Notes from a quiet street—VII /2016

—random observations not worth the effort to type hundreds and hundreds of words.  Several dozen, though.

We have made a slight correction in our earlier entry (September 27) about this being a historic election to reflect that both candidates for governor are divorced, rather than just one as we originally noted, making this election even more noteworthy as the first that matches two divorced candidates for the office (although one has remarried)

The Tax Foundation says Missouri has the nation’s 15th most favorable business tax climate. The only one of our surrounding states with a better ranking is Tennessee.  Kansas ranks 22, Illinois 23, Nebraska 25, Oklahoma 31, Kentucky 34, Arkansas 38, Iowa 40.

We’ve been listening to candidates critical of Missouri’s slow economic growth (Business Insider said earlier this year we had the tenth worst economy in the country and the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said we were the 14th worst state for economic growth.) and promise that they would generate more jobs if we could just cut taxes on business even more.

Hmmmm.  How could our economy be doing so poorly after legislative policy-makers have made this state so business-tax friendly?

They might maintain, as some have maintained, that the silver bullet is Right-to-Work. The Business Insider rankings list non-RTW states with the first and third best economies (DC is in between).  Eight of the top 15 states are non-RTW (including DC), and 15 of the top 24 are non-RTW states.  And it says nine of the bottom eleven states ARE Right-to-work.

Rankings, of course, are what you make of them.

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A lot of critical words have been written about Donald Trump and his apparent avoidance of taxes and his proclamation that failing to pay taxes makes him smart.  Is it not fair to recognize he was only taking advantages of tax law provisions that allowed him to escape taxes.  He is hardly the first businessman or woman to have accountants smart enough to do that.  It is politically profitable to jump all over Trump and what many perceive as his arrogance on the subject.  Unfortunately it does not appear to be politically profitable for those in Washington and in our state capitols to change them. Hillary Clinton says she will do it, though.

We will wait for the second debate to see if Trump will close his own loopholes to show his solidity with the common people or if Mrs. Clinton will explain how she’ll do it without the blessing of Congress.

As long as we’re watching the Official Political Bizarre Meter needle move into uncharted territory, we note the legislative session is now just three months away.  We have seen some pretty bizarre circumstances in four decades-plus of watching our lawmakers but having one House member serving with another member who, she says, raped her would move the needle pretty close to the peg.

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If voters approve the campaign contribution limit proposal on the ballot in November, there is likely to be a legal challenge.  Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the approval by voters should send a message to a legislature that has made special efforts to avoid the issue.  We will learn how deaf the General Assembly can be to such a message if it passes and the court challenge is successful.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that a company that sells frozen meals to airlines is not entitled to a refund of sales taxes it paid under protest.   The ruling certainly raised our eyebrows.

We had no idea until now that those pretzels had been frozen.

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A lot more work is going to get down around the house by Missouri baseball fans this October because both of our teams failed to make the playoffs. But the darkness of the baseball parks in St. Louis and Kansas City serves to remind us that baseball is a human endeavor.  Players age. Muscles pull.  Bones break.  Tendons tear.

Major League Baseball is divided into seasons to remind us that disappointment is temporary and hope is eternal.

——

Speaking of Chicago where “hope” is pronounced “Cubs”:   We had a reason to look up the 1966 White Sox records the other day.  The leading pitcher that year is still part of the game although not in person. Tommy John is 73 now.  He won 124 games before the surgery; 164 after it in a 26-year career. Wonder if some statistician has added up the Won-Loss records after all the TJ surgeries done through the years.

——

We were listening to the radio the other night and heard an announcer promoting an upcoming European cruise on the Dunooby River.

A couple of seconds later when it sank in, your observant listener about drove off the road.

Dunooby, spelled D-a-n-u-b-e.

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But let us not be too critical of the young announcer.  Remember that we live in a state that has towns like Versails and New MADrud.

Some campaign irreverence helps

A day after the first Hillary and Donnie Show, a friend passed along an article from The Onion dated June 2, 2004.  The headline read:

Poll: Many Americans Still Unsure Whom to Vote Against

The Onion, for the uninitiated, is a satirical newspaper that turns conventional reporting upside down or inside out.  And its irreverence focuses on the absurdity of living life too seriously—which we as citizens, and citizens as candidates, tend to do in campaigns.

The Onion told us in 2004 that a Gallup Poll showed six percent of Americans were not sure whether to vote against Bush or to vote against Kerry.

According to the poll, 46 percent of the registered voters surveyed would vote against Bush if the election were held tomorrow, while 45 percent said they were ready to vote against Kerry. Factoring in the 2 percent margin of error, the two candidates are essentially deadlocked in the race to determine which candidate American doesn’t support.

The article’s deadpan approach also turned the scenario this way:

“The two major parties face a tough struggle,” Harmon said. “As the election approaches, both must convince undecided voters that the opposing party’s candidate is worse than their own. As both parties take more moderate positions in an election year, it’s getting harder to convince citizens that there’s a reason to get out there and vote against anyone.

The traditional press would have told readers and listeners that the survey showed Bush and Kerry locked in a statistical dead heat with six percent undecided. Real serious, sober reporting.

We looked to see what The Onion had to say after Monday night’s debate. Here’s its take:

…A Gallup report released this morning revealed that hopeless resignation has received a substantial bump in the polls. “Our real-time polling data from last night’s presidential debate showed a clear trend, with hopeless resignation charting higher and higher as the evening progressed—it really seemed to resonate with viewers,” said Gallup spokesperson Sarah Langley, who noted that hopeless resignation’s current surge far surpassed the boost it experienced following the conventions, spiking to the highest level of the election cycle. “Last night was easily the biggest moment of the campaign season for hopeless resignation, and I think most Americans recognized that. Clearly, many voters who were on the fence were convinced by what they saw in the debate.” Langley added that if current trends continue, hopeless resignation is likely to reach a historic high in the polls by Election Day.

It’s funny because it’s true, isn’t it?  As the Wall Street Journal “Best of the Web” column puts it, “Life Imitates Onion.”

Relax folks. Laughing at ourselves a little bit will help as we plummet toward election day in November.

