What Do the Simple Folk Do?

The news has been rather maudlin lately, and will likely remain so for a while, but at least we’ll have the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to provide comic relief for the next year and a half. Every campaign’s attempts to make the candidate seem a regular down-home American are faintly ridiculous, but in Clinton’s case it is downright hilarious. The spectacle evokes the image of Bill and Hillary Clinton at leisure in one of their mansions, much like King Arthur and Guinevere in “Camelot,” wondering “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” and coming up with the most wildly inaccurate conjectures.
Just this week has seen Clinton scooting across Grant Wood’s Iowa in a vehicle that has been dubbed the “Scooby Doo van,” making her putatively routine visit to a Chipotle franchise, chatting amiably with plain old midwestern folks at some Frank Capra-esque watering hole, wandering the halls of some distinctly non-Ivy League campus, and grousing about the indue influence of rich people’s money on America’s once-pristine politics. All of it was so obviously contrived that even the press noticed, and actual regular down-home Americans were far less likely to be fooled by any of it.
Even the playful moniker for her upscale black van has managed to rile some fans of the old “Scooby Doo” cartoon series, who recall that Scooby and Shaggy and the rest of the show’s ghost-busting gang of wholesome teenage sleuths travelled in a psychedelically colorful vehicle called “The Mystery Machine.” We’re just young enough to have some familiarity with the show, and just old enough to have noticed how very awful it was even by herky-jerky animation standards of the Hannah-Barbera studio, but there’s a younger cohort of voters who take such details seriously and will note the inauthenticity of the allusion. The “Scooby Doo” characters didn’t have two accompanying black vans full of Secret Service agents, either, nor did any state Highway Patrols clear traffic for their madcap capers, and such details will not go unnoticed by all those “millennials” who take their childhood television favorites more seriously than politics. Clinton might yet get to say the familiar catchphrase of the cartoon’s villains during their inevitable bad end just before the last commercial break, “I would have gotten away with it if not for those meddling kids,” but otherwise any attempt to suck any good will out of that awful old cartoon series will run false for its fans.
That highly-publicized visit to Chipotle also struck a discordant note. We’d hate to sound more regular down-home American than thou, but we’ve never once set foot inside in a Chipotle because our regular down-home American town has seen such a wave of immigration from Mexico that the place is chockfull of Mexican eateries far more deliciously authentic and inexpensive than those franchised and suspiciously modern Chipotle places look to be. Our last visit to Iowa suggested that most of its towns have similarly benefited from the immigration wave, so Clinton would have been well advised to drop in one of the many seedier but tastier joints that her “Scooby Doo van” surely passed, even if that did entail the risk Sen. Marco Rubio or Sen. Ted Cruz or Gov. Estella Martinez or even Gov. Jeb Bush or any other other potential Republican contenders upstaging her by dropping in on the same joint and ordering in Spanish. Putting a buck in the tip jar might have been a nice touch, too, and spared her some sneering coverage from usually friend press.
Those regular down-home Americans that Clinton was photographed chatting with turned out to be Democrat operatives, of course, although it took Britain’s Fleet Street press to uncover that easily uncovered fact. The wandering through the hallways of that non-Ivy League necessitated locking the non-Democratic operative students in their classrooms, lest they come into unscripted contact with the regular down-home American candidate, and even the American press acknowledged that. All that blather about the undue influence of rich folks’ money was respectfully reported, although without any ironic reference to the stories running elsewhere about the $2.5 billion campaign fund that Clinton is raising from her friends in Hollywood and Silicon Valley and Wall Street and other environs of the rich folk.
This charade might impress the accompanying press corps, who at various stops have outnumbered the “everyday people,” in the condescending phraseology of the Clinton campaign’s announcement video, but that’s because the reporters who get such plum assignments aren’t regular down-home Americans. Out here in flyover country even the Democrats are bound to notice how very phony it is, and the Clinton campaign would be well advised to switch to the aristocratic hauteur and claims of Ivy League entitlement that somehow made “Camelot” such an appealing image for the Kennedy administration.

