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Trumping “The Book of Mormon”

The past week provided us with two glaring examples of how very rude, vulgar, and indifferent to any standards of civility of America has become. One happened in what used to be known as the legitimate theater, the other happened on the presidential campaign trail, and between the two they left us with little hope for the future.
The first affront to our old-fashioned sensibilities was a production of “The Book of Mormon,” which in case you’ve haven’t already heard is the most profitable and lavishly praised Broadway musical comedy of recent years. After nine Tony Awards and countless rave reviews, “The Book of Mormon” is still playing to sold-out audiences for every performance on Broadway four years after its opening, doing the same standing-room-only business after two years on London’s West End, and has spawned three sanctioned road shows filling halls throughout the hinterlands. One of those road shows passed through Wichita’s Century II theater, filling the sizable venue for each performance of a five-nights-plus-matinee sstand, and we were left wondering what all the fuss was about.
Except for a somewhat erratic sound system we couldn’t fault the production, which featured all the high-tech stagecraft that audiences have come to expect for their high-priced ticket purchases, as well as a talented cast of earnest of young professionals, so our problems were with the show itself. It wasn’t so much the immediately forgettable score, or good-but-not-great choreography, or even the relentless profanity and blasphemy and obviously intentional offensiveness, but rather the utter lack of anything remotely amusing. We’d had high hopes for the show, given all those Tony Awards and rave reviews and sold-out performances, not the mention the authorial involvement of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose sharply satirical “South Park” cartoon series and “Team America” movie are profane and blasphemous and intentionally offensive but frequently hilarious, so it’s not as if we’re the easily offended types, but we do expect some laughs to leaven the offense.
A predictable plot about two dangerously naive and unfashionably wholesome Mormon missionaries in a Ugandan village ravaged by AIDS, warfare, and stultifying superstitions might seem to have some comic potential, but the resulting jokes about raping infants and the forced genital mutilation of women and religious texts being forced into anal cavities never quite came off for us. At one point a character sings “I’ve got maggots in my scrotum,” which somehow got a huge laugh, and then two more times when it was it re-used and once again during an ensemble encore number. We were treated to the high-priced ticket by our Pop, who is old enough to remember when “Oklahoma!” was playing its first run on Broadway, and he was having such trouble with the aforementioned faulty sound system that he couldn’t quite make out the line — he thought it might be, “I’ve got magnets that I’m toting”– so we were forced to break the bad news that no, he had somehow reached a point in the evolution of American popular culture when the big bring-down-the-house laugh line in the most profitable and lavishly praised Broadway musical in years is “I’ve got maggots in my scrotum.”
The good news is that Pop couldn’t make out most of the rest of the lyrics or dialogue, which included a chorus line of natives happily singing about sodomizing God, Jesus uttering expletives, and a big musical number likening Baptism to sexual intercourse. Much of the material was about the admittedly unusual beliefs of the Mormons, which might have seemed funnier to us if we had anything against Mormons and other unfashionably wholesome types, but we couldn’t help noticing an insinuation that any sort of religious system except perhaps unmentioned and unmentionable Islam warrants similar ridicule. There’s a tacked-on bit at the end about how even ahistorical myths can provide helpful wisdom, which all those raving critics have seized on to explain that the show is not insulting people of faith, but to us it seemed a crassly commercial cop-out to the hinterland road show audiences and hardly enough to balance the preceding two hours of unabashed blasphemy.
At least those oh-so-sophisticated raving critics will probably share our indignation about that other glaring example of rudeness, vulgarity, and indifference to any standard of civility. We’re talking about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s performance at one of the sold-out halls on his highly successful road show, where the big bring-down-the-house laugh line involved mocking the physical handicap of a particular reporter. If you haven’t already seen the viral video, suffice to say that it surpasses an average “South Park” episode for offensiveness but not for laughs.
