Biden Time

Whenever we start to feel anxious about the sorry state of the Republican presidential nomination race, which is pretty much every time we read the latest reports about it, we can always find some comfort in the even sorrier state of the Democratic contest. The latest reports about that fiasco suggest Vice President Joe Biden could soon enter the race as a front-runner, which is saying something, and we suspect that would prove even more compelling to the press and the public than Donald Trump’s currently top-rated reality show.
The Democratic race would not only gain some much-needed comic relief by the entry of the foul-mouthed, gaffe-prone, creepily touchy Biden, but the sub-plots would involve enough palace intrigue to fill another three or four seasons of “Game of Thrones.” The foul-mouthed, gaffe-prone, creepy aspects of Biden’s personality shouldn’t prove much of a problem for him, not when it seems so darned authentic compared to the robotic former front-runner Hillary Clinton, and not when the current Republican front-runner is Donald Trump, but all that palace intrigue will certainly prove more complicated.
Although it goes politely unmentioned in the mainstream press, it should be obvious to the more objective observer that President Barack Obama doesn’t much like Clinton. He once sneered at her that “You’re likable enough” during one of those ’08 debates when they were both still mere rivals to the throne, but even at the time we doubted he really meant it, and by now we’re sure that he did not. Clinton’s once-inevitable coronation suddenly seems once-again in doubt for a number of reasons, including a noticeable lack of accomplishments and a quarter century’s worth of scandals and and a multi-million-dollar foundation of corruption and an unlikable robotic personality, but her biggest problem seems to be that pesky e-mail scandal that keeps dripping out with in drops of stories quoting Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation and bi-partisan Congressional committees and other high-ranking federal officials. At best this suggests the president in charge of the DOJ and FBI and the Democratic half of those bi-partisan committees and all those other high-ranking officials isn’t interested in helping out his former administration officials in the usual ways, and at worst is acting against her with the sort of ruthlessness that has made “Game of Thrones” such a hit.
As we see the plot line playing out, Obama looks about for a candidate willing to continue his policies for another four years, and to cement his historic achievements of Obamacare and endless quantitative easing and appeasement of radical Islam and open borders and environmental policies that export all the global warming to China and the rest of his hope and change agenda. Although he’d normally be sympathetic to the self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who looks and sounds just like all those radical professors who created Obama, Sanders has had the effrontery to note that the economy is horrible and open borders are likely to strain the Democrats’ beloved welfare system and that an even more insanely socialist agenda than Obama’s must therefore be pursued. There’s that O’Malley guy, but his only accomplishments as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland were effective tough-on-crime measures that saved hundreds of black lives but have somehow run afoul of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that currently holds sway in the Democratic Party, and he’s only polling a percentage point or so. Obama clearly doesn’t like Clinton, or any of the Clintons, so he has to find a more suitable proxy.
As foul-mouthed, gaffe-prone, and creepily touchy as he is, Biden can at least be counted on to run for Obama’s third term. Hence we expect Biden will soon enter the race with the tacit yet deafening endorsement of the president and all the support of his dwindling but still-significant number of supporters, as well as the gentle treatment of a mainstream press that would rather report on Biden’s latest “spontaneity” than the latest leaks from high-ranking officials about Clinton’s latest scandal, and that Clinton will soon find herself at the back of a small and undistinguished pack. Most of Sander’s following seems to be people who actually like his crazy ideas, and like what he says about the Obama economy, so we don’t seem him losing much support to Biden, even if some of them were simply on board because he’s not Clinton. Most of Clinton’s support seems to come from Democratic partisans who expected her to be the party’s nominee and the most likely winner in the general election, which no longer seem such compelling arguments even to a Democratic partisan, and whichever candidate gets Obama’s followers will have a significant plurality of the party, along with all those “Black Lives Matter” activists who hold such sway, so we can’t see a Biden candidacy helping Clinton at all.
These series take strange twists, though, and we’ve often been surprised by events. There’s still that anxiousness about the Republican race, too, and sooner or later the two shows will merge like one of those “Beverly Hillbillies” episodes where the Clampetts visited the Hooterville of “Green Acres.” At that point there’s no telling what the writers might come up with, but for now it’s hard to see it ending well.

— Bud Norman

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Are You Serious? The Bad Guys Are

