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Who Knew Health Care Was Hard?

President Donald Trump was speaking to a meeting of the National Governors Association about health care reform a couple of weeks ago, and he offered up yet another one of those occasional quotes of his that cause us slap to our foreheads. “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” he said. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
Every sentient American already knew that health care is darned tricky, and certainly each of those governors hearing the speech were especially well aware of it, so it’s a sobering thought that pretty much the only person in the country who thought it was easy is the president. Even the minimal amount of regulation that a free-market purist would agree to for the ever-evolving and increasingly high-tech medical sector that comprises a full sixth of the nation’s $17.4 trillion economy is bound to be tricky, managing every aspect of it is beyond the ambitions of even the most arrogant Democrats, and any compromise you might find somewhere in between is bound to be exponentially more complicated. The policy questions are daunting enough, but as Trump as surely figured out by now, the politics involved are even more convoluted.
Trump and the Republicans running the two chambers Congress rolled out the first of three promised phases of their plan to repeal and replace the current Obamacare system earlier this week, and if they thought that getting it passed into law was going to be easy they should now be wised up. There are still enough Democrats left in Congress to make trouble for for any changes in Obamacare, although the law is unpopular enough throughout the districts and states that it’s largely responsible for a Republican White House and an electoral victory for a Republican president, and there are still enough pre-Trump sorts of Republicans left in both chambers who won’t stand for any aspect of Obamacare, even those several provisions that poll extremely well with the general public, and what with politics making strange bedfellows they can cause all sorts of complications together.
Unless you’ve been too busy with your reality television show or branding negotiations to have been paying attention, for the past seven years or so the repeal and replacement of the hated Obamacare has been the metaphorical Moby Dick to the Republican’s Captain Ahab. Not one single Republican, even though squishy ones that you still find up way up northeast, voted for the damn thing, everyone last one of them has cast meaningless votes for its repeals on a regular basis ever since. From the most staid conservative publications to the most shrieking talk radio shows the entirety of the party was opposed to Obamacare, which was forced on a resistant public with some procedural legerdemain and a variety of lies about lowered costs and keeping your plan and your doctor that were eventually exposed, and conferred unprecedented powers on the federal government, and had monogamous couples paying for sexually-transmitted disease coverage and Catholic nuns paying for contraception and otherwise permanently altered its social contract with citizens, and generally offended every old-fashion Republican principle. As the false promises about lower costs and freedom of choice were exposed the Republican majorities in Congress grew, and with a Republican president who wouldn’t have gotten his party’s nomination without an unequivocal promise to repeal and replace Obamacare it should have been easily accomplished.
Politics is always complicated, though, and Trump’s apparent belief that it’s actually all quite simple adds another layer of complexity. The parts of Obamacare that allow young people to remain on their parents’ plan until age 26 and let people sign up for insurance at the usual rate after a pre-existing condition have been discovered poll well with the public, the subsidies that are being provided to a reported 20 million or so people are even more more popular with that reported 20 million or so people, and among them are some folks who will have tear-jerking stories to tell on the nightly news, and at this point it’s hard to tell how the unpopular Trump will fare against the unpopular Obamacare. All the Republicans are taking care not to call the new policies Trumpcare, even Trump, who usually loves to put his name on things, because at the moment both Trump and Obamacare seem equally unpopular.
As the pre-Trump sorts of Republicans, we were hoping for that most minimal sort of regulation no matter how complicated that might prove. If the insurance wants to sell policies that allow include children to any old age we’d be happy to let them, and expect that many would find it profitable to do so, but we wouldn’t force them do so no matter what the polls have to say about it. The preexisting conditions thing about Obamacare comes with all those heartbreaking stories, but you could just as easily interview people who couldn’t get flood insurance after their house was underwater, and no matter how heartbreaking it just doesn’t make economic sense. We have some red-in-tooth-and-claw solutions to the whole matter of rising health care costs, too, but we acknowledge they won’t poll well, and admit that the ever-changing high-tech world of medical marvels makes it very complicated.
Interstate health insurance plans and no mandated coverage of unnecessary producers and much of what else we were hoping for wasn’t included in the latest proposal but is promised to come in phases two and three of the great Republican health care reform roll-out, and for now we’ll take their word for it. Still, we can’t help wondering why they’re dishing it out like that. Something in phase one might make sense if it were done in conjunction with something in phase two or three, but not otherwise, these things being very interrelated, and the uncertainty of what’s to come only complicates matters further. Coming up with something better than the undeniably disastrous Obamacare system should have been a relatively simple matter, but of course Trump complicated matters by promising something “wonderful,” which of course is a whole lot harder to achieve.
Trump was all over the place on the issue during his improbably victorious campaign, wowing the Republicans with the usual repeal and replace rhetoric, but also promising the broader public some spectacular but unspecified plan where everyone would be covered and the government would pay for it and the costs would go down and quality of care would go up, and he really should have expected that would prove complicated. He’s already abandoned a campaign position in favor of that stupid individual mandate that requires poor people to pay a penalty for not having insurance, but endorsed a plan that would allow insurance companies to charge a 30 percent fee on people whose insurance have lapsed, and he’s no longer talking about the government paying to insure everybody, but he has abandoned enough longstanding Republican positions about the proper role of free markets and individual liberty and meddling bureaucracies in the nation’s health care to lose some Republican support. On the other hand he’s still retreating from the Democrats’ positions on those very vital questions, and won’t likely get any support from a single one of them.
We’re hopeful that at the end of all this complicated fuss that’s going to consume the next several months we’ll wind up with something that’s at least better than that dreadful Obamacare, but we don’t expect that it’s going to wind up being something as wonderful as what was promised. Obamacare wasn’t altogether bad, otherwise its repeal and replacement wouldn’t be so thorny, but it’s dreadfulness was made all the more apparent in contrast to the sales pitch, and what’s likely to known as Trumpcare surely won’t be altogether good, so its promises should be made accordingly. That’s not the Trump style, of course, and some painful but necessary procedures will probably be left out of the care, and we expect the fuss over it will outlast us all.
One of the few old-fashioned Republicans who has somehow enthusiastically embraced this newfangled Trumpist party is Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who has been surprisingly outspoken in his opposition to what’s thus-far been rolled out. He “tweeted” that the Democrats were too hasty in passing that darned Obamacare when they enjoyed a Democratic White House and majorities in both chambers of Congress, and urged that his own party not repeat the mistake. We like Cotton’s old-fashioned Republicanism, and despite our disappointment with his enthusiasm for Trump’s newfangled party we think his advice to slow down and get it right is sound. The Republicans should take at least enough time to hear all three phases of what they’re doing, gauge just how free-market the party can get away given the current political climate, do what’s doable, and be satisfied if the results are somewhat better than Obamacare even if it so wonderful that nobody dies.