Following the countless negative reviews Trump insists that he was mocking the press in general and not a particular reporter, but it’s clearly a crassly commercial cop-out to the Back East sophisticates he’ll once again be forced to rub elbows with after his show finally folds. He opens his act by referring to a specific article written by a particular but unnamed reporter, then says “you ought to see this guy,” then perfectly mimicks the way that particular but unnamed reporter’s congenital joint disease has frozen his hand. Trump says this is mere coincidence, as he has never met that particular reporter, but that particular reporter can prove by previously uncontested stories that he had interviewed Trump dozens of times during his career, including lengthy interviews in Trump’s apartment and yacht. Although the particular reporter was almost certainly a memorable annoyance to Trump over the past many years, and although Trump claims to have “one of the all-time great memories,” he contends he has no recollection of ever meeting that particular reporter. So far every Trump supporter we’ve encountered has lauded his courage and honesty, so we’ll dare to be blunt enough to say that Trump is telling the same sort of cowardly lie that all schoolyard bullies tell when they’re finally called to account.
Trump’s defenders can still claim that he’s making a valid point, no matter how rude and vulgar and indifferent to any standards of civility, and at least there’s more to it than the claims being made for “The Book of Mormon.” What got Trump into this mess was his earlier statement that “thousands” of Arab-Americans in New Jersey cheered the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the immediate effort by the press to disprove it. Pretty much all of the big media concurred that there was no basis to it, with The Washington Post’s “fact-checker” saying there were no contemporaneous media accounts of it ever happening, even though that the very paper had reported it and numerous radio stations had as well, and although Trump’s “thousands” might well be an overstatement he had every right to criticize the critics. There surely were some Arab-American celebrants in New Jersey on that day, and if “thousands” is an exaggeration it’s not such a dangerous one as Hillary Clinton’s assertion that all Muslims are “tolerant and peaceful people,” which goes mostly unchallenged by the press. That particular reporter who wrote that story for The Washington Post is now at The New York Times and suspiciously equivocating about the accuracy of his report, so Trump was also entitled to take a shot at him specifically, but there’s no justifying ridiculing the entirely-beside-the-point disease that has frozen the reporter’s hands.
The good point that Trump was making was lost in the rudeness, vulgarity, and indifference to any standard of civility, as so often happens in his ongoing reality show. Sen. John McCain is such an annoying old political squish that Trump was right to call him out about it, but in doing so he chose to impugn not only McCain’s honorable military service but everyone who has ever endured wartime captivity for the country by saying “I like a guy who didn’t get captured.” There are legitimate reasons to question if Carly Fiorina should be president, but Trump chose to say “Look at that face,” which isn’t one of those reasons, and then the brave truth-teller had to meekly say that he didn’t say what he’d said. Sen. Rand Paul’s isolationist foreign policy and criminal justice policies deserve criticism, but Trump would rather make a joke about his looks during a presidential debate. Much honest and even blunt talk is clearly required to deal with the overwhelming problem of illegal immigration, and Trump must be credited with providing that, but even on his signature issue he can’t resist helping the opposition with the most outrageous overstatements. The shtick plays well at at those sold-venues on his thus-far successful road show, but in this multi-channel age even the biggest hits sometimes have only a niche audience.
Fans of both “The Book of Mormon” and Donald Trump like to boast how they’ve struck a blow against political correctness and thus expanded the boundaries of public discourse, but we have our doubts in both cases. Mormons have always been fair game, only those who make obscure YouTube videos critical of Islam risk going to jail, curse words have been ubiquitous ever since the martyrdom of St. Lenny Bruce, and at this point even jokes about raping infants and having maggots in one’s scrotum don’t seem all that daring. All of the Republican candidates have been jabbing back at the press ever since Newt Gingrich showed how in his failed but notable run in ’08, and most have been doing without resort to jokes about a reporter’s physical appearance, and most have been talking just as tough about illegal immigration but without the generalizations and with more plausible solutions, and so far as we can tell the only boundaries that Trump has broken are the ones of politeness, respectably, and standards of civility.
It’s more than doubly depressing when you put them together, as the rudeness and vulgarity and indifference to standards are occurring at both the high and low ends of the American culture. We long ago stopped expecting anything of cultural value from from such highfalutin venues Broadway, and as far back as the good old days of Cole Porter he was lamenting how “good authors who once knew better words now only use four-letter words,” but to find the same phenomenon way down the cultural scale in a Republican primary is most dispiriting. Out in the hinterlands among the hicks there used to be some civilized standards.

