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A Not So Fond Farewell

President Barack Obama gave his farewell address on Tuesday night, so at least we’ve got that going for us.
President-elect Donald Trump once again grabbed all the attention, of course, with his indignantly “tweeted” denial of some juicy new allegations that were reportedly included in the intelligence community’s much-debated reports to Congress and other officials concerning Russia’s alleged meddling in the past election. A maybe true and maybe not true dossier of allegations was compiled by a reportedly respected ex-British intelligence official, and is now splashed all over the internet, and it mentions Russian prostitutes and some very kinky sex acts, as well as several presumably more hygienic but no less newsworthy contacts that Trump’s business and campaign officials had with Russian officials, and it’s undeniably more irresistible conversation fodder than another one of Obama’s orations.
All that cloak and dagger and kinky sex stuff will play out over the next several days or weeks or months, though, if not much longer than that, and in the meantime we feel obliged to take note of Obama’s speech.
For the past nine years or so we’ve been hearing about what a wonderfully eloquent orator Obama is, but we were once again unimpressed. The language is well-crafted enough by comparison to his successor’s schoolyard taunts and constant interjections of “believe me” and “OK?” and “that I can tell you,” but that’s damning by faint praise, and up against an Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King or any other first rate rhetorician it’s not at all memorable. Even his most awe-struck admirers are hard-pressed to remember any line he ever uttered quite so iconic as Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address coinage of “military-industrial complex” or John Kennedy’s “bear any burden” shtick or even George W. Bush’s pithy “soft bigotry of low expectations,” and what they do come up with about “no red states or blues states” and “hope and change” and “yes we can” and that one about the sea levels falling now sounds faintly ridiculous after eight long years of his tiresome speeches.
Which left poor Obama, just 10 short days away from the seemingly inevitable inauguration of Trump, with the difficult job of making the case that all that hope had not been misplaced. He had a friendly audience in his adopted hometown of Chicago, all revved up by a soulful rendition of the the National Anthem, and he bounded on the stage with a rock star’s roar and a rock star’s rote greeting to a certain local neighborhood and a whole of thank you thank you very much, followed by some lame self-deprecating humor about being a lame duck, then he started waxing eloquent. He did so well enough that his still-ardent admirers who still feel that hope were probably tugging at their eyes, but any eyes that have been keeping a more unblinking watch on the past eight years were rolling.
There was some nostalgic talk about his young and idealistic days as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, and how he learned that “Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.” That same south side of Chicago is presently so disorganized that it has a murder rate that would shock the denizens of your average third world hellhole, but so far the survivors haven’t gotten involved and engaged and demand change from Obama’s associates at City Hall, and somehow we got the sense that he wasn’t urging them to start now.
He followed that up with some rousing stuff about the wisdom of the founding fathers and their belief that we are “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” At any rate it would have been rousing if he hadn’t spent the past eight years giving speeches about the country’s racist and sexist and classist origins, and steadfastly defending abortion rights, and restricting the citizens’ liberty in numerous ways, and generally making life miserable for anyone who was just trying to live it. There was some more rousing-for-the-faithful stuff about onward and upward to the more perfect union, along with a list of liberal goals that have been achieved over the years.
Even Obama had to admit that “Yes, our progress has been uneven,” and sometimes even “contentious,” and there was no talk about ocean levels falling or a new era of hope and change or any of the other stuff so many people were swooning for starting back about nine years ago. Instead, Obama tried to argue that things had worked out even better than promised. He touted the end of a Great Recession and “reboot” of America’s automotive industry and eight straight years of job growth, the shutdown of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and new relations with Cuba and of course the oft-cited death of Osama Bin Laden, along with a health care plan that insured another 20 million Americans, and boasted that “If I had told you that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high.
Even if that were all true it’s still setting the sights a little bit lower than during the messianic ’08 campaign, as far as we’re concerned, but without looking anything up and despite the florid language we were ready to dispute almost all of it. The Great Recession of ’08 did indeed come to an end, but recessions have always come to an end and usually with more robust employment gains than during the past below post-World War II averages, and who’s to say that whoever bought out General Motors would haven’t hired more workers? Iran’s nuclear weapons program is still on schedule and has a few billion dollar extra in its coffers thanks to Obama’s largesse, our new relations with Cuba are far too chummy with a communist regime for our tastes, and Obama saying he succeeded in killing Bin Laden where Bush had failed is like Nixon claiming credit for getting to the moon where Johnson and Kennedy had failed. That 20 million insured figure is by almost all other accounts vastly overstated, and includes a lot of people stuck on Medicaid and forced by buy overpriced insurance they don’t need, and it’s clearly one reason job growth has been so sluggish, and so many more people are stuck paying exorbitant rate increases and swelling budget deficits to pay for it that the guy who promised to repeal Obama’s signature piece of legislation wound up winning.
At that point Obama had to chide the crowd for booing the guy who did wind up winning, and we’ll give him credit for doing that, and he pledged a peaceful transfer of power and gave some props to George W. Bush for doing him the same solid. That was followed by a lot of talk exhorting Democrats to continuing be Democrats, and racism and climate change being very bad, and peace being better than war, along with some bragging about the oil boom he did everything he could to thwart, and a whole lot of blather that will be little noted and soon forgotten, to borrow a phrase from a more memorable orator. It didn’t convince us that we’d been wrong all along, and that Obama really was the Messiah we’d been told, but we suppose the true believers liked it, even if they can’t remember a single line of it today.
At this point we’re quite agnostic on the question of whether Trump really did pay those Russian prostitutes to perform those kinky sex acts while on a Moscow business trip, or whether any of those other dealings actually occurred, but we’re quite convinced he’s also no Messiah. All we can say at this point is that we can’t say we’re looking forward to four or eight more years of schoolyard taunts and constant interjections of “believe me” and “OK?” and “that I can tell you,” but at least the rest of Obama’s ponderous speeches will be more easily ignored as the forgettable asides of an ex-president.

