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Friday, May 27, 2022
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  • SOUTH BEND – If an 80-1 longshot can win the Kentucky Derby, can Democrat Tom McDermott win the U.S Senate race in Indiana? Upsets do happen, in politics as well as in sports. But chances of McDermott defeating Republican Sen. Todd Young this fall in Indiana, where no Democrat has won a statewide race in a decade, appear worse than those faced by the Derby winner. Rich Strike at least began the race from the same starting line. McDermott starts from way back, in name recognition, funding and organization. And he’s running on an unfavorable bright red track in a red state carried twice in landslides by Donald Trump. Still, McDermott could be a winner in losing, just as an underdog sports team wins respect and encourages its fans about the future by competing impressively even though a championship is out of reach. That’s the realistic hope of Hoosier Democrats. Also, of course, you never say never, no matter the odds.
  • SOUTH BEND – Most of us think cannibalism is in bad taste. So, it’s the perfect issue for culture wars. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis stoked culture wars and boosted his Republican presidential nomination prospects with a law to crack down on teaching sexual orientation in kindergarten through grade 3. No more kindergarten teachers grooming kids with sexual orientation topics. No more first graders being taught the LGBTQs instead of the ABCs. One little problem: There were no reported cases of kindergarten or early-grade teachers doing such things. Nor was anyone advocating that the little kids be indoctrinated with sexual topics. So what? That’s not the point. The strategy in culture wars is to create an issue, even if no problem exists. You sucker opponents into expressing outrage over your tactics, creating an impression that they actually support the supposed evil. Then you stand defiantly in their way, a patriot worthy of hefty campaign contributions.
  • SOUTH BEND – Mike Pence keeps looking better. “I’m not getting in the car,” Pence said defiantly as the Capitol riot raged. Those words now are focused on by the committee investigating the effort to overturn the presidential election. That statement of determination to stay and complete certification of election results is described by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a committee member, as “six of the most chilling words in American history.” As the committee zeros in on what happened and what was at stake, Raskin finds it clear that Pence, in staying and insisting on completing certification on the night of that Jan. 6 insurrection, halted the chilling prospect of a coup aimed at preventing peaceful transfer of power under the Constitution. That quote from Pence, who feared being whisked away on orders from Donald Trump’s Secret Service supervisors if he got in the vice presidential limo, appeared in “I Alone Can Fix It,” a book written by two Washington Post reporters.
  • SOUTH BEND – In a recent Washington Post analysis of the top 10 prospects for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is ranked second. Of special interest in the evaluations written by Post political reporter Aaron Blake is Buttigieg moving up from a prior analysis to be listed ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris, now No. 3. No. 1 of course is President Joe Biden. The incumbent president almost certainly wouldn’t be turned away by his own party if he seeks reelection. Why was Harris dropped down a slot, with Buttigieg moving ahead of her? Because “it’s not at all clear” that Harris is using the vice presidency effectively as a launchpad and “she’s done little to change the perceptions that harmed her 2020 (presidential) campaign,” including messaging problems. Because Buttigieg, who ran so impressively in ’20 with a background as South Bend mayor, would in ’24 have “more heft” as a Cabinet member, secretary of transportation.
  • SOUTH BEND — I write about politics. So, columns on Easter Sunday for decades were about political significance of what happens in South Bend on the day after Easter, Dyngus Day.cDyngus Day is big in the South Bend area, where many residents of Polish descent live. It’s a festive event with roots going back to mass baptisms when Christianity came to Poland more than a thousand years ago. I would write on Easter Sunday about famous political figures, including presidential candidates and a past president, coming on Monday to campaign at Dyngus events.cNot so for the past two Easters. There was no traditional Dyngus Day to write about. No state and national political figures coming to meet throngs of celebrants at the West Side Democratic & Civic Club. No throngs. No festivities at the club where Bobby Kennedy captured such wild enthusiasm in 1968. He would go on to win the crucial Indiana presidential primary _ and would have won the presidency, had he not been assassinated so soon thereafter.
  • SOUTH BEND — Donald Trump is right. If he were still president, the situation would be far different in Ukraine. If Mike Pence had ignored his Hoosier values of truth, justice and the Constitution and cooperated in overturning the election results, Trump could now be president. There would be no danger of armed conflict between Russia and NATO over Ukraine. There would be no NATO. Trump contended throughout his first term that NATO was outdated. He belittled and insulted leaders of European nations in the alliance. He was reluctant to support the collective-defense agreement known as Article 5. By now in a second term, he would have pulled out of the alliance and scuttled it. There would be no suggestion from a President Trump that Vladimir Putin is a butcher and must go after Russia invaded Ukraine. Trump praised the “genius” of Putin as Russia amassed troops for the invasion. And he wouldn’t let a little thing like Russia seeking to dominate its neighbor ruin his bromance with Putin. Hey, he pulled out of Syria and let Russia dominate there.