— Bud Norman

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The Scandals of Ben Carson

Some of the big media have lately trained their sights on retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, and thus far we are unimpressed by the effort. If the latest scandals are the best they can come up with, we have to conclude that Carson has led a more blameless life than most of us.
The Cable News Network came up with a damning report that Carson was consistently nice and studious as a boy. This is apparently damning because in his autobiography Carson wrote that in his early childhood years he was afflicted with an occasionally violent temper, and he even admitted attacking a friend with a knife and his mother with a hammer, before his own revulsion toward himself led to an epiphany and an intense period of prayerful meditation that allowed him to overcome it. Because CNN was unable to locate any eyewitnesses to these events, and instead interviewed several childhood friends who only recalled his more usually placid boyhood, they naturally concluded that the formerly sweet-natured and well-behaved boy somehow grew up to be a pathological liar whose ruthless rise to power must be stopped by any means necessary. Even the rest of the big media were unimpressed, however, so we except the report will have little effect and we won’t see many more stories about what a nice boy Carson used to be.
The rest of the big media seem to have higher hopes for a story that ran in Politico, whose first headline gloated that Carson’s suddenly highly-scrutinized autobiography “fabricated” a story about him being offered a scholarship to West Point. Some semantic hair-splitting makes this scandal possible, as one must apply for admission to West Point to be accepted, which Carson’s autobiography frankly admits he did not do, and these days the military academies do not talk of “scholarships” to describe the fully-paid tuition and room and board and stipends that come in exchange for admission the schools and the promise of two years of following military service, even though they did at the time Carson was writing about, and it seems Carson might have misremembered the date of the dinner he had with Gen. William Westmoreland as a reward for his exceptional performance in the Detroit public schools’ Reserve Officers Training Corps program, so of course the media are frothing. Carson plausibly claims that because of his stellar record he was assured by military men ranging from Westmoreland to the local ROTC commanders that he would be granted the tuition-free admission to West Point if he did apply, which he reasonably understood to mean that he was being offered a scholarship, and until all those big media are able to disprove it we’ll assume that he’s more likely accurate about the matter than they.
There are also the retired neurosurgeon’s views on Egyptology to be considered, of course, and much of the big media are predictably aghast. Carson’s recent rise to the top of the polls has brought such scrutiny that someone came up with a 1998 commencement address at a college affiliated with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in which he speculated that one of the pyramids may have been built to store the grain being saved for the seven-year drought prophesied by Joseph, so all the Republicans-are-religious-nuts stereotypes are immediately in play, and the New York Post piled on with a photograph of a portrait that some obviously amateur friend painted of Carson and Jesus together, and Carson’s Seventh-Day Adventism is no doubt the next line of attack. None of which strikes us as all that scandalous. Egyptology is a matter of merely arcane interest to us, we rather like a candidate willing to defy the consensus of almost any scientific or historical field these days, the biblical account of Egypt’s seven years of plenty and seven years of famine contains such time-honored wisdom that it’s not out of the question it is also historically accuracy, and only us religious nuts seem to put any stock such time-honored wisdom these days, so we’re heartened to see one running for president. Whatever the theological quirks of Seventh-Day Adventism, they aren’t so anti-scientific that they prevented Carson from becoming the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and we’ll take it his word for that the denomination made it possible.
The famously soft-spoken Carson was somewhat more full-throated during a press conference clash about these matters with the big media, and rightly objected to a seeming double-standard regarding the autobiographies of Republican and Democratic candidates. He noted the relative lack of interest about the composite girlfriend and other dubious details in ’08 candidate Barack Obama’s wildly praised memoirs, or how the drugged and drunken teenager who admitted to be wound up in an Ivy League school, or his twenty years of attendance at a church where an anti-semitic and anti-American minister prayed for America’s damnation, and that’s not something we associate with Seventh-Day Adventism, so we think he made a fair point. He could have noted the similar lack of outrage about presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s exaggerations about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia and her outright lies about the nature of the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi and her countless other prevarications, but we guess he’s saving that for a general election. The pushback will likely play well with the Republican voters who will decide the nomination, who are by now fed up with the double standard, and he seems to have picked up a lot of donations as a result, which will come in handy, so he seems to have won this exchange.
We’re still not sold on Carson’s candidacy, as we’d prefer a more seasoned politician to be president at this perilous moment in the country’s history, but thus far the attacks make us all the more convinced of his admirable character.

