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The Battle of the Celebrities, the Fate of a Nation

That Oprah Winfrey woman gave an uplifting and cliche-filled acceptance speech at the Golden Globes ceremony on Sunday night, which is the sort of pop cultural pap news we used to happily ignore, but by Monday afternoon there was simply no escaping all the buzz about her possible presidential campaign. Such is politics in the age of President Donald Trump.
Back in the good old days, which we now date to around the time Trump took that elevator ride in Trump Tower to announce his seemingly improbable presidential campaign, the possibility of a Winfrey presidency would have been the stuff of satire. She’s never held a political position or worked in public service, has no political philosophy save for what one might discern from her occasional incoherent public pronouncements, and lacks any apparent qualifications for high public office save the billions of dollars she’s made from her status as a reality-show celebrity. That would have ended the discussion back in the good old days, but in the age of Trump the Republican party is hard-pressed to make those once obvious arguments against such obviously unqualified candidates.
Those darned Democrats made all the same obvious arguments against Trump, but they were less convincing after eight years of celebrating the rock star presidency of President Barack Obama, and it couldn’t carry such an unappealing figure as former First Lady and Senator and Secretary and presumptive first-woman president Hillary Clinton across the finish line, so we understand their excitement for Winfrey. Her afternoon talk show ran twice as long as Trump’s “Apprentice” reality show and made her a far bigger TV star, she’s arguably even richer than Trump and her up-from-the-ghetto biography is far more Horatio Alger-esque than the son of a millionaire New York real estate mogul, and her touchy-feely public persona contrasts comfortably with the snarling “you’re fired” image that Trump has long cultivated. Say what you want about Winfrey, and our old-fashioned Republicans selves have plenty to say about her, we have to admit that at least she wouldn’t be “tweeting” about the size of her nuclear button.
With a certain snobbish pride we admit we never watched so much as a second of Winfrey’s not talk show, nor Trump’s insipid prime time reality game show, but she kept popping up in the political news in all sorts of troubling ways. She promoted some theories about “mad cow” disease that put her in disfavor with all our favorite Kansas cattle ranchers and our own carnivorous selves, promulgated some questionable advice about childhood vaccines and other pressing public health issues, and seemed all too prone to magical thinking and other disastrous pop cultural fads. Her admirable efforts to encourage reading put several fine old and authors on the national bestsellers lists, but she also fell for a couple of literary hoaxes some of the more noteworthy authors were embarrassed by her endorsements. One can also clearly glean from her many publicized public pronouncements and fawning television interviews that she’s more or less an Obama sort of mainstream Democrat, which is disqualifying for such old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves and a lot of our radicalized and more traditional Democratic friends, but if the fate of the nation comes down to Nielsen ratings we suspect she might well win.
There’s also talk that former World Wrestling Entertainment champion and current action-adventure movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will jump into the race. We’ll snobbishly admit that never seen a single second of his wrestling or action-adventure moving acting, and we have no idea if he’s a Republican or Democrat or what his political philosophy might be, but from the look of him we can’t imagine the aging and obese and combed-over Trump “tweeting” anything about his manliness.
We’d rather it didn’t come down to that, and that instead our nation’s fate came down to a carefully deliberated consideration of the very complicated issues we face as a nation, we’re no longer hopeful. The extraordinarily rich American popular culture that bequeathed to the world jazz and country music and rock and soul and and the rest of the incredible Ameircan songbook, along with Hollywood movies and prairie deco architecture and those Oprah-endorsed works of William Faulkner and the rest of our national grassroots greatness, is at an undeniably awkward moment, and our politics is in an arguably even worse state.

— Bud Norman

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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