  • SOUTH BEND - The U.S. Senate just did something that the Indiana General Assembly couldn’t do in a century of legislative disputes over how to set the clocks. The Senate gave unanimous approval for a time bill. Unanimous approval for putting the nation permanently on daylight saving time. No changing clocks to spring ahead and then fall back. No concern about some northern areas experiencing pitch darkness until about 9 a.m. on some winter mornings. In the long Indiana legislative history of battling over where to locate time zones and if or when to observe daylight saving time, a unanimous vote was as likely as unanimous approval of a resolution urging victory for either IU or Purdue in their Old Oaken Bucket football game. Indiana lawmakers often were split over time bills right down to adornment. Actually, back in Hoosier history, a split once continued in the Indiana House after adjournment. A filibuster prevented a vote on a time bill until the official midnight deadline to adjourn the session. But proponents of the bill moved back the hands of the official clock in the chamber. And the bill passed in early morning hours, with the official clock saying it really wasn’t too late. The Senate unanimous? It’s another case of the official record showing something not exactly real. The sponsor of the bill pulled a fast one on fast time.
  • SOUTH BEND – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the impact here and around the world will have an effect on our crucial congressional elections. Although final answers won’t come until voting in November – and much will happen before then – we can ponder questions about possible effects. Q. With President Biden’s approval ratings edging up and former President Trump’s prestige going down, does that mean Democrats will retain control of the House? A. No. For reasons of history, math and Democratic blundering last year, it still appears that Republicans will win the House, although perhaps not with as big a margin as previously forecast. Q. How about the Senate? A. Democrats have a fighting chance of retaining control at least through another Senate tie. The chance improves, but future events, including Republican primaries, will be important. Q. Did Trump’s strange bromance with Putin, continuing with praise for Putin’s “genius” in moving to claim more of Ukraine, affect public opinion? A. Yes. As Putin demonstrated his murderous intent, Trump’s praise of him as a strong, smart leader hurt Trump’s prestige. It brought back memory of Trump holding back defense armaments from Ukraine, his surrender of influence in Syria to Putin and his threats to pull out of NATO. When Trump looks silly, Biden looks better.
  • SOUTH BEND – Back in early December, I described the Republican gerrymander in St. Joseph County as “a beautiful thing,” in political terms, for what it was designed to do. Any questions? Q. Do Democrats still think it’s ugly, even with a possible negotiated agreement on some County Council districts? A. Yes. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Gerrymanders always are admired by the party drawing partisan districts, abhorred by the party that’s victimized. Q. Has the St. Joseph County gerrymander turned out to be beautiful for Republicans? A. Yes, in terms of advancing three main goals, although there are unintended consequences. Q. What were the goals? A. First and foremost for Republican Commissioner Andy Kostielney, redistricting plan author and up for reelection this year, was moving Jason Critchlow, a serious Democratic challenger, out of his district and giving it more Republican flavor. Q. How did that go? A. Critchlow, a former Democratic mayoral contender who amassed substantial campaign financing to challenge Kostielney, decided against moving his family to the newly drawn district and instead is running for township trustee. And the district has more Republican voters.
  • SOUTH BEND – This column is for the birds. For all of our feathered friends that perished mysteriously last summer. And for the organization with a strange name, Birds Aren’t Real, that seeks to explain a conspiracy against birds by our own government. You remember those summer headlines: “Songbirds are dying across Indiana, and experts still don’t know why.” Could the explanation be found in the conspiracy theory of Birds Aren’t Real, a movement with credibility matching that of QAnon? Here’s the theory: The U.S.  government practiced bird genocide. Why? So real birds could be replaced with drone replicas flying all around to spy on us, listen to what we say, track where we go and record with whom we associate. The sparrow we think we see is a drone. Birds aren’t real. Although these theorists contended that all real birds already were gone, some apparently survived until last summer. Then they were doomed, falling to the ground all over Indiana, with befuddled experts never suspecting that the government did them in.
