the Republicans should count themselves luck for the delay.
Obamacare remains unpopular yet, and even its more honest defenders are admitting that some serious tweaking is required, both the House bill that was passed after an embarrassing delay and the Senate bill that’s currently delayed are polling far worse. Both cut back on planned increases in Medicaid, and they not only don’t cover everyone but leave an estimated 22 million looking for other options in coming years, and there’s no getting around that the tax implications tend to favor the wealthier taxpayers, so the politics is at least as tricky as the policy.
To our old-fashioned Republican way of thinking both the House and Senate bills represent a slight improvement on Obamacare, but come nowhere near the long-promised full repeal and replacement, we expect that whatever compromise version they might reach and pass on a partisan vote will prove unpopular enough to arrive at a Democratic president and a Democratic majority in at least one house in just three years or so. There’s a conservative case to be made for the the Republican bills, and a conservative case to be made against them, but the Republican president who promised no cuts to Medicaid and coverage for everyone and the free-market ideologues and the more pragmatic sorts of Republicans seem likely to persuade the public.
All of them promised their voters something like a repeal and replacement of Obamacare, though, and all of them are itching for something they can call a legislative win. We hope they get it, but we hope they take their time about it, and come to some agreement on the true principles that underlie a free and efficient health care system, and make that hard-to-explain case to the American people, and use the impending implosion of Obamacare to get recruit a couple of symbolic Democratic votes. They’ll probably take some short-term hits for that, but it’s the best plan for the long run, which will take a lot of time.