 

Notes from a Quiet Street—VI

—being another chapter of ruminations on things not worth full blogifying.

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Good Lord!!! When is Chris Koster going to quit telling us the Farm Bureau has done the unthinkable and has endorsed a Democrat and when is Eric Greitens going to stop talking about being God’s gift to veterans and start talking about the rest of us?   Or do candidates no longer feel any obligation to tell us how they’re going to work with the legislature to rebuild our infrastructure, keep college kids from accumulating debts they’ll carry into middle age, take care of our mentally ill, and see that we are safe from one another?

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That’s a key, you know.  The major national candidates seem to be running for dictator, not president. They’re all about what THEY are going to do, as if there is no congress that will be involved. Do we expect much more from our candidates for governor?

——

And how many of the candidates who are blaming today’s woes on “career politicians” will admit that they want to be “career politicians?”   We haven’t heard one of them say they only want to serve two years (or four) and then rejoin the masses.

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Your obedient servant has been reading again.  The new book is Donald F. Kettl’s Escaping Jurassic Government: How to Recover America’s Lost Commitment to Competence.   He believes it is possible.

Kettl is a former dean of the University of Maryland’s Public Policy School and is a fellow of the Brookings Institution, named for Missourian Robert S. Brookings.  It’s considered pretty even-handed. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, after analyzing a decade of Congressional records, found Conservatives quoted its findings about as often as Liberals.

It’s a pretty interesting read for government groupies.  We’ll be talking more about it later, no doubt. Feel free to read ahead of us.

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This might be a good place to list from time to time how Missouri stacks up with other states in various programs.  Our first entries:  49th in support of public defenders, says the public defender office.  The Brookings Institution in August listed us the nation’s sixth best state for advanced manufacturing job growth and 9th for output growth in that category.  A new audit says Missouri has had the lowest public university tuition increases in the last eight years (for which Governor Nixon delivers a big pat on the back to himself—although supplemental and degree fees have gone up 112% to make up for that accomplishment).  But the state ranks 39th in state appropriations to higher education per student, 43rd in state funding per $1,000 personal income.  Governor Nixon says our unemployment benefits rank 43rd out of all fifty states. We had some other rankings in an earlier post: http://bobpriddy.net/2016/08/02/missouri-nothing-special/

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Did you know that the University of Missouri football team has won a national award?   This graduate of the school did not.  It wasn’t in the latest alumni magazine.  No press release about it has come to our email.

It’s not like the recognition came from some obscure special-interest group. Nope. This one came from ESPN.  And we wouldn’t have known about it if fellow UMC graduate Ray Hartmann hadn’t written about it.

https://www.stlmag.com/news/think-again/mizzou-football-players-racial-protest/

Thanks, Ray.

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Went to a class reunion recently in Illinois and listened to classmates talk about the disastrous state of Illinois government that they say is largely controlled by Speaker of the House Michael Madigan of Chicago, who has been the Speaker for 32 of the last 34 years. If you’ve paid attention to the news, you know that Illinois government is far messier than Missouri government (at least we don’t put our governors in prison).  These folks think term limits is the only way to get rid of political bosses like Madigan.  We told them term limits is the last thing Illinois should do to itself—that it’s been the worst thing to happen to Missouri government since post-Civil War loyalty oaths.  Madigan is 74 but my friends in Illinois worry that he’s immortal.

Their county’s state representative is seeking his fourth term this year. His predecessor served six terms before being elected to the state senate. Giving up the right to re-elect your own state representative or senator to get rid of one representative from another district is, as we unfortunately have seen in Missouri, a foolish thing to do.

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The highway signs on the way back told us to drive in the right lane unless we were passing.  But, doggone it, the passing lane is always so much smoother.

Could Missourians at least approve enough of a gas tax increase to fix the driving lanes?

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We have tried—and have failed—to recall a single candidate for significant office in Missouri or elsewhere who blamed himself or herself for their loss.  It’s always somebody else’s fault—the media, unfair statements from an opponent (ignoring their own unfair statements about that opponent), a “rigged” election system even after the loser had to win a primary under the same system to become a general election loser.  We’ve never heard any losers admit, “The people didn’t buy my stuff.”

Donald Trump already is putting together his list of excuses.  He’s already saying the election will be “rigged” if he loses. And, of course, the blasted media for reporting what he says.  Interesting, isn’t it, that the system that let him brag about how many primaries he won and how many votes he got wasn’t “rigged” then?

We haven’t heard who might be on Hillary Clinton’s list if she loses.  The press, of course, would probably be there. We suppose the vast right-wing conspiracy would be on it, too.

I’ve got news for these folks.  We in the news media don’t mind getting blamed.  In fact, the last thing most real reporters want is to hear a candidate crediting them for an election victory.

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The Russian Olympic doping scandal and the banning of most Russian athletes and the NCAA’s investigation of the University of Missouri basketball program appear to have something in common.

Today’s athletes and coaches get punished for the sins of their predecessors.  That strikes us unfair.

We’re not sure how this could be done legally, but wouldn’t it be better for the NCAA to develop a way to fine an offending coach an amount (plus a penalty) equal to the amount of the scholarships the offending players received during the coach’s tenure and maybe require the offending players to refund to the University the amount they received for their scholarships?.  Or something like that.  Making the players refund their scholarship money might be a little draconian, though.  We’re not sure if they should know better when they’re 17 or 18.

And maybe an athletic director should get slapped around a little bit, too.

Whaddya wanna bet—

—that when the legislature returns to the Capitol this week to consider extending Governor Nixon’s world record as the most veto-overridden governor in Missouri history that those who want to make it harder for Missourians to vote will trot out the absentee voting mess in St. Louis as an example of the voter fraud that the bill will stop?

It will be a bogus argument for a bogus bill.

If you haven’t been pay attention to this issue (and who can think of anything else when we have Hillary and Donnie going about the land?) here’s a quick tutorial.

