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Enquiring Minds Want to Know

The National Enquirer isn’t usually on our reading list, but on our last trip to the supermarket we couldn’t resist plunking down five bucks to see what was behind the tantalizing headline. “At last the truth about Russia,” that tabloid boasted over a picture some people familiar from the more respectable press, “What Trump Doesn’t Know!”
We were further struck that the front page also promised “Revealed: 10 spies murdered in 15 months to bury proof of Putin’s election hacking,” not to mention those pictures of Trump next to such infamous and now former associates as Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Carter Page. For more than a year now we’ve checked out the covers of the National Enquirer during our supermarket check-outs the same way Kremlinologists used to scrutinize the front page of Pravda, for the same reason that it provides the same official line, so the headline brought an intriguing plot twist.
Back in the ’80s The National Enquirer used to torment the young the celebrity billionaire Trump with salacious stories about the alleged infidelities of his wives and mistresses, but ever since he cultivated a a friendship with the tabloid’s editor in the early ’90s the coverage has been far friendlier. His presidential campaign received adulatory attention, while the rest of the Republican field was either ignored or scandalized. When retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was inching ahead in the polls the Enquirer ran a story alleging he’d left a sponge in a patient’s sewed-up skull, and when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was last the challenger it ran a picture purporting to show his father standing next Lee Harvey Oswald just before the assassination of President John Kennedy, and when it came down to Trump against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton there were all sorts of stories about her even worse than the ones the more respectable press were obliged to run.
Since his election Trump has been getting the same support from the Enquirer, with a recent front page proudly proclaiming the president’s war on dictators, with sinister photographs of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia Vladimir Putin, so it was quite a surprise to see them follow with another headline linking Putin to four people who have elsewhere been directly linked to Trump.
The article claims that Putin ordered meddling in the election that included the hacking and public release of embarrassing e-mails from the Democratic National Committee, an allegation which has of course been widely reported, but it leads with the “bombshell finding” that he also ordered the assassination of 27-year-old Clinton campaign aide Seth Rich and nine Russian operatives to cover it up, which of course has not been as widely reported. Although the article makes no mention of the aforementioned Stone, Flynn, Manafort and Page, who have been fired from their prior respective positions as longtime friend and National Security Advisor and Campaign Chairman and campaign foreign policy advisor over their Russian relations, which the more respectable press have reported are all under investigation, but it does run their pictures again on the inside, which is also darned curious.
Throughout the campaign Trump took an unusually friendly stand toward Putin, basking in the compliments Putin had reportedly paid him and talking about how great friendship with Russia would be and how obsolete the anti-Russian North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and in one debate he said the hacking of the DNC e-mails was just as likely “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” and he dismissed a question about the occasional Putin assassination order by asking “Do you think we’re so innocent?” After the election he conceded the Russians had “probably” hacked the DNC, but continued to avoid saying that the Russians had done anything improper at all. The Enquirer story, therefore, seems to deviate from the party line.
This comes a week or so after Trump’s newly appointed Central Intelligence Agency gave a speech that reiterated the intelligence community’s consensus conclusion that the Russians did meddle in the election, days after the Republican head of the House committee that’s looking into the matter said that Flynn had likely committed a crime by not disclosing his contract work for the Russians and Turks, and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation still looking into Page, and God only knowing what such a “political dirty trickster” as the Enquirer euphemistically describes Stone is currently facing. By now there’s enough suspicion about it that all of the official investigations are likely to continue, and unlikely to lead to any conclusions that the Russians are blameless and even if they aren’t no one in the Trump campaign had anything to do with them, so our guess is that the National Enquirer is trying out a new party line that at least the president himself had nothing to do with it.
All of the reiterated charges and “bombshell findings” and guilt-by-association photographs are huddled under the headline “What Trump Didn’t Know,” after all, and his most vociferous critics will have to admit the possibility that he didn’t know anything about what was going on. If we were one of the infamously defenestrated four on the cover of this week’s National Enquirer we’d read between the lines to see that we count on any further favors from Trump, and would be lawyering up to tell whatever we have to tell, and hoping that people are more interested in Wynnona Judd’s daughter being jailed in a meth bust. The more respectable press is likely to keep looking into this Russian thing, though, and so will the FBI and the Republican-led House committee, without any interference from the Trump-appointed Attorney General who has recused himself from all that Russian stuff and the former Trump-friendly committee chairman who has done the same, so we expect more intriguing headlines.

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The Democrats in the Post-Clinton Era

