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Another Week in a Dismal Race

The campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has had a couple of awkward moments lately, with several widely disseminated photographs showing her needing assistance to climb the steps of the White House and several others showing the father of a mass-murdering Islamist terrorist sitting just behind her in a prime seat and cheering heartily at one of her rallies. The former revived reasonable suspicions about Clinton’s physical fitness to assume the office, and in an eerily literal way at that, and at best the latter called into question the ability of her famously well-staffed campaign organization to stage an effective photo-op and at worst recalled her past insane statements about Islam having nothing to do with Islamist terrorism.
Any old Republican nominee should have had a good start to the week, but in this crazy election year the nominee isn’t just any old Republican but rather Donald J. Trump.
In his long and varied private sector career Trump has always had an undeniable knack for generating more headlines than any old Republican presidential nominee, or even any Republican president for that matter, and he’s never much cared if it was good press or bad press so long as they spelled his name correctly, so it’s no surprise that he somehow managed to overshadow his opponent’s photographically documented missteps by telling a North Carolina rally that “If she gets to pick her judges there’s nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” This impromptu aside was enough to generate such widely disseminated headlines as “Trump appears to encourage gun owners to take action if Clinton appoints anti-gun judges,” and for the oh-so-respectable press to fret that he “appeared to raise the possibility that gun rights supporters could take matters into their own hands if Hillary Clinton is elected president and appoints judges who favor stricter gun controls,” and it put Trump’s apologists in the awkward position of talking about how he actually meant to the “unification” of the gun-owning population that would thwart a Clinton presidency Trump seemed to be talking about and how in any case he was just joking.
Our abhorrence of both these awful candidates, as well as our disdain for the respectable press that is covering their awful campaigns, allows us an easy objectivity on the matter. From our appalled perspective we can see how the Republican nominee really was talking some peaceable uprising or merely joking about knocking off a president or her judicial nominees, and we can also allow that maybe the Republican nominee of this crazy election year really was sanguinely contemplating some armed uprising against a possible Clinton administration. Something deep in our Republican souls also has to concede that this crazy election year’s nominee makes it hard to say for sure what the hell he meant to say.
Way back when Trump started knocking off the far more qualified field of Republican candidates his fans were enthused by his willingness to say whatever grammatically incoherent thought popped into his mind, which seemed such a welcome change from the poll-tested and focus-grouped responses of past Republican nominees, but even at the time we wondered if that tendency was really what we wanted in a president. We share Shakespeare’s opinion that one should “Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportioned thought his act. Be though familiar, but by no means vulgar,” and we wish that any old Republican nominee would be as well-read and hipped-up. As awful as that Clinton woman is we have to concede that this crazy election year’s Republican nominee’s un-parseable word salad does allow for any number of readings, including the only slightly reassuring possibility that he was merely joking about someone offing a president or her judicial nominees, and that in any case it undeniably and unnecessarily does distract attention from the awful week that awful woman has been having.

— Bud Norman

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The Constitution and the Evil of Two Lessers

