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A Taxing Situation

Having failed in their efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, President Donald Trump and the congressional Republican majorities are moving on with plans to revamp America’s tax system. So far, at least, it doesn’t look any more promising than the previous crusade.
Which is a shame, as America’s tax system is badly in need of revamping, and the traditional Republican remedies are probably best. The system should be simplified, flattened, rid of deductions that serve only well-lobbied special interests, include more deductions that encourage investment in the broader economy, and that highest-in-the-world corporate tax rate especially needs lowering. If commensurate budget cuts could somehow be effected, so the already disastrous national debt didn’t explode, it would probably be helpful to lower every other tax in sight.
A Republican president and Republican majorities in Congress should be able to get it done, and even persuade a few centrist Democrats from well-heeled districts with big corporate donors to go along, but at this particular moment it seems a daunting task. Any attempt at serious tax reform is difficult, as all sorts of well-lobbied special interests immediately get involved, and there are lots of class resentments and economic theories to be considered, so that last time it happened was way back when President Ronald Reagan unified the Republican minorities in Congress and got more than a few centrist Democrats in well-heeled districts to go along.
This time around the Republican president is Trump, the leaders of the congressional Republican majorities inspire little more confidence, the Congressional Democrats are more unified in opposition to anything they might come up with, and the economic and political circumstances aren’t quite so ripe.
When Reagan offered his 461-page tax plan to Congress he knew every minute detail of it, and had spent the previous decades making a persuasive case to America for the sophisticated free market theories that inspired it, and with his experience as a past president of the Screen Actors Guild and two-term governor of California he knew the more down-and-dirty practical arguments to use with reluctant Republicans or potentially friendly centrist Democrats from well-heeled districts. The tax rate on the uppermost bracket was 70 percent at the time, which was steep even by the standards of the moribund European economies, cutting that by rate to 28 percent freed a lot of capital for pent-up investment in the private sector, and after the stagflation that had started in Nixon administration and lasted through the Ford and Carter administrations, most of the the country and enough Democrats were willing to roll the dice on those sophisticated free market economic theories.
When Trump unveiled his nine-page outline of how to revamp America’s tax system during a typically rambling speech in Indiana, we couldn’t shake a vague suspicion he didn’t understand a word of it. We had a hard time making sense of it ourselves, as did everyone else we’ve read, but everyone seems to agree with Trump’s opening unscripted that it does involve those “massive tax cuts” that Democrats are always accusing Republicans of yearning for.
During the speech Trump insisted the vaguely worded tax plan wouldn’t benefit himself, and he added his catchphrase “believe me,” which will surely endear him to his many lower-bracket fans, but until he releases his tax returns you’ll have to take him at his word, and by now most Americans don’t. Reagan had released his tax returns and put his relatively modest fortune into a blind trust, so he didn’t have that rhetorical problem. He could also make a case that taking a 70 percent cut from anybody who got lucky or smart enough to make it to that rarefied tax bracket was unfair, whereas Trump is stuck with a rate that went up and down and up again through the Clinton and Bush and Obama administrations and lands in a mid-30s range that strikes the more average earner as about fair. The relatively insignificant cuts proposed won’t unleash a relatively significant amount of capital into the private sector, too, and with Trump constantly boasting about how high the stock market indices and how low the unemployment rates are the populace probably isn’t in any mood for tax cuts for the rich at the moment.
Those Reagan tax cuts brought a promised doubling of federal revenue collections, but without any commensurate budget restraint the deficits and debt swelled. The broad economic expansion nonetheless continued long enough to get his vice president elected for a third term, and although a brief and relatively mild recession got President Bill Clinton he fiddled so slightly with the tax system that all that capital wound up investing in a technological revolution that has propelled the American through the desultory administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama and even into the era of Trump. That soak-the-rich mantra the Democrats are still loudly chanting is as stupid as ever, and we discern a few very good ideas in that nine-page outline about how to revamp the tax system, so we’ll hope for the best.
The highest corporate tax rate in the world is an obvious problem that every last Republican and at least a few centrist Democrats with corporate donors should want to solve, and there’s also a strong case to be made against estate taxes, but there was also a strong argument to be made for repealing and replacing Obamacare. Trump and the congressional leadership weren’t quite coordinated on how far to slash the corporate tax rate, both were failing to acknowledge that the actual corporate tax rate is much lower, given all the deductions their lobbyists have obtained, most of which do have a invigorating affect on the broader economy, and we can’t shake a suspicion that Trump is about to find out that tax reform is even harder than health care.
The Republican majorities in Congress are as always all hepped up for tax reform, but they have diverse districts and different donors and individual viewpoints to consider, and no matter the ranch hands Republicans are always harder to round up in a pen than Democrats. There are still a few debt-conscious Republicans left, perhaps including the Speaker of the House, some Republicans from less well-heeled districts that went big for Trump and his promises of tax hikes on the rich, and even some free market hold-outs who now worry that the tax rates are not far off from optimal. A zero percent tax rate yields zero revenues, but so does a 100 percent tax rate, and both liberal and conservative have always agreed there’s some point in between at which tax rates start to result in lower revenue, which many of our states have tried to ignore, but with Trump boasting about the great economy he’s unlikely to convince anyone outside the hated Republican establishment that his rich buddies and cabinet members need any sort of tax break.
If it we’re up to us we’d concentrate on the arguments for a lower corporate tax rate, which are so compelling they have even persuaded all of the Europeans and the Asians, state the moral case that after someone has spent a long and fruitful life paying exorbitant taxes he shouldn’t be taxed a final for dying, and not antagonize any of those lower-bracketed and class-resenting die-hard Democrats and heartfelt Trump supporters with any noticeable tax cuts for the rich, and if we were Reagan we could probably get it done. Trump isn’t at all a Reagan-esque sort of ranch hand you might have seen on the silver screen, neither are that Senate Majority Leader or House Speaker, and at this point we can’t see any of them winning over any sort of Democrat. We’ll still hope for the best, but we won’t be making any bets, and will anxiously wait to see where the Wall Street money goes.

