As Time Slowly Stretches Into Election Day

The craziest election year of our long recollection got even crazier over the weekend, as Friday’s announcement by the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that their interest in Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s scandal-plagued e-mail is once again piqued by some newly-discovered evidence spilled over into the ensuing two days of otherwise slow news cycle.
All the polls were already showing that Clinton’s once formidable lead had tightened enough to clearly worry the more partisan Democratic press, so the FBI’s announcement set off something of a panic among the more polite publications. The news was impossible to ignore, or even keep off the very front page, and quite difficult to spin. There was no avoiding the words “e-mail” or “FBI investigation” in the early paragraphs, and of course the words “Anthony Weiner” were also bound to come up at some point in the story, and by now anyone who’s been following the improbable plot twists of this crazy election years knows that all of that amounts to bad news for the Democrats that can only remind voters of all the rest of the past 30 years of bad news. The Democratic nominee and her more stalwart defenders in the press could raise legitimate questions about the vagueness of that FBI director’s announcement, and why it comes at such a crucial point in such a crazy election year, but none of those questions would have ever come up if Clinton had only followed the sensible laws regarding a Secretary of State’s e-mail communications, and there’s no getting around the questions of judgment that raises, nor avoiding the questions of character that might explain her motives, so even those stalwart defenders of the Democratic nominee among the more polite press sounded slightly panicked.
As recently as the day before last Friday in this crazy election year they all seemed pretty cocky, with the previous news cycles being mostly about Republican nominee Donald Trump and all his accumulated scandals and hard-to-spin awfulness, and all the polls showing that aforementioned comfortable lead for Clinton. The words “grab ’em by the p***y” are also hard to keep out out of the news when uttered by a major party nominee, and the more impolite pro-Trump sort of press had their work cut out for them in trying to defend his attacks on the inevitable numerous women who came forward to say that he’d done pretty much what he bragged about, and when you throw in the rest of his attacks on prisoners of war and Gold Star families and his evictions of widows and three marriages and the four casino-and-strip-club bankruptcies and frequent heresies from both Christianity and Republicanism and geo-political and economic common sense along with the hard-to-miss buffoonery and boorishness and ignorance and almost daily weirdness that had made him the most unfavorably-regarded major nominee ever, so it was hard to dispute the left’s cockiness of just the day before last Friday.
But that was a long time ago, as we measure time in such a crazy election year as this, before the latest reminder that Democrat is arguably criminal and undeniably corrupt, and with eight seemingly eternal days left before the last votes are counted we remain as uncertain as ever as to how this will all turn out. Clinton still looks fairly safe on that stubbornly resistant-to-the-latest-nws electoral map, Trump clearly has the come-from-behind national momentum to provoke all that panic in the press, both candidates still have the most unfavorable ratings in the history of American political polling, and with eight excruciatingly long days left in this crazy election year there’s something bound to come out that would make such average voters as ourselves loathe them both even more. Clinton and her defenders might yet spin this into a favorable story, the same FBI director who until last Friday had been regaled by Trump’s defenders as a conspirator in a rigged system might prove it with yet another improbable plot twist, and the possibility of Trump providing yet another unfavorable news cycle does not seem at all remote.
At this point we’ll just wait and see which of these two awful people the rest of the country considers the less awful, and in any case we’ll wonder what the hell about this crazy election year in rueful retrospect.

— Bud Norman

Looking Ahead at Anger

In such a crazy election year as this we’ll leave it to all those poor pollsters and the more presumptuous sorts of pundits to predict who’s going to win that awful presidential race, but we will venture a confident guess that no matter how it turns out there are going a lot of very angry people. How angry remains to be seen, and we’d also prefer not to speculate about that.
The New York Times is worried that some supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump will resort to armed insurrection should their man be denied the presidency, and has quite believable quotes from his fans in several states admitting that possibility with various degrees of enthusiasm for the project, and although we’d usually be inclined to consider that mere left-wing media propaganda we heard pretty much the same threats coming from one of the more effusive right-wing talk radio hosts while driving home on an otherwise lovely evening from a nice dinner with the folks. Trump’s recent talk of a “rigged election” and his vow to keep the country in suspense about whether he’ll accept an unfavorable result certainly doesn’t diminish the chances of post-election unpleasantness, and there’s no denying the videotaped evidence he’s encouraged rough behavior by his most so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters, so we can’t say that the once-venerable Gray Lady’s worries are entirely unjustified.
We do regard it as rank left-wing-propaganda-by-omission, however, that they aren’t also fretting about how some supporters of Clinton might respond to a still-at-least-slightly-possible Trump victory on election night. Trump’s supporters have been attacked by vicious mobs at several rallies, Republican offices have been fire-bombed and vandalized, and the theft of Trump yard signs has become so common that The Washington Post acknowledged it by running an op-ed from a convicted sign-stealer. Clinton has carefully courted the support of a “Black Lives Matter” movement that spilled over into violent and destructive riots in several cities, whatever’s left of that destructive “Occupy” movement and a broader campus left that has students scaring speakers away and professors calling for “muscle” to remove any pesky journalists, and certainly done nothing to diminish their red-hot hatred of Republicans in general and Trump in particular. The more left-wing media might have reason to regard a Trump win as only slightly possible, but we’d like to see them acknowledge that the likelihood of any widespread problems resulting from that is also worrying.
We hold out some hope that either outcome won’t result in anything of remotely civil war proportions, but not for very hopeful reasons. All the polls and plenty of anecdotal evidence suggest that most of Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters are past their prime rioting-in-the-streets age, and although some of them are still pretty feisty and pretty much all of them are gun-owning we can’t see them mounting anything that could reasonably be called an insurrection. Should all the polls and anecdotal evidence be proved false and Trump wins, we expect a far worse response, given that the angry will be younger and include a whole lot of recently experienced urban rioters and what Trump might aptly call “bad hombres,” but we expect that the campus left will retreat into safe spaces, the fires will burn themselves out before Trump starts to impose his promised law and order is required to put down anything approaching an insurrection, and after a brief panic the stock markets and the rest of that hated “establishment” will start negotiating deals with the self-proclaimed master deal-maker and four-times-bankrupt casino mogul.
There will be much ill-feeling among much of the the country no matter the outcome, and as Trump might say, that we can tell you, believe us, OK? For as long as we can remember politics ain’t beanbag, as one of our favorite old sayings goes, but this crazy election year’s awful presidential race has featured an unprecedented amount of mud-slinging, and so far as we can tell from our pox-on-both-their-houses perspective all of it has stuck on both of these awful candidates, so we expect that post-election recriminations are also likely to be more troublesome than usual. We’re pleased to note that neither candidate has a clear majority in any of the polls, however, because that means no matter who wins there’s still a chance that most of our fellow Americans will have righteously joined us in not voting for either her or him. Probably 90 percent of the country will have voted for one of the other, which is not so pleasing, but we can respect their reasons for doing so at this sorry moment in our binary world. No matter the outcome of this awful presidential race in this crazy election we promise that won’t be rioting in the streets, and even though we do have a handgun around just in case of the worst possible scenarios we won’t be fomenting any armed insurrection.