The argument most frequently made by our many Republican friends who are reluctantly supporting their party’s presumptive nominee is that he at least might just appoint more acceptable Supreme Court Justices than the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, which was bolstered somewhat by his announcement this week of a slate of impeccably conservatives judges he might consider, and there was already no denying that anyone his likely opponent might point would be quite certainly just downright awful. The argument is therefore somewhat persuasive, therefore, but still not at all reassuring.
There’s something unsettling to our hide-bound conservatives souls that the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee would even feel obliged to offer reassurances that he might consider an impeccably conservative jurist for the Supreme Court, for one thing. Past Republican nominees have always been assumed to be conservative in their picks, even if their track records of making correct choices has been inconsistent at least far back as the usually reliable President Dwight Eisenhower’s pick of the infamously crazy-libera-if-lifelong Republican Chief Justice Earl Warren, with all of sorts of disastrously squishy moderates being picked by Republicans since then, but in every case we could at least console ourselves with a certainty that a Democratic pick would have been even worse. In this crazy election cycle, though, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee had good reason to be reassuring his party’s more hide-bound base that he’s still likely to be at least somewhat better than the Democrat’s presumptive nominee.
Earlier in this ever-shifting race he had suggested that his partial-birth-abortion-loving federal judge of a sister would be a “wonderful” pick for the Supreme Court, and during a Republican debate had defended her by saying that “Judge Alito” had “signed on to the same bill” that she had about the issue, even though they’re called Justices on the Supreme Court and they don’t sign bills, and his concurrence with Trump’s sister was on a minor point and in no way endorsed her partial-birth-abortion enthusiasm, which is such a complicated bunch of nonsense that even a successful Supreme Court litigant such as vanquished rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz could not explain it to a gullible public. He also told once of his constant interviewers that he’s want to appoint Supreme Court nominees who would vigorously investigate the presumptive Democratic nominee’s highly dubious e-mail practices, which we still hope are already being investigated by all the authorities that are actually legally charged which such duties, and on many other occasions he’s exhibited a similar unfamiliarity with what Supreme Court Justices are properly called and what they actually do.
There’s also the matter of the presumptive Republican presidential nominees’ many other statements about the Constitution that our hide-bound Republican souls find troubling. For obvious reasons we are First Amendment purists, and his past widely-applauded boasts that his media critics will have “problems, such problems” once he re-writes the libel laws makes us doubt his commitment to the First Amendment, and his fealty to the Second Amendment seems quite newfound and malleable, and his praise of the “wonderful” Kelo decision that allows rich folks such as himself to gain eminent domain over some less well-heeled losers’ property rights raises serious doubts about his commitment to the Fifth Amendment, and it’s hard to imagine this crazy cycle’s presumptive Republican nominee nominating anyone who might restrain his own executive powers.
Given the presumptive Republican nominee’s long track of disregarding marriage vows and contractual agreements and basic standards of decency and any statements have e made just the other day, we also wonder how very committed he his to considering anyone on the list of potential candidates he has just announced. The list seems cribbed from the usually reliable Heritage Foundation and a radio talk show he’d previously mocked for his lower-than-“The Apprentice”-ratings, and if any of the “best people” that the presumptive Republican nominee promises he’ll hire had looked into it they’ll notice that one of those potential appointees has been constantly mocking him on “Twitter,” and we can’t shake a certain suspicion that it’s all as negotiable as anything else has been in the presumptive Republican nominee’s life.
Our reluctantly supportive Republican friends have been touting that list of “possible” Supreme Court nominees the same way they touted his impeccably conservative tax plan, which called for a cut in the top tax rates, and just as they try to explain the self-described-billionaire-who-won’t-release-his-tax-returns sudden shift to calling for a soak-the-rich system that the self-described socialist and seemingly vanquished Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling for, and in this crazy election cycle it is plausible, but not at all reassuring. The argument that the presumptive Democratic nominee is worse yet is still somewhat persuasive, but even to our most reluctantly friends who are supporting the presumptive Republican nominee it  cannot be at all reassuring. If there’s the slightest chance that something better might prevail, no matter how imperfect, we’ll be looking for it.