The pull-out quote of the day belongs to one Jassem Mohammed al-Bayati, a member of the Iraq parliament’s ruling coalition. Explaining to The Washington Post why his government has recently joined “a substantial and serious coalition” with Russia, Iran, and Syria in the fight against the Islamic State, he said: “Iraq has had enough of the unserious support and procedures of the international coalition.”
That unserious international coalition that al-Bayati refers to is the Obama administration and whatever partners it still has on board, so it’s hard to dispute his characterization of their efforts in the region. The administration’s apologists will note that the administration has spent a congressionally authorized $500 million to train and equip 5,400 Syrian good guys to get in on the fight against the Islamic State yet not on the side of Russia, Iran, and Syria, but after days of denial the Pentagon finally apologized last week for the fact that only 54 of them actually took the field, and that at the moment only four of five of them are still in the fight, and that one of them and his 70 or so ragged troops had recently surrendered all their equipment to a group backed by al-Qaeda, which has now reportedly put aside any theological quibbles and allied itself with the Islamic State in the ongoing troubles. Meanwhile, the once formidable fighting forces of the more or less moderates Kurds are getting pounded, largely due to a lack of support from their former American friends, erstwhile allies ranging from Israel to Saudi Arabia are also making plans for a post-American era in the Middle East, and everywhere from Ukraine to Japan people are figuring out that America’s amity has no benefits and America’s enmity brings no consequences. This is bound to strike any Middle Eastern observer as unserious, even in the unlikely event they share Obama’s assessment of the ascendant Islamic State as the “jayvee team” of terrorism.
Russia, Iran, and Syria, on the other hand, must appear quite serious to anyone with an existential stake in the situation. Russia is consolidating its recent gains in Eastern Europe as it assumes a new role as the power broker in the Middle East, Iran is gloating over a deal that gives them an easy path to a nuclear bomb along with a $150 billion signing bonus it can spend on terrorism against the country it continues to call “the Great Satan,” and Syria continues to feel free to cross any red lines that the administration might threaten. The Sunni monarchies that are threatened by both the Shiite Iranian-Syrian axis and the more radical Sunni Islamic State-al-Qaeda axis might yet team up with the Jewish state of Israel, which faces the same threats and suddenly finds itself with some very strange bedfellows, but any alliances that might occur will be made with the clear understanding that the Americans they once counted on are no long serious.
How this might improve America’s standing in the world remains to be seen, but we’re sure the administration’s apologists are already working on some explanation. If the combined might of Russia, Iran, and Syria were to defeat the Islamic State, or at least hold them in the current stalemate through the next election, it will surely indicate the Islamic State really was a “jayvee team” after all. That three of the world’s worst governments would hold sway in a key part of the world, where once valued allies and essential national interests are at stake, well, that can be blamed on George W. Bush or some other manifestation of America’s racist and Islamophobic and imperialist hubris. The vice president once boasted Iraq was a “stable government” and “one of the administration’s greatest achievements” when American troops were pulled out, in keeping with a campaign promise made long before the resultant catastrophe, but that shouldn’t stop him from stating the argument in a presidential campaign.
These are serious times, but we can’t argue with any Iraqi parliament member who thinks we have an unserious administration. We worry that he and a lot of other influential people around the world share our suspicion that the administration was elected and re-elected by an unserious country.

— Bud Norman

Bon Voyage, Boehner

We won’t have Speaker of the House John Boehner to kick around anymore, at least not after the end-of-October resignation he announced last week, and we’re glad of it. His cautious style of leadership was ill-suited to these times of constitutional crisis, as far as we are concerned, and we never did enjoy kicking him around.
Although we consider ourselves as rock-ribbed and radical as the next Republican, and are in a very confrontational mood lately, we couldn’t quite work up the same red-hot hatred for Boehner that all the right-wing radio talkers and grassroots activists seem to have cultivated. Maybe we were just suckers for the lachrymose Speaker’s compelling sob story about his rise from a humble home atop his father’s bar in a working class neighborhood to the heights of politics, or it’s that our disagreements always seemed to have less to do with his policy preferences than about the tactics best suited to achieve them, or that we well remember what it was like when San Francisco’s well-heeled Nancy Pelosi so expensively wielded the gavel. To say that Boehner represented a great improvement over his predecessor is to damn with faint praise, of course, but at least the deficits are down since to slightly less scary levels since he took over the House and there haven’t been any bills passed nearly so bad as Obamacare and the rest of what has happening when the Democrats everything, and something in our perpetually pessimistic conservative temperament makes us glad for such small favors.
Those right-wing radio talkers and grassroots activists will rightly note that cap-and-trade and open borders and Iranian nuclear bombs with a $150 billion signing bonus and all sorts of other Democratic craziness that would have passed the Reid-Pelosi Congress have nonetheless been achieved by executive action, and with only feeble resistance from the Republican majorities that were installed in congress to prevent it. This is why we’ve concluded that Boehner had to go, and that so should his counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but we will concede that their leadership has at least reduced the president to executive actions that can be more easily undone by the executive actions of a new and more sensible president.
We’ll even hold out hope that Boehner’s and McConnell’s cowardly cautiousness have made it slightly more more probable that we’ll soon have a new and more sensible president. Already such still-influential press outlets as The Washington Post are gleefully fretting that the conservative elements of the Republican party that forced Boehner out and now have their sights set on McConnell “can’t govern” and will instead rashly shut down the non-essential government, which is most of it, and that all hell will surely break loose. We’re inclined to believe that there’s already far too much governance going on, that progress would be better measured by the number of laws repealed and regulations rolled back and entire agencies abolished, and that a shut-down of all of those non-essential services would be salutary, especially during the winter when few people are planning vacations in those photogenic national parks, and we’re certain that even our left-wing radical president would blink before allowing a default on the national debt, but we acknowledge that not everyone shares our rather right-wing perspective on such things.
There are only so many of us right-wing crazies out there, and a smaller number of the left-wing crazies on the other side, and therefore policy is so often decided by those uninformed voters in the middle. What little information these voters possess usually comes from the 30-second news updates that are wedged in between the latest pop tunes on the radio each hour, and that brief attention span does not take in anything more than a vague awareness that the latest spat is all about those anarchist conservatives wanting to shut the government down. The other day we heard a short National Public Radio report about the latest possibility of a government shutdown explained as the Republicans refusing to fund the women’s health care services provided by Planned Parenthood, with no mention that Planned Parenthood is mostly a network of abortionists and that a series of hidden camera videos have revealed that they routinely sell the remains of late-term fetuses and even live but promptly terminated births for profit, and one needn’t be such a jaded old pol as Boehner or McConnell to worry how a fight on such terms might end up.
Still, we hope that whoever winds up with Boehner’s job, and with good luck McConnell’s as well, is at least somewhat more daring. The last government shutdown was widely blamed on the Republicans, but ended soon enough for the party to win gains in the election, and the next one might be as well-timed. If the Republicans are willing to fund pretty much everything except Planned Parenthood all of those right-wing talkers and a few of the honest press writers might be able to persuade the public that Democrats were the ones who shut down the government for radical reasons, and people might finally notice that a government shut-down isn’t that big a deal after all, and a reasonable Republican candidate might even enjoy support from that uninformed middle as well as all the suddenly enthused right-wing crazies such as ourselves. Something in our instinctively pessimistic conservative temperament, though, urges at least a wee bit of that old establishment caution.