— Bud Norman

Paying the Ultimate Price

The headlines announced that 21 Egyptians were beheaded in a rebel-controlled portion of Libya this week, but it usually required reading several paragraphs into the stories to learn that the men were so cruelly executed by the Islamic State not because of their nationality but because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.
Much of the media and all of the administration officials they quoted are clearly uncomfortable reporting these rather crucial details, for various reasons. The murderous presence of the Islamic State in Libya does not confirm the administration’s reassuring claims of a “jayvee team” of terrorism being routed by coalition forces, the terror gang’s name and Koranic methods of execution make it harder to convince a skeptical public that none of this unpleasantness has anything to do with Islam, the numbing frequency of such atrocities suggest that there’s something more historically significant to it than those routine murders and car wrecks that the ratings-hungry local stations prefer to cover instead of climate change, and the spectacle of Christians dying for their faith poses all sorts of problems to the modern liberal worldview.
Those of us in the west who still who profess a Christian faith at Sunday worship services and struggle unworthily to live according to its teachings through the rest of the week have been long accustomed to the blessing of doing so without risk to our fortunes or personal safety, but we all still wonder from time to time if we’d be willing to pay the same ultimate price of discipleship as those 21 Egyptians. Anyone outspoken about traditional Biblical views on sexual morality can expect to be stripped of a beauty queen title or denied a high-level position in the high-tech business or have their reality show knocked off a cable network or be denied the right to sell a chicken sandwich in Boston, and even the most quietly and inconspicuously observant Christians will be subject to frequent ridicule on the sit-coms and talk shows, and their kids are going to get an earful of sneering during four years of college, and any presidential aspirants who espouse a Christian faith should expect all sorts of pointed questions about evolution and contraception, but being beheaded or burned alive is not as of yet a concern to the western Christian. Hearing from those parts of the world where Christianity does entail such risks, and of the brave and fervent women there who gladly face that danger for the faith, we cannot help but admire their courage and be humbly thankful we have not yet been called upon to face the same test.
Surely the unchurched are similarly moved to self-examination about the strength of their own convictions, and we suspect that in many cases they find it all the more discomfortingly humbling. Most of our outspokenly atheistic friends are unembarrassed to say they would immediately renounce their non-beliefs to avoid a beheading or some other grisly death, and reasonably argue that this is entirely consistent with their belief in rationalism, but none can be proud that they would be furthering the cause of an extraordinarily evil ideology. That the Islamic State’s evil is murderously misogynistic, anti-homosexual, anti-intellectual, and imperialist, all to an extent that even the most fevered imaginations of the left cannot claim the Republican Party to be, requires some some condemnation that a secular liberal would be embarrassed to recant in any circumstances. The Islamic State might be another Viet Cong or Shining Path or similarly beloved guerrilla movement if they’d only stick to killing Christians and start insisting on unisex bathroom facilities and a low-carbon-footprint economy in the areas they conquered, but the sex slavery and the internecine slaughter and all that God talk make it a hard sell to the sensitive left. No one on the left seems to have anything kind to say about the Islamic State, and one can’t help noticing that they’d therefore rather not say anything at all.
Secular liberals find it hard to comprehend why a Christian would prefer death to apostasy, or why the men and women of our military voluntarily put their lives at risk in defense of the nation, and like John Lennon in his obnoxious secular liberal anthem they try to imagine a world where there’s nothing to live or die for, and this failure of imagination inevitably leads to bad policy. It’s why State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf is on television talking about poverty and discrimination and the other “root causes” of terrorism that can only be combatted with some all-out community-organizing and Keynesian economics, as if thousands of Muslims weren’t fleeing the material comforts and multi-cultural blandishments of the European welfare state to join the Islamic State in its slaughter across a blighted desert, and as if some Peace Corps volunteer could reach into a card file and some private sector opportunity for a jihadi’s head-chopping talents. It’s why the President of the United States is addressing a “summit” on “violent extremism” without specifying any particular ideologies that might be causing such a nasty thing, and warning Christians against “getting on a high horse” about anything the Islamic State might be up to, and ruling out the option of any prolonged combat operations in his request to Congress for ta mere three years’ of the use of military force. The thought that some Great Society programs and soothing words and a few well-placed airstrikes will dissuade the Islamic State and like-minded self-professed Muslims from chopping the heads off Christians and Jews and anyone else standing in the way of their global domination could only occur to someone who does not understand religious motivation.
Nor does the secular liberal understand the crucial distinctions between the various religions, or take notice of the results they motivate. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all the same Abrahamic hooey as far as a modern sensibility is concerned, and Buddhism is accorded a self-congratulatory respect except when it bumps up against Chinese communism and Hinduism is tolerated with certain sense of intellectual superiority except during its frequent conflicts with Islam, but the whole notion of religion and a faith that looks through death and powers greater than one’s self or even the federal government during Democratic administrations is regarded with an eye-rolling suspicion. If only all the world had the same enlightened rationalism as Stalin, Mao, and Hitler, the theory goes, surely the world would be a more peaceful place. Over at CNN they reported on seven days of carnage as “Religion’s week from hell,” noting that “Christians, Muslims and Jews alike fell prey to assaults,” then having an editor of the “Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence” explain that “if you want to rally troops to your side, few tools are more powerful than religion,” and only then obliquely admitted that each of the acts of violence were carried out by people proclaiming to act in the name of one particular religion. They threw in the case of the self-proclaimed secular liberal and “anti-theist” who allegedly killed three Muslim neighbors in North Carolina, apparently over a parking dispute, but it still seems odd to attribute all the mayhem to “religion” generally, as if all those symbols on the “co-exist” bumper stickers were equally prone to beheading or setting afire anyone they regard as infidels.
The failure to make such distinctions will make it impossible to deal effectively with such fiercely religious foes as the Islamic State and like-minded organizations. The people of more peaceable religions will be needed in the fight, and the fight must offer something worth dying for. Like all other faiths secular liberalism prides itself on its martyrs, from Joe Hill to Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney to the Kennedy Brothers and all those Hollywood screenwriters who had to work in television during the blacklist years, but we expect its foot soldiers would rather serve on the safer battlefield of the Republicans’ “war on women” than engage “violent extremism” selling women into sex slavery. The sense of moral superiority that such politics affords the secular liberal has no more appeal to the religious nature than a life of welfare dependency or a Great Society make-work job, and the west will need more if it hopes to win the hearts and minds of those drawn to a theology of slaughter and conquest.
Whether they’re Islamic or not, the Islamic State and like-minded organizations are waging war on the west, its gay bars and health clinics as well as its churches and synagogues, convinced that they’re doing it according to the most careful reading of Islamic scripture, and will not stop until they have been militarily defeated. Even then an evil impulse will lurk in the heart of man, and something better in our nature will be required to defeat it. Perhaps secular liberalism will yet find something it can effect through government, but for now a higher power seems required.

