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Our Ambivalent Endorsement of Gina Haspel

In the extremely unlikely case we found ourselves a United States Senator we’d be inclined to vote to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence, Gina Haspel, but we’d do so with some ambivalence. Some of the arguments made for and against Haspel seem reasonable enough, but the rest of the arguments we’re hearing, both pro and con, strike us as downright dumb.
The fact that Haspel would be the agency’s first female director is entirely irrelevant, as far as our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities are concerned, so we were disappointed but not at all surprised that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “tweeted” that any opposition to a nominee with such career credentials as Haspel must be motivated by sexism. Way back in the ’16 presidential former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had the far more relevant career credentials for the job of president, despite the many reasons that awful woman was clearly unfit for the job, and even such Trump-averse Republicans as ourselves scoffed at the notion that anyone should ever vote for a candidate based on his or her sex. We still reject that silly claim, and Trump’s White House press secretary — of all people — playing the gender card strikes us as sillier yet.
The Democrats’ opposition to Haspel’s nomination has been led by up-and-coming and potential presidential contender California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose feminist credentials are by far more unassailable than Sanders’, and are based on on an arguable complaint that Haspel’s otherwise exemplary career in the CIA included a stint at overseeing an overseas outpost where where she oversaw an operation that included harsh interrogations of captured suspected terrorists. Haspel admits giving the green to light to “waterboarding” and other undeniably harsh interrogation techniques that Democrats then and now regard as torture. Although she testified has testified before congress that we will eschew such methods in the future, Haspel has also has refused to condemn their use in the past, so the Democrats’ opposition to her nomination doesn’t seem at all hypocritical even if she is a woman potentially empowered to be the first woman director of the CIA.
On the the other hand, we’re not at all convinced that Haspel was overly harsh in the interrogations she oversaw. They happened shortly after Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks killed more than 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, after all, and didn’t involve anything that American troops weren’t trained to endure as they went off to fight various wars in response to that aggression. We’re the queasy sorts who are unable to watch a Quentin Tarantino movie, but even after all these years we’d still countenance getting medieval on some suspected terrorists in those extraordinarily rare “ticking time bomb” situations that only seem to occur in the movies, and we acknowledge it’s a complicated question Haspel faced during an otherwise exemplary career.
On yet another hand, neither are we comfortable with Trump’s and his reconfigured Republican party’s newfound enthusiasm for torture.
During the campaign Trump slanderously excoriated Republican President George W. Bush for lying his way into mercenary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also blamed his processors for being weak-kneed against Islamist terrorism. He vowed that he would he would go way beyond mere “waterboarding” with suspected terrorists, not just in a rare “ticking time bomb” situation but on a regular basis, kill all the families of any suspected terrorists, summarily shoot any suspected terrorists with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, and fire anyone who defied to his orders to commit such internationally-regognnized war crimes. He also derided all his Republican primary opponents who disagreed as “pussies,” and somehow that vulgar argument wound up winning the Republican nomination and eventually the presidency.
Among the few Republicans opposing Haspel’s nomination in Arizona Sen. John McCain, who suffered five years of undeniable torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp during the Vietnam war, three of them voluntarily after he selflessly refused an early release because of his family’s clout rather than desert his comrades and hand the enemy a propaganda victory, which gives us respectful pause about Haspel’s nomination. During the last campaign the draft-dodging Trump said that McCain was only a hero “because he got caught, and I hate to tell you but I like a guy who didn’t get caught,” and although we’re still proud to vote cast our vote despite our many complaints about  Republican nominee McCain way back in ’12 we are also proud that we didn’t vote for either Trump or that awful Clinton woman back in ’16.
All the Trump apologists on the talk radio shows are damning McCain as as traitor to the country, and administration officials are joking about how the brain cancer-striken Senator and war Hero and former Republican presidential standard-bearer will soon be dead anyway. At that this point in ’18 we’d probably vote for Haspel’s confirmations if we were somehow Senators, but we’d feel ambivalent about her ambivalence in answer those questions the damned Democrats are asking about what she’d do if Trump kept his campaign promises and ordered her to commit a war crime without a “ticking time bomb” rationale.

