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Tuesday, November 21, 2017
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  • FORT WAYNE – In the late ’60s and early ‘70s, I was a counter-culture college student, battling the leftist lemmings who condemned America and trashed our flag. The Evil Empires were Red China and Bolshevik Russia. In 1970 the movie “Patton” was released, one of my favorite movies. My Young Americans for Freedom friends and I would stand up and cheer to the irritation of everyone else present when Gen. Patton delivered these memorable lines, “Well, the war shouldn’t be over. We should stop pussyfooting about the goddamn Russians! We’re gonna have to fight them sooner or later anyway. Why not do it now, when we got the army here to do it with?  Instead of disarming these German troops, we oughta get them to help us fight the damn Bolsheviks!” His military and political superiors were even less supportive than the irritated movie theater crowds were when we stood up and cheered. So, when I walked around Red Square in 1998, it was with severely mixed feelings. As a kid I had watched on our family’s black and white TV set as Soviet military forces paraded down Red Square, aware that in our basement we had an area with a survival kit to hopefully survive a nuclear hit from the Evil Empire. By the 1990s, major changes had begun occurring in Russia. 
  • FORT WAYNE – Did you hear about the Trump staffer who was fired yesterday after being heard humming Tim McGraw’s hit song, “Always stay humble and kind?” Fake news. It is safe to say that when the president of the United States becomes Don Rickles with hair and no smile, the king of the insult, anyone singing that song at the White House would be doing so ironically. The critics of the president are, if anything, worse. What is extraordinary is how bottom-dwelling nasty liberals have become, justified with an air of superiority and a condescending tone to those who don’t laugh at their meanness. The vice president of the United States cannot attend the most popular play in America without being lectured by the cast. He cannot leave a football game, which he attended to honor Peyton Manning, not observe players disrespecting the nation, without getting torn apart by liberals trying to prove they can be the meanest king of the mountain.
  • FORT WAYNE – President Trump has been racking up some political wins these recent weeks. The fact that he often talks like some crude guy sitting at a bar rather than the president of the United States can obscure his successes. So can the obsessive desire of his critics that he is seen as failing in everything. The pundits tried to explain away Trump’s rise in polls by saying it was because he cut a deal with Schumer and Pelosi. That’s just silly. The Democrats who view him as a sexist, racist, war-monger and buffoon would not respond to a pollster that he is doing a good job even if you pulled off every one of their fingernails.  Which raises the critical point that there is no evidence that in a re-vote for president that the Democrats would win. The ups and downs in the polls are caused by the voters who supported Trump even though he was not their preference. Let me go through some “victories” for Trump for which he gets little credit, and which many political pundits seem to think are losses. He understands that he has to keep the two major parts of the side that doesn’t want Democrats to govern somewhat united even if the so-called analysts do not understand this. Thus some victories look like losses to the biased.  
  • FORT WAYNE – One of my favorite expressions is that while history may not repeat itself, often it rhymes. Hurricane Harvey is not Hurricane Katrina. The scale of costly damage may, however, exceed it. Depending upon where hurricanes come ashore, and obviously the category level based upon wind, the impacts vary wildly. Also, as any watcher of weather knows, generally the warnings far exceed the actual impacts. Generally. For most of my life, not to seem unsympathetic, my interest in hurricanes was mostly related to Notre Dame pummeling the University of Miami. Where I grew up we worried about tornados and rivers flooding, and if we were going to get a snow day. Water in northeast Indiana provides us with some of America’s best soil for agriculture and most of the natural lakes of Indiana. Some rivers run to Lake Erie, some to Lake Michigan, and the Wabash River system heads to the Mississippi River and out to sea at New Orleans.  Different Army Corps of Engineers divisions work with our region, and, if you are in office for 16 years, you learn to know them all. After 9/11, New Orleans also came of particular interest because of potential terrorism, both because of its importance to the oil/petrochemical interests and because of its port, the gateway to the entire Mississippi River Valley.
