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The Press Strikes Back

Say what you want about The Washington Post, that hated embodiment of the establishment press, but they won their latest battle with their anti-establishment critics in a rout. Despite our frequent criticisms of the newspaper, something in our Republican souls relished the victory.
One of the unfortunate features of this moment in American history is the average person’s tendency to dismiss any story he doesn’t want to hear as “fake news.” It’s an old and bipartisan problem, but lately it seems more problematic among too many of our fellow Republicans. President Donald Trump didn’t create the problem, nor did he coin the phase “fake news,” as he improbably claims to have done, but he and his most die-hard apologists have been eager to exploit it.
To hear Trump and his die-hard apologists tell it, anything you might read in The New York Times or The Washington Post or almost any newspaper or magazine, or anything you might hear on any broadcast network other than Fox News or the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh radio shows, can be dismissed as purely fabricated propaganda. To hear the more die-hard apologists tell it, they’re doing it at the behest of a cabal of “deep state” “globalist” “elites” and other “establishment” types who seek to oppress all the real Americans, and the president himself has repeatedly refuted any stories he doesn’t want to hear calling them “fake news.”
There are valid criticisms of the press coverage Trump has received, and God and the internet archives know we’ve also done our own share of media criticism over the past years, but far too many of those “fake news” stories have lately been corroborated by sworn testimony before congressional committees and a special counsel investigation, or been backed up by court documents or other official records, or acknowledged after the release of audiotape and videotape evidence, to dismiss them all as purely fabricated propaganda. The right-wing radio hosts like to sneer about the “The Washington Compost,” but it has lately had a far better record for accuracy than Trump’s “tweets” or his AM band apologists.
Which brings us back to the Post’s latest win by a rout. The story starts with that special senatorial election down in Alabama, where Republican candidate and self-proclaimed champion of Christian values Roy Moore was heavily favored until the Post ran a story about three women who claimed Moore had pursued them when he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney and they were teenagers, with of them claiming he molested her when she was 14 years old. All three women gave their names, the paper had dozens of unnamed women who recalled the women giving the same accounts contemporaneously, another six women came forward to various media on the record with a slew of unnamed women recalling the same contemporaneous accounts, and other media found mall employees and district attorney’s office workers who recalled Moore’s reputation for liking them young.
Following Trump’s successful playbook Moore as his dismissed it all as “fake news” and assailing the liberal reputation of The Washington Post, and although the race has clearly tightened the wildly disparate polls suggest it just might work down in Alabama. Elsewhere it doesn’t seem to be playing as well, so an anti-establishment media outfit calling itself Project Veritas set out to discredit the post with one of its sting operations.
If you’ve not been following the anti-establishment media over the past many years, Project Veritas is a small but well-funded group that prides itself on such guerrilla tactics as ambush interviews and undercover hidden camera investigations of left-wing foes. They made quite a splash with their widely-disseminated video of a white actor posing hilariously as an inner-city pimp to seek help starting his prostitution at a notoriously left-wing community organizing scam, which led to the scam losing its congressional funding and at long last going away, so although Project Veritas wound up paying a six-figure settlement due to some admitted selective editing they were widely hailed as conservative champions.
Since then Project Veritas has pretty much proved a bust. The guy who runs the outfit wound up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for his attempt to bug a congressman’s office, over some controversy of the moment we can’t recall, and since then his biggest hit was a non-viral video of himself crossing the Rio Grande dressed as Osama bin Laden, and after that his latest failure was some video of some Cable News Network workers saying they don’t agree with everything their employers do. Hoping to regain his anti-establishment mojo, he apparently hired a woman to tell The Washington Post that Moore had an affair with her when she was 15 years and persuaded her to abort the ensuing love child. Had the Post fallen for the scam it would have been humiliating, and a grand route for Project Veritas, but it didn’t work out that way.
We can vouch that the reporters at any old mainstream paper, such as the double-A and triple-A ones we long toiled for, are mostly damned liberals, but there and especially at such major league papers as The Washington Post they’re not damned fools and they know it’s not good business in the long run to purely fabricate propaganda, so of course they checked out their sources. In this case the amateurish if well-funded scam quickly fell apart, with the undercover operative caught on embarrassing videotape and the guy who runs Project Veritas being surprised by a videotaped interview and winding up telling his donors that he got caught and therefore needs their money all the more. All those stories in the Post and elsewhere about Moore’s proclivities for teenaged girls as a 30-something prosecutor seemed all the more believable, too.
There are reports that Trump is lately telling friends that the embarrassing “Access Hollywood” tape he once acknowledged and even apologized for is fake, and that even after saying that “Barack Obama was born in the States, period” he still has doubts about it, and he’s still insisting he was robbed of the popular vote by millions of illegally-cast ballots even as the commission he assigned to prove it is falling apart, and he’s “tweeting” links to to the magapill.com website that provides the real news about all his accomplishments and all the nefarious and far-fetched conspiracies trying to thwart them.
We still have no affinity for the Post’s undeniable liberalism, but at this point we’re no fonder of Trump or Moore or a a disturbing portion of our Republican party, and by now our only rooting interest is in the truth. On matters ranging from the growing nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula to the whole “Russia thing” to the ongoing problem of how some men treat women, we expect the truth will be a story that none of us will want to hear, but we’ll gird ourselves and hope the truth somehow wins out at the end of this dreary story.

