The Separation of Powers and Other Constitutional Irrelevancies

Much of what we learned in our school days has been rendered obsolete by the march of progress. An automotive class once taught us how to rebuild a carburetor, a skill that has proved useless in dealing with the fuel-injected automobiles we have subsequently owned. We once prided ourselves on our ability to sift through card files and Periodicals of Publications and arcane volumes gathering dust on library shelves to come up with needed information, but even that skill has atrophied with infrequent use over the past many years of internet search engines. Our recollection of food pyramids and global cooling and the rest of what they kept yakking about in our health and science classes is vague, but we assume most of that is also out of fashion.
All that stuff they taught us about the Constitution and its checks and balances and separations of power and how a bill becomes law is apparently no longer applicable, as well, although we’re not at all sure this is progress.
An up-to-date curriculum would now teach students that the president has the unilateral power to make immigration law, enter treaties with foreign powers, enforce carbon regulations that even the most left-wing Congress in history explicitly declined to pass, and assume control of the internet without even answering any questions from Congress. Even when the most left-wing Congress in history did grant the president’s request by passing the abominable Obamacare law the president insisted that it be implemented according to his most politically advantageous timetable rather than according to what is written into the law, and that part about subsidies being available only through state exchanges is apparently to be ignored entirely because it doesn’t say what the president wants it to say. Now the president intends to enforce gun control regulations, so it seems all that stuff we were taught about the Second Amendment and its right to bear arms will also need revision.
The president’s latest dictate doesn’t ban AR-15 rifles, only the bullets that go in them, but this will make little difference to the law-abiding owners of those weapons. For some reason the AR-15 is an especially offensive firearm to the left, probably because its appearance is so similar to that of the weapons used by that nasty military of ours, to the extent that the last round of post-school-shooting hysteria offered up legislation to ban it, but the fact that Congress voted down the idea is apparently no longer an impediment to its implementation. There’s still some resistance to the president’s executive actions in both the courts and the House of Representatives, but enough of the Republicans in the Senate are resigned to the president’s unilateral power to make immigration that it might well be so. The White House has offered a “tweet”-sized explanation that “We’re a nation of laws, but we’re also respecting the fact that we’re a nation of immigrants,” which doesn’t seem very respectful of the notion of lawful immigration, but so the president has “tweeted” and so shall it be done. At least we’re able to grouse about it on this electronic forum, but it remains to be seen if that will out-last the Federal Communication Commission’s new regulations, which the FCC chairman declined to explain to the duly-elected members of Congress.
All of this will be perfectly fine with the president’s more devoted admirers, who much prefer him to that old system of checks and balances and separations of power and how a bill becomes a law, but they ought to be asking themselves how they’d like such powers to be in the hands of a Republican president. It could happen some day, after all, and would not only easily un-do all the presidential proclamations of the Obama era but unleash a wide range of policies that would surely unsettle the left. They could expect some help from principled conservatives who support the ends but not the means, and perhaps the courts will offer some restraints on the executive branch after years of wrangling over President Obama’s orders, and of course the press will suddenly be outraged, but we expect they will find it  a dangerous precedent.

– Bud Norman

The Unbearable Opaqueness of Transparency

Secretary of State John Kerry recently told Congress “don’t believe what you read” about his negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons, which is reassuring given what we’ve been reading from such news sources as the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal about the deal he is offering, but he also told them that “I’m not going in to what is or isn’t the situation,” which is not at all reassuring. The Obama administration promised to be “the most transparent” in history, but prefers that the public not bother itself with any details about what is or isn’t the situation.
There’s much the public needs to know about the “net neutrality” regulations that the Federal Communications Commissions is cooking up for the internet, and a congressional hearing would be a good place to have the public’s representatives ask of some of the many pertinent questions, but the FCC’s chairman has declined an invitation to provide any answers in advance of today’s vote by his agency. The administration has been similarly reluctant to divulge information on scandals ranging from the Fast and Furious gun-running scheme to the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative non-profit groups, or even such seemingly inconsequential matters of interest as the president’s educational and medical and travel records, and it seems quite confident that the public would rather not know what is or isn’t the situation. This confidence may well be justified, based on the past many years of incurious press coverage, but we are the nosy sorts who would rather know what’s going on no matter how grim it might be.
Those numerous press reports that the administration is offering Iran nuclear weapons after ten years of phased-out sanctions seem unsettlingly plausible, given the administration’s past foreign policy, and if they are entirely untrue we’d be delighted to hear someone in a position of authority at the Department of State come right out and say so. Some reassurance that the administration remains committed to its stated goal of denying Iran nuclear weapons would be nice, too, but apparently we’ll have to assume the best about whether that is or isn’t the situation. The right is concerned that the “net neutrality” rules will hand over the internet to international control and beyond the protections of First Amendment, the more principled and practical elements of the left are worried about what a Republican administration might do with the power being claimed by the federal government, and it would also be good to hear someone in a position of responsibility at the FCC put those concerns convincingly to rest, but once again we’ll have to take it on faith. Our faith would be bolstered by some believable answers about Fast and Furious and the IRS and the mysteriously missing chapters of the president’s biography, but by now we sadly accept that too much of the rest of the public is uninterested.
Iranian bombs and the internet and the Internal Revenue Service are not matters inconsequential the public’s interest, however, and sooner or later some attention will be paid. We hope its not when the Iranian bomb goes off in Tel Aviv or some European or North American capital, and that we’ll still be able to register our disapproval on the internet, and that our opinions won’t run afoul of the IRS, but that might or might not be the situation.

