Advertisements

The Republican Race Just Got Angrier and Better

The average Republican primary voter’s seething anger toward the party’s congressional leadership has been the driving force in the party’s presidential race thus far, to the point it’s driven the electorate so stark raving mad that until recently itDonald Trump has been pushed to the top of the polls, and this looming budget deal that the leadership has concocted with President Barack Obama is not going to calm any conservative’s temper.
The deal is just plain awful in every way. It effectively ends the “sequestration” budget cuts that lowered the government’s share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product from 25 to 20 percent and reduced the annual budget deficits back to the level of the Bush administration, which admittedly doesn’t seem like much, and it also caused cuts in defense spending that are painful to conservative sensibilities, but it was arguably the best the leadership could get and inarguably the most that the leadership could brag about. This is in exchange for promises of budget cuts in 2025, which are unlikely to be worth as much as the magic beans that the Democrats had also offered, and basically represents a complete and utter capitulation to Obama and his free-spending ways. There’s nothing in the deal that addresses Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts business or the Environmental Protection Agency’s rapaciousness or any other other conservative budget complaints, it goes the wrong way on entitlement reform, and it outlasts the Obama administration and thus spares him any more fights over how he spends the public’s money.
As awful as it is as policy, it’s even worse as politics. Aside from infuriating their own average primary voter, and in a futile attempt to lure the sort of uninformed general election voter who is far more likely to be lured by whatever free and shiny object the Democrats are offering, the Republican party’s official leadership are weakening their position with the solid majority of respondents to almost every poll we’ve ever seen who think the government should spend less and do less. The official Republican leadership’s spin on it seems to be that Boehner shrewdly sacrificed his standing with his party’s vast membership, such as it was, to ensure that incoming Speaker John Ryan can begin his more steadfastly conservative reign untainted by the sins his predecessor had so selflessly taken upon himself. This is all going to going down with Ryan’s gavel, though, and he’s not going to get any credit for it from the more establishmentarian organs of the mainstream press, who are already gearing up to portray him throughout the presidential campaign as the right-wing crazy that he used to be back in the good old days of ’12 when he was chosen as the party’s running mate to placate a conservative base weary of the establishment nominee Mitt Romney. Since then Ryan’s gone wobbly on illegal immigration and government shutdown brinksmanship and other causes dear to conservatives’ hearts, however, and by now no knowledgable observer expects a reign more steadfastly conservative than Boehner’s. Thus we have an emboldened left, a dispirited right, and an uninformed middle that will be reassured by the 3l-second network news snippets in between pop songs that the Republicans are still crazily right-wing and the Democrats are still winning.
The average Republican primary voter gets his news in three-hour chunks from talk radio and in page after pixelled page of reliable conservative news sources on the internet and sometimes even on a printed page, and his response to all of this will naturally affect the presidential race. Our guess is that the already flourishing anti-establishment candidates who are completely untainted by any previous elective office will continue to do well, and it will be interesting to see if blustery real estate billionaire Donald Trump or soft-spoken physician Ben Carson gets the best of it, or if the formidable but fading high executive Carly Fiorina can get back in the mix. As the best-selling author of “The Art of Deal,” with a hard-to-deny reputation as a ruthless dealmaker, Trump should gain some advantage, although we’re still convinced what kind of a deal the relatively recent Republican and only occasionally conservative fellow consider would consider good. Among the establishment politicians, both Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are presented with an excellent opportunity, and it will be interesting to see which one makes the most of it. Given the understandably seething anger of the average Republican primary voter, we expect they’ll try to out-do one another in their willingness to gum up the works. If we were betting men, and if he we had any money to bet, we’d go with Cruz.
Both men came into office by besting the “establishment” candidates in their states, with Rubio the most celebrated because he had upset the hated Rockefeller Republican and soon-to-be Democrat Charlie Crist in his primary, and in a swing state at that, but since then Cruz has proved the more reckless provocateur. His filibustering attempts on previous budget showdowns were widely blamed for the inevitable frenzy of news stories about National Parks closing and old folks dying while their Social Security checks went undelivered and Earth spinning out of its orbit that inevitably followed, as well as the electoral disasters that also didn’t happen, so of course the average Republican primary voter, if not the uninformed voter hearing those 30-second news snippets, has looked kindly upon him ever since. As the most notoriously anti-establishment of the elected officials, he’s well positioned to lead a charge here, and he strikes as the sort who seize it.
Rubio might surprise us, though. We still fondly recall the handsome young fellow who vanquished Crist, and all the rousing speeches about capitalism and constitutional guarantees of liberty and all that full-throated Cuban anti-communism, and we can’t help thinking he’d make a good pick against whatever crazy lefty the Democrats might come up with. Although the 30-second news snippets will continue to characterize him as a right-wing crazy he still needs to shore up that credential with we actual right-wing crazies, so a good old-fashioned Jimmy Stewart-style filibuster would do him even more good. It would also remind the public that he’s a Senator doing his job, which further refutes a minor controversy about all the Senate votes he’s been missing lately while out on the campaign trail, and ensures his name showing up in a lot of headlines that even the most uninformed voters are likely to spot.
Former Florida governor and Bush family scion “Jeb!” Bush tried to exploit the mixed votes in this weeks presidential debate, and the general consensus of pundit opinion is that Rubio responded nicely by contrasting his record with presidential candidates ranging from Sen. John McCain to Sen. Barack Obama, and that Bush’s already faltering campaign took another hit. We can’t see how the oh-so-establishment candidate from the oh-so-establishment family ever thought he stood a chance, and we can’t see how he’ll get one out of a budget deal that confirms every seething angry anti-establishment suspicion of the average Republican voter. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also had a good night slapping around the media in the last debate, but he has a certain East Coast attitude about guns and a shoddy record on Muslim jurists and other issues dear to the hearts of more heartland conservatives, as well as the audio of him of praising Obama’s Hurricane Sandy efforts and photos of them hugging together on the New Jersey shore like the end of some of Will Smith-Josh Rogan “bromance,” so he also never stood a chance and doesn’t stand to gain one from this awful budget deal.
Whichever candidate winds up winning the nomination on the seething angriness of the seething angriness of the average Republican primary voter, we don’t worry that all the pandering will hurt their chances in a general election against what left-wing crazy the Democrats put up. For all the effort packed into those 30-second spots to make the Republicans look extreme, the Democrats are staking out wildly unpopular positions on guns, illegal immigration, law enforcement, abortion, and even on the economic issues that take more than 30 seconds to explain. If Rubio or Cruz have to explain their brinksmanship on a budget showdown to a general electorate, they can say that they did it so that the government would have to spend less and do less, which always polls well, especially after the National Parks are re-opened and the old folks never did miss a Social Security check and Earth stays in its orbit. Given the mood of the average American voter, who by now regards both the Democrats and Republicans with a seething angry suspicion, the candidate that is mostly convincingly running against both parties stands to do well.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