— Bud Norman

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Hollywood’s Hypocrisy, and Everyone Else’s

By now you’ve surely heard of Harvey Weinstein, the only name that can lately nudge President Donald Trump out of the news.
Weinstein is the heavyweight Hollywood movie mogul who stands accused of decades of sexual predatory behavior, ranging from mere boorishness to outright rape, and although he’s not yet been charged in a court of law he’s already been convicted in the court of public opinion. The company Weinstein founded has kicked him out, A-List actresses have come forward to corroborate the accounts of countless lesser-known accusers, some very disturbing audio has been leaked from a suspiciously-dropped investigation by a New York City district attorney, he’s issued a statement acknowledging he could have behaved better and is seeking therapy, and no one is denying that he’s long been a very sleazy fellow.
Hollywood’s constant scandals have been big news since the silent days of Fatty Arbuckle and Clara Bow, but this one comes at an especially opportune time for its culture war adversaries on the right. Over the past decades the entertainment industry has manufactured many movies and television shows that delight in the exposing the frequently scandalous behavior of self-appointed guardians of morality on the right, so it’s only fair the right should delight in a scandal that exposes the frequent hypocrisy of Hollywood’s self-appointed exemplars of sexual equality and social justice. Weinstein’s sleaziness was apparently an open secret in Hollywood for years, with only a few brave comics willing to acknowledge it, and despite the recent deluge of A-Listers piling on the entire industry is indeed implicated.
We’ll happily pile on Weinstein, as well, as we have our own instinctive and longstanding disgust for his alleged behavior as well as most of the past few decades of sleazy Hollywood fare in general, but we don’t expect it will help the culture wars come to an end any time soon. There’s yet another juicy scandal that exposes Hollywood’s social justice pretentious are utterly predictable, but we can’t deny that Hollywood’s wags still have plenty of hypocrisy on the right to work with.
A couple of weeks ago a happily little-known Republican congressman who’d run on a staunchly anti-abortion and pro-family-values platform announced he wouldn’t run for re-election after his mistress told reporters he’d urged her to get an abortion during a pregnancy scare, with the text messages to back it up, and there’s no denying this sort of hypocrisy happens all too often on the right. The fair and balanced Fox News Network has kicked out its co-founder and top-rated commentator kicked for Weinstein-like behavior, and the Republican president has been caught on audiotape bragging about how he can grab women by their wherevers because he’s a television star, with numerous women alleging he did just that and countless others testifying to his at least boorish behavior, and Republican party loyalty cannot compel us to deny it.
The real shame of it is that both the left and the right should be able to agree that all such sleazy behavior and outright hypocrisy is unacceptable, no matter which side of the political divide it lands on. The firm hand of our fundamentalist Christian mother taught us to always treat women with a careful respect, which served us well in our relationships with the fundamentalist feminists we always found ourselves drawn to, and it doesn’t seem so much a matter of left and right as one of right and wrong. These days, however, we expect that both sides and all their sleazier members will continue scoring points.
The few brave comics who dared expose Weinstein’s sleaziness included Tina Fey, the insufferably liberal but undeniably funny woman who made his sleaze a running gag on her well worth watching “30 Rock” television show, and we count ourselves among the many commenters on the right who have always acknowledged when our side has been caught in similar scandals, so we’ll hold out hope there’s still a principled middle ground most of us occupy that acknowledges you just don’t treat women with a sexually predatory disrespect.