— Bud Norman

A New Deal For Black America from an Old White Guy

Republican nominee Donald Trump outlined a “New Deal for Black America” on Wednesday, and we have to admit that to such middle-aged white folks as ourselves it made a lot of sense. Even the skeptical scribes at the impeccably liberal Washington Post had to concede that his speech in the crucial and traditionally-Republican-yet-largely-black and suddenly swing state of North Carolina was “heavy on policy specifics,” especially by Trump standards, and it specifically addressed the educational and economic and criminal problems that clearly afflict too much of black America. How black folks of any age will respond remains to be seen, but our guess is that they’ll largely reject the messenger if not the entirety of the message.
We especially liked the part about charter schools and other parental choices for education, even if it wasn’t so bold as to come right out and mention vouchers and privatization, and we expect that much of black America will as well. The current system of one-size-fits-all education has resulted in an inarguable racial gap, educational outcomes are the most reliable predictor of economic outcomes, and they always will be unless there’s an economically disastrous and politically impossible quota system imposed on the country, and any old Republican nominee can make a persuasive case that for all their black-friendly reputation the Democrats are too beholden to those stubborn teachers’ unions to ever allow any significant changes in the cushy-for-teachers but ineffective-for-students current system. All the public opinion polls show that this is one of those internecine Democratic interest group conflicts that any old Republican nominee should be able to exploit, and Trump’s undeniably anti-establishment reputation makes it all the more exploitable, so we’ll give him credit for trying, even if more than the usual 95 percent of black voters ultimately don’t.
Without addressing that educational racial gap you really can’t address that economic racial gap, absent those quota systems that Trump surely wouldn’t consider, but Trump also proposed tax holidays and other economic incentives for investment in the most blighted black neighborhoods, and he managed to avoid his past suggestions that pretty much of all black America except his black celebrity friends live in such blight, and the scribes at The Washington Post seem slightly worried about it. Such hard-core capitalist and middle-aged white folks as ourselves have a mixed reaction to his proposals, some of which seem like the usual bad bets waged by government that realists would avoid, we can only imagine that Trump’s supporters on the defiantly white nationalist alt-right will be even more annoyed, and we can’t blame any black folks of any age for pointing out that at no time in his hard-core capitalist life did Trump ever lay down any bets on black America’s more blighted communities, except for maybe Atlantic City, where everyone else he was in business with went bankrupt while he boastfully pocketed millions.
Trump’s old-school Republican “Law and Order” themes should also arguably appeal to the lawful and orderly majority of black Americans, and have a special resonance with that law-abiding and ordered majority of black America’s minority who have to contend with black America’s most blighted neighborhoods, but we don’t expect his more specific policies will prove popular with most black folk. Trump and his now-ubiquitous surrogate former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani are by now associated with the “stop-and-frisk” policy that allowed police wide latitude to stop and frisk random pedestrians, who more often than not were non-white, and a generally indulgent attitude toward police shootings of civilians, who are also more often than non-white. Such middle-aged white folks as ourselves are willing to concede that most more-or-less reasonable searches as seizures in the most blighted areas of black America will mostly involve black folks, and that police shootings of civilians are more often than not quite justifiable no matter the races of the shooters or shot, but we’re also hard-core Constitutionalists who admit there’s some reasonable-search-and-seizure issues involved. We’re also such policy wonks that we have to wonder how much stop-and-frisk had to do with the undeniable drop in the number of murders and other crimes committed in New York City during Giuliani’s generally successful mayoralty, given all the other shrewd law enforcement measures he enacted, and we have enough law-abiding orderly black friends that we can understand their gripes about that time some cop made an entirely unreasonable search, and we can well understand why they might want a harder look at those times when the police shooting of a civilian wasn’t so clearly justified.
Any old Republican nominee should be able to make a nuanced case that the Democratic nominee and the rest of her party are going to get a whole lot of black lives that really do matter killed, and that in the meantime those lives will mostly be spent in economic inequality because of Democratic policies, and that it’s largely because of an educational gap that those teachers’ unions won’t allow the Democrats to address, but Trump has problems making the case that any other old Republican nominee probably wouldn’t have. His family business has been dogged settled cases over housing discrimination, he still insists that those vindicated “Central Park Five” defendants should be jailed despite scientific evidence to the contrary, his ham-fisted “What have you got to lose” line still resonates in the ears of all sorts of black Americans who have something to lose, those defiantly white nationalist supporters on the alt-right are still on board, and even such old-fashioned Republican and trying-hard-not-be-racist middle white folks as ourselves aren’t quite buying it. That Democratic nominee is at least as awful, whether you’re white or black or anything in between, so at this point in this crazy election year we don’t expect it will make much of a difference either way.

