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On Wisconsin

We just had a long and long-overdue heart-to-heart conversation with a dear old friend of ours, conducted through a series a beers on our part and the famously stiff vodka-and-tonics offered at Harry’s Uptown Bar and Grill on his part, and as much as we love the guy it was a rather dreary affair. He’s a hard-working and highly intelligent and rigidly moral yet religiously conflicted fellow with well-informed and carefully thought opinions who reliably votes for the most conservative candidates, and is so far doing an extraordinarily good job of raising a thirteen-year-old son to be the sort of man who thinks through life’s most vexing questions humbly and thoughtfully and doesn’t mock handicapped people or refer to the women in his life as “pieces of ass” or embrace the most Smoot-Hawley sort of protectionist claptrap or anthropogenic global warming alarmism or any of that Young Earth creationism, and he didn’t see how any of the current presidential possibilities seemed to work out for the boy.
The only consolation that we could offer that was maybe Wisconsin could provide some good news. As it turns out, the good people of Wisconsin delivered on both sides of the vast political divide.
Our only brief experiences of the state of Wisconsin suggest it’s not a good place to be hitch-hiking through in the winter, despite the residents’ reputation for niceness, but we’ve long admired their political pugnacity. Wisconsin was home to the Progressivism of “Fightin'” Bob La Follette during the progressive era that infiltrated both parties, was at the forefront of the union movement that soon overtook most of the nation’s the public sector, and more lately under the leadership of Republican governor and duly vanquished presidential contender Scott Walker it has been at the forefront of rejection of unionism in general and public sector unionism in particular, and the state is also the home of Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, the only Republican left talking frankly about the looming debt and entitlement catastrophe and the go-to bogeyman of the-hated-by-all-sides Republican Establishment, so we expected good result from such a place. Sure enough, red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist and unapologetically Judeo-Crhistian Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came out with a telling majority in the Republican primary over self-scribed billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show-and-piece-of-ass mogul Donald J. Trump, who thought it a shrewd move to criticize the heroic anti-anestablishmentarian Scott Walker for not raising taxes on the days leading to a Republican primary, and the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had an equally convincing win over that horrible former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and once-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton, who is almost as hard for our feminist friends to explain to their promising young daughters. The cheeseheads on both sides of Wisconsin’s vast political divides had at least offered up a starkly ideological choice between people who at least seem to believe what they’re saying, and we’ll still take our chances on that dicey play.
The next rounds of these intriguingly close races are played in the populous northeastern states, where Clinton and Sanders are presumed to have the advantages, which confirms our stereotypical prairie assumptions about that region, but at it should be clear that at least no one is inevitable, and our friend and we agree that the names on the tickets might well be someone not named Trump or Cruz or Clinton or Sanders, and that it might even be the least worst outcome. That’s how it looks from Harry’s Uptown Bar and Grill in the heart of America, at least, and we’re holding out hope that our friend’s promising young son turns out to be a great man.

— Bud Norman

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A Bad News Cycle for the Front-Runner

