The Latest Twist in the Weiner Saga

Soap operas rarely have any appeal for us, but somehow we just can’t turn away from the tawdry tale of Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin. In the latest installment of their long-running saga the tabloid-worthy political power couple are once again splitsville, and fans are once again left wondering if this might be the series finale.
If you’ve been too enrapt by the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of somewhere or another to have been paying attention, Abedin is a longtime aide and confidant to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Weiner is a former Democratic New York congressman and mayoral candidate, and ever since their fateful meeting at a Democratic National Committee retreat on Martha’s Vineyard back in in ’01 they’ve been a well-publicized Democratic item. She’s Muslim and he’s Jewish, both have a certain exotic if slightly equine photogenic look about them, and given such hackneyed Hollywood plot twists of course the press couldn’t resist covering their courtship. By ’08 even such an elegant print publication as Vogue Magazine was quoting Abedin gushing that “He was smart, he was passionate. When he wanted to do something that he thought was the right thing to do, he would not give up. The kind of dedication and passion he had for helping people, I found very attractive and inspiring.” With slightly less fanfare than Tiny Tim got when he married Miss Vickie on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” the couple married in ’10, with former President and noted philanderer Bill Clinton officiating, and its been a most fascinating downward spiral for them ever since.
When Clinton became Secretary of State even the more polite press started to notice that her longtime aide and confidant was not only a Muslim but the daughter of a mother and father who were both alarmingly high-ranking members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the radical Islamist group that pretty much started the whole modern radical Islamist thing in Egypt way back in the 1920s, and when the administration of President Barack Obama started inviting Muslim Brotherhood members to the front rows of his famous Cairo speech and later siding with the Muslim Brotherhood’s coup of a flawed but American-friendly regime in Egypt during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State the more impolite conservative press began to question her influence. Such rude sorts as ourselves went so far to liken her to the latest iteration of Alger Hiss, the commie who had high State Department security clearances during the Roosevelt administration, and to even make comic allusions to the persistent lesbian rumors. Her name kept popping up as a questioned witness during all the other unavoidable scandals that have attended Clinton’s political career, and the latest reports are that her Muslim Brotherhood mother authored some articles about women’s right that are not likely to pass muster with modern western feminism.
Meanwhile, Weiner was earning his own weird celebrity. As a Democratic congressman he had found a die-hard following of Democratic fans who loved his name-calling and schoolyard-taunting and “at least he fights” style of rhetoric against those darned Republicans, but at some point in ’11 even the most polite press were forced report that at the same time he’d also been “sexting” pictures of his underwear-clad private parts to various women who were unfortunately willing to go on the record about it. We suspect that Weiner’s impeccable Democratic credentials would have spared him ridicule on the late night comedy shows in most circumstances, but the guy’s name is “Weiner,” for crying out loud, and “sexting” was a hot topic, so even Weiner’s best friends on the late night comedy shows couldn’t resist making sport of him. It was enough to force his resignation from congress, which he announced with Abedin conspicuously not by his side, and to keep the melodrama going.
The pregnant Abedin continued her relationships with both Clinton and Weiner, and all the parties seem to heave weathered the scandal with reputations intact by modern standards, and in ’13 Weiner even announced his bid to become mayor of New York City. Fueled by his name-calling and schoolyard-taunting and “at least he fights” rhetoric against those darned Republicans, who are hardly a problem to anybody in New York City, he was rapidly gaining ground until the press was obliged to report that was still succumbing to the strange temptation to “sext” portraits of his underwear-clad private parts to various women who would go on the record about, which ended his mayoral campaign but not the strange saga of Weiner and Abedin.

Reportedly in the last few days there have been more “sexted” cell phone portraits of the inconveniently-named Weiner, and with the couple’s toddler son nearby, and this time around Abedin is apparently finally throwing in the towel. At this point we can hardly blame her, especially given her rather rigidly old-fashioned upbringing, and even the thrice-married-to-a-nude-model Reublican nominee was saying that “she will be far better off without him.” So it seems to have come along in recent years, but so it goes in this reality age, when everyone has a sex scandal and the Muslim Brotherhood’s second generation influence on a major party nominee hardly rates a mention.

