Spinning Out of the No-Spin Zone

Fox News has fired Bill O’Reilly, and that’s fine by us, as we never did like the guy. The firing is yet another undeniable embarrassment to conservatism, but probably the best way to handle it.
O’Reilly didn’t get cancelled for the usual reason of low ratings, as he remained the most-viewed commentator on cable news, but because 20 of his most well-heeled advertisers had cancelled their buys in the wake of a sex scandal. The New York Times reported that Fox News has spent some $13 million settling numerous sexual harassment suits filed over the years, companies ranging from Mercedes-Benz to the Society for Human Resource Management decided they didn’t want to be associated with such salacious settlements, and with Fox News already reeling from the recent firing of its longtime head honcho Roger Ailes over similar high-dollar shenanigans they reached the same reluctant conclusion.
All the late night comics and mainstream news reporters and the rest of the left are having great fun with it, and there’s really no denying them their unabashed schadenfreude. Fox News is the bogeyman of the left, O’Reilly was its most demonized figure, and both do look pretty damned ridiculous at the moment. Just before the firing President Donald Trump had defended O’Reilly during a New York Times interview as a good guy who never did anything wrong, and of course he’s got his own scandals about grabbing women by the wherever to deal with, so naturally the left is also having fun with that.
All of it supports a leftist narrative that conservatism is nostalgia for the good old days when business moguls used to chase secretaries around the desk with impunity, and we have admit we find ourselves hard pressed to make the case that conservatism still stands for Judeo-Christian tradition and family values isn’t really waging that “war on women” that the left used to run on. There’s a case to be made that settling suits isn’t an admission of guilt, but no one on the right was having any of that back when President Bill Clinton was settling his lawsuits with Paula Jones and the numerous other women who quite plausibly accused him of sexual harassment, and by now anyone on either side who isn’t disgusted by all of it is a rank hypocrite.
Kudos to Fox for not being such rank hypocrites, and we hope that its many fine journalists continue to expose shenanigans on both the left and right with a renewed credibility. The network retains some hypocritical partisan hacks, such as its now most-viewed host Sean Hannity, as well as those apple-polishing sycophants on Trump’s favorite “Fox and Friends” morning show, but it also does a lot of reporting that liberals can’t righty dismiss as “Faux News” the way conservatives tend to dismiss anything unsettling to their worldview as “fake news” from “The New York Slimes” or “the Washington Compost.” On the both the left and the right, and among those news outlets that still claim to be fair and balanced, it’s important than everyone maintain a certain respect for what pretty much everyone regards as proper.
O’Reilly always struck us as a bombastic, loose with facts, self-righteous prig was so easily caricatured that the late night comic Stephen Colbert became a number-one-in-his-time-slot talk-show star by caricaturing him. He’s having great fun with the denouement of O’Reilly’s career, and it’s hard to deny him the pleasure, and by all accounts he’s a happily married and devoutly Catholic and thus-far scandal-free man, so we’ll not deny him his dance on the grave of O’Reilly’s career. We still believe in a conservatism based on Judeo-Christian tradition and family values and not chasing the secretaries around the desk, though, and hope that Fox will help us to keep from anybody dancing on its grave.