— Bud Norman

Nat Hentoff, RIP

The first notable death of the year is that of journalist and author and critic Nat Hentoff, who died Saturday at the age of 91, and although that’s a ripe old age we wish he could have stuck around a bit longer. For the most of his seven-decades-long career and even right up to the end he was one of those durned back east big city liberals we’re always railing against, but he was one of the rare principled sorts who really did believe in life and liberty and individualism and everything else that liberalism claims to champion, so such principled conservatives as ourselves will need such stubbornly independent allies in the coming years.
Hentoff was born to Russian and Jewish immigrant parents in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, which way back then was a hotbed of both orthodox Judaism and radical politics, and by the age of 12 he was spending Yom Kippur conspicuously eating a salami sandwich on his tenement’s porch steps to signal his affiliation with the latter influence. A star student at America’s oldest public high school, Hentoff went off to Northeastern University, where he ran in to trouble as the student newspaper’s editor by publishing accounts of anti-Semitism at the the school, but still graduated with honors and started a career in journalism.
The jazz-crazed Hentoff’s first gig was as a music columnist with Downbeat, at that time the very Bible of jazz criticism, but despite an avid readership he was forced out after a few years because of his outspoken insistence the magazine hire more black writers. He then started a short-lived but briefly influential jazz journal of his own, and would later write several important books about the subject, and although he liked all that noisome be-bop and modernism more than we did his writings celebrated the glorious freedom of both the old and new jazz with a passion that’s still worth reading.
After that Hentoff wound up at the Village Voice, which was then as now the very Bible of radical chic liberalism, and at that point he was so eager to get out of the contentious field of jazz criticism that he started covering politics. He mostly concerned himself with any governmental attempts to restrict freedom of expression or pretty much any other freedom, and way back in the ’50s and into the ’60s he could find plenty of material about censorious right-winters and foul-mouth comedians and gay bars and Watergate to satisfy his avid liberal readership. He was still at it when we first started reading him in our junior high’s library in the ’70s, and although we picked up the Village Voice mostly because it gave our teenaged punk sensibilities a certain satisfaction to refute its radical chic liberalism we usually had to admit that the Hentoff guy had a point. Something in our own much-later prairie protestant upbringing in a hot bed of conservative orthodoxy had imbued a similar philosophy of First Amendment absolutism, and we vowed not to abandon that even for the sake of our side.
By the time we started our own journalism career in the early ’80s the liberals had been in charge for a while, at least in part because of Hentoff’s compelling arguments, and we already were noticing that they were suddenly the censorious and bossy ones. Conservative speakers were being literally shouted down at campus appearances and orthodox religious viewpoints were being excluded from public discussion, and all sorts of folks were suddenly confronted with new rules and regulations they never voted on. Hentoff couldn’t help noticing, either, and we have to admire that he wouldn’t abandon his First Amendment absolutism even for the sake of his side. He wrote column after column excoriating the rescinded commencement address invitations to conservative speakers, the silliness of a campus culture that insisted on ideological purity, the charges of racism leveled against any who dared speak out against the ostensible consensus on race, or the charges of homophobia against anyone who hewed to traditional religion, or any of the familiar rest of it. Of course it didn’t play well with his erstwhile avid readership on the left, and neither did it gain him much from respect from his erstwhile enemies on the right, but that’s all the more reason we’re going to miss the guy.
In his final years Hentoff was still as outspokenly atheistic as ever, but he was every bit as anti-abortion as any Orthodox rabbi, making a case for life from the very moment of conception to the end that was probably all the more convincing to many readers because it was grounded in the scientific and secular principles he’d always championed, and he even wound up writing admiringly of the radically anti-government Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul during that past crazy election year. Although we’re not so crazy about Paul ourselves neither are we crazy about the Republican president-elect with the censorious streak and the crazy idea that his government can make America great again, and although Hentoff was still a back east big city atheist liberal to the end we think we could have used his help in a time when principled conservatives few few and far between. In any case we wish Hentoff well, and hope that the God he never believed in will nonetheless welcome his soul to the perfect freedom he always wanted for the rest of us.