At this point we haven’t had the chance to pick up a copy of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” a recently released book by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, but it’s being so widely quoted in all the papers that we soon won’t need to read it. We should issue a spoiler alert, but apparently the Clinton campaign was very badly run.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, of course, but the early reviewers have been surprised that it was run even more badly than they thought. The authors were granted complete access to the innermost circles of the Clinton campaign in exchange for an assurance they wouldn’t make anything public until after the election, probably because Clinton wanted someone to chronicle her long-presumed victory, and it looked even worse from the inside than it did to the public. Although Clinton had years to plan and plenty of money to spend, as well an ex-president husband and a decades-old political machine, the book describes a series of amateur mistakes, missed opportunities, and a complete lack of a coherent campaign strategy.
The book describes volunteers being sent out to knock on Wisconsin doors with any campaign literature or training, a campaign manager who declined to spend any money on polling in the crucial state of Florida, a once politically astute husband who agreed that Clinton had the state “in the bag,” and a frustrated aide whose warnings that the director Federal Bureau of Investigation’s statements about her e-mail practices should have prompted a change in tactics went unheeded. There’s also a conclusion that the campaign also failed at the fundamental task of providing a persuasive argument why Clinton should be president.
To be fair, making that argument would be a tough job for even the shrewdest and best-run campaign. Clinton was touted as a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and and presumptive First Woman President of the United States, but her time as First Lady was spending defending her sexual predator husband’s appalling behavior, her brief Senate tenure was entirely unforgettable, and her four years as Secretary of State brought nothing but a lot of baggage about re-set buttons and Benghazi and those e-mail practices the FBI found to be “extremely careless” but not quite illegal. She was indisputably a woman, which some voters found a compelling argument for a candidacy, but that was never going win a majority.
She did wind up winning the popular vote by about three million or so, but that only makes it all the embarrassing she couldn’t figure out how get just a few hundred thousand more in Florida and the Rust Belt states that wound up long the electoral vote. That she lost to Donald Trump, who had plenty of baggage and campaign chaos and no relevant experience and the lowest approval ratings of any president on Inauguration Day, does require a book-length explanation.
We expect that most Democrats will gratefully accept Clinton’s awfulness as a candidate and the awfulness of her campaign as the reason their party couldn’t hold on the White House for another four years, because it doesn’t require them to admit that their party’s control for the previous eight years also had a lot to do with it, and that the party itself is in disrepute some key parts of the country. The 40 percent or so of the party’s primary and caucus voters who much preferred the self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders have already convinced themselves that their guy would have won, and that all the party has to do overcome the Republican’s majorities in both chambers of Congress and most of the nation’s legislatures and governors’ mansions is to become even more insistent on racial identity politics and high taxes and hyper-regulation of the economy and an ever-expanding welfare state.
In other words, do more of exactly what drove just enough voters in Florida and those Rust Belt states as well as all the more reliable red states into the arms of a thrice-married casino-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-scam university mogul and reality television star whose only compelling argument for his candidacy was that he was the antithesis of all that.
Had the Democrats chosen former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb or the former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, the relative centrists who were knocked out early in the race while polling in the low single digits, we suspect they might have made easy work out of such a flawed candidate as Trump. Some day we’d love to read the inside account of why the party poobahs preferred such a scandal-ridden and charisma-free nominee as Clinton, who was far enough to the left to scare everyone on the right and a whole lot of people in the center without firing up all those Sandersnistas on the left. Trump was scary enough to the left that they would have preferred anyone with a “D” after his or her name, and he was scary enough to a whole lot of people in the center who would have preferred any number of possible Democrats who weren’t Clinton or Sanders, so the Democrats should ponder that.
Trump is now as unpopular as any president has ever been after such a short time in office, and it’s going to take a lot more winning than he’s done so far to change that, so the Democrats are presented with yet another opportunity to blow. They came uncomfortably close to winning a special election here in Kansas’ Fourth Congressional District a week ago with a candidate who liked to be photographed firing semi-automatic rifles and talking a fairly centrist line, and they still have a chance in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District with a young whippersnapper who’s cultivating a very pragmatic public image, but in such a reliably Republican district he’s also likely to come up short, so all the Democrats we drink beer with will probably conclude they should have gone full socialist with a transgendered bisexual of some indeterminate race.
Clinton was an awful candidate who ran an awful campaign, awful enough to lose to the likes of Trump, but the Democrats would be well advised to admit they have bigger problems than that. The Republicans are bound to have their own problems with Trump, but they once again might not be enough.

— Bud Norman

Yet Another Clinton Comeback

Unless you’re the politically obsessed sort who reads such publications as The Hill, you might not have noticed that Hillary Clinton has lately been making a comeback. Although we’re usually not inclined to offer any advice to the Democratic Party, we will suggest for the sake of the rest of the country that they nip this in the bud.
Over her long career as First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President of the United States, Clinton has never done much good for her party. Her dutiful performance as the wronged but loyal life wife during President Bill Clinton’s various scandals helped him end the hated Reagan-Bush era of Republican administrations, and somehow didn’t affect her reputation as a feminist heroine, but he was still hobbled enough that eight years of yet another Bush ensued. A brief tenure in the Senate seat she carpet-bagged her way into was utterly forgettable, as was the first presidential campaign she lost to a previously obscure Illinois Senator of even shorter tenure, which is more than she could say for her disastrous four years as Secretary of State, and that so weighed her down with accumulated scandals that her long presumed ascension to First Woman President was thwarted. Worse yet, as far any Democrat is concerned, it resulted in President Donald Trump.
The humiliation was such that for the past several months it has forced Clinton into political exile, reportedly wandering the woods around her upstate New York mansion, and all the political attention has been focused on Trump. So far this is working out quite well for the Democrats, with Trump’s approval ratings well underwater in every poll and all the pundits and late night comics and other Democratic partisans reveling in it, and now seems an especially impropitious time for a comeback. The only Democrats that The Hill can find to endorse the idea are the former Democratic officials who once owed their careers to the Clintons and went down with them, such as former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, while pretty much most of otherwise-divided Republican Party is still ready to join in the chants of “lock her up.”
There’s already plenty of Trump fiascos and brewing scandals to keep the partisan press and late comics busy, but that was also true throughout the campaign, and back then all the Clinton fiascos and well-established scandals were enough to at least even things out. The questions about the Clintons in general and the obnoxiousness of Hillary in particular kept the Democrats on the defensive, riled up the vast majority of Republicans enough to swallow their considerable doubts about their own candidate, and with the resulting political equation spread just right across the electoral map it got Trump elected. Since then Trump’s fiascos and brewing scandals have been judged on their own damning merits, rather in the comparison to Clinton’s, and the Democrats would be advised to keep staying the hell out of the way.
Besides, none of the Democrats we know personally or hear in the media have any lingering affection for Clinton, or even for her husband’s once beloved but now derided administration, and they all seem ready to move on to some even further-left agenda they haven’t yet settled on. Given the continuing deep and visceral hatred of pretty much all Republicans, who still have a lingering desire and plausible legal case to “lock her up,” her continued presence in the news only provides a reason to overlook the latest thing Trump has “tweeted” or failed to deliver. By the next election Clinton will be the oldest newly-inaugurated president ever, surpassing the record currently held by Trump, so she hardly seems a viable candidate even by current Democratic standards, and it’s hard to see what good she’ll do as a senior stateswoman of the party.
It’s tough to bow off the public stage, or so we’re told, but it seems the most selfless move for Clinton to make. She could devote the rest of her days to quiet and public service in atonement for her past loud years of self-enrichment, which we’re told can be quite gratifying, and it would do not only the Democrats but also the rest of us a lot of good.