— Bud Norman

One Brief Shining Moment Known as Camelot

There’s a lot going on in the world right now, and it’s all so depressing we were happily distracted by something that might or might not have happened half-a-century ago.
This titillating tale came to us courtesy of England’s Daily Mail, one of the famously feisty British press’ feistiest papers, which leaked a soon-to-be-published book’s claim that Jackie Kennedy had an affair while she was First Lady with the famed ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. For salacious ‘60s gossip this is hard to top, but the book further claims that around the same time Nureyev also had an affair with presidential brother and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, as well as yet another affair with Jackie Kennedy’s celebrity sister Lee Radziwell, and that it all ended only when Kennedy noticed Nureyev taking an inordinate interest in her handsome young son. Even by the jading standards of the seemingly endless Kennedy sex scandals, it’s shocking stuff.
The authors of the book, titled “Pink Triangle,” attribute these claims to the late writers Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, both of whom were confidantes of Jackie Kennedy but neither of whom were entirely reliable sources, so there’s no judging the veracity of the story. The Mail bolsters the book’s claim with a paparazzi photo of Nureyev strolling with Jackie Kennedy, another of him walking alongside Bobby Kennedy, and a third showing him seated at some swank affair with Radziwell, in each case all of them looking quite chummy. There’s also an old interview with Nureyev in a Danish newspaper conducted just before he died in 1993 from AIDS in which he seems to boast of these of conquests, and that nothing regarding the Kennedy clan can be dismissed as too far-fetched, but we still retain a certain skepticism.
It is hard to believe, for one thing, that even such a formidable philanderer as Nureyev could keep up with so many Kennedys. Following that family’s affairs in the tabloids is tiring enough, and the exertions involved in bedding so many of them would surely leave the halest hoofer too tired to perform a pirouette. We also doubt the book’s claim that Richard Nixon hit on Jackie Kennedy after a presidential campaign debate with her husband, as all the mountains of mud that were hurled at “Tricky Dick” during his long career never included an allegation of sexual misbehavior, and it is hard to imagine him strolling up to Jackie Kennedy with shoulders stooped and jowls flapping as he says “Hey, baby.” Despite Robert Kennedy’s reputation for an all-too-healthy heterosexuality we find it plausible that he might have dabbled with Nureyev, and the book’s colorful detail that one of their assignations occurred in a telephone booth sounds believably Kennedyesque, but we’d hate to give modern Democrats yet another reason to adore him.
Still, it’s the sort of racy reading that explains why the British press still sells newspapers, and the unsettling sense that it is at least slightly plausible should be cautionary. Many of those other depressing stories in the news involve a handsome, young, and charismatic president whose heroic image has been carefully maintained by a compliant press, others involve a successor-in-waiting who is the supposedly long-suffering First Lady of a frequently unfaithful president, and it all seems somehow familiar. The most scandalous legends should be regarded skeptically, but at this point we know enough about the Kennedys, Clintons, and Obamas to also suspect the more flattering legends about them.

— Bud Norman

Questioning Camelot

Our favorite gag by the late Johnny Carson always followed his occasional failed monologue jokes about Abraham Lincoln., when he would exaggeratedly grimace at the audience’s silence and then turn to Ed McMahon to say “Too soon.”
The old show-biz admonition to allow a considerate pause between tragedy and comedy is very much on our mind as we approach Friday’s 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy. A half-century is still too soon to be jocular about something so tragic as a presidential assassination, but neither are we inclined to join in the incessant hagiography that has become a cottage industry since Kennedy’s death.
It is altogether fitting and proper that the coverage of the anniversary should be respectful, but it should also be true. Most of the media can be expected to take full advantage of the opportunity to trot out all of the left’s most cherished myths about St. Kennedy of Camelot, which will be presented anew to the gullible generations too young to recall the reality of his presidency and too incurious to have learned about it, and there will be the usual efforts to cast the light of this revisionist history on current events. A more truthful account, as usual, would be more useful.
Kennedy will be recalled as a charismatic exemplar of modern liberalism, a sort of paler ‘60s prototype of President Barack Obama without all the computer glitches, but many of his policies would be anathema to today’s Democrats. Perhaps Kennedy’s brightest idea was a massive tax cut, which not only drastically lowered rates for businesses but also dropped the now-hated top 1 percent’s rates from the confiscatory 91 percent that had last through the allegedly right-wing Eisenhower administration to a still-exorbitant 70 percent, and it set off such an economic boom in the ensuing decade that the country could afford hippies. Some of his policies reflected the traditional Democratic enthusiasm for busy-body big government, but on the whole the bootlegger’s son seemed to have a natural affinity for capitalism.
The peaceniks in the Democratic party should also be reminded by that Kennedy ran as a stauncher cold warrior than the world champion commie-baiter Richard Nixon, and cultivated a very masculine image based largely on his war exploits. He vowed at his inaugural to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” which is hard to imagine Obama ever uttering, and was true enough to the words to incur the wrath of at least one Castro-loving left-winger with Marine marksmanship training. After failing to pay any price or bear any burden during the ill-fated Bay of Pigs attack in Cuba, and an unimpressive summit in Vienna, Kennedy made less of an impression on the Soviet leadership, leading to the Berlin Wall crisis and the Cuban missile crisis and a widespread uneasiness that the world was about to go up in a nuclear mushroom cloud, but the response was least more muscular than the modern Democrats would be comfortable with.
There’s no way of proving or disproving the left’s holy writ that Kennedy would not have further involved America in the Vietnam War, which is the basis of all the more creative conspiracy theories regarding his assassination, but there is cause for doubt. It should be noted that Kennedy did increase the number of military advisors in the country, that President Lyndon Johnson further escalated the war with combat troops on the advice of the same “best and brightest” advisors that Kennedy had chosen, and with the same “pay any price, bear any burden” rhetoric of his predecessor, and that Kennedy had been sufficiently interested in Vietnam’s civil war to tacitly green-light a coup that led to the assassination of South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem. Kennedy’s father had seen his own presidential ambitions devastated by a defeatist isolationism prior to World War II, and his brief years in office suggest he had learned well not to pass on a war that might prove popular. Liberals are still entitled to their Gnostic faith that no Castro-loving left-winger would have ever shot Kennedy, we suppose, but the enduring theory that the Great Society and the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Act and the rest of the Johnson administration was a right-wing conspiracy strikes us as highly implausible.
Kennedy wasn’t so liberal as Johnson, but he wasn’t nearly conservative enough that the right should embrace his legacy. His initial wobbliness on foreign affairs was almost Obamaian, he had the same rhetorical tendency as his Democratic successors to ink of his countrymen as a collective rather than individuals, and of course there was the reckless and dangerous womanizing that liberals were obliged to defend during the Clinton years. Most of the blame for the disastrous social engineering efforts of the ‘60s falls on Johnson, but almost all of it was sold as an idea that the sainted Kennedy had vaguely proposed in one of his bleeding heart speeches. That Kennedy remains such an iconic figure on the left is sufficient reason to question his legacy thoroughly.

