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Smart and Stable Is as Smart and Stable Does

There’s something slightly unsettling about hearing an American president reassure the public that he’s intelligent and emotionally stable, as President Donald Trump felt obliged to do over the weekend. It reminds us of President Richard Nixon’s assurance that “I am not a crook.” or President Bill Clinton’s vow that “I did not have sex with that woman,” or Fredo Corleone’s cry in “The Godfather Part II” that “I’m smart, not like everybody says, like dumb, and I want respect,” and we remember how all those turned out. Trump’s boasts that “I’m, like, really smart” and “a very stable genius” have a similarly ominous ring.
Trump has been conspicuously defensive about his smarts and sanity ever since he took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his improbable campaign for the presidency, but his sensitivity has been heightened by the publication of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which has lately been flying off the shelfs with a considerable publicity boost from Trump’s futile efforts to prevent to its publication and his ongoing insistence that it’s all fake news. The book depicts a dysfunctional White House trying to cope with a not-very-bright and downright childish president, with some pretty unpleasant quotes coming from people once very close to the president, which prompted Trump’s “Tweets” and public remarks about being “like, very smart” and a “stable genius.”
As he did throughout his improbably successful campaign for the presidency, Trump answered his critics with characteristic braggadocio. He boasted of his academic excellence at a top-notch college, the billions of dollars he’d made in private business, his status as the star of highly-rated reality television show, and the fact that he’d won the presidency on his very first try. Such cocksureness played a large part in his improbable electoral college victory, along with an admittedly uncanny knack for convincing West Virginia coal miners that a billionaire New York City real-estate and reality-show mogul was their messiah, and it might work now. All of it was questionable all along, though, and we still suspect it worked mainly because the alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump did indeed graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, which indeed plays its football and basketball games in the prestigious Ivy League, but he spent his first two years at second-tier Fordham University before his father’s money got him into Penn and nobody there recalls him as an exceptional scholar and his academic records are as tightly as restricted as President Barack Obama’s. He has made billions in business, but nobody who follows the big money believes he’s made even half what he claims, and most contend he would have done better by investing his inheritance in a solid mutual fund and spending his time reading up on history and public policy, and there were many embarrassing bankruptcies and business failures along the way. He did indeed improbably wind up as President of the United States, but there hasn’t yet been a public opinion poll showing most Americans glad of that.
As much as we’d like to we can’t deny Trump has a rare genius for making his character bugs seem a a feature to enough of the voting public to pull off an improbable electoral college victory, even it was against the likes of that horrible Clinton woman. Trump’s otherwise alarming tendency to say any crazy thing that popped up into his head was lauded as refreshing honesty, his glaring racism and sexism were celebrated as a blow against “political correctness,” the illiterate crudity of his ad hominem responses to any valid criticisms was cheered the “authenticity” of his “punching back twice as hard,” and a lot of West Virginia coal miners and other disaffected white folk in flyover cover wanted to vicariously live the gaudy decadence of his boastfully adulterous and self-indulgent lifestyle in a way they never did with Bill Clinton’s zaftig affairs.
As appalled as we were by that horrible Clinton woman and her hound dog husband and had been since way back when Clinton was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and calling her the greatest Secretary of State ever, we never believed a word of it, no matter how many times Trump said “believe me.” The guy who draws the “Dilbert” cartoon and other thinkers would try to explain how Trump was a “master of persuasion” whose seemingly un-parsable pronouncements were the cutting edge of political rhetoric, and we had to admit that he was far better than we or Socrates or Daniel Webster could ever be a persuading broke suckers to sign up for Trump University or the rich fools who owned United States Football League franchises to go head-to-head with the National Football League and somehow win in the civil courts, but we doubted it could have the same effect on the presumably more sensible you hope to find in the Congress and federal judiciary and the free press and other institutions promised to vanquish. We also doubted that all those taunts and nicknames and National Enquirer stories would culminate in any positive policy results.
Trump and his apologists will point to the recent stock market records and holding-steady jobless rates and the absence of any nuclear mushroom clouds on the Korean peninsula, and they have a point that of course they’ll vastly overstate. Trump’s de-regulating executive orders and the tax bill the Republican establishment delivered to his desk have no doubt nudged the stock markets on an even higher trajectory that they’d been since before he took office, but at least one or two of those de-regulated regulations are likely to fuel some future scandal with multipole fatalities, that tax bill is polling horribly, and job creation has actually slowed compared to the last two years of Obama’s administration. The North Korean dictator that Trump has taunted as the “short and fat” “little rocket man” with a nuclear button that’s not nearly so manly as Trump hasn’t yet exploded any nuclear missiles, and he’s suddenly opening talks with South Korea that Trump claims credit for but isn’t involved in, and the rest of the world seems just as pleased to leave Trump out of it.
Meanwhile there’s the whole “Russia thing” and that messy business of what to do with all the “dreamers” who were unwittingly became illegal immigrants as children and yet another continuing resolutions that’s needed to keep the federal government running, along with numerous other matters that Trump hasn’t yet comprehensibly commented on. as well as a lingering concern that there’s something no quite right about the president. The worry is widespread enough that Trump spent a weekend “tweeting” and telling reporters that he’s very smart and sane, and reports suggest that its shared in hall of power of both allies and adversaries, and that’s bound to have eventual consequences.
Trump might have been an excellent student at that top notch college, but the seventh-grade English teacher at our otherwise second-rate junior high school would have riddled his “tweets” with red marks for spelling and punctation and syntax and general comprehensibility. He’s no doubt richer than we are, but even our limited entrepreneurial abilities could have at least broke even with a casino and we know enough about football not to go head-to-head with the NFL and we’re too kind-hearted to sucker anyone into investing in a phony baloney real estate course, and until he offers up his tax returns and the rest of the full disclosure that presidents are supposed to offer up we’re skeptical of any claims he makes. If we make it through the year without any mushroom clouds over the Korean peninsula we’ll give him some credit for that, but we’ll never agree that the nuclear button size comparisons had anything to do with it.
We’ve had the good fortune to know many brilliant people over the years, and we’ve long noticed that not a single one of them ever bragged to us that they’re, like, really smart, and all of them would have scoffed at being called a genius. Nor have any of the very stable people we’ve happily know ever felt the need to reassure us that they’re, like, very stable. We’ve also had the good fortune to know some highly ethical people, too, and none ever had to contrast their ethics with those of that awful Clinton woman.