— Bud Norman

Turning Off the Radio and Tuning Into Reality

While scanning the AM band on an otherwise lovely fall evening’s drive, we found ourselves being screamed at by one of the more prominent right-wing radio talkers. The fellow has always been prone to screaming — or, as he prefers to call it, “passion” — but of course in this crazy election year the tendency has been more pronounced. Usually he’s screaming at the sorts of people who vote for Democratic presidential candidates, which makes it somewhat more tolerable, as we would never do such a damned fool thing as that anyway, but in this case he was screaming at such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves who won’t go so far as to cast a vote for this crazy election year’s Grand Old Party nominee.
He made a completely convincing case about how very awful the Democratic nominee is, but he didn’t even attempt to argue that the Republican isn’t also very awful, and his screaming somehow didn’t make his screed any more persuasive. The guy with the preceding time slot on our local right-wing talk radio station’s line-up has lately been talking about how he’s going to “even the score” with all us old-fashioned Republicans who aren’t fully on board with this crazy election’s year GOP nominee, but such idle threats are also unlikely to sway us. That more highly-rated guy on the mid-day shift and the rest of the right-wing radio talkers are for the most part on too early for our nocturnal selves to pay full attention, but so far as we can tell while the coffee’s brewing they’re all making pretty much the same arguments with the same level of unpersuasive acrimony.
Should all those “rigged-by-the-Democrats polls” and the Republican nominee’s own prediction of a “rigged election” election prove true in less than a couple of weeks, we don’t expect that the rhetoric of the internecine Republican war will become any more civil. Which is a shame, because no matter how this crazy election year turns out the Republican Party is going to need to have a long, hard talk with itself about why it came up with such an awful nominee, and the undeniable and arguably even worse awfulness of the Democratic nominee will provide no satisfactory excuses. Screaming and schoolyard taunts and threats of evening the score won’t help at all, no matter how much faith the right-wing radio talkers put in such tactics, and it require a more introspective sort of discussion that that too many Republicans now seem to consider sissified.
For those sorts of old-fashioned Republicans who occasionally turn off the radio and start reading print publications there was a commendably smart essay recently over at the formerly venerated and now-reviled National Review about the coming conversation, and it linked to a video of an old “Firing Line” debate that featured the publication’s founder William Buckley and and its senior editor James Burnham along with columnist George F. Will and Admiral Elmo Zumwalt squaring off against former California Gov. Ronald Reagan and columnist Pat Buchanan and Latin American expert Roger Fontaine and Admiral John McCain Jr. on the matter of handing over control of the Panama Canal. Although the matter is now largely forgotten it was a hot button issue back in 1978, contentious enough that such conservative grandees as the aforementioned found themselves on opposite sides of the debate, but it’s still worth watching to see how they argued with such collegiality, intellectual depth, and a lack of schoolyard-taunting or screaming or threats of evening the score. They all came together a couple of years later to elect Reagan to the presidency, which led to a pretty good 12 years for the Republican Party and the country, and  it would be nice to see that happen again.
It’s hard to envision that happening again, and impossible to imagine the Republican nominee of the crazy election year sounding so soft-spoken and reasonable as Reagan did, but when we turn the AM dial to that old folks’ station that still plays Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee or the country oldies station that has Buck Owens and the Buckaroos singing “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail” anything seems possible.