A Good Reason for a Bad Deal

An un-civil war within the Republican Party rages on, with the latest battle being fought over a proposed budget deal.
The bargain was made by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, formerly a hero of the right, and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, still a heroine of the left, but there is no such compromise among the various sorts of conservatives. All of the crazed anarchist Tea Party radicals, represented by such right-wing talk radio ranters as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, think the deal is a capitulation to Obama’s big spending leviathan of overreaching government, while the weak-kneed, lily-livered RINOs of the elitist back east establishment, represented by such traditional conservative print media as the National Review and the Weekly Standard, reckon the deal is as good as the Republicans are likely to get. Democrats are similarly split between the dope-addled progressives who long for the good old days of trillion dollar deficits and the Clintonian “third way” types who still feel obliged to give lip service to fiscal sanity, but they always seem to come together whenever there are Republicans to be vanquished, so the clash of caricatures in the GOP is getting all the attention.
Being crazed anarchist Tea Party radicals ourselves, but pragmatic and patient by temperament, we have sympathy for both sides of the Republican debate.
The deal is, without doubt, far less than we would hope for. It weakens the sequester budgets which, for all their faults, have been the only effective restraint on deficit spending during the Obama administration. The cuts that are included will take place in the future, meaning they might not happen at all, while the next two years leading up to the presidential election will see an increase in spending, which will certainly happen. There are tax increases, too, although mostly in the form of user fees, which are slightly more tolerable to a conservative sensibility than other means of taxation, and much of the savings is based on the dubious assumption that the government will start to do a better job of eliminating waste and fraud. Even if one accepts all the assumptions involved in the deal, it’s still light years away from the draconian budget cuts and thorough entitlement reforms needed to set the nation’s finances in some semblance of order.
It is a budget deal, however, and after five years of continuing resolutions that continually handed unprecedented power to a unfettered Obama administration almost any return to the constitutional appropriations process would represent an important improvement. Most of the increases in the sequester budget will go to national defense, still a cause dear to conservative hearts, and 92 percent of the sequester remains in place. Even with the increases in discretionary spending, the total budget for 2014 and 2015 will still be less than that the proposal that made Ryan a conservative hero and liberal villain right after the Republicans won the House in 2010. There are no income tax increases in the deal, which provides some much needed consternation to the Democrats, and without doubt it is far less than a liberal might hope for.
As much as we’d prefer a better deal, preferably one administered with a chain saw rather than scalpel, it is hard to see how that might be attainable at this unfortunate moment when Democrats control the Senate and the White House and the news and entertainment media. Republican hard-liners are urging the threat of another partial government shut-down, which wouldn’t inconvenience us or the national economy any more than the last one did, but that didn’t force any Democratic concessions then and it probably wouldn’t on the next try. Last time around it was the House that took the shut-down stand while the wise old Senators urged caution, while this time around the Senators are being threatened with primary challenges and are suddenly the more confrontational chamber, but in any case the Democrats will be just as happy to let their opponents take all the blame for whatever horror stories the networks are running on the evening news.
The hard-liners’ damn-the-polls-full-steam-ahead attitude has an undeniable appeal to us, but at a time when the Democrats’ poll numbers are sinking under the weight of Obamacare and all the other failures of Obamaism there is an equally irresistible temptation to sit back and let them take the blame for a change. Maybe we’re just tired out from all the political battles, or the wallpaper-stripping we’ve been doing for an old friend who bought a new home, but we’re inclined to take what we can get and rest up for another day. Both sides of the intra-party dispute have been intemperate in their squabble over an issue that most voters are too busy with Christmas shopping and National Football League games to care about, but if they can stave off self-destruction for another 11 months or so they have a good chance of making significant gains in next year’s mid-term elections that could make those planned cuts a reality. They might even use those gains to win more crucial victories in 2016.
One can only hope that it won’t be too late, but taking what we can get now might allow us to get what we want in the future.