— Bud Norman

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The Coming Months of Well-Deserved Mud

The seemingly certain nominees of both of America’s major political parties have already announced their intention to hurl all sorts of horrible accusations about one another’s low moral character over the summer and into the fall, and alas, almost every word of it will be true.
Both candidates have been in the public eye for several decades, and according to all the opinion polls are unfavorably regarded by the vast majority of the public, and at this point the only plausible argument for either of them is that the other is even worse, so there’s really nothing left to do but throw the plentiful supplies of mud. They could talk about the many serious issues facing the country, but that’s not nearly so entertaining to the public, and there’s no telling where either of them might end up on any of that stuff by Inauguration Day in any case.
The presumptive Republican nominee, self-described billionaire businessman Donald J. Trump, has quite characteristically bragged to The New York Times about his plans to insult his way to the presidency, and it seems a sound strategy. He has somehow managed to dispatch a large field of far more qualified and honorable candidates in the primary campaign by this method, and in the general election he won’t have to resort to outright lies and exaggerated irrelevancies to do it. The Democratic nominee is former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has disgraced each post with her corrupt and dishonest and downright sleazy ways, and her numerous ancient and on-going scandals and glaring failings as a human being are certainly something one should take into consideration when making her the putative leader of the free world. Still, the strategy entails certain risks.
Clinton and her equally corrupt and dishonest and downright sleazy ex-President of the United States husband are responsible for the coinage of the term “politics of personal destruction,” and in all their mostly-won battles they’ve rarely had a more target-rich terrain than Trump. The presumptive Republican nominee is a thrice-married and four-times-bankrupt casino-and-strip-joint mogul and former professional-wrestling and reality-show star who ran a scam university and vitamin-peddling scheme who has run several businesses into the ground and brags about the politicians he’s bought off and the married babes he’s bagged and mocks a guy’s physical handicap and cheats at golf, and all the scandals yet to come on both sides will often overlap.
Trump has rightly declared that Bill Clinton’s many tawdry sex scandals are fair game, and Clinton has already rightly responded that the equally tawdry sex life Trump has so often bragged about should also be considered. Trump might even bring up the at-this-point-little-known fact that Bill Clinton has been hanging around with convicted billionaire ephebophile Jeffrey Epstein, which well deserves wider attention, but Clinton can easily cite that pesky 2002 New York Magazine interview where Trump said “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” He can cite the shady nature of the Clinton’s family foundation, and she can cite the $100,000 donation he gave to it. He can damn the truly damnable lies she told in the aftermath of her disastrous toppling of the Libyan government, but she can note that his claims to have opposed that ill-fated missions are also damnable lies and if she insinuates that the never-take-blame and blatantly dishonest Trump would have resorted to the same mistruths we’ll have to give the devil her due. If Trump wants to go back in time he can recall how Clinton ruthlessly used her husband’s presidential power to railroad an honest public servant in the White House travel office to enrich her friends, and Clinton will surely make a celebrity of the humble widow that Trump’s lawyers tried to have evicted from home so he could build a parking lot for his limo. Trump is so sleazy he invited Clinton to his third wedding, and Clinton is so sleazy she accepted the invitation, and in a year that was supposed to have toppled our sleazy pop-cultural and political establishment this is what we’re left with.
All our previous assumptions about America having been shattered, we now have no idea how it will turn out. Such old-time media as The New York Times and The Washington Post will continue to be aghast at the moral rectitude of Trump, and continue for at least another four years to turn a blind eye to the vileness of the Clintons. Such new-fangled and self-described conservative media as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, who were once so aghast at the Clintons’ moral rectitude, will continue to turn a blind eye to the vileness that Trump actually brags about. By now none of them are much trusted by almost anyone, though, so we never can guess which one of those awful reality shows is going to be the big hit, so the race is hard to handicap. It might all come down to the racial and ethnic and class divisions that have been so thoroughly exacerbated after the eight years of “Hope and Change” that the last huckster brought us, and the inevitable brawls that have already begun, but that’s also hard to figure these days.