About that Dead Lion

Although we were genuinely sorry to hear about that poor lion being killed somewhere in Africa, we’re not so sorry about it that we’ll be making any additional death threats against the Minnesota dentist who killed it. We understand that the big game hunting business is providing an incentive for Africans for to keep their continent’s big game plentiful, and we can’t quite rid ourselves of an old-fashioned prejudice that human lives are of greater value than the lives of other mammals, and we note that lions are big game hunters themselves, and we figure that humans have the same God-given right to hunt as any other predatory-by-nature beast along the food chain, so we’ll let that poor dentist be.
The dentist apparently thought he was shooting an arrow into some anonymous lion rather than a celebrity lion, so far as we can gather from the voluminous news coverage, and since we have to admit even at the risk of of being accused of species-ism or some other damning ism that all lions look alike to us we are sympathetic to his defense. We’re also so very uninformed about celebrities these days that we didn’t even know there were any celebrity lions, at least since the one that used to introduce all those old MGM movies, and if for some reason we were inclined to commit a random murder we could easily wind up knocking off one of the Kardashians or Lady Gaga or one of those other people on the covers of the magazines at the grocery store checkout line rather than some less newsworthy victim, so his mistake strikes us as easily forgivable. We’re also skeptical of the widespread notion that celebrity lives are somehow of greater value than others, whether leonine or human, so that is also a mitigating factor in our decision not to threaten that Minnesota dentist’s life.
Nor can we understand why the public is more outraged about the life of a even a celebrity lion than about the lives of the zebras and gazelles and maybe even the  human beings that the lion would have eventually taken had he survived that Minnesota dentist’s safari. There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld comedy routine about how people always root for whatever animal is starring in a nature documentary, with people cheering on the hawk as he swoops down on a field mice to provide food for the adorable baby hawks back in his nest but hoping for the field mice to outrun those deadly talons and get back to his own adorable children when the show is about field mice, and we think some gruesome footage of even a celebrity lion chowing down on a zebra that had been given a top-billed role might even make that Minnesota dentist seem heroic. It’s a rough world of kill or be killed out there, and we’re genuinely sorry about that, too, but the attention being paid to the killing of a lion somewhere in Africa seems outrageously inordinate.
There’s a late night comedian out there who reportedly teared up as he tried to make mean jokes about that Minnesota dentist, even though he’s never been so choked up about the Christians being routinely beheaded by the Islamic State, and some of our Facebook friends posted that the lion’s death makes them ashamed to be human, even though they’ve previously been unashamed by the far more common slaughter of their fellow human beings in the daily crime reports, and a liberal but otherwise delightful woman we ran into at a ballgame Wednesday night was saying that she hopes all of the beasts of Africa slaughter all the African people, even though at the ballgame the night before she was defending the “Black Lives Matter” movement that shouts down anyone who dares say that all lives matter, and it all seems rather silly. We are genuinely sorry that lion was killed, but at the moment we’re more worried about the lives that will be lost when Iran gets a nuclear bomb due to soft-hearted and even more soft-headed western sensibilities, and the black lives that will be lost when the police go into full retreat for fear of well-intentioned reprisals, and the aborted lives whose parts are being sold for scrap on the open market by an organization that enjoys millions of taxpayers’  dollars and the support of all the right people, and the sorrier state of all the lives that will somehow survive America’s cultural and political and economic and spiritual decline into a broader array of soft-hearted and even softer-headed good intentions.
There’s every reason to hope that the death of that poor lion in somewhere in Africa will soon be forgotten, and that the soft-hearted and even softer-headed among us will soon move on to something else to be outraged about, but there’s little reason to hope that the same good intentions that are currently threatening the death of a Minnesota dentist will move on to something useful.

— Bud Norman

The Lowdown On Low Info Voters

The most popular political cliché of the past election was “low information voter.” This newly identified category seems to have replaced “Soccer moms,” “NASCAR dads,” and “angry white men” as the hot bloc that every campaign simply must have.
Despite our usual aversion to neologisms we rather like this coinage, certainly more than any of its recent predecessors. We’ve never met anyone who could be adequately defined as a “Soccer mom” or “NASCAR dad,” and the many angry white men we’ve known are no angrier than the angry people of other races and sexes, but we’ve encountered so many low information voters over the years that it seems necessary they should have a name. “Low information voter” has a drearily sociological ring to it, and we would have preferred something more acerbic, but it will do.
The term is neatly self-explanatory, at least, describing someone who persists in exercising his franchise despite having little knowledge of the issues or candidates that he’s voting about. No one knows precisely how much of the electorate matches this description, but everyone agrees that it’s a sizeable share. There are enough of them, we’re sure, to determine the outcome of an election.
For many years it was the consensus of liberal opinion that the more ignorant voters were inclined to vote for Republican candidates, and such snobbery still stubbornly persists in some quarters The would-be wags at the Urban Dictionary site, for instance, define a low information voters as “One who votes based on information gleaned from other low information voters, rumors, viral emails, and FOX ‘News,’” and cites as an example someone who “will vote against labor unions” despite the unalloyed wonders wrought by the labor movement. Since the past election, however, even such impeccably liberal publications as The Hill were forced to admit that the Democrats are now winning the lion’s share of the low information voters.
Some Democratic partisans even point with pride to the Obama campaign’s careful courtship of the low information vote, a strategy that included the president’s penchant for appearing mainly on such entertainment shows as The View, Late Night with David Letterman, The Daily Show, and, as we never tire of mentioning, The Pimp With a Limp’s radio program. We stand by our frequent criticism that such appearances demean the dignity of the president and his office, but are now forced to concede that it is apparently shrewd politics.
Even without the president’s participation, though, the mass entertainment media that low information voters flock to provide a constant flow of propaganda that is helpful to the Democrats. Businessmen are almost invariably depicted as villains, religious people are routinely ridiculed, class resentments are encouraged, and everywhere a notion of “cool” explicitly associated with liberalism is celebrated. Most of the news media are just as bad, hyping every Republican misstep to a point that even the most determinedly uninformed voters will hear of it while avoiding any mention of the numerous Democratic scandals that would be front-page material if they had happened during an earlier administration. Those few outlets that do report information critical of Obama are easily ignored, and wind up with the word news put in sneering quote marks.
We’ve spoken with numerous Obama supporters who were blissfully unaware of the Fast and Furious fiasco or the Solyndra debacle, to mention just two of the embarrassing stories that somehow haven’t dogged the administration, and these people include regular readers of The New York Times and other supposedly respectable publications. More apolitical acquaintances of ours don’t know that the federal government has been borrowing a trillion dollars every nine months for the past four years, and when informed of the fact they don’t seem to understand that a trillion dollars is a significant amount of money. They feel entitled to revel in their intellectual superiority to Sarah Palin, though, and know all about the Republicans’ racist and sexist ways even if they can’t cite any examples of these character flaws.
Wooing these voters will be difficult for the Republicans. The Democrats’ tax-the-rich philosophy has a natural appeal to voters who have come through the egalitarian indoctrination of the public schools, for instance, and refuting it requires facts about the exceptionally progressive nature of the current tax system and talk of Laffer Curves and capital flight that seem to have a painful effect on the brain of a typical low information voter. Almost all of the arguments for conservatism are complex and often counter-intuitive, and none have the low-brow entertainment value of the President of the United States slow-jamming the news on the Jimmy Fallon show. The Democrats’ argument that they will give free stuff and the stingy Republicans won’t is quite simply understood, on the other hand, and the counter-argument involves less immediate consequences that the low information voter is content to wait for so long as the goodies keep coming.
So far the best advice the consultants can offer is that conservatives start schmoozing on the talk shows more often, and being as hip as possible when doing so, and that’s probably a good start so long as they don’t embarrass themselves in the process. A more effective solution will require changing the culture, though, and that’s going to be a lot more difficult than just enduring the company of the late night comedians who provide the low information to all those voters.