— Bud Norman

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Yet Another Clinton Comeback

Unless you’re the politically obsessed sort who reads such publications as The Hill, you might not have noticed that Hillary Clinton has lately been making a comeback. Although we’re usually not inclined to offer any advice to the Democratic Party, we will suggest for the sake of the rest of the country that they nip this in the bud.
Over her long career as First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President of the United States, Clinton has never done much good for her party. Her dutiful performance as the wronged but loyal life wife during President Bill Clinton’s various scandals helped him end the hated Reagan-Bush era of Republican administrations, and somehow didn’t affect her reputation as a feminist heroine, but he was still hobbled enough that eight years of yet another Bush ensued. A brief tenure in the Senate seat she carpet-bagged her way into was utterly forgettable, as was the first presidential campaign she lost to a previously obscure Illinois Senator of even shorter tenure, which is more than she could say for her disastrous four years as Secretary of State, and that so weighed her down with accumulated scandals that her long presumed ascension to First Woman President was thwarted. Worse yet, as far any Democrat is concerned, it resulted in President Donald Trump.
The humiliation was such that for the past several months it has forced Clinton into political exile, reportedly wandering the woods around her upstate New York mansion, and all the political attention has been focused on Trump. So far this is working out quite well for the Democrats, with Trump’s approval ratings well underwater in every poll and all the pundits and late night comics and other Democratic partisans reveling in it, and now seems an especially impropitious time for a comeback. The only Democrats that The Hill can find to endorse the idea are the former Democratic officials who once owed their careers to the Clintons and went down with them, such as former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, while pretty much most of otherwise-divided Republican Party is still ready to join in the chants of “lock her up.”
There’s already plenty of Trump fiascos and brewing scandals to keep the partisan press and late comics busy, but that was also true throughout the campaign, and back then all the Clinton fiascos and well-established scandals were enough to at least even things out. The questions about the Clintons in general and the obnoxiousness of Hillary in particular kept the Democrats on the defensive, riled up the vast majority of Republicans enough to swallow their considerable doubts about their own candidate, and with the resulting political equation spread just right across the electoral map it got Trump elected. Since then Trump’s fiascos and brewing scandals have been judged on their own damning merits, rather in the comparison to Clinton’s, and the Democrats would be advised to keep staying the hell out of the way.
Besides, none of the Democrats we know personally or hear in the media have any lingering affection for Clinton, or even for her husband’s once beloved but now derided administration, and they all seem ready to move on to some even further-left agenda they haven’t yet settled on. Given the continuing deep and visceral hatred of pretty much all Republicans, who still have a lingering desire and plausible legal case to “lock her up,” her continued presence in the news only provides a reason to overlook the latest thing Trump has “tweeted” or failed to deliver. By the next election Clinton will be the oldest newly-inaugurated president ever, surpassing the record currently held by Trump, so she hardly seems a viable candidate even by current Democratic standards, and it’s hard to see what good she’ll do as a senior stateswoman of the party.
It’s tough to bow off the public stage, or so we’re told, but it seems the most selfless move for Clinton to make. She could devote the rest of her days to quiet and public service in atonement for her past loud years of self-enrichment, which we’re told can be quite gratifying, and it would do not only the Democrats but also the rest of us a lot of good.