The Point of No Tax Return

President Donald Trump spent an early part of Sunday “tweeting,” as he does most mornings. He wished everyone a Happy Easter, which suited the occasion, and he boasted of a military build-up that is apparently somehow already underway, but mostly he seemed annoyed the previous day’s protests around the country demanding the release of his tax returns.
The first “tweet” once again recounted his “almost impossible” electoral college victory, then asked “Now Tax Returns are brought up again?” His second outburst suggested “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday, adding that “Election is over!” Both were composed before Trump got around to wishing the country a Happy Easter, so together they suggest the protestors at least succeeded in rankling the president.
Many of the protests were indeed small, and the election is indeed over, but Trump should nonetheless get used to it being brought up again and again. Although he did win electoral college victory Trump lost the popular, many of those who voted against him don’t have to be paid to show up somewhere and wave a sign and chant slogans about it, and Trump’s capitalized Tax Return is too tempting an issue for them to drop it. The protestors allies in Congress and many of the media don’t intend to, and Trump will need better “tweets” to counter their arguments.
Campaign issues don’t end with the campaigns, as Trump should know after the decades he continued to make the same criticisms and conspiracy theories about every president since Ronald Reagan throughout their terms, and there’s no apparent reason this one should. Although Trump is not required by law to disclose his tax returns, with or with capitalization, there are valid reasons that for the past forty years every presidential nominee has done so and solid majorities of the public have come to expect it. Those reasons are all the more valid when a president retains a global empire business that is bound to be affected by what the federal government does over the next four years, as this one does, another break from a longstanding informal agreement that there are also valid reasons for, and which is also something that Trump’s critics can be expected to keep bringing up.
Worse yet, it’s hard to concoct a convincing argument for why Trump doesn’t release his tax returns. The sorts of Trump supporters who don’t need convincing will accept the stated reason that he’s under audit, even though that doesn’t prevent him from making his returns public, and shouldn’t put him in any sort of legal jeopardy, but eventually Trump will need to persuade some more skeptical sorts. His more stubborn apologists point out the educational records and other documents that Obama declined to release, and note that Democrats didn’t seem to mind that lack of transparency, but of course those supporters very much minded, and kept bringing it up throughout and now even after his term, and so did Trump himself, who “tweeted” repeatedly about it, so they also have to explain why things are now so different. For those of us who wanted to see Obama’s grades and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and anything else we could get our hands on about any any office-holding Democrats, but also want to see Trump’s tax filings and anything else we can learn his or any other Republican politician’s potential conflicts of power, that argument is utterly unconvincing.
Although it will drift on and off the front pages, we expect the stories and and the protests will continue. All the stories about investigations underway into Russia’s role in the past campaign will make mention of it, and so will all the stories about Trump-owned businesses benefiting from some deregulation or tax shift or federal contracts that are bound to come up. There will be plenty of speculation, too, and Trump’s “tweets” and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer don’t seem likely to allay the resulting suspicions. The only way to end it is to just go ahead and release the damned things, the way Obama did with the birth certificate he was pestered about by certain people even long after his victorious election was over.
That would not only put the issue to rest and allow Trump to “tweet” about more important issues, but also quell some of that speculation about what those unseen returns might reveal about Russia or any possible conflicts of interest from that global business empire. Surely there’s nothing the least bit compromising in those documents, after all.