— Bud Norman

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Things Go Further South Down South

That awful Senate race down in Alabama somehow got more awful yet on Wednesday, and by now it’s hard to see how it ends well for the Republican party. Two more women came forward to the Washington Post alleging Republican candidate Roy Moore acted quite creepily toward them when they were teenagers working at the mall Moore was said to hang out at, yet another woman told a similar but even creepier story to the Alabama-based and widely read AL.com site, which brings the running total to eight accusers.
None of the women have any apparent reason to risk their reputations among their mostly Republican Alabama neighbors by telling a lie, all have named and unnamed women who recall them telling the very same stories from time the incidents allegedly happened, and the national and state media have found co-workers of Moore who recall his well known predilection for teenaged girls, along with workers at the mall who recall that Moore was not welcome there because of frequent complaints about his behavior there. Already it adds up a compelling case, with more sure to come, and so far the rebuttal hasn’t been at all convincing.
Moore himself went on Sean Hannity’s exceedingly friendly radio show  before the latest accusations, and wound up answering questions about whether he’d ever dated teenage girls while a 30-something assistant district attorney by saying “not generally, no,” and “it would be out of my customary behavior,” and regarding one of his specific accusers he replied that “If we did go out on dates, then we did, but I don’t recall that,” and offered assurances that “I don’t remember dating any girl without permission from her mother.” The former state Supreme Court justice’s lawyer has proved just as inept, trying to ingratiate himself to the dark-skinned and funny-sounding-named host on a liberal network by noting that different cultures have rules regarding courtship, which prompted his co-host to note that “He’s from Canada,” and he kept referring to an even-darker skinned host on another liberal network by constantly calling him by a chummy nickname, which prompted his host to say “That’s what not what my mother named me, and I’d never call you by anything other than your given name,” and the rest of it went as badly.
Moore still has his defenders in the most die-hard redoubts of the conservative media, but they’re also having a hard time of it. Even Hannity expressed doubts after some advertisers threatened to pull out, although he’s gone back to his presumption of innocence after winning one back. On Wednesday he led his Fox News show with decades-old news about Presidents Bill Clinton’s hound dog ways, rightly recalling how many Democrats who are now offended by Moore’s behavior were willing to give their a man pass for purely partisan reasons, and so far as we can discern the argument is that Hannity and other Moore apologists are therefore entitled to do the same for their man. Right-wing talk radio king Rush Limbaugh reminded his audience that Moore was a registered Democrat at the time he was alleged to have been the creepy 30-something guy hanging out at the mall, and as far we can discern the argument is that whatever Moore might have done it should be held against his Democratic opponent, then went on a longer rant about how it’s all being cooked up by Republican majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and the rest of the rascally Republican establishment, which fears the populist insurgency that President Donald Trump has unleashed.
That’s a popular theory among all the talk radio show callers and the commenters on every conservative web site, too, but it’s a hard sell to the rest of the country. McConnell has indeed clearly stated that he believes the women who have accused Moore, the official national Republican party has withdrawn its financial and logistical support for Moore’s campaign, and several other prominent officials have taken the same stand, but so have such grass roots old-fashioned heartland Republican conservatives such as ourselves. Those establishment Republicans have also let us down more than a few times over the past years, but they’ve a won a few battles along the way, and we have to figure that if they were smart to enough to come up with eight ordinary Alabama women and former district attorney office employees and mall workers with corroborating witnesses and documentary evidence in their devious plots they probably would have been able to repeal and replace Obamacare and pass a massive tax cut by now.
Those establishment Democrats are by now admitting that Clinton was an indefensible hound dog, as Hannity and Limbaugh and the rest of die-hard insurgents gleefully note, but the only ones who have consistently maintained an anti-hound dog stand up to now are those establishment Republicans and such grass roots types as ourselves. Way back before the biggest Clinton scandals McConnell led the effort to expel Republican Sen. Robert Packwood from Congress for sexual harassment, he voted to impeach Clinton for lying under oath about his well-documented hound behavior, he’s applying the same standards of proof during the current imbroglio, so we’re pleased to see he’s earning some begrudging respect from his die-hard Democratic critics.
There’s a big chunk of the party that hates him and the rest of the Republican establishment all the more for it, though, and it’s not clear where the party is heading. Putatively Republican President Donald Trump has only warily waded into the controversy so far, citing his preoccupation with a trip to Asia, and upon his return he pretended not to hear any of the reporters’ shouted questions about Moore, so it’s not at all clear what he’ll do. Trump supported McConnell’s choice in the Republican primary, which mightily annoyed his supporters in the die-hard redoubts of the right wing, and although he did so half-heartedly and with open reservations he’s not tied to Moore, but he did endorse Moore after the primary, and fully cutting ties will be troublesome.
Trump is politically savvy enough to know that he doesn’t want to associated with a candidate who is credibly accused by numerous women of creepy behavior, but he can’t join with his party’s Senate majority leader or his own Attorney General in saying “I believe the women” without the next question asked by those pesky reporters being why the public shouldn’t also believe the larger number of credible women who accuse him of creepy behavior. After an audiotape of Trump boasting to an “Access Hollywood” host that he grabbed women by their wherevers several witnesses went on the record about how he had done just that. A short time later the media dug up an old tape of Trump yukking it up with shock jock Howard Stern about how he liked to invade the dressing rooms at the teenaged beauty pageants he produced, which was followed by by interviews with several former pageant contestants who recalled Trump doing exactly about what he’d bragged about.
Trump won anyway with the Hannity defense that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s hound dog husband had gotten away with worse, because of course none of those women were lying, and therefore Republicans are entitled to a pass, but these days even the Democrats aren’t defending the formerly lovable rascal and most of the American seems fed up with such behavior no matter the hound dog’s party affiliation. The official statement from Moore’s campaign about the latest accusations says that “If you are a liberal and hate Judge Moore, apparently he groped you. If you are a conservative and love Judge Moore, you know these allegations are a political farce.” It’s true enough that if you’re the sort of conservative who loves Moore you probably somehow know these allegations are untrue, and might eke out a win in Alabama, but around the rest of the country and even in the establishment sort of Republican households that’s not a winning electoral majority.
Which seems to leave Trump and the rest of party he putatively leads in a no-win situation. They can enrage a vocal and energetic and significantly sized part of the conservative coalition by jettisoning Moore, or embrace a candidate who was the Democrats’ dream caricature of a Bible-thumping and gay-bashing and law-defying theocrat even before he started looking a lot like the creepy 30-something guy who used to hang out at the mall. The Republicans were already stereotyped as the party of old white men, and as much as it would pain us all to lose a Senate seat in Alabama of all places it might be worth it to avoid the reputation as the party of dirty old white men.

