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Ryan and the Old School of Republicanism Bow Out

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced Wednesday that he won’t be running for re-election, so for now his vituperative critics on both the left and right won’t have him to kick around anymore. These days we’re not sure where we land on the political spectrum, but from our current position here on the sidelines we’re going to mostly miss the guy.
Not so long ago when we and our readers considered us rock-ribbed conservative Republicans, Ryan was our guy. He not only talked the necessary talk about averting America’s quickly accruing national debt and eventual bankruptcy, but walked the necessary walk along the perilous path of the painful entitlement reforms and budget cuts that are required to keep America solvent without even more painful tax increases. Such sensible if unappetizing prescriptions naturally outraged the left, which produced widely-seen advertisements depicting Ryan throwing your beloved grandma off a cliff, and he politely but quite resolutely endured the slanders to stand his ground.
Such civil defiance of the Democratic left naturally endeared Ryan to the tax-cutting and budget-balancing “tea party” Republican right of the time, and thus he wound up way back in 2012 as the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket with presidential nominee Mitt Romney to reassure the party’s conservative base that Romney was all right. Romney on his own seemed a sound enough Republican to us at the time, and we still think he’d have been a far better president than incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama, but he’d somehow once been governor of the loony left state of Massachusetts, and had wound up signing into law something that looked an awful lot like the hated-by-Republicans Obamacare act that Obama had signed, and his pick of the steadfastly anti-Obamacare Ryan as a running mate and potentially heartbeat-away-from-the-resident was reassuring to the those of us on the right as it was appalling to those of you on the left.
Both Romney and Ryan wound up enduring the slings and arrows of the left with the civility and calmly convincing arguments we’d come to expect from the best of the Republican party, but they also wound up losing to the hated Obama, and since then the Grand Old Party hasn’t been quite it as it once was. It turns out that a lot of those “tea party” types we once rallied with like their Medicare and Social Security more than they hate the welfare payments that account for a far smaller share of that once-scary national debt, and by 2016 a decisive plurality of the Republican party had concluded that civility and calmly convincing arguments were no longer a match for the slanderous slings and arrows of the left.
Which wound up with putatively Republican President Donald Trump. Trump ran on promises that he wouldn’t mess with any tea partier’s Medicaid or Social Security, somehow balance the budget without any tax increases, build a “big, beautiful” wall too keep Mexicans away and somehow force the Mexicans to pay for it, and he outdid even the right-wing talk radio hosts in talking tough about all those damned Democrats and left-wingers, and he didn’t bother with any of those dull but calmly convincing arguments. Trump wound up losing the popular election by a few million votes, so he eked out enough ballots in a few states Romney narrowly lost, including Ryan’s own Wisconsin, that the former casino mogul and reality show star wound up winning the electoral vote.
Since then it’s been a different American political landscape in general and a wholly different Republican party in particular, and at the moment neither Ryan nor ourselves seem to know where we fit in all of it. Like us Ryan took a principled Republican stand against Trump early in the Republican primary process, and even after Trump had secured his party’s nomination he gallantly declined to defend Trump’s outrageous statements on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women by their where-evers, but since Trump’s election he’s been more conciliatory.
Aside from the occasional criticisms of Trump’s crudity, he successfully guided a Republican tax-cut bill through the House which also passed the Senate and wound up with Trump claiming all the credit when signed it. He made good on a promise to get the House of Representatives to repeal the hated Obamacare law, although a slimmer Republican majority in the Senate couldn’t do the same and Trump never got to sign it, and he dutifully endured the opprobrium that the right heaped on the GOP ‘establishment” and never questioned the new party’s religious faith in Trump’s divine deal-making abilities. The one-time champion of fiscal sobriety also spared Trump the political problems of a government shutdown by helping passage of a deficit-funded and worse-than-Obama budget busting spending bill that didn’t address any of the nation’s looming fiscal woes or those ginned-up immigration problems Trump is always railing about, and willingly accepted the slanderous slings and arrows of the right.
None of this will placate the newly-fangled right that regards Trump as the epitome of au courant conservatism, and the stubbornly old-fashioned left will still revile him as the son of a bitch who threw your beloved grandmother off the cliff, but from our view on the sidelines we take a more sympathetic view of Ryan’s career.
Our lazy asses don’t have to worry about reelection, however, as we never stood a chance of getting elected to anything in the first place, so we’ll not sit in judgment of a poor politician such as Ryan. Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee in the last presidential election, after all, and despite everything we’ll readily forgive any Republicans who went ahead and voted for Trump. It was Trump’s populist campaign that made meaningful entitlement reform impossible, so we’ll generously assume that Ryan intended to keep the government operating just long enough to confront fiscal reality, and he generously allowed Trump to take credit for the big defense spending increase, and despite the rants of the right wing talk radio hosts he did persuade a majority of the House to repeal that damned Obamacare.
None of which will squelch the left’s glee at Ryan’s departure. Even as the recent Republicans decry Ryan as a “Republican in Name only” and “establishment” “deep state” “globalist” sell-out, the current Democrats still regard him as the guy who who pushed your beloved grandmother over the cliff. The more high-brow leftists still give Ryan credit for his civility and calmly stated arguments, but that’s all the more reason that Trump-loving Republicans will regarding him as a squishy sort of beta-male.
That scant plurality of remaining Trump-loving Republicans should note, though, that Ryan is just the most prominent of an unprecedented number establishment Republicans who no longer know where they fit on the political landscape and have decided not to seek reelection. At this relatively early point in the Trump era of the Republican party several GOP House seats in suburban districts and even a Senate seat in usually reliable Alabama have flipped to the Democrats, even the Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero was in danger of losing his own race, and no matter what uncivil taunts Trump might “tweet” that political landscape seems fraught for both the best and worst sorts of Republican candidate.
Ryan insists that he’s stepping down to spend more time his children, who have thus far known him as a “weekend dad,” and his more generous critics on both the left and right agree that he’s the decent sort of family man fellow who would take that into account. We’re sure it’s at least partially true, and we’ll wish him and the rest of his family well. Still, his temporary departure from the pubic stage doesn’t augur well for either the Republican Party or the rest of the political landscape, and the national debt is bigger than ever, and we expect an acrimonious outcome.

