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Meanwhile, Here in Kansas

Thursday was hot and steamy and occasionally stormy here in Kansas, and an interview with a local low-rated and ultra high frequency television station’s libertarian talk show focused our attention on the state’s politics, but even here in the middle of the America there was no escaping the influence of President Donald Trump.
There’s an intriguing gubernatorial race afoot in this off-year state, which involves a lot of intra-GOP craziness and an even crazier Democratic party that stubbornly hangs around and some statewide political habits that go back to the “Bleeding Kansas” days when we waged a pre-civil war about the slavery issue and wound up entering the union as free soil on the side of the abolitionist Republicans. All of that pre-dates the improbable election of Trump and will probably wind up settling matters, but of course Trump plays his part.
The winner of August’s Republican gubernatorial primary most often wins the general election in November, if not always, and this year the race seems to be between Secretary of State Kris Kobach and current Gov. Jeff Colyer. It’s a complicated race given all the uniquely Kansas controversies that have roiled the state since the election of Gov. Sam Brownback, who handed the office over to Lt. Gov. Colyer last year when Trump appointed him to be something called Ambassador for Religeous Freedom, and Trump figures in other ways as well.
Even our mostly out-of-state readers might recognize Kobach’s name, as he’s earned a national reputation for his hard-line stance against illegal immigrants voting in American elections, and he was on all the national media when Trump appointed him to head a commission that would prove that some three millions of those illegal immigrants had robbed Trump of his rightful victory over “Crooked” Hillary Clinton in the popular vote.
The commission was ignominiously disbanded before holding a single public hearing, as both Republican and Democratic secretaries of states around the country refused to provide Kobach’s requested information, with even Kansas being obliged by state law, and never came close to validating Trump’s popular vote victory, but Kobach’s non-stop television ads still tout his connection to the president, and Kobach is positioning himself as the more Trumpian candidate. Donald Trump Jr. recently stumped for him in the state, and in the last primary debate he called his opponent “Lyin’ Jeff.”
Meanwhile, Colyer is staking out a more center-right position on most of the issues and dealing as best he can with all the problems from the Brownback days. We’ve always quite liked Brownback from the time the genial and genuinely well-intentioned farm boy and we were fellow interns for Sen. Bob Dole way back in the relatively sane ’70s, and back when the Republican establishment was intact we voted for him in both of his winning Senate races and when “Tea Party” movement for low taxes and limited government and general resistance to President Barack Obama were cause du jour for the Republican party we enthusiastically voted for him in all his campaigns. At his point, though, and after Brownback resigned office with the same poll numbers as when President Richard Nixon left office there’s no denying his administration-and-a-half came to a controversial end that Colyer has to contend with.
Getting Brownback’s aggressive tax-cutting agenda passed required purging many of the more cautious sorts of establishment Republicans from the legislature in acrimonious primary challenges, and after that a lost of more cautious establishment Republican types wound up winning another round of acrimonious primary challenges. Brownback’s economic theory was based on the same economic principles as the policies that President Ronald Reagan had pursued to revive America’s economy in the ’80s, and although there’s a compelling theoretical argument that they worked once again in the Kansas economy of the second decade of the 21st Century they objectively failed to keep the grandiose promise of economic growth providing more tax revenues at lower rates. Balancing the budget therefore required severe budget cuts, and although some of them made sense the lopped-off portions of the state’s education and human services programs offended the more cautious sorts of Republicans and outraged every last Democrat still hanging around in the state.
Colyer’s campaign ads stress his support for fully funding Kansas’ schools, which used to be a mainstay of Kansas Republicans’ rhetoric way back in our schooldays, and we notice he’s not promising any tax cuts to pay for it. None of Colyer’s speeches or radio and television advertisements make any mention of Brownback, nor does he have anything good or bad to say about trump, and although he’s as Republican as ever on expanding gun rights and restricting abortion rights he seems to embrace an old-fashioned and kinder and gentler conservatism that once routinely prevailed in this kind and gentle and quintessentially conservative state. How that works out in the age of Trump remains to be seen next month, and there hasn’t been much polling to date, but for now we’re holding out hope for Colyer.
Trump won Kansas’ scant six electoral votes by the usual 30 percent margin, but you could have filled in the name of anyone from Donald Duck to Adolph Hitler on the Republican ballot and it would have beat “Crooked” Clinton by the same blow-out, but he came in a distant third in the state’s Republican caucus and is regarded with ambivalence by the state’s Republican party. The state’s two biggest industries are agriculture and aviation, which happen to be America’s biggest export industries, and Trump’s global trade wars are being protested by all of the state’s entirely Republican congressional delegation.
Trump’s Supreme Court picks are popular here, as are his bold stands on standing for the national anthem and such culture war sideshows, but among both the country club members and the church-goers of this very polite and cautiously conservative state there’s a certain worry about Trump’s global trade wars and the “burn it down” attitude toward longstanding American and international institutions, and how very unproved and impolite this newfangled Trumpian conservatism seems to be.
Meanwhile the state’s Democrats have their own craziness to contend with. There’s a centrist farmer and former state representative from some small town named Josh Svaty who would probably be the Democrats’ formidable opponent in a general election, but he takes a “pro-life” position in the abortion debate and is therefore a long shot in a Democratic primary around here. Another contender is former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who was a pretty good mayor and someone we personally we know to be a genial and well-intentioned and noticeably African-American fellow, but the rest of the state regards Wichita as crime-ridden urban hellhole of Jewish bankers and homosexual seducers and dark-skinned street gangs, which is true enough, and so far his support seems limited to the party’s monied elites and the relatively big cities’ homosexual subcultures and the state’s widely-dispersed African-American voters.
What’s left of our state’s media can’t afford much polling these days, but so far we can tell the Democratic front-runner is longtime state Sen. Laura Kelly, from one of those snooty Lwarence-to-Kansas-City-suburb districts up in the northeast part of state, who has quite politely staked out an oh-so-slightly-left-of-center stand on the issues of the day, and she might prove a formidable opponent even here in old-fashioned Republican Kansas.
At this point we’re reluctantly for Colyer, and our deal old friend from the punk rock days who interviewed us on that low-rated and ultra high frequency libertarian talk show is reluctantly for Kobach, but we’ll wait to see how it all shakes out, and trust in the votes of our crazy-ass but genial and genuinely well-intention Democratic and Republican Kansans. We’ll choose between whatever they come up with, according to whichever nominee seems least likely to raise any unnecessary fuss we have to pay attention to, and if that means we wind up voting for a damned Democrat then so be it.