–Bud Norman

The Health Issue in an Unhealthy Presidential Election Year

One of the crazier things about this crazy election year is that the major party candidates are, by historical standards, a couple of old geezers. Either Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton or Republican nominee Donald J. Trump will likely be the oldest person ever elected to a first term as President of the United States, which seems a crazy choice for such a traditionally youth-obsessed country to be choosing from. Yet it’s no surprise, given the country’s current craze for physical fitness, that the relative haleness of the candidates has become an issue.
Even the most reliably Democratic media seem to understand that Clinton looks to be at a disadvantage on the issue. Although a year younger than Trump, Clinton hews to a less-rigorous campaign schedule than her rival, has well-documented coughing fits that never seem to bedevil Trump’s steam-of-consciousness orations, been photographed being helped up a few stairs, and is clearly unready to face any of those amazonian “ultimate fighting” women in a cage match. The headlines that tout her “excellent health” are obliged to acknowledge a couple of paragraphs into the story that they refer to released the same medical reports that acknowledge she does suffer hyperthyroidism, and until a few years ago had transverse sinus thrombosis, and still takes a regimen of a blood thinner and the purportedly energy-boosting Vitamin B12, along with antihistamines for seasonal allergies, and that she’s pushing 70 and probably with all the usual complaints of that age. Those more impolite Trump partisans on the internet go so far as to post footage of an apparent bulge on the front of her ubiquitous pants suits that might be a medical device and a dark stain on the bottom that might also be embarrassing, and they speculate everything from Parkinson’s Disease to dementia to demon possession, all of which seem alarmingly plausible enough in this crazy election year.
Although year a older than Clinton, Trump does seem the more hale of the two. He routinely bounds unaided up the steps to the platforms of well-attended rallies to enthrall his audiences with those stream-of-consciousness orations, which are no doubt tiring, and afterwards he’s always seen rushing up the steps of those “Trump”-branded airplanes to get back to New York and sleep in his bed, and he’s got those famously long fingers, and you know what that means about longevity, wink-wink nudge-nudge, not to mention those naked photos of his third wife on the front page of  The New York Post, and we know he gets by on four hours of sleep because he’s “tweeting” insults at obscure cable talk show hosts in the early morning. No wonder that Trump himself has made a campaign issue of his seemingly better health, or that his supporters have run so very far with it.
In this crazy election year, though, the Republican nominee and his more fervid supporters always seem to run too far with an issue. That Clinton is not the picture of youthful health is plain enough, and should suffice for a political issue in such a youth-obsessed and physical fitness-crazed country, but any insistence that she’s too feeble to open a pickle jar only invites the ridicule of the late night comics. Late night comic Jimmy Kimmel, who’s actually rather bipartisan in his ridicule as far as what we call from the videos that occasionally pop up in the political news, made sport of it by having special guest Clinton actually open a pickle jar on his program. The crazed conspiracy-monger and Trump supporter Alex Jones tried to debunk the stunt on his much lower-rated and tin-foil-hat-wearing “Infowars” program, where Trump has been a frequent guest, insisting over seven full minutes that the “pickle can” had been pre-opened, giving Kimmel the opportunity for higher-rated ridicule.
Trump and his supporters have the same tendency to overstate his own health, of course, which has revived another round of ridicule. Those reports of Clinton’s hyperthyroidism and seasonal allergies and all that come from her relatively routine disclosure of her medical records, whereas the Republican nominee has only disclosed a year-old letter from a doctor who wrote “To whom my concern” that Trump’s health is “extraordinary” and his blood pressure is “astonishingly excellent,” with strength and stamina that is “extraordinary,” and that overall, “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” It got a few chuckles, even at a time when Trump’s candidacy seem a quixotic prank, that a doctor would assert in such Trumpian hyperbole that the old geezer was healthier than the famously athletic and much younger Washingtons and Jeffersons and Theodore Roosevelts and other presidents the doctor had never had a chance to examine, but with Trump giving them a chance to revisit that doctor’s note the ridicule has been much harsher. Throw in that the doctor crowed how all of Trump’s disease tests had proved “positive,” which every doctor knows is actually a negative outcome for the patient, and all that Trumpian prose suggests that it’s a lot like those obviously fake letters from Epstein’s mother on the old “Welcome Back, Kotter” sit-com that were signed by “Epstein’s mother.” The National Broadcasting Company’s news division took the opportunity to interview Trump’s enthusiastically testifying doctor, who turns out to be a gastroenterologist who looks the like the last of The Grateful Dead, and he explained that he wrote the note in five minutes under stress while awaiting a limousine and that perhaps “I think I kind of picked up his kind of language and then interpreted to my own.”
In this crazy election year such dueling embarrassments are likely to cancel one another out, and in any case we don’t much care. We’d much prefer the infamously obese William Howard Taft to either one of these nominees, or even the famously hale yet actually addled-by-Huntington’s disease and drug-addiction John F. Kennedy or the polio-crippled Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and although we don’t wish anyone an early death we’d like think that either candidate’s administration would be as short-lived and inconsequential as William Henry Harrison’s. If we were making a choice based solely on a candidate’s physical fitness we’d have to go with the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, who has climbed the highest peaks on every continent and runs in grueling athletic contests despite his admitted until-recent marijuana use, and has scoffed at Trump’s physical fitness with the same foul language that Trump used when one of his Republican rivals went wobbly on torturing terror suspects. We’ve got some fundamental disagreements with him, too, though, no matter how buff and mellow he might be, so there’s still no telling how we’ll wind up voting in this crazy election year.
Perhaps we’d write in Jack LaLanne, but even he didn’t last forever.