— Bud Norman

The Debate Descends

Although we have yet to meet a committed supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, even hear in the heart of that big red splotch on the nation’s electoral map, we frequently run into a lot of his apologists. Trump’s candidacy requires a considerable amount of apologetics, and some strenuous effort at it, but the usual rationalization is that at least he’s saying what’s really on his mind and widening the parameters of public discourse by boldly defying the rules of political correctness. As much as we admire honesty and abhor the restraints on intellectual discourse, we find these arguments bunk.
To our suspicious ears Trump sounds as if he is saying what he really thinks is on the public’s mind, which might well be something entirely different than he said a few years ago when the public was of a different mind, and his brashly ad hominem rhetoric is not so much an affront to political correctness as it is  to logic and etiquette. The next president will likely inherit $20 trillion of national debt, another hundred or trillion in shortfalls on what has been promised the public ever since the last Roosevelt administration, rising murder rates and declining public education test scores and stagnant wages, but”tweets” of vainglorious boasts and sophomoric put-downs of the other candidates’ looks that will not lead the country to any promising solutions. Political correctness is a problem when it precludes acknowledgement of the uncomfortable facts that higher crime rates in poor black neighborhoods might have something to do with a higher level of interactions with the police there, or that the Muslim president the left suddenly is clamoring for might not be so willing as the current occupant of the White House to awash in the colors of the rainbow flag, or that all those global warming alarmists are flying around in private jets, but when a candidate considers it undignified to ridicule the appearance of another candidate that is mere politeness. Trump does seem to have proved that a politician can stake out an anti-illegal immigration stance so extreme that it discomfits even such hard-liners such as ourselves without committing political suicide, and we’ll begrudgingly give him that, but otherwise he just seems to be dragging the debate down to the level of those head-shaving pro-wrestling extravaganzas and foul-mouthed celebrity roasts he used to appear on back in his more dignified days.
We’ll also begrudgingly concede that Trump isn’t so much a cause as a consequence the decline in the level of public discourse, which has been going on for many decades and on both the right and left sides of political spectrum. Trump’s apologists include some very prominent right-wing radio talkers, as well as some people whose opinions we generally respect, so we’ll stipulate that conservatism has too been constrained by political correctness in congress and other parts of officialdom, and that it is good someone as sensible as rival candidate Dr. Ben Carson now feels free to say that he’d rather not have a Muslim president, a preference that at least 95 percent of the country probably shares, despite the appall of people who would love to have both same-sex marriage and Sharia, and even that Trump might have something do with it.
Still, we’d like to think this could have been achieved without Trump’s boisterous arrival. The left has been availing itself of an utter lack of standards at least since the time when Lenny Bruce was bravely fighting for the right cuss in public, and the right has been taking to the radio airwaves with a similar disdain for polite debate at least since the so-called Fairness Doctrine was rightly brought down by the great Ronald Reagan, and any politician who was willing to defy politically correct opinion in favor of popular opinion was always going to benefit, but we can’t see the benefit. Suddenly the arguments about the right national debt and murder rates and stagnant wages and declining test scores and national dignity have been reduced to to the level of internet commentators calling one one another “loosers,” the more sophomoric insult seems to win the day, and the pandering to this lowest common denominator is all the slavish. Worse yet, when it comes down a general election the even lower left always seems to win this game.
We note that Trump’s crusade on behalf of unfettered speech now involves threats of lawsuits and calls for the Federal Communications Commission to censor his critics, just as the left has employed such tactics, and we’ll be eager to hear from his apologists about that. They’ll probably say it’s an Alpha male employing the same bareknuckle tactics that are required against the left, but we can’t help noticing that nobody has ever won that game.