— Bud Norman

Something to Crow About

The latest official economic reports were released last week, and all the big news media began singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.” There was enough hoopla to make one forget about Obamacare and Iranian nukes, if not the government shutdown and sequester budget cuts that were supposed to cause economic catastrophe.
The “headline numbers” did sound good, with the third quarter’s gross domestic product increasing by a respectable 3.6 percent and the unemployment rate ticking down to five-year-low of 7 percent, and most of the news stories were content to leave it at that. Those obsessively curious sorts who read past the headlines were likely less impressed, however, as the underlying numbers don’t show the economy has stopped being lousy.
Although the jobs report brings good news for the 203,000 Americans who found work last month, there are still 1.1 million fewer Americans working than there were when the recession started in 2008, and 3.6 million fewer with full time jobs than in 2007. While the unemployment rate might have dropped, the more telling employment rate — the percentage of the country’s potential workers who are employed — is still stuck at November 2009’s rate of 58.6 percent, and at the current rate that is being celebrated by the media it will take another five years to get back to pre-recession levels. Also worth noting is that most of the new jobs were in the public sector, which is a mixed blessing at best and not a sign of robust private sector growth, and that the record numbers of long-term unemployed seem to have found little relief.
That supposedly surging growth in the GDP also looks less reassuring on closer inspection. The report reveals that private businesses increased their inventories by $116.5 billion to account for 1.68 percent of the increase, and if this is true the most likely explanation is that the goods customers aren’t buying are starting to pile up on the shelves. Some smart people suspect that it isn’t true, and that the government has overstated the growth until the less-watched revisions are released in some future and perhaps more friendly news cycle, and in the wake of revelations that the pre-election unemployment numbers were fudged such conspiracy theories no longer seem at all far-fetched.
Still, the numbers are good enough that the president and his remaining loyal supporters in the news media will shout them loudly enough to be heard over all the grumbling about Obamacare. They’ll boast that the progress comes in spite of those stingy Republicans and their sequestering and shutting-down ways, ignoring the possibility that even such a feeble amount of fiscal restraint by assuring jittery investors that the nation’s bankruptcy might come a little later rather than a little sooner, and argue that it proves the need for ever more “investments” in phony-baloney “green energy” and community-organizing scams and infrastructure projects that never seem to be shovel-ready. After five years of slow growth and high unemployment and rapidly expanded government this will be a hard sell, but it beats talking about the rest of news.