  • SOUTH BEND - History will be kinder to Mike Pence than to Donald Trump. In new vindictive attacks on Pence, Trump clarifies for us and for history that he wanted Pence, his loyal vice president, to overturn the election. Not just delay certification for more recounts of recounts to satisfy the nation that election results were valid. He wanted the valid results, certified by all the states, to be overturned so he could stay in the White House. Loyalty goes only so far. For Trump, loyalty goes nowhere in terms of reciprocation.  He calls now for an investigation of why Pence would not reject the Electoral College results. Lock him up? Pence wouldn’t because he couldn’t. He had no constitutional power to throw out the certified election results. And loyalty to Trump ended when the demand was to forget the Constitution and the facts and create chaos to enable Trump to hang onto power.  In a statement blasting Pence, Trump acknowledges his goal and reason for unrelenting pressure on Pence, even inciting mobs to attack the Capitol as they shouted: “Hang Mike Pence.” Trump declared, punctuated with an exclamation point, that Pence “could have overturned the Election!”
  • SOUTH BEND – Whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow this week means nothing in forecasting weather for the next six weeks. Anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists could argue, I suppose, that Phil must be accurate, what with all of science and logic discounting him. But whether or not you believe in the groundhog and things like horse dewormer as a COVID cure, it is true that shadows cast around Groundhog Day two years ago forecast the climate for the Democratic presidential nomination race. Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, 2020, came the day before the Iowa Democratic caucuses. And shadows cast by those caucuses, even with final results delayed and diminished in national attention by incompetent tabulating, provided a forecast of what the next six weeks would bring in the nomination race. Bernie Sanders, then regarded as the front-runner in Iowa and nationally for the nomination, lost in the vote to a young former South Bend mayor.
  • SOUTH BEND – That goofy Indiana state senator who said teachers must be “impartial” in lessons about Nazism actually accomplished a lot. Was he convincing that instruction about Nazism should be impartial, not aimed at teaching kids that Hitler was bad? No. But Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, sponsor of a bill on what and how to teach, had accomplishments. Notable nationally, he brought laughter for late-night TV viewers throughout this troubled land as the Hoosier state was ridiculed anew for the enlightenment of its officials. Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” quipped that Baldwin’s proposed restrictions on teaching would “leave shop class and six hours of dodgeball” as all that could be taught in Indiana schools. In a satirical example of being “impartial” on Nazism, Colbert presented a version of “Saving Private Ryan,” the classic World War II movie, with script altered to have an American officer portrayed by Tom Hanks say, “Don’t shoot, let’s hear the Nazis out.” Jokes about Baldwin abounded on TV, in print and especially on social media over his disagreement with a high school teacher during committee testimony on the bill and its restrictions on teachers expressing opinions.
  • SOUTH BEND – Two big political mistakes by Democrats in Congress, compounded now by seeking to blame it all on Sen. Joe Manchin, leave the shaky Democratic chances of retaining control of the House near zilch. And they depend on Donald Trump successfully backing really strange GOP Senate nominees to keep the 50-50 balance in that chamber. Big mistake No.1 for Democrats was thinking they were operating from a position of strength after Trump was defeated. With Joe Biden in the White House, Kamala Harris able to break ties in the 50-50 Senate and a Democratic House majority, exuberant party leaders began talking up, actually promising, a transformative progressive change to rival Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. That was totally unrealistic. Roosevelt and Johnson had large Democratic majorities in Congress, essential for sweeping changes. 
  • SOUTH BEND – It’s not dirt cheap. It really is dirt. But it’s not cheap. The cost is $110 plus shipping for a baggie containing four and a half ounces of this dirt, hailed as miracle stuff in fighting the effects of COVID-19, promoting a healthy heart and improving brain function. Those who buy it really need improved brain function. The miracle dirt from a Canadian bog has been selling through online ads attracting attention of anti-vaccine and COVID-denier folks. Then U.S. and Canadian health authorities restricted our freedom and trampled on our rights, imposing recalls and holds at the border. So, the pioneering provider of real medicine rather than fake vaccines closed down under pressure of the health Gestapo. Is all of this as clear as mud? Actually, mud is important. In quest of cures, it’s useful to muddy the waters. This very special dirt, sold as Black Oxygen Organics, popularly known as BOO, is billed as effective when mixed with water for a muddy drink. A toast: “Here’s mud in your eye.” Some of the enlightened users found cures by bathing in the muddy water.