— Bud Norman

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The Sanders Series Comes to an End

The strange saga of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ quixotic presidential campaign came to its inevitable inglorious end on Tuesday, and we have to admit that we’re sorry to see the series finale of such a compelling reality show. Sanders is a self-described socialist and an absolute kook whose policies would surely be the Venezuelan-style ruination of America, and it’s slightly discomfiting to our red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist souls that his campaign went so far into the July of an election year even in the Democratic Party, but there was a certain endearing quality to his kookiness and it was always great fun to see him bedevil that awful woman who had been picked by the party bosses before the battle even began.
All kids dug the balding and white-haired 70-something throwback to an Old Left that they didn’t even know had been supplanted by a New Left, even the gray-haired New Left throwbacks we know from the local arts and hipster scenes were “Feeling the Bern,” and our atypically homosexual and Democratic neighborhood here in an otherwise reliably Republican city in a reliably Republican state has long been sprouting “Bernie 2016” yard signs like dandelions, and even we found something endearing even if discomfiting about him. The best explanation in every case is that Sanders is indeed “authentic,” something that both parties and much of the rest of the country seems quite enamored of after so many years of politicians reading from poll-tested and focus-grouped texts, and neither we nor any of our more liberal friends ever once doubted that he quite sincerely believed all that nonsense he was shouting. He’d long been poor and never been conspicuously rich, despite a long career in politics he was so cleanly outside the party system he wasn’t even a Democrat until he sought the party’s nomination, and despite all the wacky anecdotes about his dirt-floor days and a family history that used to be considered scandalous and of course those ruinous policies no one has come up with anything on him that smacks of hypocrisy.
Which we’d like to think is the main reason he so long bedeviled that awful woman whose victory was already determined when Sanders started tilting at those Democratic windmills. Presumptive Democratic nominee and former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the epitome of a politician reading from a poll-tested and focus-grouped text, and she’s never been as poor as she likes to brag about and she’s become very rich from her long tenure in the political process, and at this point even most Democrats will admit she might or might not believe any of that slightly-more-mainstream kookiness she’s spouting. It endears us to our Democratic friends that they still take such character issues in account, even as if discomfits us that they prefer a self-described socialist.
We can well imagine our Democratic friends’ pain as they watched their anti-establishment hero formally endorse the nomination of the establishment’s pre-ordained candidate on Tuesday, siding with a woman he had rightly denounced as aligned with the nefarious Wall Street sorts at the uppermost tier of every Democrats’ demonology, and accurately pointed out had voted for the Iraq War that the arch-demon George W. Bush had lied us into, and so far they seem rather sore about it. The “comments” section on our former employer The Kansas City Star’s story features people so miffed about it they’re vowing to vote for presumptive Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and other media have logged similar threats by the rank and file, and for the now the storyline even in the most Democratic outlets is that there’s party disunity afoot. Trump is already talking and “tweeting” about the undeniably rigged process that handed Clinton the nomination, even if she did win a majority of the primary and caucus votes, and making explicit appeals to the disgruntled supporters of a self-described socialist. He can legitimately make the case that he’s on board with that storyline about Bush lied and people died and sticks to his illegitimate claim that he knew better, but the self-described billionaire will be harder pressed to make an economic case to a bunch of kids who liked all the free stuff that Sanders was offering to be paid for by awful billionaires without exacerbating the disunity in his own formerly conservative party.
Our best guess is that some of those Sanders supporters will wind up voting for the Green Party’s admittedly authentic and scandal-free-except-for-being-a-kook Jill Stein, some will wind up voting for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, whose economic platform is the antithesis of the self-described socialist’s but is for legalized marijuana, which is likely to come in handy during the coming years no matter how this all turns out, few will vote for Trump and most will wind up glumly voting for Clinton. Sanders has volunteered his efforts to Clinton’s campaign, and if his fans aren’t so loyal that they’d vote for him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue they’ll probably follow him to the polls to vote against Trump. The possibility of a Trump presidency strikes the same terror in the soul of a Democrat that the possibility of a Clinton presidency does in a Republican soul, and that’s how the race is shaping up despite Sanders’ best efforts.
Even in the abject defeat of that awkward appearance with Clinton Tuesday, Sanders’ quixotic campaign has slewed a couple of windmills along the way. He’s dragged Clinton and the rest of the party to the left on such kooky ideas as free college education, the by now bi-partiasan consensus for protectionist trade policies, ever more profligate deficit spending, and henceforth being a self-described socialist and admitted agnostic won’t be immediately disqualifying traits in at least one of the country’s two major parties. It’s not much of a legacy, but it was interesting to watch.

