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Hiding in the Bushes

Say what you want about the “enemies of the people” in the “fake news” and “lame-stream media,” but we’re regular readers and big fans of The Washington Post. Pretty much every day it provides us with interesting and all-too-believable accounts of what’s going on in the world, and we were heartened to read on the Post’s pages Thursday that former President George W. Bush is stealthily supporting a select slate of Republican candidates.
Say what you want about the war-mongering Bush and the severe economic recession that came at the end of his administration, and say what you want about his war-mongering “Poppy” President George H.W. Bush, whose administration ended after 12 mostly successful years of Republican rules because of a mild and short-lived recession, but these days dearly we miss both of those guys. The first Iraq war was a diplomatic and military masterstroke as far as we’re concerned, and we think the son’s well-intentioned sequel might well have worked out if not for a subsequent impatient Democratic administration, and we blame the first Bush recession on the usual business cycle and the son’s more severe recession on the the crazed subprime mortgage policies of Democratic President Bill Clinton’s administration, and in retrospect we give the younger Bush credit for negotiating and singing the blank bipartisan bail-out check that seems to have prevented the bottom from falling out.
For all their undeniable faults, neither of the Bushes ever engaged in “Twitter” feuds with pornographic video performers and strategic American geopolitical allies, made excuses for the abhorrent behavior of our geopolitical foes, or recklessly interfered with the way things work in this in our very complex world economy. By now even those damned bleeding-heart liberals at The Washington Post seem to long for that bygone Republican party.
By now, though, most Republicans have signed up with the newfangled Republican party of President Donald Trump. Trump won his party’s nomination and then the presidency by arguing that the elder Bush failed to conquer Iraq, his son lied America into a foolhardy attempt to conquer Iraq, and that he alone could prevail against the almighty business cycles, and that every other Republican president who preceded him was a sucker. Which is probably why President George W. Bush feels obliged to campaign so stealthily on behalf of a select slate of Republican candidates that only an intrepid Washington Post reporter would notice.
Some of the candidates that the younger Bush is quietly helping are also loudly endorsed by Trump, but we’ll wish them well. Most of these day’s damned Democrats are as bad as ever, as far we’re concerned, so we’ll hold out faint hope for what’s left of the Republican party that used to be.