— 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

No Sex, but Lies and Videotape

By Wednesday morning it was the conventional wisdom that Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence got the better of Democratic rival Tim Kaine in Tuesday’s night debate, for whatever that’s worth, but by Wednesday evening Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump seemed to be losing the post-debate news cycle against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Even the more respectable pundits on the most polite press acknowledge that Pence made a damning case against Clinton’s damnable record, but even the most die-hard Trump supporters should acknowledge that he had a harder time defending some of Trump’s most outrageous statements.
In several cases Pence simply denied that Trump had ever said any such thing, which seemed to work well enough for the duration of the 90-minute debate, but in the age of ubiquitous audio tape and quick internet access the ploy didn’t last a day. By the time the evening newscasts came along there was footage of Pence shaking his head and insisting that Trump had never praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, followed by footage of Trump saying “Putin’s been a very strong leader for Russia,” Pence dismissing as “nonsense” the claim that Trump was unaware that Putin had invaded Ukraine, followed by footage of Trump assuring an interviewer that Putin “is not going into Ukraine, you can mark it down you, can put it down, you can take it any way you want,” Pence shaking his had and saying “nonsense” again at the claim Trump had advocated a deportation force for illegal immigrants, followed by footage of Trump saying “You’re going to have a deportation force.” Similar denials of videotaped statements regarding punishing women for abortions, allowing nuclear proliferation in Asia and the Middle East, renegotiating the national debt, and a ban on Muslims entering the country also made the list, and both the Clinton campaign and its media allies were having great fun with it.
We suppose Pence could have quibbled that he and Trump had called Putin “strong,” which doesn’t necessarily imply “good,” and he might have explained how Trump meant to say something other than that you could mark it down and write it down that Putin would never invade Ukraine, perhaps that he wouldn’t do again, and he surely wouldn’t have lost any supporters if he’d gone right ahead and doubled down on that deportation force idea. Pence has been a stalwart of the anti-abortion cause long enough to know it doesn’t advocate punishing women who seek abortions, so he could hardly be expected to defend the zealotry of a newfound convert to the cause, and he seems a reasonable enough fellow, so he could hardly be expected to defend that crazy talk about Japan and Saudi Arabia acquiring nuclear weapons, so perhaps a brief-lived denial was the best he could come up with.
Which is a shame, really, because Pence did make a darned damning case against the damnable career of Clinton. The more objective sorts of fact-checkers were begrudgingly obliged to point out of some of Kaine’s own whoppers, too, but for the most part he didn’t try to deny any of it and thus wasn’t caught in some easily disproved denials. Kaine was an obnoxious jerk who frequently interrupted his more presidential-looking opponent throughout the debate, and at times seemed almost unhinged, but it’s hard to imagine that any still-undecided voters will think that a reason to vote for Trump.
Trump can take some solace in though that we’re in a post-factual era of politics when no one pays much attention to all that ubiquitous and easily-accessible audio-tape. Last time around Republican nominee Mitt Romney made a damning case during a presidential debate that President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had outright lied that the four deaths at an American consulate in Libya were the result of a spontaneous protest against an obscure YouTube video rather than a pre-planned terror attack, and had repeated the lie on numerous news shows and in front of the United Nations, but Obama denied it and the moderator cited a vague allusion to “terrorism” during one speech to back it up, and it wound up working well enough. Trump shouldn’t expect such favors from the moderators of any of his debates, though, and the reality show veteran should keep in mind that videotape is pesky stuff.