— Bud Norman

Yet Another Clinton Comeback

Unless you’re the politically obsessed sort who reads such publications as The Hill, you might not have noticed that Hillary Clinton has lately been making a comeback. Although we’re usually not inclined to offer any advice to the Democratic Party, we will suggest for the sake of the rest of the country that they nip this in the bud.
Over her long career as First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President of the United States, Clinton has never done much good for her party. Her dutiful performance as the wronged but loyal life wife during President Bill Clinton’s various scandals helped him end the hated Reagan-Bush era of Republican administrations, and somehow didn’t affect her reputation as a feminist heroine, but he was still hobbled enough that eight years of yet another Bush ensued. A brief tenure in the Senate seat she carpet-bagged her way into was utterly forgettable, as was the first presidential campaign she lost to a previously obscure Illinois Senator of even shorter tenure, which is more than she could say for her disastrous four years as Secretary of State, and that so weighed her down with accumulated scandals that her long presumed ascension to First Woman President was thwarted. Worse yet, as far any Democrat is concerned, it resulted in President Donald Trump.
The humiliation was such that for the past several months it has forced Clinton into political exile, reportedly wandering the woods around her upstate New York mansion, and all the political attention has been focused on Trump. So far this is working out quite well for the Democrats, with Trump’s approval ratings well underwater in every poll and all the pundits and late night comics and other Democratic partisans reveling in it, and now seems an especially impropitious time for a comeback. The only Democrats that The Hill can find to endorse the idea are the former Democratic officials who once owed their careers to the Clintons and went down with them, such as former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, while pretty much most of otherwise-divided Republican Party is still ready to join in the chants of “lock her up.”
There’s already plenty of Trump fiascos and brewing scandals to keep the partisan press and late comics busy, but that was also true throughout the campaign, and back then all the Clinton fiascos and well-established scandals were enough to at least even things out. The questions about the Clintons in general and the obnoxiousness of Hillary in particular kept the Democrats on the defensive, riled up the vast majority of Republicans enough to swallow their considerable doubts about their own candidate, and with the resulting political equation spread just right across the electoral map it got Trump elected. Since then Trump’s fiascos and brewing scandals have been judged on their own damning merits, rather in the comparison to Clinton’s, and the Democrats would be advised to keep staying the hell out of the way.
Besides, none of the Democrats we know personally or hear in the media have any lingering affection for Clinton, or even for her husband’s once beloved but now derided administration, and they all seem ready to move on to some even further-left agenda they haven’t yet settled on. Given the continuing deep and visceral hatred of pretty much all Republicans, who still have a lingering desire and plausible legal case to “lock her up,” her continued presence in the news only provides a reason to overlook the latest thing Trump has “tweeted” or failed to deliver. By the next election Clinton will be the oldest newly-inaugurated president ever, surpassing the record currently held by Trump, so she hardly seems a viable candidate even by current Democratic standards, and it’s hard to see what good she’ll do as a senior stateswoman of the party.
It’s tough to bow off the public stage, or so we’re told, but it seems the most selfless move for Clinton to make. She could devote the rest of her days to quiet and public service in atonement for her past loud years of self-enrichment, which we’re told can be quite gratifying, and it would do not only the Democrats but also the rest of us a lot of good.