— Bud Norman

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On America’s Mean Streak

By now we should be well inured to such behavior, but we were nonetheless taken aback by how very rude and insulting President Donald Trump was to a couple of women reporters who dared asked unwanted questions at his Monday news conference.
Trump was eager to tout the greatest trade deal ever that he’s recently reached with Mexico and Canada, and when one woman at the back of the press gathering asked about something else he basically told her to sit down and shut up. The next question went to the American Broadcasting Company’s Cecilia Vega, and while she waited for the microphone he taunted that “She’s shocked that I picked her.” When the microphone at last arrived she said “I wasn’t thinking…,” and Trump interjected that “I know you’re not thinking. You never do.” By now Vega should be even more inured to such presidential behavior, but she was taken aback enough to say “Excuse me?,” and Trump condescendingly told her to go right ahead and ask her question, then berated her when it was about the big news Supreme Court nomination rather than the greatest trade deal ever made.
As obviously ungallant as it was, this fell well short of Trump shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, which Trump has famously boasted he could do without losing a single supporter, so of course his die-hard defenders defended it. They had a convincing argument that Trump wasn’t being the least bit sexist, as he’s routinely every bit as rude and insulting to male reporters who dare to ask questions he’d rather not answer, and that the “fake news” “lame stream media” and the rest of the “lib-tards” have it coming, but as old white heterosexual and Christian long-registered Republican males with plenty of unpleasant questions of our own we were not placated.
Somehow we missed the press conference footage on Monday, along with all the sneering fun that the late night comics of course had with it, but it was the first thing we saw on the internet after awakening Tuesday afternoon, and it somehow stayed with us all day. While running a pressing chore we tuned our car radio into one of the talk radio hosts on the AM dial, who was as usual screeching at the top of his lungs about how the “Democrat party” is actively undermine the American way, and we got the impression that all the white and heterosexual and Christian males registered as Republican were in dire danger of being locked up in a Soviet-style gulag, and that he thought they all needed to be locked up in advance of this diabolical plan.
At one point we found ourselves stopped at a red light next to one of those new-fangled and now-discontinued Volkswagen Beetles, whose owner had painted a message on to the rear to his fellow motorists to “back the ***** off,” and when we took a glance at him we noticed he was for some reason or another glaring at us. It was at that point we started contemplating a certain mean streak in our otherwise beloved American culture.
Having completed our pressing chore we retreated to a favorite dive up on the rough northeast end, where we nursed a beer through a couple of episodes of “Jeopardy, getting enough answers in the form of a question right that we could have made some serious bucks if we’d been playing for real. After that the bartender started playing one of his favorite heavy metal bands at a very high volume, however, and our dour mood returned.
We’ve heard enough heavy metal music in our time to recognize that the band was indeed quite tight and technically accomplished, and we’re sure that if that’s the kind of thing you like you would quite like it, but to our ears and in our momentary mood it sounded rude and insulting with nothing more to say than “back the **** off.” That’s the same message you’ll hear from the rappers thudding out of the amped-bass speakers of other bars and the cars we find ourselves next at red lights in the northeast end, and we seem to get the same communique at the fancy art galleries we visit around here, and by now it’s pretty much ubiquitous. There’s no escaping to the sports page, where the Ultimate Fighting Championships have supplanted the Sweet Science of boxing in popularity, because the sport that rendered Muhammad Ali to a pathetically slurring and prematurely dead victim just wasn’t violent enough, and the “back the **** off” end zone dances in the violent combat of professional football are now far more popular than the humble home-run trots and appreciative cap salutes of the erstwhile national pastime.
There’s no blaming Trump for this longstanding sad state of affairs, of course, and the left surely shoulders a large if not lion’s share of the blame. It was the liberals who made a civil rights hero out of Lenny Bruce for peppering his astoundingly unfunny night club comedy routines with vulgarities, thus paving the way for today’s astoundingly unfunny and vulgar comedy. Every “transgressive” cultural movement from the end of World War I, from Dadaism to Deconstructionism to the hippies and hip hop and heavy metal, has been championed by the left. In the realm of politics, one doesn’t have to be an Aleksander Solzhenitsyn or Andrei Sakharov to know that some elements of the left would happily back you the **** off into a barb-wired prison camp.