— Bud Norman

The Race to the Bottom

Nothing seems inevitable in this crazy presidential election year, even the ultimate victory of Hillary Clinton. The former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of state and long-presumed First Woman President is on a one-for-six skid against the nebbishy self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with three blow-outs losses coming over the weekend, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has barely started leaking its case against her. She still leads in the delegate count, with plenty of those mysterious “super delegates” set to come to her rescue, but she doesn’t look any more inevitable than she was back in ’08.
The Democrats are in an anti-establishment mood somewhat similar to the one that’s been driving the Republican race,and much if not most of the party is by now eagerly embracing the self-confessed socialism of Sanders, so it shouldn’t be at all surprising. This time around the media isn’t treating the alternative as some sort of messiah, and her opponent is obligingly ignoring any of the non-Wall Street scandals that might hurt in a general election, and black and Latino portions of the party have been loyal enough provide victories in states where the white flight from the Democrats has reached a critical point, and of course there are all those “super delegates” and the organizational support of the party, but Clinton is such an awful person and awful candidate that such advantages are insufficient.
Ordinarily all that would bode well for the Republicans, but in this crazy presidential year they’re so angry at the Republican party that they’re threatening to nominate the one person in public life even more widely distrusted and disliked than Clinton, self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show mogul Donald J. Trump. All the polls show Trump losing to Clinton and Sanders, but his supporters remain convinced that only he will be down-and-dirty enough to prevail over Clinton, and that it takes a thrice-married strip joint owner who boasts of his affairs with married women to make an issue of Clinton’s sleazy husband, and that only someone who donated $100,000 to Clinton’s phony baloney found to get her to come to his wedding can make an issue of her blatant influence peddling, which is an interesting theory. Trump’s supporters dismiss all the polls except the one’s showing Trump with a winning plurality in the primary and recall how Ronald Reagan made up an even larger deficit in the 1980 election, which is another interesting theory, but we don’t recall Reagan doing it the same way Trump will attempt.
A recent poll from the National Broadcasting Company and the Wall Street Journal finds 47 percent of Republican women saying they wouldn’t support Trump if he were the party’s nominee, which is a disastrous number that actually understates what we’re hearing from the Republican women of our acquaintance, and as much as the down and dirty stuff satisfies some rhetorical blood lust of Trump’s supporters it isn’t likely to win many of these women to his cause. Nor is it likely to be persuasive to the eye-popping 68 percent who told the Monmouth pollsters that Trump “does not have the right temperament to be president.” Trump’s latest down-and-dirty tactics have included threats to “spill the beans” on pesky rival Texas Sen. Cruz’s wife, and a “tweet” intended to disparage her looks, and the latest polls show it’s not helping his efforts in Wisconsin. His friends at the National Enquirer have unleashed some nasty innuendo about Cruz, and it remains to be seen if that wins any new admirers of his presidential temperament.
All Republicans and an easily winnable majority of independents and even a handful of old-timey Democrats are rightly alarmed at the prospect of Clinton winning the presidency, and now they can also start worrying about Sanders winning, but a majority of the entire country have similar qualms about a President Trump, so once again nothing is inevitable. This could be a crazy enough year to have a race between a self-described socialist such as Sanders and an authentic conservative as Cruz who will make their cases for their starkly different visions and obligingly avoid anything of less importance. Or you can have Clinton and Trump, in which case the mud will fly and get all over the country, and you might even see a serious third party challenge by someone not as awful, which won’t be hard to find.