— Bud Norman

The Next 362 Days

Has it really been seven years and three days since President Barack Obama’s first inauguration? The calendar says so, so we have already begun marking off the more or less Constitutionally-guaranteed final 362 days of his presidency on our wall with the grimly optimistic impatience of a prisoner awaiting the end of an unjust sentence, but as bad it’s been it somehow doesn’t seem like seven years and three days.
Our memory of that first inauguration, which entailed such unforgettably nauseating coverage by the adoring press and such a rapturous reception by the public at large that it seemed more of a coronation or canonization or even a messianic anointment, remains so vivid that it seems just yesterday. We still recall sitting in a car dealership waiting for some annoying automotive repair with nothing to read but a Time Magazine with Obama as Frank Delano Roosevelt on the cover, and pulling into an ice-covered parking lot on some chore while listening to a radio report about some school district someplace that voted to make Obama’s first inauguration a National Holiday when the kids didn’t have to go to school, and all the good-looking celebrities pledging their allegiance to the new leader and the choirs of cute children singing the new leader’s praises,and all our liberal friends swooning, and how even some more or less Republican types were writing they liked the cut of this Obama fellow’s jibe and the crease in in his trousers. Ah, it truly does seem only yesterday.
Yet how far we seem have travelled in time, given what we find in the news and hear from our varied friends these days. By now the big issue was supposed to have been the hasty repeal of that nasty Republican-inspired 22nd Amendment so that Obama will be allowed to serve a third term, and how the upcoming Chicago Olympics will allow the world to celebrate his new era of global peace and prosperity and hip-hop coolness, but we can no longer find any of that among even our craziest friends or the most fervid reaches of the internet. Instead we awake to the current date’s news and rub our eyes and look about and we note that Obama seems but a minor player these days, albeit an annoying one, and that along with brief mention of the dour economic and foreign affairs news most of the talk is about the strange stew  of politics that is lately  brewing in the red-hot metaphorical pots of both parties. The past seven years of hope and change have both parties in an anti-establishmentarian mood, with wildly divergent ideas about what to do, even if the moderate moderate wings of both parties somehow survive the revolutionary zeal, and that glorious inauguration-coronation-cannonization-annointment and moment of more or less national faith in the new leader seems so very long ago.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is running for a third term of the First Black President as the First Woman President, which somehow makes sense to a significant portion of Democrats, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating some pretty darned serious charges about everything from her un-secured e-mail account to her family foundation’s hefty donations from the dubious countries she was dealing with as Secretary of State, that whole First Woman President thing is being undermined as her perv husband’s countless scandals are suddenly viewed by her own stated standard that victims of sexual assault should always believed, and there’s all that one-percenter kind of money she’s racked up from the Wall Street slickers which she’s now obliged to rail against after the past seven years, and even her promises of an another eight years just like the past seven aren’t playing well with Democrats.
Seven years and three days after that historic inauguration-coronation-canonization-anointment day, almost all of the Democrats we know are by now so fed up they’re itching to itching to go full-blown and self-described socialist along with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. That long ago dawn of the Obama is not so far ago that they’ll ascribe the new leader any blame, but they all seem to reluctantly concede that their leader did not dare to go quite far enough to have reached that once-promised land. Some Republicans still persist, they glumly note, along with all their noise about illegal and legal immigration and terrorism and a sputtering economy heading for a scary downturn, along with their unaccountable lack of concern about global warming and transgendered rights, and there’s still all that white privilege and social injustice and whatnot out there, and all in all they can’t disguise a certain disappointment with the past seven years of hope and change. Sterner stuff, they seem to believe, is required.
The Republicans and the conservatives and the populists and the anti-establishmentarians and the independents and the moderates and whatever else you want to call the majority of dissatisfied America are by now worse than disappointed. There’s currently a mad scramble for their votes among the Republican presidential candidates, and oy vey, is that a mess. Through-thick-and-through-thin Republicans such as ourselves don’t have to choose between another seven years of Wall Street-financed socialism and a baggage cart full of scandals or an even more outright socialist, but we find ourselves wading into internecine battles over conservatism that we didn’t anticipate just seven years and three days ago.
Gee aint it funny how seven years and three days, out of our mere three score and seventy, slips away.

