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Georgia On Our Mind

Although it’s an admittedly odd thing to do on such a pleasantly warm evening as we had here in the Fourth Congressional District of Kansas, we spent much of Tuesday night following the returns from the special election being held far away in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. It’s the first political test of the Trump era since last Tuesday’s special election here on our home turf, which got a lot of national attention, and the Georgia race is getting a lot scrutiny for pretty much the same tea-leaf-reading reasons, so naturally we were interested to see how it turned out.
It was clear all along that the front-runner in the 18-candidate field was Democrat Jon Ossoff, which is an eye-raising fact in such a reliably Republican district, but given the district’s convoluted way of doing things there was plenty of suspense about whether he’d pass the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff that would probably result in a runoff. By the time we started getting drowsy in a more western time zone the news was that the Democrat had indeed scored a landslide plurality, but failed prevent a run-off against whatever Republican had limped into second place with from the crowded field. The district has been Republican since Georgia’s own Jimmy Carter, and was long held Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero Newt Gingrich, and has been red ever since, so the betting line is that all the Republicans and a sufficient number of the independents will line up against the Republican in the run-off schedule for June 20, but in the meantime we expect the Democrats and all their media allies to do some serious gloating about the outcome in such a presumably safe republican district.
They’re entitled to it, just as they were with the mere 7 point win by the Republican in our own reliably red district just a week earlier, but in the end it probably won’t have any more effect on the upcoming and predictably partisan votes in Congress. The next significant rounds of congressional elections are nearly tow years away, which is so long an amount of time that no sane person should dare any prognostications, but already the Republican pundits are noting that recent trends suggest the Republicans should retain their advantages, and the Democratic pundits are plausibly hoping that the recent past is no predictor of the future in the Trump era but already proclaiming moral victories.
The Democrats have to admit they fell a full seven points short of victory in last Tuesday’s election around here, which sounds like a lot but is a full of 25 percentages shorts of what the Republicans are used to, and they didn’t get the needed 50 percent in that Georgia district, but they did come close enough to crow about the plurality landslide. We don’t know Georgia’s Sixth District nearly so intimately as we do Kansas’s Fourth District, but we have tried to familiarize ourselves with the political terrain there, and from our currently disinterested perspective both parties seem to have their problems.
This Ossoff character in Georgia is only 30 years old, which makes him a disqualifyingly young whippersnapper from our aged Kansas perspective, and he seems a rather traditionally doctrinaire sort of Democrat, which is worse yet as far we’re concerned, but even the conservative media haven’t told us anything about his Republican challenger except that he wound the 15 percent or so necessary to make a run-off. All the local press and big city papers say that Georgia’s Sixth District is an affluent and well-educated and thoroughly suburban area next to Atlanta, and they don’t need to tell us that Kansas’s Fourth District is dominated by Wichita, a reliably Republican but ethnically and economically urban center that went Democratic by a slight majority while the rest of the entirely rural district went Republican enough to ensure that embarrassing 7–point victory margin.
,Both results suggest to us that both parties have plenty to worry about at the moment, and so does the rest of the country.

— Bud Norman

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The Even Worse Day After a Very Bad Day

