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An Balance of Power and an Imbalance of Everything Else

For some reason or another a few of the votes cast in this crazy presidential election year are still being counted, but by now it seems certain that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will win the popular vote by a comfortable margin. This doesn’t change the more salient fact that Republican nominee Donald Trump won by a similarly comfortable margin in the electoral vote and is thus the president-elect, nor should it, but the final tally of votes cast across the country is still a fact worth pondering.
This crazy election year has resulted in a slight Republican majority in the Senate and a more sizable majority in the House of Representatives, a recent Republican of unproven Republicanism in the White House, a good shot at a Republican majority in the Supreme Court for another generation, and a number of Republican governors and state legislatures and county commissions and small town councils and school boards not seen since the days of Calvin Coolidge. At such a moment of seeming political triumphalism as this, unseen since the eight short years ago when Democratic nominee Barack Obama became president with a more impressive electoral majority and the Democrats had a bigger edge in the House and a filibuster-proof advantage in the Senate and another generation of the Supreme Court suddenly within reach, something in our instinctively gloomy conservative soul is struck by the unavoidable truth that the GOP has now lost six of the past seven presidential popular votes.
Take a look at an electoral map of any of the past several presidential election years, not just this crazy one, and you’ll immediately notice that the Republican red portions take up far more space than the Democratic blue portions. That long swath of blue running down the west coast and the blue patch in the southwest and those usual blue suspects in the northeast have as many people packed into them as that vast red splotch, however, and although they’re now narrowly missing a couple of those rust-belt states along the Great Lakes it would be foolish to assume the Democrats and their popular vote plurality are a vanquished foe. The recent Republican of questionable Republicanism who is now the president-elect has often seemed eager to please that portion of the popularity market, and some of the more longstanding Republicans who won more votes in their states are already set to clash with their newly-fledged party leaders on a variety of issues, and there’s no telling what strange bed-fellowships might spare us from or lead us into the worst of it. It’s bound to be contentious, and as the president-elect might say, that we can tell you, believe us, OK?
We’ll hold out faint hope that the same crazy constitutional system that somehow resulted in this crazy election year will once again withstand such craziness. Surely the founding fathers didn’t intend the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, any more than they would have desired the election of Hillary Clinton to that office, but from our perspective in the middle of the country we think they were wise to devise a system that prevented those small but densely populated blue dots from imposing their will on those vast yet sparsely populated red splotches, and made it hard for either one to ultimately vanquish the other. California and New York can do any constitutional yet crazy thing they want to so long as we hayseed Kansans and our mere six electoral votes are free to pursue whatever craziness we might choose, as far as we’re concerned, and we still think that’s the best arrangement for 50 very different states striving to form a more perfect union. Our liberal friends here in Kansas won’t like it, and we’ve got a rock-ribbedly Republican brother stuck in California who’s just as disgruntled, and there’s no guarantee that anyone will like how those matters of unavoidably national interest are settled, but it might just turn out to be at least tolerable to everyone.

— Bud Norman

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Dr. Strangelove Goes to Iran

The Associated Press has filed a report on the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and it’s a remarkable piece of work. Rarely will you see so much partisan political spin packed into so few column inches. Headlined “US faces last best chance on Iran nuke deal,” the ostensibly objective article depicts heroic efforts by the administration to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb “before skeptical Republicans who will control Congress next year can scuttle it.” There’s not a bit of skepticism on the part of the Associated Press about the proposed deal, which we are told “would deliver a foreign policy triumph for the White House,” so the reader is left to surmise that those dastardly Republicans would rather imperil world peace than allow the president a political victory.
This will be the official version of the story, as well, but only for so long as it suits official purposes. The article helpfully explains that the administration is hoping that its soaring rhetoric and charming nature will have fully pacified Iran after 35 years of its relentless belligerence by Nov. 24, because that’s when an agreed-upon “deadline” for negotiations occurs, but given the flexible nature of diplomacy and the administration’s disregard for deadlines in presenting its legally-required budget proposals or implementing Obamacare the authors don’t bother to deny that the real cut-off date in the negotiations coincides with the installation of a Republican Senate majority on the third of January. Until then, the White House will be counting on such sympathetic press coverage to sell the idea that whatever it gets out of its many months of desperate pleading is some sort of deus ex machina that must be ratified by a lame duck Senate right this very moment before Republican skullduggery or some other pesky sort of public scrutiny blows the historic opportunity for a lasting peace with the Islamic Republic.
Afterwards, though, the official version of the story will likely be that we should learn to stop worrying and love the Iranian bomb. The president’s apologetic public pronouncements and private correspondence to the Iranian regime have been met with rhetoric more contemptuous that anything even the most “tea party” Republican muster, the Iranians seem to have figured out that the threatened sanctions only last until they agree to continue the endless negotiations, there is no worry that the administration will support any popular uprising that might result from the country’s economic woes, America clearly poses no military threat to the regime for at least the next two years, administration officials have boasted of restraining an Israeli threat and would clearly intervene against any threats by the Sunni and Arab nations who feel threatened by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, so it’s hard to see why the Iranians would suddenly be inclined to cut a deal favorable to the interests of the Great Satan. Nor is there any reason to believe the Iranians can be trusted to follow through on any concessions they might make, as their long history has apparently continued right through the last round of negotiations. Nor is there any reason to believe that the administration really cares what happens after a deal is reached so long as they can get one in time for the Associated Press and like-minded media to proclaim it a foreign policy triumph.
The president continues to insist that “Our number one priority with respect to Iran is making sure they don’t get a nuclear weapon,” and is quoted saying so without any apparent skepticism in all the stories, but the position is never fully explained. He’s already acceded the Iranian regime the right to enrich uranium and pursue a civilian nuclear program in its oil-rich country, apologized for America’s alleged misdeeds against the Islamic Republic, carefully avoided any mention of Iran’s many misdeeds against America, declared to the assembled United Nations that no nation has the right to dictate to another, saved his administration’s foul-mouthed insults and dictates about housing policy and other internal matters for Israel, so it’s hard to imagine his rationale for denying one of the wretched of the earth a mere nuclear bomb or two. He’s also failed to explain exactly what America will do about it if the Iranians persist in building a nuclear weapon, and we have no confidence the Iranians are cowed by the prospect of a more sternly worded speech.
Any deal that emerges from this hurried mess of dealing from weakness will warrant far more skepticism than the Associated Press can muster. and should be subject to a sufficient period of public deliberation. Iran must promise a complete halt to all of nuclear weapons research and development, completely reliable verification systems must be established, a threat of force if all conditions are not met must be included, and some explanation for why such an inexplicable breakthrough has occurred other than the irresistible appeal of Secretary of State John Kerry must be offered. Otherwise, we’re siding with those dastardly Republicans who would rather imperil world peace than allow the president a political victory.