— Bud Norman

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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

Pooping the Grand Old Party

President Donald Trump had a working lunch with al; the Republican members of the Senate on Tuesday, and oh how we would have loved to have been there. Trump always goes over well with adoring audiences of the true-blue fans clad in red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, but tends to lash out at critics, so all the Republican members of the Senate made for an intriguingly mixed crowd.
Most of the Senators were willing to laugh at Trump’s jokes and indulge his boasts, even if they wouldn’t go so far as to join in the usual rally cries of “build that wall” and “lock her up,” and all were probably eager to hear his support for their mostly agreed-upon tax-cutting plans, which was the stated reason for the lunch. The president had just renewed his recent war of words with Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker, though, and Arizona’s Sen. Jeff Flake was about to take the Senate floor with a blistering denunciation of Trump’s rhetoric, which shortly followed Arizona Sen. John McCain’s scathing remarks to a documentarian about the bone spurs that had spared Trump service in the Vietnam War, along with other intra-party acrimony. Trump’s audience also included Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Sasse, and majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, all of whom the president has also been publicly insulting lately, which is a big chunk of the Republican party’s oh-so-slight 52 members in the 100-seat Senate.
The lunch was off limits to the press, but the reporters gathered outside did get a few quotes from departing members about what Trump said. Second-ranking Republican Sen. John Cornyn said “It wasn’t a whole lot about taxes. It was about the late nine months and the success in terms of the regulatory environment, consumer confidence, the stock market, and also the need to get work done.” Given Trump’s aversion penchant for taking credit for anything people might like and his aversion to specific policy details, along with Cronyn’s generally reliable reputation for honesty, we don’t doubt a single word of it. Nobody mentioned any insults, though, and we assume the food was delicious, so the lunch seems to have gone well enough for the Trump.
It was nonetheless a tough day for Trump, though, as his Republican critics got in some pretty good shots, and the Democratic media passed them all along to their audiences with a strange new respect. Corker had once been a reluctant Trump supporter but criticized the president for praising the “good people on both sides” of a white supremacist rally in Virginia that killed a counter-protestor, questioning Trump’s temperament and stability, Trump responded with “tweets” calling him “Liddle” Bob Corker and quite falsely accusing the Senator of being for the Iranian nuclear deal he had in fact aggressively opposed, a claim the president was still “tweeting” on Tuesday, when Corker was telling the press that “I’ve seen no evolution in an upward way. In fact, it seems to be devolving.”
Flake never endorsed Trump’s candidacy nor his presidency, and wrote a book titled “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle” that was clearly a anti-Trump statement, so of course he was dubbed “Flake Jeff Flake” by Trump in the ensuing “tweeted” counter-punches. When he took to the Senate floor on Tuesday Flake never mentioned Trump by name, but his warning that “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions; the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons,” was understood even by Trump to be talking about Trump. The president can “tweet” any insults back at “Flake” that he wants, but they only bolster Flake’s case.
Flake might have been emboldened by his state’s senior Republican senator and failed Republican presidential nominee’s longstanding feud with the Trump, who infamously scoffed at McCain’s heroic decision to endure extra years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison rather than desert the prisoners he commanded by saying “he’s only a hero because he got caught. I like a guy who didn’t get, Okay?” McCain’s comment about how Trump had avoided the war altogether because of business school deferments and a bone spur injury that somehow has never hindered his golf career also scored points, also scored some points. Arizona was once the home of failed Republican presidential nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater, who wrote the original “Conscience of a Conservative” and was among the Republicans who counseled President Richard Nixon to resign, and we guess that bolstered Flake as well.
Previous Republican President George W. Bush has also recently weighed in with a denunciation of Trump that never mentioned him by name, and along with senators Murkowski and Collins and Sasse and the majority leader we’re sure there are other Republicans in the Senate and House and down here at our grassroots level who share the same exasperation. Many of those Senators who actually would be willing to don the “MAGA” ball caps and chant the “lock her up” and “build that wall” slogans would probably be willing to shift to whatever side where the favorable winds are blowing, too, and for now the Republican party is a tough crowd.
Bush is term-limited out of public office, Corker had already announced he wouldn’t seek re-election and Flake made the same announcement to his state’s biggest newspaper just 15 minutes before that blistering speech, McCain is too old to seek re-election even if he wasn’t battling brain cancer, and the rest of those Republicans have their own reasons of principle of local politics for taking their stands against Trump’s bullying behavior. Trump has plenty of anti-establishment supporters and some well-heeled donors to drive their likes from the party, meanwhile, and although some of the candidates they’re coming up with are kooky enough lose elections even in reliably Republican states there’s a chance he’ll at least wind up with control of the once Grand Old Party.
Which will at least satisfy Trump and his supporters to the extent that it annoys both the Democrats and the equally-hated Republicans establishment, but it doesn’t seem likely to result in any legislative victories. Flake and Corker have both been reliable votes for the most cherished objectives of the Republican party, even if they’re seemingly wimpish in insulting the opposition, and for most part so have the rest of the dissidents, and the anti-establishment alternatives seem more interested in feuding with whatever establishment survives rather than finding long sought solutions, even if they do somehow get elected. The Republican party might just be passing its most cherished bills with the majorities they have in the Senate and House, and in most cases we think the president would be signing it, if not for the take-no-prisoners brand of politics that fuddy-duddy establishments have bravely decried.