— Bud Norman

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On the Difficulty of Replacing an Establishment

There’s an effort afoot to replace pretty much every last Republican in Congress with other Republicans more loyal to President Donald Trump. So far, it does not bode well for the party.
Anti-establishment fervor has already cost the Republicans a much-needed Senate seat in Alabama, of all places. Republicans in the state could have picked the guy who had been a reliable vote for whatever the party wants for the year he as an appointed replace for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but he’d been appointed by an unpopular governor and was backed by an unpopular senate majority leader, and Alabamians are in the same anti-establishment they’ve been in well before the Civil War. They could have also chosen an outspoken “tea party” congressman, who’s also an outspoken critic of the party’s establishment, but apparently his incumbency tainted him as just a bit too establishment.
Instead they chose Roy Moore, an unabashed theocrat who had twice been kicked off Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying the rule of law, had all sorts of crazypants opinions about matters ranging from slavery to women’s suffrage, railed at length about illegal immigrations but was unaware in a radio interview about the “dreamers” debate, and was quite credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and hitting on numerous other underage girls when he was in his early 30s. At least he wasn’t some milquetoast Republican establishment type, which is what a plurality of Republican Alabamians apparently care about most. A big chunk of the party wasn’t quite anti-establishment enough to vote for the likes of Moore, though, and black turnout was bigger that it was for either of President Donald Trump’s campaign, the youth vote went largely for the Democrat, the white women’s vote was well below what Republicans usually draw, and the Republicans wound up losing in Alabama of all places.
The Grand Old Party can hope that by the time the mid-term votes are being cast a short-attention-span public will have long forgotten Moore, as well as Trump’s enthusiastic support of his candidacy, along with the hated Republican establishment’s eventual begrudging and more muted support. They’ll have to avoid nominating similarly flawed candidates, however, and the anti-establishment wing of the party seems chockfull of them.
Out in Arizona there’s some enthusiasm for the Senate candidacy of one Kelli Ward, who has endeared herself to the state’s anti-establishment Republicans with her frequent criticisms of the state’s two Republican senators. They were hoping he would defeat Sen. Jeff Flake, who has been a reliable vote for the party’s agenda but also a harsh critic of Trump’s rhetoric and ethics, so he’s already announced he won’t seek re-election. He freely admits he would have likely lost a primary challenge, given the current anti-establishment mood of his party, but we think he might have fared better in a general election than Ward will should she wind up the party’s nominee.
She’s an osteopath and a State Senator and unabashedly conservative, which somehow doesn’t diminish her burn-it-down anti-establishment reputation, and all the right talk radio hosts like her. She doesn’t seem so awful as Moore and isn’t likely to have any sex scandals uncovered, so she’d be a favorite in a general election, but we suspect a more boring Republican would be a more prohibitive favorite.
Ward once went on Alex Jones’ conspiracy-theory-peddling “Infowars” program, and when he warned her to “watch your back” after criticizing Republican Sen. John McCain because “that guy is just such a gangster” she admitted she had considered her friends advice to get a remote starter for her car in case of a bomb and added that “We are always very cautious and I always have people around me who are providing security, which is great.” She ran a primary campaign against McCain in 2016, railing against all the heretical votes McCain has cast over a long career, and hoped to capitalize on McCain’s lack of enthusiasm for Trump, but she lost by a 51 to 39 percent margin, and of course McCain won easily in the general election.
She’s also such a build-that-wall hard-liner on illegal immigration that she sneers at the departing Flake as an “open borders guy,” despite his impeccably Republican voting record, and she lavished Trump with praising for pardoning Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for cracking down on native born American citizens who looked a little too much like illegal immigrants. That will play well with the Trumpian plurality of Republican voters, but Arizona has a long history of voting for the sorts of establishment Republicans Ward is slightly worried are wanting to kill her, and to the extent the party is associated with her it won’t help in more closely contested states any more than Moore did.
Trump has “tweeted” favorably about Ward in the past, especially back when he she was contesting McCain, that loser who is only considered a war hero because he got captured, but after she lost the praise was less frequent, but it picked up a bit when she was a potential challenger to Flake, or “Flake Jeff Flake” as Trump always calls him in his “tweets.” Flake’s not running, though, and some more boring Republican might be more likely to keep the seat, so we weren’t surprised by The Washington Post’s report that Trump merely “exchanged pleasantries” with her she showed up at Mar-a-Lago during his Christmas vacation. If she winds up with the nomination we’re sure he’ll be right back to “tweeting” her praises, but until then even Trump seems leery of these very anti-establishment types.
The effort afoot to burn down the establishment and replace it with more Trump-like politicians largely driven by former Trump political strategist and current Breitbart.com editor Steve Bannon, who backed Moore to the bloody end is still on board with Ward, but even he’s backing off from his previous pick to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan in his Wisconsin district. Ryan was once a Tea Party darling but is now another one of those hated establishment types, in large part because he’s occasionally admitted his embarrassment about something Trump had done or said or “tweeted,” but by now Trump has to admit the House has been far more effective than the Senate in passing his bills and doing his bidding on those pesky investigations of the “Russia thing,” and we figure that an effort by businessman Paul Nehlen to unseat him in the primary would be as futile as his last attempt.
Bannon was still backing Nehlen, though, until Nehlen “tweeted” about Jewish supremacy and his own pro-white views. He’d been on “alt-right” sites long before, accusing Ryan of spending taxpayer dollars to cover up sexual deviancy and “replace American whites with Anti-white substandard foreign H1B and H2B key pushers,” and expressed various other crazypants opinions on white nationalist programs, but by now even Bannon’s had enough.
The Republicans can surely find better candidates, but they’re going to have recruit more than the usual number. Ryan is reportedly among the many incumbents who won’t be seeking re-election next year, most of whom were reliable votes for the Republican agenda but never very enthusiastic about Trump’s rhetoric and ethics, and winning an open seat is always harder than winning re-election. Harder yet if fealty to an unpopular president is a requisite for a Republican nomination, and anyone with relevant experience on a resume is regarded with suspicion.