— Bud Norman

Yogi Berra, RIP

Although we rarely comment about sports, even on those all-too-frequent occasions when it spills over into the political news, we do try to take note of matters of importance to the broader American culture. The death of New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra, therefore, demands respectful mention.
Berra was, by consensus of expert opinion, one of the very best to ever play America’s pastime, and by objective measure he was he one of the most successful athletes in the entire history of American professional team sports. By all accounts he was also a man of high moral character, who bravely served his country in war and was devoted to his wife from their courtship until her death and played the game by the strictest standards of sportsmanship and spent 70 years in the public eye without a hint of any scandal. Somehow, though, he is best remembered as a funny-looking guy who said things funny. Add it all up, and he was one of those all-too-infrequent characters who enriched the American scene by pure American individualism.
You wouldn’t have known it by looking at his short, squat, graceless body, but a glance at Berra’s numbers makes clear that he could play some serious ball. You can look it up, as they like to say in baseball. He was a three-time Most Valuable Player, finished in the top four in MVP voting four other times, was an 18-time All-Star,  smacked 358 homers and batted in 1,430 runs, and as a catcher he earned a reputation as the best friend a pitcher ever had, among many other notable individual accomplishments. What his teams accomplished with him behind the plate was even more impressive, as The New York Yankees played in 14 World Series, won ten of them, and were almost always in contention. Those teams were loaded with such all-time talents as Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, to be sure, but there were seven seasons when Berra led the team in RBI and never a time when even his more heralded teammates didn’t acknowledge that he was the most essential Yankee. All those World Series appearances allowed Berra to set seemingly unbreakable “Fall Classic” records for games played and at-bats and hits and RBI and doubles, not to mention the perfect game he caught from journeyman pitcher Don Larsen, and he trails only Mantle and Babe Ruth for most home runs hit in October. In American professional sports history, the ten championships he won are surpassed only by the 11 that Bill Russell won with the Boston Celtics in the National Basketball Association and Henri Richard won with the Montreal Canadiens in the National Hockey League, and both of those guys also played on teams laden with all-time talent.
The New York Yankees’ many years of dominance, which had begun even before Berra arrived, with his mentor Bill Dickey manning the plate, made the team so hated everywhere outside the five boroughs that they became better known as The Damn Yankees. Berra, though, was such a appealing fellow that even a Boston Red Sox fan found it hard to work up a mild dislike for him. It helped that he wasn’t a handsome hunk who was always being photographed at a  swank nightclub with a couple of hotties hanging on his arms, like DiMaggio or Mantle, but was instead going home to his beloved and equally plain wife in a simple place in New Jersey that he described as “nothing but rooms.” He didn’t like to talk about his years in the Navy, which included hazardous duty just a hundred yards off Omaha Beach on D-Day, but the stories got out and enhanced the good guy reputation he so earnestly earned on the field. Teammates and opponents alike vouched for the quality of the man, and so far as we know no one ever disputed it over the many decades he spent in baseball as a coach, manager, and goodwill ambassador of the game.
Despite all that, the first thing people think of when Berra’s name is invoked are all the “Yogi-isms,” and the inadvertently comic character they created. A “Yogi-ism” is something that Berra would blurt out which makes no sense at all if parsed according to the rules of the English language, but makes perfect and often profound sense if you hear them the way he meant to say it. The brilliantly redundant “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” and “It’s deja vu all over again” are now part of the popular lexicon, and his observations that “baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical” and “in baseball you don’t know nothing” are probably the most oft-cited explanations of the seemingly complicated game. Another record that Berra holds is the most citations in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations of any athlete, and we note that he also has more than any living president. Some of Berra’s gems are less well-known, but prove to us that Berra truly was a sort of Yogi. His advice that “You should always go to other people’s funerals, or they won’t go to yours,” and that “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else,” and “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be,” and “You can observe a lot by watching,” or that line about “When you reach a fork in the road, take it,” which is by now a staple of college commencement speeches, all strike us as more eloquently deep than anything Shakespeare could think of for Polonius to tell Laertes. Berra always insisted such philosophical malapropisms simply fell out of his funny-looking face, and he titled his autobiography “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said,” but they’ll probably be what ensures his place in American mythology next to Mike Fink and Huck Finn and Mr. Dooley and all those other quotable fictional characters.
Berra became such a myth that one must take care to sadly note the passing of the man, and of the better era of baseball and America from whence he came. A more careful observer of the current sporting scene notes that the San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey is widely regarded as the best catcher of this day, and that he needs to triple his numbers to approach Berra’s achievements. Nor do we note anyone in professional sports who can boast of Berra’s military record or exemplary personal life or stellar reputation as one of the good guys, and if there were someone who could he probably would boast of it, which Berra never did. Baseball still offers such stellar wits as Bob Uecker and John Kruk, and something about the way the game forces even its greatest players to constantly confront failure ensures that it will always have the best sense of humor, but it just doesn’t seem to fall right out of their funny-looking faces with the same profundity.
Yogi Berra was the kind of guy who went to other people’s funerals, so we’re sure that they’ll all go to his, and he lived 90 years in a world that wouldn’t have been more perfect even if it had been perfect, and he won ten World Series, and in this imperfect world he got to lose four of them, and he was always in contention, and he spent the rest of his life in the game he loved and most of it with the woman he loved, and he wasn’t the sort to complain, so we’ll take comfort in that. When his wife once asked if he’d like to be buried in St Louis, where he grew up in an Italian slum, or New York City, where he became a legend, or New Jersey, where he quietly lived most of his life in that house full of nothing but rooms, Berra reportedly told her, “Surprise me.” Wherever that short, squat, graceless, and yet three-times most valuable body ends up, we hope and pray that his spirit is at long last safe at home. And we hold out faint hope that we’ll see the likes of him again.

— Bud Norman

On the Proper Papal Protocol, As Well As an Old Pope Joke

Although we are not Catholic, and in fact worship with an exceedingly Protestant church at the opposite end of the low-church-high-church spectrum, and although we strenuously disagree with the current Pope’s oft-stated anti-capitalist views, we vow that would be properly respectful in the unlikely event of a Papal visit. The current President of the United States seems to share the current Pope’s anti-capitalist sentiments, but while his religious views are somewhat murkier it is crystal clear that he does not share the same old-fashioned notions about homosexuality and abortion and transgenderism and whatever other newfangled notion the left has lately come up with, and perhaps as a result he seems to have violated a few rules of etiquette that even the likes of we would have honored.
We’re sure there are well-trained protocol experts in the administration, and given that the president is a Democrat there are bound  to be at least a few nominal Catholics left in the administration, but we hope they’ll accept a few suggestions regarding Papal visits from such amateur and Protestant observers as ourselves.
First, don’t load the rest of the guest list with people obviously chosen to embarrass the honored guest. The White House has arranged an appropriately swank State Dinner, which we hope the Pontiff will enjoy, but the rest of the seats will include a conspicuous number of homosexual Catholics and pro-abortion Catholics and transgendered Catholics and whatever other Catholics can be rounded up who defy the Catholic church’s teaching on whatever newfangled notion the left has lately come up with, which strikes us as rather undiplomatic. The more polite media report that “White House guest list for the pope irks some conservatives,” which suggest that only certain crazy people such as ourselves that you won’t be running into at a swank Georgetown party are likely to be bothered, but it’s also worth considering if that uncapitalized Pope might also be irked by the blatant disrespect. This is statecraft, after all.
Second, no matter how much you might share the guest’s anti-capitalist views, or how much you might enjoy the swell eats and the company of homosexual and pro-abortion and transgendered and otherwise fashionable nuns at a State Dinner generously funded by the capitalist system, don’t send your spokesman out to boast that you’re more Catholic than the Pope. White House spokesman Josh Earnest took the occasion of the Pope’s visit to boast that “Both men have talked, quite publicly, about their commitment to social justice, and both men have dedicated their, not just their careers, but their lives, to that effort.” He added some boilerplate about the president’s days as a “community organizer” in the impoverished neighborhoods of Chicago’s South Side, added a nod to Pope Francis’ similarly disastrous efforts on behalf of his that have had even more disastrous results on his even more impoverished homeland of Argentina, and left the listener with the impression that Earnest’s boss is the holier of the two. It’s a political pitch worth trying, we suppose, given the gullibility of the president’s remaining faithful, but once again it’s not exactly statecraft.
Lest we seem too punctilious about protocol, we’ll admit that every Papal visit reminds of the many Pope jokes we’ve heard over the years. We’re quite fond of the one about the Pope, the mafia, and the vows of celibacy, but that’s probably far too blue for our readership, and certainly for a Papal visit. Instead, we can’t resist re-telling an oldie but goody that even Pope Francis might find inoffensive.
The Pope — it could be any Pope of the last 67 years — is in New York to address the United Nations. As he starts to leave the airport he rolls the darkened back-seat window down in his limousine and tells the driver that he’d like to drive. The chauffeur protests that his boss might not like it, but the Pope pleads that they never let him drive anymore and he’d love to take the wheel one last time. The driver reluctantly moves to the back seat, the Pope sits down in the driver’s seat, and the limo peels off toward the expressway. When the limo hits 95 miles per hour en route a couple of Irish New York cops pull it over. The veteran cop walks to the limo, the window comes down, there’s a short exchange, and the cop walks back to the squad car.
The rookie asks, “Why didn’t you give him a ticket?”
“He’s too big to write up,” the veteran said.
“What was he, an alderman?”
“No, bigger than that.”
“The mayor?”
“Bigger than that.”
“The governor?”
“No, far bigger than that.”
“You mean, we pulled over the President of the United States?”
“No, even bigger than that.”
The rookie asked, “What could possibly be bigger than that?”
“Let me put it this way,” the veteran said. “His chauffeur is the Pope.”