— Bud Norman

When Two Co-Stars Collide

Being the hard-core political news junkies that we are, we even tuned in for Tuesday night’s vice-presidential debate. For what it’s worth, which isn’t much, we thought that Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence got the better of Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, but that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton nonetheless came out ahead of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
At this point most Americans have no idea who either Pence or Kaine are, and even the more star-studded vice-presidential debates of the recent past had any discernible effect on the top-of-the-ticket outcomes, but those who did bother tune in were treated to an interesting show. They also got a glimpse at what this election year might have looked like in a more sane America.
Former Senator and current Indiana Governor Mike Pence came across as soft-spoken yet serious, humble yet forceful, broadly well-informed yet sharply focused on the most important issues, and he made a persuasive case against Clinton and her checkered career. All that soft-spoken and humble and well-informed shtick made for a jarring contrast with Trump’s bombastic and boastful and winging-it persona, though, and Pence’s defense of his running mate’s also checkered career wasn’t nearly so effective. Former Virginia Governor and current Sen. Tim Kaine came across as smug and rude and merely well-read on his talking points, but not quite so much as Trump, and even if he had a hard time defending his running mate he had much better luck casting aspersions on the opposition.
Kaine was able to repeatedly raise Trump’s apparent and pretty much-admitted tax-dodging and his refusal to release the tax returns that might prove how ingeniously he got away with it, riposte Pence’s quite believable allegations about Clinton’s family charity with the recent believable revelations about Trump’s charity foundation, and make mention of several of Trump’s most offensive quotes. Pence had a good argument about how the apologetic “reset” policy with Russia that Clinton had pursued as Secretary of State had encouraged dictator Vladimir Putin to pursue a revanchist policy that has already invaded Georgia and Ukraine, but there wasn’t much to be said when Kaine cited Trump’s frequent praise of Putin and his insistence to an interviewer that Russia would never invade Ukraine. In that case, as in so many others when Pence was called to defend the indefensible, he wound up insisting that Trump hadn’t said what he provably did say, and we expect that the video proof will soon be starring in an attack ad by the Clinton campaign. Towards the end there was a long discussion about abortion, an issue that hasn’t been prominent in this campaign, and although Pence made a strong and obviously sincere case for the anti-abortion side of the issue he struggled to explain his running mate’s soon-withdrawn statement that women who seek abortions should suffer some legal penalty.
Still, Pence did well enough that we’re sure we’re not the only Republicans who found themselves wishing he were at the top of the ticket. Pence or any other equally boring establishment Republican could have effectively made the damning case against Clinton’s checkered career with bombast or boasting or the wild rhetoric that comes with winging it, and none would have been obliged to defend an also checkered or the kind of outrageous statements that Pence was obliged to pretend didn’t exist. There are no doubt many Democrats wishing that someone so run-of-the-mill as Kaine was heading the ticket, with the scant name recognition that comes with being unencumbered by so many scandals and outrageous statements that Clinton has accumulated over the years, but we think the more honest of them would admit that Pence got the better of it on Tuesday night.
In any case, it will likely be long forgotten by the time those two awful people at the top of the tickets meet up again on Sunday.