— Bud Norman

Marketing Legalization

Yesterday was “Earth Day,” and we found ourselves in an appropriately unambitious state, so we’ve decided to recycle a script that we wrote for the recent “Gridiron” show. The script was cut from the show, which we took as a grievous insult given the utter witlessness of much of the material that was included, but we found it amusing nonetheless. The vast majority of readers residing outside Wichita should know that it’s pegged to a recent city-wide referendum to lessen the penalties for possession of marijuana, and that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is notorious among the state’s liberals for his strange insistence that voting in Kansas elections should be restricted to eligible voters.
(Scene opens with three hippies seated at a table.)
HIPPIE ONE: Okay, dudes, this meeting of the Committee for the Legalization of Marijuana in Kansas is now, like, you know, in order.
HIPPIE TWO: Wow, “order.” What a concept.
HIPPIE ONE: As you know, our campaign to get weed free and legal here in Kansas isn’t going well. We had a hard enough time getting Wichita to just reduce the penalty for possession, and that’s in Wichita, where if you ain’t smokin’ weed I don’t know what the hell you’re doing.
HIPPIE THREE: That’s a bummer, man, but what are we going to do about it?
HIPPIE ONE:  figured I’d call in a consultant to see if he has any ideas. This guy is a big deal in public relations and marketing and lobbying and all that stuff, so maybe he knows what to do.
HIPPIE TWO: Maybe you’re right. I mean, I’ve had relations in public, and I go to the market when I get the munchies, and I hang out in the lobby with this old wino dude, but I don’t claim to be any big deal about it, so maybe he can help us out.
(A professional-looking CONSULTANT enters.)
CONSULTANT: Hello, I’m Chip Wilson, from the Chip Wilson Public Relations, Marketing, Lobbying, and Pizza Delivery Group. Thank you so much for your time.
HIPPIE ONE: That’s cool, we’ve got plenty of it.
CONSULTANT: It’s an interesting little cause you’ve got going here, I must say, and I’m eager to help with your noble efforts. I’ve been taking a look at the strategy you’ve been employing thus far, and I think I’ve identified your main problem, public image-wise.
HIPPIE ONE: What’s that?
CONSULTANT: Well, basically, the problem is that you’re a bunch of dirty hippies.
HIPPIE THREE: Oh, man, that’s harsh.
CONSULTANT: I mean that with all due respect. Some of my best friends are dirty hippies. My dear mother was a dirty hippie. I’m just saying that it’s not the image that’s going to drive a successful public relations campaign.
HIPPIE TWO: So what do we want?
CONSULTANT: What you want is that white collar, middle class, mostly law-abiding pothoead next door. You want that engineer who’s designing safety systems for Cessna all week and unwinding with a bowl on the weekends, or that winning criminal defense attorney with all the good connections. You want a more upscale, wholesome, mass appeal pothead. Our slogan will be, “Pot — It’s Not Just for Dirty Hippies Any More.”
HIPPIE TWO: Where do we find these people?
CONSULTANT: That’s where we run into a problem. The people you want to be out front on this issue are reluctant to publicly confess their marijuana use.
HIPPIE THREE: What’s the deal with that?
CONSULTANT: They’d be confessing to a crime that involve a potential prison sentence, for one thing. Worse yet, they’re afraid people will regard them as dirty hippies.
HIPPIE ONE: I can dig that, man. I guess I’ll still have to be the spokesman, but hey, at least I’m all articulate and well-spoken and shit.
CONSULTANT: I wouldn’t recommend that. Again, I say this with all due respect, but you’re really not very articulate and well-spoken and … such. In your case, it does seem that marijuana use has impaired your verbal abilities.
HIPPIE ONE: I’m not even high, man. I happen to take this committee seriously, so I’m not indulging until 4:20.
CONSULTANT: That just proves my point. Even when you’re straight, you’re still a dirty hippie. Now, look at me. I took two monster bong hits of Hindu Kush out in the parking lot before I came in here, I’m high as a proverbial kite, and still this presentation has been polished and professional and in the Queen’s friggin’ English.
HIPPIE TWO: Wow, man, you can really handle your weed. Maybe you’re the guy we’re looking for.
CONSULTANT: Sorry, but I’m strictly a behind-the-scenes consultant, and I’m afraid my more lucrative clients in the pharmaceutical field wouldn’t like that. Besides, I like my weed untaxed and unregulated, and it’s not like the cops are profiling a middle-aged white guy in a suit and tie, so what do I care if it’s legal or not?
HIPPIE ONE: So what good are you?
CONSULTANT: We’re still in negotiations, mind you, but I think we’re about to line up a perfect spokesman for your cause. I don’t want to mention any names at this point, but let’s just say he’s a former Choom Gang member and current president of the United States who still takes a puff of that righteous Hawaiian bud to deal with having his mother-in-law living at the White House.
(The hippies look at one another quizzically, unable to guess who the CONSULTANT is talking about.)
CONSULTANT: For crying out loud, you dirty hippies, I’m talking about Obama.
HIPPIE TWO: Oh yeah, Obama. I know that dude. He’s cool. I saw him slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon. Do you think he’d do it?
CONSULTANT: Term limits, baby. He’s coming up against them, and at this point he doesn’t care what anybody thinks. He’s vetoing pipelines, making deals with the Iranians, inviting in illegal immigrants, and to hell with the polls or his party’s next presidential election. He’ll be racking up speakers fees and book deals, the press and the Europeans will start being polite, Hillary or some Republican can deal with the Iranian bomb and the rest of it, but he’ll still have that mother-in-law in the house and he figures some legal weed might come in handy.
HIPPIE ONE: All right, then, It looks like we’ll finally get weed legalized here in Kansas.
CONSULTANT: Oh, wait, you’re right, this is Kansas. I’m afraid Obama doesn’t poll well here. In fact, in the latest numbers I saw, about 63 percent of the state thinks he’s a dirty hippie. What was I thinking? And why am I suddenly craving chips and salsa? Would any of you guys like to get a beer and maybe some tamales at this Mexican place I know up on North Broadway? Which reminds me, we should be able to get the Mexican vote on our side, and if that damned Kobach guy doesn’t get in the way I know how to round up a lot more of them …
(Lights fade.)

