All Politics Isn’t Local, Alas

Today is election day here in Wichita, where the citizenry will exercise its democratic right to choose a mayor and an at-large school board member. These odd-numbered year elections are usually dull and low turnout affairs around here, but this time the mayoral race has been so ruthlessly fought it has attracted so much local media attention that even The Washington Post took notice, so turnout is expected to be somewhat higher than the norm.
The two candidates on the ballot are incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell and state Representative Brandon Whipple, but there’s also a write-in campaign by local businessman Lyndy Wells, who was barely edged by Whipple in the primary, and he’s well-funded enough to tout his numerous endorsements from locally prominent Republicans and Democrats. Given the low turnout and scant public opinion polling the local media can afford to do, not to mention the write-in campaign and all the other complications that have come up, we have no idea how it will turn out.
One of those complicating issues is an attack ad that ran on Facebook and YouTube, alleging that Whipple had sexually harassed a female intern at the Kansas statehouse. The ad, urging “Stop Brandon Whipple,” cited reporting by The Kansas City Star about sexual harassment of interns at the statehouse, but the stories made clear that Republicans were being accused of the misdeeds, and Whipple is a Democrat. Whipple immediately threatened to sue whoever ran the ad for slander, but at first it was unclear who who it was.
The local paper was able to link it to a New Mexico company called Protect Wichita’s Girls LLC, but state officials were unable to provide any further information. Eventually the local paper tracked down one of the voice actresses on the tape, who swore she’d been told it was a generic anti-sexual harassment and was embarrassed to find out she’d been part of such a shameless smear, which led to a 21-year-old named Matthew Colborn who had filmed the video in an office shared by Republican state Rep. Michael Capps and Wichita city councilman James Clendenin. Capps denied having anything to do with it, but the local Republican establishment has nonetheless been calling for his resignation, and now Capps is accusing the county Republican chairman of approving the ad.
Wichita’s local elections are officially non-partisan affairs, with no Ds or Rs next to the candidates’ names, but of course everyone knows who the Democrats and Republicans are. Usually it makes no difference to the civic-minded sorts who show up at the polls even on odd-numbered years, as local governance is pretty much a boringly non-ideological matter of paving the streets and keeping precious water flowing and maintaining some semblance of law and order and adding the occasional aesthetic flourishes to the city. These days both parties regard all politics at levels as blood sport, though, and in this battle the Republicans seem to have hoist themselves on their own petard, to borrow a phrase from the Bard.
Which was entirely unnecessary, as far as we’re concerned, because this could have been another pleasantly dull local election. Wichita’s a small enough town that we know Mayor Longwell and his charming wife, and he doesn’t seem a bad fellow, and some good things have happened in the city since he took office, but we’ll never forgive him for tearing down our beloved old Depression-era ballpark and proudly unaffiliated Wichita Wingnuts to build a fancy new stadium with some suspicious private investors snatching up the nearby lots in lovably un-gentrified Delano at a bargain price, and there are questions about his friendly relationship with the company that got the big-bucks contract to keep the water flowing. Whipple’s undeniably a Democrat, but so far as we can tell he’s not much of an ideologue, and he promises to be as transparent as possible while paving the streets and updating the pipes and all the rest of the wearisome business of running Wichita. Wells is a successful businessman with a long record of involvement with local causes, which seems to turn off a lot of the local Democrats, but we liked his business-as-usual approach enough that we voted for him in the primary over Whipple.
Whipple won the run-off by a hundred votes or so, and this time around we’ll be voting for him. Business as usual has become very chummy between public officials and private interests, and although public-private relationships have often worked out well for the city at large we think it best that the citizenry know in advance what’s going on. The low turnout in city elections has always meant that city and school district employees are overrepresented in the electorate, leading to a City Hall and school board more liberal than this very conservative city at large, so we’ve usually voted for the civic-minded businessman types and religious warriors to resist their worst impulses, and for the most part the city has progressed on this godforsaken patch pf prairie, at least to the point we don’t feel any pressing need to live elsewhere.
We know a lot of reasonable Democrats around here who basically share our views on paved roads and clean water and some semblance of law and order and all the rest of our local chores, and the necessity of carrying them out in the most transparent and stringently ethical way, and for now we’ll trust them more than the local branch of our once Grand Old Party.
In any case, we’ll expect Wichita to progress fitfully along as it always has, from its humble origins as an Indian trading post to its current top-50 status as a hub of high-tech aviation and agriculture and fast food franchising, with some surprisingly lovely neighborhoods and better-than-you’d-expect arts and music and theater scenes, and a lot of people well worth befriending.
We’d like to think that the rest of the country will work things out as amicably as Wichita probably will today, but we have our nagging worries. New media and constant us-against-them rhetoric from talk radio and the presidential podium have addled the brains of Republicans at all levels of government, the damned Democrats are as bad as ever, and it’s all irreconcilably ideological. Both parties talk about infrastructure and clean water and law and order and civil liberties and all that jazz, but most of it is delegated to the lowest levels of government, where the turnout is usually low, and mostly the national parties are concerned about whose side wins.
At this point in our grumpy old manhood we don’t much give a damn for either side, as we feel free to say in this age of frank and vulgar political discourse, and are more concerned about the roads and water and law and order and such. We also worry about the national debt and America’s standing as the leader of the free world those worrisome declines in business investment and the manufacturing index, as well as the suspicious deals that seem to have been made on the national and international level, but that’s ultimately up to the rest of the country.
For now there’s one of the city’s electronic traffic messages just up the street from us telling us we can’t turn left on 13th, even though there’s no apparent road work going on, and we’ve been turning left there for more than 25 years, dagnabbit, so that’s temporarily a more personal issue to our admittedly self-interested selves. At least we’ll get to gripe about to the next mayor we inevitably run into him around this still very small town of ours.
Nice to know, too, that what’s left of the once-grand Wichita Eagle where toiled for 25 years is still doing some good work on emaciated resources, and that what’s left of the rest of the local media is also keeping the citizenry riled up. There’s hope that turnout will reach a full 10 percent of the electorate here in Wichita, and that a free press will also inform the nation.