— Bud Norman

In Search of Silver Linings

How bad was the jobs report released on Tuesday? So bad that the unemployment rate went down by a fraction, the stock markets went up by a percent, and Democrats openly admitted their disappointment.
None of these seemingly positive developments should be mistaken for good news, however, given the currently convoluted nature of the American economy. The unemployment rate dropped only because many thousands more Americans gave up any hope of ever finding a job and joined the record number of economic drop-outs. The stock markets surged only because the jobs report was so dismal that it will almost certainly force the Federal Reserve to continue the incessant money-printing that has fueled the deceptive rally. Even the grudging acknowledgements of failure from the Democrats offers little solace, as it’s all a set-up to blaming the “sequester” budget cuts and the temporary partial government shutdown and other Republican perfidy.
An increasingly anxious American public isn’t likely to be misled about the state of the economy by obviously obfuscated unemployment numbers or obviously overpriced stock markets, but there’s always a good chance that that it will buy the part about Republican perfidy. Both the “sequester” and the partial government shutdown had little effect on most Americans, and went entirely unnoticed by almost all of the significant number of blissfully ignorant folks who avoid reading or hearing the news, but there’s a nasty ring to both of them that can be easily exploited. Any fair-minded observer would concede that the Democrats share at least some of the blame for both the “sequester” and shutdown, and that the currently dismal numbers come long after the former and before the latter, but the fair-minded are an insignificant voting bloc these days. One could make a strong argument that Obamacare, other excessive regulations, higher tax rates, growing governmental debt, and the ever more apparent incompetence of a government that daily acquires ever more control of the country have more to do with the sluggish economy than a slight cut in misspending or paid vacations for nonessential government workers, but strong arguments are easily countered by caricatured villains.
Should the Democrats succeed in their blame game, there’s really no good news in the jobs report at all. There are 148,000 new jobs, and we’re glad for that tiny minority of newly-hired workers, but that number is lower than the already-puny annual average and doesn’t offset the exodus of former job-seekers from the work force. At a time when good news is actually bad news we try to remain hopeful that the bad news presages the good news that the people will at last become fed up and try to reverse course, but the people might just agree that what’s required is more of the same.

— Bud Norman

Chest-thumping and Finger-pointing

The President of the United States was in a noticeably sour mood on Monday, which is understandable. Things have been going so badly for him lately that even the journalists he took time to address have been noticing, what with his failure to whip up any enthusiasm for so much as an “unbelievably small” missile strike on Syria and the economy still sputtering along and much of the public beginning to figure that his signature Obamacare is a boondoggle, and as he took the stage he was even being upstaged by the mass murder occurring at a nearby naval facility. The surly speech he proceeded to snarl out despite the distraction, alas, is not likely to help with any of it.
After a brief acknowledgement of “the tragedy that’s unfolding not far away” the president even more briefly addressed the recent events regarding Syria, but his heart didn’t seem to be in either subject. His reference to “yet another mass shooting” hinted at yet another round of efforts to enact more pointless gun control laws, but he’s clearly not enthusiastic about it after his last attempt suffered a humiliating legislative defeat, and we suspect he was being cautious as it wasn’t even yet known if the shootings could be plausibly blamed on the Tea Party. He’d already given a network television interview over the weekend that tried to portray his capitulation to his gleeful Russian tormentors on the Syrian issue as a diplomatic masterstroke, and was thus content to humbly explain that his agreement to outsource the problem to Vladimir Putin was “an important step” that might someday eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons “if implemented properly.”
With all that out of the way the president then spent the next several minutes boasting about the fine job he’s done on the economy, which no doubt came as a surprise to any people with personal experience of it. He noted that the unemployment rate has fallen without mentioning that it’s mostly because a record number of Americans have stopped looking for work and are not longer counted in the statistics, boasted of record production of natural gas as if he hasn’t been an impediment to it, gloated of the record amount of renewable energy being produced as if it’s even a negligible portion of the energy being consumed, and touted the “investments” made in new technologies without conceding how many of them have ended in bankruptcy. Space and reader interest will now allow a full refutation of the rosy scenario proffered by the president, but suffice to say that a far greater portion of the speech was devoted to assigning blame for the lousy state of the economy.
The culprit, unsurprisingly enough, are the Republicans. “The problem is, at the moment, Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be focused on how to growth the economy and build the middle class,” the president said, adding with characteristic snark that “I say ‘at the moment’ because I am still hoping that a light bulb goes off here.” He explained that the Republicans are only interested in cutting funding for education, scientific research, and infrastructure, which have apparently replaced poor people and old folks as the things conservatives hate most, and that any cuts to these sacred projects would result in economic calamity. He then scoffed at concerns about the deficit, proudly and dubiously claiming that he would soon halve the deficits that he had indisputably doubled in each of his first four years in office, and seemed to suggest that the budget cuts forced on him by Congress had nothing to do with it. Indeed, the president insisted that the “sequester” cuts that he once proposed and now blames on the Republicans are responsible for almost all of the nation’s economic ills. “That’s the opinion of independent economists, too,” he added, without mentioning any by name. If the Republicans don’t agree and persist in seeking any budget cuts they pry out of the president, he added, it’s because they don’t want people to have jobs.
“Congress’ most fundamental job is passing a budget,” the president said, and with such a straight face that he might not even be aware that the Congress went his entire first term without doing so because the Democrats were loathe to go on the record as supporting the president’s unprecedented spending. Although the president wasn’t so insistent on the Congress doing its most fundamental job at that time, he’s now downright strict about it because he wants a budget that includes full funding for his Obamacare law and is eager to blame the Republicans for anything that happens without one. “I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants,” the president sniffed, even though the relatively few Republicans threatening to de-fund Obamacare say they’ll offer a budget with almost everything the president wants except that, and he seemed genuinely annoyed by the dissent.
The president obviously takes Obamacare personally, and given the law’s increasing unpopularity with the public it is not surprising the topic makes him so very testy. He continues to insist that the law will cause everyone’s insurance premium rates to go down and won’t hinder job growth and will fully insure the nation, even though none of those promises are actually coming true, and he continues to insist that it’s a malicious myth that it causing increases and will include health care rationing or cause employers to offer only part-time jobs so as to avoid its costly mandates, even though all of those things are actually happening. All the part-time employees who are paying higher health insurance bills and hoping that grandma won’t be told by the government to take a pill rather than get a life-extending operation might not persuaded by the president’s huffiness.
The last of the president’s true believers might be heartened by his pugnacious oratory, and cheer on his denunciations of those rascal Republicans, but anyone who doubts that higher taxes and more regulations and endless borrowing are the basis of prosperity is less likely to be persuaded.