— Bud Norman

A Decent Day for the Democrats and a Good Day for the Rest of Us to Deal With Other Pressing Problems

Some annoying automotive and home repair chores and a much-needed dollar-night home game by our Wichita Wingnuts over at the local ballpark kept us preoccupied through most of Tuesday, so we were mostly spared the more irksome task of watching the Democratic National Convention. A quick mid-afternoon look around the internet turned up a Washington Post headline gloating that there was less booing of the soon-to-be nominee than on Monday, although that glum admission seems to have since disappeared from their internet site, and apres ballgame we checked once again to  find that the Democrats had gone right on ahead and made Hillary Clinton their nominee, after a slew of mostly un-booed speeches by former president and presumptive First “Gentleman” Bill Clinton and some other tawdry celebrities, and judging by the general gist of the coverage that awful Clinton woman had a far better day than our more deserving selves.
Monday’s un-ignorable outbreak of booing came mostly from the supporters of self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had waged a pesky but runner-up insurrection against the party establishment’s long preferred candidate, but on Tuesday he took to the stage to confess abject defeat to the party’s hated Wall Street establishment and utter terror of the Republican nominee and urge that all rules once again be suspended on behalf of Clinton to allow her a unanimous nomination vote. At last week’s desultory Republican National Convention the pesky anti-establishment insurrectionist had congratulated the newly established winner on his victory but declined to offer an explicit endorsement and instead urged party members to “vote your conscience,” which gives us hope that there’s still some shred of integrity clinging to the Republican Party’s soul but will surely be spun by most of the media that the Democrats are by now the more united of the two parties. The usual diverse selection of reviews we perused about the rest of it were mixed, to say the least, but all in all Clinton and the Democrats seem to have at long last held their own through a news cycle.
Even the most Never Trump yet Never Clinton and by now reluctantly None of the Above press organs such are ourselves that are left of what used to be called “conservatism” had to scoff at the sight of an old and gaunt and frail Bill Clinton trying to “humanize” his harridan of a wife with nostalgic recollections of their storybook romance and lasting marriage, as if anyone who around at the time won’t recall what a farce the younger and chubbier and more randy President of that long-ago and longed-for era of the Roaring ’90s made of it, and even the more polite “mainstream” outlets wound up acknowledging the need to “humanize” a woman who’s been in the public eye for what seems the past couple of centuries or so. Our lefty friends on Facebook seemed to love it, though, especially those endearingly innocent younger ones whose first inklings of fellatio and cigar tricks and other late night comic fare slightly predated the Roaring ’90s, and even the more seasoned members of the sisterhood who used to talk about inordinate power relationships and other outrages when Republicans did far less were still willing to give him an admittedly less enthusiastic thumbs up. An ideologically consistent feminist Sanders supporters would have decried the obvious hypocrisy of it all, but Sanders himself was calling for the suspension of the rules on her Clinton’s behalf, and the elder sisterhood and the third or fourth or five wave of whatever it is of the most up-to-date feminism was on board, and by now the suicidally committed sort of None of the Above ideological integrity seems to reside only with what’s left of what used to be called “conservatism.”
In our admittedly half-assed perusal of the rest of it, we noticed in a report from former our one-time freelance employer “People Magazine” that one of the acts was the television actress and writer Lena Dunham, best known as that naked chubby chick from HBO’s critically-acclaimed and little-watched “Girls” show, and a more comely young Latina with the unlikely name of America Ferrara, who is apparently famous for something or another, riffing on the Republican nominee’s sexism and racism. The chubby white chick groused that Trump would consider her a “2,” and the comely young Latina said that Trump would probably consider her a rapist because she’s of Mexican descent, although she’s actually apparently of Honduran descent, the joke being that Trump wouldn’t note any difference between a Honduran and a Mexican. We so wish we could object to this quadrennial disparagement of the sexism and racism of the Republican nominee, but Trump actually does have an annoying habit of going on shock jock radio shows and rating women on scales of one to 10 and we can’t help recalling someone we know who said he was going to vote for Trump in a primary because his only other options were a couple of Mexicans, and how when we pointed out that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were actually of Cuban descent he snarled “What’s the difference?” In a typical election year we’d gleefully ridicule the Democrats’ alliance with such celebrity nitwits as Dunham and Ferrara and that awful Michelle Obama woman who was much more all the rage among our liberal Facebook friends a day earlier, and we’ll gladly do so even this year, even if the Republican nominee himself didn’t dare take on the current First Lady in his “twitter” tirades, but this year we are compelled to admit the Republican convention did feature Scott “Chachi” Baio.
From our suddenly objective perspective we’d say the Democrats on Tuesday regained any ground lost on Monday, and might yet pick up a crucial couple of fractions of a percentage point if the nominee can somehow come across seemingly human on Thursday’s acceptance speech. The Democratic National Convention so far is the kind of thing you’ll like if you like that kind of thing, as per the old drama critic joke, and the necessary corollary of that same of joke is that it’s kind of thing you’ll hate if you hate that kind of thing. So far we hate everything on every channel, even to the point we feel a certain angry gratitude for the irksome distractions of automotive and home repairs.
At least the Wichita Wignuts’ four-run second inning was enough for a 4-2 victory over the Lincoln Saltdogs, extending their lead in the American Association’s Southern Division, and they even struck out the designated “beer batter” in the sixth to win the crowd a promotional $3.50 price on a sizable and delicious Shiner Bock beer. At this point there’s no telling who will prevail in this crazy presidential race, but no matter how it comes out, such small favors will sure come in handy.