— Bud Norman(/p>

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One Prom Dresses and Cultural Appropriation

The news is chockfull of important stuff these days, from the “Russia thing” to the recently sluggish stock markets to the suddenly hopeful but still risky Korean peninsula, yet we couldn’t help noticing the big media brouhaha about a teen girl from Utah’s high school prom dress.
The headlines probably caught our eye because last Saturday we had a fine meal at the swank Larkspur Restaurant in the fashionable Old Town area of Wichita to help our folks celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary, and the joint was filled with elegantly attired and undeniably gorgeous young women and the hilariously ill-fitted and conspicuously dorky-looking old boys who were taking them to the prom. Back in our high school days we considered ourselves too cool for a prom, even though an elegantly attired and undeniably gorgeous cheerleader who was also a straight-A student had made it clear she would be happy to escort us, and we were so precociously self-aware that realized how ridiculous we’d look in retrospect, so for hard to explain reasons we’ve taken a wistfully nostalgic interest in prom stories the last few years.
This prom story involves “cultural appropriation,” too, which is one of those cockamamie convolutions of the cultural left that always gets us riled up. If you’re not hep to the cutting edge of social justice, “cultural appropriation” is the deadly secular sin that white people commit whenever they find something appealing in a non-white culture and use it in their own lives. This ridiculous theory has condemned James MacNeil Whistler’s extraordinary Japanese-influenced paintings, Bix Beiderbecke’s lyrical contributions to jazz, Fred Astaire’s glorious tap-dancing, Elvis Presley’s most bad-ass rhythm-and-blues, countless admittedly tasteless fraternity parties, and now the prom dress of a Utah high school girl named Keziah Daum.
Daum posted some prom-night pictures of herself on “Twitter,” as teens seem to do these days, and by the time the photos went up to the big back east papers and then down to us they were what the kids call “viral.” What we saw from our faraway and thoroughly disinterested middle aged perspective was an elegantly attired and undeniably gorgeous young woman standing next to a relatively dorky-looking old boy, but what the more cutting-edge social justice warrior types saw was an undeniably gorgeous non-Asian woman elegantly attired in an Asian dress. That’s the sort of sort of thing that gets them riled up, and it was a social media contrempts that spilled over into the more old fashioned sort of media.
At the risk of sounding like the Trumpian sort of Republicans, it all strikes us as damned stupid. Both the anti-racist right and left used to agree that almost every culture had come up with at least some good idea or another, and that everyone should make whatever use they can of the best ideas, and that anyone who didn’t do so was being a racist. This sensible idea not only gave us those great Whistler paintings and searing Bix solos and show-stopping Fred numbers and rockin’ Elvis records, but also the great Asian-American and African-American musicians who have not only revived but reinvigorated the great European classical tradition, not to mention some pretty bad-assed black country-and-western performers. We’re grateful that Western Civilization adopted the Arabic numeral system, which makes our tax returns so much easier, and we hope the Arab world will eventually adopt some of our more sensible fading western traditions.
At any rate, we thought the young Daum looked quite elegantly gorgeous in her prom dress, and we’d proudly stand by her even in our disheveled and middle-aged dorkiness for a “selfie.”. We were born in the Phillippines while our Pop served in the Air Force and our Mom also served as military wife, and while they were there they travelled all over Asia and sort of went native. We grew up in a house filled with rattan furniture from the Philippines, the gorgeous sorts of Japanese prints that inspired Whistler, and our Mom had a wok in her kitchen long before any of the cutting-edge “foodies” did, and we have photographic evidence of how stunning she looked in the Asian dresses she used wear on special occasions.
Our advice to all our non-white readers is to help yourself to automobiles and electronics and democracy and whatever good ideas our crazy-assed people have somehow come up with, and not mind if we avail ourselves of the best that your crazy-assed people have somehow come up with. We also hope that gorgeous high school girl and her dorky-looking date in Utah both long remember their prom as a one of those great teenaged nights.