– Bud Norman

Motive, Results, and All the Hubbub

There’s still a lot of talk about President Barack Obama’s patriotism and religiosity, or lack thereof, so we figure we might as well weigh in.
The questions have persisted for the past seven years or so, ever since Obama was first campaigning for the presidency, but the latest round in the ongoing debate was prompted by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s remark during a recent speech that “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.” This commonplace opinion of course provoked outrage from the press, which immediately demanded that every prominent Republican repudiate the idea or be tarred as the sort of America-hating traitors who would question a political opponent’s patriotism. The first to be grilled was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was present at the speech and is a frontrunner for the next Republican presidential nomination, but just about anyone else whose name might come up in a conversation about the race was eventually obliged to opine on the matter. Most took the position that they’d rather criticize the results Obama’s policies are having on America than speculate about his motives, which strikes us as a reasonable and respectful stance for an opposition party to take, but apparently even Republicans are expected to profess their faith in Barack Obama’s undying love for his country. Anything less, according to The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, is symptomatic of some dread psychological impairment called “Obama Derangement Syndrome.”
Any skepticism regarding the president’s Christianity is “insidious agnosticism,” according to The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, which is what happens when the press inevitably starts pressing Republicans about the president’s true religious beliefs. Walker was naturally the first to be asked about what lurks deep in the president’s heart and mind, and scandalized the press by saying that he did not presume to know, and soon the rest of the rest of the potential Republican field had spoken more or less the same outrageous slander at the president, with even Giuliani falling back on the same sensible position. Polls were trotted out showing that a sizable minority of the American public suspects the president is secretly Muslim, much tsk-taking was done about how right-wing media had so slyly perpetuated such a slanderous slur, although there’s certainly nothing wrong with the president being Muslim, which is after all a Religion of Peace and part of the fabric of American history, as the president has often pointed out, and the clear implication was made that those Republicans have gone mad with their disrespect of both the presidency and the United States of America for which it stands.
We can’t recall the press insisting on such institutional respect back when President Chimpy McBushitler occupied the Oval Office and the “Bush Derangement Syndrome” was coined, and former Vice President Al Gore was shrieking that “He betrayed our country” and Keith Olbermann was doing his “you, sir, are a Nazi” diatribes to applause from all the right people, and when candidate Barack Obama was blasting the “unpatriotic” half-trillion dollar deficits that he would soon double, and on the innumerable other occasions when prominent Democrats impugned the opposition’s motives, but the rule against questioning an opponent’s patriotism is flexible that way. The press no doubt hopes they can portray the Republicans as crazed conspiracy theorists with an irrational hated of the First Black President, but they should be worried that the questions persist after so many years.
One didn’t have to be tuned into Fox News to hear the president say he believed in American exceptionalism only to the extent that British or Greek believed in British or Greek exceptionalism, or when his wife said that first time she’d felt proud to be an American was when the country seem poised to her elect her husband president, or when he apologized for America’s “arrogance” and “dismissiveness” toward Europe or its past aggressions against the underdeveloped nations, and it’s hard to see where the policies resulting from these inclinations has furthered America’s interests abroad. The “fundamental transformation” of America that candidate Obama promised has delivered similarly desultory results at home, and although recent economic growth can be damned with the faint praise of outperforming Europe the administration seems as intent as ever on emulating the European model. The president has written about his conversion to Christianity through a preacher who once thundered “God damn America” from the pulpit, he told The New York Times about how the Muslim call to prayer was one of the “most beautiful sounds” he has heard, he frequently extols the greatness of Islam and his most notable recent reference to Christianity was a warning that it should not “get on a high horse” because of long-ago episodes as the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, and he told the United Nations that “the future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” none of which are the kinds of things that Christians usually say. The policies that have followed from such inclinations have resulted in the spread of radical Islam throughout much of the Middle East, leaving all sorts of nastiness in its wake and encouraging the continued terroristic attacks on the west, and the best efforts of the press can not erase all possible doubt about the reasons.
Which is not to say that we question the president’s love of country or abiding Christian faith. He might well love America so much that he wants to turn it into Europe, and have arrived at some revolutionary understanding of Christianity that acknowledges Mohammad as the true prophet who must not be slandered with any doubts about his prophecy, and in any case he seems alarmingly confident that he’s doing what’s best for the country and the entire world. Most liberals we know pride themselves on their less-than-fulsome assessment of America, an anecdotal observation borne out by polling data, but they consider this a patriotic chore they must perform lest America become too proud of itself. At this late date in a lame duck presidency we’re more concerned about the results, which we and a number of soon-to-be-beheaded Christians find displeasing, and we’re willing to forgive any Republican contenders who are insufficiently effusive about the president’s pureness of heart.

