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The Special Olympics of Politics

President Donald Trump is famously loathe to concede defeat, no matter how apparent, but on Thursday he had to wave the white flag to the developmentally-challenged athletes of the Special Olympics. In the constitutionally-mandated presidential budget proposal that no one ever pays any attention to Trump proposed cutting federal funding for the games, and his Secretary of Education actually went and did it and made announcement, but after an afternoon of the resulting bipartisan outrage and scathing press coverage he was insisting he never suggested any such thing.
“The Special Olympics will be fully funded,” Trump told a cluster of reporters on Thursday. “I just told my people, I want to fund the Special Olympics … I’ve been to to the Special Olympics — I think it’s incredible, and I just authorized a funding.” If you ignore that Trump had submitted three budget proposals to Congress that would have defunded the Special Olympics if anyone was paying any attention, and that his appointed Secretary of Education had announced, he looks very big-hearted.
Trump is letting his appointed Secretary of Education take all the blame, and as we see it that’s also a shame. Betsy DeVos is the wife of wealthy executive in the controversial Amway company, who was a contributor to Trump’s campaign, and she came in to her post without any real prior experience for the job, and looked quite ridiculous in early interviews and confirmation hearings, and she’s always been one of Trump’s most controversial cabinet nominees, which is saying something. She’s a staunch advocate for school choice and voucher programs, and a staunch opponent of speech codes and expulsions on sexual conduct, which further enrages the left, but for pre-Trump conservative Republican reasons we rather like that about her. The arguments for these policies are more complicated than either DeVos or Trump can explain, and at first they do seem hard-hearted, but we’ll put that task off until another day. That Trump is throwing DeVos under the proverbial bus on this matter makes us like him even less, which is saying something.
The federal government’s current funding for the Special Olympics is reportedly $17.6 million so so, and we have to admit that we don’t really know much money that is, and wether it’s merely a sufficient or an extravagant amount to pay for a competition of developmentally-challenged athletes, given all the private donations this worthy charity surely brings in, but we do know it’s a mere rounding error in both the federal deficit that Trump has been ringing up and especially in the national debt we’ve been accruing for decades. There’s something undeniably heartwarming about those Special Olympians getting their moments of triumph, too, and we can see why even such an unapologetic fellow as Trump doesn’t want to be the heartless fellow who ended it.

— Bud Norman

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Prophetic Words From a Burning Bush

Something deep in our old-fashioned Republican souls feels a certain nostalgia for the administration of President George W. Bush, and lately even our most newfangled Democrat friends will admit to some degree of the same feeling. Bush was an imperfect president, as we freely admit and our Democrat friends and our Democrat friends often remind us, but on Thursday he gave a rare and remarkable speech that reminded us all he could have been a whole lot worse.
With characteristic classiness Bush has mostly retreated from the public stage since leaving office, preferring to spend his time with family and paint some surprisingly fine portraits of the servicemen and servicewomen who carried out his controversial foreign policy, and otherwise devote himself to the happily apolitical good works of his family’s foundations, which has eventually endeared him to most of the American public at large. He re-entered the political fray on Thursday with that remarkable speech, though, and it heartened us as well as our Democrat friends.
Bush’s oration at the George W. Bush Institute welcomed a Latino amigo who had served in his administration’s military, as well as several foreign visitors in the audience, along with Secretaries of State from both his and President Bill Clinton’s administrations, then launched into a an eloquent defense of such cherished American values of liberty and democracy. He lauded the post-World War II order of free markets and free trade, decried the current Chinese and Russian threats to that order, and lamented that too many Americans now fail to appreciate its benefits. Bush further denounced the recent degradation of America’s political discourse, warned against rising nativist sentiments, unequivocally denounced white supremacy, and called for a new civility in America’s public square.
Such anodyne sentiments wouldn’t be at all remarkable in ordinary times, but these days it’s the stuff of controversy. With characteristic classiness Bush didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, but no matter how old-fashioned a Republican or newfangled a Democrat you might be there’s no denying it implied a severe criticism of the current and putatively Republican president, so there was an unavoidable flap.
Bush’s assertion — completely correct as far our old-fashioned Republican souls are concerned — that “free trade helped make America into a global power” is an obvious response to Trump’s claims that the rest of the world has been stealing America’s wealth. When Bush griped that now “bigotry seems emboldened” and “Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” the metaphorical shoe fit Trump well enough that he has to wear it. “we have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said, and although he might have been talking about all the talk radio hosts that used to defend him, but everyone knows he was talking about a president who has mocked a reporter’s physical handicap and his political opponents’s heights and the plainness of their wives. His warnings about the cyber-attacks on American democracy by foreign adversaries were just as clearly aimed at Trump, who continues to deny against mounting evidence that it’s a problem.
All of the casually cruel talk radio hosts who used to defend Bush were properly appalled, of course. By now they’re all obliged to rally ’round the current putatively Republican president, so they all denounced Bush as an “elitist” and “globalist” and worse yet “establishment” voice. None of them could articulate a persuasive point-by-point refutation of what Bush said, but these days such meaningless calumnies as “elitist” and “globalist” and “establishment” will suffice for their audience. Although we’re not at all elite nor globalist, and in fact are barely getting by these days, we’re still nostalgic for the good old days when they were defending to the death even Bush’s worst moves.
These days even our most newfangled Democrat friends are giving Bush some long overdue respect, and we’ll hold out hope it provides some common ground on which to find a way out of our current difficulties. Some of our most newfangled Democrat friends share Trump’s aversion to free trade and traditional role in sustaining world order, and are every bit as un-civil as Trump in their discourse, but we appreciate Bush’s help in any case.