Perhaps it’s only because he got bored with winning, but the recent brief pause in the Republican presidential nomination race has not been kind to front-running real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show mogul Donald J. Trump. His campaign manager was indicted for battery against a woman reporter, his threats and slurs against a rival’s wife caused even some of his most fervent supporters to question his judgment, the beloved-by-Republicans governor of Wisconsin endorsed Trump’s most pesky rival in the state’s important upcoming primary, and his efforts to explain it all have compounded the problems while somehow offending both sides of the abortion debate and alarming allies from Europe to Asia.
Reasonable people will disagree as to whether Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s undeniably hands-on encounter with reporter Michelle Fields of the previously friendly Brietbart.com site rises to even the level of a misdemeanor, which is what he’s been charged with following an investigation by the police officers Trump is always praising, despite Trump’s earlier denial that Lewandowski ever laid a hand on Fields, but it’s hard to see how the indictment is helpful. Trump’s so-faithful-he-could-shoot-someone supporters will note that the district attorney who brought the charges is a supporter of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, although we suppose at least half the charges being brought against accused criminals in the country are similarly suspect, and we heard a caller on one of the talk radio shows note that Fields is a libertarian, which he seemed to believe justified any rough treatment, but the vast majority of the country holding less indulgent views of Trump are likely to see it differently. Trump is already on record promising that any press outlets he dislikes “will have problems, such problems,” and saying that “Women, you’ve got to treat ’em like s**t,” and his campaign manager had already had a collar-grabbing incident with one of those idiot protestors that Trump has said he’d like to “punch in the face,” which one of his supporters did, and we’re still awaiting whether Trump will keep his promise to pay the legal fees, and it all fits a plausible narrative that’s building on both the right and left sides of the media.
Trump’s already dreadful poll numbers among women, most worrisomely even among Republican women, had already taken a further hit by his decision to threaten that he would “spill the beans” on the wife of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and then “re-Tweet” a message that basically meant “ha ha my wife’s hotter than yours,” which offended even the wave-riding pundit Ann Coulter, who had previously said she wouldn’t mind if Trump performed abortions in the White House, and his attempts to wave it all off also weren’t helpful. Seemingly surprised by a popular Wisconsin talk radio host’s questions about his sexist mud-slinging, Trump explained that he was just yukking it up with the notoriously sexist shock jock Howard Stern with some of those by now widely-circulated sexist comments, in between the nude lesbian segments, and that “everybody was laughing,” but we wonder how many of those thus-far unsupportive women will be persuaded. The Wisconsin talk radio host was having none of it, and Trump admitted he was surprised to find out that the host was one of us “Never Trump” conservative, which any half-way competent campaign manager would have known and warned of if he hadn’t been too busy mixing it up with reporters and protestors, but we are reassured by Trump and his supporters that he’ll always have the best people around him.
The endorsement of Cruz by Gov. Walker could have been easily and effectively ignored, but Trump of course took it personally and responded with a ridiculous rant against the beloved-by-Republicans hero of the great union fight. The man who claims the “anti-establishment” and “at least he fights” mantel cited some phony-baloney statistics from the mainstream press he routinely ridicules to disparage both Walker’s and the entirety of Wisconsin’s remarkable success in fighting the lousy deal that the public sector unions had forced on the state, blamed the “hatred” of the union thugs that predictably ensued on the reformers, and on the days leading to a Republican primary he blasted the governor for not raising taxes. Of course, there was the usual blather about making better deals.
Although the “at least he fights” candidate is dodging any one-on-one debates with his last remaining rival, a former national collegiate debate champion and esteemed member of the Supreme Court bar, he did wind up in a series of disastrous confrontations with other interlocutors besides that Wisconsin radio host. Facing the likes of the equally unintelligible Chris Matthews of the MSNBC network he wound up saying that women who get abortions should face criminal charges, a position that the pro-abortion movement has long been ascribing to the anti-abortion movement and that the anti-abortion movement has been strenuously denying for just as long, thereby infuriating both sides of the most divisive issue of recent times, which was quickly walked back, because Trump is a “uniter,” but it’s hard to score that round for Trump. He also cited health care and education as two of the three most important duties of the federal government, even though he had to later explain that of course as a Republican he thought health care was best left to the private sector and education to the states and localities.
Trump’s same “town hall” chit-chat with the unintelligible Matthews also had him disparaging the South Koreans and Japanese for free-loading on America’s defense budget, even though the South Koreans are occasionally cantankerous but ultimately realistic about their tenuous situation and the Japanese have lately been quite stalwart, and he said something about them needing to go nuclear that was also quickly walked back, and that followed a lot of Timothy Leary-esque stream-of-consciousness stuff before the Washington Post and New York Times about the free-loaders in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that alarmed not only our allies but even the more thoughtful observers who have been arguing for reforms in that still-essential organization.
Those so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone fans will surely remain loyal, but the latest poll in Wisconsin shows Cruz with a comfortable margin and let’s-all-get-along Gov. John Kasich of Ohio within striking distance of Trump, the down-in-the-mud-with-the-National-Enquirer style of campaigning that we’re told is needed to defeat the Democrats doesn’t seem to be working in a state where the slogan is “Wisconsin Nice,” and we’d like to think the rest of the country is also too nice for this nonsense.