— Bud Norman

Biden Time

Whenever we start to feel anxious about the sorry state of the Republican presidential nomination race, which is pretty much every time we read the latest reports about it, we can always find some comfort in the even sorrier state of the Democratic contest. The latest reports about that fiasco suggest Vice President Joe Biden could soon enter the race as a front-runner, which is saying something, and we suspect that would prove even more compelling to the press and the public than Donald Trump’s currently top-rated reality show.
The Democratic race would not only gain some much-needed comic relief by the entry of the foul-mouthed, gaffe-prone, creepily touchy Biden, but the sub-plots would involve enough palace intrigue to fill another three or four seasons of “Game of Thrones.” The foul-mouthed, gaffe-prone, creepy aspects of Biden’s personality shouldn’t prove much of a problem for him, not when it seems so darned authentic compared to the robotic former front-runner Hillary Clinton, and not when the current Republican front-runner is Donald Trump, but all that palace intrigue will certainly prove more complicated.
Although it goes politely unmentioned in the mainstream press, it should be obvious to the more objective observer that President Barack Obama doesn’t much like Clinton. He once sneered at her that “You’re likable enough” during one of those ’08 debates when they were both still mere rivals to the throne, but even at the time we doubted he really meant it, and by now we’re sure that he did not. Clinton’s once-inevitable coronation suddenly seems once-again in doubt for a number of reasons, including a noticeable lack of accomplishments and a quarter century’s worth of scandals and and a multi-million-dollar foundation of corruption and an unlikable robotic personality, but her biggest problem seems to be that pesky e-mail scandal that keeps dripping out with in drops of stories quoting Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation and bi-partisan Congressional committees and other high-ranking federal officials. At best this suggests the president in charge of the DOJ and FBI and the Democratic half of those bi-partisan committees and all those other high-ranking officials isn’t interested in helping out his former administration officials in the usual ways, and at worst is acting against her with the sort of ruthlessness that has made “Game of Thrones” such a hit.
As we see the plot line playing out, Obama looks about for a candidate willing to continue his policies for another four years, and to cement his historic achievements of Obamacare and endless quantitative easing and appeasement of radical Islam and open borders and environmental policies that export all the global warming to China and the rest of his hope and change agenda. Although he’d normally be sympathetic to the self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who looks and sounds just like all those radical professors who created Obama, Sanders has had the effrontery to note that the economy is horrible and open borders are likely to strain the Democrats’ beloved welfare system and that an even more insanely socialist agenda than Obama’s must therefore be pursued. There’s that O’Malley guy, but his only accomplishments as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland were effective tough-on-crime measures that saved hundreds of black lives but have somehow run afoul of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that currently holds sway in the Democratic Party, and he’s only polling a percentage point or so. Obama clearly doesn’t like Clinton, or any of the Clintons, so he has to find a more suitable proxy.
As foul-mouthed, gaffe-prone, and creepily touchy as he is, Biden can at least be counted on to run for Obama’s third term. Hence we expect Biden will soon enter the race with the tacit yet deafening endorsement of the president and all the support of his dwindling but still-significant number of supporters, as well as the gentle treatment of a mainstream press that would rather report on Biden’s latest “spontaneity” than the latest leaks from high-ranking officials about Clinton’s latest scandal, and that Clinton will soon find herself at the back of a small and undistinguished pack. Most of Sander’s following seems to be people who actually like his crazy ideas, and like what he says about the Obama economy, so we don’t seem him losing much support to Biden, even if some of them were simply on board because he’s not Clinton. Most of Clinton’s support seems to come from Democratic partisans who expected her to be the party’s nominee and the most likely winner in the general election, which no longer seem such compelling arguments even to a Democratic partisan, and whichever candidate gets Obama’s followers will have a significant plurality of the party, along with all those “Black Lives Matter” activists who hold such sway, so we can’t see a Biden candidacy helping Clinton at all.
These series take strange twists, though, and we’ve often been surprised by events. There’s still that anxiousness about the Republican race, too, and sooner or later the two shows will merge like one of those “Beverly Hillbillies” episodes where the Clampetts visited the Hooterville of “Green Acres.” At that point there’s no telling what the writers might come up with, but for now it’s hard to see it ending well.