— Bud Norman

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

A few columns ago our theological musings about humankind’s enduring desire for royalty provoked a comment from disgruntled reader, who rather snippily disputed our observation “That to say President Barack Obama lives like a king understates the matter by many millions of dollars.” He didn’t dispute the point so much as the “link,” which led to a report that the United States spends 20 times more money on the Obamas than the British do on their royal family, and to back up his dudgeon he provided a “link” of his own to a Washington Post “fact check” that reported the disparity is somewhat less than that. The Washington Post’s fact checkers are apparently the indisputable arbiters of truth on these matters, so we’ll concede the orders of magnitude, but we will not relent from our contention that the Prez is living awfully large.
This statement is a subjective opinion rather than objective fact, and therefore beyond the purview of the almighty Post’s almighty fact-checkers, but there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence to support it. The latest example, and the one that prompted this rant, is the president’s decision to have his dog flown into the family’s Martha Vineyard vacation on an especially expensive military aircraft. That’s royal treatment by any nation’s standards, and there is nothing on the internet that will convince us otherwise.
The news about the presidential dog comes courtesy of London’s Telegraph, because reporting embarrassing revelations about Obama is work that the American media won’t do, and the article includes several other intriguing tidbits about the cost of the latest presidential vacation. Among other amenities, the $7.5 million mansion where the Obamas are staying include a nine-acre grounds, basketball court, and such well-heeled neighbors as Ted “Cheers” Danson and Carly “You’re So Vain” Simon. Even as loyal subjects of the queen, the Telegraph’s scribes seem struck by the extravagance of it all.
Such conspicuous consumption goes largely unremarked here in the United States, however, at least in recent years. There used to be ample criticism of George W. Bush’s August retreats to his family ranch in Crawford, Texas, especially from the reporters who were forced to follow him to that sun-baked outpost of the hardscrabble prairie, but in the age of Obama a certain degree of presidential opulence is now regarded as appropriate by the chattering classes. In the early days of Obama’s presidency the press even reported his taxpayer-funded frolics with an undisguised awe, as if the glamorous days of John Kennedy’s “Camelot” had at long last returned, but lately they just look for something else to fill the summer lull in the news.
Perhaps that’s because they realize how bad it looks to people struggling to get by in a low-growth, high-unemployment economy. The president will eventually return from vacation to resume his constant castigation of the rich folks he blames for the nation’s woes, and offer the old reassurances about his feelings of solidarity with the common man, and continue to argue that the miniscule budget cuts imposed by the “sequester” are making life unbearable for such humble public servants as himself, so widespread news reports about the presidential pooch flying first-class a millionaires-only enclave in an MV-22 Osprey won’t help the effort.
He’ll still have plenty of defenders who will talk of how hard he works and quibble over the cost estimates and recall the old tale of the dog on the top of Mitt Romney’s car roof, but the hypocrisy will be hard for more objective observers to miss.