— Bud Norman

J’Accuse, Recuse, Repeat

Any old spy novel or ongoing news story that involves Russia inevitably becomes complicated, but the latest sequel in that long-running series became altogether labyrinthine after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself on Thursday from the rest of the inevitable unfolding plot.
As per usual in these sordid tales, pretty much even everyone is somewhat compromised. Session’s critics are making a flimsy case for perjury charges and calling for his resignation after he denied during his confirmation hearings that he’d had any contact with any Russian officials on behalf of the campaign of now-President Donald Trump and calling for his resignation, even though his only proved contacts with Russian officials during the time in question were arguably in his capacity at the time of a ranking member of Senate foreign relations committee and not on behalf of the Trump campaign. His defenders had a good old time laughing at Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill for “tweeting” that her fellow Senators on the committee never met with Russian fellows after making some dug-up “tweets” boasting of her own personal contacts with Russian officials, and of course recounting the countless episodes of equally questionable behavior during the past administration of President Barack Obama that some never raised any Democrat or many media eyebrows.
Despite all the gloating there was no denying by any of Session’s defenders that his answer to that under-oath question about his contacts with Russian officials, which had been poorly framed by a former Saturday Night Live comedian, did seem to imply he’d had no contacts at all with any Russian officials at all, and although the government’s top lawyer found plenty of wiggle room between himself and a perjury charge it looked bad enough even to some congressional Republicans that Sessions was forced to bow out of any ongoing investigations to the other alleged contacts between Trump’s campaign and various officials of the Russian government or its broader oligarchy. For an administration that prides itself on denying everything and apologizing for nothing that’s a rather loudly tacit admission that things do indeed look back, and after Trump’s firing of a campaign manager and campaign foreign policy adviser because of their financial ties to Russia, and his accepting the resignation of duly confirmed National Security Advisor because of similar contacts with Russian officials, and the ongoing leaks about Russian attempts to influence the past election, that looks even worse.
Trump’s and Sessions’ defenders have plenty to say, and much of it is well worth hearing. All those leaks are obviously coming from disgruntled Democrats left over from the gone but not forgotten Obama administration, there are legal and national security implications to that, and it’s quite fair to say to say there wasn’t such a fuss about it when Obama’s people were offering the Russians plastic reset buttons and promises of greater flexibility after the next election and having countless questionable foreign relationships, and by now no one bothers to deny that the Democrats are out to get Trump any way they can. The spectacle of Democrats regaining a Cold Warrior attitude they’d hadn’t used since the late and lamented Sen. “Scoop” Jackson and had ridiculed as recently as Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign in ’12 is pretty ridiculous, too, as is their suddenly re-found enthusiasm for that old “question authority” bumper sticker slogan.
Starting with the Bolshevik Revolution the Republican Party stood steadfast against Russian expansionism, and except for a brief lull after Pearl Harbor that ended at the Yalta Conference they kept it up right through the ’12 presidential campaign when nominee Mitt Romney was ridiculed by all the Democrats for his old fogey Cold War foreign policy, so it’s also odd to hear a Republican president talking about the Russkies with all the flattery and morally relativistic friendliness of some university-addled lefty. There’s something ridiculous, too, about the spectacle of Republicans pretending their heads wouldn’t have exploded if Obama had ever sloughed off a question about the ex-KGB dictator of Russia’s political crimes by saying “Do you think we’re so innocent?”
Trump’s defenders still have plenty to say, but at the moment they also have plenty to defend, and as of now his Attorney General has recused himself from the thankless role. It’s been leaked and not denied that the intelligence agencies are generally agreed that the Russkies meddled in the past election, there have already been two high-ranking campaign officials and a high-ranking administration official defenestrated over this Russia stuff, the tax returns and other financial disclosures that would surely prove Trump himself has no financial entanglements with any Russian oligarchs remain undisclosed, and just because the accusers are politically motivated doesn’t mean they’re wrong. We could go at length about the dubious dealings of the Obama administration, but we did so for eight long years, so we won’t be hypocrites and pretend that there’s nothing at all dubious going on here. Even the most crazed conspiracy theories people are concocting about it on the internet are at least as plausible as Trump’s claims about President George W. Bush lying the country into the Iraq War or Obama being born in Kenya or Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad being in on the Kennedy assassination, or the stories in The National Inquirer that Trump has nominated for a Pulitzer Prize or the InfoWars outfit whose respected reputation Trump has praised, and there’s enough that the more reasonable liberals can make a reasonable case for further investigation. It’s damned dubious enough to us a few other remaining old school and consistent-on-the-Russkies Republicans to warrant an independent investigation by the duly authorized authorities, but not an independent prosecutor, and the continued scrutiny of the press, but not the partisan and prosecutorial sort so many of them are inclined to in the case of Republicans.
Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the whole mess was principled, which should help him retain his widely respected reputation in conservative circles, even if doesn’t change the liberals’ opinion that he’s a unrepentant old racist reactionary with a souther accent, and we expect he’ll at keep his job and generally do well at it. Not having to answer all the questions that are about to be asked about the Russians should free up a lot of his valuable time.