— Bud Norman

In the Age of Whatever Works

Latin America faces a crucial choice between liberty and tyranny, as always, just like the rest of us, and the President of the United States’ advice is that it go with “whatever works.” Barack Obama actually said that nonsense in a speech to the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative while on his recent south-of-the-border tour, and although that also included him doing the wave at a baseball game with the communist dictator of Cuba and embarrassingly doing the tango for his Peronista variety of fascist hosts in Argentina while the capital of the European Union reeled from yet another terror attack it was probably the low point of that disastrous vacation.
Any President of the United States worthy of that once-august office would be making the plain case that liberty is the only thing that has ever worked in the entire history of organized humankind, and that tyranny has never worked out, but these days that is apparently too much to ask for. The runaway winner of five of the last six state contests in the Democratic nominating process is the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who worries that there are too many kinds of deodorants on America’s supermarket shelves and prescribes the same solutions that have resulted in toilet paper shortages in Venezuela, and the party’s putative front-runner struggles to explain why she’s not a socialist. Meanwhile, the putative Republican front-runner is issuing threats that his press critics will “have problems, such problems” and “tweeting” like a South American caudillo and promising nothing but “better deals” with all these pesky foreigners, which sounds to us like pretty much like the equivalent of “whatever works.”
The sole remaining long-shot possibility for the leadership of what was once called the free world is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose much criticized father endured the tortures of the same communist Cuban dictatorship that the “whatever works” president was doing the wave with, and went on to a formidable career and as a legal and Senatorial advocate for the conservative cause, and he strikes us as a full-throated advocate of liberty and the Judeo-Christian tradition and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism and other higher values than whatever might work. He’s bogged down with a report in the front-runner’s buddy’s National Enquirer, though, and is just within the margin-of-error in the polls in the important states of Wisconsin and California. We’d love to see a match-up of Cruz’ hard-edged advocacy of capitalism and constitutionalism against Sanders’ unabashed socialism and whatever works, but such stark choices are perhaps too much to wish for in an age when people are more concerned with whatever works for them, if not necessarily everyone else.

— Bud Norman

A Limp-Wristed Finale to the Cold War

Among all the iconic moments of the great Cold War struggle, from Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” oration to John F. Kennedy’s promise to pay any price and bear any burden to Ronald Reagan’s bold challenge to “tear down this wall,” we will have to include the incongruous footnote of an irrelevant communist holdout dictator in godforsaken Cuba raising the literally limp-wrested arm of an American president in a gesture of newfound solidarity.
The president’s apparent skittishness in the video record of the event was about as far he got to resisting the embracing of Raul Castro’s authoritarian regime on the otherwise lovely island nation during his historic visit there. President Barack Obama took the occasion to boast that the last president arrived with gunboats and that he’s the first to arrive by welcomed jet, and to agree with much of the totalitarian communist regime’s critique of America’s still-somewhat privatized health care system and other not-up-to-communist-standards policies, and politely left unmentioned all the dissidents who have been slaughtered over the past 56 years or the ones who were rounded up just days and hours before the historic visit. Both sides promise that the countries will grow closer together, but it’s not yet clear which one will be making the movement, and by now that whole iconographic Cold War history we once enjoyed seems in doubt.
We’ve had occasion lately to chat with a most delightful young woman who happily and enviably admitted that she had no idea what a “Pinko” or a “Red” or a “Commie” was, and she was charmingly free of any opinions regarding America’s recent rapprochement with those Pinko Commie Reds down in Cuba, and she struck us as otherwise quite bright, so that limp-wrested salute by American president might not be the denouement of the Cold War, after all. Socialism seems all the rage in the Democratic party, even if the clear front-runner is having a hard time disavowing the term, and the front-runner in the Republican party is merely promising the sort of gold-plated-telephone deals you saw in “Godfather II,” and the crazily conservative Cuban-American is lagging in the polls, and there doesn’t seem to be any triumvirate the likes of Reagan and Thatcher and Pope John Paul II to be around.
Don’t worry, the commies aren’t literally poisoning you, at least not here in Wichita, where the water is still fluoride-free, but there does seem a certain insidious effect afoot, and an American president letting his arm be raised up in such literally limp-wrested fashion isn’t at all encouraging.