— Bud Norman

Webb Withdraws and the Democrats Lurch Leftward

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb never did have a chance to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, so his withdrawal from the race on Tuesday won’t much affect the race. The reasons for his early departure say much about the current state of his party, however, so we do find it noteworthy.
Once upon a time, not so long ago that we can’t recall it clearly, Webb would have made a formidable candidate and an even more formidable nominee, but his parting speech frankly acknowledged that at this particular moment in history “my views on many of the issues are not compatible with the power structure and the nominating base of the Democratic Party.” This should have been apparent to Webb even during his little-noticed campaign announcement speech, but it simply could not go unnoticed after the party’s first presidential debate. Webb was forced to defend his past support of the Second Amendment and his past opposition to race-based affirmative action policies, was the only candidate to voice any commonsensical skepticism about the last seven years of foreign policy in general and that awful Iran nuclear bomb deal in particular, and even as he went along with the rest of the candidates he was clearly the least enthused about providing subsidized health care and other expensive government benefits to the untold millions of illegal immigrants that the Democratic Party is intent on inviting to the country. Throw in a few other heresies against the latest Democratic orthodoxy he uttered during his few minutes of airtime, and Webb was the glaringly obvious answer to one of those “which one of these does not belong” questions on all the standardized tests.
Webb was even so gauche as to note that he not only fought in Vietnam but had also served his country as Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, which one liberal Politico “tweeter” immediately characterized as “Jim Webb admitted he killed people.” We don’t remember any liberals being so critical of John Kerry, who “reported for duty” as the Democratic nominee on the basis of his dubious war record rather than the more indisputably documented anti-war activities that launched his career at another radical point in Democratic party history, or raising any objections to President Barack Obama’s boastful claims about killing Osama Bin-Laden, as if he’d rappelled down from the helicopter and done the deed with his own bare hands, but with Webb the reaction from the debate audience and the attending press was plainly apoplectic. We found ourselves almost liking the guy, despite his unenthused support for expensive benefits to untold millions of illegal immigrants and his many other heresies against conservative orthodoxy, but of course that only further confirmed his unsuitability to the current mood of the Democratic Party.
Our liberal friends love to repeat that old cliche about how the Republicans have lurched so far to the right during the past decades that even Ronald Reagan could no longer win its nomination, and we’re sure it seems so to them as they lurch ever further to the left. From our perspective, which has admittedly been fixed here in the middle of the country at the same rightward spot ever since we started reading National Review back in junior high, it is hard to see how GOP’s nominations of George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole and George W. Bush and John McCain and Mitt Romney demonstrate any rightward lurching since Reagan, and we don’t see anyone in the current field that’s likely to lurch it the right of that sweet spot, and yet all that leftward lurching on the Democratic side seems apparent.
Our beloved Pop still likes to recall how President Harry Truman stood firm against the Commies, we were raised on tales of PT-109 and that John F. Kennedy speech about bearing any burden and paying any price to ensure the ultimate victory of democracy, and from our childhood we recall how President Lyndon Johnson had the hippies outside the White House chanting “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” despite all his Great Society liberalism. From our own adulthood we still remember when Washington Sen. “Scoop” Jackson and a few other hawkish Democrats had prominent standing in their party, not to mention the Bosnian-bombing President Bill Clinton and peacenik war hero Kerry and Bin-Laden-killing Obama among other recent Democratic warmongers, so the sudden Democratic repulsion to Webb’s much-decorated martial spirit strikes us as a significant development.
Webb’s admitted support for the right to self-defense and opposition to affirmative action policies that favor Obama’s Sidwell Friends-educated children over some Appalachian coal miner’s more promising kid were also respectable opinions within the Democratic circles of our relatively recent recollection, too, and even that unmistakable hesitancy about giving expensive benefits to untold millions of illegal immigrants and the rest of his unforgivable heresies he uttered would have easily been forgiven by the power structure and nominating base of the Democratic Party. At this particular point in the party’s history, though, the putative front-runner Hillary Clinton is running against her husband’s record of tough-on-crime measures and defense of traditional marriage and insouciance about sexual assault while the self-described socialist and surging insurgent and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is arguing that even after seven years of Obama the economy is horrible because we jut haven’t lurch far enough left yet, the party seems to agree that Black Lives Matter and others don’t,  and from our fixed position seem awfully far left at the moment.
Although admittedly situated to the right, we suspect that our position and Webb’s is closer to the center than his former rivals. There are still an awful lot of white people and even among the Democrat kind of them there’s bound to be some resentment that Obama’s Sidwell Friends-educated children have some legal advantage over their own kids, and Americans of all colors and party affiliations have become accustomed to the right of self-defense, and a commonsensical appraisal of the past seven years of foreign policy in general and that awful Iran nuclear in particular will be skeptical, and it takes a certain sort of Democrat to be sufficiently enthused about paying expensive benefits for untold millions of illegal immigrants, so Webb’s departure does not seem to bode well for the Democratic Party’s general election fortunes. The Republicans seem intent on screwing up such a golden opportunity, of course, but it still does not bode well.
Webb’s much-decorated martial spirit was still on display as he retreated, saying that while his party is not comfortable with many of his policies “frankly I am not comfortable with many of theirs.” He hinted at a third party-challenge, a one-in-a-zillion shot that seems his best bet for the presidency at this point, and we’d like to think it might drain a few votes from Democrats who still believe all the traditional Democratic nonsense but aren’t so leftward lurched that they buy into all the latest nonsense. We’re not sure how many Democrats fit this projection, though, and he might wind up stealing a few Republican votes if Donald Trump wins the nomination, so at this point we’re not sure how noteworthy is withdrawal really is.