— Bud Norman

The Immigration Debate, Where Extremism Is Mainstream

Although it’s still far too early to make any decisions regarding the Republican party’s presidential nomination, we’re liking Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker better all the time. On Monday we learned how very Nazi-like some of his political opponents acted in an unsuccessful attempt to thwart his impressive reforms of Wisconsin’s collective bargaining agreement with its public sector unions, and on Tuesday we heard him take another daring stand on immigration.
Immigration hasn’t been much of an issue during Walker’s governorship, as Wisconsin has been little troubled by an influx of unaccompanied minor Canadians, and some of his past comments have hinted at a certain squishiness regarding the problems that some of more southwestern states have lately encountered with new arrivals from other countries, and there was some skepticism from conservatives who were otherwise attracted to his potential candidacy. Walker has now clearly expressed his support for strict border enforcement, including “e-verification” requirements for employment to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants, and has even gone so far as to say that the current unprecedented levels of legal immigrations should be adjusted according to a “system that’s based, first and foremost, on protecting American workers and American wages …” The liberal press has reacted with predictable hysteria to such “extremism,” which The Huffington Post fears will strike at “a concept at the very core of what it means to be American,” which is the same sort of rhetoric that was used to justify those Nazi-like tactics of some of Walker’s in-state opponents, but it strikes us as both good policy and good politics.
There are the usual slew of economists who insist that unfettered immigration is the key to America’s prosperity, but we can’t help noticing that they’re usually well-compensated by business interests that benefit from lower wages and they’re not at all worried some Mexican immigrant will wind up spewing the same blather at a lower rate. The argument that a massive influx of labor won’t depress wages runs up against the law of supply and demand, and although over the past centuries slews of economists have fought the law, much like The Bobby Fuller Four, the law has always won. At a time when the labor participation rate is at a 40-year-low, and job creation has failed to keep up with the combined legal and immigration, the economic arguments for keeping the floodgates open are unpersuasive. Nor are we persuaded by the cultural arguments, usually couched in the sacrosanct terms of “diversity” and “tolerance” by the same people who insist on ideological conformity lest those average American rednecks out there in the red states unleash another genocide. Here in Wichita we’ve already got more great Mexican and Asian and Middle Eastern eateries than we can eat at, the cultural conflicts have been within the immigrants groups or with longstanding minorities more often than with the average American rednecks, there has been an associated cost that those slews of economists might not have accounted for on the local educational and social welfare systems so beloved by the “diversity” and “tolerance” crowd, and our guess is that many of those new arrivals aren’t yet on board with same-sex marriage and the rest of the cultural left’s brave new world.
Some surprisingly plucky Republican congressional staffers have compiled a round-up of the latest polling from the big name pollsters, and they all indicated solid support for limiting immigration. The numbers are even higher among Republicans, but they’re also dangerously high among blacks, low-wage workers, union members, and other usually reliable Democratic constituencies. Eventually even the Latinos already here will start balking before America reaches that seven billion figure, and by 2012 a full 59 percent of them were telling the Pew Survey they wanted to slow immigration. Walker seems shrewd enough to make his pitch two at least black and low-wage workers, and perhaps even tweak his Democratic opponent for toeing the corporatist rather than populist line on the issue. The Wall Street Journal has already been obliged to note that Walker’s stand is contrary to the preferences of the Koch brothers, despite David Koch’s apparent endorsement of his candidacy, and it will be fun to tie the Democrats to a corporate-sponsored position for a change.
The Washington Post calls Walker’s newly-staked position a “flip-flop,” and perhaps it is, but we’re never disappointed to see someone flip to the right position. Most of the other Republican contenders are making similar shifts, if not so daringly, and if the Democrats don’t do the same we expect they’ll simply flop.