— Bud Norman

On the “I Hope You Get Cancer and Die” Style of Political Discourse

Our best advice and usual practice is to never wade into any political controversy on Facebook, and instead just offer happy birthday wishes and condolences for the loss of a loved one and compliments on the cuteness of your friends’ children and pets. Even so, we waded into more controversy and vituperation than we expected on Friday when we frankly told a couple of our friends we didn’t share their frankly expressed glee about the death of David Koch at age 79 after a decades-long battle with cancer.
If you’re not from Wichita or New York City and don’t follow the left-wing demonology closely, you should know that Koch and his brother Charles built their father’s multi-million dollar oil company into a multi-billion dollar oil and paper towel and plastic cup and cookie and various other things conglomerate, and they’ve spent much of their money on various causes. Charles stayed here in Wichita, where you can’t go to the local art museum or symphony or musical theater or zoo or a Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball game without noticing his generous contributions. David Koch cashed in after a cancer diagnosis and moved to New York City, where he seems to have enjoyed everything a rich guy can find in New York City, which we can hardly begrudge him as he spends two decades dying of cancer, and he was a generous donor to New York City’s arts institutions and gave billions more to build a cancer hospital and fund cancer research.
Both brothers donated billions more to political advocacy, though, and lots of reasonable people have reasonable arguments with the policies they advocated. By now the notorious “Koch Brothers” have a starring role in some less reasonable left-wing conspiracy theories the same  way multi-billionaire George Soros does in right-wing conspiracy theories. Their father was a pioneering petroleum engineer who got rich on a contract with Joseph Stalin to extract oil the Soviet Union’s best engineers couldn’t get to, he later became a founding member of the extreme anti-communist John Birch Society, and both brothers inherited his entrepreneurial genius and antipathy to bossy governments and preference for unbounded liberty and very low taxes.
Oftentimes they’d take it too far even for our libertarian instincts, just as the John Birch Society’s anti-communist zealotry often exceeded what our strongly anti-communist principles would prefer, and there’s no denying the very low taxes enacted by the Kansas Governor they funded didn’t pay for themselves as promised. There are all sorts of reasonable arguments reasonable people might make against many Koch-favored policies, but we figure that there are also still reasonable arguments reasonable people might make against bossy governments and for as much individual liberty as a free-market economist figures  a society can get away with. It’s all very complicated when you get down to the details, where the devil is said to be, but we hope we don’t go so deep into it that we start wishing a fellow human being gets cancer and dies.
Yet we have friends on the left that we know to be decent and loving people who exulted in the death of someone because of his different opinions on environmental and tax policy. Both Koch brothers advocated for same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana and abortion rights and as much left-approved individual liberty as a society can get away with, and neither were gun nuts nor supporters of President Donald Trump, and they held a variety of views on the Iraq war and various other issues our friends on the left would begrudgingly agree with, but apparently 100 percent fealty to the one true leftist faith is required to qualify as a human being. We’re told that Koch knew damned well he was poisoning the Earth, and that capitalism was a globalist conspiracy conceived to impoverish the fattened working class, and that he twirled his mustache and demonically laughed about it as he lit up cigars with hundred dollar bills stolen from the proletariat, so he therefore had it coming, and some of our friends seem to truly believe that their seething hatred of the man somehow demonstrates their moral and intellectual superiority.
There’s plenty of the same poisonous “I hope you get cancer and die” rhetoric on the right, of course, including from our internet troll of a President of the United States. We have friends on the right we know to be decent and loving people but are suddenly willing to enforce border laws with maximum cruelty and forgive anything President Donald Trump says or does so long as it gives “butt hurt” to the “libtards.” The right also demands  100 percent fealty to its one true faith, which used to prominently include Christianity, with its suddenly outdated superstitious mumbo-jumbo about loving one’s enemies and judging not lest  ye be judged and come let us reason together, but  lately seems whatever hateful thing Trump is saying. Our leftward friends should give a listen to talk radio talker Mark Levin, who every weekday shrieks that they’re a bunch of dirty hippies who hate God and America and the Constitution and everything good, and that they should all get cancer and die, and will defiantly spit out that “Yeah, I said it.” He seems to make a good living riling up the faithful that way, but his business model clearly doesn’t include persuading any reasonable person who might tune in but is not already fully on board.
Neither side is at all persuasive to anyone not fully on board with their “I hope you get cancer and die” stuff, but both sides think the other side is winning with it, and are convinced that  even more hateful rhetoric is therefore required, so the hateful rhetoric will probably continue to escalate. Neither side will ever persuade  the other to commit the mass suicide that is  so hoped for, neither side will be shamed into silence by fear of a “tweet” or Facebook post, and at this point we can only hope they don’t start brawling it out and killing each other the way the Nazis and Commies used to do on the streets of the late Weimar German Republic. Our friends on the right will think us squishy globalist RINOs, and our friends on the left will call us corporatist sell-outs and capitalist running pig-dogs, and some on both sides might agree that both we and David Koch fall too short of the one true faith to be fully human, but we’ll be hoping that friendships persist, the center somehow holds, a less hateful conversation arrives us at some sufficient compromise solution to at least a few of our problems, and that no one gets cancer and dies.
In the end we’ll all be dead, and we’ll all have it coming, and none of us will have been either right about everything or wrong about everything all along,  so we’ll also hold out continued hope in that outdated superstitious mumbo-jumbo about a merciful  God ultimately judging all our souls. Sorry to interrupt anyone’s gleeful orgy of hate,  but we implore our high-minded and self-righteous friends on both the left and the right to stick to the best policy arguments they can make, stop reveling in anyone’s cancer death, and leave the ad hominem attacks and outright hate speech to the more intellectually lazy and unabashedly hateful types.
There are already plenty of those on both sides, and for now they both seem to be winning.