— Bud Norman

How to Trump a Record of Accomplishment

We can well understand the anti-establishment mood of the Republican electorate, given the timid resistance of the party’s congressional leadership to the past several years of the Obama administration, but when a buffoonish and oft-bankrupt billionaire is leading the pack and two governors who did outstanding jobs far away from Washington are the first to drop out it’s starting to get a bit ridiculous.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced his withdrawal from the race on Monday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry did the same last week, and its hard to see what fault even the most disgruntled Republican might find with either of them. During Perry’s long tenure as Texas’ governor the state became the economic powerhouse of the country, creating most of the jobs that the Obama administration likes to claim credit for, and he did it with the low-tax, low-spending, low-regulation policies that conservatives have long championed. Walker bravely took on the powerful public sector unions in a stronghold of the labor movement and somehow prevailed through an election and a recall and re-election despite all the money and mobs and rogue prosecutors that his enemies could throw at him. With all the talk about Republicans seeking someone who’s willing to fight, and the clamoring for results, Walker and Perry seemed well-positioned for a serious run.
Both were once wobbly on the illegal immigration issue that is now crucial to the party, but with Walker’s recent rhetoric and Perry’s decision to deploy the Texas militia to the border both seem to have found the light. Perry still suffered from an embarrassing moment during an early debate in his previous presidential campaign when he returned too early after a surgery and paused to remember some small detail of his proposals, but that hardly seems sufficient to overshadow his many years of effective public service. Walker’s plain-spoken and low-key style might not have fit the fighting spirit that the Republicans seem to be in, but surely that humble appearance was belied by his steadfastness through one of the most bare-knuckle political battles of recent years.
As recently as mid-summer Walker was considered the front-runner in the race, and the Democrats were nervous enough about that they unleashed a torrent of media criticism about everything from his alleged “Unelectable Whiteness” to his being a few hours short of a college degree after dropping out of Marquette University. Whiteness does not render a candidate unelectable among the Republican electorate, of course, and the fact that Walker long ago chose to begin his extraordinarily successful career in politics rather take another useless course in political science likely only burnished his anti-establishment credentials and made him seem Truman-esque to a typical Republican voter, so there must be some other explanation for his fall from front-runner to back-of-the-pack.
Our best guess is that it has something to do with Donald Trump’s entry in the race. Since his vainglorious announcement Trump has received more free media attention than the combined war chests of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush could ever buy, with the Democratic-friendly press eager to publicize his latest put-downs and bizarre conspiracy theories rather than Walker’s or any other Republican candidate’s record of accomplishments, and a worrisome plurality of Republicans has apparently bought into the idea that schoolyard taunts and petulant facial expressions and obnoxious boastfulness are better indications of a fighting spirit than a willingness to steadfastly defy the money and mobs and rogue prosecutors of a powerful special interest. We live in a time, alas, when a substantive record of accomplishment is less important than flash.
This is nothing new, of course. At this point in the ’08 election cycle we were rooting for Rudy Giuliani, whose track record of transforming New York City from a bankrupt and crime-ridden and otherwise socialist hell-hole into a livable city seemed to fit him for an even bigger job, but his “big state strategy” of sitting out Iowa and New Hampshire and other places where New York social values don’t hold sway left him too far behind by the time the big states started voting to stay in the race. The Republicans wound up with the war hero and “maverick” image of Arizona Sen. John McCain instead. At this point in ’12 we held out hope for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another soft-spoken but rock-ribbed conservative who had somehow done a lot of good things in the blue state of Minnesota, and we wound up with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who would have made a better president than he did a presidential candidate. This time around we’re once again looking for a second choice, and remain hopeful that there are still good choices left in the game, but it seems the preference for flash over substance is worse than ever, so we’ll have to see how it plays out.
Walker made mistakes, of course, and for the remainder of the news cycle they’ll be carefully analyzed and then forgotten. One pundit blames it all on his reliance on one of those “establishment” campaign managers, which might explain his cautious performances in the two highly-related debates against his far flashier opponents, the panel of sensible people on one of our favorite talk radio shows cite his failure to emphasize his long record of fighting the good fight, and of course he should have known the rest of the media were unlikely to pay any attention to his remarkable history. One can hope that he’ll learn from these mistakes in future elections, but any good conservative will also be hoping that his next chance is in eight years when the Republicans will be up against the long history of parties failing to win a third term in the White House.
The fact that Walker has been a remarkable governor concedes the fact he’s also been an office-holder, which somehow suddenly seems a black mark on any office-seeker in a Republican nomination race, but there’s still some hope. Former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina has greatly impressed us in the debates, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson also strikes us as far better than any of the Democrats. Should the Republican electorate decide that having held office isn’t a disqualification for any office seekers there’s also Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose obvious lack of timidity has annoyed the party’s congressional leadership enough to earn the establishment’s scorn and perhaps some exemption from the disgruntled base, and even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose heresy on immigration is troubling but whose record otherwise is exemplary. There’s even a chance that such an impressive fellow as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will get some traction, and for all his squishiness we’d settle for a proven winner such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich to go up against whatever nominee the even more crazed Democrats are likely to settle on.
Reports indicate that Walker’s departure from the race was prompted by his concerns about going into debt to support the campaign operation he was forced to organize by his momentary front-runner status, which further endears him to us, and his parting speech suggests he wants to clear the way for any of the other candidates to defeat Trump, which is even more endearing. His retreat is getting at least a day’s worth of media attention that otherwise would have paid to Trump’s latest schoolyard taunt or crazy conspiracy theory, so his short-lived candidacy has at least accomplished that.