— Bud Norman</

Two Obituaries for the ’60s

There were more than the usual number of famous names in Monday’s obituaries, including a comedian who used to crack us up and the lead singer for a band that some of our friends can’t believe we don’t remember, but the ones that grabbed our attention were for Bobby Vee and Tom Hayden. The juxtaposition of the clean-cut teen idol with the smooth pop sound and the unkempt activist with the radical agenda was jarring, as they represent the cultural extremes of the 1960’s, and their almost simultaneous passings are a reminder that the influence of that turbulent decade still hasn’t quite come to an end.
Born as Robert Thomas Velline in Fargo, North Dakota, Bobby Vee came right out of the rock ‘n’ roll craze of the ’50s, with his big break coming when he and his garage band The Shadows filled in for Buddy Holly and the Crickets at the nearby Moorhead, Minnesota, stop on the Winter Dance Party tour after Holly’s death in a plane crash. That crash not only ended Holly’s legendary career but also the promising 16-year-old Richie Valens’, in the same year when Elvis Presley was drafted and Chuck Berry was sent to prison on a Mann Act violation and Jerry Lee Lewis’s career was derailed by the outrage over him marrying an underage cousin while he was married to someone else, a sex scandal trifecta that even The Rolling Stones haven’t achieved, and after that the greasier and scarier sorts of rock ‘n’ roll stars were briefly supplanted by such wholesomely handsome and well-groomed and suit-and-tie wearing singers such as Bobby Vee.
Vee’s first big hit was a strikingly Holly-esque tune called “Suzie Baby,” with the first recording retaining some of the inspiration’s jangly guitar and rock ‘n’ roll authenticity, but by the time he re-recorded what proved to be a smash hit it had been ironed out to fit an early ’60s sense of decorum. He followed that up with a luscious “Take Good Care of My Baby,” written with old-fashioned Tin Pan Alley craftsmanship by Barry Geffen and Carol King, and such professionally rendered pop songs as “Devil or Angel,” “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” and “Run to Him,” which still stand out among the best of that brief interregnum in rock ‘n’ roll’s reign. Each had a bouncy enough beat and uptempo youth appeal to fit on American Bandstand’s roundup of the latest youth culture, but it was fare more redolent of those ’40s and ’50s crooners and their carefully polished-tunes and earnest politeness that were nearly wiped out by rock ‘n’ roll, and that’s how the ’60s began.
The decade ended with musicians smashing their guitars and setting them afire and playing psychedelic electric guitar versions of The National Anthem, and rock ‘n’ rollers were suddenly even hairier and scarier than those backwoods rednecks and urban ghetto-dwellers of the ’50s had been, and that was the era when Tom Hayden became a sort of celebrity. Born in 1939 to more or less middle class comfort in the placid town of Royal Oak, Mich., Hayden attended a Catholic school where the pastor was the infamously right-wing radio pundit Father Charles Coughlin, then wound up at the infamously left-wing University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he immediately began to acquire a left-wing infamy of his own. He was editor of the school’s suddenly radicalized student newspaper, jailed and beaten for his civil rights activism in the South, a founding member of the anti-Vietnam War and anti-capitalist Students for a Democratic Society, an author of the Port Huron Statement that became a manifesto for the New Left, and was one of the “Chicago Seven” brought to a widely publicized trial for allegedly fomenting riots at the 1968 Democratic Party’s national convention. This was lead-story-on-the-nightly-news and cover-of-The-Rolling-Stone stuff back then, so by the time the ’70s rolled around Hayden was a much bigger star than Bobby Vee.
Hayden wound up divorcing his first wife and a few years later getting married to Oscar-winning and impeccably left-wing actress Jane Fonda, with both soon heading off to Vietnam for a highly controversial photo-op with the North Vietnamese, and although they later divorced they were even more newsworthy than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie while it lasted. After the divorce he settled in the woman he would be married to until his death, and a rather routine career as a politician. He lost a California Democratic primary race to Sen. John Tunney in ’76, but won a State Assemblyman seat in 82, moved up to the state Senate in 93 and hung around Sacramento until 2000, and compiled a record that was undeniably left-wing but not conspicuously radical by California standards. He lost races for governor in ’94 and the Los Angeles mayoralty in ’97 and a seat on the L.A. City Council in 2001.
By the time the 21st Century rolled around Hayden was still reviled by the city’s growing Vietnamese refugee population and aging white Republicans, but newly regarded as something of a sell-out by the newer New Left. Hayden had written memoirs and articles confessing his regret that his anti-Vietnam war stance had spilled over into anti-Americanism, ruefully acknowledging that his Students for a Democratic Society had spawned the terrorist Weather Underground, and lamenting that the free speech and individual rights ideas of that crazy Port Huron statement had somehow led to a newer New Left that clamored for speech codes and group identity politics, and seemed to have forgotten the realism of the Old Left that Father Coughlin had railed against and Hayden’s generation had nearly wiped out, and even his impeccably left-wing voting record could not absolve his heresies or make him hip again. At one point in the early ’80s we caught Hayden’s act live, as we were on a hitchhiking trip up the East Coast and crashed at a friends dorm at Harvard University and went along to lecture Hayden was giving, and we still chuckle at how the crowd rolled its eyes at his saccharine shtick about his daughter’s fear of nuclear weapons and how a professorial looking fellow with a gray beard and patched elbows on his jacket shouted “Send in the Marines!”
Bobby Vee stayed married to the same woman for 50 years, despite the temptations that a good-looking pop star probably encountered, spent most of the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s making a good living on the oldies circuit, then settled into a quiet small town life in St. Joseph, Minnesota, then slowly succumbed to an early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. The Beatles covered “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Run to Him,” so the hottest band of the ’60s vouched for his coolness, and the same Carol King who wrote the former song had the biggest selling album of the ’70s with that great Tin Pan Alley hippie manifesto of an album “Tapestry,” and another big fan is the newly proclaimed Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan. Back when Dylan was a small town Minnesota boy named Robert Zimmerman he had a short stint as the keyboards player with Bobby Vee and the Shadows, and we highly recommend his affectionate cover of “Suzie Baby.”
It remains how to be seen how the ’60s will ultimately play out, but we’re glad to note that this crazy election will almost certainly be the last to feature any of those damned baby-boomers, and we hope that the very best of both Bobby Vee and Tom Hayden will somehow persist, and that the worst of it will somehow fade away.