— Bud Norman

Small Blue Dots and Big Red Splotches

Our humble hometown of Wichita is perfectly situated here in the middle of the country, we often boast, because if it were any farther from New York City it would just be that much closer to Los Angeles. This old jest came to mind as we were perusing a state-by-state rundown of the president’s approval ratings, which suggest that his low numbers are being propped up by a few densely populated spots far away from our discontented heartland.
The data was brought to our attention by the smart fellows over at the Powerline web site, who rightly conclude that the president’s unpopularity is even more widespread than the headline numbers would suggest, and it seemed full of interesting implications. Having some familiarity with all of the 48 contiguous states, and with a stereotype in mind for each, we were most interested to see where the president retains some following.
The president is most popular in Maryland, which is mostly Baltimore and the suburbs of the District of Columbia, both of which have a vested interest in federal largesse, yet only 56 percent of the state registers approval. Next up is the president’s native Hawaii, where 53 percent are still on board, a slight majority we attribute to the famously potent marijuana of the state. Coming in third is Vermont, which is basically a vast hippie commune with maple syrup, at 52 percent. The only other states where the president wasn’t below 50 percent were New York and Massachusetts, which requires no explanation, and even in those liberal redoubts he was right at the halfway mark. The combined populations of these states skews the overall results so, and that vexing 40 percent approval we keep seeing is mostly buoyed by a few other crowded states where the president’s standing hasn’t yet caved.
California remains the most populous state in the union, despite its best efforts to drive people away, and the president has only now dipped to 49 percent approval there, although we suspect the numbers drop drastically once your start polling outside of Los Angeles and San Francisco and a few of their more well-heeled suburbs. New York remains the second most populous state, despite its best efforts, and we further suspect that the president finds less approval the farther one gets away from the epicenter of New York City. In his adopted home state of Illinois, which also has a sizable population, the president is above the national average with an otherwise discouraging 45 percent, and we’d wager that number is far lower outside Chicago. A few other populous states are dragging the president’s approval ratings between below 50 percent but keeping it above 40, with the utan centers probably accounting for the crucial difference, and elsewhere the numbers are downright dismal.
Even in formerly supportive states such as Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida the president’s disapproval ratings are in the high 50s. In those deep red states that never did fall for the president’s promises of hope and change, the disapproval rates range from the high 60s to mid-70s. These numbers are unusual in American politics, where any Democrat’s 52 percent is routinely described as a landslide, and do much to explain some of the recent mid-term election stories.
Watch almost any Republican’s campaign commercials and you’ll see a scary-looking photograph of the president juxtaposed against a picture of the Democratic opponent, and listen to almost any Democrat’s campaign speeches and you’ll hear mention that the president isn’t the ballot. Both pitches are perfectly explained by the polling data. The president himself has declared that although he’s not on the ballot all of his policies are, which can only be explained by his characteristic belief that everything is about him, but the numbers are probably the reason he’s hitting the fund-raising circuit in those last remaining true-blue urban enclaves rather than hitting the campaign trail for the Democratic candidates he’ll need to get his policies enacted as law.
As encouraging as the numbers might to be to those of hoping for Republican victories in the coming mid-term elections, they’re discouraging to anyone with a vested interest in the continued union of these states. When small majorities of voters in a few densely populated urban areas can impose their political preferences on large but sparsely populated swaths of the nation where those policies are overwhelmingly hated it cannot help but fray the national unity. In the past such regional differences were ameliorated by federalism, an ingenious concept that allows California to be California and West Virginia to be West Virginia, but that’s one of the policies that urban enclaves seem intent on eliminating. The polling data suggest that the Republican party will have some greater degree of influence in the government following the elections, and if this proves true they would do well to make that old-fashioned notion a fighting principle.

— Bud Norman

Gloom and Doom and Whom to Blame

We’ve been espousing gloom and doom for the past many years, and it seems the rest of the country has at last caught up to us. No less a mainstream source than the Politico web site has taken measure of the latest public opinion polling and distilled it into the headline “Everything is terrible.”
A cursory glance at the latest headlines easily explains the widespread sentiment. The post-war international order is breaking down across the globe, the social order is unraveling around St. Louis in a series of riots, an invasion of unaccompanied minors continues on the disappearing southern border, and as the youngsters head back to school their parents’ and teachers’ bake sales are being subjected to bureaucratic bullying. There are stray stories about a suspiciously strong market and an improving labor market, although if a closer look that the former is a result of inflationary money-printing by the Fed and the latter its mostly a matter of part-time jobs going to those invaders from the southern border, and most people seem more convinced by their diminishing bottom lines than by the press. At this point, judging by the Politico analysis, it’s just a matter of assigning blame.
The left-leaning publication seems hopeful that there’s enough of it go around stave off another mid-term shellacking by the Republicans, and cites the example of a Senate race in North Carolina where the Democratic incumbent holds a lead despite some being unfavorably regarded by a majority of the state, but it seems unlikely to be apportioned in equal measures. Foreign policy is mostly a presidential prerogative, and efforts to blame the current mess on the president who left office six years ago are growing tiresome, especially when they’re a result of decisions the current president has repeatedly bragged about. There’s no way of knowing what happened in the police shooting that touched off that St. Louis rioting, although it’s a safe bet that the liquors stores and Taco Bells that are being targeted had anything do it, and in any case it is yet another reminder that the president’s promised post-racial America has not yet arrived. That invasion on the southern border can hardly be blamed on the welcoming attitude of Republicans, not after they’ve been relentlessly portrayed as xenophobic racist rednecks, and the president’s executive actions to defer deportations of unaccompanied minors seems a far more likely explanation. The crackdown on school bake sales is directly attributable to to the current administration, as are countless other burdensome and silly regulations. Despite the best efforts of the press to pretend that Sen. Harry Reid isn’t the majority leader in the do-nothing half of Congress the Republicans only control one half of one branch of the government, and given the president’s low ratings on his economic policies there’s not likely to be much of a market for the idea that our current sluggishness is a result of too little Obamanomics.
There is plenty of blame to go around, of course, and among those registering their disgust to the pollsters are bound to be a number of liberals who believe the president just hasn’t been appeasing enough in his foreign policy or angry enough in his racial denunciations or friendly enough in his attitudes to southern border invaders or exhaustive enough in his micro-regulation of America’s diet, and that just a few more trillion dollars of federal spending would have set everything right, but we doubt there are enough of them who will march to the polls with hope and change in their hearts to affect the mid-term elections.