— Bud Norman

Racism and the Race

For so long as we can remember, which stretches all the way back to a vague recollection of Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater, it’s been an election year tradition for the Democratic nominee to insinuate that the Republican nominee is a racist. This crazy election year isn’t one for insinuations or other sorts of subtleties, though, so Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton just came right out on Thursday and bluntly accused the famously blunt-talking Republican nominee Donald J. Trump of telling “racist lies” and peddling conspiracy theories with “racist undertones” and “taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.”
Clinton made these claims and more at a community college in Reno, Nev., during a 31-minute address that The New York Times described as “building to a controlled simmer,” and we must admit it’s a most remarkable oration. Democratic campaign surrogates have long hurled similar slurs, and as recently as last time around the Democratic vice presidential nominee was thundering to a mostly-black crowd in his most embarrassingly fake black accent that pretty much all of the Republican Party “wants to put y’all back in chains,” but this marks the first occasion when the charges were coming straight from the top of the ticket. Worse yet, for those of us who cherish memories of the previous 13 Republican presidential campaigns, the charges have never been harder to refute.
In ’64 the factual claim was that the Republican nominee had voted against the incumbent Democratic president’s landmark Civil Rights Act, which is still so revered it’s better known as The Landmark Civil Rights Act, but Goldwater’s business record and personal life showed a consistent color-blindness that still convince us he voted against it for principled concerns about property rights and such that have largely been vindicated. By ’68 the Democrats were running Hubert Humphrey, who’d first gained national attention by leading the Minnesota delegation out of the Democratic National Convention to protest the “Dixiecrats'” exclusion of black southern delegates, but the Republicans’ Nixon had a sound civil rights voting record and the best they could come up with was that his talk about restoring “law and order” to burning black neighborhoods was subliminally racist, and in ’72 Nixon was running for re-election against George McGovern, who was from South Dakota. The ’76 race pitted accidental President Gerald Ford and his impeccable civil rights voting record against former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, a one-time protege of the ax-weilding segregationist Lester Maddox, and Ford wound up with a 17 percent of the black vote that any Republican candidate of today can only dream of. Reagan won landslides in ’80 and ’84 and saw black unemployment go down and black household incomes go up, despite losing the black vote by landslide margins, and his vice president George H.W. Bush won again in ’88 despite an ad that suggested black criminal Willie Horton shouldn’t have been furloughed from prison to rape and murder a white couple, which was considered a very racist notion by some people.
With help from self-described billionaire Ross Perot splitting the crotchety old white man vote Democrat Bill Clinton knocked off Bush by plurality in ’92, and then won reelection by a landslide plurality against crotchety old white man Republican nominee Bob Dole in ’96, and all he had to do was wear some shades and play some sax and play the part of the first First Black President. In ’00 the Democrats were aghast that Republican George W. Bush had not signed a “hate crime” bill while governor of Texas, allowing some rednecks who had dragged a black man to death behind their pickup to get off light with a mere death penalty, and in ’04 the Democrats were running the son of a segregationist southern Senator against the incumbent son of a Republican Congressman with an impeccable civil rights record, and we seem to recall that the latter won a respectable 4 or 5 percent of the black vote. In ’08 the racist rap on the Republican was that he had the audacity to be running against the potential actual First Black President, and by ’12 they were reduced that preposterous vice presidential rant about Republicans wanting to “put y’all in chains.”
In this crazy election year, though, we find it hard to rise to the Republican nominee’s defense. Goldwater took the extraordinary step of integrating his family’s prosperous department stores at a time when it was bound to a negative effect on its sales, but Clinton is factually correct in noting that Trump’s record in his prosperous family business includes an expensive settlement with the Justice Department over allegations of racial discrimination at a Brooklyn apartment complex. Trump is using the same “law and order” line that Nixon coined back in ’68, and it’s still black neighborhoods that are burning, but we can’t imagine even “Tricky Dick” praising the “strong” reaction of the Chinese government to the Tiananmen Square “riots” or inviting his campaign rallies to punch a protestor in the face, and really can’t fault our ghetto-dwelling friends for wondering what he might might mean by that. The younger Bush signed off on a death warrant for that redneck who dragged a black man to death behind his pickup, and he had good reasons not to sign that “hate crime” law, but Trump paid for a full page ad in an expensive New York newspaper that called for the death penalty against some young black men accused of a horrible gang rape, and he didn’t back down after the young men were exonerated by physical evidence. Trump can’t point to the impeccable voting records of a Ford or a elder Bush or even such crotchety old white man as Dole, never having held any public office, he’s certainly no Reagan, and his long public record of providing quotable quips to the tabloid press is rife with material for Democratic attack ads.
As much as we hate to give the devil her due, Clinton is also right about Trump’s penchant for bizarre conspiracy theories. He’s a frequent guest and unabashed admirer of the downright deranged Alex Jones and his “Infowars” outfit, which is at least bipartisan crazy enough to have been spinning looney ideas about both Democratic and Republican administrations for years, including that Bush Lied, People Died nonsense the Republican nominee now spouts, and even after he wrapped up the Republican nomination he was still touting The National Enquirer for a Pulitzer Prize for exposing how vanquished rival and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ father had been in on the Kennedy assassination. We suppose he’s still insisting that First Black President Barack Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii, with whatever “racist undertones” that might carry, and as much as we’d like to believe it we’re still awaiting the long-promised proof.
Nor can we honestly deny that a worrisome segment of Trump’s support comes from some very unsavory people. We don’t mean the insignificant number of unabashedly racist yahoos in pointy-headed robes who always wind up supporting even the Republicans with the impeccable civil rights voting records because they’re at least not openly hostile to white people, but rather that small but more sophisticated number of unsavory sorts who are savvy enough to call themselves the “alt-right.” The term is newly-coined and the movement seemingly newly-fledged, and is thus hard to define at any given moment, but at all times it is explicitly nationalist and racialist and what most people would consider misogynist. They’re not much enthused about capitalism or constitutionalism or the Judeo-Christian tradition of any of that old-fashioned right stuff, and are “far-right” more in the European sense than by recent Republican terms.
They seem to have an even greater disdain for the Republican Party as previously constituted than they do for the Democrats, and in the comments section of almost any article slightly suspicious of Trump they refer to such GOP throwbacks as ourselves as “cuckservatives.” If you’re not familiar with this neologism, it’s a portmanteau of “conservative,” or “so called conservative,” and “cuckold,” an ancient term for a betrayed husband and a more recent reference to an obscure pornographic genre, which is meant to suggest that any white man claiming to be a conservative but isn’t a white nationalist secretly harbors a desire to see his wife ravaged by black men. Clinton makes the claim that they’ve hijacked the Republican Party, and as much as we’d like to disbelieve it they’re making the very same claim.
In every other election we can recall we could have said that it’s not the Republican nominee’s fault that such unsavory people are supporting him, and that it’s just because he’s not openly hostile to white people, but in this crazy election year the Republican nominee’s “chief executive officer” was until recently running a website that he bragged was “the platform for the alt-right.” Stephen Bannon’s “Brietbart News” also provided plenty of fodder for Democratic attack ads with such headlines as “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer,” “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” and “Dear Straight People: I’m Officially Giving You Permission to Say Gay, Faggot and Queer.” That last one topped a piece by “alt-right” apologist Milo Yiannopolous, who is openly homosexual and therefore feels entitled to confer such permission, and we expect there are nuanced arguments to be on behalf of the others, but this isn’t a year for such subtleties, so we’ll leave it to Trump and his campaign’s “chief executive officer” to make own defense. So far that seems to involve walking back on all that mass deportation talk that got the fans so riled up, while assuring them he’ll still be firm, and countering that Clinton’s the bigot.
If this were a year for subtleties, and the Republicans were running one of those boring old “cuckservatives” with the impeccable civil rights records and fending off just the usual implausible insinuations, we suspect that Clinton would be on the defensive. She and her party are beholden to a frankly nationalist and racialist “Black Lives Matter” movement that is openly hostile to white people, and leaving black neighborhoods in flames and putting black lives at risk in the process. Neither she nor that First Black President who promised a post-racial America have condemned the naked race hatred that had mobs chasing down black passersby in Milwaukee, and a boring old “cuckservative” who had been “tweeting” obviously bogus statistics about the serious enough problem of black-on-white violence might have made hay of that. A boring old “cuckservative” could be making a case that capitalism and constitutionalism can create an ever-expanding economy that all can share in under a constitutional system ensuring individual liberty, instead of crowing that “I alone can solve,” and we would probably be talking mostly about the Democratic nominee’s latest corruption scandals and how she’s utterly unfit to be president.
At least Clinton’s speech acknowledged that all that past Republican presidential nominees weren’t so racist as was insinuated at the time, and that Romney didn’t really want to put all the black people back in chains, and that Trump isn’t really a conservative in the sense we cling to, but we’re sure that will be long forgotten the next time the Republicans have the good sense to nominate some old-fashioned “cuckservative” with an impeccable civil rights record. In the meantime, Lord, how we hate this crazy election cycle.