  • FORT WAYNE – “It’s not what you know but who you know.”  While researching the history of Tammany Hall and its relationship with professional baseball, I came across an interesting little book titled, “Ethnicity and Machine Politics,” by Jerome Krase and Charles LaCerra. It is a history of how the Madison Club dominated Brooklyn politics from 1905 to 1978. In the 1970s, club member Emmanuel “Manny” Cellar was the senior member of Congress.  Other Madison Club members included then-New York Gov. Hugh Carey, New York City Mayor Abe Beame, New York State Controller Arthur Levitt, and Speaker of the State Assembly Stanley Steingut. It was a small, but very powerful, political club reminiscent of the Tammany Club across the East River. One insight in particular jumped off the page, turning the original quote with which I started this column on its head. “It is not who you know but rather, who knows you.” Power and influence is signified not by your name-dropping, but whether people in charge know you by name.
  • FORT WAYNE – President Trump’s completion of his four-year term may depend upon two things: The Republicans maintaining control of Congress, and being on good terms with fellow Republicans. Recently, those things aren’t going so well. Certainly no Democrats are going to bail him out. He can divide his supporters but there are no signs of adding any new ones. Some discussion of the history of impeachments provides insight about the arguments that continue to unfold. A few things are very clear. No vice president that survived a presidential impeachment went on to win a presidential election. Vice Presidents Andrew Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Al Gore never won at the national level post-impeachment. It isn’t impossible that Vice President Pence could win nationally should President Trump be impeached, but he would be an American original. It is also clear that Trump threats of retribution at critics will have no impact on his potential of being impeached. If the Democrats win control of Congress, threats against them will only strengthen them among their base.
  • FORT WAYNE – As kids, my sister Nancy and I sorted returnable pop bottles at our family’s general store for 35 cents a day. It may not seem like much, but I could purchase a box of baseball card packs for about $1.75, which is where my money went. My parents tried to lure me away from baseball obsession by offering to pay half of any non-fiction, non-sports books I purchased. Early business acumen led me toward history and political books. But our family was in the furniture business, not politics or baseball. So my dad decided to pay me a dollar for each motivational record I’d listen to.  Things like “Acres of Diamonds” and “Think and Grow Rich.” The real money bomb was an entire album of KISS talks: “Keep It Simple Stupid.” The U.S. Navy originated the phrase to stress that simplicity should be the goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. My dad had been a naval officer so obviously was attracted to the idea. Me, not so much. My good friend Steve Largent used to joke that if you asked Souder what time it was, he told you how they built the watch.
  • FORT WAYNE - Another special congressional election. Another Republican victory. More pained analysis from liberal commentators and Democrat analysts. What in the world is wrong with the stupid voters: don’t they understand that President Trump and the congressional Republicans are about to destroy the entire world?  If not by next week, at least don’t bank on being able to celebrate Labor Day. The initial “lessons learned” analysis of Karen Handel’s 5.2% victory by the national figures who don’t wish the Republicans well is very encouraging to conservatives and Republicans. The lessons the liberal Democrats have learned is, apparently, nothing whatsoever. 1) They wanted to reduce expectations, to stop taking victory laps before the people voted. But in the 6th CD of Georgia that was difficult. Money wasn’t the question. It was the most expensive congressional race in American history. Familiarity and name identification for the Democrat candidate was not the problem. So much for the money excuse. 2) Turnout wasn’t the problem. Special elections usually are low turnout affairs. Not this one. Furthermore, early voting occurred in extraordinary numbers. The Democrats were disappointed with the narrow margin among early voters for their candidate. They were supposed to have a huge enthusiasm edge. Whoops.

  • FORT WAYNE – In 1998, our accompanying Navy doctor and I skipped out on our CODEL’s evening dinner and bowling alley excursion in St. Petersburg, Russia, so we could explore the area around our hotel. We had spent several days in Moscow in scheduled meetings with the Russian Duma, as well as other government leaders there. We ventured out a hotel side entrance and quickly realized that it wasn’t like the reasonably well-lit thoroughfare. There were lots of crowded homes, with men sitting or standing on the stoops underneath an occasional dim streetlight. Furthermore, it was snowing. Meeting with the family of a local Duma member, Galina Starovoitova, who had been gunned down on her doorstep because of her government criticisms just weeks before, had enhanced our self-preservation concerns. We agreed to a hasty retreat. It seemed far too much like a scene out of “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  In fact, looking at a map the next day, we were but a few steps from Dostoyevsky’s former house. Which explains why it felt like a scene out of his book. Over the years not only did I return to Russia, but had several delegations of Russian leaders visit northeastern Indiana and had meetings with various Russian groups in Washington. While Russian history, like the novels produced by its legendary writers, is dense and complicated, it nevertheless is fascinating. However, like other hopeful glimpses of freedom in nations with totalitarian histories, one can easily mistake temporary openings for substantive change.
