Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Steve Rose's Straw Man Sam

Steve Rose, the Publisher of Sun Publications and pontificater-in-chief for the Johnson County "moderate" oligarchy via his weekly "Memo" in the Johnson County Sun, has never been one to refrain from exaggerating a point.

For decades now, this self-appointed spokesman for the wine-and-cheese crowd has blessed us with can aptly be called whine and cheese -- continually filling his columns with relentless childish whimpers about how bad conservatives are ("a screwball like Kris Kobach") and gooey, "drunk on kool-aid" cheerleader-like praise for every gloriously-wonderful moderate "pro-education" candidate that has ever graced our presence. (just pick any edition in which he makes endorsements)

One of Mr. Rose's frequent argument styles is his perpetual use of straw man arguments, particularly when describing conservatives and conservative positions. One need only browse through the archives of Steve's "Memos" to find several examples of this writing tactic. The most shining example, however, was his most recent column from last week entitled "Time for the right wing to rule."

Like many of his columns, this one is built around a few fairly solid points-- that Sam Brownback is likely to become Governor, that Thornburgh is probably best to drop out because he'll get demolished, and that, in his words, "Kansas has never, in modern history, had a real conservative for governor." He even at one point makes a solid argument for Sam regarding local schools -- that Sam Brownback, in Rose's words, is a "champion of returning much of the funding for schools back to the communities."

What's sad is that surrounding these islands of intelligence is an ocean of typical over-the-top hooey so devoid of any factual sense that it makes one want to spit up the Starbucks they're sipping while reading his delusional drivel.

Let's start off with the cheese. Writing about Ron Thornburgh, Steve says the following:

Ron Thornburgh, who has been a terrific Secretary of State for Kansas since 1994, is also running for governor in 2010. But, Ron, this is not the time. You are a class act, a fine leader, and a good Republican. That's why we cannot sit by and watch you get slaughtered by Sam. The polls confirm what we already suspected.
If you can get past the Rose-like heaping of sugar on Thornburgh, let's start off with the last point -- that the polls confirm that Ron Thornburgh will get crushed by Sam Brownback. True -- a recent SurveyUSA Poll put Sam in the 60's while Thornburgh is in the teens at 17%. But, lost in Steve's typical "class act, fine leader, terrific Secretary of State" garbage is any analysis explaining why Thornburgh -- who has been Secretary of State as long as Sam has been in Congress (1994) -- is behind Sam by 50 points.

Now certainly, some of this is explained in the fact that Sam Brownback is in a high profile US Senatorial position and Thornburgh has been a relatively unremarkable do-nothing Secretary of State, who despite serving three terms in that position, apparently still has not yet developed enough of political strength to run for anything except, in Steve's opinion, a FOURTH term as Secretary of State. (Perhaps he can get around to cleaning up those voter rolls in a fourth term!) But 50 points?

Could it be that the public at large likes Sam Brownback? That his style of conservatism and personality is appealing to most Kansans? That perhaps the state is pro-life? That perhaps well-funded, well-known conseratives who have the ability to counter the media bias actually win in Kansas? Could it be that if someone isn't smeared constantly Phill Kline-style that he will remain popular in this red state?

Of course not. It's none of those things. That would ruin Steve Rose's ability to attack his straw man that is Sam Brownback and conservatives in general.

But that's not the best (or worst) part of Rose's article. What's particularly revealing is his arguments about why Sam would be the only real conservative our state has ever had:

Let's start with this. Kansas has never, in modern history, had a real conservative for governor.

Oh, we had Mike Hayden, who back then was considered a conservative. But he really wasn't, by today's standards. Mike is pro-choice and pushed through a large tax increase.

Bob Docking was a fiscally conservative governor, but that was long ago, long before abortion and other social issues were lightning rods, and long before the virulent anti-tax movements in Kansas.

As often with Rose, there is a decent point mixed in there -- that Sam would be the first real conservative. But what's revealing is that Steve Rose essentially admits what he and his "moderate" buddies want -- large tax increases, abortion on demand, and massive amounts of spending on education no matter the facts nor economic climate of the state.

Of course, Steve's overall point is that there will be no "check and balance" on Brownback and the "conservative legislature". He cites these examples:

  • The coal-fired plants will be approved, not vetoed, under Sam Brownback.
  • Late-term abortions will be abolished in Kansas.
  • Every conceivable anti-abortion piece of legislation that is constitutional will be approved by Sam Brownback.
  • And all the right-wing anti-tax organizations, basically ruled by the powerful Koch Industries family in Wichita, which would eliminate all taxes and take us back to the Stone Age, would have an ally in the governor's office.

First of all, it's absolutely hilarious that one of Steve Rose's moderate heroes, Governor Mark Parkinson, agreed to build one of those evil coal plants just yesterday. Guess that one's off the list, huh Steve?

Second of all, well over 60% of Americans and likely 70+% of Kansans are opposed to late-term abortions. That's hardly puts Sam outside of the mainstream.

Third of all, given that the public supports most abortion restrictions that have been deemed constitutional (thinks like parental notification, waiting periods, ultrasound bills, etc), that seems perfectly reasonable too and hardly the markings of some right-wing coup (Unless of course, you're replacing a rabidly liberal Kathleen Sebelius administration).

If this is "right wing rule", it's easy to see why Sam is over 60% in the polls.

Finally in his fourth point, in typical Rose fashion, he couldn't resist creating a straw man by implying that Sam and groups like the Kansas Chamber and AFP want to "eliminate all taxes" and "take us back to the Stone Age".

Holy Hyperbole, Mr. Rose. If you can point to one item in AFP's literature calling for the repeal of ALL taxes, Kaw & Border will issue a retraction. E-mail us. We know you adore high taxes on everything from your income to property so your precious public schools can be made of gold, but seriously.

Rose then closes with the ultimate straw man:

So, goodbye moderate voices at the top. Gone will be the agendas of the moderate Republicans and Democrats who have ruled Kansas. Gone are the checks and balances. The time will soon come for the far right to rule, whether you like it or not.

This is Exhibit Z in the "Steve Rose Whining Museum" and is the mother (or father?) of all straw men. Steve Rose, you have been observing and commenting on Kansas politics for decades, but perhaps the time is now for you and your columns to receive some "checks and balances" of your own:

One - as you said in this very quote -- moderates and Democrats have been "ruling Kansas" for decades with their "agendas" -- as you readily admit.

Two -- as you said in this very column, Sam Brownback would be the first real conservative in the state's history.

Three -- the Kansas State Senate is NOT conservative. The people who run it are your buddies, Steve -- people like Steve Morris, John Vratil, and Derek Schmidt. Conservatives lost in the most recent leadership vote 18-13. Add in the 9 Democrats and that's 27-13 liberals/mods vs. conservatives.

Fourth -- Moderates or Democrats are currently in the positions of Attorney General, Insurance Commissioner, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer. While Kobach is running for an open SOS race, it is at least somewhat likely that the other statewide officials will retain their positions.

Fifth -- the Kansas Supreme Court is packed full of seven liberals, liberals appointed through a fixed judicial "nominating commission" full of people who have donated thousands to Democrats and liberal Republicans. Though a Governor Brownback may be able to "moderate" the court towards the right a bit, it's very unlikely a major shift will take place unless the judicial selection system is fundamentally changed -- which takes a Constitutional Amendment.

Sixth -- even the Kansas House, the most conservative government body in Kansas -- just last week rejected a budget due to a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats".

"Memo" to Steve Rose:

The story here is not that there is no check and balance to Sam Brownback and conservatives.

Mr. Rose, Sam Brownback IS the check and balance.