— Bud Norman

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

Two Big Disasters in Puerto Rico

President Donald Trump’s most strident critics seemed almost disappointed when two historic hurricanes battered Texas and Florida but things went about as well a one can expect. They well remembered how President George W. Bush, who they had also stridently criticized, had taken such a hit in polls numbers for all the things that went wrong after a hurricane battered New Orleans, but this time around Trump actually got a small bump up after the storms. Yet another hurricane has since battered Puerto Rico, though, and his critics are eagerly finding fault.
The hurricane brought winds that demolished thousands of buildings and rains that flooded most of the ones still standing with several feet of water, and it left the entire island and all of its three and half million inhabitants without electricity. Some of the hospitals and emergency personnel had generators and enough fuel to keep them functioning, but others didn’t, and an estimated 30 people died and hundreds of serious injuries were suffered and many thousands were left homeless and pretty much everyone was in need of food and potable water. Even the best of efforts wouldn’t be sufficient to the challenge, but there are arguments that this time around the efforts haven’t been the best.
The federal government began shipping supplies and rescue workers to the island just behind the storm, and Trump has boasted of the praise he’s received from the Puerto Rican governor, but the mayor of San Juan has tearfully complained it was insufficient and all the cable news networks have somehow found power to broadcast proof of the claim. Some of the deeper-digging stories tell of delays in getting much needed shipments to the island due to regulations that could be temporarily waived by executive order, such as the little-known Jones Act that prohibits foreign-flagged ships from carrying goods between United States ports, and given Trump’s enthusiasm for de-regulating anything he can that seems an oversight. According to news reports Trump is mulling signing those orders, and the military’s top hospital ship and lot more help is currently heading Puerto Rico’s way, and Trump is promising a visit to the island, but Trump’s critics will be able to note that came after a lot of bipartisan criticism and a Hillary Clinton “tweet” about sending the U.S.S. Comfort.
It didn’t help that Trump was “tweeting” five times as many “tweets” about National Football League players and the national anthem than he did about Puerto Rico, and that on one of those occasions he griped about Puerto Rico’s “broken infrastructure & massive debt,” and in another also made mention of the territorial government’s debt “to Wall Street banks which, sadly, must be dealt with,” and although he added that “Food, water and medical are top priorities — and doing well,” that did not play well in Puerto Rico. Trump bragged to the television cameras about the great reviews he was getting from the governor and other unnamed Puerto Ricans, but it only reminded the critics of Bush infamously saying “heckuva job, Brownie” to his soon-to-be-fired Federal Emergency Management Agency director.
This all came in the middle of yet another racial imbroglio that Trump has started up with the NFL and the National Basketball Association, too, so his critics are of course indignantly noting that the swarthy and Spanish-speaking population of Puerto Rico isn’t getting the same treatment as the slightly whiter and more English-speaking people of Florida and Texas. Many of the staunchest Trump supporters we know think of Puerto Ricans as the Sharks in “West Side Story,” and regard them as illegal immigrants with some convoluted legal loophole to be here, and Puerto Rico has no votes in the electoral college, so we have to admit there might be something to it.
Trump is quite right that Puerto Rico irresponsibly ran up an unsustainable debt, and did so without updating an electrical grid that would have been vulnerable to a much milder storm, and is generally almost as badly run as New Orleans and a hundred miles at sea to boot, but this hardly seems the right time to be making those arguments. The federal government has recently passed $20 trillion in debt on Trump’s watch, after all, and both Trump and his cabinet have also been profligate with the taxpayer’s dollar. Puerto Rico was enticed to borrow all that money when dollars started flowing in after the federal government briefly made it a sort of tax haven, was forced to close hospitals and schools and forestall infrastructure projects forbade it to declare bankruptcy on all that debt to Wall Street, and right now Trump shouldn’t be raising questions about he expects them to deal with it.
The good news is that massive shipments of aid and aid workers are on the way, federal dollars to get that power back on earlier than the expected six-month wait are being negotiated, that famous hospital ship is also on the way, and Trump seems to at last realize that he’s responding to an historic public relations disaster.