— Bud Norman

At the Vortex of Politics and Show Biz

In our desperation to find something to read and write about other than that awful presidential race we even looked in on the latest celebrity news the other day, but of course we could find no respite there.
The Los Angeles Times covers Hollywood with the same avid interest that The Detroit Free Press covers the automotive trade and The Wichita Eagle covers the general aviation biz, so its internet front page featured a pleasantly diverting take on the disappointing opening weekend box office take for the latest big-budget “Ben Hur,” which the writer reported was the latest summer dud “in a glut of reboots, sequels, and remakes that audiences don’t want.” That only reminded us that the next four years will be either a sequel to the scandalous Clinton mini-series or a re-boot of “Celebrity Apprentice,” however, and we couldn’t help clicking on another front page headline blaring that “Donald Trump delivers his biggest insult yet, demeaning celebrities for their not-hotness.”
After Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton took in a huge fund-raising haul on her trip to Hollywood, Republican nominee Trump told a presumably less star-studded crowd in Tampa, Florida, that “The only enthusiastic supporters of her campaign are Hollywood celebrities, in many cases celebrities that aren’t very hot anymore.” With the same company town enthusiasm that The Detroit Free Press celebrated the auto bail-outs, and The Wichita Eagle protested President Barack Obama’s rhetoric against “corporate jets,” The Los Angeles Times stood up for its hometown workers by noting that that Clinton’s contributors included such familiar names as Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Anniston, Cher, Jamie Foxx, Kanye West, and George Clooney, while noting that Scott “Chachi” Baio of “Happy Days” fame was “the closest thing to an A-list celebrity at the Republican National Convention Last Month.”
At that point we were just a click away from the paper’s “Celebrity endorsement tracker,” and of course there was no resisting that vortex of show biz and politics. We’ll assume that The Los Angeles Times’ tracking of celebrity endorsements is definitive, and we’re not at all surprised that it shows the usual Democratic advantage. You’ll have to scroll down nearly halfway before you run out of mug shots of Clinton’s big name and big bucks supporters, and then more than halfway down to get through the ones who were supporting self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders back in the day back when that crazy idea seems possible. Both lists include several other people so darned famous that even we’ve heard of them, even if we’ve never seen any of their movies or heard any of their songs, as well as some folks such as Dick Van Dyke and Tony Bennett who aren’t that hot anymore but we well remember from their glory days, along with the same old lineup of usual suspects that we’ve never heard of all and some others that we are only vaguely and unpleasantly aware of.
By now the gold-plated Trump brand has more universal name recognition than any of those actors or rappers or singers or hoofers or leaked-sex-tape stars, however, and even The Los Angeles Times is obliged to report that he has also has some well-known supporters. Along with the aforementioned Baio there’s Gary Busey, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his title role performance in “The Buddy Holly Story” some decades back and is otherwise best known as that crazy guy on “Celebrity Apprentice,” and Jon Voight, who brilliantly played Joe Buck in “Midnight Cowboy” and the guy with the “pretty mouth” who climbed that cliff in “Deliverance” among other great roles, but is now best known as the father of that Angelina Jolie woman, and Kid Rock, whose strange combination of inner-city rap and trailer-park country and past collaboration with a midget were sort of endearing to us. He’s also got the support of such sports figures as former heavyweight champion of the world and convicted rapist and admitted wife-beater and ear-biting thug “Iron” Mike Tyson, Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, the cross-dressing basketball power forward from the ’90s and more recently a good friend of the North Korean dictatorship and contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice,” and basketball coach Bobby Knight, who was fired from Indiana University despite a Hall of Fame-calber career for being an abrasive and insulting and temperamental jerk. The professional wrestling star Hulk Hogan, who recently put the Gawker website out of business by suing them for releasing a leaked sex tape of him and somebody else whose name we should probably know, is also on board with his fellow former World Wrestling Entertainment headliner, as is heavy metal guitarist Ted “Motor City Madman” Nugent, who we have to admit laid down a hell of a guitar solo on “Baby Please Don’t Go” way back in The Amboy Dukes days.
The Los Angeles Times has been keeping track of this long enough to note that Republican runner-up Texas Sen. Cruz’ only endorsement was from one of those long-bearded guys on that “Duck Dynasty” show, which we’ve never seen and are not sure is still on the air, and that third-place finisher Ohio Gov. John Kasich never racked up a single celebrity endorsement. This seems to suggest that celebrity endorsements have some worrisome effect, but at this point have no idea what it will be. We care not a whit what any of these celebrities think, the nominees and non-nominees alike, even the ones whose careers we have enjoyed and whose personalities we have found pleasant enough presences on our popular culture, and we can’t discount that possibility that even the worst of them might by happenstance be right about whose more awful in this horrible presidential race.
Lately our tastes in entertainment and culture have run more to the “alternative” offerings, and we’ll also wind up casting a meaningless vote in that direction. Except for the exceptional case of Ronald Reagan we haven’t paid any attention to an actor’s political opinions since John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart died, and we’re not about to start now. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky is said to be a brilliant linguist, but his political opinions are pure idiocy, and the Nobel Prize-winning William Shockley was undeniably sharp about physics but as clearly batty about his white supremacism, and we don’t see how a proficiency for acting or singing or rapping or rebounding, or even such a square jaw as George Clooney posses, is a better indicator of political wisdom.
There used to be something of value to be found in America’s popular culture, back in the days where we mostly seek our alternatives, but that was in the late 19th Century when Lew Wallace had a best-seller of a novel in “Ben Hur: A Story of the Christ,” and then again in the roaring ’20s when Ramon Naverro starred in a state-of-the-silent-movie-art  version, and as recently as the year of our birth, when Charlton Heston had the title role in a remake that had sound and widescreen technicolor and thirty years of other rapid technological advances going for it. Since then all these computer generated images and other high-tech gizmos don’t seem to have improved on story-telling movie-making, and we don’t expect that “Story of the Christ” subtitle has much box-appeal these days, and the celebrities aren’t nearly so intriguing as they used to be back when they mostly kept their political opinions to themselves. That the two most recognized celebrities of the moment are pitching a Clinton mini-series sequel or a “Celebrity Apprentice” reboot suggests that by now pretty much everything is just reboots and sequels and remakes that audiences don’t want.