— Bud Norman

How to Trump a Record of Accomplishment

We can well understand the anti-establishment mood of the Republican electorate, given the timid resistance of the party’s congressional leadership to the past several years of the Obama administration, but when a buffoonish and oft-bankrupt billionaire is leading the pack and two governors who did outstanding jobs far away from Washington are the first to drop out it’s starting to get a bit ridiculous.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced his withdrawal from the race on Monday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry did the same last week, and its hard to see what fault even the most disgruntled Republican might find with either of them. During Perry’s long tenure as Texas’ governor the state became the economic powerhouse of the country, creating most of the jobs that the Obama administration likes to claim credit for, and he did it with the low-tax, low-spending, low-regulation policies that conservatives have long championed. Walker bravely took on the powerful public sector unions in a stronghold of the labor movement and somehow prevailed through an election and a recall and re-election despite all the money and mobs and rogue prosecutors that his enemies could throw at him. With all the talk about Republicans seeking someone who’s willing to fight, and the clamoring for results, Walker and Perry seemed well-positioned for a serious run.
Both were once wobbly on the illegal immigration issue that is now crucial to the party, but with Walker’s recent rhetoric and Perry’s decision to deploy the Texas militia to the border both seem to have found the light. Perry still suffered from an embarrassing moment during an early debate in his previous presidential campaign when he returned too early after a surgery and paused to remember some small detail of his proposals, but that hardly seems sufficient to overshadow his many years of effective public service. Walker’s plain-spoken and low-key style might not have fit the fighting spirit that the Republicans seem to be in, but surely that humble appearance was belied by his steadfastness through one of the most bare-knuckle political battles of recent years.
As recently as mid-summer Walker was considered the front-runner in the race, and the Democrats were nervous enough about that they unleashed a torrent of media criticism about everything from his alleged “Unelectable Whiteness” to his being a few hours short of a college degree after dropping out of Marquette University. Whiteness does not render a candidate unelectable among the Republican electorate, of course, and the fact that Walker long ago chose to begin his extraordinarily successful career in politics rather take another useless course in political science likely only burnished his anti-establishment credentials and made him seem Truman-esque to a typical Republican voter, so there must be some other explanation for his fall from front-runner to back-of-the-pack.
Our best guess is that it has something to do with Donald Trump’s entry in the race. Since his vainglorious announcement Trump has received more free media attention than the combined war chests of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush could ever buy, with the Democratic-friendly press eager to publicize his latest put-downs and bizarre conspiracy theories rather than Walker’s or any other Republican candidate’s record of accomplishments, and a worrisome plurality of Republicans has apparently bought into the idea that schoolyard taunts and petulant facial expressions and obnoxious boastfulness are better indications of a fighting spirit than a willingness to steadfastly defy the money and mobs and rogue prosecutors of a powerful special interest. We live in a time, alas, when a substantive record of accomplishment is less important than flash.
This is nothing new, of course. At this point in the ’08 election cycle we were rooting for Rudy Giuliani, whose track record of transforming New York City from a bankrupt and crime-ridden and otherwise socialist hell-hole into a livable city seemed to fit him for an even bigger job, but his “big state strategy” of sitting out Iowa and New Hampshire and other places where New York social values don’t hold sway left him too far behind by the time the big states started voting to stay in the race. The Republicans wound up with the war hero and “maverick” image of Arizona Sen. John McCain instead. At this point in ’12 we held out hope for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another soft-spoken but rock-ribbed conservative who had somehow done a lot of good things in the blue state of Minnesota, and we wound up with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who would have made a better president than he did a presidential candidate. This time around we’re once again looking for a second choice, and remain hopeful that there are still good choices left in the game, but it seems the preference for flash over substance is worse than ever, so we’ll have to see how it plays out.
Walker made mistakes, of course, and for the remainder of the news cycle they’ll be carefully analyzed and then forgotten. One pundit blames it all on his reliance on one of those “establishment” campaign managers, which might explain his cautious performances in the two highly-related debates against his far flashier opponents, the panel of sensible people on one of our favorite talk radio shows cite his failure to emphasize his long record of fighting the good fight, and of course he should have known the rest of the media were unlikely to pay any attention to his remarkable history. One can hope that he’ll learn from these mistakes in future elections, but any good conservative will also be hoping that his next chance is in eight years when the Republicans will be up against the long history of parties failing to win a third term in the White House.
The fact that Walker has been a remarkable governor concedes the fact he’s also been an office-holder, which somehow suddenly seems a black mark on any office-seeker in a Republican nomination race, but there’s still some hope. Former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina has greatly impressed us in the debates, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson also strikes us as far better than any of the Democrats. Should the Republican electorate decide that having held office isn’t a disqualification for any office seekers there’s also Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose obvious lack of timidity has annoyed the party’s congressional leadership enough to earn the establishment’s scorn and perhaps some exemption from the disgruntled base, and even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose heresy on immigration is troubling but whose record otherwise is exemplary. There’s even a chance that such an impressive fellow as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will get some traction, and for all his squishiness we’d settle for a proven winner such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich to go up against whatever nominee the even more crazed Democrats are likely to settle on.
Reports indicate that Walker’s departure from the race was prompted by his concerns about going into debt to support the campaign operation he was forced to organize by his momentary front-runner status, which further endears him to us, and his parting speech suggests he wants to clear the way for any of the other candidates to defeat Trump, which is even more endearing. His retreat is getting at least a day’s worth of media attention that otherwise would have paid to Trump’s latest schoolyard taunt or crazy conspiracy theory, so his short-lived candidacy has at least accomplished that.