— Bud Norman

Reassembling the Three-Legged Stool

Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul is expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination today, and although this is far too early to be talking about the ’16 election it’s as good a time as any to ponder the state of the conservative coalition.
Anyone old enough to have lived through the glory days of President Ronald Reagan will recall how he somehow managed to construct a winning “three-legged stool” from the oft-warring factions of economic libertarians, social traditionalists, and national security hawks. With Paul currently being the most prominent standard-bearer of economic libertarianism, much of the national press coverage of his candidacy has gleefully concerned itself with how he might fare with the Republican primary voters from the other two legs of the stool, and whether anyone might be able to bring that coalition together again. So far the press seems doubtful about Paul’s chances, and we generally agree with that assessment, but we remain hopeful that someone can pull off the trick.
Social conservatives such as possible presidential contender Mike Huckabee, the Baptist preacher and former governor of Arkansas, tend to regard libertarians as libertines. Already the press is anticipating Paul having trouble in South Carolina and other early southern primary states, despite Paul’s recent carefully calculated courtship of the crucial religious voters in those states, but the press isn’t much aware of how social conservatives are thinking these days. The religious right is now on the defensive, less concerned with banning abortion or preventing same-sex marriages than the increasingly real possibility of being forced to pay for abortifacients or bake cakes or pizza pies for homosexual wedding ceremonies, and they will find the libertarians invaluable allies in those fights. Besides, most of the religious right is quite comfortable with free market capitalism, unless they’re working in industries that require protectionism or some other government protection, and Paul, like his father, the obstetrician and libertarian hero and former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, is anti-abortion, staking out a not uncommon libertarian position that the unborn are also due liberty.
Those rooting against the conservative coalition seem more hopeful that foreign policy will prove the dividing issue, but this seems doubtful. Only the most doctrinaire sorts of libertarians are strict isolationists such as Paul’s father, with most understanding that the national defense is crucial to the preservation to liberty, and even the younger Paul has lately been espousing a more robust foreign policy by advocating for increased military spending and signing on to that controversial letter opposing the proposed deal with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons program. It remains to be seen if Paul can persuade the defense hawks that his recent conversion is sincere, the past six years have so thoroughly discredited isolationism that the Republican party will almost certainly be united behind a more pragmatic philosophy.
Paul doesn’t strike us as the one who will ultimately reunite that conservative coalition, but not for the reasons that press cites. We expect the Republicans will not only be looking for Reagan’s three-legged conservatism but also experience and results, which a one-term Senator cannot claim, and even Paul’s impeccable anti-establishment credentials won’t help with the party’s anti-Washington mood. Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker has a record of withstanding the most brutal left-wing attacks in taking on the public and private sector unions to enact capitalist reforms, he’s managed to avoid giving offense to either the religious or secular populations of his state, his utter lack of foreign policy experience allows him to articulate whatever defense policies he chooses, and anyone with a similar resume should be able to re-build that three-legged stool. Whatever qualms any of the three parts of the stool might have about the others, they’ll likely find the Democratic alternative far worse.