— Bud Norman

From the Sideline View

The state of America and the rest of the world remains a preoccupying fascination for us, but these days we watch the news unfold with from a somewhat disinterred perspective. The team of old-fashioned Republican cold warriors and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists and stodgy traditionalists on the social issues we’ve always rooted for didn’t even the make the political playoffs in this crazy election year, so there’s the desultory feel of a World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers about all of it, and our newfound objectivity makes the worst of both remaining teams so much more glaring.
All through the long years of President Barack Obama we groused about his groveling appeasement of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and all through a crazy election year we indignantly noted that his would-be successor and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State started it off with that stupid “reset” button, and like all good Republicans we excoriated them durned Democrats for their Russkie-friendly ways. Now the putatively Republican president-elect has a mutual admiration society going with Putin and is appointing all sorts of Russophile wheelers and dealers who have also already wheeled and dealt some some officially friendly arrangements with the Russkies, suddenly those formerly apologetic Democrats who once laughed at Obama’s line about how “the ’80s are calling and they want their foreign policy” back are now demanding a more Reaganesque response towards that bear in the woods, and we note that pretty much everyone is accusing pretty much everyone else of being a partisan hypocrite who suddenly switched sides. Pretty much of all of them are right about all of that, of course, even if we do stand unsullied on stands, but from this viewpoint they all seem wrong about the rest of it.
There does look to be a whole lot of de-regulatin’ coming, perhaps even on a bigger-than-Reagan scale, and our old-fashioned Republican souls will begrudgingly enjoy that, along with the inevitable squealing from those durned Democrats, but we also anticipate a lot more of the kooky economic interventions that president-elect Donald Trump has already imposed on free markets. Trump’s admittedly different version of command controlled and outright protectionist economic policies have already aroused the indignation of the very same Democrats who spent the Obama years praising the same industrial policies we were continually grousing about, and we suppose we should welcome their company, but we don’t quite trust them. Much of the putatively Republican press we used to have some trust in are now suddenly enthused about about the government picking winners and losers and marketplace of ideas and products, such stalwart holdouts of of Burkean skepticism as The National Review and The Weekly Standard and The Central Standard Times are awaiting vindication before getting back in the game, and for now everyone looks faintly ridiculous.
We’ll continue to place our faith in God, but for now even His role in all this might be seem marginalized. The Republican party of family values finally vanquished that awful wife of that libertine ex-president, but it did so with a thrice-married-to-a-nudie-model casino-and-strip-club mogul who has bragged in print about all the married babes he’s bagged, and many of the Democrats who once defended Clinton’s behavior are now aghast Trump’s, and many of the Republicans who were once aghast by Clinton’s behavior are reaching into the Old Testament to exalt Trump. We count it a loss for the religious right, even though many of its putative leaders enthusiastically backed Trump, and despite their sudden prudishness we can’t see the secular left restoring any righteousness to the world.
All that bother about sex and abortion and the guy wanting to get into the women’s locker room and safe spaces from offending opinions and all the rest of those modern world things that keep popping up will surely continue for the next four years, no matter what the Illuminati have cooked up, and we expect that all sorts of people will wind up on all different sides of it, but for now we’ll try to keep warm and maintain a fair perspective from the sidelines.

— Bud Norman

The Election Year of Anything Goes

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking,” the great Cole Porter once tunefully observed, memorably adding “But now, God knows, anything goes.” That was way back in 1933, so we shudder to think what the oh-so-sophisticated songwriter of that scandalous era would be thinking if he had stuck around for 2016. The latest rap and rock and pop cacophony would have surely appalled him, the rest of the popular culture would no doubt also dismay the sensibilities of the fellow who lamented that “Good authors, too, who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose,” and even such a classy and contentedly closeted homosexual of that bygone era as Porter would probably be confounded by all this current public enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms.
What he’d make of this crazy election year, well, God only knows.