— Bud Norman

The Unfriendly Skies

The Democrats’ argument is that the slightest cut to the federal government’s spending will be unbearably painful to the general public, what with the stingy $3.7 trillion of funding being so effectively and essentially apportioned, and when they blundered into “sequester” cuts of $44 billion from planning spending increases they seized the opportunity to prove their point. They couldn’t affect the promised end of the civilized world, but they made sure that minor inconveniences ranging from cancelled White House tours to campground closings were imposed and prominently blamed on those awful budget cuts.
Inflicting some of the pain on America’s air travelers has apparently proved politically counter-productive, however, as the Democrat-controlled Senate voted on Thursday to allow the Federal Aviation Administration to keep air traffic controllers on the job. A previous policy calculated to cause flight delays at several of the country’s busiest airports was unpopular, as per plan, but the weary travelers waiting around the airport lounges weren’t blaming the right people.
Despite the best efforts of much of the media, it was hard to hold the Republicans responsible. The idea of the sequester originated with the White House, could have been avoided by a White House concession on further tax increases, and could have been more painlessly administered by the White House under legislation offered by the congressional Republicans. Nor did the relatively slight cuts in the rate of increase in spending have to be noticeable at all. The FAA’s post-sequester budget of $15.999 billion is more than it requested, for example, and should be more than sufficient to carry out its duties. When the Republicans offered a specific remedy to the FAA’s feeble claims that it had no choice but to furlough air traffic controllers without regard to the traffic at the airports where they worked, the Democrats faced a public relations debacle if they resisted.
Not that the Democrats liked doing it, of course, and they seemed especially galled that the air travelers were spared the pain of budget cuts while other programs to suffer the cruel cuts of sequestration. Rep. Rick Larsen of Washington complained to C-SPAN that “no 3- or 4-year-old is going to call my office and say, ‘I’ve been kicked out of Head Start, replace that money,’” and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island groused to Politico that “I doubt the most disadvantaged citizens are flying on commercial aircraft.” Larsen hasn’t considered the possibility that even 3- and 4-year-olds are shrewd enough to question the value of Head Start and wonder if there aren’t some administrative costs that can be trimmed in its mammoth budget, and Whitehouse apparently doesn’t fly coach, where the guy in the next seat might well be wearing a barrel these days, but no matter. Even if Head Start weren’t a boondoggle, and even if the “Jet Set” were still a meaningful term, it would still be a peculiar notion of fairness that everyone has to be miserable even when it can be easily avoided.