— Bud Norman

Healing and Unity in the Age of Trump

President Donald Trump traveled to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas on Wednesday to bring healing and unity to the two latest cities to suffer from mass shootings. The current political climate makes healing and unity hard to pull off, however, and healing and unity are not what Trump does best.
“I would like to stay out of the political fray,” Trump told reporters before departing on the trip, but he wound up lambasting the mayor of Dayton and one of Ohio’s United States Senators, as well as a few Democratic Texas politicians, along with a couple of other Democratic presidential candidates, and of course the “fake news” that was obliged to report on it. Several of Trump’s targets did politicize the tragedies in Dayton and El Paso, but Trump can’t rightly claim they started it.
Neither Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley nor Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown are big fans of Trump, but both promised they would welcome the president with the respect due to his office, and they seem have done so. Trump avoided the public at large, especially the angry protests in the neighborhood where the mass shootings occurred, but he was respectfully greeted by the local officials and escorted to a hospital where he met some of the victims and some of the first responders who had saved their lives. Afterwards, Whaley and Brown told a news conference that the hospital staff and victims and first responders all treated Trump with respect for his office and gratitude for his visit.
“They were hurting, he was comforting, he did the right thing, Melania did the right thing,” Brown said. Whaley said that “I think the victims and first responders were grateful the president of the United States came to Dayton.”
Both added they used the opportunity to make the case for stricter gun control measures Trump probably didn’t want to hear about, and that some of the staff and victims and first responders also told them they won’t be voting for Trump, as much as they appreciated the visit. Trump was apparently watching that part on television during his flight to El Paso, and before Air Force One landed he was “tweeting” that “The news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud. It bore no resemblance to what took place.” The president’s social media director later clarified with Trump’s knack for random capitalizations and superfluous exclamation marks that “The President was treated like a Rock Star inside the hospital, which was all caught on video. They all loved seeing their great president!”
Media cameras weren’t allowed in the hospital, with Trump’s spokespeople saying they didn’t want to politicize the event, but Trump brought his own cameras and quickly released a slickly edited version with a swelling soundtrack on his “twitter” site. It sure seems to suggest that Trump was treated like a rock star, with everyone eager to vote for his reelection, but both Whaley and Brown were clearly surprised to be called liars for their kind words, and we suspect their characterization of what happened more accurately characterized the visit.
Trump had to dodge even more and even angrier protestors on the way to his hospital in El Paso, and had even more feuds to fight with the local Democratic politicians. Texas has long been a reliably Republican state, but El Paso is in a heavily Latino district with a Democratic representative in Congress and a mostly Latino leadership at City Hall, and Trump’s rhetoric regarding Latinos has not endeared him to a majority of the city.
The El Paso mayor made the same vow to treat Trump with the respect due his office, and seems to have done so, but Trump left town “tweeting” taunts at El Paso’s former representative and current long shot Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, and griping that the “fake news” wasn’t reporting how much everyone loves him. He also feuded with former Vice President and current Democratic primary frontrunner Joe Biden, who unwisely chose to politicize the tragedies for his own benefit.
Nobody seems to have scored any political points from the 30 deaths that occurred over the weekend in two fine American communities, but Trump seems to have gotten at least slightly the worst of it. Trump’s rhetoric regarding the “invasion” of America by Latinos was echoed in the on-line manifesto of the lunatic who killed 22 people in El Paso, Trump has already said he won’t back off from such language, and it’s hard to say that he brought any healing or unity to the country on Wednesday. Brown and Whaley were both respectful of the office and admirably frank about the office-holder and didn’t disgrace themselves, as far as we can tell, and O’Rourke and Biden and the rest of the Democrats can use Trump’s schoolyard excuse that he started it.
We’ll get down on our knees tonight and pray to God that He grants some healing and unity to the grieving citizens of Dayton and El Paso and everywhere else that has suffered the worst of human nature, which at this point is all we can think to do, and probably more than many of our elected leaders will do.