– Bud Norman

Keeping Up With the Fashions

Being a movie star seems awfully hard work, if only because of the effort involved in keeping up with the latest fashions. We don’t mean the latest in haute couture, as there are no doubt well-paid consultants to deal with all that, but rather the even more exhausting chore of keeping up with the even faster-changing trends in liberalism. Consider the case of screen actress Patricia Arquette, who offered up the obligatory political rant at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony and then found out in the trades that her opinions as well as her hair style are embarrassingly out-of-date.
Arquette seized the opportunity of her award for best supporting actress to cry out for equal pay for women, which seems a safe cause, having already been enshrined in federal law for the past several decades, but she managed to offend the more sensitive sensibilities by asking “all the gay men, and people of color, to fight for us now.” This strikes us as a meticulously inclusive invitation, and a solid if slightly hackneyed statement of solidarity with the right sorts of people, but that shows how much we know about the latest in liberalism. A writer at Buzzfeed scoffed that “Patricia’s comments show the danger in not being hip to this whole intersectionality thing,” and the “reproductive rights” web site HR Reality Check lamented that Arquette “erased gay women and women of color and all intersecting iterations of those identities,” and the United Kingdom’s Independent ran a round-up of outraged “tweets” that was summarized as “Many pointed out the irony of a wealthy white woman begging people who are worse off in society to help her out.”
Not being hip to this whole intersectionality thing ourselves, and realizing that an acceptance speech’s mention of all the endlessly extrapolating intersecting iterations of political identity groups would take so long that the band would start playing and Bob Hope himself would arise out of the grave to drag a mere best supporting actress off the stage, we can only sympathize with Arquette. She did get some fawning coverage from the likes of The Christian Science Monitor, which is apparently also un-hip to the whole intersectionality thing, and her reputation for Hollywood bravery will be burnished by the criticism she received from the conservatives at Fox News and elsewhere, who rightly pointed out that her “77 cents” figure is pure nonsense and that the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton senatorial office had wage discrepancies between their male and female employees more glaring that, but those unkind “tweets” must surely sting. We are unfamiliar with Arquette’s work but understand that she is the granddaughter of Cliff Arquette, who created the lovable “Charley Weaver” character, and the sister of Rosanna Arquette, who has contributed many memorable nude scenes to the America cinema, so we’d like to assume the best about her intentions.
Even such an impeccably up-to-date liberal as the actor Sean Penn managed to stir up a bit of indignation from the left by greeting an Academy Award winner from Mexico with a joke about green cards. We are familiar with Penn’s work, which is occasionally quite good but all too often in the service of preachy liberal melodrama, but he’s better known for his outspoken political views. He’s sort of the Paul Muni of the present day, and if you’re not one of those hard-core old-time film buffs who still remember Paul Muni that only makes our point. Penn’s liberal credentials include palling around with Latin American dictators, and he used to show up at such George W. Bush-made disasters as Hurricane Katrina to paddle canoes through waters so treacherous only the most brave paparazzi would follow, and he probably assumed that entitled him to some friendly joshing with the Academy Award winner from Mexico, who is reputedly Penn’s friend, and reportedly not at all offended by the joke, but he should have seen the criticisms coming. The joke wasn’t very funny, and Penn is a famously humorless fellow who once chastised another Academy Award presenter for making jokes about an actor named Jude Law, whose work we are also unfamiliar with, but the bigger problem seems to be that the old liberal tradition of making ironically racist jokes to prove that one isn’t racist has been lost. This is a shame, as we know lots of racist jokes and are ever eager to prove ourselves not racist, and we can be just an ironic as any liberal, but Penn should have seen it coming.
Race was the big theme of this year’s pre-Oscar hype, after all, what with so many of the nominees being people of non-color, or non-people of color, or whatever the currently correct locution for white people might be. Having seen absolutely none of this year’s contending movies we have no idea if the nominations and awards reflect racial prejudice or aesthetic discernment, yet we’re still weary of the topic. America still hasn’t achieved a perfection of racial justice, and will likely fail to do so as long as Americans remain humans, but surely there’s been enough progress to have an Academy Awards show not devoted to the topic.
The most intriguing brouhaha to come out of the Academy Awards started the day after, when a former beauty queen turned local news station morning show hostess was having a televised chat with her co-host about Lady Gaga’s performance of a medley of songs from “Sound of Music.” Effusing about the usually lurid chanteuse’s well-reviewed ability with such wholesome material, the young hostess blurted out that “It’s hard to really hear her voice with all that ‘jigaboo’ music that she does, or whatever you want to call it.” This rather jaw-dropping language naturally provoked numerous protests, even if she was on a Fox affiliate, with an audience presumably comprised entirely of racists well-accustomed to such language, and she immediately “tweeted” an apology with the explanation that she had no idea the word “jigaboo” carried any offensive racial connotation.
It is an unusually pleasing sign of the times that her explanation is entirely plausible. This seemingly ambitious young woman spoke the term without apparent embarrassment or defiance in front a black co-host, who was hired despite the Fox affiliation, and seemed slightly befuddled by the word as she spoke it a second time. More importantly, “jigaboo,” like a number of other once-familiar racial slurs, is by now virtually extinct from the American language, to the extent that the darned spell-check system on our computer keeps wanting to change it to “gigabyte,” and we can easily believe that a 20-something woman of sufficiently good rearing to win a beauty pageant and landed a local affiliate morning’s show has somewhere heard the term but not in any context that she was able to discern its meaning. The term is hardly apt for Lady Gaga’s usual material, which we would describe as techno-caucasian, and probably hasn’t been used to describe any musician since Al Jolson was singing “Swanee,” and even at a Klan rally the word would probably sound as dated “copacetic” or “twenty-three-skidoo.” There’s still a stubbornly persistent use of the “n-word,” mostly among people of color, or certain colors, although they substitute an “a” for the “er” and thus render it into an acceptable political statement, but otherwise racial slurs have become so uncommon that a reader would not know what we were talking about if we tried to clean up the “j-word.”
Even right-wing bastards such as ourselves refrain from such foul language, except when the news forces our hand, but at least we’re old enough and right-wing enough to have the advantage of knowing all the terms that we’re not using. Another advantage of conservatism is that it does not require keeping up with the latest fashions.  Conservatism is a consistent philosophy based on a timeless understanding of human nature,  will always be out of style, and none of us are likely to ever be standing on stage of the Academy Awards ceremony accepting a gold statuette. Liberalism has its career advantages, we suppose, but our bemusement is ample compensation.