— Bud Norman

About That Debate

Thanks to the miracle of the internet we were able to see or at least hear almost the entirety of the big Republican presidential debate, either on the Cable News Networks’ spotty web site or a local talk radio station’s somewhat more reliable feed, and we found it most entertaining. Although we’ll leave it to the pollsters to declare who won, our many years in the theater criticism business leave us unable to resist the temptation of writing a review.
Unaccustomed as we are to saying anything nice about CNN, we thought it wasn’t altogether horrible. Moderator Jake Tapper had an annoying habit of interrupting the good stuff about the Obama administration’s failures and indulging all the internecine criticism, and the first-rate conservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt, who has been called “third-rate” by Donald Trump after he flunked the host’s simple quiz about the Middle East’s leadership, only got a couple of questions in, and the time allowed to the overcrowded stage of candidates did seem wildly unequal, but at least there were no out-of-left-field questions about contraception or some other non-issues that were calculated to create a controversy intended to further some Democratic campaign theme. Most of the questions seemed fair enough, and exposed a wider range of opinions than you’ll likely find in the Democratic debates, if they ever get around to having one, and allowed the candidates to demonstrate this is a very deep and talented field that just might include a very good president.
There’s some grousing on the right that the first part of the debate was all about Donald Trump, but at this point there’s no using denying that he’s what the race thus far has been all about, so we see no reason why they shouldn’t get it over with at the beginning. Happily, we can say that Trump didn’t seem to fare well by the attention. He was asked about his habit of making unfavorable and utterly irrelevant comments about peoples’ appearances, and after hearing a disapproving comment by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, whom Trump had already stated shouldn’t be on the same stage with him due to his lower poll numbers, Trump snidely responded that “I never attacked him on his looks, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.” This followed Paul’s golden opportunity to worry about entrusting America’s nuclear weaponry to someone whose “visceral response is to attack people’s appearance. Short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high.” More formidable candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former computer industry executive Carly Fiorina also responded to Trump’s junior high name-calling with an even more effective dignity, and we saw Trump coming off as a small, petty, obnoxious man. His fans no doubt loved it, and apparently rushed to the Drudge Report to record their cheers, but we don’t expect the upcoming polls will reflect that the rest of the post-junior high country was impressed.
Trump did well with his signature issue of illegal immigration, and of course wasn’t shy to take some well-earned credit for broadening the parameters of that debate, but we thought several of his rivals showed equal passion about the issue even as they proposed more moderate solutions. Unless the the Republicans somehow wind up with Bush or Rubio, which seems unlikely, and the self-described socialist yet tough-on-immigration Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders winds up with the Democratic nomination, which no longer seems so unlikely, the Republican will be on the popular side of the illegal immigration debate.
Not to say that she was the “winner,” a title that only more scientific polls than the one at Drudge can confer, but we must note that Fiorina is very, very good at this sort of thing. Throughout the proceedings she exhibited an impressive command of the facts and a logical response to them on a wide range of issues, offered a compelling life story of her rise from secretary in a small business to Chief Executive Officer of a leading high-tech company, a convincing account of her firing from that company and the lay-offs it made during a tech-sector downturn, and made a persuasive case that she’s a person whose intellect and character should be taken seriously. Our study of the classical art of rhetoric introduced us to the concepts of logosethos, and pathos, and Fiorina has achieved the trifecta.
She was especially good on her foreign policy, in regards to both Russia’s adventurism in Ukraine and the rest of the old Soviet Union and the even more rapidly deteriorating situation in the Middle East and the increasingly convoluted relationship between the two, and was impressively blunt and specific and  hawkish about the military spending that will be required to achieve it. We were reminded of the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and we can think of no greater compliment than that. Another high-point of the night was when CNN generously allowed her the opportunity to respond to Trump’s statement about her in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, of all people, in which he said of her, “Look at that face. Why would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that face, the face of our next president? I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posteda say bad things, but really folks, come on. Are we serious?” The question to Fiorina about it conveniently followed one that had Trump doubling-down on his criticism of a obvious misstatement Bush had made about funding women’s health care during an interview about the narrower issue of Planned Parenthood, and after Bush’s apologies and clarifications Trump sneered “I heard what you said,” so Fiorina siezedthe opportunity to note that everyone in America also heard and fully understood what Trump had said about her. After nearly a full moment of deafening applause, Trump was reduced to his previous explanation that by “face” he meant “persona,” and the apologetic addendum that he he thought she had a “lovely face.” Already Fiorina had come out with a compelling campaign advertisement about her face, boasting that it’s 61-years-old and and that she’s “proud of every year and every wrinkle,” and featuring the faces of other women that Donald Trump wouldn’t treat to shrimp cocktails but otherwise deserve the full respect of anyone aspires to the presidency of the United States, and we don’t expect the insult will reap further rewards for Fiorina. Ordinarily we wouldn’t comment on such matters, but given the latest events in the news we’ll admit that to our 56-year-old eyes the 61-year-old Fiorina and her wizened and dignified persona strike us as quite fetching, even if her happily married status and our old-fashioned standards render that entirely moot, and at the risk of sounding junior high we think that the libidinous Trump and his absurd hairdo should thank his lucky stars that he’s so famously rich.
Another Fiorina triumph came toward the end of the evening, when the moderator asked an admittedly frivolous question about which woman should take the place of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. A couple of the candidates persuasively argued that the former-slave-holding and Indian-oppressing Democratic hero President Andrew Jackson should be nudged aside from the $20 bill to make room for a woman, but all were willing to name some woman another who deserved the honor. Some suggested their wives or mother, others preferred Rosa Parks or Susan B. Anthony or various other politically correct heroines of recent decades, but the only woman on the stage felt free to say that both the $10 and $20 bills should stay the same. She dismissed the issue as mere symbolism and pandering to women as a special interest, when now constitute a majority of the electorate and have the same interest in men in sensible policies and sound leadership, and we note that the supposedly sexist audience at a Republican presidential debate gave her another prolonged applause.
The rest of the cast was pretty good, too, although only to an extent that’s not likely to change those upcoming polls. We though Bush as pretty combative, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seemed to enjoy an outsized role in the production, at which point you can insert your own fat joke, but we’ve never figured either will play any role in the race. Bush has committed to positions on illegal immigration and the Common Core curriculum that the middle-of-the-country Republican electorate will never support, no matter how sincere or well-stated his arguments might be, and being from New Jersey Christie has similar heresies to overcome. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was strong, but has the same illegal immigration problem as Bush and wasn’t nearly strong enough to overcome it. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was good, as the veteran television presence always is, and we loved his defiance of the same-sex marriage ruling and the rest of his evangelical furor as much as the next Republican, but he doesn’t seem the right guy to deal with that $18 trillion deficit and the steady growth in government, and we don’t expect his performance will move him up in the polls. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who convincingly claimed that he could deliver his bellwether state to the Republicans, also drifted too far afield from Republican orthodoxy to hope for any improvement in his standing. The other non-politician that has been polling well in this anti-politics year is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, whose low-key and soft-spoken and humble persona contrasts nicely with the garish and bombastic and braggadocios Trump, was a little too low-key and soft-spoken and humble to stand out in the debate, and had a few awkward moments explain his past opposition to fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
We’re still tentatively rooting for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, due to the three impressive electoral wins he pulled off while fighting tooth-and-nail against the combined national might of the public sector unions in a most righteous attempt to reform his long misguided state, somehow pulling off the God-given right-to-work in the process, and on the whole we thought he did all right. He didn’t command the stage nearly so much as we might have hoped, and we fear he might have even gone largely unnoticed, but at least there were no memorable gaffes. The somehow anti-establishmrny Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is another candidate we’re liking, and he also did well, but his performance likely did nothing to change his standing.
We also like the performances of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has already dropped out of the race, and whiz-kid Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who lingers so far back in the polls he was relegated to the not-ready-for-primetime debate, which we admit we did not watch, so that’s how reliable a barometer our opinions are. Still, the evening’s entertainment left us with a hopeful feeling. At some point in the debate the charming Huckabee noted that no one seeking the Republican nomination is a self-described socialist or being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for using a private e-mail server for official business, and that he would have no hesitancy to to vote any of them against the possible Democratic nominees. This is one of those rare occasions when we agree with Huckabee, although we have to admit there would be some nose-holding involved in at least one case, and again we say that we enjoyed the show.
The Democratic episodes should be entertaining, too, if they ever get around to one. At the moment that Sanders guy seems the craziest of the competitors, and therefore the most likely to win, but Clinton still has all that money, and Vice President Joe Biden could conceivably inherit President Barack Obama’s die-hard fans and simultaneously capitalize on the anti-status quo sentiment that Sanders is currently riding, but we have no idea how that might turn out. If it turns out to be Fiorina and Clinton standing next to another on a debate stage, though, we think Fiorina would romp like that Ronda Rousey in the “mixed martial arts” game taking on Beth Correia.
No votes have yet been cast, and won’t be until next year, which we like to think is still a ways off, so we won’t reach any conclusion except that it was a good show.