  • FORT WAYNE – Every day we get lectured by the media and Trump critics that he is not “draining the swamp” as promised.  In fact, he is expanding it. The key is how one defines the swamp. To liberals, the swamp is a place that looks like Okefenokee. Stagnant water, with partially submerged trees dominated by clinging Spanish moss. To them, the smooth flow of government is stagnated by business interests. Their lobbyists strangle the trees, feeding off a corrupt system. This is the core view of Bernie Elizabeth Warren. Libertarian conservatives would prefer D.C. reverted back to its days of original swampland. To them, the “swamp” means all the buildings of intrusive government workers that have now expanded the swamp of big government out to the surrounding beltway and beyond. But what did the swamp mean to the Trump core? The 25% to 35% of Republican primary voters which enabled him to have the largest faction over and over again? He reached 50% only as Republican voters opposed to him were faced with fewer choices and found him preferable to, say, Ted Cruz. In other words, the Trump political operation was not built upon a majority but a plurality that grew as the choices narrowed. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In “Conscience of a Conservative,” Barry Goldwater famously wrote: “My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.” The context of that line was freedom.  “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom.” Which was then followed by the famous line. When one re-reads this, last week in Washington becomes more clear. Well, not really, but the health care bill failure in the House does. The House Freedom Caucus was advocating the Goldwater position. Until the Republican Party figures out how to adapt as Reagan did, we are likely to fail in passing major new legislation. The Goldwater/Conscience of a Conservative tradition is one of the stumbling blocks. Some fundamental history is critical. Goldwater didn’t write the book. Brent Bozell, William F. Buckley’s brother-in-law, did. Goldwater might have read it and likely would have agreed with much of it. The book was meant to capture what he might have written had he been a writer, but more importantly, the Goldwater that the burgeoning conservative movement dreamed he would be.  It is not 1964 anymore. We aren’t going to repeal TVA, Social Security or Medicare. Adaptations maybe, but total repeal doesn’t work after things get settled in. Goldwater lost.
  • FORT WAYNE – It seems a good time to review the key points of the Donald Trump’s “Art of the Deal.”  At the start it is important to be clear: The Republican bill is TrumpCare just as much as the current law is ObamaCare. President Obama did not draft the health care named after him. Hillary Clinton was its mother from her days as First Lady. The Democrat House wrote it and the President signed off. Because he was the President, it became ObamaCare. What goes for one side also goes for the other. They aren’t trying to replace PelosiCare. Thursday night President Trump, after making his best offer to recalcitrant conservatives who want to gut the law, he demanded that the House vote Friday. If the alternative doesn’t pass, he’s ready to let ObamaCare remain the law and move on to other issues. It is not totally out of character for him. Another of his books (“The America We Deserve”) which was written as he considered running for President in 2000, he made his views on health care clear: “We must have universal health care … I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by healthcare expenses.” 
  • FORT WAYNE – As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised change, just as his predecessor Barack Obama had done. People generally want someone to blame for their problems, and we all choose different targets. I, for example, prefer to blame liberals. “Draining the swamp” in a non-Washington context has historically meant the draining of swamps to control mosquito populations to combat malaria. Ronald Reagan is often credited with using the term in the political way to refer to the concentration of power in Washington, thus combining the historical swampy conditions of the governmental area of original Washington and likening the overuse of power to malaria. But he was not the first to do so.  Winfield Gaylord, a Milwaukee socialist politician, wrote in 1903: “Socialists are not satisfied with killing a few of the mosquitoes which come from the capitalist swamp, they want to drain the swamp.”  Fellow socialist, journalist and politician Victor Berger of Milwaukee wrote in his Berger’s Broadsides (1912): “We should have to drain the swamp – change the capitalist system – if we want to get rid of those mosquitoes.” Hoosier socialist Eugene Debs credits Berger, the first Socialist member of Congress, with recruiting him to socialism.  Neither Reagan nor our current president meant draining the nation of capitalism. The problem with such aggressive attacks on the “establishment” is that the slope to the “swamp” becoming the institutions of our nation – a republic, capitalism – is very slippery.