— Bud Norman

Who’s Bugging Who?

There’s all sorts of consequential politics going on these days to keep a president busy, what with repealing Obamacare and replacing it with Trumpcare and passing a thus-far unpopular budget and whatnot, but that’s all pretty dry stuff and involves a lot of math. Which makes it all the harder to turn one’s gaze away from the far juicier ongoing allegations coming from all directions about all sorts of international espionage and high-tech skullduggery and assorted movie-worthy twists. Monday alone provided enough plot twists to fill up several sequels.
The already convoluted plot plot started way back during the past presidential election, when Republican nominee Donald Trump was praising the strength of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s leadership and shrugging off the occasional extra-judicial killing and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign was taking a hit from some embarrassing e-mails that had been suspiciously hacked, and suspicious sorts started wondering if that was entirely coincidental. The resignation of Trump’s campaign manager after business ties to a Russia-friendly Ukrainian were revealed and the resignation of a foreign policy advisor for similar reasons did nothing to quell the suspicions, and neither did Trump’s still-unreleased tax returns, and although he nonetheless became President Donald Trump the news hasn’t helped much. His already-controversial National Security Advisor had to resign after a few days on the job because he’d lied to the Vice President about having been in contact with Russian officials, his already-controversial Attorney General recused himself from any role of a potential investigation into the matter of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials after similar revelations, and the late night comics and other conspiracy theorists have been having a ball with it.
Trump, of course, has been doing the counter-punching he so boastfully prides himself on. On an early morning a couple of weeks ago he “tweeted” a series allegations that past President Barack Obama had tapped his phone lines at Trump Tower, which, if true, would truly be worse than the Watergate scandal that Trump mentioned. That was immediately followed by a “tweet” ridiculing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s paltry ratings on “The Apprentice,” the reality show Trump starred in prior to his presidency, but the president still stands by his allegations. His press secretary has since explained that Trump had taken care to put quotation remarks around “wire tapped” to emphasize that he didn’t literally mean that Obama had tapped his wires, and occasional spokeswoman and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway further explained that he could have meant that Obama was spying on Trump through the Trump Tower microwave oven, and of course the late night comics have been having even more of a ball with it. Subsequent “tweets” and presidential interviews have promised that would proof would be forthcoming, and that his Republican allies in Congress would provide it through hearings, but so far that has not happened.
Trump still has plenty of supporters in the comments sections of all the internet stories about all of this, and is still cheered on by some old-time Republicans who should know enough to at least hedge their bets with some skepticism, but Monday provided another public relations beating. Those Republican allies in Congress have thus far admitted they don’t have any proof to back up Trump’s allegations, and on Monday they invited Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey to testify that the allegations are untrue and that the Department of Justice has authorized him to say so, and that he was also authorized to says investigations of Russia’s meddling in the past election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign was ongoing, and in the absence of any classified documents that a president could unilaterally un-classify that was bound to be Tuesday’s big headline and the punchline of all the late night jokes.
The more determined Trump apologists will continue to explain how a “deep state” shadow government is still doing the bidding of Obama, and they’ll be quite right that Obama’s administration tapped so many phones and did so many shadowy things over eight years that you can’t put anything past them, and we’ve seen enough Hollywood movies to always be suspicious about those intelligence agencies, but such old-school Republicans are ourselves still expect some proof. All those intelligence agencies and their more boring bureaucratic colleagues are clearly opposed to Trump for reasons different than our own, all the leaks lately have clearly served their agenda, and there’s still some reason to keep most classified information classified, but for now we’re still waiting for proof of Obama’s worse-than-Watergate behavior and something in the way of usual financial disclosure to assure us that Trump’s seeming Russophilia is just bad ideology and not something to do with the global business empire that Trump still owns.
Which is a shame, as far as old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves are concerned, because Obamacare really does need to be repealed and there’s still some hope that the old-fashioned Republicans left in office will be able to come up with something too imperfect for any hyperbole but at least better than what we’ve got. We find a lot to like in that unpopular budget proposal, too, and would even be cheering if a Republican president had the extra amount of guts to take aim at the popular entitlement programs that are driving the national debt to eventual bankruptcy. Fiscal solvency and other matters requiring hard choices and hard math are always a hard sell, and all the harder when you squander your credibility with claims that are never proved and only cast further lingering suspicion on yourself.
Trump’s supporters can also rightly note that none of his critics’ have yet proved their most damning allegations, but at this moment in the news cycle the claims are at least as plausible as that story about Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the Kennedy hit and President George W. Bush lying the country into the Iraq War that Trump was never for, or that one about Obama being born in Kenya that Trump took credit for putting to rest, and these days it all a needless distraction. At this point we want Trump to put up or shut up, disprove his conspiracy-minded critics with full financial disclosure and an independent investigation, then lay off the “tweets” and get on with all the boring but consequential stuff.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, at the Democratic Ranch