— Bud Norman

Our Least Favorite TV Show

Donald Trump’s new reality show is even more annoying than the last one, which you could at least turn off. This time around he’s on all the channels, all the time, and even if you turn off the television altogether and try to escape into the serious news on the internet he’s all over all that as well.
The show is apparently quite popular, judging by the record-setting audience for a way-too-early Republican presidential debate and Trump’s sizable plurality in this silly season of political polling, and it’s not all surprising. Trump’s campaign has all the elements of a hit reality show, with a rude and insulting and self-absorbed main character, plenty of gaudy bling to be vicariously enjoyed, and of course constant conflict. Just like those “Real Housewives” of various places and that “Snooky” person from “Jersey Shore” or the assorted Kardashians and their transgendered celebrity neighbors and the well-toned deviants trying to be the “Survivor” in some hellish jungle or remote island, the more outrageously Trump behaves the greater his popularity becomes. Even his latest celebrity tiff, with Fox News’ appropriately pretty journalist Megyn Kelly, provoked by her tough-but-fair questions during the debates, and followed in the next day’s episode by Trump telling some friendlier journalist that “she had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” seems to have helped his ratings.
This would be just another mildly depressing example of America’s cultural decline, but Trump’s new act is presidential politics, and what makes for a hit reality show is not what is needed to properly govern a great nation. Trump’s most avid admirers believe otherwise, and argue that confrontational trash-talking and a certain boorish forcefulness and nihilistic disregard for any and all conventions will get all those Wall Street conspirators and head-chopping Islamists and job-stealing Chinese and Mexicans in line the same way that all those other reality show stars imposed their will on their weaker co-stars. They’re unable to name any successful leader of a great nation who has acted according to this theory, while we’re able to reel off a number of leaders of failed states who did so, but at this point people are enjoying the show to much to pause for such considerations.
One fellow we know who’s reasonable enough that he’ll eventually make that pause, but in the meantime he’s saying how much he likes that Trump is willing to bluntly express his opinions. We noted that Trump is now bluntly stating many opinions are very different than the ones he was bluntly stating just a year or so, and would likely be bluntly stating a whole new set of opinions should he ever find himself in a position that forced him to confront reality, but the fellow still seemed to relish the bluntness. Another friend already isn’t likely to support Trump, but insists that a record audience for a Republican debate and the rest of the media attention can only help the party. We argue that having so many people cheering for a reality show star’s gratuitous insults and preening braggadocio and utter lack of real solutions to America’s many dire problems, and seeing the very distinguished lot of successful Governors and distinguished Senators who make up the rest of the field being reduced to co-star status, is not likely to enhance the GOP’s image. All of Trump’s apologists mention his willingness to “fight” the media and the party’s leadership, as if sending out schoolyard taunts via “Tweets” and growling like one of those professional wrestlers were akin to actual fighting, but if they were to take stock of the rest of Trump’s co-stars they’d notice that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took on the public sector unions, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has repeatedly defied his party leadership in a quixotic battle against Obamacare and deficit spending, and pretty much all of them are also pushing back against media bias without resorting to vulgarity.
We take some hope in the fact that it’s still way too early for presidential politics and this is the silly season of polling, and thus far most reality show stars have eventually returned to a well-earned obscurity, but we very eager for Trump to be cancelled.