– Bud Norman

Our Humble Marketing Advice for Hillary Clinton

The great Bob Newhart used to perform a comedy routine titled “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue,” which imagined a telephone conversation just before the Gettysburg Address between a slick ad man and the rather dim fellow who had been cast to portray the wholly manufactured and thoroughly market-tested public image of the rail-splitting Great Emancipator. It’s a brilliant bit, the sort of shrewdly observed satire that comedians no longer seem up to, but for sheer laughs about Madison Avenue-style politics even the eerily prescient Newhart would be hard-pressed to beat a recent Washington Post report headlined “The making of Hillary 5.0: Marketing wizards help re-imagine Clinton brand.”
Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has “recruited consumer marketing specialists on to her team of trusted political advisers,” according to the report, and “are sketching ways to refresh the well-established brand for tomorrow’s marketplace.” One of the wizards is taking a leave of absence from her job as a marketing executive for Coca-Cola, and another has previously produced commercials for such corporate giants as Southwest Airlines and Wal-Mart. The pair are busy at work on an “H” logo, with the article suggesting it might become as iconic as Coca-Cola’s contour bottles or the McDonald’s golden arches or that three-pointed Mercedes-Benz hood ornament that all the rappers used to wear as jewelry back in the ’90, but they’re also involved in developing a broader campaign message that will reportedly stress “economic fairness.” The authors acknowledge that “authenticity can be a powerful trait,” and note rather ruefully that “despite some raw displays of emotion” in her past failed presidential campaign Clinton “often came across as overly programmed,” but they seem hopeful that the new marketing wizards will solve that problem. They note that the Coca-Cola has a reputation for selling aged brands to youthful consumers, and we’d point out that Wal-Mart has acquired such a reputation for working class authenticity that upper-class liberals such as Clinton won’t allow one in their neighborhoods, so the pair might well be able to work similar magic for their candidate.
It probably isn’t helpful, however, for the Washington Post to make like Toto and draw back the curtain on the wizards as they pull the levers of a smoke-spewing candidate. Democratic primary voters are prone to thinking of “economic fairness” in terms of sticking it to the hated corporations, with manufacturers of sugary drinks and carbon-emitting airlines and minimum-wage-paying Wal-Mart right up there with the Koch Brothers and Monsanto in the liberal hierarchy of villainy, and it might blunt the necessary anti-capitalist message if the audience knew that it was produced by corporate ad agencies on behalf of a board member of numerous corporations. The Southwest Airlines and Wal-Mart guy even came up with the “Don’t Mess With Texas” anti-littering slogan that since become a rallying cry of Lone Star State conservatism. A Liz Warren insurgency campaign could easily lure the guys who did the campaigns for Ben & Jerry’s and other hippie businesses, or even the ones who came up with those exceedingly multi-cultural and vaguely homosexual Benniton ads, and make hay of the competition’s corporate connections.
Being untainted by any history of corporate marketing, and eager to avail ourselves of an already formidable campaign chest, we are willing to offer on speculation a few suggestions of our own for the “re-branding” of Clinton.
We would urge that the “new” Clinton be black. Race always trumps sex in the Democrats’ hierarchy of victimology, as Clinton found out to her dismay last time around, and a black Clinton should be able to counter all challenges. Racial transformations are possible, as proved by James Whitmore in “Black Like Me” and Godfrey Cambridge in “Watermelon Man” and Michael Jackson in what was more or less real life, and with help from the most skilled plastic surgeons and Hollywood’s finest make-up artists we think we can get Clinton looking something like Pamela Greer back in the “Cleopatra Jones” days. She’d have to work on that “ain’t no ways tired” minstrel show accent she does, but with help from an ebonics coach and some practice at wagging her hips while waving a finger snap she should do fine.
A black lesbian Clinton might be needed to cover all the bases, along with enough American Indian ancestry to match whatever Liz Warren is claiming, but there’s no telling if the fashion for lesbianism will still be strong come election time. A black and bisexual Clinton seems a surer bet, but that new governor that Oregon installed after the other one was kicked out because of his much-younger fiancee’s phony-baloney “green energy” scams has already staked out that historic “first,” and there’s obviously no way for a Democrat to out-liberal Oregon. In any case, some sort of sexually transgressive tattoo will be required.
The “economic fairness” schtick sounds promising, since only a handful of us doctrinaire libertarians and our puppet masters the Koch Brothers are for economic un-fairness, but it’s always best to not get too specific about such things, since somebody’s ox will inevitably be gored and none of it’s likely to achieve that elusive 3 percent annual growth in the gross domestic product, so we recommend a catchy slogan instead of any policy positions. “Hope and Change” is probably too ’00s, Huey Long’s old “Every Man a King” is too gender-specific, William Jennings Bryan’s “I will not be crucified on a cross of gold” doesn’t make much sense even if you are bold enough to revive the free silver issue, and “You have nothing to lose but your chains” is a bit explicitly Marxist, so we suggest something along the more original lines of “Don’t mess with Hillary.”
Of course, the biography will take some tweaking as well. The “old” Clinton was undistinguished as a lawyer and once chortled about the child-rapist she aided despite knowledge of his guilt, was most famous as a First Lady for pretending that her philandering husband was being framed by a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” her brief tenure in the Senate produced nothing of note, and her tenure as Secretary of State was one deadly blunder after another, so the “new” Clinton will need some accomplishments that the press will be willing to report. Given the willingness of the press, these deeds can be as fanciful as the claims made for Coca-Cola and Southwest Airlines. Our tale would begin with Clinton being born in a little log cabin that she built with her own two hands, then her years at sea with a kindly old Portuguese sailor, followed a storybook marriage written by someone other Jacqueline Susann, more talk about her being “dead broke” from all the lawsuits stemming from problems that we really don’t want to get into, and then her sudden epiphany during a strangely erotic Beyonce concert at the White House that she is and always has been a black woman. Along the way there will be world peace and economic revival achieved and vast right-wing conspiracies quashed, and the focus groups love all that stuff.
Authenticity is what counts most in politics, however, and once we teach Clinton how to fake that we’re sure she’ll be a sure-fire winner in the market place. With our well-remunerated help she could be even bigger than New Coke.