— Bud Norman

The Latest from a Desultory Campaign Trail

Has there even been a more awful presidential race in the history of the American republic? Every day seems to bring a fresh batch of headlines reminding us why we don’t want either of the likely winners anywhere near the White House.
Thanks to the efforts of the last honorable men and women left at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the dogged right-wing watchdogs at Judicial Watch, the public now has access to some 15,000 e-mails that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton tried to keep from outside scrutiny, which is a scandal in itself, and they reveal that big-money contributors to her family foundation had a better than 50 percent chance of getting some sit-down time with her while she was Secretary of State. Even such polite media as the Associated Press and The New York Times and The Washington Post felt obliged to give it front page prominence, and to concede that it looks very, very bad for the Democratic nominee. To our more historically informed eyes, it looks even worse than that.
We’re old enough to vaguely recall a time before all the political scandals had the word “Gate” affixed to them, in honor of the gold standard “Watergate Scandal” of the Nixon-era 70’s, and instead they’d include the word “Dome,” a reference to the previous champion “Teapot Dome Scandal” of the Harding-era ’20s. Our long-ago public schooling taught us that “Teapot Dome” resulted in a Secretary of the Interior going to prison for peddling some influence on the sale of a Navy petroleum reserve at someplace in Wyoming improbably called Teapot Dome, and the philandering and gambling and foul-mouth Harding forever being consigned to the bottom ranks of presidents in all those historian polls, and yet that suddenly seems small beer compared to a Secretary of State doing the same sort of wheeling and dealing on a geo-political level. By one of those odd historical coincidences a young Clinton was a newly-fledged lawyer on the staff of the Democratic committee investigating Watergate, before she got she fired for overzealous incompetence, but after nearly 30 years of Cattle Futures-gate and Whitewater-gate and Travel-gate and File-gate and Monica-gate and the many other -Gates we can’t quite recall at the moment, along with all of this more recent and even damning e-mail-gate and family foundation-gate stuff, she by now surely deserves her own suffix.
Still, she’s leading in the average of national polls, things look even better for her in the average of the polls in the swing states and the rest of the suddenly convoluted electoral map, and the only explanation for such a strange phenomenon is that she’s running against Republican nominee Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul is entirely blameless of peddling favors for contributions as a public official, never having held any public office in his 70-year-long life, but he openly bragged on Republican debate stages about buying influence from both Republican and Democratic officials during his varied careers. He even contributed to Clinton’s family foundation, and all the great deal-maker seems to have gotten out of it was her attendance at his third marriage to that foreign-born naked woman in the sapphic poses on the front page of the Trump-endorsing New York Post, so he’s got his own problems winning the public’s trust.
Trump won the Republican nomination largely because he was more full-throated in his opposition to illegal immigration than the rest of the vasty more qualified 16 challengers, but he went column-inch-to-column-inch on the front pages of the polite press by seem to stake a noticeably more squishy position on his signature issue. After rising to the Republican nomination with vows and assurances of “believe me” that he was going to build a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border that Mexico would pay for and that all 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country would be rounded up and deported, and that any of those RINO Republican squishes who thought this fanciful were all for amnesty and “open borders” just like Obama and Clinton and the rest of the “establishment,” Trump has lately been taking a more establishmentarian tack. After hiring a pollster as his new campaign manager he had a meeting with some of the Hispanics he’s been horribly polling with, and he announced a major speech on immigration that was later postponed, and in an interview on Monday with the Fox News Network’s Bill O’Reilly he wound up saying that he’d keep doing what President Barack Obama has been doing “perhaps with a lot more energy.” Trump’s scant ad buys have both time for a spot alleging that Obama has opened the borders, but in the interview he noted that both Obama and President George W. Bush had enforced many deportations, basically agreed with their “felons not families” priorities, dismissed any notion of mass deportations, and couldn’t quite explain how his current stand on amnesty differed from all those squishy Republicans he’d vanquished in the primaries.
This might well moderate Trump’s image to that pesky majority of the country that regards him as an extremist xenophobe, especially those who have noticed what an historically corrupt harridan the Democratic nominee is, but it might also dim the enthusiasm of the extremist xenophobes who have comprised a certain essential percentage of his support. In any case we can’t see it helping his reputation for intellectual or moral integrity, nor find any reason to believe this isn’t the most awful presidential election in the history of the American Republic.