— Bud Norman

From the Tea Party to Anti-Trump

The presidency of Donald Trump is already well underway, and so is a spirited opposition to it. So far, neither seems at all likely to make great America again.
Trump took the oath of office in front a sizable and enthusiastic crowd at the Washington Mall on Friday, but there was no disputing that the turnout for the next day’s protests was much larger. The Trump administration went right ahead and disputed it any way with some widely and justly ridiculed “alternate facts,” but it could have more reasonably argued the numbers of people on the streets waving signs for one side or another another don’t really matter. There’s also no disputing that Trump is the duly elected President and the leader of a party that controls both chambers of Congress and will almost certainly soon have the judiciary as well and occupy state and local offices in numbers not seen since the Coolidge days, even if he did lose the popular vote by nearly three million votes, and all the polls that correctly predicted it but got the Electoral vote just wrong enough now show him unfavorably regarded by a majority of the public, but none of that tells you anything about who’s right and who’s wrong in any of the inevitable upcoming arguments.
The anti-Trump turnout over the weekend, in cities all around the country and all around the world, was indeed formidable by any modern mass protest standards. It was far bigger than the Tea Party protests that started percolating during back when President Barack Obama was in the White House and his party controlled both chambers of Congress and seemed poised to control the judiciary, and those didn’t start happening the very day after the Obama administration began with an electoral majority of support and honeymoon-high approval ratings and the overwhelming support of the media. Although the Tea Party movement’s protests were at first ignored and then ridiculed it managed to re-take the House of Representatives for the Republicans in the ’10 mid-terms, and despite Obama’s re-election with a smaller majority in ’12 it continued to make congressional gains, and by ’14 it had delivered a Republican majorities in both the House and Senate that managed to stave off the Democrats’ control of the judiciary, so there’s no telling what those anti-Trump protestors might accomplish with their obvious head start.
After a short bust of angry public outbursts the Tea Party stopped waving signs and chanting slogans on cold street corners and started recruiting candidates and compiling e-mail lists and making donations doing all the rest of the dreary and dirty chore of bringing out political change, and it remains to be how many of those women who took the streets in pink wool “pussy caps” and the men who showed up with the seductively sympathetic slogans on their signs will do the same. We attended enough of those Tea Party protests to run into several fine friends of ours that we knew to be serious people of a well-considered conservative mindset, so despite the ridicule of the Obama administration and its liberal media allies we were not surprised that it proved so successful. Because we rarely check in on Facebook we weren’t aware of the local well-attended anti-Trump protest until it had already occurred, and they started too early on a too cold Saturday morning anyway, and even in the best of the weather we couldn’t be sure that our anti-Trump sentiments were at all aligned with the rest of the crowd, so we skipped the festivities, but we do know several of the people who were they and we know them to be to serious people whose liberalism has been carefully if incorrectly considered, and we don’t doubt it might also come to something.
What it might come to also remains to be seen, but we’re not hopeful. We had high hopes that the Tea Party was the vanguard of a movement toward limited government and personal and fiscal restraint and a foreign policy in defense of the same underlying value of liberty, and sure enough it did put a stop to Obamacare-sized entitlements and pare the the deficits down to the half-trillion size of the George W. Bush years, but at this point it seems to have had the usual mixed results. In retrospect there were a lot of people at those rallies who were convinced that Obama was born in Kenya and that he was just a continuation of the Bush family’s New World Order regime and that the whole Constitutional system seemed rigged, and when the Republicans didn’t undo the Obamacare that had happened before they got back regained the Congress and Hillary Clinton didn’t go to jail they decided that everyone from both parties and all previous political positions had to be purged, and they wound up electing an advocate of seemingly unlimited government with no sense of fiscal or personal restraint who has a dangerous affinity for Russia’s authoritarian leader. We share the anti-Trump movement’s disdain for his unabashedly sexist and arguably racist and altogether unsavory character, but we can’t go along with the Obama-era liberal craziness that comprises the most of it, we’re quite certain that the sudden shared suspicion of the Russkies is opportunistic and temporal, and we suspect that those serious friends of ours with the well-considered liberalism will also be dismayed by how far it might go.