— Bud Norman</

Meanwhile, at the Democratic Race War

As we avert our grimace from the Republican Party’s reality show of a presidential nomination contest to the Democratic race, we find that things there are no more comforting. The front-runner is still former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was just godawful in each capacity and is just about as dishonest and corrupt and law-flouting and dislikable a person as you’re likely to find this side of the front-running Republican candidate, and the only still-in-the-running alternative is self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
This brief description of the race is disheartening enough, but a closer look makes it scarier yet. The race thus far has been run along racial lines, with Sanders doing well in mostly white states but Clinton winning in all the southern states where most of the whites have long since fled to the Republican party and the remaining Democratic electorate is mostly black, as well as Nevada where the party is mostly Latino, and if that’s the state of racial relations within the oh-so-sensitively-inclusive Democratic Party it does not bode well for the even more ethnically fissiparous nation at large. If all those well-meaning white folks in the Democratic party with their very sincere white guilt can’t come to some agreement with their righteously indignant black brothers and sisters, what chance does the country have when you add all us allegedly racist Republican rednecks into the general election conversation? Not to mention all those Asians, who tend to vote Democrat even though only we allegedly racist Republican rednecks bother to protest the quotas that keep so many of them out of the Ivy League universities, or the Latinos, whose preferences regarding legal and illegal immigration policy run counter to both the economic interests and base prejudices of so many of those righteously indignant black brothers and sisters, not to the mention the exponential intersectionality of all the sexual orientations and gender identities that are involved.
It’s hard enough understanding the relatively simple black-white thing going on in the Democratic party. Clinton lost more than 90 percent of the black vote in the Democratic primaries eight years ago, when she was running against the First Black President, but this time around she’s running as the First Black President’s Secretary of State and the First Lady of the first First Black President, even though the economic statistics for black America have been dire under the First Black President and her service as his Secretary of State was one national security disaster after another and all her first First Black President husband’s policies on crime and welfare and other racially-tinged issues are now anathema to the “Black Lives Matter” movement that claims to speak for all black Americans. Sanders is still in the race because all the most well-meaning white hipsters and their aging antecedents in the party are hot for his socialist brand of everything’s free and we’ll work out the payments later, and we share those well-meaning white hipsters’ surprise, if not their dismay, than their black brothers and sisters aren’t on board for the revolution. If you can recall the ’60s, and were reading Ramparts and The Village Voice and Rolling Stone and The New Yorker and all the right rags, you’d know that the black brothers and sisters were supposed to be the vanguard of the revolution, not the stooges of reactionary resistance of the Wall Street-funded, Wal-Mart corporate-board-serving, Donald Trump’s-third-wedding-attending establishment.
While we have no affection for Sanders, who is after all a self-described socialist, and one who literally honeymooned in the Soviet Union, at that, we’re surprised that so many black Democrats haven’t warmed to him. Some of the celebrity and intellectual black people have, possibly because they’re more worried about losing their status as celebrities and intellectual than they are about their status as black, but the votes are in and the vast majority have so far been for Clinton. That’s mostly been in southern states any Democrat is unlikely to win in the general election no matter who the Republican or increasingly likely third-party nominees are, but there’s been the same trend even in those mostly white states that Sanders won, and as the Democratic Party is currently constituted across all the states the minority vote will likely deliver a majority by convention time, especially when you add in all those “super-delegates” the very diverse party bosses are imposing. The black and Latino factions don’t seem particularly interested in a revolution, especially one led by a Jewish guy from a lily-white state, which seems to matter in that oh-so-sensitively-inclusive Democratic Party, and are perfectly content with the establishment, no matter how much Wall Street funds it or what bargains on Chinese-made goods Wal-Mart is offering, and if their economics interests clash on the immigration issue they figure they’ll pay for that later.
We can almost muster some pity for those poor white hipster socialist revolutionaries, abandoned by the black brothers and sisters they had so assiduously apologized to, beset by a hated “establishment” that turns out to be the party they had always sen as salvation from some other more hated Republican “establishment,” and stuck with voting for Clinton, whose entire career repudiates all their high ideals. Worse yet, they find that a majority of their party turns out not to have ever believed in any coherent philosophy of liberalism, but was only interested in sticking it to the other guys, and for reasons that had something uncomfortably to do with the darkest impulses of an ethnically fissiparous nation, and was striking whatever deal it could for itself.
The poor bastards. Over here on the Republican side a lot of us are finding out that a lot of our political coalition never believed in any coherent philosophy of conservatism, and is more interested in sticking it to the other guy than conserving such freedoms as press and property, and that there’s also a sudden hesitance to denounce even those darkest impulse of an ethnically fissiparous nation, and that the whole sales pitch is that it’s going to be a great deal for those get on board, but at least we won’t have to vote for it.

— Bud Norman

Go Ahead and Hate the Press, but Keep Loving the Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the press has taken a beating over the past seven years and couple of months or so, and at the moment it doesn’t seem likely to fare any better over the next four years.
The Democratic Party has long shown a censorious streak, with both self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreeing that the country must overturn the hated Citizens United decision that ruled the government can’t stop the airing of an anti-Clinton documentary, and academia writing Orwellian speech codes and carving out “safe spaces” from the free exchange of ideas, and the more robust activists calling for “some muscle” to expel the press the public square, and a news and media culture that shames anyone who expresses certain proscribed opinions. By now we’re used to it, and know from history that it comes as a necessary component of any admittedly socialist movement that would quash a number of other human rights, but until this year we’ve never heard a Republican candidate and self-described conservative openly boasting that if elected president he would use the powers of the presidency to punish his press critics.
That has happened, though, thanks to the always boastful self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show-and-scam-university mogul Donald J. Trump, who is somehow at the moment the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Speaking to a typically large and adoring crowd in Texas, Trump denounced entire media as the “most dishonest people I ever met,” sneered at The New York Times as a “failing newspaper” and “most dishonest media outlets I’ve ever seen in my life,” and despite expressing his respect for Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos he said that “he wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it,” which is all standard Republican stump fare, and all fair enough, but of course he went further. Expounding on his seemingly impromptu rant, Trump said, “Believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.” After the crowd lustily cheered on this promise of retribution against press outlets for exercising their First Amendment right to publish something that did not serve the interests of Trump, he added that “One of the things I’m going to do, and this is only going to make it tougher for me, and I’ve never said this before, but one of things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope I do and we’re certainly leading, is I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws.”
All the Trump apologists who magically appear in the comments section below any article critical of their knight-in-white-armor-and-thin-and-orange-skin will note that the Times and Post are indeed awful publications, which we’ve already acknowledge is standard Republican stump fare and fair enough, and they’ll note how censorious the Democrats are, which is true but irrelevant, and some will even venture some criticisms of the Sullivan v. New York Times decision that has since 1964 defined the wide-open standards of public discourse, although any attempt to explain how a press is still free so long as it meets Trump’s notions of fairness and accuracy and positivity are obviously wrong. What matters, though, and what no Trump apologist can deny, is that their tough-talking truth-telling hero is loudly and unabashedly threatening that if elected his press critics are going to have problems, such problems. Their heroic Trump may have already freed the land from those social constraints of “political correctness” that said you couldn’t discuss illegal immigration or Islam or mock the handicapped or disparage American servicemen who endured wartime captivity or brag about all the married babes you’ve bagged,
With a darker shade of spray-tan and a pair of mirrored aviator glasses on him we could easily see Trump issuing the same sort of threat in that fictional banana republic that Woody Allen created for “Bananas,” but it’s harder to imagine this sort of thing happening in America. Previous presidents have had their legal confrontations with the press, but in the end they always accepted the rulings made by the Supreme Court according to plain understanding of the First Amendment, and all the Democrats are striving to overrule a Supreme Court ruling similarly rendered so that they can exercise prior restraint on any documentaries or articles or artworks critical of Hillary Clinton, but at least they have the decency to pretend that it’s because of those awful Koch brothers and some vast right-wing conspiracy that’s supposedly intent on curtailing free speech. Trump comes right out and says he wants to use the government to silence his critics, eliciting great cheers from his adoring crowds, and after his poll numbers improve we expect Clinton will figure that she will soon make the same appalling promise to her adoring crowds.
Although we’re not fans of The New York Times, despite having several good friends there long argued with, nor The Washington Post, where we don’t know anybody, we do remain great fans of the idea that people should be able to publish whatever they have to say regardless of whether the current occupant of the White House likes it or not. We’ve long availed ourselves of this right, especially through the past seven years and a couple of months or so, and we intend to continue doing so for as long as almighty God, and not the almighty government, grants us. It won’t just be The New York Times and The Washington Post that have problems, such problems in the coming years, regardless of how this implausible election turns out, but one way or another we’ll persist in speaking our minds. If Trump wants to sue us, as is his wont, well, go right ahead, but he and all his high-priced lawyers should know that we possess nothing he can take from us that is so precious as our God-given right to say that he’s a bullying blowhard con artist who will do this country do no good.

