Debating to a Desultory Draw

Two of America’s most widely reviled people had a 90-minute nationally televised argument Monday night about which one of them is the worst, and expectations are that the audience was bigger than anything since the series finale of Jerry Seinfeld’s show about nothing. Even our happily apolitical brother in Colorado called shortly beforehand to say he was skipping the evening’s National Football League contest to watch the first presidential debate, which is saying something, but we expect that the massive audience was as disappointed as we were.
The so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump were no doubt disappointed that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton didn’t keel over or drop dead or at least require an extended bathroom break during the ordeal, as all their latest health rumors had predicted, and at the end of the 90 minutes she was even able to riposte Trump’s question’s about her stamina with a plausible boast about all the miles she’d logged and the hours of congressional inquiries about her various scandals she’d survived. Clinton was feisty enough for the hour-and-a-half to get in a few digs that had Trump on the defensive, make a disarmingly apologetic answer about that ongoing e-mail scandal, spin some heartwarming yarns about her small businessman pop and her toddler granddaughter, and generally strike that middle note between presidential and shrill.
Although we doubt that any of Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters were swayed by Clinton’s performance, we expect that anyone still undecided about about which of these two widely reviled people is worst considered it the abject humiliation that Trump promised as he taunted his way through debates with a wide field of vastly more qualified Republican opponents. Clinton’s more reluctant supporters will probably concede, meanwhile, will have to concede that she also didn’t score any knock-outs.
Trump didn’t go on any racist tirades or mock anyone’s handicaps or boast about his penis size, as he did during his successful run through those vastly more qualified candidates on his way to the Republican nomination, and he even made a show of addressing his opponent as “Secretary.” He got in a few digs of his own, and even if none of them will be widely-looped soundbites today neither will be any of his already-familiar gaffes. After a half-hour or so When he finished with a boast about his superior presidential temperament it got a laugh from the studio audience, which had mostly been as quiet as instructed, but we doubt many were tuned in by that point.
Anyone paying any attention to the more substantive parts of the so-called debate were likely the most disappointed. The boring part started off with Trump asserting that since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed American manufacturing employment had declined, Clinton failing to note that American manufacturing output has also increased since then due to the technological innovations that have actually had more to do with that employment decline, and neither candidate sounding at all like the understood the economic realities of the moment. Clinton blasted the “Trumped-up trickle down economics” of her opponents tax plan, he failed to defend the Reagan economic record or make the arguments about her soak-the-rich nonsense, and it all devolved into a shouting match about how much money his rich dad had loaned him to start his much bragged-about business. Trump denied having “tweeted” that global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese, which he actually did, and although we think it is a hoax we doubt it invented by the Chinese and have to score that a desultory draw. He criticized her awful decision to topple the Libyan dictatorship of the undeniably awful yet largely defanged Moammar Gaddafi, which led to all the lies she told about the lives lost in the aftermath in Benghazi, but she rightly pointed out that he had advocated the same policy, and we have no doubt he would have told the same sort of lies about the aftermath, so we now have to score even that deplorable and disqualifying episode in her career as a draw.
Clinton actually struck our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities as far more sane than Trump when she talked about the importance of honoring America’s treaty commitments and credit obligations, and we doubt that Trump’s “America First” isolation will have any appeal to her reluctant leftist supporters. Trump seemed more reasonable on the slightly-less-old-fashioned “law and order” theme, but we doubt that his appeals to America’s minorities will prove persuasive. Both caught the other on a couple of outright falsehoods, such as Trump’s oft-repeated lie that he was against taking out Gaddafi and Clinton’s newly-minted claim that crime rates haven’t been rising in New York City, but we expect that few people will bother to look any of it up. Clinton seemed to score a point when the conversation got around to Trump’s year’s long efforts to prove that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and his recent admission that “Barack Obama was born in the United States, period,” and after Trump spent several moments trying to claim that Clinton was responsible and that he deserved credit for proving Obama’s native birth Clinton got another laugh from the generally well-behaved crowd by simply responding “Just listen to what you heard.”
The next round of polling will deliver the final score, and in this crazy year we hesitate to offer any predictions, but we’ll be so bold as to call it a draw. Our brother called us before the big event because we used to be involved in high school and collegiate debate and we wanted our insights how it might work out, but we told this wasn’t any sort of debate we were used to but rather a reality television show that both of the participants knew better than we ever wanted to know. Our scant familiarity with the format suggests that the women Trump is doing poorly with didn’t like how he kept interrupting her, based on our experiences with women, and that the men Trump is leading with didn’t like the way she kept talking, based on our experiences with men, and that this is how presidential elections are elections now decided, based on our observations of how very awful things are these days.