— Bud Norman

Over at the Other League

Every now and then we avert our eyes from the desultory Republican primaries and check in on what the Democrats are up to, just as we’ll occasionally glance at the National League standings now that major league baseball is at least underway, but what we find over on the senior circuit of politics is no more heartening.
The putative front-runner in the two-person race, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton, is on a six-game losing streak that includes some embarrassing blow-outs, and all the kids seem to dig her pesky rival, the self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders from the hippie retirement village of Vermont. That’s before the Federal Bureau of Investigation concludes its criminal investigation of Clinton’s well-worthy-of-investigating e-mailing and charity fund-raising activities, which cannot end well not matter what, but it looks as if the fix is in just like one of those phony-baloney professional wrestling matches that the putative Republican front-runner used to perform. None of this is at all heartening when you suddenly recall that this isn’t mere sports, or “sports entertainment,” as the lawyers of professional wrestling like to call their “sport,” and that one of these awful people will likely enter the general election with a realistic chance of becoming president.
The game is played differently over on the Democratic side, too, and in ways that are even more egregious than forcing pitchers to be humiliated at the plate instead of letting a more competent designated hitter take the plate. There’s an unsettling preoccupation with racial and other political identity grievances, for one thing, and it’s lately been the big story. Both campaigns have been hectored by the “Black Lives Matter” movement that is the latest rage among the outsized portion of the Democratic primary electorate that is black, but Clinton’s husband, who was once the first First Black President, and has thus far endowed his frequently betrayed wife with all the political good will of that achievement. The self-described socialists’ promises of perfect economic justice and lots of free stuff is starting to resonate in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, though, and the first First Black President’s welfare reform and tough-on-crime measures are no longer fashionable, and it does make for an interesting situation. Clinton’s husband, who still somehow looms larger than his frequently betrayed yet putatively front-running wife, decided to make a full-troated defense of his past policies, albeit with less throat than his former McDonald’s-fueled from once had, and he threw in some factual stuff about how black folks generally had fared better during his administration than during the first seven-and-a-half years of the First Black President’s administration.
Oddly enough, we found ourselves rooting for the fellow, even if the sorry old son-of-a-bitch is still everything we loathe about the senior circuit. That welfare reform bill he signed really did reduce poverty by forcing people into gainful employment, the tough-on-crime stuff really did save a lot of black lives, which truly do matter, and even though he was forced on both policies by his equally sleazy advisor Dick Morris and the almost as sleazy Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a whole of Republican voters we hope aren’t so sleazy, we see no reason he should apologize for any of these less famous matters. Then again, we’re not rooting for his awful wife, who until recently had been running against her frequently betraying husband to keep those “Black Lives Matter” people on her side.
Still, we can believe that the fix is in and none of this matters, and that it will come down to whether our league can put up a worthy challenger.

— Bud Norman

The Future of Bill Clinton’s Past

When we finally achieve our goal of a benign dictatorship, one of our first edicts will make required reading of the great historian C. Vann Woodward’s essay on “The Future of the Past,” which usefully explains how the past is always changing to meet the political needs of the present. He wrote mostly how the isolationists will seize on one explanation for the fall of Rome while the internationalists will prefer another, with the environmentalists preferring something about lead vases the social conservatives noting all those orgies and such, and how various ethnic groups will have differing opinions on the discovery of America, but we’re sure he would have also mentioned the recent revisions of the history of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
As we lived through it the era seemed the best of times and the worst of times, to borrow a phrase, with the Reagan boom echoing with audio enhancement by some financial legerdemain, and the right-wing Congress that got elected half-way through his first term forcing a more or less balanced budget and further financial deregulations and serious welfare reform and a few tough-on-crime measures and some big trade deals as well, but there were also all the tawdry sex scandals and a worrisome sense that some of those sneaky policies about affordable housing and such would sooner or later explode the economy. The first draft of history called it a rousing success, though, and for some time the consensus was that he’d been not half-bad, and at least had spared the country the “Hand-Maiden’s Tale” theocracy that surely would have resulted from another Republican.
This reading of history proved useful until recently, when Clinton’s long-suffering wife, former Senator and Secretary of State as well as First Lady Hillary Clinton, found herself in a presidential race with self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is more righteously liberal. Now no less a liberal pundit as Thomas Franks is lamenting “Bill Clinton’s odious presidency” in his telling of “the real history of the ’90s,” and it’s something to see. The author of the national best-selling book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?,” which explained that Kansans tend to vote Republican because they’re too crazed by Christianity to embrace the truth faith of socialism, and which was the worst book we ever read on Kansas politics, has a new title out that explains how Clinton’s tenure was a disaster for a liberals. He grudgingly concedes that Clinton achieved modest increases in the minimum wage and top tax tax brackets, and made a failed attempt at health care reform, but notes that the rest of what he’s remembered for was mostly the doing of the hated House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his fellow right-wingers and that even the economic good times were largely a matter of accounting tricks and Enron-schemes and dot-com bubbles.
As much as we’re delighted to hear such a left-winger as Franks at long last acknowledge these points, it is of course in service of the liberal agenda. Those tawdry sex scandals are now conceded, but that’s only because the religious right is now reduced to fighting for the right not to participate or same-sex weddings and saving nuns the cost of contraceptive coverage, and the woman who defended her husband’s serial abuses is not out on the campaign trail saying that any woman who alleges a sexual assault should be believed. Those tough-on-crime measures saved thousands of black lives, but now there’s a Black Lives Matter movement that that is more concerned about the mass incarceration of murderers of black men and women. Don’t mention trade deals on a Democratic campaign trail, either, or even a Republican one, because those are now out of fashion, no matter what economic benefits they’ve brought. That welfare reform bill that proved so popular and effective prior to its repeal-by-executive-action under President Barack Obama is now described as “the repeal of welfare,” and the distaff Clinton is to be tarred with that as well. There’s no mention of the awful affordable housing policies that drove a housing bubble whose popping popped the entire economy, which of course is all blamed on those de-regulations, or how the lack of concern with Middle Eastern terrorism might have manifested itself a few months into Clinton’s successor’s first term, so it’s not an altogether satisfying revisionism.
Still, we’re pleased to see some long overdue Clinton-bashing going on over on the left. It’s only fair, what with the current Republican front-runner is telling dubious tales about Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing’s pig-blood soaked bullets and rehashing pure hogwash about Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill getting along and spouting the “Bush lied, people died” mantra and embracing the kind of protectionism and Wall Street-bashing that even Bill Clinton was too smart to embrace. Perhaps some future date will revise that ridiculous history, if it serves someone’s political needs.