— Bud Norman

On the Strange Confluence of the Philippines and the American Presidential Race

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is making an issue of America’s rapidly deteriorating relationship with the Philippines, as any old Republican nominee would, but at this point in such a crazy election year as this it is unlikely to do him any good.
At first glance the issue seems tailor-made for any old Republican’s faltering campaign. The president of a longtime and still-essential Asian ally travels to China to renounce all military and economic ties with the United States, declares an ominous alliance with China and Russia “against the world,” while an incumbent Democratic administration that has spent nearly eight years alienating allies and appeasing enemies is once again clearly caught off-guard, so the Republican rhetoric should pretty much write itself. That defecting president’s pull-out quote about how “America has lost” plays right in with the Republican nominee’s campaign theme that America never wins anymore, too, so it should have been at least enough to push those pesky groping allegations off the front page for a day or two. In such a crazy election year as this, though, it’s a more complicated matter.
For one thing, it’s not quite clear that the Philippines has actually renounced its relationship with the United States or embarked on a new one with China and Russia. President Rodrigo Duterte apparently has, despite some recent backtracking, but he’s only the president of the Philippines and has constitutionally limited authority, and the rest of the government and most of the country have a markedly different opinion that might yet prevail. There’s been an anti-American strain in Filipino politics ever since the United States reluctantly found itself an occupying power in the aftermath of the Spanish-American war, which of course involved some unpleasantness, but that ended centuries of Spanish colonial rule that were far more heavy-handed, and America was eager to quickly hand over power to a sovereign democracy, which was soon conquered by Japanese invaders who were the worst yet, with the Americans coming to the rescue, albeit for somewhat self-interested reasons, and since then the big threat has been the Chinese who had also ruthlessly ruled the country before the Spanish kicked them out, so for the most part Filipinos are kindly inclined toward Americans and the $24 billion dollars of business they with them each year. Indeed, even after nearly eight years of the Obama administration America’s approval rating in the Philippines is higher than anywhere in Europe, Asia, South America, or even the United States itself.
As much as we’d love to blame the estrangement on the Obama administration and both of its godawful Secretaries of State, whose brusque treatment of such longtime allies as the Czechs and Poles and British and Canadians and Australians and Israelis and anti-communist Hondurans and obsequious gestures toward Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood has given the whole world reason to question whether American friendship is worth much or American animosity risks anything, we have to admit that this Duterte character is more at fault. He was elected by the Filipino people in a fit of anti-establishment pique last May, after a populist “Philippines First” campaign that featured him bragging about his penis size, and has since been making all sorts of inexplicable trouble for the country. He instituted “law and order” policy that has killed hundreds of suspected but unproved dealers, called the American president a “son of a whore” for threatening to ask about it at an Asian summit, used the same term to describe Pope Francis over some dispute or another, repeatedly praised the strong leadership of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, threatened his many media critics with official retribution, and publicly regretted that he wasn’t “first in line” for the 1989 gang rape of an Australian missionary.
If this reminds you of anybody be assured that even such anti-Trump publications as Time Magazine and The Guardian have told their readers that the Republican nominee is no Duterte, both noting that the Filipino actually has a long record of political service, and even such anti-Trump sorts as ourselves will admit that Trump hasn’t proposed death squads to deal with the drug problem and that even his most outrageous shtick on the Howard Stern show doesn’t rise to the level of that gang-rape gag. Still, there are sufficient similarities, right down to the boasts about penis size and the feuds with the Pope and the bromance with Putin, to give any voters in a fit of anti-establishment pique some pause. Duterte and his renunciation of longstanding treaty obligations would provide a good talking to almost any old Republican presidential nominee, but in this crazy election year Trump also has other problems exploiting the issue.
Almost any old Republican nominee could hammer the Obama administration and that godawful first Secretary of State who is somehow the Democratic nominee over their reckless policy of alienating allies and appeasing foes, which surely has something to do with Duterte’s latest craziness, but Trump is in poor position to do so. He has declared the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “obsolete” and threatened to leave it for a younger, hotter alliance unless they agree to his financial conditions, suggested that Japan and North Korea might need to acquire nuclear weapons rather than rely on the under-paid American umbrella, given the same suggestion to Saudi Arabia, and generally made clear that the entire Pax Americana is going to be re-negotiated or altogether abandoned no matter the outcome of the upcoming election, so at this point we can hardly blame any ally or foe who plans accordingly.
Besides, most Americans have only the vaguest idea that there is a Philippines, and no idea who Rodrigo Duterte is, and they’re rightfully suspicious about why the Philippines is spelled with a “Ph” but Filipinos use an “F,” and there are more pressing concerns about the populist Republican nominee’s hand size and you-know-what-means and his own foul language and verbal feud with the Pope and how very awful that Democratic nominee is. This latest news from the Philippines is bad for everyone, both major party nominees for the presidency included, and we’ll just have to see how badly it plays out.