— Bud Norman

The “A” Word Emerges in the Race

Abortion doesn’t seem as prominent an issue in the current presidential election as it has been in the past, but it’s still out there enough to be tripping up the front-runners of both parties. During the past week Republican Donald J. Trump was forced to walk back some comments about punishing women who have abortions, Democrat Hillary Clinton had to apologize for uttering the words “unborn person,” and both managed to offend almost everyone in the process.
An interviewer on the National Broadcasting Company, of all places, was clumsy enough to ask about the rights of “unborn children” in an otherwise softball question to Clinton, and she was careless enough to repeat the words in her answer that under current law they have no rights have all, which is quite correct as a matter of law but satisfies no one who considers the question as a political or moral matter of what the law ought to be. Those opposed to abortion believe that humanity begins at conception, or at least at some point of potential viability as a human in a world that would afford it proper care, and those who disagree believe that the potential human life that exists in a woman’s womb is best described as a fetus or fetal tissue or or an embryo or a regrettable situation or any phraseology that doesn’t imply an actual person that simply hasn’t been born yet.
Such an old hand at social issues as Clinton should have known that wasn’t going to win over any of those anti-abortion types, and written off their support years ago and instead have tried to further endear herself to the abortion rights sisterhood by sternly rebuking that otherwise polite interviewer for his clumsy phrasing, but she’s been off her game lately. She’s on a losing streak against nebbishy self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom we presume is quite on board with no rights for the not-yet-born even though we can’t ever recall him being asked about it, and her clumsy answer to the clumsily phased question can’t help.
Trump’s clumsy response, though, might have even trumped Clinton’s. When Trump told the Cable Network Broadcasting Company’s Chris Matthews, of all people, in response to what could have been a softball question, that woman should face “some punishment” for having an abortion, he was advocating a position not only offensive to the pro-abortion public also the anti-abortion movement that had long been denying it had any such intentions. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters were immediately defending his extremist position, then quickly defending his more moderate walk back that of course he never meant to say that, then arguing that he’d been right all along. In any case, Trump has not likely endeared himself to whatever remains of the anti-abortion wing of Republican party, not to mention whatever’s left the pro-abortion portion, and he can’t be looking good to the still-undecided majority of the party more concerned with other matters.
Trump’s walked-backed statement indicated that he hadn’t bothered to learn what the people he was pandering to believed in, which is likely to hurt him more in the long run than Clinton’s slip-up. Nobody doubts that Clinton believes a fetus or fetal tissue or embryo or unborn person or whatever you want to call it has any rights, or holds much hope that Donald J. Trump had ever given the matter much thought, and it seems likely the election will be settled on similarly muddled issues.