For most of our lives the Republican party and the broader conservative movement in general resisted these darker angels of our national soul. President Abraham Lincoln waged a ruthless war to preserve the union, but then vowed to heal the nation’s wounds with “Malice towards none, and charity towards all.” President Calvin Coolidge sought a “return to normalcy” of the pre-World War I era. President Dwight Eisenhower was steadfast against both communism and McCarthyism, quietly nudged along racial equality, and sagely urged that America not become “the richest and most powerful country in the graveyard of history.” Even Richard Nixon kept his vulgarities and lock-’em-all-up tendencies confined to the White House and its tape recording machines. President Ronald Reagan couched his hard-core conservatism in terms of a Shining City on a Hill, always with a sweet and sunny disposition, and he never jabbed harder at a political opponent than to say “There you go again.”
After that President George H.W. Bush offered up an even “kinder, gentler” style of conservatism, however, and most of the Republican party has been restive ever since. Despite the rare third term he won for his party and decisive victory Bush won in the first Iraq War thanks to the sort of international coalition that only a seasoned diplomat could achieve, there was a slight but ill-timed recession and a billionaire narcissist third-party candidate drawing Republican votes and he wound up losing to Democratic President Bill Clinton, so Bush is now considered a loser.
After Clinton won re-election from the tough-talking Republican nominee Robert Dole, once again with the help of that same billionaire narcissist, he was succeeded by the even kinder and gentler President George W. Bush. Despite the son’s undeniable difficulties with a second Iraq War he beat the lefty Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, and for a while that enough to satisfy the talk radio hosts and their agitated callers.
Another ill-timed recession led to the election of President Barack Obama, however, and over the eight excruciatingly long years of his presidency much of the Republican party grew more restive yet. No Republican could have possibly prevailed in the recessionary year of ’08, but to hear the talk radio hosts and their equally fervid callers tell it the bona-fide war hero Sen. John McCain only lost because he was too much of a wimp to come right out and say that Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim intent on locking kup all the straight white Christian conservatives. The morally upright and gentlemanly Gov. Mitt Romney came in closer in ’12 on a traditional Republican platform of assertive American leadership in foreign affairs and mostly free markets at home, but the consensus of party opinion was that Romney was a loser who lost because because he was too morally upright and gentlemanly and that the traditional Republican platform was hopelessly out of date.
By ’16, a winning plurality of Republican primary  votes nominated Trump, whose obvious moral rectitude and defiantly ungentlemanly behavior and brash heresies against traditional Republican foreign policies and free market principles were by then seen as features and not bugs. He was was seen as the “grab ’em by the *****” and “back the **** off” candidate the county needed who would lock up those rude and insulting and vulgar “demon rats” before they could lock up the rest of us God-fearing Americans. Since then Trump has gained  overwhelming support from the Republican party, which now seems to mostly agree America’s border laws should be enforced in the cruelest possible way and that it doesn’t really matter if that Supreme Court nominee actually did once attempt to rape a classmate and is now brazenly lying about it.
At this point we can well imagine far too many Republican parents pointing to Trump’s rude and insulting behavior and telling their sons that’s how a real man acts, and that’s what real presidential leadership looks like. We can also imagine them telling their daughters not to be one of those uppity women who ask men unwanted questions, and we’ve already seen far too many Republican women in televised focus groups saying that attempted rape is just boys being boys.
Please spare us the argument that the left is just as bad in its own way, as we’ve  long  known that’s true, and it doesn’t make us feel any better. Even that usually friendly bartender who indulges our “Jeopardy” habit got bent slightly out of shape when we opined that his heavy metal favorites struck us as a wee bit hostile, and that their music might play some small part in why we have a shock jock insult comic internet troll as President, and a noisy debate arouse among the few other regulars. A gray-haired middle-of-the-road sort of Democrat friend of ours bought us another beer and took our side, though, and by the end of another round we parted everyone in the joint with handshakes and assurances that no hard feelings were meant.
We’d like to think that America’s political and cultural divides can be similarly bridged, but until at least the mid-term elections we expect that much of America will be waving an updated Gadsen flag that substitutes “Don’t Tread On Me” with the new but not-at-all improved “back the **** off.”