It seems that in St. Louis, some people played games with the absentee ballots in the August primary and now a judge has ordered a do-over election to decide who will be the Democratic nominee in the 78th House district, and thus the winner of that seat because there’s no Republican opposition.  Incumbent Penny Hubbard had more votes than challenger Bruce Franks, Jr.  But a St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation found two people who said people claiming to be Hubbard campaign workers filled out ballots for them. There were at least sixty times when a single voter submitted two applications for an absentee ballot although they said they had not applied twice. The newspaper says more than a dozen people whose absentee applications claimed they were incapacitated sold reporters they never made such a claim and don’t know who did.  And two former election board employees said Hubbard’s husband “routinely delivered stacks of election ballots” to the board.

People who went to the polls on August 2 elected Franks 1997-1787.   But when the absentee votes were counted, Hubbard had 416 and he had 114, enough for her to defeat Franks by ninety votes in the overall total.

House Bill 1631, the voter photo ID bill, would require people to have a photo-identification card when they go to the polling place to cast a ballot.  If they don’t they have to get in another line and somebody will take their picture.  Under present law, all any of us have to do is show the poll clerks the card issued by our county clerk, or in the case of the big cities by the election board, and we can cast our ballot.

This law would not go into effect unless voters in November decide they want to make it harder to cast their own ballots in future elections. Missouri voters have twice in our experience given away their own right to vote so it would not be surprising if they decided in November to weaken their right again.

Part of the fallout from all of this St. Louis stuff has become part of the Blunt-Kander race for the U. S. Senate.  Blunt is a former Secretary of State and Kander is the incumbent Secretary of State.  Partisans on both sides are sniping at the other about this issue when they should be arguing about the national issues that Senators deal with or are not dealing with.  But that’s part of the political circus.  If you focus enough attention on the sideshow, you might be able to distract public attention away from the donkey and elephant show that has left the center ring a shambles.

But the St. Louis mess is just too easy for the ID advocates to jump on as they try to justify in the veto session overriding Nixon’s veto of the photo ID bill—even though the St. Louis mess has nothing whatsoever to do with casting ballots at the polls.

Rounding up absentee voters, especially in nursing homes and in neighborhoods where many elderly people live, is a time-honored part of elections everywhere. And some of the practices that the newspaper has highlighted might be worth exploring by the legislative elections committees. Perhaps requiring election authority-issued photo IDs of those who solicit absentee ballots is worth considering as a start.

But trying to tie the voter photo-ID bill to the 78th House district problems would be nothing more than, well, bogus.

But that’s not the first time that word has been applied to voter photo-ID legislation in Missouri.

Let’s have a party!!!

The primary elections have picked the finalists in the four political parties competing for power in Missouri and nationally.  Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Constitution.   All we have to do now is put up with the parry and thrust of campaign commercials for another ten or eleven weeks after which silence can ensue for a short time before candidates start staking out their ground and picking their billionaire bedmates for 2018, but especially 2020.  

It surely occurs to amateur and professional political observers that this year’s campaigns are raising questions about political party identities.  Given the divisions within the Republican Party that led to the nomination of the party’s presidential candidate, and the discomfort in the Democratic Party stemming from the intrusion of a DINO in that party’s primary campaign, both parties are likely to be asking themselves during the next couple of years, “Who are we?”  And dissident factions in the parties could continue to be clods in the political punchbowls.

RINO and DINO are disparaging terms applied by the most uptight party regulars to those who are Republicans or Democrats “in Name Only.” 

What to do with them?   What might they do with themselves?   Might we have more than four parties in our near future?  

We harken back to 1991 when the National Association of Broadcasters, operating under a program established at the urging of the Secretary of State, sent your correspondent and two other broadcasters to Romania and Poland to conduct seminars on the development of independent (non-state controlled) radio stations and their news departments.  It had been less than two years after Romania had executed its Communist Premier and just a year or so after the Berlin Wall started coming down.

If you think American politics are in disarray today, consider what these two newly-free countries were dealing with then—and to a lesser but no less scrambled situation today.  It was different for Romania and Poland than it was two centuries earlier for the new United States.  Here, our politics had a long-standing British system to modify.  In Iron Curtain countries where people had known only one political system that allowed no differences of opinion, freedom became a political free-for-all.  

We were told in 1991 that both countries had more than 100 political parties.  Many were ethnic-based.  Some coalesced around single issues or popular figures.  Although ten parties now have delegates in the Romanian Parliament, two parties that are center-right and center-left dominate.  But there are 35 parties holding office in local and county areas. 

In Poland, which we were told was not as heavily oppressed as Romania because of the power of the Catholic Church, there are fifteen parties with representatives in parliament today and 33 other parties at local and county levels.  Two parties dominate parliament, one is considered center-right to right wing national conservative and the other is considered center-right liberal conservatism (that’s what we’re told and we’re not quite sure we understand it, given our American political structure’s definitions.).

Both countries have scads of splinter parties. 

So the idea that we might have more official or unofficial movements in this country apart from the two major parties is interesting.  The Republican and Democrat centrists might see this year’s—-uh—-what’s the right word to describe what’s going on?  Craziness?  Weirdness?  Wildness? Populist uprising?   The right word is out there somewhere.  We hope. 

Anyway, where do the fringe people go if the centrists are able to regain control of the major parties?  Will the most loyal Trumpists try to take over the Libertarians?  What existing structure can the Sandersonians adhere themselves to or do the most ardent members become a liberal counterpart of the Constitution Party?  Or will the Rs and Ds become Ts and Ss?  

Or will everybody just grow up and decide maybe there’s some value in two parties working together and seeing if half-loaves are possible to bake?

Here in this lofty observation platform that likes to consider itself bi-partisan reasonably American Centrist in character, we’ll be interested to see how calm the political waters might become in 2017, a non-election year when, we hope, fevered brows are cooled and reason has a chance to resurface in state and national policy-making. Who knows?  Maybe our legislature will develop the guts and the intelligence in a non-election year to give us non-million-and-billionaires something approaching more equal fiscal-political opportunities for influence.  We’re not counting on such a miracle but Hell has frozen over from time to time (Hell, Michigan, that is). 

But there is comfort in knowing one thing:  No matter how bad things are today in American politics, we are not so splintered as a people that we will have ten or fifteen parties with representatives in Congress or even more in our legislature. 