— Bud Norman

The Presidential and the Personal

Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s newly fledged campaign manager Kellyanne Conway appeared on the American Broadcasting Company’s “This Week” program Sunday morning, boasting that her candidate had just had “the best week” of his campaign. She had a strong case, as Trump had given well-reviewed speeches on crime and immigration that staked out sensible positions, generally avoided any of the widely-publicized craziness that has marked his campaign, and seemed to signal a more presidential tone with an uncharacteristic admission of “regret” for any unspecified comments he’s made “in the heat of debate” and “particularly where it may have caused personal pain.” Throw in the latest “uh oh” developments on the widely distrusted and disliked Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s various ongoing scandals, and it was enough to shave a full point off her lead in Real Clear Politic’s average of the polls.
Conway also boasted that her candidate “doesn’t hurl personal insults,” but we expect that “Lyin'” Ted Cruz and “Low Energy” Jeb Bush and “Little” Marco Rubio and Carly “Look at the Face” Fiorina and Megyn “Bleeding From Wherever” Kelly and that New York Times reporter with the unfortunate bone ailment would agree the case for that claim is quite weak. By the next morning a “tweeting” Trump was adding someone named Joe Scarborough and someone else named Mika Brzezinski to the list of people has hurled personal insults at, and that long awaited presidential tone seemed to have vanished into the pixels of the internet.
Reportedly these Scarborough and Brzezinski people host some television program called “Morning Joe” on the MSNBC cable network, but we cannot attest to this. We rarely watch television, steadfastly refuse to pay a cable company for the dubious privilege, wouldn’t be watching MSNBC in any case, and that “Morning Joe” title suggests it runs a time when we’re contentedly sleeping or grouchily brewing a couple of mugs of more literal java. So far as we can tell from the press Scarborough is the crazy-left MSNBC’s token Republican, much as the Obama-loving David Brooks is the token Republican at The New York Times and the NeverTrumping Jennifer Rubin has the title at The Washington Post, and Brzezinski is the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who we sadly remember as a counselor to President Lyndon B. Johnson and National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, but apparently they had once enjoyed a happy relationship with Trump. Ever since he wrapped up the Republican nomination all that “free media” Trump once trumpeted has been coming with a price, though, and he seems to have taken the more critical tone on “Morning Joe” rather personally.
“Some day, when things calm down, I’ll tell the real story of @JoeNBC and his very insecure longtime girlfriend, @morningmika,” Trump “tweeted” at an absurdly early hour Monday morning, adding a defiant and exclamation-marked “Two clowns!” Although we’re not at all hepped up to the latest internet lingo we presume that “@JoeNBC is” a “Twitter handle” for Scarborough and “@morningmika” is some enigma machine-generated codeword for Brzezinski, and so far as we can tell from the scandal rags that part about a “very insecure longtime girlfriend” is a reference to some recent gossip that Scarborough and Brzezinski are partners both on and off the air. That rumor had already been reported on in the notorious “Page 6” in the tabloid New York Post, which has both endorsed Trump and run naked pictures of his third wife in sapphic poses on its front page, but when things calm down we’ll eagerly await whatever juicy details Trump has to add about the “real story,” along with his explanation of how he came to know such irrelevant information.
Whatever off-screen canoodling this Scarborough person and that Brzezinski person might or might not be doing does nothing to add or detract from their opinions, which we don’t care about in the least anyway, and surely a guy who has publicly boasted about all the married babes he’s bagged and whose third wife is showing up naked in sapphic poses on the front page of the Trump-endorsing New York Post is not the guy to call them out on whatever they might have been up to. At this late point in the sexual revolution we’re more more interested in the 15,000 e-mails to and from the Democratic nominee that have lately turned up, the very existence of which are a scandal and include countless more that only add to her already burdensome 25 plus years of scandals, and we’d think a Republican nominee would also be more concerned with that.
This Republican nominee takes things personally, though, and apparently there was nothing in those 15,000 previously stonewalled e-mails about him.

— Bud Norman

A President Popular by Default

President Barack Obama is unaccountably popular at the moment, with a bare majority of Americans expressing approval of him. That’s hardly Mount Rushmore stuff, and far short of the falling oceans and fundamental transformations he promised during the peak of his popularity during that first crazy presidential campaign of his, but for now it’s enough to make him the most popular politician in America. The only way we can account for it is the year’s even crazier election.
It’s not just that both of his major party would-be successors are wildly unpopular, with landslide majorities of Americans quite reasonably finding both dishonest and altogether unfit for the office, but also the way that their daily groan-inducing scandals keep the president contentedly out of the news altogether. Those obsessive sorts of news readers who dive beyond the front page headlines and delve deep into the rest of it are vaguely aware that the president recently paid a huge ransom to the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy for some hostages and then offered a preposterous explanation about why he didn’t, that Milwaukee has lately been burning from flames fanned by the “Black Lives Moment” the president has encouraged, that much of south Louisiana is underwater and the main form of federal assistance has been a memo sternly warning that rescue efforts not be racially discriminatory, and that the president has been playing golf and living it up with a bunch of rich white people on a lavishly-funded vacation to Martha’s Vineyard the whole time, but the rest of the country has been pleasantly preoccupied with America’s rout at the the Olympics and the latest gaffes from the president’s would-be successors.
We can recall past times when shady hostage deals went down with the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy and American inner cities burned and south Louisiana was underwater, and how it used to be a much bigger deal, but then again all that happened during slower news cycles and Republican administrations. During a slow news cycle in a Republican administration a president golfing and living it up with a bunch of rich white people while the rest of the nation churns along uneasily would be a major scandal, but with a Democratic administration and the happy distraction of a can’t-look-away-train-wreck of a presidential election such scandals suddenly become quibbles. The desultory state of the economy and that awful labor force participation rate that obscures the more happy-face unemployment numbers, the mounting debt that sustains the slow pace, the politicization of the Justice Department that allows the Democratic nominee to be running in the first place, the generally unsettled state of world, as well as the general cultural decline made apparent by the current sorry choices of presidential nominees, are all as easily relegated to the inner pages of your increasingly scant newspaper.
Any old well-funded Republican should be able to make something of it, but this year the nominee isn’t any old well-funded Republican but rather the not-quite-self-funding-self-described billionaire Donald J. Trump, and he hasn’t seized the opportunities. The self-described deal-making-artisan made a strong case against the ransom for hostages arrangement, but the press was able to focus on what he had later had to admit was a bogus claim that he’d seen secret video footage of the payment. He made a persuasive argument that the past many decades of Democratic machine politics have caused the plight of the recently burning inner cities, but his attempts to bolster his current 1 or 2 percent favorables among black Americans were rather clumsily phrased in the pitch that they’re all poor and uneducated and therefore have nothing to lose by voting for him, along with the rather fanciful even-by-Trump-standards boast that after four years in office he’d win 95 percent black vote. Trump showed up in Louisiana for a meaningless photo-op several days before the vacationing Obama plans to do the same, but unless starts spending some serious ad buy money we doubt it will do him the same good that it once did Obama when a Republican administration was in charge while south Louisiana was underwater.
Thus far the supposedly boundlessly wealthy Trump has been quite parsimonious about ad buys, and instead continues to rely on all the “free media” that has suddenly turned so hostile ever since he wrapped up the Republican nomination, not to mention all those gaffes, and yet he’s still within shouting distance in the national polls if not so much the states that add up to an electoral majority. That’s because a clear majority of Americans understand that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is dishonest and unfit for office, and we also take heart that a near-majority of them also think little of the current president. That so few of us have any regard for our next president, no matter how it turns out, is also heartening in an unaccountable way.