— Bud Norman

Hope, Change, Making America Great Again, and Deja Vu All Over Again

A certain sense of deja vu pervaded our Wednesday, which recalled a similarly sunny but cool fall day just eight short years ago. We vividly remember how a charismatic but otherwise unqualified candidate had won the presidency with a vague set of proposals and a cult of personality, replacing a president of the opposition and joined by majorities of his own party in both chambers of Congress, and how there was much optimism among so many of our friends that a new era of hope and change had commenced.
Eight years later all the hope has changed to bitter disappointment, which has given way to a charismatic but unqualified candidate of the opposition with a very different set of vague proposals and an even more markedly different cult of personality, but he’s also got majorities in both chambers of Congress, and some of our very different sorts of friends are optimistically talking about making American great again. Maybe this time they’ll be right, but we sense the same sort of pride that always goeth before a fall.
When Barack Obama became president with Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House and Harry Reid as the Senate majority leader, and a squishy Supreme Court as the only remaining impediment to their power, the Democrats were unbearably cocky about it. Their more effusive cheerleaders were predicting 40 years of unbridled power, with the Republicans going the way of the Whigs, and utopia surely awaiting at the end of it. The president who had questioned his predecessor’s patriotism for running up half-trillion dollar deficits immediately started running full-trillion-plus dollar deficits with much of it wasted on a “stimulus package” of infrastructure spending that didn’t stimulate anything except the housing prices in the swelling D.C. suburbs. They also passed a radical re-making of the entire health care sector of the economy without a single Republican vote, promising that people who liked their doctor could keep their doctor and that the average family would save $2,500 a year and not a single dime would be added to those swelling deficits, all of which the Republicans refuted and would later prove to be utter balderdash. On the foreign policy front they immediately reneged on a missile defense promise to the Poles and Czechs, a token of their sincere desire to “reset” relations with the Russians, sold out the anti-communists of Latin America by backing a Marxist coup in Honduras, and traveled the Islamic world apologizing for anything that the United States might have said or done to provoke its 1,600-year-old jihad against the west, none of which has made the world any more peaceful.
After just two years of such nonsense the Republicans arose like a phoenix from the ash bin of history to re-take the House, added to their filibustering minority in the Senate, and had a grassroots “Tea Party” movement urging an ever more confrontational stand. They overplayed their hand enough to help Obama win reelection against a vastly more qualified but easily caricatured Republican nominee in ’12, but the Republicans held their House majority and by ’14 once again controlled the Senate, along with the biggest number of governorships and state legislatures since the days of Harding and Coolidge, which slowed if not stopped the Democratic agenda. That health care makeover was still veto-proof but at least didn’t expand, the debt continued to grow but the deficits were reduced back to those half-trillion figures of the preceding administration, the administration proceeded with an utterly ridiculous deal with the Iranians regarding their nuclear weapons ambitions but didn’t dare call it a treaty and thus settled for an executive action that could be more easily by repealed by a future Republican administration, and Democratic attempts at gun control and illegal immigration reform were also thwarted and the Democrats once again had to settle for more easily-revoked executive actions.
This wasn’t nearly confrontational enough for the more fervid “Tea Party” types, who were constantly telling one another via talk radio that the damned Republicans had just rolled over and given Obama everything he wanted, which came as quite as surprise to Obama and all the other National Public Radio listeners who were always hearing about the Republican’s stubborn obstructionism, so in ’16 they went with a candidate so impeccably anti-establishment candidate he promised to destroy both the Democrats and any Republicans who had ever had anything to with them. Donald Trump was a longtime Democrat and generous contributor to Democratic causes until recently, and had often spoken in favor of a Canadian-style “single payer” health insurance system or even an entirely socialized British-style of medicine, and his signature protectionist trade policies were pretty much the same as the Democratic party’s self-described socialist challenger and portended a similar desire to meddle even further in the rest of the economy, and he was promising to double his Democratic rival’s supposedly stimulative spending on infrastructure, and he was far friendlier to the Russkies and even more hostile to America’s allies than Obama, and just four years ago was criticizing the Republican nominee’s sensible enforcement policy on illegal immigration “cruel,” and he didn’t seem to know much about a whole lot of things, but that just proved he wasn’t one of those know-it-all establishment types who had supposedly proved so spineless. He was rude and crude and quick to pick pointless fights, but that only endeared to him Republicans who had endured eight years of Obama and were eager for confrontation for its own sake.
The anger Trump eagerly embraced made for a very different sort of cult of personality than the hippy-dippy peace-and-love and hope-and-change mantra of the Obama acolytes just eight years earlier, but it has the same indifference to careful consideration of objective facts or the possibility of political compromise, and looks just as likely to overreach. It comes into power along with majorities in both chambers of Congress, and hopefully with a less squishy Supreme Court as well, and we’re sure that the Democrats will soon regret that it’s also empowered by the last eight years of precedents on executive action.
Those supposedly insufficiently confrontational congressional Republicans did force Obama to resort to those executive actions, and we look forward to seeing their unappreciated work rewarded when a putatively Republican president easily undoes them, but we wonder if they’ll bother to resist any extra-constitutional executive actions a president putatively of their own party makes, and we dread seeing what they’ll be. Trump’s plan to cut taxes and increase spending on infrastructure and the military not touch any of the entitlements that take up the lion’s share of federal spending, not to mention his past statements about government-paid health care for everyone, aren’t likely to help with that debt problem that gave rise to the “Tea Party” movement that fueled the rise of Trump, and we’ll be interested to see how many of those Republican congressman who ran on that very issue will mount a dissent.
Throw in the very real possibility that Trump actually meant a lot of that crazy talk he spewed during the campaign about renegotiating the national debt and slapping 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods and not honoring our military treaty obligations, as well as the very real possibility that the Republican congressmen that the more fervent “Tea Party” types have long derided as spineless will accede to it, along with the certainty that the majority of the country that didn’t vote for Trump will be nurturing their own grievances and honing their own readiness for confrontation, and we can well imagine that the next mid-term elections with also have a certain sense of deja vu about it.

— Bud Norman

The Washington Post’s Latest Scoop

Nothing so warms as the heart as a good old journalistic screw-up, especially when the self-righteous watchdogs of democracy and unforgiving judges of other people’s failures in the most almighty media are forced to admit that they are also mere humans. We had a good chuckle, therefore, to hear about The Washington Post’s premature announcement that Vice President Joe Biden has entered the Democratic presidential race.
The story was quickly retracted, profusely apologized for, and we don’t for a moment believe there was any nefarious intent. There was a for-internal-use-only “slug” on top of the story and “XX” markings where information was apparently supposed to be updated, so it was clearly pre-written copy intended to be used in the event that Biden did announce his candidacy, and some unlucky Postman or another simply hit a “send” rather than a “save” button and inadvertently thus sent it out over the internet. Anyone who thinks that the mistake indicates some inside knowledge of a Biden candidacy should know the paper almost certainly has another story in its computer files about how Biden has announced he isn’t running, and that it could have just as easily been the one that was published by a click on the wrong button.