— Bud Norman

Is This the End of RICO?

At the risk of being imprisoned on federal racketeering charges, we will admit that we have our doubts about that whole anthropogenic global warming idea. We might eventually be proved wrong, in which case we will humbly admit our culpability in the end of all life on the planet, but in the meantime we don’t see any reason to to make a federal case of it.
At least 20 climate scientists disagree, though, and have written a letter to President Barack Obama urging that he use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to punish any criticism of their theories. Noting that Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has already proposed a similar idea, they ask  for a RICO investigation “of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change.” Perhaps they don’t mean us, as we are not a corporation and thoroughly disorganized, and we can swear in any courtroom that our doubts about the whole anthropogenic global warming idea are quite sincere and not meant to deceive, but we still find the scientists’ suggestion rather chilling.
Such a ban on public debate also strikes us as illiberal, and anti-scientific as well. Aside from a few quibbles about the First Amendment and the ramifications of a criminal justice system assuming it can read the minds of those citizens who avail themselves of its rights, the plan doesn’t seem likely to advance our understanding of mankind’s effect on climate or, assuming that mankind does some exert some effect, what to do about. We expect the censorious climate scientists will insist that the science is settled, and their policy prescriptions beyond any reasonable debate, but that’s the same thing the scientific community told Galileo when he was espousing a heliocentric rather than geocentric theory of the universe. Ever since then that tawdry episode was blamed on the Catholic church, which is always more fun, but that some overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion being asserted today was also in on it.
There were a few other dissidents against that consensus then, just as there are more than a few now, and we’re glad their arguments somehow survived the official sanctions that were imposed then, and we’re hopeful the current dissidents’ arguments will fare as well. Even so, we’d rather that the debate proceed without any RICO indictments. If the case for anthropogenic global warming is indeed iron-clad, as those climate scientists insist, they shouldn’t necessary. If those scientists are wrong, as any scientifically skeptical thinker would acknowledge is still a possibility, then the American economy will be needlessly hampered, science will be set back, innocent people will be wrongly persecuted, we’ll have to rely on the outside-our-jurisdiction Germans to for rebuttals, and there won’t be any conceivable way to blame it on the Catholic church.
We note that of the signatories of that letter is Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who once wrote an e-mail to his colleagues, since discovered among the hacked “climategate” e-mails at the University of East Anglia, admitting that “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t,” and whose thus-far unfulfilled prophecies of more and stronger hurricanes has been criticized as knowingly deceptive. We’re not suggesting he should be hauled into court, but so long as the First Amendment still applies to scientific debates we thought it worth noting.