— Bud Norman

The Eye of the Hurricane

The storm that has recently hit southeastern Texas and now heads to southwest Louisiana has been an historic natural disaster, with at least 22 people dead and many thousands more left homeless and property damage that will eventually be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, but like everything else in the news these days it’s eventually another story about President Donald Trump.
Trump was largely out of the spotlight while the cable news networks filled their 24 hours of dramatic footage of homes flattened by hurricane winds and streets submerged in water reaching the second stories of buildings, as well as the usual encouraging reports of heroic rescue efforts and the luckier people on higher ground offering food and clothing and shelter to the victims, and he might have been wise to stay there.
Despite the 22 deaths the usual stories about looting and price-gouging and bureaucratic inefficiencies and other less-than-heroic things that always occur in a natural disaster, the general impression one gathers from a 24-hour-news cycle is that things could have gone a whole lot worse, and thus far the best efforts of Trump’s most strident critics to hold him to a higher standard have probably not been successful. Trump’s most ardent admirers have tried to claim him credit for the all the good work that has been done by career federal government employees and state and local officials and individual citizens and the rest of the establishment, which also probably hasn’t been successful, but so long as Trump stayed out of the limelight and wasn’t doing the boasting himself he was likely to get some small opinion poll bump out of it.
That’s not Trump’s style, though, so on Tuesday he embarked on a fact-finding and photo-op trip to Texas that provided his strident media critics and all the late-night comics with plenty to gripe about and his staunchest supporters with a lot to explain.
Even before Trump boarded Air Force One in a windbreaker and ball cap with “USA” emblazoned on the front, there were already a couple of troublesome controversies seeping up from the back pages and bottom of the hour. As well as the predictable op-ed pieces trying to pin the blame on Trump’s climate change policies there were some more reasonable questions about the relief funds might be affected by his recent threat to shut the government down rather, and some reporters with time on their hands dug up how Trump’s budget proposals proposed slashing the budgets for all the agencies he’s now praising, and of course some years-old “tweets” about how ridiculous President Barack Obama looked during his natural disaster photo-ops.
Obama did look pretty damned dumb standing there in the rain in his windbreaker and ball cap, but all presidents do in their obligatory post-natural disaster photo-ops, and Trump should have known that he wouldn’t fare any better. Perhaps it should be obligatory that presidents provide some visual image of national unity at a time of national tragedy, and we recall several occasions, from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to President Franklin Roosevelt’s oration after a day that would life in infamy to the plainspoken thanks and determination that President George W. Bush shouted through a bullhorn atop the rubble of the World Trade Center, when a few sage presidential words in a fitting setting truly were a balm to the nation. Since then presidents seem to have lost the knack, though, and we never expected that Trump had it.
Trump seemed to think that the post-natural disaster fact-finding mission and photo-op was another one of his endless campaign rallies, and opened his remarks by noting “What a crowd, what a turnout.” He noted the “epic” and “historic” nature of the storm, a theme he’d already repeated throughout 22 “tweets” featuring 16 exclamation marks, and he somehow came across as more impressed than horrified by the storm’s power. He modestly said that he’d save his self-congratulations for after he’s made everything better than ever, generously shared some of the credit with the mostly-Republican state and local officials and even that Obama-era holdover he appointed to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and conceded that his work is not yet done, so it could have been worse.
Still, it could have been better. We couldn’t find the part where he praised the private charities that are raising funds and providing relief, or urged that Americans participate in the effort, or expressed any recognizable expression of empathy for those who have seen their loved ones and lives’ work washed away by a storm. Nor did he take the opportunity to assure those people that the longstanding relief efforts won’t be halted by a stubborn insistence on his fanciful notion of a large border wall across the entire Mexican border, and at a time when one of America’s most racially diverse cities was doing a pretty good job of dealing with a thousand-year-flood we thought he missed a ripe opportunity to speak of national unity.
There were some other “bad optics,” too, as they say in the politics biz. That “USA” ball cap Trump was wearing also had “45” emblazoned on one side and “Trump” in the back, and if you go to the Trump campaign web site you can purchase one just like it for $40, and the snarkier of his strident critics found that tacky. He was also accessorized by First Lady Melania Trump, who boarded Air Force One looking her usual dazzling self on a drizzly morning with a pair of dark aviator sunglasses, a faintly military style jacket, sensible black shirt and pants, as well as a pair of stiletto heels. It’s our policy to leave First Ladies out of our commentary, except on those sorts of occasions that Michelle Obama would occasionally provoke, and we’re not at all the sorts to notice women’s footwear, but the stiletto heels did strike us as an odd choice for a natural disaster photo-op, so we can hardly blame the snarkier critics for having their fun with it.
In any case, we don’t think Trump will take the same hit that Bush took after a disastrous storm struck New Orleans, or what Obama should have suffered for similar failures during other natural and man-made disasters. In Bush’s case the failures were largely due to the storm hitting one of the most dysfunctional cities in one of the most dysfunctional states in America, both of which he could have plausibly blamed on the Democratic Party’s longstanding rule there, but he chose instead to manfully accept his share of the blame. In Obama’s case the media weren’t so eager to notice his botched response to an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or how he barely seemed to notice a catastrophic flood in Nashville, and he shrewdly stayed out of the spotlight as best he could. Neither of these options, of course, are available to Trump.
No president should be given the blame for any national disaster, of course, neither should any of them be given much credit for the way that the country always seems to make the best of it. Our advice to Trump is to leave it that, and not let a stubborn insistence on stupid border wall muck things up, and tend to all those leaks about “Russia” that are starting to becoming another historic flood.