We have some sympathy for the accidental offender, as even our humble operation has occasionally clicked on the “publish” icon rather than the “saved” icon and thus sent out unfinished and un-headlined columns to those readers kind enough to “follow” us on their “mobile devices” or those who just happened drop by during the short interval before the article was finished and headlined, although we can proudly note that has only resulted in some momentary confusion and a chance to watch how our word craft is so carefully polished, and it has never obliged us to apologize that what we posted was completely untrue, even if it was slightly incoherent. During our long years of toil for the local newspaper we gave first-hand witness to some truly spectacular and thoroughly retracted journalistic screw-ups, too, and on one occasion long ago very early in our obituary-writing days it was entirely our fault, so we try not to be too judgmental or self-righteous about such things. Still, this error seems to have resulted from journalistic tendencies that can be easily corrected.
Almost of all of those spectacular and thoroughly retracted journalist screw-ups we witnessed first-hand resulted from some editor or another’s insistence that the truth be written up and published before it could possibly be known. On one still locally infamous occasion two of the local aircraft manufacturers were vying for a sizable military contract, and in a city where aviation is still the most significant component of the local economy the editors were very interested in the outcome of the competition, and the poor fellow on the aviation beat, who was a good reporter and a buddy of ours, was under intense pressure to announce the result before the government or any of the television stations did. He buckled under and went with his best sources and best guess, both of which turned out to be completely wrong, and the winning company paid for a full-page in the local media’s satirical “Gridiron” revue to show a photo-shopped Harry Truman holding up the local newspaper’s headline where “Dewey Beats Truman” used to be. Our friend’s career never recovered, the careers of the editors who insisted on reporting the news before it happened never suffered, and we see it happen all the time.
Editors seem all the more eager to publish the truth they prefer before it can possibly be known. Nearly every mass shooting, even the frequent ones that occur abroad, usually begin with editorial assumptions that soon require more inconspicuous retractions. Natural catastrophes and real unemployment rates during Republican administrations seem prone to inconspicuous retractions than during Democrat administrations, too, and we can’t count how many times the “Tea Party” has been inconspicuously retracted from stories. Pretty much all the coverage of the unpredictable Democratic and Republican presidential primaries has been unaccountably cocksure, and the watchdogs of democracy and unforgiving judges of other people’s faults seem as ever.
Not that we’re entirely averse to the time-honored newspaper practice of writing up two plausible alternative stories in advance, just in case you’re right enough to be able to get a few minutes ahead of the competition. Many election cycles ago we were relegated to some forgettable congressional race, and as our deeply buried dispatches warned it turned out to be a nail-biter. Foreseeing this we had written three stories, with lots of “XX” markings for last-minute-before-deadline information, and one proclaimed candidate “A” the victor and the other one candidate “B,” and the third apologizing that as of press time no victor was apparent, yet even 10 minutes before deadline our editor was demanding a submission. With the latest polling numbers showing a single-digit margin we agreed to hand in the third option, but she rather haughtily insisted we tell our readers the outcome whether we knew it or not. She wound up as a the big-time editor at a newspaper down south, which happened to be one of the last two-newspaper towns left in America and where her drunken-driving arrest was front page fodder for the competitor, and we’re proud to say we withheld our byline from any story that purported to tell the truth before it was known.
Those pre-written stories almost always need to be re-written, too. By the time Biden does or doesn’t get into the race the storyline will be much different, and will need to include Donald Trump’s latest “tweet,” and the who, what, where, when, and why of a couple day’s ago will seem incoherent by the time paper hits your front door step, and your best bet to spare you a spectacular journalistic scandal and complete retraction is that third option conceding that you really don’t know what the hell is going on. So long as you keep your computer files free of any more cocky files, you won’t have this kind of embarrassment. Besides, the presses run all night and you’re going to be on the doorsteps of your readers before they wake up, and after the electronic media have beat you to the wrong story, so take a little extra time to get it right.

— Bud Norman

Bon Voyage, Boehner

We won’t have Speaker of the House John Boehner to kick around anymore, at least not after the end-of-October resignation he announced last week, and we’re glad of it. His cautious style of leadership was ill-suited to these times of constitutional crisis, as far as we are concerned, and we never did enjoy kicking him around.
Although we consider ourselves as rock-ribbed and radical as the next Republican, and are in a very confrontational mood lately, we couldn’t quite work up the same red-hot hatred for Boehner that all the right-wing radio talkers and grassroots activists seem to have cultivated. Maybe we were just suckers for the lachrymose Speaker’s compelling sob story about his rise from a humble home atop his father’s bar in a working class neighborhood to the heights of politics, or it’s that our disagreements always seemed to have less to do with his policy preferences than about the tactics best suited to achieve them, or that we well remember what it was like when San Francisco’s well-heeled Nancy Pelosi so expensively wielded the gavel. To say that Boehner represented a great improvement over his predecessor is to damn with faint praise, of course, but at least the deficits are down since to slightly less scary levels since he took over the House and there haven’t been any bills passed nearly so bad as Obamacare and the rest of what has happening when the Democrats everything, and something in our perpetually pessimistic conservative temperament makes us glad for such small favors.
Those right-wing radio talkers and grassroots activists will rightly note that cap-and-trade and open borders and Iranian nuclear bombs with a $150 billion signing bonus and all sorts of other Democratic craziness that would have passed the Reid-Pelosi Congress have nonetheless been achieved by executive action, and with only feeble resistance from the Republican majorities that were installed in congress to prevent it. This is why we’ve concluded that Boehner had to go, and that so should his counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but we will concede that their leadership has at least reduced the president to executive actions that can be more easily undone by the executive actions of a new and more sensible president.
We’ll even hold out hope that Boehner’s and McConnell’s cowardly cautiousness have made it slightly more more probable that we’ll soon have a new and more sensible president. Already such still-influential press outlets as The Washington Post are gleefully fretting that the conservative elements of the Republican party that forced Boehner out and now have their sights set on McConnell “can’t govern” and will instead rashly shut down the non-essential government, which is most of it, and that all hell will surely break loose. We’re inclined to believe that there’s already far too much governance going on, that progress would be better measured by the number of laws repealed and regulations rolled back and entire agencies abolished, and that a shut-down of all of those non-essential services would be salutary, especially during the winter when few people are planning vacations in those photogenic national parks, and we’re certain that even our left-wing radical president would blink before allowing a default on the national debt, but we acknowledge that not everyone shares our rather right-wing perspective on such things.
There are only so many of us right-wing crazies out there, and a smaller number of the left-wing crazies on the other side, and therefore policy is so often decided by those uninformed voters in the middle. What little information these voters possess usually comes from the 30-second news updates that are wedged in between the latest pop tunes on the radio each hour, and that brief attention span does not take in anything more than a vague awareness that the latest spat is all about those anarchist conservatives wanting to shut the government down. The other day we heard a short National Public Radio report about the latest possibility of a government shutdown explained as the Republicans refusing to fund the women’s health care services provided by Planned Parenthood, with no mention that Planned Parenthood is mostly a network of abortionists and that a series of hidden camera videos have revealed that they routinely sell the remains of late-term fetuses and even live but promptly terminated births for profit, and one needn’t be such a jaded old pol as Boehner or McConnell to worry how a fight on such terms might end up.
Still, we hope that whoever winds up with Boehner’s job, and with good luck McConnell’s as well, is at least somewhat more daring. The last government shutdown was widely blamed on the Republicans, but ended soon enough for the party to win gains in the election, and the next one might be as well-timed. If the Republicans are willing to fund pretty much everything except Planned Parenthood all of those right-wing talkers and a few of the honest press writers might be able to persuade the public that Democrats were the ones who shut down the government for radical reasons, and people might finally notice that a government shut-down isn’t that big a deal after all, and a reasonable Republican candidate might even enjoy support from that uninformed middle as well as all the suddenly enthused right-wing crazies such as ourselves. Something in our instinctively pessimistic conservative temperament, though, urges at least a wee bit of that old establishment caution.

