Thursday, September 23, 2010


"Four legs good, two legs better"

On a recent edition of C-Span’s “Washington Journal,” a young Democratic strategist named Dylan Loewe spent about forty-five minutes pitching his book “Permanently Blue: How Democrats Can End the Republican Party and Rule the Next Generation.” A snippet from chapter one follows - “That’s the kind of permanent majority the Democrats are on the verge of building: a single party, democratically elected to control the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White House without interruption for an entire generation.”

Loewe’s analysis is impressive. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin noted, “Combining passion and eloquence with deep research and sharp analytic skill, Dylan Loewe has produced a spellbinding book that should stimulate debate and provide hope to progressives everywhere.” It seems to add up. A charismatic leader, shifting national demographics, strong political organization, millions, possibly billions, of dollars in the campaign coffers, and weak political opponents all point to the very real possibility of a permanent Democratic majority.

I considered calling in to the program to remind young Mr. Loewe that Karl Rove, George Bush’s evil genius, had predicted a permanent Republican majority a little less than ten years ago. But, I decided against it. There was no reason to rain on a young man’s parade. Current trends may not be favorable, but political trends shift quickly nowadays. We may be heading for one party, progressive/Democratic Party rule.

Given that, I’ve spent the past week considering what the implications of Loewe’s thesis might be.

The most important feature of such a system would be maximum efficiency. There’d be no more blue state, red state nonsense. The Party of No would be eliminated. There wouldn’t be any need for problematic things like elections. If we held them at all, there would just be one choice on the ballot, named “the progressive of your choice.” The winners could claim 95% or better mandates. Saddam would glow white hot with envy.

The gridlock would cease. We’d all be blue; we’d all be Keynesians. The legislation and edicts could pour down in torrents. Every societal problem could be solved. Agencies could be created. Czars could be appointed. The Party faithful could start hoisting ladders to heaven.

There would be some knotty problems to solve on the way to a one party utopia, the principal ones being our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. For over two hundred years we’ve held that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator…” But, with a bit of legal skullduggery it could easily be changed to read, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Government lawyers could dance around, a la Napoleon, cracking whips and proclaiming “Four legs good, two legs better.”

It might be better to do away with our founding documents all together. Have you ever read such negative stuff in all your life? All the talk about “Governments deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” or “absolute Despotism” and “usurpations.” And, worse yet, all those negatively tinted amendments in the Constitution – “Congress shall make NO law,” “the right of the people…shall NOT be infringed,” “NO solider shall be quartered…,”Excessive bail shall NOT be required,” “The right of United States citizens shall NOT be denied or abridged.”

The new ruling paradigm wouldn’t have the usual hallmarks of despotism. There’d be no goose stepping. We’d be treated to a new breed of despots, dancing around the halls of power in Birkenstocks.

I’m sure there would be dissent at first. But, given time and the judicious use of Conan the Barbarian’s principle to “crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women,” the complaint box would dry up. If that failed to squelch all dissent, the legislative branch could re-invigorate the World War I Espionage Act, upgrade the Patriot Act and thereby make any opinion contrary to the ruling opinion illegal. Violators could be shipped off to Death Valley gulags, to be re-educated or fed gruel and moldy bread for the rest of their lives.

Seeing all the potential for progress, it makes me wonder what on earth our founders were thinking about. I sometimes see myself as a bit of a contrarian, but I couldn’t hold a candle to those guys. You’d think they’d have just gone with the flow. But no! They complained, in writing, about the taxes, plundering, and suspending legislatures. Some of them even signed in quadruple font. When the time for fighting came they carried flags reading “Don’t Tread On Me” or “Live Free or Die.” What on earth were they thinking?

Well, there you have it. In a little more than a month we might know whether or not Loewe is right. If he is, Birkenstocks may be “in” and our founding documents may be on the way out.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


On August 26th I wondered what the next shoe to drop might be. I got my answer the next day. I was expecting a shoe. What I got was a hobnailed boot.

In a convoluted attempt to justify what appears to be a 3.5 mill increase on property taxes, Lyon County controller Dan Slater said it could have been worse, thanks to a county wide sales tax increase approved in 2008. Instead of a 12 or 13 mill increase, we’re ONLY getting about 3 and a half.

You’ll have to pardon me if I don’t break out in a string of “Hallelujah’s.”

The 2008 sales tax was cleverly marketed as property tax relief. So, a 3.5 mill increase in property tax and a one cent sales tax have somehow become a great act of municipal generosity. It was like hearing the executioner say the choice will be strychnine or hemlock, the guillotine or the electric chair.

I don’t think folks expected Betty Grable in ’08, but I don’t think they bargained on Frankenstein, which is exactly what they got.

County officials were quick to come to Dan Slater’s defense. As Tammy Vopat put it, “I don’t remember anybody actually coming out and saying keep the mill levy flat.” “I think that people are smart enough to know costs have gone up. There’s no way without cutting something you’re going to be able to keep the mill levy flat.”

If it was an attempt to invoke sensitivity it fell flat on me. Our officials don’t seem to understand that sensitivity is a two way street. To be honest, they appear to be willfully ignorant of the economic impact their decisions have on Emporians who are least able to afford them.

A few years ago we moved my wife’s mother to Emporia. Velma’s a proud woman. During WWII she worked on a B-25 assembly line putting pilot switch boxes together. She was conscientious, knowing how critical the quality of her work was to the men who flew the missions. She’s now a 91 year old widow living on a fixed income. She is the primary caregiver for a developmentally disabled son, who also lives on a fixed income. I don’t think her case is unusual. There are a lot of Emporians living in similar circumstances. They’re not stupid. They do know that “costs have gone up.” When I visit my mother-in-law and her son in the morning, for example, she’s very aware that her property tax bill is higher now than it ever was in Kansas City. She knows that she pays more for water here than she did in Shawnee. She knows that the price of staples like bread, milk, sugar, and flour are creeping up. She also know that sales taxes add another penny or two to every dollar she spends “shopping Emporia first.” When the temperatures soared above the century mark a few weeks ago she didn’t want to turn the air conditioning on, worrying that the increased utility cost would have to be leveraged against a “luxury” like okra, one of her son’s favorite vegetables.

I think a lot of us are getting tired of being flimflammed by officials who appear to be honor graduates of the Marie Antoinette school of sensitivity.

When I was twenty I took a job as a door to door salesman, selling encyclopedias. After two days of training, having the mantra “it will only cost a dime a day, less than the cost of a cup of coffee” drilled into my head, I was sent on the road with the company’s best salesman. He sold a set at the second house we went to. It was impressive. I think he could have charmed the apples off wallpaper if given the opportunity. A few houses later, when my turn came, I kept going back to the mantra – “Sir, this will only cost a dime a day, less than the price of a cup of coffee.” It seemed to be working; the man was on the verge of buying. But then I got hit by a pang of conscience. The man and his family were obviously living on a very limited income. I knew he couldn’t afford the encyclopedias, nor did he need them. I began folding up the marketing materials and explained, “Sir, you really don’t need these. There’s a library down the street and your son can use the encyclopedias there for free.” As soon as we left I got fired. I slept well that night, knowing my conscience was clear.

In the end we’ll get a property tax increase heaped on top of the sales tax increases. I’d like to hope for better, but I don’t have that much faith. Nothing will change here until our leaders truly understand that sensitivity is a two way street.