— Bud Norman

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

How to Pick a President

We’re not running for president this time around, for reasons we’ve previously explained, so naturally we’ve taken an avid interest in those who are vying for the job. Choosing a favorite among the candidates is starting to take up a lot of our time, as there are so darned many of them, especially on the Republican side, but as usual the internet has provided a short-cut. A friend advised us of the existence of a web site called isidewith.com, and simply by filling out a brief questionnaire we we able to learn how closely each candidate’s stands on the issues of the day aligns with our own.
Right-wing extremists that we are, we were pleased but not at all surprised to see that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and current Florida Sen. Marco Rubio scored an admirable 95 percent rate of agreement with us, and that current Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is not far behind at 94 percent. We were somewhat surprised to find an acceptable 89 percent rate of agreement with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, given our very strong disagreements on foreign policy, and very surprised to find only an 87 percent rate of agreement with our tentative choice, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a similar rate of 86 percent for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who we have no use for, a solid 80 percent for Dr. Ben Carson, who we like a lot but can’t help noticing has never held elected office, and numbers in the ’60s and ’70s for the rest of the crowded field, with of course the all the Democrats coming in last place.
We can’t help noting that Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the Republican most likely to disagree with us, and thus be wrong on one of the major issues of the day, which is a shame given that his impressive electoral victories in the most important and predictive swing states suggests he might be among the most likely of the possible general election contenders. We also couldn’t help being slightly embarrassed to find that we’re in agreement with former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a full 30 percent of them, and even in agreement with self-proclaimed socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 18 times out of a hundred, but we were relieved to see we agree with former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley only 9 percent of them of the time, which we figure makes us right about 91 percent of time. All of these numbers deserve skeptical scrutiny, of course, and a few more clicks on the web-site offered some explanations.
The web site wisely allows a choice of how important a respondent considers each issues, and weighs accordingly, and it seems that Walker lost points because the web site has concluded it cannot definitively state the candidate’s position on the issue. We’re willing to take Walker at his lately tough-on-immigration word, though, and will give him the extra credit. The web site also concluded that it cannot definitively state the candidate’s position on raising taxes on the rich to reduce student debt, but given that Walker has been a steadfast tax-cutter and the bane of Wisconsin academia we’ll also give him even a few more extra points on that issue. He’s not in favor of decriminalizing drug use, but if Hillary or one of the other Democrats don’t win that won’t be such an important issue to us. The rest of the disagreements cited are of little to bother us.
That 30 percent rate of agreement with Clinton isn’t so bad on closer inspection, either. She gained points by claiming to be a staunch ally of Israel, although her support of the Iran deal and everything about her years as Secretary of State call that into doubt, and she also agrees with us about the use of drone strikes, although she’s sort of stuck with that and we’ve never agreed with her view they should be used to the exclusion of special forces raids that capture suspects for indefinite detainment and harsh interrogation. We agree with Clinton that Wall Street executives should not charged for their role in the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, but we doubt she agrees with us that her husband and his Housing and Urban Development Secretary and all those congressmen who conspired to force the Wall Street executives to make those subprime loans should face some sort of consequences. She’s against the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal with China, as are we, but in our case it’s because we don’t trust the president’s secret negotiations and in her case it’s because she’s against free trade.
Sanders also claims to be a friend of Israeli, which we doubt, and he shares our disdain for the Common Core curriculum, but we don’t like because of its America-bashing version of history and he doesn’t like the idea of educational standards, and we’re told he’s a staunch Second Amendment guy, but that it goes back to his student radical days when the Weather Underground and Black Panthers and other armed revolutionary groups made that a left-wing imperative, and otherwise our occasional agreements are forgivable.
There’s more to the matter than how often a voter agrees with a candidate, of course. One must also consider what the contenders have previously accomplished for the public good, and what hardened character and pleasing personality was required to get it done, and just how important those areas of disagreement might be, as well as which one is most likely to keep on of those Democrats from winning. Such calculations defy precise quantification, and require careful observation over a long and testing campaign, but already they’ve eliminated Donald Trump from consideration and severely handicapped Huckabee and call some of the mid-tier candidates into question, and we’re still tentatively favoring Walker. There’s lots yet to see, though, and even when it’s all been seem we’ll need some web site or another for the final calculations.

— Bud Norman