— Bud Norman

As the Sands of the Hourglass, So are the Days of the Democrats

The Republican Party’s reality show is getting the bigger ratings and all the critical attention, but the Democrats’ presidential nomination race is also well worth binge-watching. In case you’ve missed the more recent gripping episodes, there’s now a tantalizing possibility that the heroine of the tale will face federal indictment on criminal charges, her husband’s past and recent sex scandals are starting to affect the plot, the lovably eccentric kook who was once a minor comic-relief character is now within striking distance of her in all the polls, and there’s enough behind-the-scenes court intrigue to fuel another few seasons of “The Tudors” and “House of Cards.”
Although the lovably eccentric kook who was originally included for only comic relief has generously declared that he’s “damned sick and tired” of hearing about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, which viewers might recall from previous episodes were transmitted by an unsecured and seemingly illegal private server, the Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps anonymously leaking to the press and openly testifying to Congress that they remain very interested in the matter. The latest news has the FBI leaking that they’re also looking into the big-bucks donations from foreign countries that were flowing into the Bill and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation while the eponymous Hillary was dealing with those same foreign countries as Secretary of State, and a best-selling book and a large number of reports indicate there is also something of interest to be found there. No matter what is uncovered by the investigation an indictment will have to be brought by an Attorney General appointed by President Barack Obama, who still looms as large as the Darth Vader or Obi-Wan Kenobi characters from the all-important prequels, depending on your tastes, which makes for some darned intriguing court intrigue.
Almost all of our Republican friends glumly assume that no Obama appointee would ever allow even the most undeniably evidence-backed federal indictment on criminal charges against a prominent Democrat, especially the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, and even more especially one named Clinton, and the long-awaited First Woman President, at that, and most of our Democrat friends gleefully make the assumption. Their glum and gleeful cynicism might well prove justified, given the conspicuous lack of indictments in countless scandals that the press would have happily made a federal case of during Republican administrations, from Fast and Furious to Solyndra to that Obamacare web site to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservatives and right up to Clinton’s e-mailing and fund-raising methods, but by now we’re cynical enough to hold out hope for one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction plot twists.
Having followed the soon-to-close but still-awaiting-that-final-cliffhanger Obama reality show over the past eight years or so, we’ve long noticed that he doesn’t much like any of the Clintons and is quite petty enough to let such personal dislikes affect his judgments. Nor does he seem to have any loyalty to his political party, which has been reduced to 1920s-levels in Congress and state legislatures and governorships even as he has seized unprecedented presidential powers, and his press spokespeople and his equally dutiful press people have strangely silent about Clinton’s legal matters. An indictment could either usher in a Republican presidency, which could be easily blamed for everything that happens in the four-year aftermath of the Obama administration, or hands the Democratic nomination to that lovable kook or any of the other Obama-approved eccentrics who have been waiting in the wings, and they somehow prevail over some equally unpopular Republican villain to institute yet another four years of left-wing craziness, and in either case Obama’s purposes are served. We’re not making any predictions, but it’s tantalizingly possible enough to keep us tuned in.
In any case, it signals more perils for the Pauline heroine of the Democrats’ reality show. We no longer cling to any boyish fantasy that the FBI is staffed by the likes of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. or Jimmy Stewart, but given the agency’s recent leakiness there is reason to hope that they’ll at least let some enterprising reporter or another know about they case they’ve built, which is sure to be unhelpful to Clinton’s candidacy. The cynics in both parties will glumly and gleefully note that Clinton’s have always gotten away with everything, and all the shrewd gamblers have always advised to never bet against a streak, but our cynicism is such that we glumly note that time changes everything. The Bill Clinton sex scandals that were easily overlooked during the cultural right scare of the ’90s aren’t so easily forgiven in the ‘teens, when Democrats believe a “culture of rape” is permeating the undeniably leftist-dominated campuses but not the town squares of European cities suddenly overrun by immigration from less feminist cultures that best go unnamed, and the Republican front-runner is a thrice-married casino mogul who can’t quote a single Bible verse, and suddenly that whole “war on women” that the distaff Clinton was supposed to win seems laughable. Besides, the masculine Clinton is best remembered for the Welfare Reform Act he was forced to sign and President Obama unraveled with executive orders, and the decrease in crime that resulted “mass incarceration” laws that are now the bane of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and for Republican-imposed balanced budgets that Democrats no longer care about.
Throw in the fact that in the Democratic voters are now mostly concerned about income inequality and those evil bastards on Wall Street, and it’s no surprise that the lovable kook and self-described socialist and relatively penurious Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is now catching up in the national polls and within striking distance in the first two crucial rounds of the race of the suspiciously wealthy and Wall Street-supported “front-runner.” Once the supposed front-runner is either indicted on federal criminal charges or not indicted for the most obviously suspicious reasons, you’ve got a real race going on rather than the promised coronation. Even the most polite press can’t help noticing such things, and hopefully speculating about some eccentric waiting on the wings to inherit Obama’s still on-going campaign operation, and of course that will further twist the plot.
There’s plenty of drama left on the Republican side, where another character unpopular with the broader audience seems to be winning, but these Democrats are well worth watching.