— Bud Norman

Enemies Foreign and Domestic

Of all the sordid details in that horrifying child sex abuse case in the northern England town of Rotherham, one seemed especially telling. Apparently the same Strategic Director of Children’s Services who chose to ignore the sexual torture of 1,400 English girls by Pakistani  and other Muslim immigrants over a 19 year period had once removed three children from their foster parents because the couple was known to support the United Kingdom Independence Party.
For the benefit of any American readers who are not anglophile or politically obsessed enough to know, the United Kingdom Independence Party is basically a British counterpart to America’s “tea party” movement. The independence it seeks is from the European Union and its many layers of bureaucratic regulation, so its domestic policies reflect a similar preference for low taxes and relatively unfettered markets and more freedom from the increasingly bossy government. Such outlandish principles have of course appalled polite opinion in Great Britain, even among the more established Tories but especially among the Labour types who hold posts such as Strategic Director of Children’s Services in provincial towns, and it is sadly unsurprising that the political activities of the newly-fledged party would offend official sensibilities more than the ongoing gang rapes and brutal sexual torture of children by more politically correct constiuents. The rapists and torturers were from an ethnic and religious minority that can only be criticized at the career-endangering risk of accusation of racism and religious prejudice, after all, while UKIP draws its dangerously widespread support from people who were once considered quintessentially British.
The same strange double standard is all too familiar here in the United States. Those  Internal Revenue Service workers who subjected “tea party” organizations applying for tax-exempt status to more severe scrutiny would never have thought to apply the fine tooth comb treatment to any organization of an Islamist bent, and they were more eager to question the applications of any groups supporting Israel’s fight against Islamism. The President of the United States is always more impassioned when railing against his domestic political opponents than when downplaying the treat of the head-chopping and crucifying of foreign foes, a chore so onerous that it has delayed his tee times, and the same strange priorities are common in his party and on the left more generally. The modern feminist movement in America has lately been concerned with a Republican “war on women” that so far as we can tell is reluctance in some Catholic and Evangelical corners of the party of to subsidize abortifacients and a “culture of rape” on American campuses that seems to be the inevitable consequence of the sexual revolution that modern feminism once championed, but the undeniable rapes that were excused by reasons of multi-cultural tolerance have not warranted mention. By this point we’re almost accustomed to hearing cocktail party conversation that excuses the exotically swarthy fellow swinging a scimitar and ululating “Alahu Akhbar” but condemns that pasty Baptist fellow who has been living peaceably down the street for the past half-century or so as a bona fide fascist because of the sign in his yard advising against the local tax hike referendum or the pro-life bumper sticker on his car or a general suspicion that he might decline an invitation to a same-sex marriage.
Our occasional impolite questions about why anyone should hold to such obviously ridiculous opinions always yield the same answers, and always in the same offended tone. All that head-chopping and crucifying and gang-raping are going in some far away country between people of whom we know nothing, we are told with the usual confidence in this historically-fraught phrase, but all that anti-tax and pro-life talk is going on right here in a culture they feel entitled to rule without any objection from the yokels. These are the same people who routinely lecture us about the interconnectedness of of the world, and how our stubborn refusal to segregate our plastics from our tins in the bi-weekly trash hauls will surely cause the downfall of our entire planet, but in accordance with the bumper stickers on their hybrid cars they are hoping to crush dissent locally while acting with exquisitely forbearing tolerance globally . The far more offensive behavior of that misunderstood “other” has already arrived in a small northern England town, however, and if the boasts of those head-choppnng terrorists can be believed it might well be coming to a soft-target skyscraper near you soon. In that unfortunate event we don’t expect that the Strategic Directors of Children’s Services of small town Great Brtain and and their socio-economic peers in the United States will go any any easier on the UKIP or “tea party” types, but it will be interesting to see how they feel about that hose head-chopping and crucifying scimitar-swingers who were once confined to a multicultural world of which we knew little.

— Bud Norman

Polls, Politics, and Prioritizing Our Problems

All that “tranquility of the global community” the White House spokesman was recently boasting about dominated Thursday’s news, what with Israeli ground troops entering Gaza and a jet from the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines being shot down over Russian-occupied Ukraine, so it would have been easy to overlook an intriguing Gallup poll about what worries Americans most. The litany’s top top five doesn’t include the deteriorating international order, which should come as a relief to that insouciant White House spokesman, but neither does it include any good news for the Democrats.
Topping the list of most important problems is “immigration/illegal aliens,” which has shot up the charts since the recent invasion by unaccompanied minors from Central America, and the racist xenophobes of the Republican party are likely beneficiaries of the public’s concern. The Democrats and their media allies will have a hard time convincing anyone that the Republicans’ racism and xenophobia are what’s drawing tens of thousands of expensive illegal youngsters to the country, rather than the Democrats’ more compassionate and caring policy of holding out hope of amnesty and free stuff, and other polls indicate that most Americans are more inclined to the racist and xenophobic option of returning the invaders to their homelands.
Coming in a close second is the hodgepodge of “Dissatisfaction with government, Congress, politicians, poor leadership, corruption, Abuse of Power,” which is at least open to hopeful interpretations. The White House will prefer to read this as a righteous anger against those obstructionist Republicans in Congress who stubbornly refuse to rubber stamp the president’s agenda, but we expect that many respondents had in mind the Internal Revenue Service and Veterans Administration and National Security Agency scandals and any number of other problems that have more to do with the executive branch. Much of that dissatisfaction with Congress is caused by the Democrat-controlled Senate, too, and the Republicans in the other chamber don’t seem to have much power to abuse.
The “economy in general” comes in second and “unemployment, jobs” in third, and a sensible combination of these two would have probably come in first. The Democrats will argue that these problems could have been easily solved if only those darned Republicans had allowed them to rack up the national debt by a few more billion and add another million or so pages of regulations for the understaffed compliances offices of America’s corporations to comply with, but the Republicans should be able to get a few votes and a lot of laughs out of that.
“Poor healthcare, hospitals, high cost of health care” comes in fourth on the list, so the Republicans will have a head start on convincing the American public that Obamacare hasn’t solved all that. Despite an almost complete absence of news coverage, “federal budget deficit, federal” debt comes in at a surprisingly strong fifth place. The Democrats will boast that they’ve cut those deficits to less than the recent trillion dollar highs, even as they lambaste the Republicans for their stingy ways, but this far the public is not reassured. “Education, poor education, access” to education are the public’s sixth most pressing problem, and the teachers unions will need to spend a lot of dues money to convince any voters that they just need more funding and continued tenure and that federalized Common Core Curriculum to make things right at school. “Ethics, moral, religious, family decline” comes in eighth, and the party that would compel nuns to purchase contraceptives is not likely to appeal the people with those worries.
Democrats can take some hope in noting that “Poverty, hunger, homelessness” came in ninth, as these are the party’s traditional causes, but they’ll have to hope that nobody notices there’s more of all of them after six years of a Democratic presidency. It’s also good news for the Democrats that “foreign aid, focus overseas” barely made the top ten.
What’s missing from the top ten is also a problem for the Democrats. Only one percent of the poll’s respondents cited “race relations and racism” as the nation’s most pressing problem, and it’s probably a similar number who will take seriously the notion that racism is the sole reason for any dissatisfaction with the president. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision doesn’t rate any mention, even though it’s a staple of Democratic fund-raising and the Senate Democrats regard it as such a crisis that the First Amendment needs amending as a result. The Hobby Lobby decision is also unmentioned by any of the respondents, even though the Democrats are raising even more money with claims that it’s the first step toward the Republicans’ nefarious plot to subjugate women to bare feet and pregnancy. The even more nefarious plot by to Koch Brothers to do God only knows what was also overlooked, although that can cited by the fund-raising Democrats as further proof of how very ingeniously wicked is the conspiracy. We also note that income inequality and global warming and transgendered rights and all the other issues that seem to excite a certain sort of Democrat are not high on the list of what the general public is worried about.
We don’t have much regard for the general public, but is heartening to see that they have more sensible priorities than a certain sort of Democrat.