— Bud Norman

Nelson Mandela, RIP

Former South African President Nelson Mandela died Friday at the age of 95, and he will be missed by all. The left will forever honor him for all he did to bring down his country’s racist apartheid regime, and the right will always admire him for the things he didn’t do after he gained power.
Most of the adulatory obituaries will stress Mandela’s actions against apartheid, which is understandable. The system of minority rule by the country’s European conquerors was outrageously unfair in its conception, unimaginably brutal in its enforcement, and entirely catastrophic in its results, while Mandela’s heroic opposition entailed 27 years of imprisonment and countless acts of physical and moral courage. It’s a story much loved by the left, which even now uses it to criticize the right for its alleged support of apartheid, but it’s less important and inspiring than what happened after apartheid was toppled and Mandela became his country’s first black president.
Among its other flaws the left’s favored narrative misstates the right’s position on apartheid during the time of Mandela’s struggle. While it is true that President Ronald Reagan opposed the left’s campaign to impose economic sanctions on the apartheid regime, and vetoed a bill that would have barred trade with South Africa, it was not because of an affinity for the system. Reagan publicly denounced apartheid as “morally wrong and politically unacceptable,” and applied much diplomatic effort to end it, but also argued that sanctions would impose more pain on the country’s black citizens than on the government that was oppressing them. The claim remains improvable, but neither can it be disproved, and liberals should take notice that the Obama administration is now making much the same argument for easing sanctions on an equally deplorable Iranian regime.
Conservatives were also cautious about what might happen in a post-apartheid South Africa, and not without reason. Mandela was a self-described communist, so there were legitimate concerns that his ascendancy to power in Africa’s economic powerhouse might tilt the balance of power toward a Soviet Union that was oppressing many millions more people behind the Iron Curtain. His wife was a mean piece of work who had participated in the sadistic killings of black rivals to Mandela’s African National Congress, and the ethnic rivalries within the black population that had long pre-dated the arrival of the Europeans seemed ready to explode in the absence of an authoritarian government. The record of black rule in post-colonial Africa was bleak, with economic devastation and mass starvation and brutal inter-tribal warfare the usual outcome, and there was little cause for hope that the outcome in South Africa would prove an exception to the rule. It was hard to imagine that anything might be worse than apartheid, but the conservative temperament is ever mindful that it was hard to imagine what could be worse than Czarist Russia, Bautista’s Cuba, or the Shah’s Iran, and that the Russians, Cubans, and Iranians all subsequently found out.
That the conservatives’ most dire predictions never came to pass is the most impressive part of Mandela’s story, but of less value for the liberals’ propaganda purposes. To the disappointment of leftists everywhere Mandela did not align the country with the Soviet Union, helping the Cold War come to a successful conclusion a short time later, nor did he impose the Afro-Marxist reforms that had made an economic basket case of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in the post-colonial era, and with international sanctions lifted his country’s economy survived his more modest efforts. Mandela also proved a true Democrat, modestly declining the opportunity to assume the dictatorial powers that other African revolutionaries had killed for, joining Cincinnatus of ancient Rome and George Washington of early America as one of the few men in history to do so. Perhaps more importantly, Mandela rejected the race-conscious identity politics of the western left and stressed a commonality of man that began with forgiveness for the whites who had treated him so harshly, avoiding the mass killings of retribution that had brought so much misery to other African states. Perhaps it was pragmatism rather than principle, and based on the logical conclusion that killing all the white people in a land that had so long denied educational opportunities to its black people would have unhappy economic consequences for the surviving blacks, but in any case it worked.
South Africa did not become paradise under Mandela’s leadership. Lifting the heavy hand of apartheid unleashed a wave of murder and violence that has at times reduced South Africa to a Hobbesian state of nature, the economy remains a success only by the rock-bottom standards of South Africa, and all the manifest failings of human nature are as evident there as anywhere else. Still, it could have been worse. To see how much worse it might have been without Mandela one need only next door to Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe took over in the former apartheid country of Rhodesia and promptly proved all the conservatives’ predictions true. Mugabe was also a hero of the international left when he came to power, but neither the left nor the rest of the world will ever honor his name as it does Mandela’s.