— Bud Norman

A Good Day, All in All

There was a lot of good news on Tuesday. Republicans won control of the Senate, increased their majority in the House of Representatives, reelected a few governors who will now be formidable presidential candidates, and the drubbed Democrats are blaming their already unpopular president. Still, our reaction is a sense of relief rather than elation.
That unpopular president will remain in office for another two years to create all sorts of domestic havoc with his pen and phone and penchant for ignoring constitutional restraints, he’ll still have plenty of legitimate authority to continue his disastrous foreign policy, and the best one can hope for from the newly Republican Congress is that they’ll limit the damage. Although the president was brusquely rebuffed by the electorate that will likely make him all the more defiant of public opinion, and the election results cannot be seen as a widespread public embrace of any Republican principles rather a much-needed obstructionism. Several races were saved by a temporary truce between the warring factions of the Republican party, a welcome development, but the divisions remain and the elections will likely bolster the less conservative side. Such godawful Democrats as Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall survived the night, too, and such sizable states as New York and California remain lost causes.
Our reflexive Republican gloominess notwithstanding, however, there really was a lot of good news. The sound of “Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid” is soothing to our ears, and a more conservative and assertive House majority might well prod its Senate colleagues into a more confrontational stance. The surviving Democrats won’t feel any further obligation to rally around a lame duck president who did little to offer them help and often seemed intent on sabotaging their campaigns, and whatever mischief the president might attempt on his own is going to be a good issue for the Republicans to run on in the next presidential race should the country survive to that late date. That nonsense about a “Republican war on women” fell so flat it probably won’t be revived any time soon, shameful efforts to increase black turnout with talk of Republicans gunning down innocent black children in the streets didn’t prevent their candidates from losing in Georgia and North Carolina and other southern states, and even great gobs of money from labor unions and fashionably liberal billionaires and gullible unemployed hipsters living in their parents’ basements under a fading “Hope and Change” poster couldn’t buy a win in the most hotly contested races.
Some pretty impressive politicians also stepped into the spotlight, too. We’re expecting good things from Senator-elect Joni Ernst in Iowa and Representative-elect Elise Stefanik in New York and Utah’s Representative-elect Mia Love, among others who won their first races, and we can also hope that their hard-earned wins put a final nail in the coffin of that “war on women” nonsense. Gov. Scott Walker’s comfortable margin of victory in Wisconsin, which was his third win in four years after a brutal recall effort two years ago, and came despite the more bare-knuckle sort of tactics by the pubic sector unions he had bravely challenge, sets him up nicely for a presidential run that we would be inclined to support. Wins by the similarly successful governors Rick Perry of Texas, John Kasich of Ohio, and Rick Snyder of Michigan indicate that the party will have a strong field of candidates outside of Washington, D.C., to choose from. Almost as satisfying was that such odious Democrats as Texas gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis and incumbent Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and Wisconsin gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke not only lost but wound up as laughingstocks in the process.
Things worked out well here in Kansas, as well, although it was too close for the comfort to which we have become accustomed. Gov. Sam Brownback had to sweat out a tight race, having annoyed the teachers’ unions and the Republicans who had been nicked by his budget-cutting and the hard-core Democrats who for some reason seethe with a red-hot hatred for every curly hair on his head, but he won despite the further disadvantage of not being able to tie a gubernatorial candidate to that unpopular president. We know Brownback to be a good man, but we’re mainly glad that the Democrats won’t be able to claim that his tax-and-budget-cutting policies had been repudiated.  In a race without an admitted Democrat, Sen. Pat Roberts won by a more comfortable margin, although not nearly what a Republican incumbent should expect in this state.  We attribute the victory mainly to that unpopular president and the putatively independent opponent’s inability to avoid an association with him, but also to the endorsements of such locally beloved conservative icons as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been at the forefront of a national effort to restrict voting to eligible voters, survived an challenge that had been well-funded from donors around the nation who seek make voter fraud easier. All the Republican congressional incumbents won handily, including the First District’s Tim Huelskamp, whose conservative fervency had so annoyed his own party’s leadership that he was stripped of important committee assignments and was at one point thought vulnerable. Our favorite Sedgwick County Commissioner won, too, despite the reservation of the Republicans with a business interest in county politics and the Democrats’ lavish backing of an heiress to a local black political dynasty.

All the state and local races were close enough that the Democrats around here had great expectations, so it was also nice to see their hopes dashed yet again. Tuesday might not prevent another desultory couples of years, but it did provide some compensatory satisfactions.

— Bud Norman