— Bud Norman

Romney Rides Again

The Washington press is abuzz that Mitt Romney seems poised for another run at the presidency, but we wonder how many of the people who will be voting in the Republican primaries and caucuses share the excitement.
There’s no wondering why the press is excited. The investment mogul and former Massachusetts governor and past Republican nominee adds a familiar name to to their too-early-to-read campaign reports full of little-known governors and congressional long shots, sets up an intriguing storyline about the inevitable fight for big-money donors and the party establishment’s support against a former Florida governor with the familiar last name of Bush, and otherwise serves a favorite press narrative about top hat-wearing and moustache-twirling plutocratic Republicans and their internecine battle with the tin foil hat-wearing conservative crazies. Romney will also be a legitimate contender for the nomination, given all that big-donor money and establishment support and the fact he was once palatable enough to the people who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses to become the past nominee, so there are even valid journalistic reasons for the attention being paid.
Presidential re-runs are not unprecedented, of course. In the early 1800’s Charles Pinckney was twice the candidate of the Federalist Party, losing both times, which helps explain why there is no longer a Federalist Party. Grover Cleveland won, lost, then won again for the Democrats in the late 1880s. William Jennings Bryan won the Democratic nomination three times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with his brand of prairie populism, and lost the general election in each case. Thomas Dewey was twice the Republican nominee in the ’40s and twice the loser to Franklin Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson was twice the Democratic nominee in the ’50s and twice the loser to Dwight Eisenhower. Nixon was the Republican nominee in ’60 and lost but came back “tanned, rested, and ready” to win in ’68, so unless you remember how that turned out the record isn’t entirely gloomy.
There were those polls a while back showing that Romney would have won a re-match with President Barack Obama, too, and the next batch of surveys will no doubt show that he has a lead on all the candidates whose names are being thrown in the mix. Whoever survives the early blows between Romney and Bush will have the “establishment” support to himself while a wide field of contenders are still battling for “conservative” bloc, and that does provide a plausible plot for the Romney scenario. Money and organization and professional expertise matter, as well, and Romney will have plenty of them. There’s also an argument to be made that he would be a good president, and we proudly made the argument that he would have been better than Barack Obama, and that also matters even if it won’t be a part of the press narrative.
All of that will earn Romney a look from Republicans, but we expect it will be quite skeptical. A more robustly conservative candidate running an effective national campaign could have beaten Obama at any point in the last two years, which Romney failed to do when he had the chance, and that lead you see in the next batch of polls is over a group of more conservative Republicans that have not yet announced their candidacy much less launched a campaign. Among those little-known governors and congressional long shots are some impressive candidates, and they comprise a field far more formidable than Romney faced last time around.
Texas’ Gov. Rick Perry imploded with poor campaigning after a surgery and the weight of the deals he had made on immigration to win a crucial share of the Latino vote in his home state, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was tarred by personal scandals and lobbying ties and the years of vituperation by the left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum couldn’t resist being lured into divisive social issues, former pizza magnate and future talk show host Herman Cain had a sex scandal, “tea party” favorite Rep. Michelle Bachmann dropped out early on, promising former Minnesota Gov. Tom Pawlenty dropped out for no apparent reason even earlier, and the likable and competent Romney suddenly seemed the best shot. This time he’ll face the likes of Gov. Scott Walker, who has won three elections to serve two astoundingly successful terms despite the most furious efforts of the Democratic left, Governors Rick Snyder and John Kasich of Michigan and Ohio, respectively, who have won re-election in their crucial states with the same sort of conservative policies, as well as a fully-recovered Perry who managed to demonstrate his anti-illegal immigration bona fides before leaving office, and the likes of Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul and Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz, who have shown the sort of boldness conservatives desire on economic issues and represent the polar ends of a crucial intra-party debate on foreign policy.
Any candidate that emerges from that field should be able to win the nomination. Our guess is that the Romney will win the fight with Gov. Jeb Bush for the “establishment” mantle, given that Bush has irrevocable positions on illegal immigration and that horrible “Common Core” curriculum that the federal wants to impose on local education systems that are anathema to all but the wealthiest Republicans, but the Washington press doesn’t seem to understand that “establishment” is now a most foul epithet among the people who vote in Republican primaries and caucuses. The intense scrutiny that the other contenders have already endured suggests there won’t be scandals to knock any of them out of the race, and they’ll have strong arguments to make about Obamacare and regulations and taxes and getting the government out of the way that the technocratic Romney will have trouble countering. He’s a legitimate contender, but by no means a front-runner.
We might be proved wrong, of course, in which case our only consolation is in knowing that Romney would be a better candidate than anyone the Democrats might put up.