— Bud Norman

The End of Language

In a week full of depressing headlines, nothing we’ve read so far has left us quite so glum as a professor’s lament at site on the far academic corners of the internet. Writing at the on-line Library of Law and Liberty, in an article appropriately titled “The End is Nigh,” Professor Diana Schaub of Maryland’s Loyola University recounts her difficulties in teaching a class of college students the following lines from James Madison in the Federalist Papers: “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.”
The dispirited professor reports that her students were flummoxed by the words, unable to understand how someone so reputedly smart as Madison would think that justice will bring an end to government. She helpfully explained that Madison meant “end” as a synonym for “purpose” or “intention” rather than “conclusion” or “demise,” something that should be obvious to a college-level reader by the third sentence, but was surprised to find that no one in her class had ever heard of the word “end” being used in that sense. Apparently the admissions standards at Loyola University and similarly well-regarded institutions are not so strict that they require students to have read widely enough to have encountered this common usage, or to have been warned about ends about justifying means, or to ask themselves to what end they are bothering to pursue an over-priced education. “Teaching young people is getting harder,” Schaub sighs at the outset of her article, and we share her sadness.
Schaub’s well-written article continues with an intriguing etymology of “end,” complete with Thomas Hobbes’ decisive influence on its current definition, which we must admit was news to us, die-hard Hobbesians though we are, and she endearingly regrets that today’s young generation hasn’t been schooled in the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1646 and its aphorism that “Man’s chief end is to glorify and enjoy God forever,” but one needn’t reach such scholarly heights to notice the dumbing-down of America. Over the past few decades of writing for the general public we have been informed of an alarming diminution of the American vocabulary by angry letters from readers who resented being forced to look up such fancy-schmantzy words as “eschew” or “quotidian,” and we’ve often encountered blank stares from people who are first encountering words that were recently well known to even the occasional reader. We sometimes feel as if we’re living in the classic satire “Idiocracy,” which portrayed a world so degraded by 500 years of un-selective breeding that even the street-level language of today is regarded as “faggy” and downright threatening. Accustomed as we are to people being perplexed by anything sesquipedalian, it’s still sobering to contemplate that college students are now unable to cope with once-familiar three-letter-words.
A fellow we know was mightily offended by our use of the word “fop,” a delightfully short burst of language that sneers contempt for any man who pays excessive attention to his clothing and physical appearance, and not because we had accused him of foppery. “Ken” is also a three-letter-word, and we no longer assume that anyone knows it can mean “comprehension” or “understanding.” Any word arcane is now considered highfalutin, and anything more dated than the latest text-message acronym is rapidly becoming arcane. These limits on the language have a limiting effect on the ideas that people express, of course, and always to baleful effect.
The disappearance of the word “fop” from the language seems to have coincided with the disappearance of society’s sneering contempt for men who take excessive pride in their physical appearance that it once conveyed, for instance, and as a result American society is inundated with preening pretty boys and empty but immaculately fashioned suits. Such nebulous and neutral words as “hope” and “change” can unleash eight years of disastrous taxing and pork barrel spending and over-regulation and God only knows what sort of foreign policy madness, while such once valuable words as “merit” and “liberty” are derided by the deconstructionists and their impenetrable academic jargon as racist code. The permeability of the language has even infected our politics, where laws such as the Obamacare act are apparently not intended by their authors to be read as they are written, and even the Constitution is open to whatever interpretation fits the moment’s needs.
An otherwise admirably conservative friend of ours is constantly arguing with us that language must continually evolve, a position we attribute to a lingering resentment of his poor marks in his long-ago English classes, but even he was appalled to hear about college students who can’t understand that you don’t always reach an “end” at the “end.” Language needs to keep up with the present, but it also needs to provide a connection to our civilization’s glorious past. Justice truly is the end of government, the chief end of man truly is to glorify and enjoy God forever, and if such brilliant truths are now beyond our ken the end truly is nigh.

— Bud Norman