— Bud Norman

Funerals, Fences, Popes and Presidents

The President of the United States cannot be bothered to attend the funeral of the most distinguished Supreme Court Justice of the past half-century, the billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul who is currently leading the Republicans’ race to become the next president is having a “twitter” fight with the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church over who’s the better Christian, and we are reminded yet again that we live in strange and contentious times.
President Barack Obama reportedly paid his respects to Justice Antonin Scalia while the late jurist lie in state, and that will have to do while Obama plots to seat a replacement who will undo all of Scalia’s good works. He’s insisting that the inevitable knock-down-dragpout barroom brawl to follow will be conducted in the most civil and mutually respectful way possible, and his spokesman has expressed his regret about his past attempt as a Senator to thwart another president’s Supreme Court appointment, which he now realizes is an awful thing for any senator to ever do to a president, and his friends in the media are earnestly hoping that the crazy right-wingers in the Republican party will be reasonable about a loony left-wing appointment despite their deep-seated racism, but it doesn’t seem off to a good start.
We expect the Republican response won’t include any of those racist slurs or subtle insinuations that the Democratic press is always so eagerly awaiting, but neither do we expect that it be at all polite, and certainly not so capitulatory as what the Democrats would consider reasonable. A few Republicans up for re-election in the most uncertain election year in anybody’s living memory might go wobbly, but those with safe red state seats, which aren’t even safe in these days of widespread burn-it-all-down sentiment, will feel the same pressure of public opinion not to budge an inch. They have the long history of resistance to lame duck appointments and the Democrats’ role in it on their side, as well, if anybody cares about that sort of thing anymore, so Obama can’t reasonably hope for any more respect than he’s shown.
As the late and great Yogi Berra famously noted, “You should always go to other people’s funerals or they won’t go to yours,” and once upon a more civil and mutually respectful era of political knock-down-drag-out barroom brawls a president would have least put on a necktie to announce the death of even an ideologically opposed Supreme Court justice.
Once up on that more civil and mutually respectful era, however, you didn’t get “twitter” fights between Republicans and Pontiffs. The whole mess started when Pope Francis paid an extended visit to Mexico that included a brief prayer near the host country’s border with the United States. The Pope is an Argentinian and adherent of the socialistic “social gospel” and pretty much typical of international liberalism on all matters except sex and certain age-old doctrines that only Catholic need concern themselves with, so the prayer was widely interpreted as a political message, so one might conclude he started it all. Still, it would have gone largely ignored by the press north of the border, however, and would have been entirely ignored by the staid old Republican candidates of the good old funeral-going and necktie-wearing days, but these days the party’s front-runner is a billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul who couldn’t resist “tweeting” that the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics is “a pawn of the Mexican government.” Such is the diplomatic savvy of the man who promises to make America great again, and these days we shouldn’t be surprised that it prompted such a clumsy response from the socialist Pope that a boastful, foul-mouthed, handicapped-mocking, proudly cuckolding, thrice-married, four-times-bankrupt gambling mogul, who has explained he is a forgiveness-seeking Christian only to the extent that “I eat my little cracker, drink my little wine,” somehow comes off looking better.
Pope Francis, who surely deserves some respect as the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics, and can surely be forgiven for not fully understanding the complexities of the most uncertain American election year of anybody’s memory, was of course asked about Trump’s “tweets,” which he might have understood of are the utmost importance in these strange and contentious times, and through interpreters that we can’t vouch for he wound up saying that there was something un-Christian about Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Although we really do have great respect for the Catholic faith, and are rooting hard for the Little Sisters of the Poor to prevail in their court case and not have to pay that damnable Obamacare contraception mandate, something in our Protest and Republican souls must politely disagree. Our objections to unfettered illegal immigration are based the severe economic and cultural and political damage it has done in this country, but is also based on a belief that siphoning off the most industrious and resourceful citizens of the Third World who can thrive in America does no favor to their countries of origin, and that allowing those poorer countries to use the west as a dumping ground for their more unskilled and even criminal element allow them forestall the necessary reforms to make their own countries livable, and that the “social gospel” does provide the blueprint. Calling one’s faith into question over such matters is wrong, even by the degraded standards of American politics, and it puts us in the uncomfortable position of defending Donald J. Trump.
Which is not to say that we believe the Pope is a “pawn of the Mexican government,” any more than we believe that “Bush lied, people died” or all the “birther” claims or any of Trump’s crazed conspiracy theories, or that Donald J. Trump is a more exemplary Christian that the Pope or even the lowliest sinner who will confess that he falls short of the glory of God, but rather to say that we’re living in such strange and contentious times that Trump gets the best of it. He “tweets” his indignation that anyone would question anyone’s Christianity, even though Trump has lately been saying that pesky rival-for-frontrunner-status Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is not a Christian because he lies by showing old videos of Trump saying things he says he doesn’t believe anymore, and has mocked onetime-rival Dr. Ben Carson’s claims of finding a spiritual path from his childhood rage, which Trump said was “pathological” and therefore incurable and that Carson was akin to a child molester, and he’ll likely prevail. The socialist Pope isn’t popular, not even with us, no matter how respectful we strive to be, and Trump’s a hot item in the press, despite his negatives in all the polls, at least until he wins the nomination, when all the horror stories start to show up in the media he’s supposedly been so skillfully playing.
These are strange and contentious times, and we doubt any of these guys from the Vatican to the White House to top of Trump Tower to the cheap-rent headquarters of those pesky rivals have any idea how it will play out. The Democratic race offers no hope, and is in fact at least as big a mess even without any papal intervention, so we’ll wait and see. All we know with any certainty is that it won’t be civil, and neckties won’t be required.