— Bud Norman

The Political Pre-Season Begins

Alright then, we’ll admit it, we didn’t watch the entirety of the first debate of the Republican presidential nomination race. We’re as addicted to this story as any other reality show watcher, and we already have our rooting interests in the plot line, but our older brother is in town and there’s this great Mexican restaurant over in the nearby barrio and we cut off our television cable years ago, and besides, it all has such a sense of those meaningless pre-season games that the National Football Leagues starts all too early, so we we figured we’d rely on the more diligent internet sources for our opinions of it all.
Pretty much everyone on our right-wing reading list seemed to agree that former Hewlitt-Packard honcho and failed California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina won the “jayvee team” debate among those who didn’t poll in the top ten, with accomplished two-term Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal coming in second, and the arguably even more accomplished two-term Texas Gov. Rick Perry exceeding expectations well enough to come in a credible third. The other three really aren’t worth mentioning, as any experienced reality show viewer can rightly assume they’ll soon be written out of the plot. We’d like to see Fiorina, Jindal, and Perry all get into the prime time debate, and can easily name three candidates we’d be happy to see them replace, so we’re heartened by the reviews.
There doesn’t seem to be much consensus about the main event. which suggests that nobody won. So far as we can tell from the snippets at the Fox News Channel’s website, real estate magnate and literal reality show star Donald Trump apparently was his usual bombastic and buffoonish self, but there’s no telling whether that will add to or detract from his poll-leading numbers. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave a reassuringly ambiguous statement about his past support for the “Common Core” curriculum, the unabashedly libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had a spat about national intelligence-gathering that most of the judges scored a win for Christie, neurosurgeon and political neophyte Dr. Ben Carson seems to have had no gaffes but no impression, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s just-regular-hillbilly-folk schtick seems have done its usual black magic, and the rest of it seems equally pointless.
Of course there’s much chatter about how tough the Fox moderators were in their questioning, but we figure all the candidates should be prepared for far worse then they meet the rest of the press. Our early favorite, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, used the opportunity of a question about his past support for “comprehensive immigration reform” to explain that he was previously wrong but has since been looking at the issue from a more national perspective and is now right, and when we try to imagine Trump speaking the words “I was wrong” we impressed by his candor.
If Trump didn’t commit his inevitable self-immolation and our guy Walker didn’t boost his numbers, and the more worthy contenders didn’t move into contention, we’ll not be worried. This is Grapefruit League and Cactus League stuff, and the numbers won’t count until some very cold days that won’t arrive until winter, and the lady at the bar we were at our brother earlier tonight who was shouting the pre-season football was about to arrive even as a Kansas City Royals victory was underway on the television care mores about that game that we care about this political game. The political game will wind up making a difference, but what happened in that debate we mostly skipped probably won’t.

–Bud Norman

Badgering in the Badger State

President Barack Obama was warmly welcomed to Wisconsin by Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday, then let loose with another one of his characteristic petty partisan screeds, this one ridiculing his host. The characteristically petty partisan crowd roared its approval, of course, and the characteristically petty partisan press described it as part of a “victory lap” after a week of favorable legislation and Supreme Court rulings, of course, but not a word of it bears more skeptical scrutiny.
Speaking to an adoring throng in LaCrosse, Obama likened the entire Republican to a senile “Uncle Harry” making nonsensical statements at a family Thanksgiving dinner, adding that “You still love him. He’s still a member of your family. Right? But you’ve got to correct him. You don’t want to put him charge of stuff.” He also compared Wisconsin’s government under Walker to that of neighboring and more-Democratic Minnesota, noting that Minnesota had raised taxes on the wealthy, increased the minimum wage, expanded Medicaid, implemented all-day kindergarten, offered subsidies for college, and had a lower unemployment rate and higher median income. With the applause indicating that he had an audience willing to believe that higher taxes and higher labor costs and increased government spending is the obvious explanation for Minnesota’s relatively healthier economy, Obama then boasted of his own successes with this same formula, and contrasted his humane approach with the Republicans’ policy of giving tax breaks to the wealthy and letting everyone else fend for themselves. Such callous economics was the cause of the ’08 financial crisis, Obama told the crowd, anding that “Being an American is not about taking as much as you can from your neighbor before they take as much as they can from you. We are not a bunch of individuals out here on our own. We are a community, we are family. We are in this together.”
One hardly knows where to begin rebutting such hogwash, but it might as well be at the beginning with that crack about the crazy uncle. This comes from the World’s Greatest Orator, who was going to end the era of partisan division and facilitate a serious discussion about the nature’s future. It also comes from the leader of a party that features a crazy and foul-mouthed Uncle Joe and a creepy face-lifted Aunt Nancy and a perverted Cousin Anthony who keeps sending pictures of his underwear-clas private parts over his cell phone and a First Mom who insists that everyone eat their vegetables while she wolfs down what the fancy chefs who’ve been flown have created and a cackling evil stepmother Hillary who seems next in line to lead our very dysfunctional national family, and we can’t share the audience’s satisfaction that everything has worked out so well since they’ve been “put in charge of stuff.”
Walker does a fine enough job defending his controversial policies in an op-ed article at Real Clear Politics, graciously headlined “Welcome to Wisconsin, Mr. President,” noting the significant economic gains that have lately occurred in his state in spite of the sluggish national economy. He didn’t anticipate the part about Minnesota, so for his benefit we’ll add that the high tax rates on job-creators cannot possibly explain the state’s job creations, the minimum wage increase is less than a year old and hasn’t yet pushed up overall wages and has almost certainly eliminated many minimum-wage jobs, the Medicaid expansion wouldn’t have been necessary if the Minnesota economy were as robust as he represents it, and probably was made more necessary by the many Minnesotans who lost the suddenly more-expensive health plans they liked and were promised they could keep but were relegated to Medicaid by Obamacare, there’s no proof that all-day kindergarten does children much good, somebody’s still paying those ever-increasing college costs that always go up further with the subsidies, and a more telling basis for comparison would be the relative improvement of the Wisconsin and Minnesota economies over the past few years.
Nor does the broader American economy seem to justify such arrogance. The labor participation rate is at a low unseen since Jimmy Carter’s presidency, wages remain stagnant, the Gross Domestic Product contracted the first quarter of this year and the most optimistic predictions having it growing at around 2 percent or a fraction over the full year, such meager advances have added more than $8 trillion to the national debt during the Obama presidency, and no one who isn’t within clapping distance of the presidents anticipates that happy days will soon be here again. We’re not heartened by the rest of the president’s great week, either. The Supreme Court ruled that the Obamacare law doesn’t say what it says on the written 2,000-plus, but that instead it means whatever five justice of the Supreme Court would prefer it said, and then on the big same-sex marriage decision it pretty much concluded the same thing about the Constitution, and whatever political benefits might redound to the president neither development is likely to do much good for the rule of law and Constitutional restraints on the federal government. A lot of Republicans and a few cowed Democrats also gave the president “fast track” authority to negotiate a top-secret free-trade deal with numerous Asian nations, and although we’re generally free traders we don’t like the top-secret and remain worried that it will allow him to pull some immigration and environmental shenanigans.
Most annoying, though, were his descriptions of capitalism and socialism. The natural rights of individuals to voluntarily trade and contract with another in a free market, an arrangement that has produced greater wealth and one more to advance civilization than any cockamamie bureaucratic regulatory scheme, is explained in terms of “taking as much as you can from your neighbor before they take as much as they can from you.” Any individual who has become self-sufficient by voluntarily trading and contract with another individual in a free market should be grievously offended by this, and we daresay their neighbors should be as well. But then again, we’re “not a bunch of individuals” in Obama’s America, we are a “family.” Obama is presumably the father, although regrettably not the absent sort of father figure he grew up without, and as that cheering throng of hipsters in LaCrosse would probably tell you, with all their progressive sophistication, father knows best.
On second thought, the very most annoying part of Obama’s speech was that line about how the unregulated avarice of that ruthless capitalist system that leaves everyone to fend for themselves was the cause of the ’08 financial crisis. The lie is so oft-repeated that it goes almost unnoticed and almost entirely unquestioned, but the pesky fact remains that it wasn’t caused by lack of regulations that prevented greedy bankers from making home loans to people who clearly could never repay them, but rather because of presumably well-intentioned government interventions in the free market, which encouraged and cajoled and eventually coerced the bankers to make those loans in the cause of affordable housing and civil rights and fairness and all sorts of focus-group tested themes. Obama surely knows this, as he did pro bono work for some subprime borrowers that forced Citibank to write them mortgage, and was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus was it was screaming racism at the regulatory “watchdogs” who were warning of the coming collapse and successfully resisting George W. Bush’s efforts to stop it, and he surely knows that as a result of his efforts housing became less affordable and black Americans wound up disproportionately poorer, as they remain today, and that in the end it was disastrously unfair to all the more credit-worthy homeowners and their creditors as well as just about everyone else.
Obama’s at least a deft enough orator to leave that part out.. We’re looking forward to Walker’s announcement that he’ll be running for president, and expect much better from him, and although he seems a nice and Wisconsin sort of fellow who won’t resort to petty partisanship and sneering ridicule we hope he will bluntly talk back to such hogwash.

