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On the Bipartisan Problem of Misbehaving Men

The economy seems to humming along well enough and the stock market is humming along a bit too far ahead of it for our feverous tastes, and for the moment none of the nuclear threats around the world seem especially imminent, but every day seems to bring more stories about men behaving badly toward women. As much as we’d prefers to mull other matters, there’s no ignoring it.
The latest round-up of men credibly accused of sexual misbehavior includes an impeccably Democratic senator who was once considered a presidential contender, a star of the impeccably liberal Public Broadcasting System, and a New York Times reporter who has been a very effective tormenter of Republican President Donald Trump. All the Republican talk radio hosts are having a grand old time of it, and one can hardly blame them, but they also have to deal with a Republican president who has been credibly accused and caught on tape bragging about his bad behavior towards women and is still standing by a Republican senate candidate in Alabama who still stands credibly accused of even worse misbehavior toward considerably younger women, not to mention all the undeniable Fox News scandals.
It’s such a bipartisan mess that neither party or any political ideology will emerge unscathed, which is fine by us, but there’s no avoiding it even when you stop reading the news. Last week we stopped for a beer at a favorite dive of ours on the north end, and an old friend invited us to join her and a couple of other women on the still-warm patio, and we found ourselves in the middle of yet another conversation about men behaving badly toward women. All of their hair-raising tails about fellow students and co-workers and passersby seemed completely believable, based on what we’ve observed over the past decades of American life, and when our friend frankly declared that women have a certain unshakeable fear of men we could only sympathize.
Being the nocturnal sorts given to long brooding walks, we’ve often found ourselves on an an empty and dimly street-lighted avenue when suddenly a woman will round the corner just ahead of us and start walking in the same direction, and we assured our friend and her friends that from half a block away we can palpably sense her anxiety about the big scary man who is suddenly following her. Just to let them know there are still some nice guys out there, we explained how we always handled the situation by stopping to tie a shoe, even though it’s not come untied, and then crossing the street and looking at nothing in particular in shop window for a while, and then taking a smoke break until she gets safely behind a locked door or turns a corner or at least gets far enough ahead of us that we are no longer shivering with that uncomfortable sense of her fear of us.
God knows that woman’s fear of us isn’t our fault, but she doesn’t know that, and God knows and we know that it’s also not her fault. Some big and scary men have suddenly been suddenly been following us as rounded the corner on some empty and dimly street during some of our late night walks, so we can empathize with their anxiety, and for reasons that have nothing to do with partisan politics we strive not to menace anyone. Nor do we remark on women’s breasts and buttocks, no matter how remarkable they might be, and we most certainly don’t touch them without an explicit request, and we even try to lay off the saltier jokes in our repertoire until a woman has made clear she’s likely to re-tell them to her friends,.
Our old friend vouched to her friends that we’re among the rare good guys, although she also noted that we’re old-fashioned Republicans and she’s a newfangled Democrat. We asked them what percentage of men they figured were among the good guys, and were distressed to hear them all agree that about 80 percent of men are irredeemable pigs. The next day we ran into an older woman friend of longstanding who still performs in the local burlesque revues and is quite a colorful character in her own right, and when we put the same question to her she figured that only one out of five men are irredeemable pigs, which seemed more right to us, and she also vouched that we’re among the good guys even though we’re old-fashioned Republicans and of course she’s another one of those new fangled Democrats.
There seems to be a bipartisan consensus about men not behaving badly toward women, and we hope it prevails despite how awful both parties are at the moment. One of those friends of our old friend at the north side dive was a very young and very attractive woman who paid us a very welcome compliment that might be construed as sexual harassment if it had come from some big scary man, but instead of filing a human rights complaint we’ll relish the non-threatening remark and hold out hope that whatever percentage of men are irredeemable pigs, no matter what party or ideology, they’ll eventually figure it out.