— Bud Norman

Unrequited Love

Pity the poor White House press corps, tortured by unrequited love. No matter how hard they try to please their man, no matter how servile they become, they are given nothing in return but scorn.
Like a teary guest on an afternoon talk show, the White House press corps has at last begun to speak up for itself and demand the respect that its endless devotion to President Barack Obama has surely earned. The White House Correspondents’ Association didn’t formally protest Obama’s stonewalling on Fast and Furious, Solyndra, Benghazi, or any of the administration’s other serious scandals, only a lack of access during the most recent presidential vacation, but at least it is a start. As any afternoon talk show host will tell you, every emotional journey begins with a single small step.
One can certainly sympathize with the reporters, who were confined to a “party bus” while the president enjoyed a round of golf at a swank country club. Aside from the horrors of their hours-long confinement in the “party bus,” which according to one reporter “may sound more fun than it is,” the reporters were understandably miffed that they were kept away from a newsworthy event. Obama was playing against Tiger Woods, after all, and the mismatch of the century would certainly have made for interesting spectating.
Nor is there any apparent reason for such appalling treatment of a press corps that has always served the president well. Great Britain’s Daily Mail insinuates that Obama thought it might look bad to be photographed playing a stereotypically upper-class game at a ritzy Florida resort with the most notorious womanizer since Bill Clinton, and at a time when the nation’s economy is struggling and Obama is railing against the rich, but the British press is always much cheekier about these sorts of things than its American counterpart. We expect the reporters would have endeavored to make the event sound very glamorous and Camelot-y, yet not at all inconsistent with his populist rhetoric, and perhaps even kicked a few balls out of the rough for the president.
Typical of the press coverage was the Los Angeles Times’ story on “a more relaxed Obama,” which explained that “Obama’s vacations have been rare, brief and regularly interrupted by crises at home and overseas.” We do not know what the Times’ vacation policy provides, but if the paper truly considers Obama’s vacation schedule so pitiably stingy we will be sending them a resume forthwith. As for the regular interruptions by crises at home and overseas, we can’t recall the Times offering any such excuses for the previous president’s less frequent retreats to his family ranch. Of course the Bush family ranch was in Crawford, Texas, a hard-scrabble patch of prairie where the sun shines mercilessly in the summer and there’s not a decent bistro for miles, so even the free-ranging reporters of that era found it more onerous than even the most primitive “party bus.”
There’s no stopping the dogged determination of the White House press corps, though, and fans of a free press will be heartened to know that when the reporters finally got an opportunity to shout a question at Obama it was to find out if he had beaten Tiger Woods. The American press might not be so love-struck as the North Korean press that reported Kim Jong Il had shot a sizzling 38-under-par on his first try at the game, but it is getting there.

— Bud Norman