There was an unusual amount of attention paid to the race for the chairmanship for the Democratic National Party in the press, and all of our Democrat friends could hardly talk about anything else. Given the currently sorry state of the party, which now finds itself out power in the White House and both chambers of Congress and any minute now in the Supreme Court and much of the rest of the federal judiciary, not to mention in the governor’s mansions and legislatures and county commissions of most states, we can well understand the interest in what’s usually a back page story about someone whose only the politically obsessed sorts would usually recognize.
As the sorts of politically obsessed and retrograde Republicans who are as distressed as ever about the state of our own party, we’re not encouraged by how the race played out. From our old-fashioned right-wing perspective it came down to the far-left Tom Perez, President Barack Obama’s former Secretary of Labor and head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, and the even farther-left Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, who is best known as the party’s left-most member and the only Muslim ever elected to Congress. Perez was naturally backed by both Obama and failed party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the rest of what can charitably be called the Democratic establishment, so naturally all of our Democratic friends were avidly for Ellison. All of our Democratic friends are in the same anti-establishment mood that overwhelmed so much of the Republican Party last election it wound up with President Donald Trump, and we try in vain to tell them that no good ever comes of it.
All of our Democratic friends were big for self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the past primaries, who was big backer of Ellison, and they all either enthusiastically voted for Green Party nominee Jill Stein or reluctantly for Clinton in the general election, and none of them have much more regard for Clinton than we do. They all regard her as dishonest and corrupt, which causes us to respect their political integrity, and they also find her insufficiently liberal, which causes us to question their sanity. As far as we can remember any party that loses power to a more conservative or liberal platform figures that it lost because it wasn’t sufficiently conservative or liberal enough, and all our Democrat friends are repeating the pattern. Having lost a winnable presidential race to a Republican who promised a Muslim ban and an immigration crackdown had an undeniable appeal to the sorts of white working class voters who once voted for Democrats, they figure the shrewd move was to pick a black and Muslim and formerly Black Muslim and still race-baiting and left-most-in-the-party kook to head up the party apparatus.
Any honest Republican should recognize the impulse. After it lost a winnable election against Obama in ’16 a huge chunk of the Grand Old Party was hating on failed nominee Mitt Romney, convinced that he’d been far too dignified and reasonable and otherwise establishment to prevail against those hated Democrats, and after Trump’s electoral victory we’re disappointed but not at all surprised our Democrat friends have concluded that she was just too damned dignified and reasonable and otherwise establishment to beat Trump. All of our Democratic buddies are convinced that Sanders’ unabashed socialism would have won the day, especially if it had been fused to the racial identity politics that Ellsion represents, and given the eight years of darkness the Republicans endured during the Obama years it’s altogether too plausible, but we still think the Democrats would have done better last time around with those relatively moderate candidates that were the first to drop out of the primaries.
If we were inclined to offer advice to adversaries, we would remind our Democrat friends that they just went six-for-seven in the last popular presidential votes, their last redoubts are the most populous and influential states, the states that made up the electoral majority were decided by razor-thing margins, and that nothing ever lasts forever in politics. In politics as in chess the center is usually the best space to occupy, and its not as if the victorious Perez isn’t far enough to the queen side. His establishment credentials suggest he might even be more effective in spreading Democratic nonsense than Ellison would have been, which alarms all our Republican friends, but at this point we were hoping at least one party will remain relatively sane.