— Bud Norman

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Bannon with Abandon

If you weren’t watching the continuous Florida storm coverage on all the cable news channels on Sunday evening, you might have caught former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s interview with the Columbia Broadcast System’s “60 Minutes” program. We didn’t, as we were out enjoying the perfect weather we’ve been having around here lately, but of course we couldn’t avoid reading and hearing all of it on Monday.
Even after being fired or having resigned in order to better serve President Donald Trump from the outside, depending on which version of events you prefer, Bannon still has a knack for making news. He was a controversial figure as the “chief executive officer” of Trump’s campaign, even more so in his administration post, and got enough media attention that Trump was reportedly miffed about. To Trump’s most ardent supporters Bannon was considered the keeper of the nationalist and isolationist and populist and protectionist faith that was going to make America great again, and to Trump’s most strident critics on both the left and right he was the authoritarian and alt-right quintessence of everything they hated about Trump.
His exit from the White House and his return to his previous gig of running the Breitbart.com internet news site was a big story before all the storms started, and even with the floods still rising in Florida his first on-air interview took up a full half of “60 Minutes.” He took full advantage of the opportunity to generate another days of news, of course, offering several opinions that will surely outrage Trump’s most strident critics on both the left and the right, which will surely gratify Trump’s most ardent supporters, but Trump himself also came in for some notable criticism.
Bannon said that Trump’s decision to fire Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey was “the biggest mistake in modern political history,” so of course that got the most media attention. This does not strike us as much of an overstatement, especially by Bannon standards, and we note that he also said “worst political mistake ever” was too bombastic even for him, but it was still some criticism from Trump’s most ardent supporter that Trump’s most strident critics relished. Bannon explained that Comey’s firing was a mistake because it inevitably led to the appointment of special counsel James Mueller, who’s now conducting far more thorough investigation of “Russia” than the one Trump effectively stopped Comey from pursuing, so he’s implicitly conceding he expects that to turn out even worse than Watergate or the Monica Lewinsky business or the many other worst modern political mistakes.
Bannon also pledged to be Trump’s “wing-man,” though, so maybe he’s just trying to give some good advice about exposing oneself to enemy fire. In the rest of the interview he remained fiercely loyal to Trump’s agenda, at least the nationalist and isolationist and populist and protectionist parts of it, and he vowed the mighty wrath of Breitbart.com and Bannon’s own media clout, and potentially the backing of his billionaire backers, against any Trump administration officials or any sorts of Republicans who won’t pledge their loyalty to whatever Trump might want to do at any given moment.
Even such a veteran interviewer as Charlie Rose seemed quite taken aback by it, which allowed Bannon to make specific threats and name specific names, and clearly explain his master plan to burn down the Republican party and raise a new nationalist and populist and all that party from the ashes. He dismissed the entirety of Republican party’s pre-Trump foreign policy and defense experts as “idiots” he “holds in contempt, total and complete contempt,” threatened primary challenges to any congressmen deemed unloyalw to Trump, cited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan as people he’d like to get rid of, and accused the broader Republican “establishment” of “trying to nullify the election.” He also defined loyalty to Trump by “the Billy Bush day” standard, which means who was still loyally defending Trump when the entire nation heard the soon-to-be-president bragging on audiotape about how he could grab women by the wherever because he’s a star, and that’s a pretty high standard.
He also said he hoped all those “dreamers” who are suddenly the national sob story will be forced to “self-deport,” and we’re sure that Trump’s most ardent admirers loved every part of it, but we’re not sure what Trump made of it. Bannon also took aim at several Trump administration officials for publicly criticizing the president’s response to the violence that occurred during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying they should quit if they’re not entirely on board with whatever the president says at any given moment, but good look finding replacements who can meet that very high standard. He further took aim at senior White House advisor and jack-of-all-trades Jared Kushner, a Manhattanite and longtime Democratic donor and suspected globalist who frequently clashed with Bannon on such matters as nationalism and populism and the wisdom of firing Comey, but Kushner is also Trump’s son-in-law and we notice that he’s still working at the White House while Bannon isn’t, so that will likely play better with Trump’s most ardent supporters than Trump himself.
Bannon and his Breitbart.com and their billionaire backers have a limited influence in the grand scheme of things, but it’s enough to further fracture an already fractuous Republican party. There are a lot of Republican districts where Bannon’s efforts would only bolster a Republican incumbent’s chances in a primary, but there are others where the combined efforts of Bannon and Trump could find some true believer to knock off an office-holder who might otherwise have impeccable conservative credentials but doesn’t meet that “Billy Bush day” standard. In some cases this would lead to the election of some sane-by-Democratic-standards challenger, and maybe in enough cases to affect Democratic majorities in Congress that wouldn’t go along with any part of the Trump agenda now matter how far left might veer, but Bannon and other ardent Trump supporters can be consoled that at least we’d be done with that darned Republican establishment.
Both Trump and the “establishment” along with the rest of the country have recently survived two horrific hurricanes, though, and we expect most of us will survive the likes of Bannon as well.

— Bud Norman

Obama’s Biggest Mistake: The Story

Identifying the biggest mistake made thus far by the Obama administration is not an easy chore. There are so many possible choices, after all, and only history can reveal which one ultimately proves most damaging. It was somewhat surprising, therefore, to hear that Obama reckons his biggest blunder has been that he just didn’t give the right speeches.

While speaking with a person called Charlie Rose on a television program called “CBS This Morning,” which apparently airs in the mornings when we are trying to get some sleep, President Obama was asked to reflect on the greatest accomplishments and failures of his time in office. He replied that “When I think about what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well, the mistake of my first term — couple of years — was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

Although it would be presumptuous to say how future generations will assess the Obama administration, it does seem safe to venture a guess that they will render a judgment quite different from Obama’s. Historians can be an ideological lot, but it will require a rare fealty to look back on the five trillion dollars of debt that was racked up, the persistently high unemployment and meager economic growth that occurred despite all the stimulative spending, an expensive and inefficient medical system imposed despite widespread opposition, as well as a deteriorating international order, and conclude that the president’s biggest problem was that he just couldn’t tell a good enough story.

Liberals have a fervent faith in the magic of words, though, and given how far in life Obama has traveled on their power he is bound to be a true believer. Back in ’03 a UC-Berkeley linguistics professor called George Lakoff wrote a book called “Moral Politics” that argued dim-witted conservatives beat brilliant liberals in elections only because they use words more effectively. For several years afterwards the liberal rags were abuzz with articles about “framing” and “narratives” and “telling stories,” all reaching the same conclusion that if they just came up with some catchy slogans and a sufficiently seductive storyline that reality would gladly conform itself to their expectations. The theory seemed to work just as promised in the ’08 election, when the world’s greatest orator had the adoring throngs fainting in the aisle as his sonorous baritone spoke of hope and change, thus changing political reality to the liberals’ satisfaction, but since then the economic and geo-political realities have some proved far more stubbornly resistant to the rhetoric than were those screaming crowds of star-struck youngsters and aging hippies.

We suspect that Obama’s extraordinary ego has leads him to the dubious conclusion that his only failing has been his inability to dumb down his lofty prose enough to convince the American rubes how wonderful he’s been. He did everything right, after all, and if the public can’t see that just because the results have been so plainly awful he can’t be expected to do anything about that. By “framing” the “narrative” in this manner he arrives at a neat rationalization, one well worth jettisoning his worn-out no longer useful reputation as the world’s greatest orator.

People might even buy it. It’s quite a story.

— Bud Norman