— Bud Norman

The Gathering Storm, or Not

The devastating ice storm that was forecast for the weekend around here never materialized, just some much needed rain and slightly-above-freezing temperatures in a dreary gray mix, so maybe Inauguration Day won’t go so badly as predicted.
President-elect Donald Trump’s most fervent fans are fretting about everything from widespread rioting to an outright coup, and his most caustic critics are egging it on. Worried talk of a coup has accompanied every transfer of presidential power we can remember regardless of which party was departing the office, and seems as far-fetched as ever, but this time around the part about widespread rioting seems well within the realm of possibility. At the very least we anticipate a whole lot of mostly peaceable protestors and plenty acts of civil disobedience and much unpleasantness, and by now neither Trump’s most fervent fans nor his most caustic critics have much faith in the ability of the federal authorities to keep things under control.
The whole shindig will presumably be under the watchful eyes of all those intelligence agencies that the Trump critics used to hate but have lately started to adore since Trump and his fans started bad-mouthing them for leaking unverified by attention-grabbing allegations and such, but those intelligence agencies don’t seem to like Trump any more than he likes them, and there are conspiracy theories galore to be made of it by Trump’s fans and critics alike. Surely the District of Columbia’s police force will also be out in force, but neither Trump’s anti-cop critics nor his anti-D.C. fans will be reassured by that. Some 2,700 members of the District of Columbia’s National Guard and another 5,000 unarmed guardsman brought in from the around the country will also be on the job through the day and night, but their commanding general, who also oversees the military’s air support, will be off the job the moment Trump completes his oath of office.
There are conspiracy theories galore just in that detail, as out-going President Barack Obama had refused to accept the resignation of the general, who had originally been appointed to the post by previous President George W. Bush and by all accounts done a fine job through by administrations, but the in-coming president had decided to accept the resignation as his first official act, which was either a petty gesture by Obama or a rash decision by Trump depending on who you’re rooting for. From our perspective on the sidelines both seem well within the realm of possibility, but in any case it’s at least momentarily unclear on who will be commanding those troops when Trump lifts his hand of the Bible and whether that person is fully apprised of the situation.
Trump reportedly retains a sizable personal security detail, which his critics in the Secret Service are reportedly criticizing, but they won’t be of much use to anyone in a “Make America Great Again” ball cap who wanders into a crowd of especially agitated protesters, and of no use at all to anyone wearing the wrong t-shirt who wanders into some of the more revved-up revelers. The Bikers For Trump will be there, too, and we trust that they’re better behaved than the bikers The Rolling Stones hired for as event security for that ill-fated Altamont show. Plenty of good people on both sides will also presumably be present, and we hope that they’ll do what they can and we wish them all well.
We’ve been through enough storms and inaugurations to have noticed that the Republic has weathered them all, and expect that it will again. This past election year has been particularly crazy, and some storms are worse than others, but one can always hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Recounting All the Craziness

Sometimes it seems this crazy election year will never come to an end. The weather around here has turned from a glorious indian summer to a windy chill since Election Day, but that awful presidential race is still being disputed and both sides are claiming its all rigged.