— Bud Norman

A New Day, Old Principles, and What’s Ahead

Unless the Illuminati and its “deep state” allies in the New World Order have one hell of a last-minute surprise ending plotted for this crazy election year, Donald Trump will become President of the United States today. To borrow a line from a favorite old Johnny Cash song, we don’t like it but we guess things happen that way.
If we were the sunny sorts of conservatives who go looking for silver livings we could console ourselves that at least Barack Obama is no longer president and Hillary Clinton never will be, which is indeed good news and probably enough consolation to most of our conservatives friends to get through the next four years no matter what happens, but we’re the more traditionally dour types of conservatives who can’t help noticing the gathering dark clouds within any silver livings. A nation faced with such dismal choices for leadership is already in sorry shape, and although we might have dodged the worst it that doesn’t mean the future is at all bright.
Ours is the old-fashioned style of conservatism informed by the Judeo-Christian faith’s Old Testament postlapsarian worldview, which means we have no faith whatsoever in mere humans, and it’s left us particularly suspicious of this Trump fellow. From the moment he descended down that famous escalator from Trump tower to announce his candidacy, and throughout his improbable rise to the presidency, we have repetitively noted that he’s a six-times-bankrupt and thrice-married-to-an-illegal-immigrant-nudie-model real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show-and-scam-university mogul who mocks the handicapped and brags about the married women he’s bagged and is notorious for not keeping his contractual promises and has introduced all sorts of language we don’t care to recount here into the political discourse, and despite all the winning he’s done along the way it’s all still true and troubling. Some of our conservative friends assure us that just such a follow is surely going to make America great again, as so many of our liberal friends assured us that his predecessor was surely going to bring hope and change to our land, but then as now we’ll stick with the old time religion and expect to not end up being suckers.
Our conservatism is also informed by the relatively newfangled notions of Edmund Burke, the great British statesman who supported the American revolution but as Prime Minister led his countrymen more or less peaceably through the French revolution and its inevitable reign of terror by making a persuasive case that it’s probably best not to start lopping off heads and burning down the institutions that years of fitful trial and error had so painstakingly if imperfectly erected. “Burn it down” was a constant refrain of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters during that improbable campaign, and his admirers frequently liken him to a bull in a China shop, and something in our conservative sorts of souls does not find this at all reassuring. “You have made a revolution but not a Reformation,” Burke once wrote to one of his French revolutionary friends, and he added advice to beware “the power of bad men,” words that somehow ring truer than anything in any of Trump’s recent “tweets.”
The most up-to-date conservatism we’re sticking with was best explained in ten parts back in the ’90s by the late and great Russell Kirk, who acknowledged the ambiguity of the term but said that “In essence, the conservative person is the one who simply finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night.” He also posited that “the conservative believes there exists an enduring moral order,” “the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity,” “conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of principle of prescription,” and “conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence,” none of which remotely describe Trump’s stated plans or characteristic bluster. Kirk also wrote that “conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety,” which Trump clearly doesn’t, and that “conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability,” which Trump clearly isn’t. He argued that “conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked,” and Trump’s enthusiasm for that awful Kelo decision suggests he disagrees, and that “conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose compulsory collectivism,” which Trump will probably agree or disagree with depending on what certain communities voluntarily agree to do. The last of Kirk’s descriptions of conservatism were that “the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and human passions,” which doesn’t describe a single a moment of Trump’s life, and “the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society,” with both the recognizing and reconciling seeming beyond Trump’s abilities.
Trump does seem likely to appoint far better Supreme Court justices than Obama did or Clinton would have, and we rather like that voucher-loving Education Secretary pick even if we’d rather leave education to the localities, and we’ve long been fans of our local congressman who’s been appointed as head of the now-hated-by-everyone Central Intelligence Agency, and given that Trump is neither Obama nor Clinton surely some good is to come of it. So far Trump seems even more accommodating to Russia, though, and nothing has Trump has said suggests the national debt won’t grow, and as much as we’re looking forward to the repeal of Obamacare we’re not holding out hope that Trump will provide lower premiums and deductibles along with “insurance for everybody,” and at this point it’s going to take more than a border wall to make America great again, even if Mexico does wind up paying for it. We go into today’s new era still wondering what the hell it is about the new president’s apparent affinity for the Russian dictatorship, and because he’s already burned down that relatively old rule about releasing tax records or divesting himself from his global empire there’s no tamping down the conspiracy theories about it, and along with the doubts about his health care ambitions and apparent disregard for the national debt and longstanding treaty obligations and other painstakingly if imperfectly built institutions, along with his apparent belief in the perfectibility of at least one man, we will head into his presidency with grave concerns. We assume the liberals will be even more distressed, but at this point we find little comfort in that.
Instead, we’ll stick with the old-time religion and our more newfangled conservative principles

— Bud Norman

Enter Salacious Headline Here

Just when we were starting to hold out hope that this unprecedentedly crazy presidential election race couldn’t possibly get any crazier, we came across the only slightly surprising news that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton “is a secret sex freak who paid fixers to set up illicit romps with both men AND women.” That juicy tidbit and its atrocious capitalization comes from the supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer, which last figured in the presidential race with the revelation that former Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, and is thus far the only national publication to endorse the publisher’s good friend and Republican nominee Donald Trump, so you can take it for whatever you figure it be worth, but there’s no denying it adds yet another level of craziness to the election.
Trump’s more die-hard supporters will rightly note that The National Enquirer’s past scoops about former Democratic contender and liberal darling Sen. Gary Hart’s fling on a yacht inconveniently christened “Monkey Business” and vice-presidential nominee and liberal darling Sen. John Edward’s love child that he tried to pin on a paid fall guy both proved entirely correct, and apparently it also saw Brad Pitt’s divorce from Angelina Jolie coming months before the fact, and at this point we wouldn’t put anything past anyone named Clinton, so in such a crazy election years as this maybe there’s something to it. The National Enquirer has also been known to get things wrong, though, including that costly libel about America’s beloved Carol Burnett being an obnoxious drunk and that more recent ridiculousness about Cruz’s dad and the Kennedy assassination, so the paper provides more through documentation our high standards of non-partisan journalism force us admit that at least one member of the Clinton family might not be a secret sex freak.
Normally we wouldn’t know what’s on the front page of The National Enquirer until we found ourselves in the check-out line at the local supermarket, but in this case we got the scoop on The National Enquirer’s scoop by checking in on the formerly reliable Drudge Report. The Drudge Report is a widely-read internet site that mostly features the latest headlines from other media, and its most die-hard supporters still fondly recall that it broke the story of former President Bill Clinton’s tawdry affair with a much-younger intern, and how it astutely linked to mainstream news stories with the leads that were buried deep within those mainstream news stories, and once upon a time it was the home page that popped up when we logged on to the internet. At some point in this crazy election it kept linking us to the loudly pro-Trump “Infowars” web site and its crazy conspiracy theories about the terror attacks of 2001 being an inside job and the school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, being a staged event, and what with our computer rushing to “Infowars” rather than the increasingly unreliable “Instapundit” site every time we typed “in” into our search engine we decided to make the endearingly old-fashioned conservative NeverTrump National Review site our home page.
In such a crazy election year as this one has to make such reassessments of previously reliable sources. If the stodgily principled National Review or the equally stalwart old-fashioned and conservative Weekly Standards asserts that Hillary Clinton is indeed a secret sex fiend who paid fixers to set up illicit sex romps we’ll gleefully believe it, and if the most mainstream liberal press is reluctantly forced to admit it as it did in the case of Hart and Edwards we’ll more or less gratefully take it as an undeniable fact, we promise that this publication will be heartened to pile on as well, because we truly do loathe those darned Clintons, and we did so even way back when the Drudge Report was debunking its more current claims that the male Clinton fathered a mulatto love-child and Trump was singing their praises and contributing to the campaigns and inviting them to his third wedding.
By this point in this crazy election year we don’t have any faith in anyone who has any good thing to say about either of these awful presidential nominees, even though all of them will eventually be proved right to whatever extent they spoke the worse of the other.