– Bud Norman

Paying the Ultimate Price

The headlines announced that 21 Egyptians were beheaded in a rebel-controlled portion of Libya this week, but it usually required reading several paragraphs into the stories to learn that the men were so cruelly executed by the Islamic State not because of their nationality but because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.
Much of the media and all of the administration officials they quoted are clearly uncomfortable reporting these rather crucial details, for various reasons. The murderous presence of the Islamic State in Libya does not confirm the administration’s reassuring claims of a “jayvee team” of terrorism being routed by coalition forces, the terror gang’s name and Koranic methods of execution make it harder to convince a skeptical public that none of this unpleasantness has anything to do with Islam, the numbing frequency of such atrocities suggest that there’s something more historically significant to it than those routine murders and car wrecks that the ratings-hungry local stations prefer to cover instead of climate change, and the spectacle of Christians dying for their faith poses all sorts of problems to the modern liberal worldview.
Those of us in the west who still who profess a Christian faith at Sunday worship services and struggle unworthily to live according to its teachings through the rest of the week have been long accustomed to the blessing of doing so without risk to our fortunes or personal safety, but we all still wonder from time to time if we’d be willing to pay the same ultimate price of discipleship as those 21 Egyptians. Anyone outspoken about traditional Biblical views on sexual morality can expect to be stripped of a beauty queen title or denied a high-level position in the high-tech business or have their reality show knocked off a cable network or be denied the right to sell a chicken sandwich in Boston, and even the most quietly and inconspicuously observant Christians will be subject to frequent ridicule on the sit-coms and talk shows, and their kids are going to get an earful of sneering during four years of college, and any presidential aspirants who espouse a Christian faith should expect all sorts of pointed questions about evolution and contraception, but being beheaded or burned alive is not as of yet a concern to the western Christian. Hearing from those parts of the world where Christianity does entail such risks, and of the brave and fervent women there who gladly face that danger for the faith, we cannot help but admire their courage and be humbly thankful we have not yet been called upon to face the same test.
Surely the unchurched are similarly moved to self-examination about the strength of their own convictions, and we suspect that in many cases they find it all the more discomfortingly humbling. Most of our outspokenly atheistic friends are unembarrassed to say they would immediately renounce their non-beliefs to avoid a beheading or some other grisly death, and reasonably argue that this is entirely consistent with their belief in rationalism, but none can be proud that they would be furthering the cause of an extraordinarily evil ideology. That the Islamic State’s evil is murderously misogynistic, anti-homosexual, anti-intellectual, and imperialist, all to an extent that even the most fevered imaginations of the left cannot claim the Republican Party to be, requires some some condemnation that a secular liberal would be embarrassed to recant in any circumstances. The Islamic State might be another Viet Cong or Shining Path or similarly beloved guerrilla movement if they’d only stick to killing Christians and start insisting on unisex bathroom facilities and a low-carbon-footprint economy in the areas they conquered, but the sex slavery and the internecine slaughter and all that God talk make it a hard sell to the sensitive left. No one on the left seems to have anything kind to say about the Islamic State, and one can’t help noticing that they’d therefore rather not say anything at all.
Secular liberals find it hard to comprehend why a Christian would prefer death to apostasy, or why the men and women of our military voluntarily put their lives at risk in defense of the nation, and like John Lennon in his obnoxious secular liberal anthem they try to imagine a world where there’s nothing to live or die for, and this failure of imagination inevitably leads to bad policy. It’s why State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf is on television talking about poverty and discrimination and the other “root causes” of terrorism that can only be combatted with some all-out community-organizing and Keynesian economics, as if thousands of Muslims weren’t fleeing the material comforts and multi-cultural blandishments of the European welfare state to join the Islamic State in its slaughter across a blighted desert, and as if some Peace Corps volunteer could reach into a card file and some private sector opportunity for a jihadi’s head-chopping talents. It’s why the President of the United States is addressing a “summit” on “violent extremism” without specifying any particular ideologies that might be causing such a nasty thing, and warning Christians against “getting on a high horse” about anything the Islamic State might be up to, and ruling out the option of any prolonged combat operations in his request to Congress for ta mere three years’ of the use of military force. The thought that some Great Society programs and soothing words and a few well-placed airstrikes will dissuade the Islamic State and like-minded self-professed Muslims from chopping the heads off Christians and Jews and anyone else standing in the way of their global domination could only occur to someone who does not understand religious motivation.
Nor does the secular liberal understand the crucial distinctions between the various religions, or take notice of the results they motivate. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all the same Abrahamic hooey as far as a modern sensibility is concerned, and Buddhism is accorded a self-congratulatory respect except when it bumps up against Chinese communism and Hinduism is tolerated with certain sense of intellectual superiority except during its frequent conflicts with Islam, but the whole notion of religion and a faith that looks through death and powers greater than one’s self or even the federal government during Democratic administrations is regarded with an eye-rolling suspicion. If only all the world had the same enlightened rationalism as Stalin, Mao, and Hitler, the theory goes, surely the world would be a more peaceful place. Over at CNN they reported on seven days of carnage as “Religion’s week from hell,” noting that “Christians, Muslims and Jews alike fell prey to assaults,” then having an editor of the “Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence” explain that “if you want to rally troops to your side, few tools are more powerful than religion,” and only then obliquely admitted that each of the acts of violence were carried out by people proclaiming to act in the name of one particular religion. They threw in the case of the self-proclaimed secular liberal and “anti-theist” who allegedly killed three Muslim neighbors in North Carolina, apparently over a parking dispute, but it still seems odd to attribute all the mayhem to “religion” generally, as if all those symbols on the “co-exist” bumper stickers were equally prone to beheading or setting afire anyone they regard as infidels.
The failure to make such distinctions will make it impossible to deal effectively with such fiercely religious foes as the Islamic State and like-minded organizations. The people of more peaceable religions will be needed in the fight, and the fight must offer something worth dying for. Like all other faiths secular liberalism prides itself on its martyrs, from Joe Hill to Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney to the Kennedy Brothers and all those Hollywood screenwriters who had to work in television during the blacklist years, but we expect its foot soldiers would rather serve on the safer battlefield of the Republicans’ “war on women” than engage “violent extremism” selling women into sex slavery. The sense of moral superiority that such politics affords the secular liberal has no more appeal to the religious nature than a life of welfare dependency or a Great Society make-work job, and the west will need more if it hopes to win the hearts and minds of those drawn to a theology of slaughter and conquest.
Whether they’re Islamic or not, the Islamic State and like-minded organizations are waging war on the west, its gay bars and health clinics as well as its churches and synagogues, convinced that they’re doing it according to the most careful reading of Islamic scripture, and will not stop until they have been militarily defeated. Even then an evil impulse will lurk in the heart of man, and something better in our nature will be required to defeat it. Perhaps secular liberalism will yet find something it can effect through government, but for now a higher power seems required.