— Bud Norman

The Schlong Ride to the Presidency

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are having a nasty spat, and there’s a sex angle to the story, so that’s currently the big news of the presidential race. So far Trump seems to be getting the better of it, but no one is likely to emerge unscathed from such a tawdry affair.
The brouhaha began with Trump telling one of his constant interviewers that Clinton got “schlonged” in her last presidential campaign. If you’re from outside New York City or are otherwise so goyish you don’t speak even a bissel of Yiddish, “schlong” is a low sort of synonym for penis, and the past tense verb form is pretty much self-explanatory. Clinton could have taken the high road and ignored the remark, but that would have been entirely out of character, and she could have rightly objected on the grounds that Trump was using language ill-suited to presidential politics and being downright vulgar, but that would not seem so damning after the past seven years of presidential rhetoric and late night comedy show appearances, so instead she indignantly accused Trump of sexism. The alleged schlonging was by The First Black President, too, so some quarters of the press helpfully chipped in with accusations of racism, and we expect that somebody thought to accuse the self-described Presbyterian of cultural appropriation for using a Yiddishism, and in verb form at that, and the first wave of stories had all the usual outrage.
Clinton’s inevitable accusation of sexism offered Trump an opening, however, and he shrewdly seized the opportunity to remind the public of Clinton’s role in smearing the many women who have made allegations of everything from sexual harassment to sexual assault to outright rape against her husband. The press was obliged to report it, and although most media did so with the usual outrage the charge still stung. Former President Bill Clinton’s countless extra-marital schlongings aren’t merely metaphorical, and have done more damage to public standards than anything Trump might blurt out during an interview, and Hillary Clinton’s enabling role in all the tawdry scandals belie her claim to feminist glory. Throw in all the financial scandals that belie her populist warrior image, and all the lies told to obscure her incompetence and corruption, and the character question is very much a legitimate issue in the race.
Trump is quite right to raise the issue, but he’s the wrong person to do so. The billionaire real estate mogul and reality television star is thrice-married, boasts of his womanizing past with the same shamelessness as when he boasts of his wealth, has a long history of making disparaging remarks about the physical appearance of women he dislikes, and the fact that Bill Clinton is arguably even worse is damning with faint praise. Throw in his shameless boasts of buying off politicians to aid his gambling business and using the bankruptcy laws four times to pay less of his boundless fortune to his creditors than he promised, as well as his penchant for vulgarity, and his own character issues become a legitimate issue in the race.
Still, we’ll concede that Trump has once again proved to you can say the things that were previously thought unsayable. One can only hope that someone more eloquent and admirable can take advantage of that.

— Bud Norman

Jeb Bush Goes on the Dole

Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole was briefly back in the news Wednesday with his endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential candidacy, and we were reminded of a long ago era of Republican politics. The Bush campaign is apparently hoping that the party is nostalgic for those old times, which largely explains why it hasn’t a chance.
At age 92 Dole is about as a senior a statesman as the Republican Party still has around, and his long and noteworthy career entitles him to some standing. He was a bona fide hero of World War II, overcame the lifelong wounds he suffered to start a distinguished career in the House of Representatives and then the Senate, was his party’s vice presidential nominee in the ’76 election, and after serving as Senate Majority headed the ticket headed in the ticket in the ’96 race. Except for the war record, though, none of it is likely to impress the average Republican primary voter of today. The party’s mood at the moment is angrily anti-establishment, and Dole is by now the epitome of the establishment.
Dole talked a tough conservatism when he first started rising through the ranks of Kansas politics, and in a gravelly prairie voice that made it all the more convincing, then he earned reputation for die-hard partisanship when was one of the last congressional Republicans to abandon the sinking ship of the Nixon presidency. In the wake of that disaster he was chosen as President Gerald Ford’s running mate to placate the right-wing crazies and employ his famously acerbic wit in the role of “hatchet man,” and he was so widely reviled by the left that for many years his conservative credentials weren’t questioned. In retrospect his early conservatism was just common sense opposition to all the Great Society nonsense of the Johnson administration, his devotion to the Keynesian wage-and-price-controll and Environmental Protection-agency-founding Nixon administration was ill-advised, and Ford’s nomination win over an insurgent Ronald Reagan still rankles the average Republican primary voter.
Dole was still a left-wing bogeyman and right-wing icon in the summer of ’78, when we served as interns in his Senate office, but his presidential ambitions had already started him on a more mainstream path. He was also careful to keep the Kansas constituents happy, and was a reliable friend of the farmer, especially the big agribusiness ones who were generous donors to his perfunctory re-election campaigns, and his hawkish stands on defense spending played well at the local air force base and the airplane factories that always had a friend when seeking a government contract, and his press releases would alternate between the latest pork being brought home to Kansas and the Senator’s tough stands on big government and reckless spending, but he also cultivated a national reputation as a pragmatic deal-maker and not one of the scary and unelectable conservative ideologues. When Ronald Reagan at long last won the presidency in ’80, proving that those scary conservative ideologues aren’t so unelectable after all, at least not after four years of Jimmy Carter, Dole was never able to get a good seat on the bandwagon and his positioned himself as a reasonable middleman.
Which was enough to get him easily re-elected in Kansas back in the day, when the Democrats had long since given up any hope of a very rare Senate win and started nominating their looniest liberals as sacrificial lambs so that base would have some reason to feel self-righteous as they went to the polls. As reporters at the local newspaper we got to cover the campaign of one hippy-dippy young woman whose name was drawn out of some threadbare hat to run as Dole’s Democratic opponent, who we found endearingly loopy and hilariously similar to every popular stereotype of left-winger, and who gave us the greatest drunken interview after her landslide defeat, and even the most anti-establishment Republican had to admit that Dole wasn’t one of those. We also covered Dole’s office in the early ’90s, which was quite a chore given his press office’s far greater interest in returning phone calls to The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as the Senator’s prickliness about even the most polite and even supportive questions, but there were never any stories that hurt his popularity within his party.
Deal-making and bi-partisanship and big money agribusiness donors and all the rest were accepted as business as usual in a party placated by the Reagan economic boom, as even it stretched into the otherwise-hated Clinton years, and it was sufficient for a candidate to claim that at least he wasn’t one of those loony Democrats. It worked well enough to give George H.W. Bush what was hoped to be third Reagan term, but neither Bush nor Dole could stave off eight years of Clinton. Another Bush managed to stave off Al Gore and John Kerry, which even the most anti-establishment Republican must admit is a public service, but he wound up ushering eight years of Barack Obama, with the possibility of another eight years of a Clinton, with all sorts of deals made and trillions of dollars of debt racked up, and by now even the mushiest sorts of Republicans are in an angrily anti-establishment mood.
Yet another Bush is trying to buck this anti-establishmentarianism, which isn’t going to happen, and the support of an even older establishment figure such as Dole won’t help.