The official scores won’t be in until the next round of public opinion polls come out, but by now all the establishment press and most of the respectable pundits agree that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton got the best of Republican nominee Donald Trump in their first presidential debate on Monday night. Trump reportedly skipped a planned victory party afterwards and instead went home to his nearby bed, then spent much of Tuesday grousing about the refereeing and suggesting that his microphone had been sabotaged and complaining that all the establishment press and most of the respectable pundits are out to get him, which is not how winners usually act after a big game, while his even surlier than usual expression through it all seemed to further confirm the conventional wisdom’s unofficial scoring.
Worse yet, the mere perception of a loss looks to have rattled Trump to a point that he probably wound up losing the day after’s news cycle debate about the debate. There was much merit to the complaints about the refereeing, but the suggestions about the rigged microphone sounded a lot like another one of those crazy conspiracy theories that Trump too often spouts, so of course the establishment press and respectable pundits had no problem deciding which story to highlight. To compound his problems, Trump spent much of Tuesday reviving an old argument with a beauty queen who had gained a few pounds, once again congratulating himself for not bringing up his opponent’s family’s sex scandals and suggesting that next time around he wouldn’t be such a nice guy, and doubling down on some of the easily disprovable claims he’d made in the debate. None of which, we expect, will help much with the next round of public opinion polls.
The beauty queen in question is one-time Miss Venezuela Alicia Machado, who became Miss Universe back when Trump owned the company that ran the pageant that conferred the title, and apparently the two squabbled over some weight she gained after her ascension to the throne. We’ve always suspected that the Miss Universe competition was rigged, as it always seems to be an earthling who wins, but we digress. In any case, Clinton noted during the debate Trump had once called Machado “Miss Piggy” because of the temporary extra poundage and “Miss Housekeeper” because of of her Latin American heritage, citing this as further evidence of Trump’s anti-woman and anti-Latin American bias. Instead of denying that he ever said any such thing, which should have been easy for a nominee who routinely denies having said things that are on audio and video and “tweets” for everyone to see and hear and read, Trump chose instead to talk about how fat that Venezuelan woman had gotten. Machado is now a naturalized American citizen, very much a supporter of Clinton, and looking pretty darned good in the recent photos that the establishment press are gleefully running, so he seems have to picked a losing fight.
Even the recently encouraging public opinion polls show that Trump is still especially unpopular with women, and we can’t imagine that his comments on Tuesday that Machado “gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem” will help with that. We don’t know what it’s like being a philandering self-described billionaire ladies’ man, but our more middle-class experience of women tells us they don’t much care for comments about recent weight gains or any comparisons to beauty pageant standards, nor do the appreciate the frequent interruptions that Trump made during the same debate. So far as we can tell Trump didn’t deny the “Miss Housekeeper” comment, either, and our experience with Latin Americans tells us that also won’t much help with his dismal poll numbers in that demographic.
By congratulating himself on being so very sensitive as to not bring up his opponent’s family’s sex scandals he was, of course, bringing up those sex scandals, and although we feel those sex scandals are indeed a legitimate issue it seems a rather cowardly way of bringing them up. Should he be more forthright in the next debate, as threatened, the thrice-married-to-an-illegal-immigrant-porn-model strip club mogul who has publicly boasted about all the married babes he’s bagged will be hurling his stones from a rather glass house, and we don’t expect that his dismal numbers with the sizable cheated-on female demographic would see any improvement as a result.
Monday’s debate also yielded sound bites full of false claims, a seeming boast about not paying any federal income taxes and another one about profiting from the economic misery of others, and reiterated some foreign policy crazy talk about running the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a protection racket and encouraging a nuclear arms race in east Asia and the Middle East, and Tuesday’s post-debate debate showed no attempt to downplay any of it. The establishment press and the respectable pundits happily played it all up, meanwhile, and we can’t imagine Trump’s numbers among old-school conservatives or any other tiny demographic getting a boost out of it.
Clinton also offered plenty of false claims and crazy talk, of course, but on both Monday and Tuesday Trump passed up countless opportunities to point that out. Trump once again preferred that the attention be focused on him, for better or worse, which does not seem at all wise. After spending August in squabbles with a Muslim family who had a lost a son who went off to fight for America and a natural born American yet somehow “Mexican” judge presiding over a fraud case involving one of Trump’s businesses that he’d have best left unmentioned he fell far behind Clinton in the polls, then moved back into a virtual tie as he stuck to tele-promptered scripts and a more or less polite and presidential persona while Clinton’s own ongoing scandals and thorough awfulness dominated the news in September. He now seems intent on starting October off with all the attention once again on him, and we can’t see how that’s a good idea.