— Bud Norman

What the Other 80 Percent Thinks

As much as we prefer the conversation of our fellow right-wing bastards, we habitually seek out the political opinions of a wide variety of people. It’s an odious chore, entailing dreary hours of hearing the most outlandish nonsense from the most uninformed folks, but it helps avoid the kind of cocooned thinking that afflicts our Democrat friends.
They have a different set of priorities, these Democrats. Not just different from us right-wing bastards, who tend to grouse about individual liberty and the national debt and the deteriorating international scene and other things the Democrats never seem the least bit concerned about, but different from those blissfully apolitical people we usually encounter in our daily lives. Most of the regular folk we run into are worried about Obamacare and getting by, more or less in that order, while the local lefties seem mostly worked up about the Koch brothers and efforts to limit voting in American elections to American citizens.
Given all that’s going on in the world these days this things strike us as rather piddling concerns, but the Democrats are clearly convinced that they will make everyone forget about paying for over-priced Obamacare while trying to find a job. Every time they get together to talk about everyone agrees that these are the greatest threats facing the nation, it seems, and except for our occasional intrusions into their conversation they don’t know anyone who isn’t going to vote accordingly. Should they ever bother to strike up a conversation with the lady in front of them in the Dillon’s check-out aisle or the guy at the next barstool in any workingman’s tavern, however, they’d probably be surprised by the perplexed looks these topics provoke.
Perhaps Wichita is an outlier, as Koch Industries is an essential local business that contributes generously to local causes ranging from the Sedgwick County Zoo to that excellent exhibit of buffalo paintings currently on exhibit at the Wichita Art Museum, and our duly-elected Secretary of State is one of the nation’s most stalwart advocates of electoral integrity, but we have reason to suspect that the nation at large has more pressing worries. We have a brother in Colorado who prefers skiing to politics, which strikes us as quite sensible, and he unabashedly admits that he’s never heard of the Koch brothers, while even our most left-leaning bartenders say they’ve checked enough drivers’ licenses that they can’t see why it shouldn’t be required voting, so that seems a representative sampling. The pollsters survey an ever wider group, and they confirm our suspicions.
Sen. Harry Reid has recently taken to bashing the Koch brothers as way to maintain his increasingly tenuous grasp on the Senate Majority Leader post, but the polls show that most Americans dislike him more than both Koch brothers combined. Offered a choice between the Koch brothers’ conspiracy to keep the government out of everyone’s business and Reid’s conspiracy to run everything, we would expect the public to make the same choice. Even here in Kansas the Democrats are likely to run a candidate against Secretary of State Kobach on a platform of making it easier for illegal immigrants to vote, but the latest poll shows that a whopping 78 percent of the country disagrees and we’re sure that the margin is evening whoppinger here.
The Republicans might well find a way to blow the mid-term elections, as they’re very adept at that, but the Democrats will need to start striking up some conversations with people outside their circles for that happen.