But then again—-if a party is forced to build coalitions with others in government as opposed to accepting agendas from those in the government hallways, might there be some improvements in the way things are done?         

Ahhhhh, politics.  There will never be an end to talk of what is and what could be. 

The risk of supporting privilege

A right, unequally available, is not a right, but is, instead, a privilege.  And a government, whether a city council, a legislature, or a Congress, which perpetuates the furtherance of the latter rather than strengthens the opportunities embodied in the former acts against the foundation on which this nation is built.

By action or by inaction, a government which advocates privilege ignores the constitutional mandate to seek, on behalf of all of the people, a more perfect Union, to strive for justice and domestic tranquility, to promote the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty for all—and replaces that mandate with a policy that favors the few who can afford to exercise a granted privilege.

If, as our founders proclaimed in separate expressions, all citizens are equal under the law, the concept of privilege violates that standard of legal equality.

These standards, here laid forth by one untrained in the law, have been argued in local, state, and national venues from the beginning of our country.  They have been argued recently in one Jefferson City courtroom and likely will be argued in another one.

The issue is large amounts of money in political campaigns.  The blatant use of it to buy candidates and laws is obvious. Missouri is the only state that gives those with a lot of money an ability far beyond the ability of the average citizen to influence public policy. The refusal by the legislature to even consider trying to let all citizens participate in the election process equally has become intolerable to those who have turned to the initiative process to replace the state-sanctioned privilege afforded the wealthy few with a plan to revitalize a right in which all can participate.

We are not saying the proposal that has withstood its first legal challenge is the best answer.  But it is an inevitable result when those elected to serve on behalf of all Missourians lack the will to strengthen rights and therefore defend privilege, often for their own benefit.

More than three-hundred thousand Missourians signed a petition to reinstate campaign contribution limits in Missouri and keep political action committees from hiding the sources of the money they spend, supposedly independently of candidates.  County clerks who looked at the names and signatures on those petitions have found enough valid ones to put the issue on the November ballot.

Opponents are challenging the constitutionality of the proposal.  Supporters are saying there is no constitutional question until the proposal becomes law.  Opponents say the proposal violates equal protection standards of the constitution because it denies certain entities from taking part in the financing of campaigns.  Proponents can point to the last paragraph of the proposition that says courts can find part of the matter unconstitutional without endangering the validity of the remaining parts.

One of the arguments is that campaign finance restrictions limit freedom of speech by those who wish to express it through large campaign donations. But a freedom, unequally protected, is not a freedom.  It is a privilege, a position of superiority, a violation of equality under the law. When freedom of speech is accorded greater weight to those with the ability to buy it, it is not a freedom.  It is, in fact, a form of oppression.

At least, that is how this citizen continues to observe it, any legal rulings to the contrary notwithstanding.

The lawyer whose clients are challenging the proposed amendment to the state constitution, Chuck Hatfield, does not disagree that the present campaign system is out of hand—in fact he was a key figure nine years ago in a case that re-imposed campaign limits before the legislature EIGHT years ago eliminated them.  But he thinks this proposal is flawed and should not have a chance to be enacted.

And therein lies the problem with initiative petitions that result from frustration with legislative inaction.  The criticism from legislative circles used to be that initiative petitions are dangerous because they do not go through the rigorous wordsmithing that bills go through in the legislative process.  And they are especially dangerous if they take the form of constitutional amendments.  There might be some truth in that contention if one assumes that the legislative process works.

But when the legislature refuses to act, in fact when it seems to protect the status quo through rigid inaction, the penalty for that failure to act can be an initiative petition that raises its own constitutional questions.  When government supports privilege instead of defending rights, it cannot be surprised that the people act.

And if, in the end, the people’s action is flawed, it is not the fault of the people.  It is the fault of those who have chosen to sanction inequality for their own benefit.  And it becomes the responsibility of voters—if only they will exercise it—to reverse that course not only through the initiative process but also through replacing those who support privilege for the few rather than rights available equally to all.

The Politics of Nostalgia

Robert P. Jones, the former Missouri State University psychology professor who now heads the Public Religious Research Institute, looks at many of the issues that (in your observer’s view) divert the attentions of lawmakers away from solving infrastructure, education, and social problems by trying to preserve the diminishing influence of their religion in his book, The End of White Christian America.

The PRRI has identified attitudinal splits that point to an ongoing diminution in the influence of WCA that for most of this nation’s history was “the prominent cultural force.”  The survey has found 53% of Americans think our culture has gone downhill since the 1950s.  But Jones says there is a “stark cleavage” by race and religion.  Seventy-two percent of evangelicals believe in the cultural slippage.  Fifty-eight percent of mainline white Protestants and white Catholics agree.

However, fifty-nine percent of Hispanic Catholics think our culture has improved. And sixty-three percent of the growing numbers of Americans with no religious affiliation and fifty-five percent of African-American Protestants agree with them.

Jones says the latter groups will more future influence in the shaping of our country than mainline and evangelical Christians.  “For the first time in more than five decades, an appeal to a sentimental version of midcentury heartland America is not a winning political strategy,” he writes, taking a long-term view—but not a VERY long one.  He says that political movements still clinging to the “sentimental” view of midcentury America—including the Tea Party—are engaging in “the politics of nostalgia.”

Jones thinks today’s religion/politics blend began with the Republican Southern Strategy that appealed in sixties to southern Democrats upset with their party’s support of civil rights initiatives.  He recalls Richard Nixon in 1968 made a deal with Senator Strom Thurmond to stall various civil rights efforts and although the plan was short-circuited by Watergate, the alliance caught fire when former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter became president in 1976 and many southerners hoped this born-again southern Christian Baptist Democrat would favor their agenda. But they were disappointed when he did not.  Jones thinks this disappointment on which conservative religious leaders such as Jerry Fallwell capitalized turned a Republican political strategy into a White Christian Strategy in which Republicans saw an advantage to be had.  He says the White Christian Strategy was important in putting Ronald Reagan in the White House and Reagan supported it.