— Bud Norman

The Perfect Scandal

Dennis Hastert was such a forgettable Speaker of the House that we had completely forgotten about him, but we have lately been reminded of his existence by all the gleeful news reports about his indictment by a federal grand jury. He’s charged with lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about a series of relatively small bank withdrawals, which is not particularly scandalous by Washington standards and raises the question of why the government is empowered to ask people nosy questions about relatively small bank withdrawals in the first place, but the inevitable unlawful leaks about the case have claimed the withdrawals were used to hush a sexual relationship with a young male who had been a student of Hastert’s during his days as a high school teacher and wrestling coach, which explains all the gleefulness of the press.
Hastert is a Republican, and a self-proclaimed “traditional family values” Republican with his name on a building at a Christian college at that, so the irony is far too delicious for the press to resist. The hypocrisy of Democrats who rail against income inequality while enriching themselves through government service to the one percentile, or decry the Republican “war on women” while rallying around the enabling wife of a serial sexual harasser, is more easily ignored when there’s a story like this afoot. There are still scores to be settled from the impeachment charges that were filed during Hastert’s speakership against President Bill Clinton after he lied under oath about his heterosexual sex scandals, too, and with Hastert having acquired the job after two Republican predecessors were found to have cheated on their wives there’s yet more ammunition for the old argument that there’s no longer any sense in expecting our leaders to hew to a higher standard of sexual conduct and that we should all just go ahead and do it in the road. Given the facts as they have been established thus far, and their usefulness for a variety of Democratic narratives, we expect the Hastert story should push the Islamic State, Hillary Clinton’s slush fund foundation, the recently shrinking economy, and everything else of greater public importance off the front pages for weeks to come.
Still, there’s no denying it does seem a very tawdry affair. Aside from the decades-old but still-sickening allegations of sexual exploitation of a student, which are bad enough, there’s also the matter of how a former high school teacher turned public servant had enough money on hand to pay the $1.7 million in blackmail that Hastert is alleged to have paid. Much of Hastert’s wealth is said to have come from real estate deals, including properties whose value was increased by laws passed during his speakership, and the rest has come from a lucrative lobbying career commenced shortly after he left Congress. Even those questions about why the government is empowered to ask people nosy questions about relatively small bank withdrawals are answered by the Patriot Act that Hastert helped to enact. If the facts as they have been established thus far prove true, Hastert will richly deserve the ignominy that is currently being heaped on him.
Nor is there much that even a die-hard Republican can muster in his defense. We were surprised to re-learn that Hastert was the longest-serving Speaker of the House in history, but one can liken that to the record-setting yet forgettable reign of Larry Holmes as world heavyweight champion, who remains overshadowed by his flamboyant predecessor Muhammad Ali and memorably thuggish successor Mike Tyson, just as Hastert is less well-remembered than his pugnacious and effective predecessor Newt Gingrich and his “first woman” and downright awful successor Nancy Pelosi. Chosen for his dull personality and happy talk of bipartisanship and presumably scandal-free past, Hastert spent his time in power going along with Clinton and then helping George W. Bush push through that Medicare drug plan and the rest of his big government heresies, and was otherwise so good at avoiding controversy that even such news junkies as ourselves had completely forgotten him.
One might note that a recent rash of underplayed stories about sexual exploitation of students by teachers mostly involve women educators in public schools, and that by up-to-date standards an emphasis on cases such as Hastert’s alleged behavior should be considered heteronormative, and that tawdry tales of lucrative careers in public service are quite bipartisan, with the presumptive Democratic nominee being a prime example, and that Republican presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul is currently being pilloried in the press for opposing repeal of the Patriot Act in defiance of a Democratic president who now likes all of the governmental powers it endows, and that the Patriot Act was intended to target terrorists rather people with other reasons for making relatively small bank withdrawals, and that the presumptive Democratic nominee’s husband has been a frequent flyer on the private jet of a known pedophile,  and that everyone isn’t cheating on a spouse and higher standards of conduct should still be expected from public officials regardless of their party affiliation, but it will be of no use. Unless new exculpatory facts unexpectedly emerge, Hastert has handed the Democrats’ media allies an extraordinary gift, and Republicans can only hope that readers will notice the other sickening facts that somehow make it onto the inside pages of your local newspaper.

— Bud Norman