— Bud Norman

Pining for the Pre-Depression Days of Al Smith and Herbert Hoover

One of the great traditions in American politics, at least during the more normal presidential election years, is the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation’s dinner in New York City. Named for the four-time New York governor who became the first Catholic presidential nominee as the Democratic standard-bearer in the ’28 race, the foundation raises money for Catholic charities and hosts an annual swanky big-bucks white-tie affair that always attracts the cream of New York’s political and business and media and social elites, and every leap year’s dinner features both presidential contenders taking a night off from the campaign’s acrimony to make self-deprecating jokes about themselves and lighthearted joshes about the opponent.
In this crazy election year, of course, it didn’t work out that way.
This year the dinner was inconveniently scheduled the day after what turned out to be an especially acrimonious debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican rival Donald Trump, and both candidates were facing a tough crowd. Some hacked computers files made public by Wikileaks have recently revealed some of Clinton’s staffers making anti-Catholic remarks, and the New York press has recently quoted some high-ranking church official’s taking exception to Clinton’s maximalist positions on abortion. Trump’s unpopularity with New York’s political and business and media and social elites is more longstanding, and his recent rhetoric about how they’re all part of a system rigged against him hasn’t helped. Throw in that Trump doesn’t do self-deprecation or light-hearted joshing, and Clinton has no apparent sense of humor of any sort, and the affair was off to a bad start before the first glass of wine was served.
Trump was given the first opportunity to prove how very charming and witty and likable he was, but for some reason chose not to even try. Coming on to polite applause, Trump got a laugh by pointing out a couple of pols and talking about they used to love him back when he was a Democrat, got another laugh by noting how many people in the room have known and loved for so many years, bragged how they use to seek his donations, then groused that they all hate him now that he’s a Republican. Noting the tradition of making self-deprecating jokes, Trump got a few laughs about how uncharacteristic that would be, did some joshing with the Cardinal seated nearby how they both have fancy buildings on Fifth Avenue, and humbly conceded that “nobody can compete with God, is that right? No contest.” He then launched into Clinton with a joke about her bumping into him and saying “pardon me,” and how he had offered him an ambassadorship to Iraq or Afghanistan, and noting that she usually charged more for speeches to rich people, all of which was in the spirit of the event and got a few polite chuckles. Then he compared Clinton unfavorably to his long-time tabloid nemesis Rosie O’Donnell, which clearly made the crowd uncomfortable, and made a joke about how the assembled media were working on Clinton’s behalf, which came off rather bitter.
He shifted back to self-deprecating mode with a joke about how the media will praise Michelle Obama for making a great speech but criticize his wife for making the exact same speech, which got a good laugh, but it was mostly deprecating his wife, and isn’t likely to help his gender gap in the polls. From that point on the joshing was noticeably less light-hearted, as Trump started snarling jokes about Clinton telling her father confessor at the Federal Bureau of Investigation “she couldn’t remember 39 times,” and such gems as “Hillary is so corrupt, she got kicked off the Watergate commission. How corrupt do you have to be? Pretty corrupt.” There was some further criticism of her corruption that didn’t seem a joke at all, then a line about how she was invited by e-mail but didn’t learn until Wikileaks revealed, then another non-joke about Clinton taking public and private positions, which set up what he seemed to think was a joke about Clinton “pretending not to hate Catholics.”
The material probably would have killed at one of Trump’s rallies, where the crowds are adorned in “Make America Great Again” ball caps and “Trump That Bitch” t-shirts, but the white-tied and elegantly gowned crowd of New York’s elites were loudly booing him by that point, which kind of deflated a closing joke about “Hillary Clinton’s isn’t laughing as much as the rest of us.” He made a slight recovery with some kind words about the good works done by Catholic charities, and left to some straining-to-be-polite applause, but the press was already rushing to print negative reviews about Trump’s “screed.”
Few politicians in American history have ever had greater need to come across as witty and charming and likable than Clinton, and we’ll have to concede she was savvy enough to take full advantage of the opportunity. She started by noting that Al Smith’s running mate was from Arkansas and a boyhood hero of her husband, which seemed to endear her to the Catholics in the crowd, then launched into the old self-deprecating shtick with a joke about she’s taken time off her “rigorous nap schedule” to be there and provided her own joke about she usually charges big bucks for a speech to rich people. She got a few laughs with a subtle joke about being up against a stained-glass ceiling, bigger laughs an inside-New York joke about the mayor and the governor’s rivalry, polite twitters with a josh about formal pantsuits, flattered the crowd that they were a “basket of adorables,” and then launched into Trump. She invited him to stand up and shout “wrong” while she was talking and had something about him letting her take the stage in “a peaceful transition of power,” which got a few laughs, and remarked that after hearing Trump’s speech she was “looking forward to hearing Mike Pence deny that he ever gave it,” which even we thought pretty clever. The jokes got more barbed at that point, suggesting that Trump would think the dinner had been rigged, and how he looked at the Statue of Liberty “and saw a 4, maybe a 5 if she dropped the torch and tablet and changed her hair.”
The crowd was a little nervous at that point, even though they cheered her line about how “a good number for a woman would be 45,” as in the 45th president, but Clinton shrewdly shifted back to self-deprecation, joking about how it took a village to right her jokes and how she’s been the life of every party she’s ever attended, “and I’ve been to three.” Veering back to attack mode, she spoke of how difficult it is for Trump to read from a teleprompter when he has to translate from the original Russian, and how sensible mainstream Republicans are now known as “Hillary supporters,” then offered a bipartisan jape about how at least the election will be over. She tossed a few friendly jabs at the assembled Democratic grandees, a less friendly jab at former Republican New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani, and responded to Trump’s recent allegations that she’s using performance enhancing drugs with a joke about he hadn’t prepared, another joke about Trump’s reputation for stiffing his contractors, another joke about Pence, a line about shortening the election season that got applause even from Trump, another sharp jab about Trump’s feud with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. Much of it pushed up against the event’s collegial traditions enough to render the laughter slightly nervous, and the quality of jokes varied wildly, but the delivery was low-key and amiable enough that even the pro-Trump outskirts of the press will have a hard time calling it a “screed.”
Clinton ended with a more serious few moments about the anti-Catholic prejudice that Al Smith faced during that long-ago presidential race, threw in some lines about Pope Francis’ recent remarks about “building bridges instead of walls,” and seemed to assure the assembled Bishops and Archbishops and Cardinals that whatever their disagreements regarding abortion she didn’t hate Catholics. Off course the political and business and media and social elites were already assured she didn’t hate them, so she walked off to a much bigger hand than Trump received, at which we point we were composing our own joke about which candidate had the bigger hands. All in all we’d say she came off  somewhat more witty and charming and likable than Trump, which is not saying much, and at this point in this crazy election we’d say that’s pretty darned bad news for Trump. America deserves better than these two jokers, and so does the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation’s fancy-schmantzy dinners.