– Bud Norman

A Leap of Faith and Freedom

The news was full of artful evasions about “violent extremism,” a judicial order against the president’s executive order on illegal immigration, Bruce Jenner’s sexual transformation and automotive misadventures, and similarly weighty matters, but our eye was caught by the story about people jumping out of windows in Boston. It’s not a mass outbreak of suicide attempts, although we can easily imagine how a Boston winter might cause one, but rather a rash of thrill-seekers diving from two- or three-story dwellings into the gigantic snowbanks that have piled up over an especially snowy season. There have been no injuries or fatalities as a result of the pastime, so far as we can glean from the press reports, but the Mayor of Boston nonetheless felt to obliged to tell his constituents to “stop their nonsense right now.”
Which struck us as precisely the sort of bossiness that is bullying America into an increasingly risk-averse, compliant, and joyless state. The days have long passed since we would be tempted to defenestrate ourselves into even the fluffiest pile of snow, or have any more interaction with the stuff than is strictly necessary, but it’s not the sort of nonsense that a mayor should demand free citizens stop right now. If you’re young enough, and bored enough, and don’t mind being enveloped in frozen water, it might even be fun.
It could prove dangerous to jump from a second story window onto a sports utility vehicle or other hard object that is covered by just enough snow to make it look like a fluffy snowbank, and we don’t doubt that there are people in Boston dumb enough to do that, judging by the students and faculty at the city’s most elite universities, but that’s no reason not to jump into a snowbank of confirmed fluffiness. If the mayor is going to demand a stop to all the specific sorts of nonsense people are doing in his city that might prove injurious to those who are dumb enough, his press conferences are going to stretch long into the night.
Popular culture has always depicted parochial small-town Republican conservatives as the blue-nosed scolds telling those crazy youngsters with their rock ‘n’ roll dancing and free love and leaps from second story windows to “stop their nonsense right now,” but the stereotype is long out of date. Boston is about as big city and sophisticated as America gets, there hasn’t been a Republican mayor there since 1930, the last conservatives in the city were the ones who threw the eponymous “tea party” prior to the Revolutionary War. and yet it retains the traditional “banned in Boston” impulse that small town folk still chuckle about as they jump from barn lofts onto haystacks and ride sleds tethered to pick-up trucks and do backflips on motorcycles and all manner of redneck bravado. The impulse to tame such rural exuberance is not to unique to Boston, though, but typical of urban and sophisticated America.
Bans on public smoking and children playing in parks unattended and anyone riding a bicycle without a helmet are not a product of parochial small-town Republican conservatism. Nor are the consent forms that college students are being asked to sign before coupling and the speech codes being promulgated to make sure that no one is offended by anything anyone else might say, or any of the rest of the on-going effort to keep everyone safe and un-offended and not a cost to the socialized health system, no matter how dumb they might be. The small towns still have salt shakers on the table at the local diner, unlike the elegant eateries in New York City, and you can fill as a big a bucket of soda as you care to drink at the convenience store, and we daresay there’s a wider range of opinions that you can express as well.
So we are delighted to hear of Bostonians leaping from tall windows, a welcome sign that a bit of that risk-taking rebellious small town spirit still exists so far northeast as Boston. We wish them a pleasant journey on their way down, hope that they land safely in cushioning snow rather than injuriously onto a sports utility vehicle, and urge that they ignore their bossy old scold of a mayor.