— Bud Norman

The Next 362 Days

Has it really been seven years and three days since President Barack Obama’s first inauguration? The calendar says so, so we have already begun marking off the more or less Constitutionally-guaranteed final 362 days of his presidency on our wall with the grimly optimistic impatience of a prisoner awaiting the end of an unjust sentence, but as bad it’s been it somehow doesn’t seem like seven years and three days.
Our memory of that first inauguration, which entailed such unforgettably nauseating coverage by the adoring press and such a rapturous reception by the public at large that it seemed more of a coronation or canonization or even a messianic anointment, remains so vivid that it seems just yesterday. We still recall sitting in a car dealership waiting for some annoying automotive repair with nothing to read but a Time Magazine with Obama as Frank Delano Roosevelt on the cover, and pulling into an ice-covered parking lot on some chore while listening to a radio report about some school district someplace that voted to make Obama’s first inauguration a National Holiday when the kids didn’t have to go to school, and all the good-looking celebrities pledging their allegiance to the new leader and the choirs of cute children singing the new leader’s praises,and all our liberal friends swooning, and how even some more or less Republican types were writing they liked the cut of this Obama fellow’s jibe and the crease in in his trousers. Ah, it truly does seem only yesterday.
Yet how far we seem have travelled in time, given what we find in the news and hear from our varied friends these days. By now the big issue was supposed to have been the hasty repeal of that nasty Republican-inspired 22nd Amendment so that Obama will be allowed to serve a third term, and how the upcoming Chicago Olympics will allow the world to celebrate his new era of global peace and prosperity and hip-hop coolness, but we can no longer find any of that among even our craziest friends or the most fervid reaches of the internet. Instead we awake to the current date’s news and rub our eyes and look about and we note that Obama seems but a minor player these days, albeit an annoying one, and that along with brief mention of the dour economic and foreign affairs news most of the talk is about the strange stew  of politics that is lately  brewing in the red-hot metaphorical pots of both parties. The past seven years of hope and change have both parties in an anti-establishmentarian mood, with wildly divergent ideas about what to do, even if the moderate moderate wings of both parties somehow survive the revolutionary zeal, and that glorious inauguration-coronation-cannonization-annointment and moment of more or less national faith in the new leader seems so very long ago.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is running for a third term of the First Black President as the First Woman President, which somehow makes sense to a significant portion of Democrats, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating some pretty darned serious charges about everything from her un-secured e-mail account to her family foundation’s hefty donations from the dubious countries she was dealing with as Secretary of State, that whole First Woman President thing is being undermined as her perv husband’s countless scandals are suddenly viewed by her own stated standard that victims of sexual assault should always believed, and there’s all that one-percenter kind of money she’s racked up from the Wall Street slickers which she’s now obliged to rail against after the past seven years, and even her promises of an another eight years just like the past seven aren’t playing well with Democrats.
Seven years and three days after that historic inauguration-coronation-canonization-anointment day, almost all of the Democrats we know are by now so fed up they’re itching to itching to go full-blown and self-described socialist along with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. That long ago dawn of the Obama is not so far ago that they’ll ascribe the new leader any blame, but they all seem to reluctantly concede that their leader did not dare to go quite far enough to have reached that once-promised land. Some Republicans still persist, they glumly note, along with all their noise about illegal and legal immigration and terrorism and a sputtering economy heading for a scary downturn, along with their unaccountable lack of concern about global warming and transgendered rights, and there’s still all that white privilege and social injustice and whatnot out there, and all in all they can’t disguise a certain disappointment with the past seven years of hope and change. Sterner stuff, they seem to believe, is required.
The Republicans and the conservatives and the populists and the anti-establishmentarians and the independents and the moderates and whatever else you want to call the majority of dissatisfied America are by now worse than disappointed. There’s currently a mad scramble for their votes among the Republican presidential candidates, and oy vey, is that a mess. Through-thick-and-through-thin Republicans such as ourselves don’t have to choose between another seven years of Wall Street-financed socialism and a baggage cart full of scandals or an even more outright socialist, but we find ourselves wading into internecine battles over conservatism that we didn’t anticipate just seven years and three days ago.
Gee aint it funny how seven years and three days, out of our mere three score and seventy, slips away.