— Bud Norman

Politicians and Other Matinee Idols

One of the few natural advantages a conservative Republican candidate enjoys in American politics is that he is not expected to be hip. When reporters ask the inevitable questions about a politician’s favorite musicians he is free to respond with the Ames Brothers or the Harmonicats or whatever cornball quartet he might favor, and he’s not obliged to speak in the latest slang. When asked about a favorite movie he can name something directed by John Ford, and he’s even free to admit that he doesn’t watch television at all.

The enduring stereotype of the conservative Republican as square spares him the embarrassment of passing fads, confers on him a reassuringly old-fashioned dignity, and frees him from the unpleasant necessity of currying favor with celebrities. Conversely, a liberal Democrat such as Barack Obama winds up posing for pictures with the likes of Dianna Agron, Zachary Quinto, Jessica Alba, and Jared Leto.

We had previously been blissfully unaware of these people’s existence, but according to the Hollywood Reporter they are among “two dozen of Hollywood’s hottest young stars” that the president recently schmoozed with, “urging them to involve themselves in his re-election campaign.” The summit meeting at the Beverly Hilton Hotel followed a marathon series of highly-publicized fund-raisers with such show biz glitterati as George Clooney and Will Smith, several appearances on the late-night talk shows that such celebrities frequent, numerous White House concerts featuring popular musicians, a snippet of Al Green-style singing at a public appearance, and constant similar efforts to demonstrate that Obama is still cool. All presidents have had dealings with celebrities, but none have made such a determined effort to associate themselves with the rich and famous crowd.

All the jet setting is partly for the money, as the entertainment industry is one of the few big businesses still generously donating to the campaign, but it appears that Obama also believes his Hollywood associations enhance his popular appeal. The star power clearly did much to win Obama the crucial support of young voters in ’08, and a smaller but still significant number of voters old enough to know better were probably swayed by it as well, so Obama apparently expects it to have the same effect a second time. He might even be right.

We doubt it, though. The past years of economic misery have left the electorate more serious and sober-minded than it was last time around, and the big-money fund-raisers full of pretty-but-vapid starlets now strike a discordant note. The same old resort to snob appeal — in full evidence in that Anna Wintour ad, so perfectly ridiculous that Obama’s opponents have been urging everyone to see it — seems more likely to inspire resentment in a country where snob appeal is no longer affordable, and runs headlong into Obama’s argument that his opponent is an out-of-touch rich guy who can’t empathize with regular folk.

Besides, those celebrities are so darned uninteresting. Kennedy used to hang with the Rat Pack, and Nixon even got a famously uncomfortable hug from Sammy Davis Jr., but Obama’s reduced to one of the girls from “Glee” and somebody from the latest “Star Trek” sequel. Better to be a square.

— Bud Norman