— Bud Norman

What’s the Matter With Kansas Democrats?

One of those internecine Republican primary challenges is happening right here in Kansas’ fourth congressional district, but what little national attention it has received is because it is so atypical. Instead of a tri-corner hat-wearing tea party amateur challenging a squishy moderate incumbent, which is the modern media’s preferred matchup, this race has a second-term incumbent with impeccable conservative credentials being challenged by a former longtime congressman promising a return to the good old George W. Bush-era days of earmarking porkbarrel spending for the district.
There’s plenty to say about this peculiar political tactic, and at some point before the August primary we’ll get around to saying it, but at this point we’re most intrigued by the widely varied perceptions of the race we’ve been hearing. Almost all of our Republican friends expect an easy win by Mike Pompeo, the incumbent with the impeccable conservative credentials, while almost all of our Democrat friends are confidently predicting a victory by Todd Tiahrt, the former congressman promising to once again bring home the federal bacon.
The Democratic prognosticators don’t expect that any Republicans in these parts share their enthusiasm for porkbarrel spending, but instead expect Tiahrt to win because they well remember how very popular he was the anti-abortion forces in the district. Way back in ’94 Tiahrt knocked off a more-or-less moderate Democrat who had held the seat for 18 years by appealing to the union dues-paying machinists in the local airplane plants and the would-be sophisticates in the white collar jobs as well as wooing enough of the farm vote to complete a coalition, and Tiahrt did it with a lot of help from the religious right activists who were singing “Oh, What a Mighty God” at the election night victory party. The scene scared the bejeezus out of the local Democrats, who continued to attribute Tiahrt’s electoral success solely to the religious right even as his margins of victory swelled with voters who found that he was a more-or-less moderate sort of Republican who brought home the bacon and was predictably unable to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.
We try to explain to our Democrat friends that the anti-abortion movement is not a cult of personality that blindly follows any politician, and note that Pompeo’s voting record on abortion issues has been just as consistent and ineffectual, but they won’t believe it. We also try to tell them that while social issues such as abortion are still of importance to Republicans they are lately less important to the average primary voter than economic matters such as the outrageous national debt that Tiahrt wants to increase, but this is usually dismissed as crazy talk.
Kansas Democrats remain enamored of the “What’s the Matter With Kansas” thesis that Thomas Frank cooked up, which holds that no one really believes that capitalism and freedom nonsense except for the Koch brothers and a few other well-heeled plutocrats who have been hoodwinked the proletarian rubes into voting against their economic self-interests with a bunch of religious hooey. We note that conservative media ranging from National Review to the Rush Limbaugh show rarely mention the social issues these days, and then only because their liberal counterparts have forced the discussion with efforts to subsidize contraception and abortion or are employing McCarthyite tactics against religious dissenters, but of course they never pay heed to these voices and prefer to assume that it’s a non-stop Billy Sunday sermon. They can’t imagine any other reason that the district’s voters have consistently rejected the Democrats’ kindly offer to redistribute some wealth this way.
The past six years of stubborn unemployment and underemployment and falling wages and skyrocketing debt and even increased income inequality have done nothing to shake this faith, which could be described as religious if you really wanted to irk a local Democrat. Even those union dues-paying machinists at the airplane plants are finding it hard to see how it’s in their economic interests to support a president who routinely rails against “corporate jets,” and the thousands of locals employed by the much-hated Koch brothers have the same qualms, but the Democratic party that seeks their votes continue to regard their views as a result of some sort of snake-handling ritual. They might be right about the Republican primary, although we’re more inclined to the views of our Republican friends, but the Democrats are likely to find themselves out of power around here for at least another decade if they continue to believe in appealing myths.