— Bud Norman

The Relative Rightness of the Right

All our liberal friends are lately fretting about the Republican Party’s frightening extremism, and they’ve all seemed to settle on the same popular press aphorism that even such a crazy right wing cowboy as Ronald Reagan couldn’t win the party’s nomination these days. We always note that since the good old days of Reagan the Republicans have nominated George H.W. Bush twice, then Bob Dole, then George W. Bush twice, followed by John McCain and Mitt Romney, and that the current front-runner has expressed approval of protectionist tariffs and a Canadian-style health care system and the Kelo decision and thinks his partial-birth-abortion-loving sister would be a “phenomenal” Supreme Court justice and not so long ago was praising President Barack Obama and saying that he agreed with the Democrats on most issues, which hardly seems an extreme enough progression to the right to suit to our tastes, but our friends remain unconvinced.
From their Democratic position, which has veered so far to the left during our lifetime that a self-proclaimed socialist such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders now seems poised to win the party’s nomination, even yet another Bush would seem distantly far to the right. We try to imagine a youthful and handsome and famously rich and notoriously philandering John F. Kennedy running for the Democratic nomination on an economic platform of tax cuts for the rich and a foreign policy that would pay any price and bear any burden to spread democracy, and our imagination fails us. Lyndon Johnson would fare well these days proposing another round of all the Great Society spending that proved so disastrous, but between his foreign policy and his Texas accent he’d likely be booed off a Democratic debate stage, and Hubert Humphrey was far too happy a warrior for the party’s current mood. George McGovern might still be a plausible candidate, if he didn’t mention all the bombs he dropped during World War II, and Jimmy Carter might stand a chance, if he were shrewd enough to eschew the Baptist Sunday school teacher shtick, but ever since the time when those long-ago but well-remembered Reagan landslides dragged the Democratic party reluctantly back to the center it’s been steadily lurching leftward.
The Democrats finally ended the hated the twelve-year Reagan-Bush era with Bill Clinton, who won with the lucky combination of a disingenuously centrist campaign, a relatively mild and brief but well-timed recession, and an independent run by a billionaire populist, and despite all the sex scandals he remains beloved within the party to this day. He’s even more widely considered a success, despite all the sex scandals,  but mostly because of the welfare reform and balanced budgets and law-and-order initiatives and financial de-regulations and free trade treaties and anti-gay marriage acts he was forced to sign off on by the Republican Congress that his first two years of crazy leftism brought into being, none of which will get you the Democratic nomination these days. He was followed as his party’s nominee by his vice president, Al Gore, now best known as the guy who frantically predicted our Earth would be scorched by now from global warming, then John Kerry, the war hero and hippy dippy peacenik who will forever live in history as the man who delivered $150 billion and a nuclear bomb to the mad mullahs of Iran, and then Obama, whose disingenuously centrist campaign for the “fundamental transformation of America” didn’t mind if the in-the-know Democrats knew that he was about as far-left a candidate they could ever hope to elect.
Until this year, when a self-described socialist such as Sanders seems poised to the win the Democratic nomination. Even Obama has indignantly resisted the “socialist” label, which up until now has been a damning disqualification even in Democratic politics, but after seven years of his whatchamacallit policies a large and potentially decisive number of Democrats have apparently decided they might well as go ahead and call it socialism and go full-hog with it. We appreciate the frankness of it, and can easily understand why all of our liberal friends prefer Sanders’ authentic socialistic kookiness to his opponent’s disingenuously centrist cynicism, but we can’t help worrying that some sort of rhetorical Rubicon has been crossed in the history of our perilous Republic.
We don’t doubt that Sanders’ rise is largely attributable to the fact that his opponent is Hillary Clinton, who is currently being investigated by the feds for her fishy and national security-endangering e-mail practices and was  Secretary of State during the disaster that provides the plot of the latest hit action-adventure movie and has 25 year’s worth of scandals on her resume, and whose once-beloved president of a husband is no longer so well remembered by Democrats for those balanced budgets and welfare reforms that Obama unilaterally revoked and all those black-life-saving law-and-order initiatives that the “Black Lives Matter” movement are protesting, and whose sex scandals are no longer easily overlooked by a feminist movement concerned with a “culture of rape” on American campuses if not dar-al Islam, as well as the increasingly apparent fact she’s thoroughly corrupt and and dishonest and just an awful candidate for any time or either party. Still, we fondly recall a not-so-long-ago time when flinging the “socialist” label against Sanders would have saved her worthless skin.
Of course, Clinton struggles to explain why a plain old Democrat such as herself isn’t a socialist, and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has trouble with the same question about her party at large, and by now our liberal friends are no longer denying there is any difference. If Clinton somehow avoids indictment survives Iowa and New Hampshire and gets to the supposedly friendlier where the minority voters who preferred Obama in ’08 but are now said to prefer in ’16 and she somehow winds up with the nomination, we expect she’ll be quite comfortable with the socialist label by then. Her party clearly has no discomfort with it, and after the past seven years of an elected and re-elected Obama it’s no longer far-fetched to think the country at large doesn’t.
Our conservative friends are relishing the Democratic race with undisguised schadenfreude, just are liberal friends are gleefully watching Donald Trump’s rise in the Republican contest, but we urge both to careful about what they wish for. Conservatives are angry that the Republican party they’ve empowered with Congressional majorities haven’t thwarted Obama’s left-wing agenda enough, liberals are disappointed that even seven years of Obama haven’t prevented those hateful right-wingers from thwarting their socialist utopia, and that uninformed mass in the middle is merely dissatisfied that nothing seems to have worked out and are susceptible to either side’s arguments. That uniformed mass in the middle was educated in public schools where socialism hasn’t been a disqualifying slur for the past many decades, and they don’t know from capitalism or socialism or communism or mercantilism, and if it comes down to who is angrier and more authentically anti-establishment it would be a neck-to-neck race between Sanders and Trump. The next Republican nominee will have to be able to patiently and persuasively explain to an idiocratic public why the economic system that has brought American from backwater colonial status to being the world’s foremost superpower is superior to the system that has reduced Europe to its current groped state and brought utter ruin to most of Asia and Africa and South America, and right now the Republican’s front-runner is planning to explain it by bragging how he got really, really rich by buying off the politicians who’ve been running the all-but-in-name socialist system for the past few decades.
From our perspective, here in the heart of America and still pretty much where we were back in the good old Reagan days, all those recent earthquakes seem to have shifted the political landscape to the left.