He says that strategy weakened in the first decade of the present century but has found new life in the Tea Party movement.  He points to a PRRI survey that shows the Tea Party is more closely aligned with the Christian Right than it is with the Libertarians, as some of its leaders claim.  In fact, a 2013 survey showed 61% of Libertarians did not consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement and 52% of Tea Party members said they were “part of the Religious Right or Christian conservative movement.”

Jones also notes 55% of Tea Party members agree this country is a Christian nation while only 39% of the general population holds that view.  He calls the Tea Party “a late-stage expression of a White Christian America that is passing from the scene.”

He also points to research showing that seventy-three percent of the electorate in 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected, was white and Christian.  That group comprised only fifty-seven percent of the electorate twenty years later and is expected to be down two more points this year and drop to fifty-two percent in 2020. At this rate, he forecasts, 2024 will be the first election in national history in which white Christians do not cast the majority of votes.   That’s bad news for Republicans who (the surveys in the book indicate) rely on voting coalitions that are eighty percent white Christians.  By contrast, only thirty-seven percent of the voters who re-elected President Obama four years ago were white Christians.

In short, he infers, the Republican coalition faces a dim future.  One factor that he has identified facing Republicans is the religiously unaffiliated population—young people who, according to an evangelical poll, have pulled away from “present day Christianity” because they see much of it as being anti-gay, judgmental, and hypocritical.  And they’re pretty firm in those opinions.  Eighty-five to ninety-one percent feel that way.

Jones cites Russel Moore, the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who has suggested it is time for Christians, as Jones puts it, “to relinquish their status as defenders of a lost consensus” (on such things as gay marriage) and “rally around a more limited movement to maintain their traditional view of marriage within their own communities.”  Jones says Moore’s position is a beginning of the “religious liberty” movement that “individuals should be able to carry religious objections from their private life into their public roles as service providers, business owners, and even elected officials.”   He refers to the movement as “a desperate attempt to fight the lost war by other means.”

Jones also looks at the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, desegregation of churches and of communities, racial justice (“why is desegregation so difficult?” he asks), and other factors on which WCA is divided and trying to maintain old values in a world that is creating new ones.

So what’s the answer?   He digs into Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying: What the Dying have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy, and Their Own Families, published in 1969.  She identifies the five stages of grief that people go through when facing an end: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Jones says those stages are useful in understanding what is happening with White Christian America, both mainliners and evangelicals.  In his forty-page final chapter, he examines how both branches of WCA are dealing with those five stages.

Jones says mainline Christians are moving—although not smoothly—toward “a distinctive theological and ecclesiastical vision, driven by the need to come to terms with the death of White Christian America,” while evangelicals are divided. One branch acknowledges “their vision of a robust white evangelical world will have to be tempered” while still resisting “the full implications of its demise.”  He cites Baptist minister and professor of Christian ethics David Gushee, who appeals to evangelicals to abandon “past conspiracy theories, demagoguery, single-issue voting, partisan seductions, mudslinging, and God-and-country conflations and confusions” and to take part in a fully pluralistic society without being tempted to reach for (as Jones puts it), “domination and sectarianism, each of which is driven by nostalgia for a lost Christian America.”

Jones sees a future for Christianity in shaping the character of our country.  But he says it must recognize its past failings and its new possibilities in a world that will be shaped by today’s younger generation.

As National Catholic Reporter writer Maureen Fiedler put it last month, “Welcoming racial and religious diversity is now a political imperative as well as a religious calling.” (https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/end-white-christian-america)

After reading this book, we think we understand the trends that have led the Missouri legislature’s majority to become embroiled in some of the hot-button issues it spends too much time working on while ignoring greater issues that affect the lives of our population as a whole.  But we also realize it is unrealistic to think that this year’s elections will produce any significant change in the attitudes of our Missouri lawmakers.   Jones’ book suggests there is hope for an eventual realization that resisting the coming changes to our society out of a “nostalgia for a lost Christian America,” rather than focusing on shaping those changes in a positive and inclusive manner, might be politically profitable in the short run but sad and wasted effort in the face of inevitability.

Depending on your faith perspective, you might or might not enjoy reading this book.  But we think it will add a dimension to your understanding of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, particularly in the proposed laws we’re likely to see in the legislature next year.

Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2016.  309 pages.

This might explain some things we see

Your traveling correspondent read the obituary when he dropped in at the Between The Covers bookstore in Harbor Springs, a northwest lower Michigan community, a few days ago.  A former college professor from Springfield—a city considered one of the buckles in the Bible Belt—had written it.

“After a long life spanning nearly two hundred and forty years, White Christian America—a prominent cultural force in the nation’s history—has died.  WCA first began to exhibit troubling symptoms in the 1960s when white mainline Protestant denominations began to shrink, but showed signs of rallying with the rise of the Christian Right in the 1980s. Following the 2004 presidential election, however, it became clear that WCA’s powers were failing.  Although examiners have not been able to pinpoint the exact time of death, the best evidence suggests that WCA finally succumbed in the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century.  The cause of death was determined to be a combination of environmental and internal factors—complications stemming from major demographic changes in the country, along with religious disaffiliation as many of its younger members began to doubt WCA’s continued relevance in a shifting cultural environment.”

the end of WCA

There was more to it but you’ll have to get Robert P. Jones’ The End of White Christian America and read it yourself.  Jones was a psychology professor for more than a decade at Missouri State University in Springfield before becoming the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute.  He has a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctorate in religion from Emory University.  His bio note on the PRRI website says he specialized in the sociology of religion, politics and religious ethics during his doctoral work.  He does a column online for Atlantic magazine and is often heard on NPR’s Interfaith Voices news magazine program.

Readers of his book might see some explanations for some of the stuff that’s been going on in Missouri’s legislature in recent years.  In short, Jones suggests (although not specifically) such things as the personhood amendment proposal, the proposal this observer called the Wesboro Amendment during the last session, the constant efforts to make a legal medical procedure harder and harder to obtain, and other issues are efforts of a weakening White Christian America to preserve in law what it can no longer control from the pulpit.