— Bud Norman

Another Bloody American Weekend

America had another bloody weekend, with a mass shooting on Saturday in El Paso, Texas, and another on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, with a combined death toll of 29 people and scores more seriously injured. The incidents were the 31st and 32nd mass shootings of the year, and the second and third in the past week.
The shootings in Ohio seem to have been the result of a personal grievance the shooter had with at least one of his victims, but the far deadlier spree in Texas is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism by a shooter motivated by hatred of Latino Americans. There have been several mass shootings and single murders in the past three years linked to white supremacist ideology, at synagogues and mosques and mostly black churches, with an American death toll exceeding that of radical islamist terrorism over the same time.
The racial aspect of the El Paso massacre is largely dominating the political debate this time around, of course. Many Democrats have been quick to say that President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have emboldened his racist supporters, and although most Republicans have defended Trump they’ve often embarrassed themselves in the effort.
Over at The National Review, which has long been the preeminent journal of intellectual conservatism in America and has lately struggled to stay true to its principles in the age of Trump, the editors opined that white supremacy “deserves to be treated by the authorities in same manner as has been the threat posed by militant Islam.” This strikes us as inarguably true at this point, but many readers took to the comments board to make the most absurd arguments. One common response was to ask what about all the anti-white racism on the left, and why the National Review editors weren’t writing about that instead of the white guy who just shot and killed 20 brown-skinned people at an El Paso Wal-Mart. Others seemed to suggest that if we’d just deport all the brown-skinned people, and stop making all the potentially murderous racists feel so marginalized, there would be no need mass shootings by white supremacists. Even though the editorial made no mention of Trump, several readers objected to what they considered an implied criticism of their dear leader.
Which is not the Republican party or conservative philosophy we signed up for.
There is indeed an anti-white strain of racism in certain corners of the left, but what about it? Just as Hillary Clinton’s alleged and proved misdeeds don’t justify anything Trump has done, the white guilt mongering on the left in no way justifies someone shooting 20 random people at an El Paso Wal-Mart or driving a car into an anti-racism protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Getting rid of all the darker-hued people is not the solution to racism, but rather an extreme act of racism. Trump can’t be held responsible for the act of a deranged racist in Texas, but he doesn’t seem to be helping to counter an increasingly bold and deadly white supremacist ideology the way an American president should.
We freely admit we have no solutions to the peculiarly American epidemic of mass shootings, and wish that both sides of the debate would be as frank. The left’s gun control solutions seem futile and likely to restrict the important right of self defense, but the right’s ideas about institutionalizing the mentally ill also seem far-fetched and likely to deprive entirely innocent and only slightly wacky Americans of their liberty. We think it might help if Hollywood made more movies that weren’t about murder and mayhem, and mass shooting video games were less common, but that’s unlikely to happen and any effort to force it would run into First Amendment problems. A respectful and deliberative discussion might yield some idea that would be helpful, but for the moment neither side seems much interested in that.
Most of these all-too-common mass shootings don’t have a racial aspect, but the ones that do should always be met by widespread condemnation of any racist ideology, and if it’s white supremacy it should be denounced by name, with no moral equivalence talk of what about the other haters. Perhaps Trump will get around to that today, as his daughter and advisors are urging him to do, and perhaps he’ll even start making a less explicitly racist case for some of his more sensible immigration policy ideas, and stop making jokes when his rally-goers shout “shoot ’em” as he talks about immigrants.
We surely hope so, as we’re growing weary of all the hatred and bloodshed that are such a part of American life.

— Bud Norman

The State of the State of Kansas, as Well as the Rest of the Union

President Donald Trump belatedly got to give his State of the Union address on Tuesday, but here in the state of Kansas there were more pressing matters. We had another writers’ meeting for the local media’s annual Gridiron, and the muted television was of course tuned to the big basketball game between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats.
Being patriotic Americans and the geeky sort of political junkies, we did later read the transcript and catch snippets of it on YouTube. All in all we’d have to say Trump had his moments, and that it could have been far worse, but to borrow a phrase from President Abraham Lincoln we expect the world will little note nor long remember what was said.
Trump’s spokespeople had promised a message of bipartisanship and unity and even comity, he started on that note. He got bipartisan applause when he praised America’s victory over the Axis in World War II, and introduced a couple of D-Day veterans and heroic astronaut Buzz Aldrin, was they all got a big hand from both sides of the aisle. Trump then declared that “we must reject the politics to revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good,” and that “We must choose between greatness and gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.” All that alliteration added an uncharacteristic poeticism to Trump’s typically un-parsable prose, we must admit, but there was no way he could keep up through entire one-hour-and-20-minutes oration.
Trump quickly moved on to his more characteristic bragging about great America has become since he took office, implying as usual that the country had previously been a hellhole of American American carnage, and argued that “the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.” Which had an uncharacteristically nice ring to it, but put in context it was Trump’s unusually subtle way of hitting back ten times as hard and extracting retribution and and threatening destruction. There was also some hopeful talk of farm bills and Veterans Administration reforms and infrastructure spending and other issues where some bill or another might become law, but on the matters of war and politics and partisan investigations Trump seemed to hold out hope that the country would unite around his unpopular positions.
Presumably the “foolish wars” that Trump referred to were America’s longstanding but limited roles in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, but he’s lately been losing that argument. Respected-on-both-sides-of-the-aisle Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in protest over Trump’s announced withdrawal from Syria, a majority of the Senate’s Republicans voted for a resolution rebuking the decision, his Secretary of State and top national security advisor have talked him into partial and gradual withdrawal, and only the most dovish sorts of Democrats are on his side. Pretty much everyone in the know is trying to talk Trump into staying the course in Afghanistan, and he’s recently been talked into keeping the decades-old deployment of 30,000 troops in South Korea, and Trump seems unlikely to go down in history as America’s most peacenik president.
It’s easy to understand why Trump regards politics as a problem, as it constantly interferes with his efforts to do things his way. Trump also talked at length about border security, which all reasonable people agree is important, but he continued to insist the only solution was a big beautiful barrier wall, which is one of those things people can reasonably disagree about. The politics of the moment clearly favor the Democrats, who forced Trump to end a government-shutdown without any funding for the wall Trump had promised the Mexicans would pay for, and most the Republicans in Trump’s audience seem to have little taste for another shutdown. Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency so he can spend government on his wall, but few of the Republicans and none of the Democrats giving him slight applause will go along with that.
As for those “partisan investigations,” we expect they’ll continue apace, despite his rhetoric, and eventually come to no good end for Trump. The House has a Democratic majority in the investigative committees that plan to reveal Trump’s tax records and scrutinize his businesses relationships with foreign governments, and an independent judiciary is looking into Trump’s inaugural committee and a special counsel investigation is racking up indictments against Trump’s closest associates, and the Republican majority in the Senate has thus far declined to try stopping any of it, and has little reason to do so given how many seats they’ll be defending in blue states come next year.
By the time you read this Trump will probably be back to “tweeting” schoolyard taunts about those damned Democrats and lily-livered establishment sorts of Republicans, and everyone will be back at the messy business of politics, with all the resistance and revenge and retribution that necessarily entails.
Meanwhile, here in the state of Kansas, the plucky blue-collar Wildcats of KSU beat the snooty blue-blooded Jayhawks of KU, and the ‘Cats currently hold a half-game lead over their rivals  in the Big XII standings, so at least things are as they should be around here.