– Bud Norman

The Veep Is a Creep

One of the questions those snide man-on-the-street interviewers always ask to demonstrate the public’s appalling political ignorance is the name of the Vice President of the United States. It’s the sort of general knowledge that any enfranchised citizen should possess, and we always wince when watching the videotapes of all those public school graduates who aren’t even embarrassed to admit their ignorance, but these days we can hardly blame anyone who does not share our obsessive interest in politics for not knowing the answer. Vice President Joe Biden — which is the correct answer to that trick question, in case you were wondering — is such an inconsequential public figure, and so assiduously ignored by the media, that he’s not a household name.
The man is an utter boob and a heartbeat away from the presidency, however, and sometimes even the most deliberately unseeing media are obliged to take notice. On Tuesday the vice president had to deal with such routine chores as reading some tele-promptered compliments at a swearing-in ceremony and saying some anodyne remarks during a White House summit on carefully unspecified forms of “violent extremism,” and on both occasions he managed to provoke unfriendly coverage from even the friendliest media.
The swearing-in ceremony for new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter should have been a deeply-buried brief in most newspapers, but the lowly scribes assigned to the affair wound up with some prominenst placement after Biden spent an uncomfortable amount of the proceedings rubbing the shoulders, whispering in the ear, and seemingly smelling the hair of the wife of the man being charged with the nation’s defense. No less an administration stenographer than the Associated Press found that “VP’s Odd Move Gives Pause,” the cheekier New York Post described it as “snuggling,” and the unabashedly conservative PJ Tatler was frank enough to call it “creepy.” The New York Post recalled that Biden elicited a similar discomfort among the object of his interest and all onlookers at the swearing-in for Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, whose young daughter is shown in a photograph in an apparent state of discomfort during the Vice President’s kiss on the cheek, and quotes one of innumerable “tweeters” using the term “creepy.
At the White House summit Biden provoked an even pricklier discomfort by attempting to endear himself to a largely Muslim and African crowd with some talk about how about how some of his best friends back in hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, are Somali. He told the crowd that “if you ever come to the train station you may notice that I have great relations with them, because an awful lot of them are driving cabs, and are friends of mine,” and even the Associated Press couldn’t help but admit that the audience “responded with muted, uncomfortable chuckles.” This obligated a recollection of Biden’s famous gaffe from his 2006 senatorial campaign about the Indian-American ownership of convenience stores and donut shops, although they were kind enough to neglect mention of his 2008 observations on rival presidential candidate being a “clean, articulate” African-American. or numerous other similar embarrassments.
The long history of Biden’s boobish behavior was too much for even such an impeccably liberal publications as Talking Points Memo, where a young writer from the sisterhood was allowed space to wonder “Why Does Creepy Uncle Joe Biden Get a Pass From Liberals?” The author admits she feels badly about giving succor to her conservative opponents who have long complained a media double-standard that protects Democrats from public scorn, and worries that she might be a “bad feminist,” but to her credit can no longer hide her dismay that Biden is not such a national laughingstock that even those man-on-the-street interviewees know his name. She notes some other little-noted instances of Biden’s creepiness toward women, rightly calls him out on his foul language to mark to the occasion of Obamacare being signed into law, although she probably thinks it diminished an otherwise august event, and generously concedes that a Republican guilty of the same offenses probably would have drawn more scorn.
We have no doubt that Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, and even a vice presidential contender such as Sarah Palin would all agree. Agnew did what Maryland politicians, usually Democrats, have always done, but was brought done mostly by the class resentments of those “nattering nabobs of negativism” that he railed against. Quayle once misspelled the word “potato,” and was scolded by an older man that he was no Jack Kennedy, and his reputation as a fool never recovered. Cheney was too obviously smart to be caricatured as dumb, so he was instead portrayed as the evil genius behind the dumb president. We’re still not sure how Palin’s reputation for saying stupid things came about, although Tina Fey did do a very convincing impersonation of her saying very stupid things. None of them were nearly so boobish as Biden, and even the Darth Vader-ish public image that the press managed to hang on Cheney is quite so creepy, and yet all would have been easy answer to those man-on-the-street interviewers.

– Bud Norman

The Joke’s On the Right

An inordinate amount of attention has already been paid to the announcement of Jon Stewart’s departure from television’s “Daily Show,” and we have nothing to add to all the fawning that’s been going on. The smart fellows over at The Atlantic Monthly have seized the occasion to wonder why no conservatives have achieved such satirical prominence, however, and we can’t resist the opportunity for our own lofty rumination on the sorry state of political humor.
Our answer to The Atlantic’s rhetorical query, which they seem not to have considered, is that the people who have the opinion-making power to elevate a satirist to Stewart’s otherwise inexplicable prominence are disinclined to bring any conservative to such heights. Less convincing is the magazine’s theory that “proportionately fewer people with broadly conservative sensibilities choose to become comedians.” The article contends that an abundance of cable channels should surely offer entry to a worthy conservative comic, as if all those channels weren’t run by the same handful of big media companies and a half-hour on any one of them is worth having without expensive promotion on all the others and plenty of hype from the big print and internet media owned largely by the same companies, and it notes that liberals also predominate in academia, journalism, and other writing professions, as if there was no organized resistance to conservatism in any of those fields, but does not explain why “broadly conservative sensibilities” would be less likely to crack a joke. A comedy career requires “years of irregular income, late hours, and travel, as well as a certain tolerance for crudeness and heckling,” the article offers, but we can’t help noticing the same rigors have not conservatives from notable success almost everywhere else in the entrepreneurial world.
Our own broad experience of humanity and comedy and the indistinguishable difference between the two finds little correlation between political inclination and a sense of humor. We have known some conservatives who closely resembled the popular stereotype of a humorless right-winger, and like the article’s authors we have even known some who failed to realize that Stephen Colbert’s tiresome right-wing schtick was parody, but some of the very funniest people we have known derived their excellent humor from the unflinching postlapsarian realism that is the essence of Judeo-Christian-Hellenic-Burkean conservatism. We have shared many a heart laugh with left-wingers, some of whom make for surprisingly pleasant company, but we have also often encountered the living embodiments of the famous stereotype of “that’s not funny” feminists, those whose racial sensitivities are so refined they can’t laugh at “Blazing Saddles,” and plenty of low-information sorts who won’t recognize any joke unless it involves George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, or the term “tea bagger.”
Despite the ideological prejudices of academia, journalism, late night cable television comedy, and the rest of the writing professions, Evelyn Waugh and Robertson Davies and George Orwell and Kingsley Amis and Tom Wolfe still enjoy literary prominence despite their “broadly conservative sensibilities.” In Wolfe’s case his reputation was cemented before the critics noticed that between the lines of his pop art prose was neoclassical politics, and that his straightforward and factually true reportage was devastatingly arch satire, and in recent years the best of conservative humor that has filtered through the popular culture has been as sly. Those of us who like our humor as dry as the perfect martini find this an endearing trait of the better right-wing wags, and we offer it as proof that the highest humor is not incompatible with “broadly conservative sensibilities,” but we ruefully acknowledge it is it not to the public’s taste. Still, we not convinced by the liberals’ ideologically inconsistent and oh-so-smug argument that the market place has spoken. Stewart’s viewership in most markets is less than the equally vulgar left-wing agitprop on the “Family Guy” re-runs, his much-ballyhooed numbers in the much-coveted youthful demographic suggest the susceptibility of his niche audience, and the rest of his supposed influence seems to be his popularity with the more influential media. We’re left wondering if someone who could read tele-promptered jokes about Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or liberalism in general with the same smirking superficiality would do just as well.
Nor do we concur with The Atlantic Monthly’s pondering that “Political humor, in particular, might have an inherently liberal bias.” The article quotes the author of a book titled “A Conservative Walks Into a Bar,” which we have to admit is a pretty good title, as saying “Conservatism supports institutions and satire aims to knock these institutions down a peg.” As much as we like her book title, the woman is clearly delusional. The federal and state local governments and academia, journalism, late night television comedy and the rest of the writing professions, not to mention the public service unions and K-12 establishment and the group identity political organizations and what’s left of the music business, are by now combined as the most powerful institutions in the country, and conservative humor strives to take them all down more than a peg. The institutions of family, church, and individual liberty that conservatism seeks to conserve have all been knocked out of view by the past 100 years of institutionally-approved ridicule, yet a “Daily Show”-sized audience seems not to have noticed that the cutting-edge satire has become mere chest-thumping triumphalism. The audience is invited to share in the victory and membership in hipped crowd, and when accompanied by a knowing smirk that always gets a laugh.