— Bud Norman

Our Republican Response to the Republican Response to the Republican Response

What turned out to be an Iliad-and-Odyssey-like quest to purchase a two-dollar replacement nose pad for an aging pair of spectacles put us in the dreaded rush hour traffic of the unlovely and all-too-busy near-west side on Wednesday evening, so to suit our mood we tuned the comfortingly old-fashioned AM radio in our aging automobile onto one of the angrier talk radio talkers. Although we’re usually not inclined to listen to the host’s shrieking diatribes, even if we do mostly agree with what he’s shrieking about, we thought it might pleasantly kill the time at those interminable near-west side traffic stops to hear someone shrieking about that awful State of the Union speech President Barack Obama gave the night before. By the time we finally found our way back to home we had acquired the rare and elusive nose pad, alleviating a slight but annoying pain in the nose, but something in in our old-fashioned Republican soul remained unsettled by the road rage and other rancor we encountered.
Our reliable host eventually got around to a spittle-spewing rant on the president’s infuriating address, with all the capital letters and multiple explanations marks and sneering nicknames and other rhetorical frothing we studiously avoided in our own previously-published grousing on the matter, which we’d like to think conveyed our disgust amply nonetheless, but he spent the first segment of his show grousing with same spittle-spewing and capitalized and exclamation marked disgust about the Republican Party’s traditional response to the speech. Similarly outraged Republican responses to the Republicans’ response were all over the conservative corners of the internet, so it suddenly seems that every wing of our Republican party is as angry about the others as they are about anyone else. To hear that radio host go on about you’d think he’s even angrier about his own party than he is Obama, and that’s saying a lot. We’ve oft shared our own reservation’s about our party’s too-frequent timidity, albeit with what we like to think is our more light and literary touch, but in this case the outrage seems inordinate.
In this case the Republican response was offered by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, whom we hardly consider an enemy of the conservative cause. She’s a woman, but with an “a” rather than a “y,” and she’s of Indian-from-India descent, but is proudly Christian and has proudly never hyphenated her Americanism, and the reliably conservative people and thus reputedly sexist and xenophobic people of South Carolina seem to like her, so we’ve formed a generally favorable impression of her of admirable career of confounding the Democrats’ convoluted theory of identity politics. She’s struck some less-than-perfect political bargains in a state that was until recently dominated by a Democratic Party that still has a significant and loyal black population to make it a significant player, but even the most famously tough negotiators on the Republican slate will eventually come up against that sort of thing, and she agreed to remove to confederate battle flag from the public square if not from the roof of the “Dukes oF Hazzard” muscle car, but as Bleeding Kansas Republicans so old-fashioned that our Republicanism goes all the way back to Abraham Lincoln we can’t object to such unbiased Unionism and abolitionism. In any case, as we assess her generally low-tax and low-spending ways, we worry that if the likes of South Carolina’s Gov. Haley are banished from conservatism we’ll be left inside a very small tent.
And what were her offending remarks? So far as we can tell, she he went so far as to say that “Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.” To compound the offense, she went to say that “In many parts of society today, whether in popular culture, academia, the media, or politics, there’s a false tendency to equate noise with results.” To those who are blissfully unaware of recent internecine Republican politics these might seem blandly true blandishments, or perhaps even a well-deserved jab against the Obama administration’s fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric and the perilous situation it has wrought, along with his blithe dismissals of the very viable threats facing America, along with the academic and media culture that has echoed his efforts, but to those in the know it was readily understood as an attack on Republican front-runner real estate mogul Donald Trump and perhaps even his most troublesome conservative rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Both of the two most potential Republican nominees have been conspicuously angry lately, along with most of the Republican Party and a big chunk of the Democrats, and after that stupid Toyota took long enough to crawl to a left turn we’re angry enough ourselves to understand her remarks accordingly. Her words are frustrating, we must admit, given how very rational and quite forgivable our anger seems.
Still, we retain a respect for Gov. Haley and her advice about not letting anger get the best of us. It is redolent of our beloved Lincoln and his his memorable exhortation during our nation’s darkest hour of “malice towards none, and charity toward all,” and that Burkean claim to the best of our civilization’s traditions, and both the Enlightenment’s and the Christians’ appeal to “come, let us reason together,” and all that Greek stuff about rationalism, so as annoyed as one can become in a near-west side traffic jam with the understandably peeved talk radio talkers talking their compelling complaints we have tried to keep calm within our old-fashioned Republican soul. Given our own mixed record of scraps with equally angered folks, so we’re temperamentally inclined toward to any peaceful resolution that preserves both our liberty and our generously accommodating sense of justice, and we scan the dial enough to note that those even crazier Democrats have their thoroughly corrupt establishment candidate vs. insurrectionist and outright socialist anger thing gong on. At this point we’re clinging to the desultory hope that a perfectly calibrated candidacy of public anger will prevail, and that the most non-socialist and least-authoritarian candidate will wind up as president, and that both reason and tradition and the Enlightment and Christianity all the rest of that Burkean and Greek stuff will somehow sort all this stuff and that all those angry radio talkers will have some good news to proclaim and that the near-west side traffic lights will eventually turn green.

— Bud Norman