— Bud Norman

On What Was Thankfully the Final Debate

We tuned into the final presidential debate of this crazy election year loathing both participants, and by the end of it we were loathing both even more, so we’re inclined to call it a draw. The target audience was whatever slight portion of the country is still holding out hope that one of these two awful people is at least somewhat less awful than the other, however, and with that in mind we’d have to say that awful Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton probably got the better of awful Republican nominee Donald Trump.
All the pundits in the traditional press seemed to agree that for the first 30 minutes or so Trump sounded like the sort of politely boring old-fashioned Republican who would probably be 20 points ahead of Clinton in all the polls, and that for the remainder of the debate he started acting like the proudly impolite and you-have-to-admit-at-least-he’s-not-boring candidate that overwhelmed all those politely boring but vastly more accomplished primary challengers and is currently six points or so behind in a general election race. Being politely boring old-fashioned Republicans ourselves we’d like to think we could have done better on the policy stuff, and would have come off far less awful during the rest of the debate, but we bitterly admit that this time the conventional wisdom is probably correct. Both candidates were at last forced to confront the fact of America’s crippling national debt, with the Democrat ludicrously asserting that the rich folks who currently pay an inordinate share of the nation’s taxes can pay off a mere $20 trillion or so of debt and the Republican ludicrously asserting that he’ll somehow create a 5 percent annual increase in the gross domestic product that will make it all go away, and both pretending that reforms to the entitlement programs that comprise some 60 percent of government spending aren’t needed, but we have to admit that the frank talk we believe in probably wouldn’t have done either any good. They were also asked about abortion, with the Democrat sticking to her long-held extremist abortion-rights-even-unto-the-ninth-month stand and the Republican sticking to his newly-found and also extremist punish-the-mother positions on the matter, but we doubt that anybody with strong opinions on the matter was dissuaded by either of their soundbites.
Clinton was the Secretary of State who presided over that awful deal that betrayed the Czechs and Poles on a deal to provide nuclear against the Russians, and who offered that ridiculously apologetic “reset” button that encouraged Russia to proceed with its revanchist policies in Georgia and the Ukraine and the rest of its former Soviet empire, but Trump once again bragged about how Russian dictator Vladimir Putin had said nice things about him and defended his admirer against the now undeniable charge that Putin has been hacking the Democratic party’s e-mails to help the Trump campaign. A boringly polite Republican candidate would have such taken to the opportunity to note that Clinton had also made her e-mails as Secretary of State vulnerable to foreign espionage by using an unsecured server that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has called “grossly careless,” but the you-have-to-admit-at-least-he’s-not-boring Trump took the opportunity to defend the Russian dictator against the charges leveled by every single civilian and military intelligence agency and declined a golden opportunity to say he didn’t approve of such foreign interference in an American election. This allowed Clinton to assert that Trump would be Putin’s “puppet,” causing to Trump to respond that “you’re the puppet,” and at that point we were only slightly reassured he didn’t mimic PeeWee Herman by saying “I know you are, but what am I?”
Clinton was stuck with the Democrats’ weak-kneed response to the Islamic State’s rise, Trump overstated its international influence and was reduced to arguing that a recent multi-national offensive against that terror gang was politically-timed and that Putin wasn’t propping up the Syrian and Iranian resistance. Some brief long awaited talk about the undeniable failure of the Obamacare health system would have helped a boringly traditional Republican candidate, but Trump’s past talk in support of an individual mandate and praise of single payer systems and blather about the government paying for universal coverage resulted in yet another desultory draw.
For those who stuck around for the good part where the candidates sparred over which one was more awful, it was probably another draw. Even the well-reviewed-by-the-mainstream-press Fox News moderator was obliged to ask Trump about his caught-on-tape and widely-publicized comments about grabbing women by the whatever, and an audience warned against any reactions had a good laugh when he claimed that nobody respects women more than he does, so although Trump was at least shrewd enough not to raise his usual accusations about Clinton’s husband that was probably a draw at the very best. By the end of the debate he was frequently interrupting Clinton, which probably doesn’t play well with the distaff 53 percent of the electorate that seems to loathe him even more than Clinton, and his interjection that she’s “such a nasty woman,” although accurate enough, probably didn’t win him any undecided votes.
Nor did Trump do himself any good, near the end, when he said that he’d keep the country “in suspense” about whether he’d accept the outcome of the election even if he lost. A boringly traditional Republican would have answered the question by saying that once the votes had all been counted, and absent any compelling evidence of fraud, that of course he would accede to the will of the people, but you have to admit that Trump at least isn’t so boring as that. The response will probably dominate the post-debate headlines, and the resulting debate probably won’t do him much good, but at least it will give his more die-hard supporters something to grouse about for another four years.
For those of us who can’t stand either of these two awful people or their awful for-the-moment policies, there will be plenty of grousing no matter how it turns out.

— Bud Norman

Enter Salacious Headline Here

Just when we were starting to hold out hope that this unprecedentedly crazy presidential election race couldn’t possibly get any crazier, we came across the only slightly surprising news that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton “is a secret sex freak who paid fixers to set up illicit romps with both men AND women.” That juicy tidbit and its atrocious capitalization comes from the supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer, which last figured in the presidential race with the revelation that former Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, and is thus far the only national publication to endorse the publisher’s good friend and Republican nominee Donald Trump, so you can take it for whatever you figure it be worth, but there’s no denying it adds yet another level of craziness to the election.
Trump’s more die-hard supporters will rightly note that The National Enquirer’s past scoops about former Democratic contender and liberal darling Sen. Gary Hart’s fling on a yacht inconveniently christened “Monkey Business” and vice-presidential nominee and liberal darling Sen. John Edward’s love child that he tried to pin on a paid fall guy both proved entirely correct, and apparently it also saw Brad Pitt’s divorce from Angelina Jolie coming months before the fact, and at this point we wouldn’t put anything past anyone named Clinton, so in such a crazy election years as this maybe there’s something to it. The National Enquirer has also been known to get things wrong, though, including that costly libel about America’s beloved Carol Burnett being an obnoxious drunk and that more recent ridiculousness about Cruz’s dad and the Kennedy assassination, so the paper provides more through documentation our high standards of non-partisan journalism force us admit that at least one member of the Clinton family might not be a secret sex freak.
Normally we wouldn’t know what’s on the front page of The National Enquirer until we found ourselves in the check-out line at the local supermarket, but in this case we got the scoop on The National Enquirer’s scoop by checking in on the formerly reliable Drudge Report. The Drudge Report is a widely-read internet site that mostly features the latest headlines from other media, and its most die-hard supporters still fondly recall that it broke the story of former President Bill Clinton’s tawdry affair with a much-younger intern, and how it astutely linked to mainstream news stories with the leads that were buried deep within those mainstream news stories, and once upon a time it was the home page that popped up when we logged on to the internet. At some point in this crazy election it kept linking us to the loudly pro-Trump “Infowars” web site and its crazy conspiracy theories about the terror attacks of 2001 being an inside job and the school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, being a staged event, and what with our computer rushing to “Infowars” rather than the increasingly unreliable “Instapundit” site every time we typed “in” into our search engine we decided to make the endearingly old-fashioned conservative NeverTrump National Review site our home page.
In such a crazy election year as this one has to make such reassessments of previously reliable sources. If the stodgily principled National Review or the equally stalwart old-fashioned and conservative Weekly Standards asserts that Hillary Clinton is indeed a secret sex fiend who paid fixers to set up illicit sex romps we’ll gleefully believe it, and if the most mainstream liberal press is reluctantly forced to admit it as it did in the case of Hart and Edwards we’ll more or less gratefully take it as an undeniable fact, we promise that this publication will be heartened to pile on as well, because we truly do loathe those darned Clintons, and we did so even way back when the Drudge Report was debunking its more current claims that the male Clinton fathered a mulatto love-child and Trump was singing their praises and contributing to the campaigns and inviting them to his third wedding.
By this point in this crazy election year we don’t have any faith in anyone who has any good thing to say about either of these awful presidential nominees, even though all of them will eventually be proved right to whatever extent they spoke the worse of the other.