— Bud Norman

Who Shot American Politics?

Barring some other unforeseeable catastrophe, the big story of today will be tonight’s presidential debate. The long-awaited face-to-face confrontation between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, probably their first she since she attended his third wedding to an illegal immigrant nudie model in exchange for a sizable contribution to her phony-baloney pay-for-play “family foundation,” is expected to be the most watched television event since “Dallas” revealed who shot J.R. way back in the three network days.
We’d like to think this ratings bonanza will be due to the civic-mindedness of the American public, which wants to directly hear the words of these two thoroughly horrible people and carefully consider which is worse, but we expect it will be more for the pure low-brow entertainment value. Super Bowls and stock car races and soap operas and the more cutting-edge comedy programs draw big ratings because the viewer never knows what’s going to happen, but holds out hope that it will involve something violent or vulgar or otherwise shocking, and in this crazy election year the presidential debates offer plenty of that. There’s widespread speculation that Clinton will succumb to seizures or perhaps even drop dead to her undisclosed yet very dire medical condition, and that Trump might try to turn it into a rhetorical equivalent of that pro rasslin’ gig where he shaved the head of Vince McMahon, and of course there are already arguments about the poor fellow who has been hired to referee the match.
If Clinton doesn’t drop dead during the debate that will no doubt disappoint a significant portion of the viewing audience, but it will still make for an interesting plot twist. She’ll have already exceeded expectations, which is for some reason or another the way these contests are scored nowadays, and short of any seizures she or her ear-plugged body double should be able to come across as if she’s at least given some thought to the issues she’s been asked about. Most of the media will be wowed, and that portion of the country that relies on them to get the score will hear that Clinton won handily.
If Trump doesn’t turn it into a metaphorical pro rasslin’ head-shaving he probably will lose on old-fashioned debate scoring, because let’s face it, he really hasn’t given much thought to the issues he’ll be asked about, and by all accounts he’s eschewed any old-fashioned debate preparations that might have helped him out. This would no doubt disappoint a significant portion of the viewing audience, too, but at least would allow them to claim that anything less than boasts about his penis size or allegations of his opponent’s involvement in the John Kennedy assassination proved he had exceeded presidential expectations.
Our only advice to the poor fellow who’s been hired to referee the match is to ask the same basic policy questions of both the candidates, then get the hell out of the way. We can’t imagine any winners coming out of this worst-ever reality show, but we’ll tune in nonetheless.

— Bud Norman

The Curious Case of the Candidate’s Body Double

Lately we’ve been spending some time at Netflix binge-watching episodes of a British documentary series about conspiracy theories, partly because we need some diversion from that awful presidential race but mostly because we enjoy a good conspiracy theory the way some readers revel in a good mystery novel. It’s just our luck in this crazy election year, though, that the most diverting conspiracy theory we’ve lately encountered comes from that awful presidential race.
Unless you’re much better than us at avoiding the news, you already know that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was videotaped collapsing into the arms of her aides as she took an early exit from a memorial service for the victims of the 2001 terror attacks in New York on Sunday, and that it has brought all the lingering questions about her health from the comments sections of the more conspiratorial-minded web sites to the front pages of the even the most polite press. By you also know that she was whisked to her daughter’s nearby apartment rather than to a hospital, and that she emerged from the apartment just a few hours later looking quite hale and happy as she waved to photographers and greeted a cute young girl who who happened to be on the sidewalk. If you’re attuned to the proper “Twitter” feeds and internet sites, or the more mainstream portions of the press that report their speculations, you might even be aware of the theory that the Clinton who emerged from that apartment building looking suspiciously healthy with a suspicious lack of secret services agents around a suspiciously cute young girl to greet her was actually a body double.
More careful observers than ourselves noticed a slight difference in the nose and a change of earrings, as well as more general youthful appearance, and along with those other suspicious circumstances that was enough to lead some to a conclusion that a body double had been substituted. The theory doesn’t explain how the body double happened to be on hand in Clinton’s daughter’s apartment, or what became of the actual Clinton, or why a campaign so diabolically brilliant as to have such a convincing doppelgänger around in case of a collapse has lately been slipping in the polls against the likes of Republican nominee Donald Trump, but in this crazy year we suppose that anything is possible.
As far-fetched as it might seem, the theory gained enough currency that it was briefly the second-most “trending” topic on “Twitter,” which also spurred conspiracies theories. A Reditt site devoted to Trump supporters alleged “#HillarysBodyDouble is NOT truly trending on Twitter, But They Stuck It on the Trends to Make Us Look Nuts,” which might also strike some non-Trump supporters as randomly capitalized and completely nuts. A writer for the InfoWars site, which has alleged that the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were an inside job and that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and countless other conspiracy theories, and has lately been insisting that Clinton has Parkinson’s Disease or syphilis or a brain tumor, “tweeted” that “The #Hillary’sBodyDouble narrative was probably started by the Clinton campaign to discredit genuine questions about her health.”
Some of the rumors specified that the body double is a woman named Teresa Bonwell, who resembles Clinton closely enough that she’s made living as a look-alike for the past several years, and she seems to have fueled that speculation by sending out an old photograph of herself outside the same building with the taunting message “Maybe I was in New York.” She now insists it was a joke, and has the ironclad alibi of being at a video shoot with a Bill Clinton look-alike and, just to make things perfect, the guy who played President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in “Idiocracy.”
Despite the Hollywood-like ingenuity of the body double switch, that crafty Clinton campaign hasn’t seemed to discredit any truly genuine questions about her health, which are being raised in even the most polite press, and by now even her supporters are conceding that she should have been more forthcoming about condition. Some supporters are even admitting that Clinton’s longstanding tendency toward secrecy has made even the most outlandish speculations seem plausible, and if that body double finishes out the campaign for Clinton she’s bound to endure some interrogations about it. That guy who’s been filling in for the late Paul McCartney the past 50 years has done pretty well, though, so maybe she’ll pull it off.
Thus far Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet about Clinton’s condition, but he’s also the guy who championed that Obama-was-born-in-Kenya theory and parrots the Code Pink line about George W. Bush lying America into the Iraq War and urged everyone to read The National Inquirer’s big story about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the John F. Kennedy assassination, and he frequently finds that things are rigged, so he probably won’t have anything bad to say about what his friends at InfoWars are saying. He should urge his supporters to stick to the facts, though, because those are bad enough.