  • FORT WAYNE – Earlier this week, I went to the license bureau. Back when mastodons roamed our state, (before Mitch Daniels became governor) it was a miserable experience. Generally, now I do it on-line and even on a crowded Tuesday morning it is about like a grocery store on a Saturday.  When Mitch took over the state government with radical plans to run it like a business, he quickly became “Ditch Mitch.” His popularity dropped to incredibly low levels. The Democrats perceived a bright political future that could recapture Indiana, going back to making it great again. Gov. Daniels brought in people not trained to go slow. They thought “tactful” meant taking people who resisted change and using tacks to pin them on the wall. After suffering through nasty publicity which impacted his strategy somewhere between zero and zero percent, he emerged after eight years as “Saint Mitch.”  When Mike Pence became governor, he was in a difficult position.
  • FORT WAYNE – Winning an election is one thing; winning political legitimacy is another. The current debate about crowd sizes, popular versus electoral vote, and fake news all revolve another equally salient point: Elections in America are anchored on Election Day results but that is just the start of a continual battle for “political legitimacy.”  This process will continue during an entire administration, but the first stages are the most important in establishing basic legitimacy: Election Day and debate about the results, transition, and inauguration and the first 100 days. When Trump raised doubts as to whether he’d accept the election results, the media went apoplectic and the Democrats mocked him. Trump won, and then many on the left refused to accept the results, challenging them way past any legitimate concerns about fraud. Fair observers realized that this unwillingness to accept the election totals was a fundamental challenge of the integrity of the voting process.
        
  • FORT WAYNE – When I proposed to Diane back in 1974, I told her that life with me would not be boring. That it was not. (I also said I wouldn’t run for political office but I failed in a few other things as well.) When Mitch Daniels first discussed with me that he was going to run for governor, I raised some political concerns about his big city slicker and corporate background. His response was that he was going to “out small town me.” You know, he said, I come from a small town too. I asked how big. He said something over 10,000 people. I snorted, “That’s a big city.” Of course, Mitch (the populist first name), went RV’ing to every burg in the state, lost all his suits and ties, and even used populist green as his color as opposed to the ubiquitous Republican red, white and blue. I was impressed. My hometown of Grabill had under 500 residents and couldn’t grow much because it was surrounded by Old Order Amish farms (not the liberal Amish with a top on their buggy).  A friend unfairly described the church I grew up in as being founded by a group of men who gathered together, made a list of everything fun in life, wrote “NO” across the top, and then said “now we have the foundation for our church.” When Mitch Daniels was elected governor, Indiana government was rather antiquated.  License bureau jokes have disappeared from our lexicons.
  • FORT WAYNE – When emptying out the basement of my Mom’s house after she died, we found a partially rotted chest of items meant to help our family survive a Russian nuclear attack.  It was from the 1960s, a period when all sides took Russia seriously. In 1983 President Ronald Reagan had the temerity to call the Soviet Union the “evil empire.”  Liberals back then were upset that Reagan had such hostile views. In fact, Democrats and liberals in general were rather Trumpian about Russia. They wanted closer trade ties, more exchanges, and closer cooperation with Russia, not saber-rattling opposition. Current liberal protestations have the “I’m shocked, shocked” resonance of the scene in Casablanca. Democrat electors requesting CIA briefings illustrate precisely why the people in Trump orbit have discredited the CIA.  Democrats have turned it into a branch of the DNC. Do Democrats who blame alleged Russian email leaks for Hillary Clinton’s defeat realize how ridiculous they sound? Hillary Clinton, in spite of warnings, set up an email server to get around the official system. She not only exposed her political emails but also classified material to being hacked. Then, while under subpoena to turn her e-mails over to Congress, she brazenly destroyed thousands of them. The Clinton campaign and its supporters have no ethical standing to complain. Zero.
  • FORT WAYNE – A generation ago, as the recently elected chairman of the Indiana College Republican Federation, I was included in a small birthday celebration in the lieutenant governor’s office for the incumbent Richard Folz. I recall Folz, possibly puffing a cigar, talking in glowing terms about how much he missed looking out on the beautiful Ohio River. Our family vacations consisted of going to north into the land of the sky-blue waters, so I hadn’t really considered brown water as being that attractive before, which is why it stuck in my memory. Then there was Seth Denbo. That year I spent a fair amount of time around him for a kid from northern Indiana. Being around him was like living in the books I read about political bosses.  As the Republican southern boss in Indiana, Denbo was there for Folz’s birthday lunch.  I’m not actually certain who told me to read “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics,” but I prefer to think it was Denbo. Regardless of who did, Denbo and the others took the time to explain to me, the newcomer, the importance of the spoils system and rewarding friends in politics.