None of it is likely to change the apparent Election Day outcome that Republican nominee Donald Trump is the president-elect, and will be duly designated as such after the Electoral College meets next month, but in such as a crazy election year when something like that happens almost anything is still at least slightly possible. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s apparent Election Day lead in the popular vote has grown to nearly two percent as all the votes have been counted, Trump is “tweeting” that the popular vote was tarnished by millions of illegal ballots cast against him, three states where Trump won by 1 percent or less to give him is Electoral College majority are now being recounted due to a challenge by a third party candidate, with Clinton joining in on one of them, and as always there’s still a long shot the Electoral College will wind up doing something crazy like choosing someone less widely reviled than any of the aforementioned contenders.
Probably not, even in this crazy election year, but we’re bemused by the spectacle nonetheless. The third party nominee shelling out for the recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is the Green Party’s Jill Stein, whose 2 or 3 percent of the votes in each of those state could have swung them all to Clinton, and we can’t imagine why she’d shell out a few million dollars of Green Party funds to highlight that embarrassing fact. Green Party nominee Ralph Nader’s 1 percent in the Florida presidential race of ’00 would have overwhelmed George W. Bush’s infinitesimal 500-or-so vote victory that won him the Electoral College despite a popular vote loss in that crazy election year, which wound up causing quite a fuss, but at least even Nader had the good sense not to be party to the ensuing lawsuits.
The differences in the contested states this time around are in the thousands rather hundreds, and there aren’t any hanging chads this time around, or at least none that have been reported yet, but we expect the next few days of melodrama will still provide plenty of fodder for any conspiracy theorists who want to theorize that Trump somehow stole the election. The races in the contested states are very close, if not quite 500-votes-and-a-few-hanging-chads close, and with voting being a government-run business there will always be a certain of margin of error. There will be renewed debates about voter suppression and voter fraud, as well, and yet more argument about the hard-to-deny fact that Clinton won the popular vote.
Trump denies that she did win the popular vote, of course, and has taken to “tweeting” that it only seems so because of millions of ballots cast by illegal immigrants, the deceased, and other ineligible voters. His source seems to be Alex Jones’ “Infowars,” which is also the source for all those stories about the Twin Towers terror attack being an inside job and Barack Obama being born in Kenya and reptilian shape-shifters running the Illuminati’s secret world government, and plenty of Republican election officials around the country share our skepticism of the claim. We’re strong advocates for photo identification requirements and periodic reviews of the registrations, as well as other common sense protections against voter fraud, and we’re not ones to put anything past the Democrats, but we find it easier to believe that Clinton really did win the popular vote than that such an inept candidate somehow managed to slip an extra couple million votes into the boxes.
No matter how it all turns out, even in the craziest popular scenarios, we’re sure that much of the country will remain convinced it was all somehow rigged. They’ll have ample reason for it, too, and even that shape-shifting reptilian Illuminati theory will seem slightly plausible. Which is for the best, probably, because at the end of such a crazy election year as this we have to start considering all the possibilities.