— Bud Norman

A Bad News Cycle for the Front-Runner

Perhaps it’s only because he got bored with winning, but the recent brief pause in the Republican presidential nomination race has not been kind to front-running real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show mogul Donald J. Trump. His campaign manager was indicted for battery against a woman reporter, his threats and slurs against a rival’s wife caused even some of his most fervent supporters to question his judgment, the beloved-by-Republicans governor of Wisconsin endorsed Trump’s most pesky rival in the state’s important upcoming primary, and his efforts to explain it all have compounded the problems while somehow offending both sides of the abortion debate and alarming allies from Europe to Asia.
Reasonable people will disagree as to whether Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s undeniably hands-on encounter with reporter Michelle Fields of the previously friendly Brietbart.com site rises to even the level of a misdemeanor, which is what he’s been charged with following an investigation by the police officers Trump is always praising, despite Trump’s earlier denial that Lewandowski ever laid a hand on Fields, but it’s hard to see how the indictment is helpful. Trump’s so-faithful-he-could-shoot-someone supporters will note that the district attorney who brought the charges is a supporter of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, although we suppose at least half the charges being brought against accused criminals in the country are similarly suspect, and we heard a caller on one of the talk radio shows note that Fields is a libertarian, which he seemed to believe justified any rough treatment, but the vast majority of the country holding less indulgent views of Trump are likely to see it differently. Trump is already on record promising that any press outlets he dislikes “will have problems, such problems,” and saying that “Women, you’ve got to treat ’em like s**t,” and his campaign manager had already had a collar-grabbing incident with one of those idiot protestors that Trump has said he’d like to “punch in the face,” which one of his supporters did, and we’re still awaiting whether Trump will keep his promise to pay the legal fees, and it all fits a plausible narrative that’s building on both the right and left sides of the media.
Trump’s already dreadful poll numbers among women, most worrisomely even among Republican women, had already taken a further hit by his decision to threaten that he would “spill the beans” on the wife of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and then “re-Tweet” a message that basically meant “ha ha my wife’s hotter than yours,” which offended even the wave-riding pundit Ann Coulter, who had previously said she wouldn’t mind if Trump performed abortions in the White House, and his attempts to wave it all off also weren’t helpful. Seemingly surprised by a popular Wisconsin talk radio host’s questions about his sexist mud-slinging, Trump explained that he was just yukking it up with the notoriously sexist shock jock Howard Stern with some of those by now widely-circulated sexist comments, in between the nude lesbian segments, and that “everybody was laughing,” but we wonder how many of those thus-far unsupportive women will be persuaded. The Wisconsin talk radio host was having none of it, and Trump admitted he was surprised to find out that the host was one of us “Never Trump” conservative, which any half-way competent campaign manager would have known and warned of if he hadn’t been too busy mixing it up with reporters and protestors, but we are reassured by Trump and his supporters that he’ll always have the best people around him.
The endorsement of Cruz by Gov. Walker could have been easily and effectively ignored, but Trump of course took it personally and responded with a ridiculous rant against the beloved-by-Republicans hero of the great union fight. The man who claims the “anti-establishment” and “at least he fights” mantel cited some phony-baloney statistics from the mainstream press he routinely ridicules to disparage both Walker’s and the entirety of Wisconsin’s remarkable success in fighting the lousy deal that the public sector unions had forced on the state, blamed the “hatred” of the union thugs that predictably ensued on the reformers, and on the days leading to a Republican primary he blasted the governor for not raising taxes. Of course, there was the usual blather about making better deals.
Although the “at least he fights” candidate is dodging any one-on-one debates with his last remaining rival, a former national collegiate debate champion and esteemed member of the Supreme Court bar, he did wind up in a series of disastrous confrontations with other interlocutors besides that Wisconsin radio host. Facing the likes of the equally unintelligible Chris Matthews of the MSNBC network he wound up saying that women who get abortions should face criminal charges, a position that the pro-abortion movement has long been ascribing to the anti-abortion movement and that the anti-abortion movement has been strenuously denying for just as long, thereby infuriating both sides of the most divisive issue of recent times, which was quickly walked back, because Trump is a “uniter,” but it’s hard to score that round for Trump. He also cited health care and education as two of the three most important duties of the federal government, even though he had to later explain that of course as a Republican he thought health care was best left to the private sector and education to the states and localities.
Trump’s same “town hall” chit-chat with the unintelligible Matthews also had him disparaging the South Koreans and Japanese for free-loading on America’s defense budget, even though the South Koreans are occasionally cantankerous but ultimately realistic about their tenuous situation and the Japanese have lately been quite stalwart, and he said something about them needing to go nuclear that was also quickly walked back, and that followed a lot of Timothy Leary-esque stream-of-consciousness stuff before the Washington Post and New York Times about the free-loaders in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that alarmed not only our allies but even the more thoughtful observers who have been arguing for reforms in that still-essential organization.
Those so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone fans will surely remain loyal, but the latest poll in Wisconsin shows Cruz with a comfortable margin and let’s-all-get-along Gov. John Kasich of Ohio within striking distance of Trump, the down-in-the-mud-with-the-National-Enquirer style of campaigning that we’re told is needed to defeat the Democrats doesn’t seem to be working in a state where the slogan is “Wisconsin Nice,” and we’d like to think the rest of the country is also too nice for this nonsense.

— 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