— Bud Norman

An Another Day, Another Mass Murder

America has a longstanding problem with troubled people committing mass murder, as you’ve probably noticed, and every time it happens there’s always plenty of political finger-pointing. This week alone featured the 17th school shooting of the year, as well as an accused serial bomber blowing himself up as the police attempted to arrest him, and both incidents provided plenty of fodder for partisans.
It’s not at all clear if the shootings Tuesday morning at Maryland’s Great Mills High School were intended to be another mass murder, as the first victim had an unhappy personal relationship with the shooter and the second victim ¬†might well have been collateral damage, and the situation quickly ended when an armed security guard shot and killed the perpetrator. Neither of the first two shooting victims died, thank God, and although they suffered serious injuries they didn’t get the same notice as the victims of more record-setting shootings. The carnage was too relatively limited by recent standards to get a lot of national attention, but the obvious political implications provoked much comment on the right.
A tragic situation that might well have been far worse was halted by a good guy with a gun, and that does undeniably score a few points for the right in the ongoing debate about America’s every month or so problem with school shootings. The left’s position is that guns are the problem, the right’s response is that guns can be the solution, and in this case latter of the two seems to have the better argument. The idea of pistol-packing kindergarten teachers is as ridiculous as ever, but the right’s broader proposal to protect schools with the same armed attention as banks and sports arenas and other big businesses seems all the more reasonable.
The suspected serial-bomber who blew himself up down in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday provides better fodder for the left. He’s a fresh-faced 23-year-old white guy, and although he seems to have been tormented by peculiarly personal demons he had published opinions on the internet about ethnic and religious minorities and homosexuals that are by now associated with the right. All of his bombs were mailed to black or hispanic neighborhoods, too.
That guy who shot up the Republican softball practice last year was a self-proclaimed leftist Democrat, most mass shootings were apparently motivated by purely personal and nonpartisan reasons, and neither side of the political divide is immune to these once every month or so mass shootings America endures. Several mass shootings have been halted by good guys with guns, but in such record-setting circumstances as the Las Vegas massacre they were of no possible avail. In the case of that headline-grabbing mass shooting down in Florida, even the good guys with guns came up short.
Both the “Black Lives Matter” left and the Trumpian right have their unique complains with America’s law enforcement at the moment, for complicated reasons. So far the coppers are faring at least as well than we’d expect t0, though, and we think the problem lies somewhere in the peculiarly personal demons of the American soul. There must be some solution, be we don’t expect to find it on neither the right nor the left.

— Bud Norman