— Bud Norman

Your Candidates For Commander-in-Chief, Alas

While President Barack Obama was making another stop on his diplomatic trip to the Far East Wednesday, his would-be successors were appearing on the MSNBC cable network’s “Commander in Chief Forum,” with both spending a half-hour or so answering a series of questions about defense and foreign policy from the National Broadcasting Company’s Matt Lauer and selected members of a an audience comprised mostly of military veterans. None of it, needless to say, was at all reassuring.
A dear friend’s 70th birthday party and a principled lack of cable access kept us from watching the event live, but thanks to the modern miracle of YouTube we were able to watch all the grilling of both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and without commercial interruption at that. We can’t recommend you do, though, as the lack of direct confrontation between the candidates made for rather dreary viewing.
An unfavorable coin toss determined that Clinton would be given the first half-hour, ending that remarkable 6-for-6 coin-flipping streak that helped her win the Iowa caucus, and her bad luck didn’t end there. She had a well-crafted introductory statement about her long experience in foreign affairs as a First Lady and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Secretary of State, and how it has honed her judgment, but that just walked right into Lauer’s first question about that unindexed and yet ongoing e-mail scandal of hers. She had a well-rehearsed answer acknowledging that it had been a mistake to use a private server for many of e-mail communications, insisted she had used only the government server for anything with a “header” indicating it was classified. She clearly hoped that no one would know that much classifiable information was coming to her attention before it could be classified, and that someone with better judgment would have treated it as such, and that there are plenty of other holes in her story. Alas, the next audience member was an Air Force veteran whose work had required security clearances, and who was convinced that he would have been jailed for the actions Clinton has now admitted, so she had to run through yet another variation on the same unconvincing lines.
Lauer then asked about Clinton’s vote as a senator in favor of the Iraq War, which is by now such an unpopular affair that the Republican nominee is bragging that he had always opposed it and that George W. Bush had lied the country into the mess. Clinton once again apologized for the vote, and rightly noted that Trump’s claims to have been opposed all along are completely baseless, then made a plausible argument that her willingness to admit and learn from mistakes has improved her judgment. Although still on the defensive she seemed to be punching back at that point, but the next question was about that awful deal the Obama administration struck with the Iranians on their nuclear weapons programs.
Clinton first noted about how she had worked to impose harsh sanctions on the Iranian government, without acknowledging that the sanctions had begun under the previous administration, then boasted that had succeeded in forcing Iran to the negotiating table. Given the worse-than-Nevill-Chamberlain sort of appeasement that resulted from the negotiations this hardly seems a success, but at least the worst of the deal was finalized by her successor as Secretary of State. She’ll be very tough in enforcing that awful package of appeasement, Clinton assured the audience, and she also talked tough about Iran’s many other outrages, and we had a certain sense that she was trying to put at least some distance between herself and the Obama administration.
There was also talk about the sorry state of the Veterans Administration, which Clinton can’t be readily blamed for and which she seemed plenty outraged about, and when asked to explain her policy toward the Islamic State “as briefly as you can” she sounded very hawkish even as she promised there would be no ground troops in either Iraq or Syria. She also talked about going after Islamic State leader Bagu al-Baghdadi, “just like we did with Osama bin Laden,” reminding the audience of the Obama administration’s biggest hit of the past seven-and-a-half-years, and finished with a vow to be tough on terrorism but making no promises to prevent it altogether.
Even Trump’s most media-averse admirers would be hard pressed to find fault with Lauer’s performance, which kept Clinton on the defensive through most of the interview. A more thorough interrogation about the e-mails would have required the hours that Republican congressional investigations spent on the matter, so we’ll also give Lauer some reluctant credit for compressing it into a few challenges about her most outrageous claims. Even Clinton’s most die-hard detractors would have to admit that she seemed quite feisty in her defense, however, with none of the coughing fits or fatigue or seizures or other afflictions that have lately been talked about all over the internet, and unless you’re already well aware of what she was talking there were no takeaway gaffes. We imagine that her most avid fans were well pleased with the performance, that her most disdainful detractors were not at all swayed, and that anyone in the undecided ranks would be waiting to hear what the Republican might say.
What the Republican had to say was hard to parse, as usual, but so far as we can tell it boiled down to him saying that everything was going to be great with him in charge, believe him. Asked what experiences he had to demonstrate the judgment to run America’s foreign he mentioned his vast business empire, which includes deals in countries overseas, some of which of are really taking advantage of the rest of the United States, believe him, so surely he could tell when it was necessary to put American military lives in harm’s way. He reiterated his lie that he was speaking out against the Iraq War before it was launched, citing an interview in GQ magazine that appeared about a year into the war as proof, and added that the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq was also a “total disaster.” Trump was asked about his well-known propensity to say outrageous things, and his own recent admission that he has occasionally chosen wrong words, and how that might affect his performance as a head of state, and Trump went on about how certain wrong words were needed to defeat all those more qualified Republican candidates that stood in his way to the nomination. He then mentioned his recent trip to Mexico, where he was respectfully greeted with diplomatic protocol and didn’t say anything to get him kicked out, then bragged that the trip had been so successful that some Mexican official who arranged the trip was fired due to the Mexican public’s ensuing outrage over the invitation.