— Bud Norman

To the Moon Township and Back

By now we should be inured to President Donald Trump’s unique brand of political rhetoric, but we can’t quite a shake a certain disquieting feeling about it. Even in a weekend chock full of serious stories, Trump’s speech at Moon Township, Pennsylvania, on Saturday was worrisome.
During a 75-minute stream-of-consciousness improvisation, Trump urged that America adopt the Chinese dictatorship’s draconian drug policies, called the National Broadcasting Company’s Chuck Todd a “sleeping son of a bitch” and griped that he hadn’t rewarded for his past hit reality show on the network with more favorable coverage, then once again predicted that all the “fake news” media would eventually help him win reelection for fear that people will stop watching the news if Trump isn’t on it. He defended his crazy steel tariffs and predicted a quick and decisive victory in the coming trade wars, described a congressional Democratic critic as a “very low-IQ person,” told a boastful and obviously untrue lie about winning the majority of the women’s vote in the past election, and blamed every American president back to Ronald Reagan for all his problems.
He also spent five minutes or so extolling the virtues of Rick Saccone, the Republican nominee in a special House of Representatives election to be held on Tuesday, which was the ostensible reason for the speech. The district has long been reliably Republican, and Trump won it easily, but all the polls are showing a tight race. They’re having a special election because the Republican who won office on a family values platform was forced to resign after it came out that he’d urged his mistress to get an abortion during a pregnancy scare, Republicans have been underperforming all the special elections since Trump’s electoral victory, and even lost an Alabama seat, so it’s a race the GOP can ill-afford to lose.
Trump’s crazy steel tariffs play well in the vicinity of Moon Township, where the once dominant steel industry has been decimated by competition from lower-wage and higher-tech factories, but naturally the Democratic nominee is just as enthusiastic about it as the Republican, and has the endorsement of the last remaining steelmaking unions, and so for that’s proving a wash. The Republican candidate is also by all accounts something of a bore, which is an unpardonable political sin in the age of Trump, and his Democratic opponent, Conor Lamb, is a former Marine with centrists positions and no apparent character defects, and even Trump noted in his rambling endorsement for Saccone that Lamb’s considered a rather handsome fellow.
Trump boasted that he’s better looking, which got a big laugh, and he dubbed the Democrat “Lamb the Sham,” which also got a big laugh, and then he mentioned the name of Democratic minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, which set off an even louder round of boos. Lamb has stressed throughout the campaign that he would not vote for Pelosi as the House Democrats’ leader, so that might also prove a wash, but it went over big at the rally. Trump was less effusive in his praise of Saccone, and when he tried he trailed off into a mock-voice impression of some boring “presidential” type of president endorsing some boring House candidate. At least he didn’t openly say he might have endorsed the wrong guy in the Republican primary, as he did when he went to rally support for that credibly accused child molester of a Republican nominee who wound up losing that once-safe Alabama Senate seat, but Saccone could have done better.
The crowd loved it, of course, laughing at all the familiar laugh lines and booing any mention of the familiar villains, but even in the Rust Belt regions of Pennsylvania the act seems to be wearing thin. To us it looks and sounds like the ramblings of a mean-spirited and insecure and foul-mouthed fellow who’s in far above his ill-coiffed head, and we worry that in all sorts of districts and the foreign bureaus in such places as London and Berlin and Beijing and Pyongyang many people have reached the same conclusion.