— Bud Norman

Blood, Sweat, Toil, and Boredom

The art of wartime oratory, like so much else in the modern world, seems in precipitous decline. One of thinks of such great exhortations to war as Henry V’s St. Crispen’s Day speech to his “band of brothers,” or Patrick Henry’s “The War Inevitable” and its memorable cry of “give me liberty or give me death,” or Winston Churchill’s defiant vow to endure “blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” or even that call to battle that Mel Gibson gave in “Braveheart,” and Tuesday night’s muddled message from President Barack Obama seems quite puny by comparison.
To be fair, Obama’s oration was no doubt hastily re-written to reflect all the recent developments, and there seems to have been little time left for the florid touches he usually favors. Still, even by current standards the speech was a conspicuously unpersuasive call to war.
The president began promisingly enough, laying out the reasons he believes Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad deserves some American military action. He helpfully explained to those just tuning in that “a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime” has become a civil war which has killed more than 100,000 people without provoking any American response, but when the Syrian government recently used chemical weapons against its citizens “the situation profoundly changed.” In case anyone might wonder why those killed in the recent gas attack are more deserving of American assistance than the much greater number who were killed and are still being killed in Syria by more conventional weapons, Obama offered a gruesome description of the massacre, alluded to some unseen proof of Assad’s culpability, and recited a short history lesson about the international prohibition on chemical weapons.
Upholding that prohibition and other norms of civilized international behavior, Obama argued, is a responsibility that has fallen upon the United States as the world’s sole superpower. He warned that if Assad is not punished for the attack he will continue to use chemical weapons, perhaps in a wider war that would threaten American allies, and similarly insane dictators such as the ones currently running Iran would be emboldened by our inaction. The argument is compelling, especially to bloodthirsty warmongering neo-con cowboys such as ourselves, but then he went and spoiled it all by attempting to reassure the dope-addled peaceniks who comprise his base of political support that he hasn’t gone all George W. Bush on them.

He noted that his planned war is not polling well, which he attributed to the public’s weariness after the long years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, and insisted that he ran for office he’d much rather devote his energies to such good works as “putting people back to work” and “growing our middle class.” Given the counterproductive results of his efforts on these projects one is tempted to rush into the nearest available war just to keep the president preoccupied, but of course Obama did not advance that very strong argument. Instead he promised that there would be no “boots on the ground,” that he would “not pursue an open-ended action like Afghanistan or Iraq,” and in a rare moment of bipartisan blame-laying he added that it also would not be a “prolonged air campaign like Kosovo or Libya.” While that dead white male Churchill guy would go on about “What is our aim? Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be,” Obama instead offered assurances that his short and sweet war’s only objective is “deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities.”

One might well wonder how such a bootless and brief action as Obama describes could achieve even these limited goals, but he was quick to add that it wouldn’t be the “pinprick” that some congressional critics have charged. He seemed especially offended by the term “pinprick,” and huffed with an uncharacteristic martial pride that “The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.” So we are assured that the war won’t be a full-blown Bushian affairs or a prick of a pin, rather something in the Goldilocks range of a just-right military action, and that it will be just enough to make Assad regretful.
There was also some quick rebuttal of the more popular arguments against the proposed war. Obama dismissed concerns about retaliation from Syria by noting the country’s lack of military might, although it seems to have enough of it to justify a war, and ally Iran’s world-wide terror network went mentioned, and he seemed quite confident that Israel will be able to respond to any attacks on its people. He also scoffed at the notion that the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist rebel groups Assad is fighting might benefit from an American military intervention, claiming that the majority of Syrian “just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom,” which would make them unique among the peoples of the Middle East, and promised that after any military action “We would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.”
We are unable to think of anything that has happened during the Obama administration that gives hope for his efforts to achieve such a political solution, but the president also touched on possibility that recent initiatives by Russian President Vladimir Putin might spare him the trouble of even a minor military action. He claimed that Putin’s offer is the result of “the credible threat of U.S. military action” and Obama’s own brilliant diplomacy with the man he has called a “bored schoolboy,” and held out hope that her erstwhile nemesis could prevent the need for war. So hopeful is the president that he has decided to delay a Congressional vote on the authorization for the use of military force, which is fortunate given the likelihood that he would suffer a politically embarrassing defeat if the vote were taken now, and he left us with a nagging suspicion that he even hopes the diplomacy will drag on long enough for people to forget that he ever proposed a war or gave this forgettable speech.

— Bud Norman