— Bud Norman

Dinner With the President

President Barack Obama treated a group of Republican senators to dinner at a posh Washington restaurant on Wednesday, prompting much speculation among the chattering classes. Some speculated that the president’s invitation signals a shift away from partisan rhetoric and toward a more conciliatory relationship with Congress, others speculated how the Republicans might respond to such an unexpected tactic, and everyone seemed to be speculating about what was said at the high-powered repast.
Such speculation is no longer necessary, however, as we have a reliable source who by happenstance was seated within eavesdropping distance of the conversation. For the benefit of those readers who are oblivious to satire we will emphasize that our source is entirely fictional and his information completely made-up by us, but contemporary media standards being what they are we felt his account worth passing along nonetheless.
The president arrived nearly 15 minutes after all of his guests had been seated, apologetically explaining the difficulty of finding parking for his motorcade of 20 limousines, sports utility vehicles, and armed drones. A young man in a crisply starched white shirt and black bow tie arrived at the table moments later, identifying himself as “Justin” and stating that he would be the group’s waiter for the evening. After confirming that the president would be picking up the tab, each of the Republican senators ordered a Dalmore 62 single Highland malt Scotch whisky. Obama opted for what our source calls “some kind of Hawaiian girly drink with an umbrella.”
Sports talk dominated most of the early conversation, our source said, with each senator extolling the virtues of his state’s most prominent team. The president spoke at length about the time he scored 42 points against the Philadelphia 76ers to win the decisive sixth game of the 1980 National Basketball Association championship series, apparently confusing himself with Los Angeles Lakers guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and every Senator offered hearty congratulations for the feat. The waiter then brought another round of drinks and offered to take dinner orders, and the president seemed to make a point of repeatedly calling the young man “Jason” while the Republicans consistently addressed him as “Bud,” “Mac,” “you,” “kid,” or “boy.” Our source was unable to overhear every order, but he did note that Obama had the risotto sweetened with Maryland crab and a froth of crab stock cream for an appetizer and lobster thermidor as a main course, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire chose the veal chops with mustard-punched jus and marble-size poached apples alternating with crisp potato croquettes, and Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska requested a chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and fried okra.
Although Obama was seen wincing when Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee drenched his jon dory a la nage, grilled asparagus, and bordelaise reduction in ketchup, and then rolling his eyes when Sen. John McCain of Arizona inquired about an “early bird special,” our source describes the conversation as cordial even as it turned to political matters. As a third round of drinks arrived, Obama opened the discussion by grimly noting the severe pain and hardship that the recent “sequester” budget cuts had inflicted on his public approval ratings. The president mentioned that he had even been forced to eliminate White House tours for schoolchildren, and although he admitted that “it’s nice not to have the little snot-nosed bastards running around the place” he said the situation was nonetheless unacceptable because of its “bad optics.” The senators seemed sympathetic to the president’s plight, and unanimously recommended another round of drinks.
After the fresh libations arrived, Obama modestly sought the senators’ counsel by asking if he should next cut funding for the poor kids or the disabled kids. The Republicans conceded that it was a difficult choice, as they could not decide which group they hated more, and inquired if it would be possible to target the cuts more specifically to affect only children who are both poor and disabled. The president then asked if the senators would please raise income tax rates on the wealthy even further, leading to much laughter and calls for another round.
Fortified by the fifth girly drink, Obama asked with apparent curiosity why the Republicans loved rich people so much. The senators insisted that it wasn’t that they loved rich people, really, just that they hated the poor. Obama then asked if they would pretty pretty pretty please with sugar on top raise the taxes on the rich just an itsy-bitsy bit, and the Republicans responded that they appreciated the food and drinks but that they would sooner burn in hell than betray their fat cat buddies. There was much cackling and moustache-twirling during this exchange, our source tell us, and then cries of “one for the road, boy.”
As the sixth round was consumed the conversation returned to sports, with Obama recalling the time he swished a buzzer-beating jumper over the outstretched arms of Craig Ehlo to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and propel the Chicago Bulls into the second round of the NBA playoffs. One of the Republicans rudely suggested that the president was thinking of Michael Jordan, and Obama humbly admitted that it was so, remarking “Damn, that brother could play some ball.” There was a broad bi-partisan consensus that one more round wouldn’t do any harm, seeing how none of them had to drive, after which the president was heard telling the senators that he really loved them, man.
The bill reportedly came to $3,500, or $3,505 with tip, and all involved described the meeting as “productive.” No ideas about how to cut the nation’s $16 trillion debt were agreed upon, but the country can be assured that the parties are partying together.

— Bud Norman

The Show Goes On and On

We’ve been following this “sequester” business with rapt attention, but we’re of the sort that enjoys a good farce. More normal people are apparently rather bored with the whole affair.
Or so it would seem from the latest batch of opinion surveys, which indicate a widespread weariness with the topic. A high 38 percent of respondents to the Gallup poll admitted that they are not following the story closely or at all, an even higher 48 percent made the same confession to the Pew Center, and it is likely that many of the people who claimed to be following the story closely or at least somewhat were fibbing for fear of looking foolish. To the extent that people have been paying attention, they don’t seem to be very worried, with about 40 percent telling Pew that they won’t mind seeing the budget cuts go into effect and about one-fifth being shrewd enough to offer no opinion at all.
One can hardly blame these folks for the lack of interest. After a seemingly endless series of debt ceiling debates and “fiscal cliff” controversies it is asking a bit much of the public to bone up on yet another budgetary brouhaha, especially with yet another round on the debt ceiling fight scheduled for next month, and there really isn’t anything special about this spat. Even a cursory glance at the news reveals that it’s only a matter of $44 billion, a mere nick in a $3.8 trillion budget, and no one seems to believe that even the most successful resolution of the matter would have much effect on the broader economy.
Still, those switching to another channel to avoid the “sequester” show will be unlikely to find a more hilarious comedy. Thursday’s episode alone featured enough wacky subplots to fuel the typical sit-com for a season. California’s Rep. Maxine Waters, who is always good for comic relief, warned that the budget cuts will cause 170 million Americans to lose their jobs. Homeland security honcho Janet Napolitano, another side-splitter, went on television to say that she “regretted” the “poorly timed” release of detained illegal immigrants even before the budget cuts went into effect. There was also the spectacle of the Washington press elite savaging the reputation of Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who had been the most elite pressman in the city until he challenged the Obama administration’s self-serving version of how the whole “sequester” business got started in the first place. Adding yet another humorous twist, the President took time out from flying around the country in his $180,000-an-hour jet to warn that there is no fat to be trimmed from the budget and scheduled his first face-to-face meeting with the congressional leadership on the months-old matter just a few hours ahead of the deadline for the budget cuts to take effect. In a move that would be considered “jumping the shark” on any other sit-com, the president even set aside a full seven minutes for the meeting.
There’s no predicting where such a wacky plot will go next, but our best guess is that it’s heading toward another one of those anti-climactic finales common to budget debates and other long-running television shows. What everyone’s waiting to find out is who will get the blame, of course, and that’s more easily predicted. Over at the Washington Post some of the writers seem concerned that the aforementioned poll results show that Obama has failed to whip up the intended frenzy of fear about the budget cuts, but those same polls indicate that a slight majority of Americans are willing to place the blame on the Republicans even if nothing noticeably bad happens. That’s become a natural instinct for a slight majority of Americans, and it doesn’t require that any attention be paid.