This crazy election year has gone far beyond a glimpse of stocking to include stark naked pictures of a major party nominee’s third wife exposed on the cover of a New York tabloid, and more widely disseminated across that newfangled internet thingamajig without those minuscule but pesky stars over the naughtiest bits that even New York tabloids still feel obliged to use, along with some suggestively sapphic poses with an anonymous naked woman or two that easily meet the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s definition of pornography as “I know it when I see it.” That same major party nominee used to run a strip joint before it went bankrupt, has boasted in print about the many married women he’s bedded, once offered assurances about his sufficient penis size during a presidential debate, often cusses in front of the kids, seems to share the unaccountable current popular enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms, and for crying out loud he’s the Republican nominee.
Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee is the wife of former President Bill Clinton, the predatory serial philanderer best remembered after two terms and nearly 16 years of historical reflection as the punchline to countless late night comedy show fellatio jokes, and for crying out loud she’s running as the long awaited culmination of the feminist revolution. The long-presumed and still potential First Woman President is as always committed to the pro-abortion stand that her Republican opponent took right up until he decided to run as Republican and rather clumsily tried to be anti-abortion, and a lot of the older feminists are still grateful that she protected her pro-abortion woman against the women who spoke frankly about his predatory serial philandering, and a lot of the younger feminists find the Republican just as icky, so she might well get away with it. She’s not about to be outflanked for the creepy guy in the women’s restroom vote even if the Republican nominee is offering them concealed carry, she’ll always enjoy the advantage of that double standard that regards scorned women as admirable victims and betrayed men as laughable cuckolds, and even the current Republican nominee with the naked model third wife and newfound anti-abortion zealotry is unlikely to overcome the party’s cornball reputation for old-fashioned family values.
What’s most striking to us, and would surely get the attention of a resurrected Cole Porter or any other previous American, is that none of this seems to matter. The only interest that the more respectable press took in those naked pictures had to do with the fact that they were apparently taken in in America in 1995, and that the potential first lady’s first work permit was issued in 1996, raising doubts about her future husband’s stand against illegal immigrants taking jobs from natives. Some of the feminist sisterhood even came to her defense, the right to pose naked and especially to do the sapphic sorts of shots being the most up-to-date version of the cause that even the aging Democratic nominee didn’t want to argue with, and no one except such fuddy-duddies as ourselves would wants to be on record saying that there’s something somehow unsettling about naked pictures of one major party’s nominee’s third wife and his opponent being in no position to say anything about it. We grew up long after Cole Porter’s heyday but still in a time when the happily married Rob and Laura Petrie were sleeping in separate beds on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and when Lyndon Baines Johnson was holding bathroom press conferences and Richard Milhouse Nixon was creating the familiar phrase of “expletive deleted” but never doing it in front of the kids, and both the cutting-edge feminists and the retrograde family values types had an unease with the sort of objectification of women that recently appeared on the front page of that Republican-nominee-endorsing New York tabloid. Call us old-fashioned, but in this crazy election year we feel a certain nostalgia for the hopeful hypocrisy of those long-lost days.
We rarely find ourselves in sympathy with The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, but we rather liked his recent essay about how this crazy election will in one way or another be the culmination of the sexual revolution that coincided with the feminist revolution during those lamentable ’60s. He astutely likens Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s braggadocios sexism with the Brat Pack and Hugh Hefner and of course Democratic icon John F. Kennedy and the rest of the alpha males of the “Mad Men” era of early ’60s sexual liberation, and Clinton with the adversarial if equally libidinous feminism that reacted in the latter part of the decade. Regardless of the outcome of the next election one of the two will be ratified, Douthat suggests, and while we doubt we’re in complete agreement about which would be best he seems to share our concern that neither is at all satisfactory. For that matter, we can’t imagine that any self-respecting feminist or intellectually honest family-value types sees any hope in this crazy election year.
There are more important issues than such long-lost causes, we suppose, such as the ever-harder-to-dispute fact that the Democratic nominee was running an utterly corrupt influence-peddling “family foundation” while in public and that the Republican nominee who openly brags about buying influence was one of the donors during his exclusively private sector career, and that a certain level of personal and financial and political sleaziness is now assumed by both sides and it’s all a matter of deciding which is more objectionable. We can’t help thinking that the lowered cultural standards have something to do with the lowered political standards, and that the range of acceptable debate has shrunk even as the rules about how views can be expressed have expanded, and that Cole Porter and his better generation of contemporaries would be startled what happens when anything truly goes.