— Bud Norman

A Not So Fond Farewell

President Barack Obama gave his farewell address on Tuesday night, so at least we’ve got that going for us.
President-elect Donald Trump once again grabbed all the attention, of course, with his indignantly “tweeted” denial of some juicy new allegations that were reportedly included in the intelligence community’s much-debated reports to Congress and other officials concerning Russia’s alleged meddling in the past election. A maybe true and maybe not true dossier of allegations was compiled by a reportedly respected ex-British intelligence official, and is now splashed all over the internet, and it mentions Russian prostitutes and some very kinky sex acts, as well as several presumably more hygienic but no less newsworthy contacts that Trump’s business and campaign officials had with Russian officials, and it’s undeniably more irresistible conversation fodder than another one of Obama’s orations.
All that cloak and dagger and kinky sex stuff will play out over the next several days or weeks or months, though, if not much longer than that, and in the meantime we feel obliged to take note of Obama’s speech.
For the past nine years or so we’ve been hearing about what a wonderfully eloquent orator Obama is, but we were once again unimpressed. The language is well-crafted enough by comparison to his successor’s schoolyard taunts and constant interjections of “believe me” and “OK?” and “that I can tell you,” but that’s damning by faint praise, and up against an Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King or any other first rate rhetorician it’s not at all memorable. Even his most awe-struck admirers are hard-pressed to remember any line he ever uttered quite so iconic as Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address coinage of “military-industrial complex” or John Kennedy’s “bear any burden” shtick or even George W. Bush’s pithy “soft bigotry of low expectations,” and what they do come up with about “no red states or blues states” and “hope and change” and “yes we can” and that one about the sea levels falling now sounds faintly ridiculous after eight long years of his tiresome speeches.
Which left poor Obama, just 10 short days away from the seemingly inevitable inauguration of Trump, with the difficult job of making the case that all that hope had not been misplaced. He had a friendly audience in his adopted hometown of Chicago, all revved up by a soulful rendition of the the National Anthem, and he bounded on the stage with a rock star’s roar and a rock star’s rote greeting to a certain local neighborhood and a whole of thank you thank you very much, followed by some lame self-deprecating humor about being a lame duck, then he started waxing eloquent. He did so well enough that his still-ardent admirers who still feel that hope were probably tugging at their eyes, but any eyes that have been keeping a more unblinking watch on the past eight years were rolling.
There was some nostalgic talk about his young and idealistic days as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, and how he learned that “Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.” That same south side of Chicago is presently so disorganized that it has a murder rate that would shock the denizens of your average third world hellhole, but so far the survivors haven’t gotten involved and engaged and demand change from Obama’s associates at City Hall, and somehow we got the sense that he wasn’t urging them to start now.
He followed that up with some rousing stuff about the wisdom of the founding fathers and their belief that we are “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” At any rate it would have been rousing if he hadn’t spent the past eight years giving speeches about the country’s racist and sexist and classist origins, and steadfastly defending abortion rights, and restricting the citizens’ liberty in numerous ways, and generally making life miserable for anyone who was just trying to live it. There was some more rousing-for-the-faithful stuff about onward and upward to the more perfect union, along with a list of liberal goals that have been achieved over the years.
Even Obama had to admit that “Yes, our progress has been uneven,” and sometimes even “contentious,” and there was no talk about ocean levels falling or a new era of hope and change or any of the other stuff so many people were swooning for starting back about nine years ago. Instead, Obama tried to argue that things had worked out even better than promised. He touted the end of a Great Recession and “reboot” of America’s automotive industry and eight straight years of job growth, the shutdown of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and new relations with Cuba and of course the oft-cited death of Osama Bin Laden, along with a health care plan that insured another 20 million Americans, and boasted that “If I had told you that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high.
Even if that were all true it’s still setting the sights a little bit lower than during the messianic ’08 campaign, as far as we’re concerned, but without looking anything up and despite the florid language we were ready to dispute almost all of it. The Great Recession of ’08 did indeed come to an end, but recessions have always come to an end and usually with more robust employment gains than during the past below post-World War II averages, and who’s to say that whoever bought out General Motors would haven’t hired more workers? Iran’s nuclear weapons program is still on schedule and has a few billion dollar extra in its coffers thanks to Obama’s largesse, our new relations with Cuba are far too chummy with a communist regime for our tastes, and Obama saying he succeeded in killing Bin Laden where Bush had failed is like Nixon claiming credit for getting to the moon where Johnson and Kennedy had failed. That 20 million insured figure is by almost all other accounts vastly overstated, and includes a lot of people stuck on Medicaid and forced by buy overpriced insurance they don’t need, and it’s clearly one reason job growth has been so sluggish, and so many more people are stuck paying exorbitant rate increases and swelling budget deficits to pay for it that the guy who promised to repeal Obama’s signature piece of legislation wound up winning.
At that point Obama had to chide the crowd for booing the guy who did wind up winning, and we’ll give him credit for doing that, and he pledged a peaceful transfer of power and gave some props to George W. Bush for doing him the same solid. That was followed by a lot of talk exhorting Democrats to continuing be Democrats, and racism and climate change being very bad, and peace being better than war, along with some bragging about the oil boom he did everything he could to thwart, and a whole lot of blather that will be little noted and soon forgotten, to borrow a phrase from a more memorable orator. It didn’t convince us that we’d been wrong all along, and that Obama really was the Messiah we’d been told, but we suppose the true believers liked it, even if they can’t remember a single line of it today.
At this point we’re quite agnostic on the question of whether Trump really did pay those Russian prostitutes to perform those kinky sex acts while on a Moscow business trip, or whether any of those other dealings actually occurred, but we’re quite convinced he’s also no Messiah. All we can say at this point is that we can’t say we’re looking forward to four or eight more years of schoolyard taunts and constant interjections of “believe me” and “OK?” and “that I can tell you,” but at least the rest of Obama’s ponderous speeches will be more easily ignored as the forgettable asides of an ex-president.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Dis-Union

President Barack Obama gave his annual State of the Union address Thursday night, and barring the remote possibility that those quadrennial conspiracy theories about a presidential coup at long last prove true it will be his last. The speech marks a point in history when just a few weeks more than a year a left until the end of the Obama error, there is still some faint hope left that at least the next four years after that will be at least somewhat better, and we are glad of such small favors. Everything else about the speech, alas, did little to hearten to us about the true state of the Union.
The speech began with a promise to be brief, which of course was not kept, and went downhill from there. Without any major policy initiatives or other big ideas to announce, and with no hope of getting anything that he might have thought of past the Republican-dominated Congress he has brought into being, Obama mostly used the occasion of his last prime-time network special to make the case that he truly is the Messiah that his post-religious mania of a campaign in ’08 promised. He cited the seemingly healthy unemployment rate of 5 percent but neglected to mention that the number of working age Americans actually working is at a 38-year-low and getting lower, or that the thousand points the Dow Jones averages have already shed in this still-new year has everybody spooked that it’s going to get worse yet, and we doubt he convinced any of his scant viewership here in flyover country that happy days are here again.
There was talk of how deficits have been cut in half since the record-setting first years of his administration under a compliant Democrat-controlled Congress, but not talk of the $8 trillion in debt that has been racked up in his seven years. He mentioned the supposed millions of Americans who now have health insurance under Obamacare, but he didn’t mention how many of them are getting better health care under the Medicaid program they’ve wound up with, or how much more the rest of the country is paying for their premiums, or that randy younger hipsters are forbidden to purchase the catastrophic plans that would have been their best bet in a free market system and that celibate nuns are being forced to purchase contraceptive coverage to subsidize those young hipsters’ appalling sex lives, and that it all seems destined for the long-predicted death spiral of fiscal insolvency, and that at this point relatively few Americans are any longer sold on Obamacare.