— Bud Norman

The Immigration Debate, Where Extremism Is Mainstream

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

— Bud Norman

Battering Rams in Wisconsin

This is America, where a citizen is free to express opinions and participate in politics without fear of retribution. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, but the ideal seems to be slipping away. The diminution of fresh speech is not just a matter of the increasingly confined parameters of polite opinion, enforced by boycotts and restricted career opportunities and the howling of mobs, or even the usual heavy hand of government, such as the harassment of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service or the politicized prosecutions by the Department of Justice or the extra regulatory scrutiny applied to those businesses donating to the wrong candidates. It has now come to the point that armed agents of the government have been invading homes, seizing property, and bullying ordinary citizens into silence for no reason other than their political beliefs.
If this sounds like the most far-fetched sort of paranoid right-wing fantasy, we’d urge you to read David French’s chilling article, headlined “Wisconsin’s Shame: ‘I Thought it Was a Home Invasion,'” at The National Review. Although there had already been scattered reports about the outrageous “John Doe Investigation” that a renegade prosecutor and a rubber-stamping judge had launched against various groups that supported Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to reform the state’s collective bargaining laws regarding public sector unions, a fishing expedition which was eventually halted by a higher court that rightly considered it a clear attempt to intimidate the prosecutor’s political opponents into silence, only now are those targeted in the investigation coming forward with stories about doors being broken down with battering rams, computers being confiscated, children being terrified, neighbors being scandalized, and dozens of heavily armed police officers shouting warnings that no lawyers were to be contacted and no was to be told. The descriptions evoke Nazi-era Germany or the Soviet bloc, but it happened in Wisconsin, the birthplace of the “progressive movement.”
One can hope that it was a rare occurrence, now ended by the prevailing cooler heads of a higher court according to constitutional design, but one can only hope. There’s no way to be sure that other similarly terrified citizens are still staying silent as warned, and that an indifferent press is happy to leave it to the likes of a high-brow and relatively little-read right-wing publication such as The National Review to report on such inconsequential news if they ever come forward. Given the gleeful ostracizing of anyone who dissents from the consensus of progressive opinion regarding same-sex marriage or global warming, the hateful lies of the lynch mobs that are roused by racial hustlers and Rolling Stone fabulists and the “community outreach teams” of the Justice Department, the presidential rhetoric that warns any critics their dissent “needs to stop,” the increasingly apparent realization that no one at the Internal Revenue Service or the Justice Department or any of those regulatory agencies will ever suffer any consequences for their misdeeds, the indifference of the press, and the sheer seething hatred toward anything conservative we hear from all the liberal media and all the liberals we know, a hatred that seems to have overwhelmed whatever love they once had for freedom and the rule of law, we are no longer surprised to hear even the stories that evoke Nazi Germany and the Soviet bloc.
Please pass along that chilling story about what happened in Wisconsin, because we expect that most of the mass media will regard it as local and of little consequence and not nearly so important as anything slightly embarrassing they might come up with about Gov. Scott Walker. At the risk of a battering ram at the door, we’ll say it’s a matter of the greatest consequence. This is America, after all, where a citizen should be free to express an opinion and participate in the political process without fear of retribution.