— Bud Norman

On Race, Gender, Class, the Olympics, and Of Course Presidential Politics

The 2016 Olympics won’t wrap up until some sort of bizarre post-modern samba-dancing and gender-bending closing ceremony on Sunday evening, but already the American team is assured of heading home with by far the biggest haul of gold, silver, and bronze medals. America’s athletic dominance of the international games has provided a pleasant distraction from the dispiriting domestic presidential election, but of course these days it’s impossible to keep the two events entirely apart.
Over at the reliably liberal Politico.com site a longtime Democratic operative is smugly noting that Republican nominee Donald J. Trump hasn’t yet spoken or “tweeted” a single congratulatory remark about the American champions, reasonably inferring that it’s because their success seems to contradict his campaign theme that “Crippled America” just “doesn’t have victories anymore” and he alone can “Make America Great Again.” The author also rightly notes that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has been a far more full-throated rooter for the American squad, and has happily seized on the politically convenient fact that the medal-winners are an exquisitely diverse group according to the racial and sexual and economic class categories that are a Democratic obsession.
A proportional share of those gold and silver and bronze medals have been won by American women, a gorgeous lot of athletes who recall the great Walt Whitman’s poetic notion of an American womanhood as “tann’d in the face by shining suns and blowing winds, their flesh has the old divine suppleness and grace, they know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle, shoot, run, strike, retreat, advance, defend themselves,” but we wonder how many of these women who are “ultimate in their own right — they are calm, clear, well-possessed of themselves” are going to vote for Clinton’s campaign themes that women are victims of American society and she alone can make them great. One of our favorite Olympians of this leap year has been Kim Rhode, who picked up her fifth Gold medal in as many Olympic games for skeet shooting, a sport we have tried and found we have absolutely no talent for, like us she’s a Second Amendment absolutist with no intention of voting for Clinton, and even that Democratic operative at Politico.com concedes that America’s Olympic champions are “presumably as politically diverse as they are culturally.”
Economic class plays its usual role in these Olympics, too, but we don’t expect that any Democratic nominee would want to delve too deeply into that. We’re pleased to note that Great Britain is once again a world-class sporting power, and is currently going nose-to-nose with Communist China for a distant second-place in the medal count, but across the pond there’s usual grousing that too many of those medals are being won by equestrians and rowers and fencers and other sorts of upper-crusty athletes, even if they can’t explain why their more yobbo athletes can’t compete with America’s ghetto stars in the more proletarian events. A lot of America’s medals were won by the sons and daughters of upper-middle class suburbanites who woke up early to get their kids to a swim club or volleyball practice before a long day of school that yielded high grades and SAT scores, and there’s no telling how they’ll vote, and even the sons and daughters of the working class parents who did the same are probably politically diverse.
Over at the reliably Republican National Review, which is so reliably Republican that it’s still NeverTrump, they’re smugly noting that America’s overwhelming Olympic success has come despite the lack of a Ministry of Sports or any other top-down bureaucratic central planning. They argue that America has won “bigly” at these Olympics because individuals of all races and sexes and classes were free to pursue the natural talents they alone knew they possessed, and that such independent and competitive institutions as the members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association were there to provide some much-needed assistance. This strikes us as a more compelling argument, and we can only wish that the Republican nominee wasn’t so cocksure that only he can make America win again that he can’t be shouting “USA, USA” during the closing ceremonies.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Installment in As Trump Turns