— Bud Norman

The Perfect Scandal

Dennis Hastert was such a forgettable Speaker of the House that we had completely forgotten about him, but we have lately been reminded of his existence by all the gleeful news reports about his indictment by a federal grand jury. He’s charged with lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about a series of relatively small bank withdrawals, which is not particularly scandalous by Washington standards and raises the question of why the government is empowered to ask people nosy questions about relatively small bank withdrawals in the first place, but the inevitable unlawful leaks about the case have claimed the withdrawals were used to hush a sexual relationship with a young male who had been a student of Hastert’s during his days as a high school teacher and wrestling coach, which explains all the gleefulness of the press.
Hastert is a Republican, and a self-proclaimed “traditional family values” Republican with his name on a building at a Christian college at that, so the irony is far too delicious for the press to resist. The hypocrisy of Democrats who rail against income inequality while enriching themselves through government service to the one percentile, or decry the Republican “war on women” while rallying around the enabling wife of a serial sexual harasser, is more easily ignored when there’s a story like this afoot. There are still scores to be settled from the impeachment charges that were filed during Hastert’s speakership against President Bill Clinton after he lied under oath about his heterosexual sex scandals, too, and with Hastert having acquired the job after two Republican predecessors were found to have cheated on their wives there’s yet more ammunition for the old argument that there’s no longer any sense in expecting our leaders to hew to a higher standard of sexual conduct and that we should all just go ahead and do it in the road. Given the facts as they have been established thus far, and their usefulness for a variety of Democratic narratives, we expect the Hastert story should push the Islamic State, Hillary Clinton’s slush fund foundation, the recently shrinking economy, and everything else of greater public importance off the front pages for weeks to come.
Still, there’s no denying it does seem a very tawdry affair. Aside from the decades-old but still-sickening allegations of sexual exploitation of a student, which are bad enough, there’s also the matter of how a former high school teacher turned public servant had enough money on hand to pay the $1.7 million in blackmail that Hastert is alleged to have paid. Much of Hastert’s wealth is said to have come from real estate deals, including properties whose value was increased by laws passed during his speakership, and the rest has come from a lucrative lobbying career commenced shortly after he left Congress. Even those questions about why the government is empowered to ask people nosy questions about relatively small bank withdrawals are answered by the Patriot Act that Hastert helped to enact. If the facts as they have been established thus far prove true, Hastert will richly deserve the ignominy that is currently being heaped on him.
Nor is there much that even a die-hard Republican can muster in his defense. We were surprised to re-learn that Hastert was the longest-serving Speaker of the House in history, but one can liken that to the record-setting yet forgettable reign of Larry Holmes as world heavyweight champion, who remains overshadowed by his flamboyant predecessor Muhammad Ali and memorably thuggish successor Mike Tyson, just as Hastert is less well-remembered than his pugnacious and effective predecessor Newt Gingrich and his “first woman” and downright awful successor Nancy Pelosi. Chosen for his dull personality and happy talk of bipartisanship and presumably scandal-free past, Hastert spent his time in power going along with Clinton and then helping George W. Bush push through that Medicare drug plan and the rest of his big government heresies, and was otherwise so good at avoiding controversy that even such news junkies as ourselves had completely forgotten him.
One might note that a recent rash of underplayed stories about sexual exploitation of students by teachers mostly involve women educators in public schools, and that by up-to-date standards an emphasis on cases such as Hastert’s alleged behavior should be considered heteronormative, and that tawdry tales of lucrative careers in public service are quite bipartisan, with the presumptive Democratic nominee being a prime example, and that Republican presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul is currently being pilloried in the press for opposing repeal of the Patriot Act in defiance of a Democratic president who now likes all of the governmental powers it endows, and that the Patriot Act was intended to target terrorists rather people with other reasons for making relatively small bank withdrawals, and that the presumptive Democratic nominee’s husband has been a frequent flyer on the private jet of a known pedophile,  and that everyone isn’t cheating on a spouse and higher standards of conduct should still be expected from public officials regardless of their party affiliation, but it will be of no use. Unless new exculpatory facts unexpectedly emerge, Hastert has handed the Democrats’ media allies an extraordinary gift, and Republicans can only hope that readers will notice the other sickening facts that somehow make it onto the inside pages of your local newspaper.

— Bud Norman

The End of Satire

The art of satire, according our well-considered literary theory, should be rendered with a certain subtlety. A burlesque too broad is bound to be vulgar, and it also robs the more sophisticated reader of that smug self-satisfaction that comes with recognizing an inconspicuous joke. Alas, The Daily Mail’s account of President Barack Obama’s remarks before and during a recent high-dollar fund-raiser falls well short of this high standard.
The article is presented as straightforward journalism, in keeping with the Fleet Street mainstay’s usual offerings, but despite the paper’s impeccable reputation for accuracy it seems the work of a rather ham-fisted satirist. It claims that Obama sent one of those poverty-pleading e-mails soliciting donations from the basement-dwelling Democratic hoi polloi, in which he lambasted the Republican opposition as the party of the fabulously wealthy, then flew to Connecticut to headline a $32,400-dollar-per-ticket fund-raiser in the Greenwich home of a real estate mogul named Rich Richman. This is irony cut with a chain saw, rather than the requisite scalpel, and had we been the editors we would have insisted in the interest of verisimilitude on something slightly less gaudy.
Take the small detail of that mogul host’s improbable name, for instance. We’ve dabbled in fiction enough to know the exhilirating sense of omnipotence that comes with naming our creations, and have always looked to the hilariously overstated nomenclature of the great Evelyn Waugh as our model, but calling the rich, rich man “Rich RIchman” is a bit lazy and self-indulgent to our tastes. Not since Arthur Miller named the lowly protagonist of “Death of a Salesman” Willy Loman has a name been so uncomfortably pregnant with ponderous significance. At the very least, we would have insisted it be transliterated into French or some other obscure language. Other reports joshingly indicate that the president’s middle name is “Hussein,” however, so  we commend the authors for omitting that rather over-the-top invention.
A wryer sort of satire can be found at The Weekly Standard, which quotes the president at length during another pricey fund-raiser, this one at a swank Manhattan restaurant. According the this account, the president acknowledged to his well-heeled supporters in the fight against income inequality that “there’s a sense possibly that the world is spinning so fast and nobody is able to control it,” then reassured them by citing his recent successes against the Islamic State terror gang, which continues its territorial gains in a key swath of the Middle East, rallying the North Atlantic Treaty Organization against the Russians, who currently control much of what used to be Ukraine, and mobilizing the entire “world community” against the carbon emissions causing global warming, which hasn’t been happening for the past 18 years. This is all quite droll, especially the implied suggestion that people would really pay $32,400 to hear such apparent balderdash, which should be especially satisfying to the class-envying sorts or who worry about income inequality, and we appreciate the painstaking effort to make it sound like something the president might have actually said.
There’s a disconcerting possibility, though, that both stories by these usually reliable publications are actually true. If so, we fear that the ancient art of satire might be rendered obsolete.