— Bud Norman

Officers Ramos and Liu, RIP

The many recent protests regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have often featured chants for the murder of police officers, and such evil wishes came true on Saturday. Two of New York City’s finest were shot down in cold blood, apparently in retaliation for the highly publicized deaths of two unarmed black men by police, and many of those who stoked the angriness of the protests are offering their condolences.
In Brown’s case an unassailable array of physical evidence and numerous eyewitnesses eventually corroborated the officer’s claim of self-defense against an intimidatingly large man who had gone for his gun, and in Garner’s case a videotape of the unhealthy man’s fatal encounter with a neck hold and pile of officers demonstrated what was arguably excessive force against his attempt to resist arrest but not murderous intent, yet both were widely exploited as proof of a deadly war by law enforcement against law-abiding black men. The use of deadly force by police officers has declined in recent years along with the crime rate, black men are still far more likely to die at the hands of another black man, and the death tolls for everyone would be far higher without police officers willing and able to defend themselves on the streets, but none of that stopped the usual racial provocateurs from egging on the protests that chanted for the murder of cops.
The ubiquitous Al Sharpton was on the scene, of course, along with the New Black Panther Party and the rest of the soap box orators who haven’t yet secured a network news gig or frequent invitations to the White House. Hollywood celebrities chimed in, as always, and professional athletes took to the field with the thoroughly disproved “Don’t shoot” slogan of Brown’s purported mayrtrdom or Garner’s sadly true last words of “I can’t breathe” emblazoned on the high-dollar shoes that the big time sneaker companies provide them. Much of the media did its usual muckraking, too, happy to let the fanciful but useful notion of cops murdering innocent black men in cold blood linger. This time around the crowd included the the Mayor of New York City, who publicly lamented that he had to teach his black son to be fearful of the city’s police, the President of the United States, who sent an emissary to Brown’s funeral and told the United Nations that Brown’s death left his country unable to assert its moral authority in the world, and his Attorney General, who launched an investigation of the department involved in Brown’s death even as evidence of the officer’s innocence was accumulating.
Some of those soap box orators are exulting about the murders on social media, which is the soap box of our high-tech age, and the same platform that the killer of those two New York City officers used to proclaim his vengeful motives, but the provocateurs who need to retain some level of respectability are now obliged to offer either sympathy or at least a respectful silence. Hollywood celebrities have publicity agents who will shrewdly advise against any comment, and any athletes who take the field with slogans in solidarity with the murders will likely lose his shoes. The rest have ratings or circulation figures or poll numbers to worry about, and have said all the right things.
Members of the New York City Police Department nonetheless turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, and in the most literal sense of the phrase. The broader public might have a similar reaction to the suddenly kind words offered to the police by erstwhile supporters of the protests that until Sunday had chanted for the murder of police. There’s no plausible way for the media to report the deaths of a Hispanic and an Asian police officer who were involved in a training exercise to deal with potential terrorist threats that will support the narrative of a white racist war against black men, and the killer’s race and name will make it impossible to blame the usual Tea Party suspects. That national conversation on race that the race provocateurs have long hoped to start has suddenly shifted to the facts that the deadly use of force by police officers has been declining along with the crime rate, that black men are far more likely to die at the hands of other black men, and that the death toll for everyone would be much higher if there weren’t officers willing and able to defend themselves and the rest of us against a threat that suddenly seems all too real.

— Bud Norman

Republicans Versus Republicans Versus Democrats

Although we rarely bother to glance at Facebook, we couldn’t help taking a peek at the disconsolate postings of our left-wing friends after Tuesday’s many Republican victories in the mid-term elections. As Conan the Barbarian famously said when asked what is best in life, “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, hear the lamentations of their women.” We also tuned into our usual right-wing talk radio fare and visited the usual right-wing internet publications, hoping to share in the expected exultations, but found a rather muted response.
Much of the credit for the Republicans’ remarkable success must be attributed to Kentucky Senator and presumptive Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, New Jersey Governor and Republican Governors Association chairman Chris Christie, and former Bush administration political boss and current activist Karl Rove, along with countless unknown professional party operatives, which takes much fun out of the victory for a certain sort of Republican. Even as the GOP celebrates a historic victory over the darned Democrats it continues to endure a civil war between the ideologically pure and rabid “tea party” and the pragmatic and wimpy “establishment,” and the most dedicated adherents to the former faction regard the aforementioned gentlemen as the worst of the latter faction. The Republican congressional leadership’s post-election assurances that there will be no government shutdowns or threats a credit default or any of the sort of brinksmanship championed by the more confrontational conservatives has already exacerbated the resentment, and their failure to acknowledge the dutiful support of their intra-party rivals has been ungracious and unhelpful, so a shared victory does not seem likely to result in a Republican rapprochement. Which strikes us as unfortunate, as we are sympathetic to both sides of the battle and can easily envision a successful alliance.
The “tea party’s” paranoid panic about the state of the nation strikes us as entirely appropriate, and we share its belief that desperate times call for desperate measures. From our prairie perspective McConnell has been too timid and too moderate in his leadership of the party’s Senate minority, the timidity and moderation of Boehner’s speakership has been all the more infuriating because he led a majority, Chris Christie is a Republican only by the appallingly low standards of the northeastern states, Rove deserves as much blame as anybody for the deficit-spending and governmental growth of the Bush years, and we regard those professional operatives with the usual Republican disdain for slick college kids in fancy suits who attend inside-the-beltway cocktail parties. The “tea party” also embodies the bedrock principles of low taxes and limited government and individual liberty and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism that we believe are the only way out of the current crisis, and we hate to think how Tuesday’s results might have turned out if like-minded conservatives had decided to sit out the election for spite rather than pitch on the effort for the candidates that weren’t entirely to their liking.
Still, we’re magnanimous enough to offer some thanks for the shrewd moves the “establishment” has made against the heated advice of their internecine adversaries. The government shutdowns and budgetary brinksmanship that the “tea party” advocated were well-justified and caused little harm in our opinion, but there’s no denying the damage it always does to Republican poll numbers and it’s a lucky break it was all long forgotten by the mid-term elections. A constant onslaught of primary challenges by newly enthused “tea party” insurgents had the salutary effect of dragging the Republicans in a more steadfastly conservative direction, but it also yielded more than a few rank amateurs who blew winnable races with amateurish gaffes that were used to tarnish the party at large. An all-out effort by the “establishment” to winnow out such troublesome candidates include a heavy-handed effort to choose a more polished state government veteran over the more fire-breathing “tea party” choice in Colorado and a downright disgusting effort to oust a “tea party” candidate prone to indelicate remarks about race in Mississippi by the most blatant appeals to cross-over-voting black Democrats, but it also resulted in a very impressive slate candidates across the nation. This time around the best efforts of a biased media couldn’t find any notable misstatements by Republicans to endlessly replay on the late night comedy shows, and all had to admit that such Democrats as Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and Kentucky senatorial hopeful Allison Lundgrem Grimes And Wisconsin gubernatorial challenger Mary Burke had descended into farce. Those right-wing talk radio hosts kept insisting the Republicans present an attackable agenda of what they are for, but the election results suggest they were right to focus on the widely unpopular things they opposed.
What the warring factions of the Republicans are opposed to is pretty much all they agree on, after all, and that should be sufficient for an effective if uneasy alliance. Given the unfortunate reality that we confront six years into the age of hope and change, holding off the most outrageous actions of a president emboldened by his lame duck status will be conservatism’s most pressing challenge and one that we expect to have a unifying effect. There’s a chance that the Republican leadership will go wobbly on the president’s promised executive actions regarding illegal immigration, in which case the civil war will be on again with a righteous vengeance, but otherwise the congressional leadership should be able cobble together an agenda palatable to the conservative base. Prompt movement on the Keystone Pipeline, cutting the corporate tax rate to a globally competitive level, repeal of certain problematic portions of Obamcare and promise of an eventual repeal of the whole damned thing, and of course resistance to whatever executive actions the president might sign regarding climate change or social justice or whatever other trendy cause he embraces should satisfy every sort of Republican and play well with the general public. With the shrewd professionalism of the “establishment” and the intellectually sound enthusiasm of the “tea party” peaceably combined, and with a promising slate of potential presidential candidates, the Republicans might stand a chance of restoring order in ’16. At such point we’ll have to fight it out between low taxes and even lower taxes and limited government and even more limited government, and there will be the usual squabbles about tactics, but we’d prefer that to fighting with Democrats.