— Bud Norman

A Resurrection Correction

With all due respect to Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Paul Krugman, and the other notable newspaper humorists who have plied the trade over the ages, the most reliable source of a good chuckle to be found in the American press has always been the corrections column of The New York Times. The latest howler ran on April Fool’s Day, aptly enough, and humbly acknowledged that “An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter. It is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven.”
This glaring mistake has already prompted considerable ridicule from the more conservative commentators, including one who was also reminded of the old joke about a man so stupid that he did not know what Easter is, but we feel obliged to say a forgiving word for the reporters who made the error and those fabled layers of editors at America’s putative paper of record who failed to correct it. Such astounding ignorance of the most basic tents of Christianity is quite common these days, and no longer confined to that highly-educated segment of the society from which the Timesmen are drawn.
The smart set seems especially prone to such obliviousness, though, which is a shame. Even if you regard Christianity as so much superstitious nonsense a familiarity with the religion is still necessary to understand the western civilization that it has done so much to form over the past couple of millennia. Aside from the enduring wisdom of the scriptures, which is widely acknowledged even by those who don’t buy into the supernatural aspects, the Bible is required reading for anyone who wants to appreciate much of the greatest art, literature, cinema, and all the other cultural forms that the educated once aspired to learn, as well as the beliefs that informed the founding of our system of government, and it’s even needed to understand the common idioms of the language. Another famously funny New York Times correction ran after a reporter quoted President Barack Obama’s allusion to the “Tower of Babble.”
Such high-placed ignorance of Christianity also has an unfortunate effect on the country’s politics. Too many people assume that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all the same Abrahamic hooey and thus fail to see the essential differences in the faiths, making a sensible debate about Islamist terrorism impossible even within the State Department. Traditional notions of morality that are associated with Christianity, such as disapproval of out-of-wedlock births, are casually dismissed as archaic even if their social benefits are well documented. A widespread public ignorance of religious beliefs is often exploited to portray people with longstanding beliefs rooted in a philosophy of love as hateful bigots, and even to force secular notions of morality on religious institutions.
Still, the Times’ lack of familiarity with Easter and other arcane aspects of Christianity is not surprising. The schools will no longer teach about the Bible even as an important literary and historical document, partly for fear of pesky litigation from those who are absolutists about the separation of church, partly because they prefer to preach the gospel of global warming, and except for that big hit series on cable the entertainment industry seems to have given up on the Biblical epic. About the only place to learn about religion is a church, and as any Times reader knows only the very low-brow go there.

— Bud Norman

The Upside of Global Warming

The winter has thus far been mild in these parts, to the point that it’s almost been tolerable, with no snow worth mentioning and certainly none worth shoveling. All of the farmers and the most dedicated lawn care enthusiasts have been clamoring for more precipitation of any kind, and it would be selfish of us to wish otherwise, but our only complaint is that local global warming crowd has lately been even smugger than usual.
Other parts of the globe are reportedly colder and snowier than normal, so we assume that the global warming crowds in those places are talking about “climate change” rather than “global warming.” If not, they are condescendingly lecturing the skeptics about the difference between weather and climate, which is what they always do around here when the weather refuses to confirm to their predictions. They’re a steadfast lot, these global warming types, as unwavering in their faith as any church-goer of our acquaintance.
Global warming’s allegedly catastrophic consequences can justify almost anything the liberal hearth might desire, from industry-killing cap-and-trade to massive tax increases and regulations to the abolition of capitalism, so it’s not hard to understand the appeal. Christie Hefner of the oddly named Center for American Progress went so far as to blame global warming for Chicago’s extraordinarily high murder rate, which conveniently exculpates both the city’s erstwhile community organizer, President Barack Obama, and its current mayor, former presidential chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Hefner is the daughter of the celebrated pornographer Hugh “Hef” Hefner, and a former chief executive officer of his Playboy empire, which has done as much warming as any company over the years, but her faith will no doubt earn her forgiveness from respectable society.
We’re thinking of getting some of that religion ourselves, now that we know global warming can also justify laziness. This intriguing tip comes from U.S. News & World Report, which cites a report from The Center for Economic Policy and Research that Americans should work less to reduce the effects of global warming. To give an idea of just how dire the situation has become, the report’s author even argues that “If the world were to follow a more European model of work, we would expect fewer hours, less output, and lower emissions of greenhouses gases.”
Now, that is saying something. Although we are widely regarded as lazy, and have been routinely chastised for it ever since our school days, even on our most idling days we have never dared aspire to a European level of laziness. We pride ourselves on our ability to do very little in the way of productive labor, a knack that has provoked awe in some onlookers, but we have always acknowledged the natural superiority of our European cousins in this regard.
Our current religion regards sloth with disdain, and even deems it a deadly sin, but the church of global warming seems to take a more reasonable attitude. Indeed, global warming seems to offer not just absolution but beatification for doing nothing. Once converted, we could stop offering embarrassed excuses for leaving a job undone and start claiming credit for our courageous contribution to the ecology. Should anyone chide us for an afternoon’s repose, we will turn an upward chin and angrily demand to know why they are trying to kill those poor polar bears.
A few more hours in bed watching “Dobie Gillis” re-runs and reading old Wodehouse novels should have the planet back in the pink, and we expect the planet’s more industrious inhabitants to compensate our efforts generously. This global warming stuff might just be the one true faith, after all.