Jones says WCA has two branches, “a more liberal mainline Protestant America headquartered in New England and the upper Midwest/Great Lakes region and a more conservative evangelical Protestant America anchored in the South and lower Midwest/Ozark Mountains region.”   But there’s more to the distinction than geography.  He sees the two branches as divided on social class and their perspectives on race relations.  “Their differences are rooted in disagreements over fundamental tenets of theology, approaches to diversity, and accommodations to the modern world and science,” he says. The divide widened in the 1920s as some Christians saw the Bible and evolution as compatible, a position that “horrified” Protestant Fundamentalists who saw the Bible as true in all regards.  He argues that the differences between Modernists and Fundamentalists created a wound that would not heal and created a “fault line” between what is now considered mainline and fundamentalist Christianity and a subsequent fight for control of “the symbolic capital of Christianity.”

It was mainline Protestants, he writes, who led to progressive social change in the last half of the Twentieth Century—the establishment of the United Nations and its declaration for international human rights, and United States civil rights laws among other things.  Mainline Protestants, he writes, by mid-century were leaders in government, education, business, and cultural affairs.

But mainline Protestantism began to weaken and the Evangelical Protestants moved to become “the face of White Christian America,” becoming the “dominant cultural voice” that constituted a “Moral Majority” in the 70s “to protect a distinctly Protestant Christian” nation.”

However, the nation was changing socially, politically, and demographically, leading to the election of the nation’s first non-white president, the creation of a non-Protestant Supreme Court (six Catholics and three Jews), a Census Bureau prediction that this country would no longer be a majority white nation by 2050, and increasing numbers of people who, when asked their religious preference, replied “none.”

Jones cites sociologist Nathan Glazer suggesting White Christian America is facing a future in which it tries to preserve its social values, or a future in which it integrates into “the new American cultural landscape.”

Jones suggests some of the things we are seeing in government and in other parts of our lives is the result of the first choice when, he maintains, the second choice inevitably will have to be made if White Christian America is to be relevant in an age when the nation is no longer majority white and increased numbers of Americans are “nones.”

He cites a 2014 study by his organization, PRRI, showing the proportion of white Christians in this country was already at 47% while the number of Americans with no religious affiliation was up to 22%.  Another 24% were non-white Christians.  A closer look at the numbers shows a generational shift.  About 70% of older Americans are white Christians. But only about thirty percent of young adults (18-29) fall into that category.  The change in the social and religious structure of this country is well underway meaning, “Falling numbers and the marginalization of a once dominant racial and religious identity—one that has been central not just to white Christians themselves but to the national mythos—threatens white Christian understanding of America itself.”

Further studies show Protestants have not been in the majority in this country since 2008.  And the percentage of Catholics and those who are unaffiliated are about the same—22% each. The 2014 study showed those identifying themselves as white Protestants dropped from 51% to 32% in two decades.  Black Protestants stayed at about 10% while Hispanic Protestants increased and reached four percent.  And the decline in the white Protestant category involves both mainliners and evangelicals.  He points to the precipitous decline of the nation’s largest evangelical Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, which operates the seminary where he got his first graduate degree.  The conclusion?  “White Protestant Christians—both mainline and evangelical—are aging and quickly losing ground as a proportion of the population.”

Jones argues these declines have forced the two branches of WCA to seek alliances, often with other groups that had been unwelcome in their brotherhoods previously. The mainline has moved toward ecumenicity with African-American Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians, for example.  White Evangelicals have turned to conservative political movements and unofficial alliances with conservative white Catholics and some Greek Orthodox leaders on certain issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

So now we can begin to understand the roots of some of the things we are seeing in our political campaigns and in the General Assembly of Missouri.

The alliances have shifted.  Mainline White Christians were more likely to dismiss fears that John Kennedy would take orders from the Vatican if he was elected.  Jones notes that mainliners and Catholics marched together in the Civil Rights era while white evangelicals, with stronger southern roots, “stayed largely on the sidelines.”

Jones thinks Bill Clinton’s election led Republican leaders to reconsider political strategies.  White Protestant evangelicals, more closely aligned with Republicans, put aside their reluctance to work with Catholics at the same time white conservative Catholics who had seen their church becoming ethnically transformed and politically divided, moved to increase their social and political power. Republican leaders realized they could move Catholics who had been loyal Democrats since the days of FDR away from the Democratic Party by focusing on abortion, especially since the Democrats had refused to support an anti-abortion amendment.  These formerly unlikely bedfellows drafted a statement in 1994 called “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.”

Jones writes that this alliance in recent years has produced the Religious Freedom Restoration movement to allow companies to opt out of Obamacare for religious reasons, and to launch a manifesto last year against same-sex marriage.

And what has this alliance produced?  Jones says, “It helped give evangelicals an advantage in their contest to be the face of White Christian America.  And as the overall numbers of white Protestant Christians began to slip in the late 1990s, expanding the tent to include white Catholics helped perpetuate the illusion that White Christian America was still the country’s dominant religious culture.”

Illusion, says Jones, because the Catholic Church is slipping, too.  Twenty-two percent of the American population in 1990 identified itself as Catholic.  By 2014 that number was down to thirteen percent, and an even greater percentage of the population today—FIFTEEN percent—identifies itself as former Catholics.

He asserts the tide is running against the Evangelical-Catholic alliance that is such an influence in American politics, and for the purposes of our discussion here, in the Missouri legislature.

We have highlighted only the first eighty pages or so of Jones’ book to try to present a far less-detailed explanation of the roots of Missouri’s political structure than you will find if you read the book.  We think our understanding of contemporary Missouri politics and governance is much better because he has closely examined the demographic changes that are affecting our social, political, and religious lives.

But Jones does more than detail the movements that have put us where we are today.  At the end, he assesses how WCA can remain a powerful influence on American culture in an increasingly diverse country.

His book’s title speaks of “The End,” but he suggests the future of White Christian America as a social and political force will be shaped by the process we go through when facing death.  That’s a subject for another entry.  This one is long enough.

If you are in Missouri politics, an observer of Missouri politics, a Christian, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Muslim—whatever—we think your understanding of national and state politics can be improved by reading this book.  And, particularly, if you are a candidate or an incumbent office-holder, you might find helpful his call to abandon “The Politics of Nostalgia”—and begin building a more positive and inclusive political system—as you assess what you are and what you are doing, and shaping what you want to be.

Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2016.   309 pages

The bobpriddy.net M8B poll

It’s time to assess the outcomes of the August primary and see if we can forecast the results in November.  First, let’s take a look at the legislature and the contests that shape up after the primary.

The Missouri Senate started the 2015-16 session with 25 Republicans and 9 Democrats.

Going into the November election, Democrats are guaranteed six seats. Republicans will have 18.    Five of the ten seats are OPEN because of term limits or resignations.  The Joseph Keaveny seat is likely to stay in the D column, meaning that before the November election, D’s will have 7 seats, R’s will have 18 with nine seats in play.

Two of the nine seats in play are held by or were held by Democrats (Sifton and Levota).  If the D’s hold on to those seats, both in the Kansas City metro area, they will be up to nine.  The Senate then will be 25-9.  If we assume Sifton will win re-election and the Democrats hang onto the vacant LeVota seat, they will need to pick up three Senate seats to end the two-thirds majority.

We are acutely conscious in saying this of one of the first rules hammered into our heads by our School of Journalism professors: “Never assume a damned thing.”  But we have to start somewhere in this discussion so we are offering a technical assumption that is not to be considered part of the public record.

Other open seats:

Senator Eric Schmitt of Glendale in St. Louis County is giving up his distinction of being one of the tallest people to ever serve in the state senate, if not THE tallest (see http://blog.missourinet.com/2014/04/04/bmis/ for a learned discussion of the matter) to run for State Treasurer.  Stephen Eagleton, a Kirkwood activist who lost to Schmitt eight years ago, has won the Democratic primary. He’s a nephew of former U. S. Senator Thomas Eagleton.  He’s opposed by state representative Andrew Koenig, who defeated fellow Rep Rick Stream in the primary. The district has been Republican.

Senator Kurt Schaefer of Columbia didn’t come close to carrying his home county against fellow Boone Countian Josh Hawley in the Attorney General’s race a few weeks ago although his 41% in the county was better than his 36% statewide.  He’s gone from the Senate because of term limits anyway.  Two state representatives will square off to see who succeeds him: Democrat Stephen Webber and Republican Caleb Rowden.  The seat was Democratic before Schaefer took it.

Term limits has robbed Warrensburg-area voters of their chance to keep popular Senator David Pearce for another term.  Lafayette County mediation lawyer ElGene Ver Dught, who lost to Pearce four years ago, is back for another try. He’ll face Republican Representative Denny Hoskins.

Other contested seats (Some senatorial districts have Libertarian candidates opposing a major party candidate but we’ll wait for a Libertarian-label candidate to be more than token opposition before we move districts in which they are the only opposition to make our list of “contested districts.”):

Senator Ryan Silvey, who comes from the northern part of the Kansas City metro area, is facing Democrat J. Ranen Bethtold who has attracted support from Joplin industrialist David Humphreys, who normally pours a lot of money into Republican campaigns. Apparently, Silvey ticked off Humphreys because he refused to support his party’s attempt to override Governor Nixon’s veto of the anti-union bill that would let people be represented by unions without paying them any dues.  Silvey has a lot of labor people in his district but Humphreys is big on right-to-work.

The seat given up by Senate President pro Tem Tom Demsey of St.  Charles when he went to work for a Sinquefield group will be a fight between Bill Eigel, a right-to-work supporter who defeated Representative Anne Zerr in the Republican primary, and Democrat Richard Orr, a right-to-work opponent who thinks Republicans are meddling with the Conservation Department.

Former Congressman Bill Burlison, who represented southeast Missouri for a dozen years, had no challengers in the Democratic primary and will face Republican incumbent Doug Libla.

Senator Wayne Wallingford, a Republican, hopes to win a second term from his Cape Girardeau-area district. He’s opposed by retired truck driver Donnie Owens who lost to Jason Crowell twelve years ago.

Could Republicans lose their super-majority in the Senate?   We asked our Magic 8 Ball and it said, “Very hazy. Try again.”   So we asked again and it said “very doubtful.”  But might Democrats gain a seat or two that at least gives them more filibuster muscle?   The Magic 8 Ball said, “No” three times.

Of course, the Magic 8 ball was answering the question in August with plenty of time to change its mind.

The House:

This year, Republicans controlled the House 116-45 with one independent.  The 117th member of the House, Don Gosen, resigned in February and has not been replaced in a special election. Republicans had a seven-vote cushion for their two-thirds majority (they need 109 for two-thirds of the membership).

All 163 seats will be elected this year.   After the August primary, only 65 seats have Republican-Democrat contests.

Going into November, Republicans are guaranteed 66 seats. Democrats are guaranteed 32.  To break the two-thirds super majority in the House, Democrats must win 23 of the 65 contested seats.  To move into the majority in the House, they would have to take fifty of the 65 contests.

The Magic 8 Ball is pretty confident the House will stay two-thirds Republican after November. We asked if Democrats will win at least one-third of the seats in the Missouri House and it responded, “My Sources say no.”  Three times.

Just for the record, the 8 ball’s signs say Chris Koster will be elected Governor.

Lieutenant Governor?  “Ask me again later?” said Eight.  “Real hazy, try again,” it said when we did.  Finally it said Russ Carnahan’s outlook is “good.”

Secretary of State?  Will the name Ashcroft carry some weight that it didn’t in a state senate election two years ago?   “It is decidedly so,” said 8B.  Just to test it, we asked if Robin Smith would win office this year and it wanted to be asked later twice before finally saying, “Cannot predict now.”  So we’ve put that race in the “leaning” Ashcroft category.

B’s sources say Judy Baker will not become Treasurer.  But at the same time it is “very doubtful” that Eric Schmitt will be elected this year.  For now, we will put this one in the toss-up category.

The black ball of knowledge says the “outlook is good” that Teresa Hensley will become Attorney General.  Asked about Josh Hawley, it said his “outlook (is) not so good.”

And the biggie:  Will Jason Kander beat Roy Blunt.  The ball thought long and hard about this one.   “Really hazy, ask again,” it said.  So we did. “Concentrate and ask again,” it said.  So we thought real hard and got “Ask again later.”