— Bud Norman

Borked but Unbowed

The eminent jurist and legal scholar Robert Bork died Wednesday at the age of 85, and we hope that he rests in peace. His provocative opinions allowed him precious little peace on this earthly plane, and he deserves better in whatever lies next.
Although his long and varied career in public life included several notable contributions to his country, he might be most remembered for giving the English language the verb “Bork.” To “Bork” someone is to destroy his reputation with a sustained campaign of vituperative and dishonest propaganda, and the oft-used term derives from the fact that few people have ever been so successfully “Borked” as Bork was during his ill-fated 1987 Supreme Court nomination.
The left had loathed Bork long before then, going all the way back to his days as one of the exceedingly rare conservatives on the faculty of the Yale Law School. Bork’s book “The Antitrust Paradox” had made him famous within legal circles as a leading proponent of the law-and-economics movement, which argued that the law should take economic realities into account, and such heresy was predictably controversial. Despite the outrage that Bork provoked, or perhaps because of it, Bork was then appointed a solicitor general for the hated Richard Nixon.
Bork’s tenure in the Justice Department would have been only a minor annoyance to liberals if not for the Watergate scandal, which earned him a minor footnote in history and the undying enmity of the left. When Attorney General Elliott Richard resigned rather obey Nixon’s order to fire special investigator Archibald Cox, and then Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus did the same, third-in-command Bork stepped in to do the deed and fire several more Justice Department lawyers in what the press called “The Saturday Night Massacre.” We offer no definitive judgment regarding the debate that still rages about Bork’s role in the scandal, although we found the Wall Street Journal’s defense of his actions very convincing, but we will note that press coverage of subsequent scandals has not included the word “massacre” even though it could have been used literally during the Fast and Furious program and the Benghazi embassy attacks.
As a circuit court judge Bork continued to rankle the liberals, who immediately launch an all-out attack when he was nominated for a seat on the highest court. The smear campaign culminated in Sen. Ted Kennedy’s infamous oration on the Senate floor, where he charged that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are at the heart of our democracy.” Not a word of it was true, and it was especially galling coming from a longtime advocate of unrestricted government power such as Kennedy, but it worked well enough that Bork was denied the Senate’s confirmation.
It worked well enough, in fact, that it became a favored tactic of the left for the next 25 years. The idea had long preceded Bork, dating at least as far back as Saul Alinsky’s “Rules in Radicals,” in which the guru of community of organizers urged the left to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” but the original “Borking” proved such a successful model that it became a neologism. Sometimes the ploy is to portray an ideological opponent as laughably stupid, as in the cases of Dan Quayle or Sarah Palin or even the Ivy League-educated George W. Bush, but when a person with Bork’s impeccable educational credentials comes along it does just as well to characterize them as evil geniuses. In the past election the tactic was refined to turn an honest businessman’s hard-earned success into proof of rapacious greed, but it’s all the same old-fashioned “Borking.”
Bork continued to anger the liberals right up to the end, when he served as a judicial advisor to Mitt Romney’s well-Borked presidential campaign, and one admiring obituarist concluded than “he won.” It’s hard to agree with such an upbeat assessment, given that Bork’s originalist notions of constitutional law are set to lose more seats on the Supreme Court to men and women willing to grant government more invasive powers than Ted Kennedy ever yearned for, and that the smear tactic that carries is name has proved triumphant once more, but at least Bork got his licks in. May he rest in peace.

— Bud Norman