— Bud Norman

Motive, Results, and All the Hubbub

There’s still a lot of talk about President Barack Obama’s patriotism and religiosity, or lack thereof, so we figure we might as well weigh in.
The questions have persisted for the past seven years or so, ever since Obama was first campaigning for the presidency, but the latest round in the ongoing debate was prompted by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s remark during a recent speech that “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.” This commonplace opinion of course provoked outrage from the press, which immediately demanded that every prominent Republican repudiate the idea or be tarred as the sort of America-hating traitors who would question a political opponent’s patriotism. The first to be grilled was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was present at the speech and is a frontrunner for the next Republican presidential nomination, but just about anyone else whose name might come up in a conversation about the race was eventually obliged to opine on the matter. Most took the position that they’d rather criticize the results Obama’s policies are having on America than speculate about his motives, which strikes us as a reasonable and respectful stance for an opposition party to take, but apparently even Republicans are expected to profess their faith in Barack Obama’s undying love for his country. Anything less, according to The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, is symptomatic of some dread psychological impairment called “Obama Derangement Syndrome.”
Any skepticism regarding the president’s Christianity is “insidious agnosticism,” according to The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, which is what happens when the press inevitably starts pressing Republicans about the president’s true religious beliefs. Walker was naturally the first to be asked about what lurks deep in the president’s heart and mind, and scandalized the press by saying that he did not presume to know, and soon the rest of the rest of the potential Republican field had spoken more or less the same outrageous slander at the president, with even Giuliani falling back on the same sensible position. Polls were trotted out showing that a sizable minority of the American public suspects the president is secretly Muslim, much tsk-taking was done about how right-wing media had so slyly perpetuated such a slanderous slur, although there’s certainly nothing wrong with the president being Muslim, which is after all a Religion of Peace and part of the fabric of American history, as the president has often pointed out, and the clear implication was made that those Republicans have gone mad with their disrespect of both the presidency and the United States of America for which it stands.
We can’t recall the press insisting on such institutional respect back when President Chimpy McBushitler occupied the Oval Office and the “Bush Derangement Syndrome” was coined, and former Vice President Al Gore was shrieking that “He betrayed our country” and Keith Olbermann was doing his “you, sir, are a Nazi” diatribes to applause from all the right people, and when candidate Barack Obama was blasting the “unpatriotic” half-trillion dollar deficits that he would soon double, and on the innumerable other occasions when prominent Democrats impugned the opposition’s motives, but the rule against questioning an opponent’s patriotism is flexible that way. The press no doubt hopes they can portray the Republicans as crazed conspiracy theorists with an irrational hated of the First Black President, but they should be worried that the questions persist after so many years.
One didn’t have to be tuned into Fox News to hear the president say he believed in American exceptionalism only to the extent that British or Greek believed in British or Greek exceptionalism, or when his wife said that first time she’d felt proud to be an American was when the country seem poised to her elect her husband president, or when he apologized for America’s “arrogance” and “dismissiveness” toward Europe or its past aggressions against the underdeveloped nations, and it’s hard to see where the policies resulting from these inclinations has furthered America’s interests abroad. The “fundamental transformation” of America that candidate Obama promised has delivered similarly desultory results at home, and although recent economic growth can be damned with the faint praise of outperforming Europe the administration seems as intent as ever on emulating the European model. The president has written about his conversion to Christianity through a preacher who once thundered “God damn America” from the pulpit, he told The New York Times about how the Muslim call to prayer was one of the “most beautiful sounds” he has heard, he frequently extols the greatness of Islam and his most notable recent reference to Christianity was a warning that it should not “get on a high horse” because of long-ago episodes as the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, and he told the United Nations that “the future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” none of which are the kinds of things that Christians usually say. The policies that have followed from such inclinations have resulted in the spread of radical Islam throughout much of the Middle East, leaving all sorts of nastiness in its wake and encouraging the continued terroristic attacks on the west, and the best efforts of the press can not erase all possible doubt about the reasons.
Which is not to say that we question the president’s love of country or abiding Christian faith. He might well love America so much that he wants to turn it into Europe, and have arrived at some revolutionary understanding of Christianity that acknowledges Mohammad as the true prophet who must not be slandered with any doubts about his prophecy, and in any case he seems alarmingly confident that he’s doing what’s best for the country and the entire world. Most liberals we know pride themselves on their less-than-fulsome assessment of America, an anecdotal observation borne out by polling data, but they consider this a patriotic chore they must perform lest America become too proud of itself. At this late date in a lame duck presidency we’re more concerned about the results, which we and a number of soon-to-be-beheaded Christians find displeasing, and we’re willing to forgive any Republican contenders who are insufficiently effusive about the president’s pureness of heart.

— Bud Norman