— Bud Norman

Biden Backs Off From the Future

Vice President Joe Biden finally got around to saying that he won’t enter the presidential race on Wednesday, which happened to be the very same day that Marty McFly time-traveled to in that old “Back to the Future” flick, so we were once again reminded of our limited powers of prophecy.
If we were the gambling sort we’d have bet good money, if we had any, that Biden’s candidacy was a sure thing. He has at least the typical politician’s ambition for the ultimate job and the usual vanity to think he deserves it, the Democratic field seems weaker this time around than during any of his numerous earlier attempts at the presidency, and he could have expected President Barack Obama’s implicit endorsement as well as his still-formidable funding-raising prowess and still-intact campaign organization. At least we didn’t predict back in the ’80s that kids would be scooting around on hover-skateboards and holographic sharks would be eating passersby and you could still find a newspaper rack on every corner at this point in history, among the other glaring things the “Back to the Future” filmmakers got conspicuously wrong, but we still must humbly concede that we once again blew another one of our own more short-term predictions.
Much of the rest of the media, somehow unchastened by their own sorry records of prognostication, persist in reading the tea leaves of Biden’s announcement to reveal the future well before any reasonable deadline would require it. The consensus of prophetic pundit opinion on both the left and the right seems to be that without Biden’s interference the inevitable coronation of former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will now proceed as planned all along, and that the public will go along with it, barring her being indicted on federal felony charges or some other hiccup, and it sounds plausible enough that even if we had any money we wouldn’t bet against it. We marvel that would anyone wager some valuable as a reputation on it, though, given how many other things might happen.
A felony indictment or some similarly serious hiccup is not out of the question, after all. The administration Clinton once served as Secretary of State hasn’t seemed at all interested in restraining the ongoing investigations, or the anonymous quotes from highly placed administration sources about it, and even without Biden being the administration’s dog in the fight it has little reason to be any more helpful. Even if the press and her Democratic rivals succeed in squelching the e-mail scandal here’s still all the conflicts of moonlighting interests among her top aides, and the donations by foreign nations to her family foundation, and the four dead Americans who begged for her help in Benghazi, Libya, a matter she’ll be forced to answer for before a congressional committee this very day and which the press will be obliged to report on, not to mention all her Wall Street connections and Wal-Mart corporate board membership and other corporate ties that might terrify the Democratic base, or her famously libidinous husband’s flying around on a corporate jet to tropical paradises with a billionaire ephebophile, or any of the many other things always seem to be happening with someone named Clinton. She might yet survive it all, as always seems to be happening with someone named Clinton, but in our experience even the hottest streaks seem to eventually end.
Some gut instinct also seems to suggest that all those prophetic pundits, who tend to be cloistered inside the beltway of Washington, D.C., have once again not only overestimated Clinton’s inevitability but also underestimated the admittedly ineffable appeal of self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Among our circle of friends and acquaintances and Facebook posters there are far too many Democrats, and we can’t help noticing that almost all of them are enthusiastic about Sanders’ candidacy, and that the rare Clinton supporters seem conspicuously unenthused, and that pretty much everyone else in the middle of that great red splotch on the middle of the electoral map agrees she’s just about the most godawful woman ever, so she’s never seemed all that inevitable to us. These crazy mixed-up kids today don’t understand that “socialist” is a dirty word, either, just as they seem not to understand that any of the dirty words are dirty words, and their ironic hipness is such that they can embrace a Cranky Old Jewish Man as the new Cool Black Guy, and the press has been obliged to report that his crowds have been bigger and more enthused than Clinton’s almost everywhere for months now, which is eerily reminiscent of the last time that Clinton was prophesied as inevitable, so as much as we wish it weren’t so Sanders still strikes us as an ongoing possibility. A Biden candidacy would have split the “establishment” vote from Clinton in the primaries and with Obama’s implicit approval would have stolen many of her crucial black voters and drained little from the very enthused ranks of mostly-white Sanders supporters, and thus would likely have been a boon to Sanders, but even without that gift he still seems from our perspective at least a serious contender if not an outright front-runner.
A good Hollywood screenwriter would be able to concoct countless other possible scenarios, most of which would prove no more prophetic and far less profitable than that “Back to the Future” flick, and our best advice is to cover all the bets as if it were a metaphorical roulette table. The Trump card is still in play, too, to mix our gambling metaphors a bit, so the conjecture is further complicated. We have our rooting interests in all of this, or at least we’re trying to choose them from a few remaining options, but we note how often our rooting interests differs with the way things turn, so at this point we’re venturing no predictions, except that it will prove interesting. There won’t be any Biden in it, which will deny the news writers and screenwriters some much-needed comic relief, barring some post-indictment plot twist, but it will prove interesting nonetheless.