There were the Reagan-esque uses of specially invited heroes, with this the honorific chair being filled by one of those pitiable Syrian refugees, presumably a more a savory character than the Syrian refugees who have been implicated in a number of gang rapes in western cities in past weeks, and an empty chair for the victims of National Rifle Association-inspired gun violence, but none for those killed in Benghazi or the Chicago’s gang districts, and we doubt anyone will be persuaded by that.

There’s that breakthrough deal with Iran to allow it regional hegemony and apocalyptic nuclear status anytime it wishes, along with a $150 billion signing bonus, but that went unmentioned because of Obama’s usual bad timing. His embarrassing dismissal of the Islamic State as the “jayvee team” of terrorism just before it gained control of an Indiana-sized territory, and his premature declaration that the terror group was “contained” just before it launched deadly attacks against Russian airliners and Parisian rock ‘n’ roll fans and the social services workers of San Bernardino, apparently kept him from touting his touting his peace breakthrough with Iran just hours after that country took 10 American sailors hostage. He did blather on about those crazy Republicans who seem to think that Islam might have something to do with the 1,400-year-old clash between Islam and the once Judeo-Christian West, but we sense that even Obama realizes that nobody out there in flyover country is still buying that. There was also something about Vice President Joe Biden curing cancer with another moonshot, but we’ll skeptically await the results.
The most striking part of the speech by far was Obama’s uncharacteristically humble concern about the political rhetoric that has resulted from his seven years in office and the year of campaigning that preceded it. “It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency,” he shockingly said, “that the rancor and suspicions between the parties has gotten worse than better. There’s no doubt that a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying better so long as I hold this office.” There’s some uncertainty as to whether he was referring to the Republican or Democratic Roosevelt, but in either case it’s a touching use of the old humble bit. It certainly represents an improvement over telling his loyal opposition that they can still be involved in government so long as they “sit in the back of bus,” or advising his Latino supporters to “punish their enemies,” or charging that his opponents want dirty air and water and what’s worst for everybody, or any of the similar rhetoric that has characterized the last eight years of Obama’s national prominence, but we’ll have to await the results of that promise as well. We don’t doubt that our president regrets that his “get in their faces” and “bring a gun to a knife fight” style of rhetoric that has suddenly allowed a bumptious billionaire and sudden Republican to employ equally harsh and ad hominem rhetoric against the status quo that Obama insists is so comfortable. Obama might have been grousing at least in part about the more honest self-described Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is currently gaining ground in the Democratic Party’s presidential race by admitting those dire work force participation rates and other glum economic realities and proposing even kookier solutions, but in any case he at least forced to concede that is legendary oratorical gifts have not proved adequate to the moment.
There’s another year and a few weeks left of America’s enemies seizing on the mont to advance the evil plans, and so far it doesn’t look like a roaring year for the economy, and even Obama is meekly conceding that the public discussion he has dominated over the past eight years about what to do about it it is likely to yield any solutions, and we are left with a less sanguine assessment of the state of the Union than our president can offer.

— Bud Norman

Scary Monsters of the Left’s Imagination

Not content with shoving grandmothers off of cliffs, stranding polar bears on ice floes, and waging war on women, the Republicans are now making three-year-old girls cry. That’s the word on the left side of the internet, at least, after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s frank assessment of America’s recent foreign policy frightened a young listener.
The incident occurred during a pre-presidential campaign speech in New Hampshire, where Cruz told the small crowd that because of “the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind” the “whole world is on fire.” This news proved so alarming to a little girl on the front row that she demanded confirmation that the world was on fire, and when Cruz reiterated that it was she reportedly began crying. Cruz immediately tried to reassure the girl that “Your mommy is here and everyone is here to make sure that the world you grow up is even better,” but too late to escape the protective wrath of the liberal punditry. A site called Raw Story headlined its story “Ted Cruz scares the hell out of a terrified little girl,” and describes the Senator “shouting” his speech. New York Magazine went with “Ted Cruz’s Campaign Strategy: Scare Little Kids,” and imagines the girl, “Forced to sit scarily close to the spittle-spewing angry monster posing as a junior Senator from Texas,” wondering “Mommy, why is that mean man yelling at me?” At the Daily Kos web site, the headline was “Cruz terrifies a small child, his ideas should terrify us all,” and the story was mostly about Cruz advocating such “crazy” policies as making education a local and state rather than federal responsibility.
Most of the sites at least provide video footage of the event, which allows the reader to draw his conclusions about whether Cruz was shouting or spewing spittle or yelling at a little girl, and whether the little girl was so traumatized as the reports would suggest. Our viewing of the video reveals that Cruz was speaking at a normal volume, no spittle was spewed, his interaction with the little girl was not at all threatening, and that she seemed more flummoxed by the metaphorical language than terrified by a monster. The girl’s mother has been telling anyone who will listen that no lasting damage was done, and that her daughter left with the hopeful impression that “Cruz is the man who puts the fires out,” but the left dismisses her testimony on the theory that anyone who would take a child to a Cruz speech is obviously an unfit parent, so we will leave the reader to his own judgment.
We suspect, however, that Cruz’s critics would have been offended by his criticism of President Barack Obama no matter how quietly or literally or dryly it was expressed. Such lese majeste is frightening to liberals, and they seem to be projecting their own fears on to that little girl. We can’t recall these liberals tsk-tsking when former Vice President Al Gore was bellowing that George W. Bush had betrayed his country, or former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was howling his famous campaign trail scream, or presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was shrieking that she had a right to debate and disagree with any presidential administration, and we assume that youngsters were in attendance on each of those far louder and more spittle-spewed occasions. Nor do liberals seem to mind frightening the young folks with tales of grandmothers being thrown off cliffs and polar bears stranded on ice floes or Republican wars on women that will force them into back alley abortionists.
Cruz’s rhetoric was restrained by comparison, and we dare say it even understated the international mess that has resulted from Obama’s foreign policy. Had he taken the time to list all the problems, from Iran’s imminent nuclear bomb to Russia’s revanchist romp across eastern Europe to the military build-up China is financing with America’s debt service payments, that poor little girl truly would have suffered a lifetime of nightmares. We’re old enough to recognize “the world is on fire” as a figure of speech, and can even recall the Carter years, and it’s not Cruz that we’re afraid of.