— Bud Norman

Ahmed’s Clock and Its Ominous Ticking

Those sharp-eyed news aggregators over at the invaluable Instapundit.com web site routinely run stories about public school students victimized by paranoid educators and their ridiculous zero-tolerance policies, but so far the only one that’s been invited to White House is a 14-year-old from Texas named Ahmed Mohamad. Why he should be singled out for such a honor is unclear, but we have our suspicions.
Ahmed’s case is rather typical, after all, except that he was subject to arrest rather than just the suspensions and expulsions and public shaming that other victims of overzealousness have endured. Apparently the lad, an aspiring engineer, was showing off some sort of Rube Goldberg-esque electronic clock that he had been tinkering with, the clock was encased in a brief case and brimming with wires and looked enough like a bomb to a panicked English teacher that the police were called to the scene. The suspicions of the police were further aroused by Ahmed’s “passive aggressive” answers to their questions and his refusal to “offer any explanation about what it was,” and the student thus wound up in police custody on the class A misdemeanor charge of possession of a fake bomb before his release. One can imagine any number of reasons for Ahmed’s recalcitrance, some exculpatory and some damning, but given the facts as they were eventually established it does seem just another one of those numerous cases of students being victimized by paranoid educators and their ridiculous zero-tolerance policies.
It’s hardly the most outrageous case, though. For that title we’d recommend the case of the 7-year-old boy who was suspended from his Baltimore-area elementary school for chewing his toaster pastry into the shape of a gun, or perhaps the fifth-grade student in Milford, Massachusetts, who was kicked out of school because he made his hand into the shape of gun and cocked his thumb and said “bang,” or the high schooler who was arrested for wearing a t-shirt advertising the National Rifle Association. There are similar stories about first-graders being labeled as sexual harassers and subjected to police interrogation because of a pat on a classmate’s buttocks, 6-year-olds being suspended for kissing a girl’s hand, and other outsized responses to what once was considered normal childhood behavior. None of these students declined to explain their behavior, which in any case did not involve anything that could have possibly posed a threat to the safety of their schools, yet none rated an invitation to the White House for their travails.
Which is not all surprising. The current occupant of the White House is unlikely to make any gesture that could be interpreted as chastising the educational establishment’s gun phobias or its aversion to ordinary boyish behavior or its eagerness to censor the Second Amendment. With its Justice Department and Department of Education and the rest of the Democratic Party insisting on a guilty until proved innocent standard for any student accused of sexual impropriety on America’s college campuses, where a supposed “culture of rape” is the result of the left’s 50-year-old sexual revolution, the White House is even less likely to protest a crackdown on butt-patting and hand-kissing on the nation’s elementary school playgrounds. When the victim has a name such as Ahmed Mohamad, however, there’s an irresistible opportunity to blame it on that long-awaited anti-Muslim backlash rather than paranoid educators and their ridiculous zero-tolerance policies.
Ahmed’s name and Muslim faith might well have had something to do with that English teacher’s suspicions, as the student’s father angrily claims, as we can’t claim the White House’s ability to look into the heart of an English teacher in a Texas high school, but at this point we assume that every American public school employee has been properly taught to be exceedingly non-judgmental about Islam and downright paranoid about everything else, and the White House can’t wait around forever for that anti-Muslim backlash to materialize. There is indeed religious intolerance afoot in the land, but better to have a photo-op with some nerdy-looking would-be engineer as a photo op than any of the Jews who are victims of hate crimes at five times the rate of Muslims, or those nuns who are forced to purchase contraceptive coverage to subsidize the sex lives of those colleges girls at the mercy of the “culture of rape” that the sexual revolution wrought, or some protestant bakers who have been fined and forced into re-education camp for declining to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, or certainly some southern Christian white boy wearing an NRA t-shirt.
Better to send the loud and clear message that henceforth any nerdy-looking people with Arabic names and Muslim faith bringing brief cases full of funny-looking and unexplained wires into public building must be presumed innocent, even if paranoia is the appropriate response to nuns and dangerously-chewed toaster pastries and loaded fingers and schoolyard crushes and everything else. We expect that White House security will continue to take a more suspicious approach to their job, based on its recent paranoid reaction to an unattended coffee cup, and we suppose that is a good thing.