Lauer revived an old Trump quote claiming to know more about the Islamic State than the American military’s generals did, and Trump noted that the generals have no been successful thus far, although he blamed Obama and Secretaries of State Clinton and John Kerry for the failure, and that there might well be an entirely different group of generals he’ll be dealing with that, and that they’ll be the types who won’t have MacArthur and Patton spinning in their graves. He even suggested that his secret plan for defeating the Islamic State will await the 30 days he’s giving the generals to come up with their own plan, and that their might might even be incorporated into his secret plan, but in any case it’s going to be a great plan, believe him.
Whatever that plan might turn out to be, be assured that if it amounts to any military action at all it’s going to include plenty of old-fashioned plunder. Trump has embraced the far-left’s chants about “Bush lied, people died,” but he clearly has no use for that “No blood for oil” slogan, and explained that “I’ve always said we shouldn’t be in there, but if we’re going to get out, take the oil.” At this point Lauer made a rare interruption to ask how that might be accomplished, and Trump acknowledged that some people would be “left behind” to get the job done, and Lauer didn’t ask how many of these people there would be, or how many soldiers and airmen would be needed to protect them, much less the many hundreds of miles of pipelines and supply lines need for the project, not to mention the fallout from the inevitable worldwide outrage over the planet’s mightiest military power claiming waging openly proclaimed wars of plunder.
A woman who was introduced as a Democrat and a graduate of the first West Point class to include women got to ask a question about illegal immigrants being allowed in the military, seeming to favor the idea herself, and she got a big hand for that first woman West Pointer distinction, and with his usual keen sense of the crowd Trump said he would work with that. The next questions were about Russia, though, and not so easily handled.
Whatever concerns the people of Mexico or those unfortunate oil-rich lands currently held by the Islamic State might have about a Trump administration, the future of Russo-American relations look rosy indeed, believe him. Trump once again confidently predicted he would have “a good relationship with Putin, and a very good relationship with Russia,” again promised that “as long as he says good things about me, I’ll say good things about him,” protested an interjection by Lauer about the likelihood that Putin’s government hacked the Democratic National Committee by saying “nobody knows that for a fact,” lamented that Obama and Putin were photographed exchanging icy stares during the Group of 20 summit, and seemed sure he’d get a more respectful Air Force One greeting from the Russians than Obama got from the Chinese. Trump suggested a possible alliance with the Russians against the Islamic State, made no mention of Russia’s aggression in Georgia and the Ukraine and threats against much of the rest of the former Soviet empire, and when asked about such issues he said “it’s possible” that Putin will abandon his revanchist ambitions in the event of a Trump administration.
Trump was also asked about the VA, a problem he also cannot be credibly blamed for and is plenty outraged about, and he offered what seemed a sensible idea of providing vouchers for veterans to seek care in the private sector when waiting lines at the government-run doctor’s office became dangerously long. Clinton had scored some points with the veterans by opposing “privatization,” which according to the polls even scares veterans in this day and age, and we note that Trump took pains to insist his plan wasn’t “privatization.” We’d prefer a capitalist-minded Republican who’d embrace the term and make the compelling case for it, and there’s no better case to be made for it than government-run health care, but these days that’s too much to ask for. One of the last questions was about the large number of sexual-harassment charges being alleged in the military, and Trump was reminded of a “tweet” that read “What did these geniuses think when they put men and women together?,” and he defended it by saying “Many people say that.” He added that it was necessary to keep the military court system, and then later that we need to establish a military court system, and he did come out forthrightly in favor of imposing consequences for sexual assaults.
Lauer’s now being pilloried by the left for failing to press Trump on many of these statements, but from our never-Trump perspective on the right we’ll grudgingly concede that it would have been awful hard to compress all the questions into a mere half-hour. With about two-thirds of Clinton’s interview spent on the defensive we’ll have to kick our feet against the sand and lower our heads and say it seemed fair enough, all in all, and that the candidates had only themselves to blame.
Trump probably came out of it slightly better than even, poll-wise. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters got the the “take their oil” rhetoric they’ve come to expect, while Trump’s most die-hard opponents will glumly concede that at least he didn’t repeat his talk about the indiscriminate torture of detainees and the killing of their civilian relatives and the neo-con overreach of the past 16 years of American foreign policy, and the sensitive souls of the Huffington Post were even worried that might have seem slightly presidential to those who can’t spare the time to think through the implications of that “take their oil” policy. Most of Trump’s most disdainful opponents won’t bother with that, either, but in any case they’ll not be swayed.
Clinton and Trump will face each other head-to-head later this month, unless Clinton succumbs to fatal illness or Trump finds some scheduling or moderator issue as an excuse to dodge it, depending on which internet rumors you prefer to believer, and that might be more fun. At this point, though, we don’t expect it will be any more reassuring.

— Bud Norman