— Bud Norman

On the End of the World

If you are reading this the world must not have come to an end yet. That is probably a good thing, we suppose, although with the way the world has been going lately one can’t say for sure.
Many people have been expecting the world to end today, all because some ancient Mayan astronomers devised a calendar that concluded on this date. What’s left of the Maya have lately been assuring the world that just because their calendar has run out of time it doesn’t mean everything else has, probably in vain hope that their once-great empire won’t be thought just another wacky doomsday cult, but of course that hasn’t prevented the usual apocalyptic anxieties. There are reports from all over the globe about people anticipating today’s big finale, some of whom seem to take the matter very seriously.
Perhaps these are the same folks who anticipate the end of the world every time it is announced, but we suspect that the Mayan pedigree of the latest apocalypse gives it a certain intellectual respectability that the intermittent pronouncements by Christian sects do not enjoy. The Mayan empire was an early victim of western imperialism, after all, and according to the inviolable rules of multi-culturalism that confers an ancient wisdom which modern westerners are expected to regard with a guilty awe. Like every other society of human beings the Maya had admirable virtues and deplorable vices, ranging from a knack for astronomy to a tendency to commit human sacrifice, but polite society will nonetheless agree that their end times scenario deserves a special consideration.
Every religion has its eschatology. Hindus believe that the world ends every few billion years or so, then starts all over again. Christians have long been divided on the question, with the pre-millenialists and post-mllenialists and amillienlialists arguing over the very cyrptic passages of the Book of Revelation and some Old Testament text, but most agree on some very explicit scripture saying that no one but God knows when the end will come. Islam is similarly split, with stark differences of opinion between Sunnis and Shiites, and the Iranian theocrats of the latter denomination reportedly believe they are commanded to hasten the end with their nuclear weapons program.
Secularists who scoff at all such superstitious nonsense should note that both ancient religion and modern science concur that there was a beginning and there will be an end. Science offers a number of end time scenarios, each as a gruesome as anything organized religion has envisioned, and most of the scientifically-suggested cataclysms conveniently justify an degree of government control over human behavior. The same people who scoff at anything theological will invariably agree that the inevitable result of sports utility vehicles and incandescent light bulbs is environmental Armageddon.
Which puts us in mind of a long ago late night drive across Kansas listening to the “Coast to Coast” radio program. This unreliable yet highly entertaining show is usually devoted to flying saucers, conspiracy theories, and paranormal phenomena, but on this occasion it invited callers to discuss their expectations for the end of the world. The possibilities ran the gamut from the religious to the scientific, with plenty of nuclear bombs thrown in for good measures, but all the callers seemed to share the same hopeful enthusiasm for the end of everything. As with the current crop of doomsayers, they seemed to prefer it to the prospect of getting up in the morning and going trough another routine day.
This is an understandable impulse, especially to those of us who see nothing but a long and precipitous civilizational decline ahead, but it should be resisted. We’ll boldly predict that the world won’t end today, if only because no one will be around to gloat about it if we’re wrong, and gird ourselves for the long slog toward the inevitable day awaiting us all when la commedia é finita. No final debauchery for us, even in the unlikely event we could find any willing collaborators, and if Saturday does happen to come around we’ll try to make the best of it.

— Bud Norman

Tough Questions

There’s been a great effort in the past several days to make excuses for Barack Obama’s universally panned performance in last week’s presidential debate, with pundits blaming everything from the thin mountain air to having John Kerry as a sparring partner, but few of the president’s fans will acknowledge a more unsolvable problem. The president was not only facing tough questions for the first time in his political career, he was facing questions for which there simply is no good answer.

When Mitt Romney noted that Obama had promised to cut the federal deficit in half within four years but had instead doubled it, for instance, there was no disputing the factual basis of the complaint and no option but to offer excuses. The final debate will likely spare Obama the embarrassment of answering to that point again, as it is intended to deal exclusively with matters of foreign policy, but even hen the president will be hard-pressed to answer some of the questions that are sure to arise no matter the elevation of the site or who is helping out during the debate preparation.

The attack on the American embassy in Libya by Islamist mobs on Sept. 11, which resulted in the deaths of the ambassador and four other Americans, will raise several tricky questions.

It has now been widely reported, despite the reluctance of the press to disclose anything that reflects poorly on the administration, that the embassy in Libya had lax security despite repeated warnings that an attack was being planned. The president has thus far managed to avoid questioning about this infuriating fact, but it is unlikely he will be able to do so during the debates.

While he’s at it, Romney should also ask why the administration continues to lay the blame for the attack on an obscure low-budget video released months before the murderous riot when they had to know that it was, at most, a convenient pretext for a pre-planned attack motivated by anger over the country’s ongoing war against al Qaeda. It’s the sort of thing that the press would be eager to question a Republican administration about, but apparently it will take a presidential debate to force an answer from a Democrat.

As an adherent to a much-maligned religion himself, Romney might also ask why the president has been so exceedingly sensitive to the religious sensibilities of those who attacked our embassy and murdered our citizens, going so far as to imprison the aforementioned filmmaker and tell the United Nations that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” There have been no official scolding of the artists who immerse crosses in urine or depict Jesus Christ as a transvestite, or the so-called comedian and million dollar donor to the Obama who routinely ridicules Christianity, much less the producers of a hit Broadway musical that mocks Mormonism, so it would be useful to know why Islam is alone among the world’s religions in enjoying an exemption from the nation’s long tradition of free speech.

Perhaps so few Americans still care about the lives of our diplomats, the honesty of an administration, and the right to free speech that none of this will come up during the “Town Hall” debate, but surely Romney will get to these questions in their last face-to-face encounter. If Obama and his new debate coach can come up with good answers to these questions, we will be most eager to hear them.

— Bud Norman