— Bud Norman

When Book Tours Go Wrong

How nice to see Hillary Clinton on the defensive about her family’s considerable fortune. We’re not the types to begrudge anyone their honestly-earned wealth, no matter how considerable, but Clinton always has been and it’s only fair that she subjected to the politics of envy.
Clinton’s class conscious controversy began during an interview with the American Broadcasting Company’s Diane Sawyer, of all people, who unaccountably asked about the five-times-the-median-American-income fees that she commands for an hour or so of speaking to her fellow rich people. One can easily understand how the poor woman might not have expected such an impertinent question coming from a television network other than Fox News, but Clinton’s response was surprisingly clumsy given reputation as a seasoned political player. The former big time law firm partner, First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State pleaded poverty, explaining that she and her even better-paid husband left the White “dead broke” because of legal debts and “we struggled to, you know, piece together the mortgages for houses…” She also mentioned that “we had to make double the money because of obviously taxes,” and defended her high-priced oratory as “a much better thing than getting connected with any one group or company as so many people who leave public life do.”
That conspicuous plural in the houses that the Clintons struggled to buy drew most of the derisive comments, especially when photographs of the rather opulent domiciles started to circulate, but every aspect of her hard-scrabble story merits ridicule. The legal bills that the couple faced were a result of her husband’s serial sexual infidelities and other improprieties that left him without a law license, and were largely paid off by the grateful beneficiaries of his economic policies. Taxes were no doubt severe on a couple that relied on income from speeches to groups hoping to gain their political favors, but her longstanding soak-the-rich stances make it hard to render the requisite sympathy. “Getting connected with any one group or company” sounds very much like getting a real job, and we can well understand why Clinton wouldn’t want to stoop to that, but it does lack the populist touch she probably would have preferred. As far as pulling-one’s-self-up-from-the-bootstraps stories go, Clinton’s account of her grueling work on the lecture circuit isn’t quite up to Horatio Alger standards.
Any stereotypically hard-hearted Republican could have responded to the question by daring Diane Sawyer or any other red-blooded American to lie that they would down 200 grand for an hour’s worth of high-minded hogwash, a riposte most people would find both refreshingly honest and quite understandable, and perhaps even commendable, but Clinton cannot avail herself of such common sense. She came into public view with an angry denunciation of Reagan’s “Decade of Greed,” notwithstanding the fact she’d spent the ’80s making a suspicious fortune in the commodities market and otherwise enriching herself through her husband’s political connections, and she is now seeking the nomination of a party that is lately obsessed with the issue of income inequality and a Jacobin hatred for the dread one percent. Her party spent the last presidential election successfully demonizing a Republican for having acquired a fortune estimated at $250 million by saving companies and their many thousands of employees from bankruptcy, so it is a tricky matter heading into the next presidential election that the Democrats’ presumptive standard bearer and her family has a fortunate estimated at $200 million by giving speeches to rich folks and writing unreadable books and taking purely perfunctory seats on the board of directors of gigantic corporations that are up to God knows what sort of corporate evil.