— Bud Norman

All Lives Matter, Some More Than Others

While what’s left of the old media were paying such rapt attention to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s latest cries for attention, we were more intrigued by the spectacle of a far less-publicized Democratic presidential candidate apologizing for saying that all lives matter.
Trump’s latest publicity stunt is just a spat of playground taunts with equally attention-seeking Arizona Sen. John McCain, a playground taunter in his own right for whom the best we can say is that he would have made a better President than Barack Obama, which is damning with faint praise, and that he served his country with uncommon courage and valor during the Vietnam War, which is saying something, but the relatively sissified Trump’s taunts concerned that very same distinguished military record, and it did indeed make the Republican party look rather ridiculous to have Trump suddenly leading its pack of contenders and McCain among its past two nominees, so we can well understand the old media’s avid interest. Even so, we had futilely hoped that some attention would be paid to a Democratic contender being booed off a liberal stage for making the seemingly reasonable claim that all lives, even white lives, matter.
This actually happened to somebody named Martin O’Malley, who is apparently a former mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland and is apparently challenging former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and all that Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, during a public interview at the “Netroots Nation” convention. “Netroots” is one of those political neologisms, a portmanteau denoting the internet presence of the very roots of Democratic Party craziness, with the nation part borrowing from the sports lexicon of “Boston Red Sox Nation” and “University of Kansas Jayhawk Nation” and the rest of that pretentious silliness, so of course the “Netroots Nation’s” annual convention has thus became an important ritual of the Democratic Party’s nominating process. Long-shot challengers O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders both seized the opportunity to demonstrate their heartfelt Democratic craziness, but despite his best efforts to pander to the crowd O’Malley was shortly shouted down by a large portion of the crowd chanting “Black lives matter.” This is by now a familiar slogan of the political movement that has been peacefully and violently protesting against the use of deadly force by police in a number of American cities the past year and a half or so, and the tactic of shouting down conversation about other issues has also become familiar to the patrons of restaurants that have some reason reason or another been subjected to the same treatment. By most accounts the restaurant clientele usually respond with polite inattention, but both the interviewer, of whom we might as well come right and say seems as an ostentatiously effeminate fellow, and O’Malley feel obliged to cede the stage to their hecklers. They might have been moved to their protest by O’Malley’s record as mayor, which empowered police and reduced black homicide rates, or his record as governor, which continued such as a tough-on-crime approach, but they don’t seem to mention that, and instead continue to chant out names and slogans and their latest hash-tags conspiracy theories, as well as projecting a hip-shaking self-righteousness as they stood on stage. After much indulgence the exquisitely effeminate moderator insists that O’Malley be given a chance to at last respond, and after some “I know, I know” and to his hecklers and some talk of the civilian review boards he established and the death penalty he abolished O’Malley sputters the now infamous words that “every life matters, and that is why this issue is so important, back lives matter, white lives matter all lives matter.” We have no use for this O’Malley fellow, whose tenure as mayor of Baltimore was marked by the same social and economic policies that made the city un-policeable no matter how tough they came down, and whose tenure as governor was such that even Maryland elected a Republican to succeed him, and whose main qualifications seem to be that he’s a relatively handsome fellow who is photogenic in beach shots, but we can’t imagine why he should be greeted with boos only for his rather bland opinion that all lives, even white lives, matter. The fact that he was seems at least noteworthy as the latest Trump antics.
There’s a journalistic case to be made that Trump is hot and O’Malley is not, given that Trump has a small plurality is a field crowded with numerous more qualified likely candidates and that O’Malley is polling single-digits in most states and far behind not only front-runner Hillary Clinton but also self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been hogging what little attention is paid to the Democratic contest and has little to worry about on the race issues because he’s spent his entire life in the second-whitest state in the union. All the hubbub about the noticeable but ultimately insignificant slice of the Republican poll respondents who are for the moment supporting Trump and his tantrums is therefore a preferable topic for the old media, but they would do well to note that the “netroots” of the leftward segment of the body politic that used to pay attention to the old media are now joining in booing the previously uncontroversial notion that all lives matter, and that such Trump-worthy nonsense is by now an unquestioned dogma of the Democratic Party, and entrenched enough to force O’Malley to apologize on the “This Week in Blackness” radio program for his heresy.
Black lives do matter, of course, and any time one is taken by police force the matter should be thoroughly investigated and conclude wherever the facts of the matter ultimately lead, and so far as we can tell none one of the Republican candidates, including the repugnant Trump, would disagree, but the “black lives matter” movement believes that only those black lives taken by police force matter, no matter how necessary and justifiable even an Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department could deny, and that the far greater number of black lives taken by other blacks as a result of inadequate law and order matter not at all, even when those numbers climb as a result of the intended police retreat, and of course there’s also something unsettling about the obvious implication that only black lives matter. One of the women who commandeered the stage took care to mention both black and brown lives, but that still leaves a numbers of hues that apparently don’t matter. The Democratic Party’s candidate will pick a few votes from among them, whoever he or she might be, but we’re starting to become hopeful that the Republicans might actually a cobble an electoral majority from the rest of them, the best efforts of Donald Trump and John McCain notwithstanding. We’re also hopeful that the winning candidate will affirm that all lives do indeed matter, and offer no apologies for saying so.