— Bud Norman

An Inevitable Landslide or a Fixed Election

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s die-hard supporters are still taking to the internet comment sections and message boards as well as the call-in lines of right-wing talk radio programs to insist that he’s cruising to a landslide victory, but the nominee himself has lately been complaining that the election has already been rigged against him. What this portends for the actual outcome of the race is hard to tell, and in such a crazy election as this year anything seems possible, but all the oddsmakers are lately liking Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s chances.
The confidence of Trump’s supporters seems based largely on the undeniably sizable yet oft-overstated attendance at his rallies and the impossible-to-overstate enthusiasm of those crowds, the equally impossible-to-overstate awfulness of Clinton, a certain gnostic faith that their oh-so-secular messiah is destined to make America great again, and the fact that everyone they hang out agrees with them. Trump’s claims of a rigged election are harder to explain, as his numerous conspiracy theories tend to be, but it seems to have something to do with media collusion and voter fraud at certain precincts of some major metropolitans and some unspecified globalist cabal of big banks and other well-heeled specialist interests. Of the two, we’d say that Trump’s supporters are making the more convincing case.
Many of the media are indeed out to get Trump, of course, and especially those big-name ancien regime ink-on-paper and over-the-air organs that still wield enough influence that many people think they are “the media.” Those same institutions have been out to get every Republican candidate of our lifetime, we never expected they would make an exception even for such a recent Democrat as Trump, and one must admit that Trump presents an especially tempting and accommodating target, but the undeniable bias of much of the media doesn’t mean that an election has been rigged. Over our lifetime the Republicans have won eight presidential elections, and enough Senate and Houe and gubernatorial and statehouse and county commission and city council races that the Republican party was in its best shape since the ’20s going into this crazy election year, and much of that happened back when when the only conservative media were William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” show on public television and his National Review magazine and a few big city papers with conservative readerships. There are plenty of other media these days, including internet message boards and radio talk shows full of people predicting a Trump landslide, and they all agree that nobody they hang out with believes to the “lamestream media.”
Even to the extent that those “lamestream” media are ganging up on Trump, there’s nothing really conspiratorial about it. After a quarter century of working for one of those big newspaper chains we’re sure that our erstwhile editors and publishers and corporate masters weren’t coordinating their coverage with the competition, but rather wound up with the same front pages because they’d all gone to the same schools and aspired to the same prizes and went to the same cocktail parties and eventually succumbed to the conclusion that everyone they hung out with though the same way, and it’s not so much a conspiracy that Trump needs to thwart as it is a market failure that the destructive powers of capitalism are already rapidly correcting. We’d also note that Buckley’s “National Review” and the staunchly conservative Weekly Standard and every last one of those big city papers with a conservative readership that have never of very rarely failed to endorse a Republican nominee are withholding their praise for Trump, and perhaps you can blame that one some big money cabal, but we can assure you that no checks have arrived for such staunchly conservative yet neutral publications as this. Should Trump win, and begin his promised purge of the conspirators, we’ll do our best to sneak out our grumblings through some sort of samizdat.
There’s also something to the charge that certain Democrats in certain precincts of certain big Democrat-controlled cities have been known to violating laws, and that the party at large has fiercely resisted such reasonable measures as voter roll examinations and photo identification requirements to thwart such efforts, but at this point any claims of a “rigged election” seem typical Trumpian overstatement. Each of the 50 states’ election process have federal, state, county, city, precinct, and neighborhood oversight, along with a bunch of local newspaper and television and radio and internet reporters hanging around next to paranoid members of both parties, and unless the results are so unusually close as they turned out to be in the ’00 race in Florida there’s rarely any argument about it. In such a crazy election year as this we can’t rule anything out, including Russian hackers intervening on Trump’s behalf, but we’ll wait until after election day to start spinning our conspiracy theories.
In the meantime the polls don’t look good for Trump, but his supporters insist all those polls are also rigged. That would mean that Fox News is in on the anti-Trump conspiracy, The Los Angeles Times isn’t, The Washington Post is only half-heartedly cooperating, and that pretty much every other polling firm is willing to sell its reputation for whatever handsome price that globalist cabal is paying, but in this crazy election year anything seems possible. Trump has his own polling, and in fact his pollster is his campaign manager, and we note that their recent cancellation of ad buys and campaign appearances in Virginia and a couple of other formerly contested states suggest that her numbers are pretty much in line with what all those biased media are reporting, and we can’t help thinking that might have something to do with his preemptive complaints about a rigged election.
Anything is possible in such a crazy election year as this, and that Clinton truly is awful, but that’s how it looks at this glum moment.

— Bud Norman