Such galling hypocrisy is usually overlooked by the American public, as it doesn’t involve sex, so Clinton probably expected to get away with it. Pity the poor Republican who espouses family values before being caught with his finger’s in some young woman’s cookie jar, as he will be pilloried by his own party and the public at large, but Democrats can fly private in a carbon-emitting corporate jet on the way to a global warming conference or fly back on Air Force from a five-star vacation to decry the greedy rich, and she could reasonably expect the same deference That the press has lately been so bad must be jarring to Clinton.
The interview with Sawyer was tied to the recent publication of her latest book, hilariously titled “Hard Choices,” and it contained other pitfalls. The longtime Clinton water-bearers at The Washington Post declared that “Sawyer Destroys Hillary Clinton on Benghazi,” a scandal that should have destroyed her nearly two years ago, and others noted how she struggled to name any accomplishments from her four-year run as Secretary of State. The reviews of the already-discounted book have been brutal, too, and Clinton is no doubt reeling from the unaccustomed bad press. Once upon a time her husband could have State Troopers summon low-wage state employees to a hotel room where he would expose himself and hiss “kiss it” and even Gloria Steinem would rush to his defense, so unless it’s all a vast left-wing conspiracy on behalf of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential aspirations it must seem downright sexist.
Over at the tonier they’ve already decided that any conservatives heaping ridicule on Clinton’s good financial luck are the hypocrites, but we feel blameless in our chuckles. We’re not the types to begrudge anyone their good fortune, but we happy those who are called on their own hypocrisy.

— Bud Norman

How to Qualify for a Cabinet Post

There are no doubt many fine people in the Cayman Islands, and we hear it’s a pretty place with a pleasant climate, but the only reason this tiny British territory ever seems to appear in the news is its rich folk-friendly banking system. The now infamous tax haven showed up yet again in reports about the confirmation hearings for Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew, who once parked a portion of his sizeable fortune there, and even the Washington Post could not resist quoting Sen. Charles Grassley’s astute observation that “the irony is thick.”
We have no objections to anyone availing himself of the legal advantages of the Cayman Islands’ financial rules, and would be reluctant to entrust the Treasury to anyone who isn’t savvy enough to do so, but the hypocrisy of Lew’s nomination is galling nonetheless. He’s being appointed by a president who has long railed offshore tax shelters, singling out the very Ugland House institution Lew used as “the largest building in the world or the largest tax scam in the world,” and who pilloried his Republican opponent in the past election for once holding a Cayman Islands account. Obama is clearly eager to keep American money in America, where the government can more easily help itself to an ever-increasing share, but he seems to have a more cosmopolitan attitude about the money of well-connected Democrats.
Asked by the Post to explain such a blatant double standard, White House spokesman Eric Schultz strained to say that “Jack Lew paid all of his taxes and reported all of the income, gains and losses from the investment on his tax returns. He played no role in creating, managing or operating the fund, and he sold his investment in 2010 at a net loss.” The first part of this apologia could just as easily have been said about the much-maligned Mitt Romney, who also paid all of his taxes and fully reported all the relevant details of his Cayman Islands dealings, so we assume it is only the second part that actually absolves Lew of his financial sins. It is entirely consistent with the economic philosophy of the Obama administration that having no role in a business and winding up with a financial loss is considered an essential qualification for a post such as Secretary of the Treasury.

— Bud Norman

The Power of Life and Death

Throughout the Bush years we were subjected to constant warnings about an impending totalitarian dictatorship. The Patriot Act, the indefinite detentions taking place at the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, and the drone strikes against terrorists were all cited as evidence of a presidency that had dangerously exceeded its constitutional limits and posed a threat to the civil liberties of every American.
For some reason or another all of these fears seem to have been allayed during the Obama years. The Patriot Act was renewed by congress and re-signed by Obama, but with little comment from the previously offended left. The president’s self-righteously proclaimed promise to close Guantanamo Bay has been more or less officially abandoned, with the detention of its prisoners as indefinite as every, but without any noticeable protest. The drone strikes have continued with even greater frequency and ferocity, again with a deafening quiet from the erstwhile critics, and now there is more silence about the remarkable revelation that the current administration claims a legal right to kill any American it suspects of terrorist activity without so much as an indictment.
While it must be conceded that the story broke at NBC News, which is ordinarily as obeisant to Obama as any of the media, the president’s claim to absolute power of life and death over American citizens hasn’t generated the same outraged coverage that was given to far more constrained policies just an administration ago. Thus far we have not heard anyone on the left attempt a defense of the policy, except for White House spokesman Jay Carney, who has a professional obligation to describe it as “legal,” “ethical,” and “wise,” but with few exceptions we have not heard any denunciations.
As with Obama’s expansive use of executive orders, “czars” appointed without Senate approval, and as his more-than-regal lifestyle, the left seems quite comfortable with him assuming powers that they would never entrust to a Republican president. Although we would object to such policies in any case we would actually trust a Republican more, not because a member of that party is any less likely to be corrupted by absolute power, but because the power of the press and public opinion would restrain him even if the Constitution did not.

— Bud Norman