— Bud Norman

Justice Antonin Scalia, RIP

There is supposed to be no such thing as an irreplaceable man in a constitutional republic, where the rule of law and the God-given rights of the people are supposed to persist through the passing of the generations, but the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday at the too-young age of 79 will sorely test that dubious proposition.
One of the greatest jurists in American history, Scalia’s long career was devoted to defending the rule of law and the God-given rights of the people by insisting on the plain language and clear meaning of the Constitution. He did so when the Constitution favored liberal interests, he did so when the law and the Constitution favored conservative interests, and he most notably did it even went it against the prevailing tides of fickle public opinion that the Constitution was always intended to thwart. More importantly, he did it with a rare steadfastness and even rarer brilliance that in crucial moments that enabled his originalist theory of the Constitution to prevail over the idea that a mere five black-robed justices should be able to impose their beliefs on the other 300 million or so of the country no matter what the framers wrote or the states ratified or the people have long understood was the binding agreement.
Scalia was not only a decisive vote but also the the author of the very persuasive decision in Heller v. District of Columbia, which found that the Second Amendment’s guarantee of a right to keep and bear arms does indeed mean just that, even for the average schmuck who might need to defend his home and not just for a “well-regulated militia” that the left would happily regulate out of existence. He was a key voice in that Citizens United decision that all the Democrats and even some of the dimmer Republicans are still noisily insisting be overturned, and he wrote the far more persuasive concurring opinion, and all those soft-headed Bernie Sanders fans who share his indignation about it should know that its plain-meaning reading of the First Amendment basically said the government doesn’t have the right to exercise prior restraint of speech critical of Hillary Clinton or any other candidate of either party or any ideological persuasion, and that none of us would have a meaningful First Amendment without it. On every other occasion he was a reliable vote for whatever law had been passed by the people’s legislature and signed and by their duly-elected president which was not clearly in violation of the basic individual rights defined by the plain language of the Constitution, even if it was some dumb-ass law he and another four wised-up and black-robed jurists would have never voted for.
Even on those all-too-often occasion’s when Scalia insistence on the rule of law and the God-given rights of the people did not prevail, he wrote such brilliantly dissenting opinions that he will no doubt be quoted in some inevitable upcoming challenge, so he might yet prevail posthumously. His dissent in the Obergfel v. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex marriage will no doubt be cited in the countless forthcoming sentences against any bakers and photographers and churches who don’t want to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony, so there’s hope that Scalia’s legacy will persist. There were enough times when Scalia thwarted George W. Bush and there’s some residual bipartisan spirits that obliges the likes of President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to pay him some lip service, and the press is being strangely respectful, and Scalia has earned his moment of national respect.
The petty politics immediately intrude, though, and there’s the legally-required matter of how to replace such an irreplaceable man. While we hate to presume what such a more learned jurist as Scalia might opine, our reading of the plain language in the Constitution suggests that Obama has every constitutional right to name an appointee at a time of his choosing, the Senate has every constitutional right to ignore it at its own leisure, and our guess is that Scalia wouldn’t mind a bit if the inevitably messy fight stretched out noisily into the next presidency. If the next president is Sanders or the soon-to-be-constitutionally-protected-from-criticism Clinton, a lot of those 5-4 decisions from the good old days of the plain meaning the Constitution will suddenly mean that the the First Amendment doesn’t allow criticism of public officials and the Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee a right to keep and bear arms, and the rest of the Constitution will mean whatever five black-robed jurists and fickle pubic opinion think it ought to mean. At the moment the the front-runner for the Republican nomination has mentioned his sister, who authored a soon-to-be-overturned opinion finding a right to late-term abortion, would make a “phenomenal” Supreme Court Justice, and who joined in a ridiculous politically-correct outcry that Scalia was racist for questioning the effect that affirmative action admission policies at universities have on its supposed beneficiaries, and although the rest of the field are making more reasonable suggestions their party doesn’t have a good track record of lately finding jurists such as the Reagan-appointed Scalia. Our guess is that the even the most weak-kneed Republicans won’t dare allow a lame duck appointment, and after a respectful moment or two the Democrats will revert to screaming about censoring anti-Democrat speech and compelling same-sex-wedding-cake-baking laws, and that there’s no guessing how that might come out. So far even the squishiest Republicans are digging in their heels, Obama has backed off a recess appointment, and we don’t think there’s much sentiment in of the recently outraged parties for a new Supreme Court Justice to ban anti-Hillary Clinton speech and repeal gun rights and whatever else five black-robed justices might come up with, so we’ll hold out hope.
Such petty politics aside, we’ll also take a moment to note that by all accounts Scalia was a good man. He was a devoted husband for 56 years, beloved father to nine children, and was such a remarkably genial gentleman that he even maintained a famously affectionate relationship with his constant nemesis Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He once spoke at the high school graduation ceremony of one of his many grandchildren, and we think he spoke best for himself when he urged them “not just to be zealous in in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones. That is perhaps the hardest part of being a good human being. Good intentions are not enough. Being a good person begins with being a wise person. Then, when you follow your conscience, you will be headed in the right direction.”
We pray that Justice Scalia’s wisdom has led him in the direction to eternal peace, after so many years of toil on this troublesome earth, and that somehow the rule of the law and the God-given rights of the people it is meant to protect will persist through the passing of the generations.