— Bud Norman

About That Debate

Thanks to the miracle of the internet we were able to see or at least hear almost the entirety of the big Republican presidential debate, either on the Cable News Networks’ spotty web site or a local talk radio station’s somewhat more reliable feed, and we found it most entertaining. Although we’ll leave it to the pollsters to declare who won, our many years in the theater criticism business leave us unable to resist the temptation of writing a review.
Unaccustomed as we are to saying anything nice about CNN, we thought it wasn’t altogether horrible. Moderator Jake Tapper had an annoying habit of interrupting the good stuff about the Obama administration’s failures and indulging all the internecine criticism, and the first-rate conservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt, who has been called “third-rate” by Donald Trump after he flunked the host’s simple quiz about the Middle East’s leadership, only got a couple of questions in, and the time allowed to the overcrowded stage of candidates did seem wildly unequal, but at least there were no out-of-left-field questions about contraception or some other non-issues that were calculated to create a controversy intended to further some Democratic campaign theme. Most of the questions seemed fair enough, and exposed a wider range of opinions than you’ll likely find in the Democratic debates, if they ever get around to having one, and allowed the candidates to demonstrate this is a very deep and talented field that just might include a very good president.
There’s some grousing on the right that the first part of the debate was all about Donald Trump, but at this point there’s no using denying that he’s what the race thus far has been all about, so we see no reason why they shouldn’t get it over with at the beginning. Happily, we can say that Trump didn’t seem to fare well by the attention. He was asked about his habit of making unfavorable and utterly irrelevant comments about peoples’ appearances, and after hearing a disapproving comment by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, whom Trump had already stated shouldn’t be on the same stage with him due to his lower poll numbers, Trump snidely responded that “I never attacked him on his looks, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.” This followed Paul’s golden opportunity to worry about entrusting America’s nuclear weaponry to someone whose “visceral response is to attack people’s appearance. Short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high.” More formidable candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former computer industry executive Carly Fiorina also responded to Trump’s junior high name-calling with an even more effective dignity, and we saw Trump coming off as a small, petty, obnoxious man. His fans no doubt loved it, and apparently rushed to the Drudge Report to record their cheers, but we don’t expect the upcoming polls will reflect that the rest of the post-junior high country was impressed.
Trump did well with his signature issue of illegal immigration, and of course wasn’t shy to take some well-earned credit for broadening the parameters of that debate, but we thought several of his rivals showed equal passion about the issue even as they proposed more moderate solutions. Unless the the Republicans somehow wind up with Bush or Rubio, which seems unlikely, and the self-described socialist yet tough-on-immigration Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders winds up with the Democratic nomination, which no longer seems so unlikely, the Republican will be on the popular side of the illegal immigration debate.
Not to say that she was the “winner,” a title that only more scientific polls than the one at Drudge can confer, but we must note that Fiorina is very, very good at this sort of thing. Throughout the proceedings she exhibited an impressive command of the facts and a logical response to them on a wide range of issues, offered a compelling life story of her rise from secretary in a small business to Chief Executive Officer of a leading high-tech company, a convincing account of her firing from that company and the lay-offs it made during a tech-sector downturn, and made a persuasive case that she’s a person whose intellect and character should be taken seriously. Our study of the classical art of rhetoric introduced us to the concepts of logosethos, and pathos, and Fiorina has achieved the trifecta.
She was especially good on her foreign policy, in regards to both Russia’s adventurism in Ukraine and the rest of the old Soviet Union and the even more rapidly deteriorating situation in the Middle East and the increasingly convoluted relationship between the two, and was impressively blunt and specific and  hawkish about the military spending that will be required to achieve it. We were reminded of the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and we can think of no greater compliment than that. Another high-point of the night was when CNN generously allowed her the opportunity to respond to Trump’s statement about her in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, of all people, in which he said of her, “Look at that face. Why would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that face, the face of our next president? I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posteda say bad things, but really folks, come on. Are we serious?” The question to Fiorina about it conveniently followed one that had Trump doubling-down on his criticism of a obvious misstatement Bush had made about funding women’s health care during an interview about the narrower issue of Planned Parenthood, and after Bush’s apologies and clarifications Trump sneered “I heard what you said,” so Fiorina siezedthe opportunity to note that everyone in America also heard and fully understood what Trump had said about her. After nearly a full moment of deafening applause, Trump was reduced to his previous explanation that by “face” he meant “persona,” and the apologetic addendum that he he thought she had a “lovely face.” Already Fiorina had come out with a compelling campaign advertisement about her face, boasting that it’s 61-years-old and and that she’s “proud of every year and every wrinkle,” and featuring the faces of other women that Donald Trump wouldn’t treat to shrimp cocktails but otherwise deserve the full respect of anyone aspires to the presidency of the United States, and we don’t expect the insult will reap further rewards for Fiorina. Ordinarily we wouldn’t comment on such matters, but given the latest events in the news we’ll admit that to our 56-year-old eyes the 61-year-old Fiorina and her wizened and dignified persona strike us as quite fetching, even if her happily married status and our old-fashioned standards render that entirely moot, and at the risk of sounding junior high we think that the libidinous Trump and his absurd hairdo should thank his lucky stars that he’s so famously rich.
Another Fiorina triumph came toward the end of the evening, when the moderator asked an admittedly frivolous question about which woman should take the place of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. A couple of the candidates persuasively argued that the former-slave-holding and Indian-oppressing Democratic hero President Andrew Jackson should be nudged aside from the $20 bill to make room for a woman, but all were willing to name some woman another who deserved the honor. Some suggested their wives or mother, others preferred Rosa Parks or Susan B. Anthony or various other politically correct heroines of recent decades, but the only woman on the stage felt free to say that both the $10 and $20 bills should stay the same. She dismissed the issue as mere symbolism and pandering to women as a special interest, when now constitute a majority of the electorate and have the same interest in men in sensible policies and sound leadership, and we note that the supposedly sexist audience at a Republican presidential debate gave her another prolonged applause.
The rest of the cast was pretty good, too, although only to an extent that’s not likely to change those upcoming polls. We though Bush as pretty combative, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seemed to enjoy an outsized role in the production, at which point you can insert your own fat joke, but we’ve never figured either will play any role in the race. Bush has committed to positions on illegal immigration and the Common Core curriculum that the middle-of-the-country Republican electorate will never support, no matter how sincere or well-stated his arguments might be, and being from New Jersey Christie has similar heresies to overcome. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was strong, but has the same illegal immigration problem as Bush and wasn’t nearly strong enough to overcome it. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was good, as the veteran television presence always is, and we loved his defiance of the same-sex marriage ruling and the rest of his evangelical furor as much as the next Republican, but he doesn’t seem the right guy to deal with that $18 trillion deficit and the steady growth in government, and we don’t expect his performance will move him up in the polls. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who convincingly claimed that he could deliver his bellwether state to the Republicans, also drifted too far afield from Republican orthodoxy to hope for any improvement in his standing. The other non-politician that has been polling well in this anti-politics year is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, whose low-key and soft-spoken and humble persona contrasts nicely with the garish and bombastic and braggadocios Trump, was a little too low-key and soft-spoken and humble to stand out in the debate, and had a few awkward moments explain his past opposition to fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
We’re still tentatively rooting for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, due to the three impressive electoral wins he pulled off while fighting tooth-and-nail against the combined national might of the public sector unions in a most righteous attempt to reform his long misguided state, somehow pulling off the God-given right-to-work in the process, and on the whole we thought he did all right. He didn’t command the stage nearly so much as we might have hoped, and we fear he might have even gone largely unnoticed, but at least there were no memorable gaffes. The somehow anti-establishmrny Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is another candidate we’re liking, and he also did well, but his performance likely did nothing to change his standing.
We also like the performances of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has already dropped out of the race, and whiz-kid Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who lingers so far back in the polls he was relegated to the not-ready-for-primetime debate, which we admit we did not watch, so that’s how reliable a barometer our opinions are. Still, the evening’s entertainment left us with a hopeful feeling. At some point in the debate the charming Huckabee noted that no one seeking the Republican nomination is a self-described socialist or being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for using a private e-mail server for official business, and that he would have no hesitancy to to vote any of them against the possible Democratic nominees. This is one of those rare occasions when we agree with Huckabee, although we have to admit there would be some nose-holding involved in at least one case, and again we say that we enjoyed the show.
The Democratic episodes should be entertaining, too, if they ever get around to one. At the moment that Sanders guy seems the craziest of the competitors, and therefore the most likely to win, but Clinton still has all that money, and Vice President Joe Biden could conceivably inherit President Barack Obama’s die-hard fans and simultaneously capitalize on the anti-status quo sentiment that Sanders is currently riding, but we have no idea how that might turn out. If it turns out to be Fiorina and Clinton standing next to another on a debate stage, though, we think Fiorina would romp like that Ronda Rousey in the “mixed martial arts” game taking on Beth Correia.
No votes have yet been cast, and won’t be until next year, which we like to think is still a ways off, so we won’t reach any conclusion except that it was a good show.

— Bud Norman