They won’t come right out and say so, but the smart fellows at The Atlantic Monthly seem to believe that a conservative comedian is handicapped by the fact that there’s just nothing very funny about liberalism. They suggest that President Barack Obama, for instance, “is a more difficult target than his Republican predecessor: He was the first African-American president, which meant comedians had to tip-toe around anything with racial connotations, and his restrained personality has made him difficult to parody.” Had the authors known any humorists of “broadly conservative sensibilities,” they would have noticed that it’s impossible not to step into the carnival of white guilt that has sustained the president’s career, and that his “restrained personality” is prone to speaking with his chin aloft in front of styrofoam Greek columns and issuing alternately lofty and harshly partisan pronouncements on the way to the golf course. For those satirists so daringly iconoclastic as to proceed without tip-toeing around anything with racial connotations, the man is a gold mine rather than mine field. Don’t get us started on Hillary Clinton, as we’ve got material for two shows. We’ve got even more on the rest of the Democratic party’s presidential field, but none have the name recognition that would ensure audience understanding. If the cable channels aren’t interested, we suspect there’s something more than afoot than market forces.
We wish Jon Stewart well in his inevitable next endeavor, and are confident there will always be an audience for his knowing smirks, but we can’t help hoping that something a little more anti-establishment might come along in his wake.

– Bud Norman

The Problem That Cannot Be Named

There is much going on the world that we are expected to believe has nothing to do with Islam. Just over the past weekend a symposium on free speech in Copenhagen was attacked by a gunman who murdered a cartoonist who dared portray Mohammad in a satirical manner, and later that same day in that city there was another murder outside of a synagogue where a young woman was having her Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Meanwhile the terrorist army calling itself Islamic State continues its bloody spree across a large swathe of the Middle East with mass executions by the most the barbaric methods proscribed in Koranic scripture, extending its influence into new countries and to within a few miles of the last American troops remaining in Iraq, with similar problems occurring in nations from Yemen to Libya and beyond.
No less a progressive personage than the President of the United States has declared that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” and described the Parisian kosher deli where other Jews were recently murdered as a “random” target, and assured the public that the Islamic State is a “jayvee team” of terrorism and “the tide of war is receding,” and insists on the tautology that known of this can possibly have anything to do with Islam because Islam is a religion of peace. He has issued the obligatory statement condemning the murder of the Danish cartoonist, without any mention of what might have motivated it, although he was too busy with golf and fund-raisers to comment on the attack at the Danish synagogue. If if all he knows about that attack is what he read in The New York Times he won’t even know that it was at a synagogue, and he’ll probably attribute that coverage to the same “if it bleeds it leads” journalism that prompts coverage of car wrecks and local crime, but he will no doubt be troubled to learn from that paper’s reports that “anti-Muslim sentiment is one the rise on in Europe.”
Despite his boasts of having pulled all but a relative handful of troops of Iraq, mostly those “advisers” who know find themselves within shelling distance of the Islamic State, and despite his many years of criticizing the congressional action that sent troops to Iraq in the first place, the president has dispatched troops to Kuwait and asked Congress to pass an authorization for the use of military force against whatever is causing this recent trouble. The authorization would only grant three years of military force and prohibits “enduring offensive ground combat operations,” which is facing opposition from both Republican hawks who find it too passive and Democratic doves who find it too bellicose, but at least it represents an acknowledgement that something is causing a problem.
Naming the source of that problem might be a good start toward solving it, but that step apparently must wait at least another two years. In the meantime, we’ll be too polite to admit that it is what the perpetrators insist it is.

– Bud Norman

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