— Bud Norman

Guns and Tears and Shady Statistics

One hardly knows where to begin grousing about that awful speech President Barack Obama gave about guns Tuesday. There was the usual annoyingly self-referential style, the same old calls for respectful argument and the same old slurs against those disagree with him, typically distorted statistics, yet more executive actions that override duly passed and signed laws, the predictable bad policies billed as “common sense,” the obligatory assurances that he believes in the Second Amendment and the rest of all that constitutional stuff, and he even threw in a couple of tears to make it seems as he cares.
Perhaps the most galling thing about the speech was that Obama chose to give it in the first place. He had a chance to persuade the public to persuade their legislators to pass his favored gun control laws when his fanatically loyal party controlled both chambers of Congress, and then again when the major media were crusading for more gun regulations after the mass shooting at a Connecticut school, and at this point we suspect that most Americans would prefer to hear what their president is doing about the inflamed Middle East or the sputtering economy or the rapidly accumulating national debt or almost anything other than some pointless gun control rules that only the most rule-abiding gun owners will abide.
We say “rules” rather than “laws” because there are already laws that quite specifically define who is a gun dealer and thus has to conduct background checks and obey other existing laws, and Obama’s executive action extends that definition to anyone who wants to sell his brother-in-law an old handgun. The extra-constitutional power grab is all the more offensive because it is unlikely to prevent any criminal or mentally ill person from acquiring a gun, and is more likely to prevent a law-abiding citizen from acquiring a weapon needed for self-defense. By now such rule by presidential fiat is taken for granted, and even some Republicans seem eager to wield such newfound imperial powers, but one can hope that some outrage about it still persists.
How insulting, too, that Obama would shed few a tears over the deaths that his policies won’t prevent. About two-thirds of those 30,000 gun deaths that Obama lamented are suicides, so as long as there are poisons and razor blades and tall buildings and gas ovens and rope and other means of self-inflicted death no amount of gun control will stop those, and we can’t recall when Obama has never spoken about the largely white and middle aged suicide problem. Another phony-baloney statistic that Obama offered was about Connecticut’s 40 percent decrease in gun deaths since it passed laws similar to what he has proposed, which is true enough but best understood in context of the unmentioned fact that the national homicide rate has declined 50 percent in that time while gun ownership has increased as substantially. He also mentioned an increase in Missouri’s homicide rate after loosening its gun laws, but neglected to say anything about the spike in the St. Louis area’s murders since the “Black Lives Matter” movement sent the police there into retreat. Nor did he mention the interesting statistic that his own Justice Department has had 38 percent fewer convictions on existing duly passed and signed gun laws than the gun-crazy Bush administration, and of course he once again didn’t say anything about alarming rate of murders in Chicago, the community he once organized and is now under the imperial control of his former chief of staff.
Don’t worry about slippery slope toward even more draconian gun restrictions, though, because Obama once again went through the “ritual” — his own term — of assuring the American people that he was a former adjunct professor of constitutional law and is sure enough committed to the Second Amendment. He didn’t say “If you like you guns, you can keep your guns,” but it had the same suspicious ring to it. It’s enough to make one cry, even if you’re not the lachrymose type like former House Speaker John Boehner, who was laughed at by the same people who were choked up by Obama’s tears, but we react more in anger than in sorrow.

— Bud Norman

Picking a Gun Fight

The president has seemed awfully cocksure since his re-election, but he might have at last overplayed his hand by picking a fight with America’s gun owners.
We could be wrong, of course. At the time we had thought that Obamacare and the $800 billion or so of wasted stimulus money and the flurry of taxes and regulations and the various scandals and all the rest of it would have aroused the country’s ire, but after a mid-term temper tantrum the country decided to go along with the program for so long as the entitlement money kept flowing. With the election in hand, a tax hike for the rich successfully imposed on the dispirited Republicans, the entitlement money still flowing, and the country recently outraged by yet another mass shooting, the White House has some reason to believe it can roll back gun rights by any means necessary without political consequence.
Still, from our perspective here on the plains there seems a strong likelihood of a significant backlash. The tragedy in Connecticut has at least momentarily created a climate favorable to strict gun controls, but the past couple hundred years of constitutional governance have inculcated in the American people a hard-to-break habit of exercising a God-given right to bear arms. A government can gradually whittle away a people’s rights with light bulb regulations and individual insurance mandates and smoking bans in honky-tonks and the like, much like bringing the proverbial frog to a boil, but striking at a right so fundamental as self-defense will not go unnoticed.
We find plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this notion. The National Rifle Association is polling better than Obama and its membership is swelling, gun sales are booming, newspapers crusading against gun rights are losing even more readers, many of the states are continuing to codify gun rights in their laws, and gun rights advocates refuse to be shamed by their supposed betters and are instead even more outspoken. Thus far the Republican party seems to be sticking to its traditional support for the Second Amendment, which should be sufficient to thwart any legislative attempts to restrict gun rights, and there is even reason to hope that the courts will intervene if Obama uses executive orders to circumvent the constitution.
Support for gun rights is widely spread, as well. There seems to be some support for gun control in the densely populated cities back east, where even such stalwart fiscal conservatives as Rudy Guiliani and Chris Christie are susceptible to the anti-gun instinct, but we have long noticed that there is considerable support for guns here in flyover country, where even some of our most infuriatingly liberal friends have closets full of the things. Our long and intimate acquaintanceships with numerous gun owners suggest that any laws which do somehow get passed by congress and upheld by the courts will be widely ignored, and that popular sentiment will celebrate the law-breaking the same way it during Prohibition and the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit and every other era of unpopular laws.
The Obama administration reliably refuses to let a crisis go to waste, to paraphrase the famous words of former chief of staff and longtime gun foe Rahm Emanuel, but in its attempt to take advantage of the raw emotions caused by the Connecticut tragedy it might be underestimating a sense of impending crisis that makes this an especially inopportune time to attack gun rights. Obama’s cocksureness has rendered him incapable of sensing the widespread anxiety that the already weak economy will soon come crashing down under the weight of federal debt and onerous regulation, and that when the entitlement money stops flowing those guns are going to come in very handy.
There’s a feeling afoot, too, that any government so fearful of its people that it seeks to disarm them should in turn be feared. That’s another old American habit that’s hard to break.

— Bud Norman