— Bud Norman

Another Day in Post-Racial America

The post-racial America that was promised with the election of President Barack Obama feels as racial as ever. The case of George Zimmerman, currently on trial in Florida on a charge of second-degree murder for killing Trayvon Martin, is an especially glaring example.
By now the facts are widely known. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community that had recently suffered a rash of burglaries and home invasions, shot the unarmed 17-year-old Martin with a licensed handgun during a struggle that followed Zimmerman observing the unfamiliar teenager’s suspicious behavior and calling police to report it. Although Zimmerman has always admitted firing the fatal shot to Martin’s chest, he has contended from the outset that he acted in self-defense after being attacked and while fearing for his life. Eyewitness testimony introduced by the prosecution has described Martin on top of Zimmerman “raining down punches” during a struggle, which is corroborated by injuries found on Zimmerman immediately after the incident, and no evidence or testimony introduced during the trial contradicts the defendant’s story. During a rambling and illogical closing statement the prosecution nonetheless asserted that “Martin did nothing wrong,” and spent the rest of the lengthy oration conceding the legality of Zimmerman’s actions prior to the shooting but making appeals to the jury’s emotions.
The case would have never been brought to trial, as the investigating police officers recommended, if not for the fact that Martin is black and Zimmerman has a white-sounding name and enough white lineage that The New York Times and other news outlets were forced to create the previously unknown racial category of “white Hispanic” to describe him. These facts, which should be entirely irrelevant to the legal disposition of the matter, led to widespread protests and much media hysteria following the original police decision not to bring charges, and it was all based without a shrewd of evidence on the racist assumption that the “white” shooter had killed Martin because of a racial animus and that institutional racism was responsible for his freedom. It was the same sort of racial politics that had been at play in Tawana Brawley’s false charges of rape and kidnapping, the discredited charges of rape against the Duke University lacrosse team, a Mississippi teenager’s suicide that activists insisted was a lynching, and countless other real-life cases as well as the plot of Tom Wolfe’s masterpiece novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities.”
The protestors insisted that Martin was a peaceable lad who had been targeted merely because of his skin color and a “hoodie” sweatshirt that is apparently a uniform of the hip-hop sub-culture, the media usually chose to run pictures of Martin as an angelic-looking 12-year-old, and much emotion was invested in the narrative. NBC News aired a story with a tape of Zimmerman’s call to the police that was edited to make him sound racist, a “Million Hoodie March” drew participants around the country, countless people took to social media outlets to promise riots and the murder of Zimmerman in the case of an acquittal, and the President of the United States weighed in with the comment that “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
Subsequent revelations that it was all a simplistic lie did little to cool the emotions. Friends of various ethnicities testified to the press about Zimmerman’s cordial and even close relationships with black people, while stories surfaced of Martin’s drug use and penchant for street fights. Sending “tweets” under the handle of “No_Limit_Nigga,” Martin joshed with a cousin about punching a bus driver, and more recent photographs — including one self-portrait of Trayvon defiantly blowing marijuana smoke at the camera — are probably not what the president had in mind he claimed a family resemblance.
None of which is necessarily relevant to the case, either, and a trial is supposed to focus the jury’s and the public’s attention on what is pertinent. Race issues proved inescapable in the media’s coverage, however, with all the predictable guilt-mongering appearing in countless commentaries. A witness who described being on the telephone with Martin until shortly before his death was inconsistent, curt, unable to read a letter she had signed because “I don’t read cursive,” insisted that Martin’s description of Zimmerman as a “creepy-ass cracker” was not intended as a racial slur, and was clearly hostile to the court throughout her testimony, and because she was black several pundits propounded that anyone who noticed these things must be a racist. Other writers groused that the prosecution wasn’t emphasizing Zimmerman’s racial motives for the killing, as if he had any evidence to do so. The “tweets” threatening riots and revenge killings continued, although the president has lately been silent. A good story about a racist white man killing a young black choir boy has proved too appealing for mere facts to get in its way.
More frightening, though, is that so many people who will accept the facts as they have been shown in the courtroom and still feel justified in rioting or murder if Zimmerman is acquitted. A sizeable sub-culture of black youth, supported by a multi-billion dollar rap music industry and countless academicians and journalistic grandees, which Martin clearly claimed membership in, believes that any form of disrespect must be punished with severe violence. When Martin correctly perceived that Zimmerman had suspected him of potential misbehavior, the rules of the sub-culture dictate that he administer a beating on the “creepy-ass cracker” and Zimmerman therefore had no right defend himself with lethal force. Race might or might not have played some part in Zimmerman’s suspicions, and it might or might not have been reasonable if it if had, but the rules of the sub-culture insist on a presumption of racist motivation.
The consequences of an American court endorsing such rules would be catastrophic, of course, not matter how much it might satisfy the sub-culture’s sense of retributive justice. A conviction of Zimmerman should worry anyone who feels entitled to defend himself by any means possible if they find themselves in the all-too-possible position of being beneath a strapping young man and having his head slammed against the pavement, even in the all-too-possible case that it’s a strapping young black man, although we don’t worry that the people who feel this way will riot in the case of a conviction.