— Bud Norman

Barbara Bush, RIP

There was the usual torrent of news on Tuesday, including a Supreme Court decision regarding immigration that had Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch joining the liberals to overturn a burglar’s deportation, more resignation announcements by prominent congressional Republicans, intriguing developments in the North Korean problem, the usual tales of porn stars and Russian intrigue, and a right-wing talk radio host who finds himself caught up it in all. As much as we’d like to opine on  these important matters, the biggest news of the day was the death of Barbara Bush at the age of 92.
Bush was the wife of one American president and the mother of another, a distinction shared only by the great Abigail Adams, and that alone makes her passing noteworthy, but it also marks the passing of a far more dignified and admirable era of American politics.
By now both liberals and conservatives have plenty of plausible complaints with the policies of both Bush presidencies, and we’ve got a few of our own, but we still regard both men as honorable and dedicated public servants. We regard the Bush family’s most hateful critics on both the left and the right as a conspicuous part of our current problems, and think that anyone with anything bad to say about the Bush matriarch is just a hateful person.
Born as Barbara Pierce in 1925 to a well-heeled and and even better-respected Back East family, she was always a class act. Although she considered herself “shy” and “square” Pierce was an excellent student and much liked classmate in her girlhood at an elite all-girls’s prep school, and by the age of 16 she caught the eye of a 17-year-old guy who was a straight-A student and star athlete at a nearby elite all-boys prep school, and would go on to be a decorated Naval aviator in World War II, successful entrepreneur, United States Congressman, United Nations ambassador, Central Intelligence Agency director, Vice President and then President of the United States. She left the elite all-women’s Smith College at age 19 to marry George Herbert Walker Bush, and seemed to play a prominent and impeccable role in his extraordinary career. Even as her husband wound up losing reelection to an Arkansas hound dog, largely due to the intervention of a coarse and egomaniacal billionaire, the First Lady remained atop the “most admired women” polls.
She also bore her husband a son, George Walker, then daughters Robin and Dorothy, followed by sons John and Neil. The George Bush with the single “W” wound up winning two terms as Governor of Texas and two more as President of the United States, all of which will be hotly debated for years to come, and despite his travails the First Mother’s poll ratings remained high. Her son John Ellis, who preferred by the acronym “Jeb,” wound up serving two successful terms as Governor of Florida, and although she openly she shared our own concerns about political dynasties she wound up supporting his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency. Dorothy and Neil Bush are less well known to the public, but in this day and age we assume that speaks very well to their character.
The photographic evidence shows that the “shy” and “square” Barbara Pierce was quite the elegantly eye-catching beauty back when she first caught the eye of that handsome straight-A student and star athlete and future war hero and President of the United States, but her hair apparently started whitening not long after her beloved daughter Robin died of leukemia at the age of three. The Washington Post’s respectful and excellent obituaries note that she stayed at  her daughter’s bedside during the bone marrow transplants and other futile treatments that her war hero husband could not bear to witness, and although she would later fondly recall the emotional support offered by her grieving seven-year-old son George W. she prematurely aged. By the time her still-handsome star athlete and war hero husband was running for president she had an undeniably grandmotherly look about her, but their apparent love for one another and her undeniable class greatly enhanced the ticket.
President George H.W. Bush waged a splendid little war on Iraq but deviated on taxes and other issues from the true religion of President Ronald Reagan, and there was one of those  little recessionary blips in the business cycle at the end of his first term, and with the help of a coarse and megalomaniacal billionaire that Arkansas hound dog kept him from a fourth Reagan-Bush administration. Both George H.W. and Barbara Bush accepted the defeat with characteristic grace, adhering strictly to the time-tested rules about not criticizing the victors in an American election, and they even wound up having a cordial relationship with President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton that drove bot the left and right crazy.
President Bill Clinton and his harridan of a wife wound up doing all sorts of things that both the left and right criticized, and God knows we’ve still got our own complaints, but we never minded that the elder Bushes largely stayed out of it. That’s the longstanding rule that ex-presidents and ex-First Ladies have always adhered to, and as far as we’re concerned it’s one of the good ones, and in any case President George W. Bush’s heatedly contested electoral victory soon followed. How that turned out will be debated for years to come, and it undeniably wound up with eight dreary years of President Barack Obama, but somehow Barbara Bush, unlike the rest of us, wound up classy throughout the whole ordeal.
The eight dreary Obama years almost inevitably resulted in the past 16 dreary months of President Donald Trump, who eked out an electoral college win over President Clinton’s harridan wife by criticizing the entirety of America’s political history and promising a new beginning, but we think Barbara Bush was still classy about that. Even without a son in the race  she should have been opposed to such a coarse and egomaniacal billionaire and thrice-married to a nudie model trophy wife and bankrupt casino and strip mogul as Trump, even if Trump hadn’t absurdly maligned her husband as a “globalist” and her son as a  traitor who had lied America into war, and ridiculed her younger and better-suited-to-the-presidency son as “low energy,” we’re sure she would have offered her rare criticisms of the the even more more coarse and less classy megalomaniacal billionaire dominating the current coarser and less classy  political scene.
Ever since Trump won anyway the former First Lady and First Mother mostly kept her opinions to herself, and we appreciate that far more than than the president’s impulsive “tweets” about his past infidelities or foreign entanglements and whatever else is troubling him at the moment. For all the mistakes they indisputably made, Barbara Bush and her husband and children embodied a civility and civil-mindedness we already miss, and we’re sure that all those hateful people on both the left and the will eventually miss it as well. Shy and square and grandmotherly  and civil and civic-minded and elegantly beautiful are no longer in fashion, but they’re qualities due for a comeback.

— 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