— Bud Norman

The Next Famous Director of the FBI

We’re old enough to remember a time when J. Edgar Hoover was not only every bit as famous as Johnny Carson or Spiro Agnew or Tiny Tim, but was even as legendary a character as Wyatt Earp or Gen. Douglas MacArthur or the cross-dressing Z-movie director Ed Wood. Hoover earned his renown, or notoriety, depending on which side of the vast political chasm of the time you were on, as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and although even such politically-obsessed sorts as ourselves would be hard-pressed to name a single FBI director since then we suspect that Jim Comey is about to achieve a similar household-name status.
Comey’s FBI is so clearly and undeniably no matter what she says closing in on an investigation of possible multiple oh-my-God sorts of felonies against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices and charitable work that even such polite media as Time Magazine acknowledges it, and Comey is quite publicly playing a leading role in the matter. Because Clinton is also the more-or-less-front-runner in the Democratic presidential nomination race, this will eventually require the attention of even the very most polite media. The whole problem could easily be resolved by a Democratic Attorney General appointed by a Democratic President and a mostly politely Democratic media all agreeing that there’s nothing to see here, and that might yet happen, but this Comey guy strikes as one of those intriguing characters that occasionally gum up the works.
The cynical assumption on both the left and the right is that eventually a Democratic Attorney General appointed by a Democratic President won’t file charges against a more-or-less-front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and that the mostly politely Democratic media and eventually the rest of the nation will agree that there’s nothing to see here, seems reasonable. This Comey fellow, though, has a long history of being admirably unreasonable. He first tangled with the Clintons as a deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee, where he made a case that Hillary Clinton had mishandled documents and ordered others to do so constituting a “highly improper pattern of deliberate misconduct,” which endeared him to the subsequent George W. Bush administration to earn a high post there, but when he was serving as acting Attorney General during a health emergency by John Ashcroft and refused to sign on to a controversial surveillance program and later challenged other Bush policies he so endeared himself to Bush’s subsequent successor that he was named FBI director. Since then he’s been an admirable pain in the posterior to the Obama administration, offering frank testimony to Congress about Syrian refugees and policing that undercut the president, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t gum up the works yet again.
If he brings a convincing case against Clinton, or at least one as convincing as the most polite media have already been forced to acknowledge, it will surely shake up the most shaken presidential race of our long recollection. Even if the Democratic Attorney General appointed by the Democratic President with the blessings of the mostly politely Democratic media decide there’s nothing to see here, Comey seems likely to continue to his very public role in the investigation, but if he chooses to do so we wish him well in the effort. Such a quixotic quest against the Clintons would surely entail some controversy, and even the Republican security hawks would find something to dislike, but that goes with the territory. J. Edgar Hoover was a household name long before our birth, and his crazy career included something for both and liberals and conservatives to celebrate and loathe, much like MacArthur or Johnny Carson or our hometown bully-boy sheriff Wyatt Earp or any of those other childhood icons we could never quite settle on, so we hold out hope that Comey is cut from from the same crazy quilt.

— 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