— Bud Norman

A Blast From the Past

The youngsters among you might not appreciate the irony of Bob Woodward’s recent feud with the Obama administration. You really had to be there back in the early ‘70s, those halcyon days of the Watergate scandal when the Woodward legend was born, to fully savor its deliciousness.
Woodward was a superstar back then, famed as the late night cop reporter for the Washington Post who covered a third-rate burglary at the Democratic National Headquarters and teamed with Carl Bernstein to doggedly pursue it all the way to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The left reviled Nixon with a red-hot hatred that is difficult to describe today, although it might be likened to Bush-hatred exacerbated by an all-out culture war between the hippies and squares, and thus Woodward was revered with an equal passion by the left for his heroic role in bringing in at long last bringing down their favorite villain. “All the President’s Men,” Woodward’s and Bernstein’s account of the Watergate scandal, became a runaway best-seller. The hit movie starred the famously handsome Robert Redford as Woodward. A Pulitzer Prize and other plaudits were lavished on the duo, and Woodward and Bernstein both enjoyed a celebrity that had never before been attained by mere newspaper scribes. Journalism schools saw a sudden surge in enrollments, and a generation of reporters set out to win the same kind of scandal-driven fame.
Like all legends it was rather overblown, ignoring the role that other reporters and especially the congressional investigating committees played in forcing Nixon’s resignation, and subsequent revelations about the identity of the anonymous sourced dubbed “Deep Throat” have given rise to a revisionist account about his motives. Still, it was true to the extent that Woodward had done an impressive job of reporting, and Woodward would henceforth be referred to as a “journalistic icon.” He continued to do solid work over the decades, focusing on his daily duties as a Post editor and his meticulously researched books about the passing administrations while the rest of the press tried to duplicate his past glories by digging up the hot scandal, and although he would sometimes uncover something embarrassing to a Democrat or flattering to a Republican he retained his reputation as a reliably liberal reporter.
Until now, at least. While meticulously researching “The Price of Politics,” a book about the Obama administration’s dealings with the congressional Republicans over budget matters, Woodward learned from his sources that the idea for a “sequester” had originated at the White House. The revelation attracted little notice at the time of the book’s publication, but now that President Barack Obama is jetting around the country to blame the Republicans for the impending budget cuts that have resulted the claim is suddenly the source of much controversy. Woodward stood by his story even after an indignant White House denial, then further offended the administration by insisting that the earlier deal struck by the administration did not include the tax hikes the president now insists on. White House press secretary Jay Carney went so far as to call Woodward’s allegation “willfully wrong,” the most serious allegation that can be made against a journalist. Not backing down, Woodward has become increasingly critical of the president’s handling of the sequester issue, even going on the left-wing MSNBC network’s “Morning Joe” program to describe Obama’s budgetary threats to withdraw an aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf as “a kind of madness I haven’t seen in a long time.”
This presents a dilemma for the press, which much choose between two heroes, but we suspect that most reporters will opt for Obama’s version. That story features villainous Republicans, and besides, Watergate was a long time ago and Obama has done more for their side lately.
Woodward’s latest scoop probably won’t bring down another presidency, we’re sad to say, and certainly won’t make its way to the silver screen, where Woodward would undoubtedly be portrayed by a more homely actor, but it does seem to have complicated Obama’s efforts to blame the latest mess on his opponents. For that Woodward deserves another round of applause, this time from the right, and perhaps some grudging acknowledgment that his earlier work was more about a pursuit of the truth rather than just partisan politics.

— Bud Norman