— Bud Norman

Beyond Debate

The most disheartening story we encountered in the past month concerned the little-noticed world of college debate, which was once a stubborn outpost of rigorous intellectual exercise but apparently has since degenerated into just another territory of trendy academic nonsense. We found this alarming partly for personal reasons, as the old style of scholastic debate was a favorite pastime of our otherwise wasted youth, but also for more pertinent reasons, as the same degeneration is so painfully apparent in the quality of the modern world’s real-life debates.
Way back in our playing days high school and college debate taught how to formulate a logical argument and state it persuasively, among many other things. Intensive research about the topics chosen for each season was required to bring home those cheap trophies and silver cups and the satisfaction of prevailing in verbal combat, and we wound up knowing enough about subjects ranging from the criminal justice system to international trade to learn how very complicated they are and how very badly they are often managed. The sport taught us the basics of economics and political theory, how to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of particular policy proposal and compare its potential benefits to its inherent risks, and to consider the myriad of intended consequences that could always be found in even the most appealing ideas. Teachers, colleagues, competitors, and the thick stack of books we we devoured taught us enough about the social sciences to convincingly question the methodology of almost all of it. Debate taught how to spot a logical fallacy, and for showing-off purposes it even taught the Greek classifications for many of them. It taught us to question sources, a knack that came in handy during years of toil in the media, and to question underlying assumptions and check the results. Like everyone else that we know who took part back in those days, who are by and large a remarkably successful lot, we regard scholastic debate as by far the most educational experience of our education.
Nowadays, according to The Atlantic Monthly, collegiate debate competitions are teaching is distinctly different lessons. The magazine reports that the most recent final round of the Cross Examination Debate Association’s championship featured two teams that chose to ignore the chosen topic about presidential war powers and instead argue about an alleged war by the United States government against poor black communities. Instead, according to The Atlantic Monthly, “the two teams engaged in a heated discussion of concepts like ‘nigga authenticity’ and performed hip-hop and spoken word poetry in the traditional timed format. At one point during (a competitor’s) rebuttal, the clock ran out but he refused to yield the floor. ‘F**k the time,’ he yelled.” Such antics have prevailed in recent years, according to the magazine’s account, with an Emporia State University team winning the previous year’s championship with “Many of their arguments, based on personal memoir and rap music, completely (ignoring) the stated resolution, and instead (asserting) that the framework of collegiate debate has historically privileged straight, white, middle-class students.” The once-venerable Atlantic Monthly reports this as an exciting new development in an article headlined “Hacking Traditional White College Debate’s White Privilege Problem,” which goes to show that an alarming decline in standards is not restricted to collegiate debate.
A jaded scribe at the conservative Weekly Standard read the same article and cynically concluded that at least collegiate debate has become up-to-date, as personal memoir and rap music and screeds about race and class and gender and all the other fashionable concepts are the way arguments are won in contemporary America, and it pains us to concede he has a point. In all of our conversations with people outside our coterie of fellow right-wing bastards over the past many years we have found that facts and logics and such petty matters as results are of little avail in persuading people. During a recent discussion about out-of-wedlock births the woman we were talking with demanded the names of any pregnant teenagers we currently knew before she would even consider our opinions on the matter, as if knowing a presently knocked-up 16-year-old might make us more enthusiastic for bastardy, another friend was offended by the suggestion that the United Auto Workers bear any responsibility for General Motors’ recent woes resulting from the company’s faulty ignition switches just because they own the company as a result of the government’s sweetheart bail-out deal, and anecdote trumps data every time. One of our more right-leaning pals recalled attending a public forum on gun control where a woman gave a heart-rending account of losing a son to a gun accident, ergo more control is needed, and admitted with some frustration that there was no arguing with that fallacy. Of course, almost any logical argument seems to be negated the white maleness of the person making it. Logic itself is a white male construct, after all, as evidenced by those Greek classifications that the nerds use to show off, and is therefore a tool of cultural oppression or some such academic cant. As crazy as it sounds, though, the last two presidential elections were won by personal memoir and rap music and screeds about race and class and gender, even though the results were starkly apparent by the second one, and our country now proceeds with policies derived from these ideas rather than facts and logic and results.
The results, we expect, will not be beneficial. Quaint notions about facts and logic and dispassionate analysis and adherence to time limits and standards of acceptable language might have been originally discerned by those pesky dead white males, but so were the laws of gravity, and anyone who thinks his “nigga authenticity” renders such intellectual constructs irrelevant is invited to test that theory by walking off a tall building. Alas, the degeneration of public discourse threatens to take us all on that metaphorical plunge.
One of the better sources of news and opinion on the modern media landscape is the estimable Powerlineblog.com web site, and we were not surprised to learn that its authors were veterans of the old-time college debate circuit. They shared our disheartened response to The Atlantic Monthly’s report, and noted that while the college debaters of the old days were in fact a very diverse group of people in terms of race and class and gender and individual characteristics they were all privileged to have learned from the best of the world’s civilization rather than its latest crazes. It’s a shame that the current crop of debaters won’t enjoy the same privilege, and that the rest of the country will suffer the consequences.

— Bud Norman