— Bud Norman

Football and Freedom

The high secular holiday of Super Bowl Sunday is approaching, and in accordance with our contentious times it has already been preceded by the perennial Super Bowl controversy. These obligatory annual brouhahas usually involve the exhibitionist tendencies of the half-time performers or some slightly politically incorrect aspect of one of the commercials or the pre-game felonies of one of the players, but this year all the scolds are in a huff about the very existence of the sport of football.
Any sensitive and well-read football fans have surely noticed that their favorite sport has lately been blitzed with criticism. The courts have sided with a class action of brain-damaged ex-players in a lawsuit against the National Football League, the president has declared he would not allow his hypothetical son to play the game, such elite corners of the press as The New York Times are wondering if it is “Immoral to Watch the Super Bowl,” while everywhere the anti-football folks are getting their kicks in. There’s even talk of banning the game altogether, and anyone who thinks that football’s longstanding place of honor in American culture and its multi-billion dollar standing in the business community makes this idea far-fetched should try exercising such once-sacred rights as lighting up a cigarette in a barroom or installing an incandescent light bulb in a living room lamp. Despite the massive ratings that Sunday’s contest will surely generate, the combined power of the liability lawyers, the prudish pundits, and the easy gullibility of public opinion will be hard for even the most barrel-chested linemen to resist.
This time around the anti-football faction is citing some admittedly believable and alarming statistics about concussions, but we suspect they have other reasons for their opposition. Football is ruthlessly meritocratic, a last redoubt of exclusive and unapologetic masculinity, draws its best players from that remote region of flyover country which persists in voting for Republican candidates, provides an analogy to both warfare and capitalism, uses racially insensitive team names, and is in almost every other regard an affront to progressive sensibilities. At all levels of competition the sport is impeccably proletarian and multi-racial, with an abundance of tattoos and dance moves and other fashionable accoutrements, but even these culturally-sanctioned saving graces cannot rescue football from the damnation of a modern liberal. The modern liberal envisions a world where cooperation replaces competition, where multi-cultural commingling replaces physical contact, girls rule, and a mean old game like football has no place.
Football is a mean old game, and there’s no use denying it. The sport has slowly evolved from the “mob games” played in vacant lots of slum neighborhoods by New England ruffians, which were of course decried by the sophisticated inhabitants of that region, by the 1904 college season it racked up an impressive 18 fatalities, which of course provoked an intervention by the progressive Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, and its toll of seriously injured players has steadily increased ever since. The undeniably macho Roosevelt’s sensible reforms spread out the offensive to end the Greek phalanx “Flying V” offensive formation that once trampled over defenders, effectively ending the fatal era of football, and all the endless rules changes that have followed have also been intended to make the game safer, but nothing the rules committees have devised eliminated the risk inherent in the nature of the game. Like the regulatory agencies struggling to keep up with an ever-innovating economy, the game has always lagged behind the rapid pace of improvement in the speed and size and injurious strength of the players.
That squeamish editorialist at The New York Times who wonders about the immortality of watching the Super Bowls describes the queasy feeling he gets watching the bone-crunching hits that occur in every game, and we have to admit that we can empathize. Our own football-playing was limited to neighborhood bouts in the backyard and a nearby cow pasture, but it provided enough hard hits that we can extrapolate that skinny wide receiver must be feeling after 270 pounds of pure linebacking muscle puts a sudden stop to his seven-yard gain. Nor can we fault the president for advising his hypothetical son against playing organized football, even if his hypothetical son looked just like a young thug who was seen slamming creepy-ass cracker’s head against the pavement of a Florida suburb, as we reached the same decision even without his wise fatherly counsel. For all we know of corporate liability law the courts might even have reason to order the NFL to pay some compensation to the leather-helmet era players who had their bells rung once too often, and as far as we’re concerned anyone who will forgo the Super Bowl on moral grounds is wished a nice afternoon at the art museum or drum circle.
For those who prefer to watch the two best in teams in football fight it out for sporting immortality, we wish you a well-played contest. For those gladiators who take that frost-bitten arena in New Jersey, we wish you good health and the God-given right to test your God-given talents in a championship game. Should the effort to ride the world of football be successful the effort to rid it of roughness, risk, and Republicanism would be furthered, and that would be a shame.

— Bud Norman