  • FORT WAYNE – Many were predicting that when Donald Trump lost, he would form his own television network.  Instead he won, and has taken over all the networks and all other media as well.  He is a marketing machine. 1.) Trump is terrific at promoting his brand. That is what he’s always done.  Members of the media have incredible angst over whether or not their constant coverage of him led to his victory.  Yet they know that Trump has an intuitive ability to sense how to insert himself into every hot story.  In old-fashioned media lingo, he sells newspapers. Trump is financially helping them at a time when media needs all the help they can get. Thus the angst. 2.) Trump uses his skill tactically, not just randomly. When there is a bad story about his personal life, or finances, he tweets some greatly exaggerated statement and media leaps at the bait.  For example, the New York Times did a story on his financial conflicts but Trump tweeted the allegation that millions of illegal voters had deprived him of a popular vote victory.  His supporters jumped to his defense, critics poured out scorn and outrage, which buried the more substantive story.
        
  • FORT WAYNE – Every election results in individual and categorical winners and losers that impact the longer-term future of politics. Here are a few of my selections. Indiana winner: The Pence/Coats establishment. It directed the quasi-slating of the victorious state ticket: Todd Young for Senate, in part by moving Eric Holcomb out and into position to become governor; Suzanne Crouch as lieutenant governor; Curtis Hill as attorney general; and Jennifer McCormick as superintendent of education. In political years, especially by Indiana standards, they are “fresh faces” ready to ready to rejuvenate the brand.  Indiana loser: An exhausted Democrat re-tread brand. Evan Bayh is one of the most decent men to represent our state, but coming back after clearly moving to Washington and becoming Big Bucks Bayh was a huge mistake, and his biggest mistake was trying to deny those changes. John Gregg had a detailed list of what he wanted to accomplish, and is generally considered “affable” when not nuking his opponents. The problem is that Gregg’s solutions, and Bayh’s, were the same liberal re-tread ideas that Hoosiers had passed up long ago.
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  • Speaker Bosma backs Sunday alcohol sales
    “I’m anxiously awaiting the commission’s findings on all of those issues. Last year we enacted that legislation and I don’t want to make pronouncements to try and set the agenda. I have long been a proponent of Sunday sales. There is no good reason for us to not allow that in some fashion. Actually I enjoy a cold beer every once in awhile and did so yesterday when I was cleaning out my garage.” - House Speaker Brian Bosma, asked about Sunday alcohol sales and wider distribution of cold beer at Monday’s Indiana Chamber Legislative Preview luncheon. As for cold beer, Bosma said, “I’m smart enough to buy it at a package store Monday through Saturday.” 
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  • The slitherly slope and redemption
    Here are some thoughts on the “Pervnado” that is sweeping Hollywood, Capitol Hill, newsrooms and statehouses, though things at the Indiana Statehouse have been quiet.

    Does it make a difference when a decades-old allegation comes up that the perpetrator apologizes? Particularly if there’s no specific evidence? We’ve watched Kevin Spacey, Sen. Al Franken and comedian Louis C.K. seek some measure of atonement for their inappropriate behavior, while Republican Alabama U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore, who has been accused of pedophilia, has not and remains defiant? Ditto for comedian Bill Cosby.

    As any crisis communicator will tell you, coming clean and being contrite is the better long term strategy even if one takes big losses in the short-term. And Americans have a penchant for redemption, as past controversial figures ranging from Muhammad Ali, Jane Fonda, Kobe Bryant to Barney Frank and even Presidents Clinton and Nixon eventually were restored some degree of trust and popularity.

    Is it inconsistent for U.S. Rep. Luke Messer to call for the resignation of Sen. Franken for one ribald photo and an inappropriate and slithery pass a radio personality Leanne Tweeden, while President Trump escapes a similar assessment despite a dozen or so similar complaints and the Billy Bush “Access Hollywood” tape?

    Just asking, as we watch many powerful figures tumble down the slithery slope.  - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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