— Bud Norman

The Great Debate

Wednesday night was a good one. Our beloved New York Yankees at long last clinched the American League’s eastern division title with a 14-to-2 win over the hated Boston Red Sox, and then our man Mitt Romney scored an even more lopsided victory over Barack Obama in their first presidential debate.

Debates are scored by highly subjective criteria, one of their many disadvantages relative to baseball, but we were not alone in declaring Romney the winner. The consensus of conservative pundit opinion agreed, and conservative pundits are notoriously harsh critics of their candidates. The astute fellows at the Powerline site called it a “knockout” for Romney, mixing in a boxing metaphor, and The National Review’s estimable Jonah Goldberg wrote that “Romney simply dominated and deflated Obama.” Matt Welch of the libertarian journal Reason quipped that “Romney just took Obama for a cross country drive strapped to the roof of his car.”

Liberal pundits are usually harsher yet toward conservatives, of course, but even they were forced to concede a Romney victory. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, famous for admitting to feeling a thrill go up his leg every time Obama speaks, was on the air sputtering “What was he doing tonight? He went in there disarmed.” Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast, who has an even more homoerotic attraction to the president, called the debate “a disaster.” Foul-mouthed comedian Bill Maher, who has raised a million dollars for the president’s campaign, “tweeted” in his typically illiterate style that “i can’t believe i’m saying this; but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter.” Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, who currently holds the world record for smugness, further confirmed Romney’s victory when she said “I personally do not know who won this debate tonight.”

More important by far was the public’s reaction, and the early returns indicate most viewers also saw Romney as the winner. The Cable News Network, usually reluctant to report anything embarrassing to Obama, revealed that their viewers picked Romney by 67 to 25 percent. Viewers of the Columbia Broadcast System were less enthusiastic, but still picked Romney by a more than two-to-one plurality. Future polls that will include voters who only heard about the debate will likely show an even larger number declaring Romney the winner.

Much of the result can be attributed to a very poor performance by Obama. Once lauded by the star-struck press as the world’s greatest orator, he was hesitant, halting, defensive, and downright dull throughout the evening. Part of the problem was that he was forced to defend a very hard-to-defend record, such as when Romney noted that candidate Obama had promised to cut the deficit in half within four years but instead had more than doubled it, and with no way to plausibly deny the charges he was unable to come up with any inspiring excuses.

Obama was also clearly out of practice at facing such tough questions, having spent the last four years being coddled by an adoring press corps, a staff full of yes-men and yes-women, and the die-hard fans who still show up for his campaign rallies. At one point during a discussion of tax rates he noted that Donald Trump would be considered a small businessman “although I’m sure Donald doesn’t like to be thought of as small in any way,” then paused for the uproarious laughter that would have surely followed from his usual friendlier crowds, and he seemed stunned by the silence that instead resulted.

The other important reason for Obama’s widely conceded defeat was a very strong performance by Romney. The Republican candidate did much to dispel the image that the Democrats have tried to pin on him simply by walking on to the stage without a top hat, spats, diamond-studded walking stick, and villainous curled moustache, but he further helped himself by coming off as informed, thoughtful, dignified, and friendly and likeable even as he aggressively pressed the case against his opponent. He also helped himself by vigorously denying Obama’s oft-repeated claim that the Republican ticket intends to raise taxes on the middle class while lowering taxes for the filthy rich, and making the most of his opportunity to dispel various other lies that have been told about him. Romney made a solid defense of free market economics while retaining his centrist credentials by acknowledging the need for sensible regulations, and generally seemed the more reasonable of the two candidates.

There’s still a lot of campaign left, just as there’s still plenty of baseball to be played, but it was a good night for the good guys.

— Bud Norman