A good reporter will never let the Mystery 8 Ball straddle a fence (not sure how a ball can do that anyway) so we asked again.

“Outlook good,” it said.

Are you sure?

“Outlook good,” it responded.

So Jason Kander is going to beat Senator Blunt?

“Most likely.”

And it repeated it three more times.

Oh—for the record, the “outlook is not so good” for Hillary Clinton to beat Donald Trump.  We didn’t ask if that’s the national answer or just whether the M8B is thinking only about Missouri.

So there you have it.   The bobpriddy.net poll.   Of course, you should remember that any poll is only a snapshot of conditions at the time it is taken and many thing scan change.  We have a long way to go and the M8B’s opinions might change as conditions change.

We don’t know what M8B’s margin of error is.  When we asked, it said,

“Outlook not so good.”

But it was pretty confident in its response when we asked it again.

 

But what if he wins?

We’ve had a piece of trash campaign mail on our kitchen island for several days from an outfit called FranklinAndLee.com. It attacks Eric Greitens.

We wrote about FranklinAndLee on April 27, should you want to read how it and one of the other Republican candidates know of one another but both claim they don’t speak.

Greitens, whose campaign has emphasized that he can shoot a gun and pound on a punching bag but has not indicated HOW he will straighten out a state government that has been left in shambles by those blasted professional politicians (of which he wants to become one of), is Missouri’s Donald Trump.

He’s the Republican that Republicans don’t want to recognize. But he has tied a lot of knots in GOP knickers because he showed up in some recent polls as the leading candidate.

One poll had him ahead of John Brunner 29-22 with Hanaway at 16 and Kinder with 12.  Another poll shows him ahead of Hanaway 24-22 with Brunner and Kinder at 16 and 15.  The results are inconsistent except that both show Greitens in the lead, Kinder lagging badly for a three-term Lieutenant Governor, and 21 to 23% of the potential voters not sure what to make of it all.

FranklinandLee, which has close ties to Brunner’s campaign although he denies any connection to it, is harping on the “He is not one of us” theme.  We heard that throughout the national presidential primary campaign, didn’t we?  .

What are Greitens’ big sins?   If you’ve gotten one of these pieces of trash mail and you haven’t trashed it yet, take a look.  He went with Governor Bob Holden in 2008 to hear Barack Obama’s presidential nomination campaign speech.  In 2013 he committed the heresy of liking St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay because Slay had helped veterans get help, training, and jobs. (Pssst—In case you have missed any of Greitens’ commercials, he’s a former Navy SEAL.)

One criticism is that he met with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which was courting him, and met with Congressman Russ Carnahan.  Conveniently left out is WHEN his meeting took place.  It had to be in 2012 or earlier because Carnahan lost a re-election bid that year.

But within inches of the criticism of his meetings with the DCCC is a quote from Greitens, “When Democrats asked me to run, I told them no, because I am a conservative, and I am a Republican.”   So he was recruited and he went to Washington where several influential Democrats tried to convince him to run for Congress and he said no.

Not one of us?   What is he, then, after telling the D’s he wasn’t going to be one of THEM?

Apparently it is an unpardonable offense that he didn’t lemming-like get in line behind Senate Joint Resolution 39 in the legislature this year (there are plenty of previous entries here about that if you want to put yourself through reading them).  And to compound the crime, Claire McCaskill, one of those heathens in the other party, agreed with him.

So Eric Greitens, exercising his First Amendment Freedom of Association with Mayor Slay, should be considered a political leper by Republican voters.  And because Claire McCaskill exercised her same First Amendment Freedom by associating herself with his position of SJR39, he is even more leprous.

And there’s a quote from MSNBC’s Joe Klein, who is demonized in this piece of trash as a “liberal author and journalist.”  Klein described Greitens as “a Pro Gay-Rights Pro-Immigration Reform Republican.”  Let’s seen, what was one of the major points in the primary campaign of the Republican presidential nominee?   Immigration reform?   That’s it.  And that same nominee said several years ago of Elton John’s marriage to his longtime boyfriend, “If two people dig each other, they dig each other.” And in 2000, he urged Congress to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Clearly, being a “Pro Gay Rights, Pro-Immigration Reform Republican” makes one UNqualified to be (a) a Republican and (b) a chief executive of a state or a nation.  At least it didn’t in Cleveland last week.

To summarize:  Eric Greitens is “not one of us” because he was heavily courted by Democrats from 2008-2012—we surmise— before he proclaimed his GOP loyalty.  He’s “not one of us” because he could not conscientiously support a divisive and, many felt, discriminatory proposal masquerading as a religious liberty issue.  He’s “not one of us” because Joe Klein indicates he thinks non-heterosexuals have some kind of a place at the table.  He’s “not one of us” because he said a good thing about a Democrat that he thought had done good things for people like him.

So much for the “big tent” that we’ve heard both parties claim they have.

So what happens to the Missouri GOP if “not one of us” wins the primary election for Governor?  We’ve seen at the national level what happens when “not one of us” comes out a winner.  In Cleveland we heard calls for the party to unify although many of those voices did not call for it to unify behind the party nominee.  Republicans are not alone with concerns about what “party unity” will mean after this. Democrats are in the boat with them.

Eric Greitens, as an American citizen, is free to call himself a Republican if wishes to do so.  It’s his right.

Eric Greitens, a Republican, does not forfeit his mind, his conscience, or his right to associate personally or politically with anybody he chooses.

Eric Greitens, American citizen, does not have not to pass any litmus test of narrowness or broadness to be a member of any political party he chooses.   And to be a candidate within that party.

When you come down to it, the FranklinAndLee.com piece of junk mail might be more damaging to the Republican Party than it is to Eric Greitens.  The portrait it paints of who a Republican must be is not flattering to the party.

A party that makes such a big deal of letting individual citizens exercise their sincerely-held beliefs is not helped by junk mail like this that says Eric Greitens is not a member of the party because he has done just that.

There is a reason stuff like this is called “junk” mail.

Both of our political parties are in a fix this year because both have had to deal nationally with “not one of us” candidates who have caused big problems for party orthodoxy.

What was that again about a big tent?  Is it only for winners?