— Bud Norman

Another Election Day

Today is Election Day, at long last, and we are glad of it. No matter how the races turn out, we will welcome a respite from the relentless campaigning.
Kansas is usually spared the worst of it, but this year a confluence of unfortunate events have made the state’s gubernatorial and senatorial elections unusually competitive, and as a result the state’s politics have been unusually pervasive. One can turn off the radio and television to avoid the barrage of advertisements, and curtail the evening walks to avoid all the yard signs proclaiming the neighbors’ poor choices, but there’s no escape in the internet, no avoiding the mailbox stuffed with fliers, and the phone has constantly been ringing with robocalls. Our avid interest in politics led us to consider all of it carefully in the beginning, but by now the fliers go to the trash unread and the commercials are ignored and the robocalls are hung up on as soon as they begin. Not that we’re shirking our civic duty to be well informed, as we knew all the arguments and had made our choices the day after the primaries, and although we’ve taken care to be apprised of any new revelations there haven’t been any worth noting.
The polls and the pundits give no indication of what the results will be, which is also unusual for Kansas at this late date in an election. Part of the problem is that the war within the Republican party between the “tea party” and “the establishment” has been especially hard fought here, leaving its candidates bruised and battered. Gov. Sam Brownback’s aggressive tax-cutting and budget-cutting was accomplished with help from like-minded “tea party” types who pulled off a remarkable primary purge during the movement’s high-water year of 2014, and a number of “establishment” types who had grown comfortable with expensive and bloated state government so long as they ran it have bolted from the party. Their support plus the wrath of the teachers’ unions who resented Brownback’s sensible proposal to allow incompetent teachers to be fire and all the liberals who hate Brownback with a red-hot passion that can not be explained in any possible terms have given a good chance of victory to Democratic opponent Paul Davis, a typical liberal from the typically liberal college town of Lawrence who has plenty of money to spend on adds that make his typical tax-and-spend politics sound some sensible and mainstream. Sen. Pat Roberts would be considered a “tea party” type in most jurisdictions, by contemporary Kansas Republican standards his 86 percent rating from the American Conservative Union is considered wimpy and he barely survived a primary challenge by a more rock-ribbed amateur only because of the opponent’s amateurishness and the fact that a couple of no-name votes split a crucial share of the widespread anti-Roberts sentiment. The Democrats still withdrew from the race, however, in order to clear the way for a self-proclaimed independent named Greg Orman whose personal fortune and the donations of some even more well-heeled out-of-state liberals have allowed him to run a very professional campaign positioning the former Democratic candidate and longtime Democratic donor as a non-partisan centrist. Throw in a widespread anti-incumbency mood among that significant bloc of voters too stupid and lazy to consider which party’s incumbents they hate most, and it’s a rare nail-biter in this state.
We remain cautiously optimistic that both Brownback and Roberts will survive close calls, but won’t make any wagers. All the tiresome cliches about how it all comes down to turnout are applicable, and it’s hard to figure who has the edge in this regard. The Democrats are fired up with their red-hot hatred of Brownback, but his ardent supporters in the anti-abortion movement are reliable voters with the extra incentive of Davis’ radically pro-abortion record and the more libertarian among the party will be spooked by the prospect of handing another two years of control of the Senate to Democrats.and we expect that many of the “establishment” types who don’t actually hold jobs in the state government and party establishment are still Republican enough that they won’t vote for what is after all a tax-and-spend platform. All those Democrats itching to vote against Brownback will also vote against Roberts, even if without the enthusiasm of voting for an admitted Democrat, but we expect that Republicans will also wind up voting for Roberts, even without the enthusiasm of voting for a more full-throated and rock-ribbed Republican. Numerous politicians with impeccably conservative credentials have pitched in on the campaign, that vanquished primary opponent has belatedly offered his endorsement, and the non-stop argument that a vote for Orman could keep the Democrats in control of the Senate should limit the number of conservatives sitting this one out.
So it really all comes down to getting out those voters who haven’t been paying attention, and there’s no telling how that will unfold. The National Rifle Association has spent a great deal of money to get the state’s sizable population of gun owners revved up on behalf of both Brownback and Roberts, a ridiculous referendum proposal to raise Wichita’s already sky-high sales taxes will bring out a lot of tightfisted taxpayers in the state’s largest city and will probably add a few votes to the Republican totals, the weather is forecast to be chilly, Roberts has a party organization while Orman will be piggybacking on the Democrats efforts, Kansas State University’s beloved football coach has come out strong for Roberts, and the same anti-Obama sentiment that is said to be brewing a Republican wave has been washing over Kansas for the past six years. Only the most hard-core of the Democrats seem fired up, too, and the all-important hipsters down at the local dive seem not to have noticed all the pervasive politics. It’s enough to make us confident, but quite cautiously so.
We’ll take our biennial stroll to a nearby Lutheran church and cast our votes, then anxiously follow the results here and across the nation. We’re watching the Wisconsin gubernatorial race and the Iowa Senate contest and of course will be keeping track of the Republicans’ numbers in the Senate and House, so it will be a full day of politics. After that we’ll try to take a day off from the stuff, and savor of the sound of the phone not dining with robocalls.

— Bud Norman