The big news from the presidential race on Wednesday was Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s latest shake-up of his campaign staff, and if you’re a binge-watching fan of Trump’s ongoing reality show it makes for some interesting plot twists.
A formerly peripheral character named Stephen Bannon has stepped into a starring role, an entirely unexpected yet predictably blond and comely character named Kellyanne Conway has been introduced, the ambiguously villainous Paul Manafort role has been reduced to cameo appearances, and the obvious implication is that the more or less traditional Republican nominee Trump we’ve seen lately will go back to being the boorish and braggadocios and insulting self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-casino-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam-university-and-reality-show mogul who won the Republican nomination.
That Bannon fellow is the new “chief executive” of the campaign, and he once worked for the Goldman Sachs investment outfit that both parties are running against and then went on to produce a documentary about former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee and reality show star Sarah Palin among other ventures, has most recently been in charge of the Breitbart.com news site that has cheered on all of Trump’s most outrageous utterances since way back when there was still a chance the GOP might not nominate someone more traditionally Republican. The Conway woman is apparently a pollster who has long provided Trump with what he wants to hear over his varied private sector careers, and the assumes the more recognizable title of “campaign manager.” That Manafort fellow replaced the combative Corey “Let Trump Be Trump” Lewandowski as “campaign chairman” shortly after a controversy regarding Lewandowski’s allegedly rough treatment of a female reporter, ironically enough from Breitbart.com, ostensibly with the mission of molding Trump into a more traditional Republican nominee, and despite the recent press revelations about his shady dealings in the very same Ukraine that Trump insists the Russians haven’t invaded and might be entitled to in any case he’ll keep the now meaningless title during his cameo appearances.
The timing seems odd, because over the last several days that more-or-less traditional Republican nominee shtick seems to have been working for Trump. He read an obviously pre-written-by-someone-else speech from a tele-prompter about immigration and Islamic terrorism, and made the common sense case that America should be exceedingly cautious about accepting large numbers of immigrants from lands where Islamic terrorism is popular. This contrasted effectively with the Democratic nominee’s crazy talk that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism and her crazy message of y’all come in, and it left out all his own crazy talk about using bullets dipped in pig’s blood and chopping the heads off of terrorists and killing their families and routinely torturing detainees and trying even American citizens in military tribunals, so even the most traditionally Republican press organs were giving him some begrudging respect. We’re so hide-bound we couldn’t help noticing that he once again repeated his easily disproved lies that he’d been opposed to the Iraq and Libyan interventions from the outset, which reiterated his utterly ridiculous and not all Republican belief that the Middle East would have been happily stable and peaceable if not for America’s meddling influence, and that underneath all the tough talk was an “American First” isolationism, but at this point we’re among a small minority up against a bi-partisan consensus.
Trump followed that up with another pre-written-by-someone-else and tele-promptered speech in Wisconsin, not far from where nihilistic race riots were still raging in Milwaukee in the aftermath of a seemingly justified fatal shooting of an armed and dangerous black man by the police, and it also contrasted effectively with the response of a Democratic nominee who is obligated to both the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the reflexively anti-police administration that are making excuses for and subtly egging on the riots. We wouldn’t go so far as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani did and call it “the best Republican speech ever,” as Abraham Lincoln’s addresses at Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural still really swing for us, but we had to give it some begrudging respect. He even made a plausible appeal to the black Americans who are disproportionately the victims of crime, but we think a more or less traditional Republican nominee who doesn’t have a settlement with the Justice Department over his discriminatory renting practices or an expensive full-page ad calling for the execution of some black rape suspects who were later cleared by physical evidence in his background would be a better messenger.
In any case, the more tele-promptered and traditionally Republican shtick seems to have shaved a few percentage points off the comfortable poll-averaged lead that crazy Democratic nominee had built up while Trump was accusing a vanquished Republican rival’s father of being in on the Kennedy assassination and grousing that an Indiana-born yet “Mexican” judge shouldn’t have been presiding over one of the three trials regarding the scam Trump University and musing in the most indecipherable way about how “Second Amendment people” might forestall future Supreme Court picks and that the president being the literal rather than figurative “founder” of the Islamic State and any number of other unnecessary distractions he’d written into his ongoing reality show. Given that the Democratic nominee talks plenty crazy herself, we’re not at all surprised. The changes in the Trump plot line therefore make no sense to us, but in this crazy election year we’ll concede that’s probably because we’re more accustomed to politics than the reality show genre.

— Bud Norman

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The Election Year of the Schoolyard Taunt

At this late date in the presidential race we can’t think of anything worse to call the Republican nominee than “Donald J. Trump,” and “Hillary Rodham Clinton” is about as awful an epithet as we can spit out for the Democratic nominee, but everyone else seems to have some other preference. Coming up with contemptuous nicknames for one’s political enemies has become something of a national pastime during this election, to the point that it’s hard to keep track of them all.
The Republican nominee is an avid nicknamer, having dispatched such worthy opponents as former Florida Gov. Jeb “Low-Energy” Bush, Florida Sen. “Little” Marco Rubio, and Texas Sen. “Lyin'” Ted Cruz on his unlikely way to the nomination, and his supporters on the talk radio shows and the comments sections of countless internet sites have been endlessly creative about his general election opponent. A partial list of Clinton’s nicknames include “Hellary,” “HilLIARy,” “Shrillary,” as well as the inevitable “Hitlery,” and those are just the variations on her first name. The more high-browed critics on the right have dubbed her “The Dowager Empress of Chappaqua,” while the saltier sorts routinely refer to her as “Monica Lewinsky’s Boyfriend’s Wife,” and the downright meaner sorts often invoke “Her Thighness,” “President Pantsuit,” the ever popular “Cankles,” which is apparently a neologism for those sorts of aging legs where the calves and ankles seem to converge, and of course “Cankles McPantsuit.” We had frequently encountered Hillary “Rotten” Clinton before the Republican nominee started publicly using it, and although he did think to affix it with “Crooked” he seems to be getting behind the game. He also likes to call Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” nd allusion to her baseless claims to be a Native American, even though the more sophisticated “Fauxcahontas” had already been around since that scandal broke.
Although the Democratic nominee has thus far refrained from such schoolyard taunts, presumably because it would be below the station of The Dowager Empress of Chappaqua, many of her supporters aren’t so genteel. They’ve been in the nicknaming game since way back in the days of President George W. “Chimpy McBushitler” Bush, also known as “Smirky McBushitler” and “Smirky the Chimp,” and they’ve been busier yet ever since Trump arrived on the scene. So far the top plays on his name seem to be “tRump” and “D-Rump,” along with “Drumpf,” which apparently was Trump’s patrilineal family name until his immigrant grandfather made the fortuitous change. The name Trump doesn’t easily lend itself to any sort of Hitler-ization, so his enemies have been reduced to calling him “Herr Trump” or “Herr tRump” or “Herr Drumpf.” Just as the Democratic nominee’s of-a-certain-age figure have come into play, so has the Republican nominee’s undeniable orange hue, with such nicknames as “Don Cheeto” and “Orange-utang” and “Der Orange Fuhrer” coming into play. The truncated sound of Trump better lends itself to insults against his so loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters, who are dismissed as “Trumpanzees” and “Trumpets” and “Trumpkins,” among other things. Among the more cerebral sorts on the NeverTrump right they’re known as the “Trumpenproletariat,” which we rather like even if it does play into stereotypes about us NeverTrump right type’s snootiness.
The game has been going on since the birth of the republic, of course, and judging by graffiti the archaeologists have found in ancient Rome and Athens it’s pretty much a permanent feature of any republican system of government. Perhaps it’s just because the internet and the modern presidential campaign cycle are so much more ubiquitous than even graffiti, but we’re starting to weary of it. Both candidates are well worthy of the scorn, but not because of their thick ankles or orange hue, and we’d rather that people were paying attention the worst of it, or at least came up with something clever.

— Bud Norman

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