  • SOUTH BEND – Politically, for what it’s designed to do, the Republican gerrymander in St. Joseph County is a beautiful thing. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. For Republican political purposes, it’s a beautiful plan, designed to perfection, drastically changing the three county commissioner districts to draw one district with as much of South Bend Democratic strength as possible, making the other two very likely to be won by Republicans. It’s aimed at providing a 2-1 Republican majority on the board of commissioners for a decade, until redistricting again in 2031, by surrendering completely one district to solidify chances of winning the other two. It’s also calculated to prevent the Democratic-controlled County Council, as it draws its districts, from a retaliatory gerrymander to assure that at least six of the nine council members will be Democrats. 
  • SOUTH BEND – Polls show that voters, when asked about a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, are signaling a tossup, with Trump slightly ahead in some samplings. This is a reflection of the plummeting approval ratings for President Biden. On June 1, the Real Clear Politics average approval for Biden in national polls was 53.32%, with a plus percentage over disapproval of 11.3%, higher than Trump ever approached. By the middle of last week, Biden’s average polling approval percentage was 41.3%, with a negative gap of 12.1%, down where Trump dwelled. Now, to put this in perspective: The 2024 presidential election is three years away. Whether there will be a Trump vs. Biden rematch is uncertain. Polls, even a few days before an election, don’t always show the outcome. They certainly can’t be regarded as highly accurate forecasts this far out.
  • SOUTH BEND - Mayor Pete brought smart streets, smart sewers and other infrastructure improvements to South Bend. Some constituents preferred the streets the way they had been, dumb or not. They liked fewer bike lanes and when streets offered more speed, less aesthetics. But the downtown was revitalized, population grew and civic pride was enhanced. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg now faces other needs for infrastructure improvements. This time, the scope is nationwide, involving everything from replacing crumbling bridges to modernizing our third-world airports, from improving safety of water and power systems to meeting highway needs and providing widespread internet service. Funding will come from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill finally passed by Congress. President Biden will sign the bill Monday. Buttigieg will use some of the same approaches he relied on locally to get things done. Challenges are a heck of a lot bigger. How he meets them will determine not only his political future, but also how successfully the nation tackles problems neglected for decades. He described himself as “a tech-oriented mayor,” with data-driven decisions, but with realization that more than just efficiency must be considered in evaluating the impact on people. He will be a tech-oriented secretary of transportation, but with realization that politics must be considered in seeking to do anything in Washington. 
  • SOUTH BEND – Progressive Democrats in Washington, thinking they were maneuvering from a position of strength, insisted on including just about everything but the kitchen sink before permitting votes on historic infrastructure and social safety net legislation. The result was passage of nothing as President Biden’s approval ratings plummeted and Democrats lost the Virginia governor race and almost blew the “sure thing” contest in New Jersey. If they actually had promised new kitchen sinks, they now would be blaming Sen. Joe Manchin for sinking the sinks. Failure to deliver on infrastructure and Build Back Better legislation certainly wasn’t the sole reason Democrats lost all in Virginia, where Biden had won by 10 percentage points, and struggled in New Jersey, where the Democratic governo
  • SOUTH BEND – I’m often asked about hate mail. Do I get much? And, if so, what do I do about it? Apparently, a lot of folks assume that a political columnist gets a lot of angry criticism, especially these days. True. Although, since I don’t get into social media wars, source of so much vituperation, the volume of denunciations is no higher than in decades past. It comes of course in e-mail now, not in an envelope that used to signal at times the tone of the message before the letter was opened. An address in crayon was a tip about content. One envelope contained ashes. The writer explained that the smoky content was the burned remnants of my column. There’s big difference between just an expression of disagreement, which is fine, and what reflects actual hate, the stuff of vicious bigotry and advocacy of violence. While I get some rather nasty stuff, most of what crosses the line to hate mail doesn’t come from any area readers but from afar. That’s when a column lands on a website of some group displeased with what I wrote. Like a militia group. My comments about gun violence once were posted on an NRA site. I quickly received over a hundred replies and an apology from an NRA official for the obscenity and suggestions. Not all the replies were outrageous. There’s room for disagreement even about gun violence. 
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  • NRA donations to Sens. Braun and Young
    "Horrified by the senseless murder of 14 children and a teacher in Texas. My heart is with the parents and the community bearing this unimaginable anguish. We have to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, which is why I support Indiana’s red flag law, which works well when it is utilized." U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, tweeting after 19 students and two teachers were murdered in their Uvalde, Tex., school on Tuesday. According to Brady United, Braun has received $1.249 million from the NRA, while U.S. Sen. Todd Young has received $2.89 million from the NRA.
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