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From Hero to Traitor, Overnight

Not so long ago, South Carolina’s Rep. Trey Gowdy was a hero to all the right-wing talk radio hosts and their listeners. He had an impeccably conservative voting record, a blunt way of speaking, and best of all he was the guy who spent years leading congressional investigations of President Barack Obama’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the deadly fiasco at an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Despite his long service to conservatism, however, Gowdy is now being pilloried by his erstwhile fans as a traitor to the cause. His traitorous crime is publicly stating that the Federal Bureau of Investigation wasn’t “spying” on President Donald Trump’s campaign, as Trump likes to put it, but rather investigating something about a hostile foreign government’s attempts to influence the election that they had good reason to believe merited investigating. Many of Gowdy’s former admirers regard the special counsel’s ongoing investigation as “witch hunt” being carried out by “deep state” conspirators intent on a silent coup of a duly elected president, as Trump almost daily “tweets,” so Gowdy’s refusal to endorse Trump’s copyrighted “Spy-Gate” conspiracy theory is clear proof that he’s in on the plot.
Some of the right-wing internet wags and maybe even some of the talk radio talkers are literate enough to say “Et Tu, Brute?,” but all the commenters and callers have expressied a more vulgar vitriol. They forget that Gowdy has at times come to Trump’s defense in the story of the day of the ongoing “Russian thing” realit showy, usually when they had a point, and remember all the times when he didn’t, usually when there was no credible defense to be made. They’re even damning Gowdy for the long and tireless investigations he led of the Benghazi affair, spitefully noting that they didn’t result in locking that hated Clinton woman up.
Meanwhile the left-wing types in the respectable media are relishing that even such a right-wacko as Gowdy agrees with their instinctive and seemingly well-founded belief that this “Spy-Gate” theory is a soon-to-be abandoned sub-plot in a “Russia thing” reality show that is heading to its inevitable conclusion. They’re giving Gowdy some “Profile in Courage” kudos for saying so, but they clearly haven’t forgiven him for that impeccably conservative voting record and blunt-spoken rhetoric all those years of hounding Obama and Clinton about that Benghazi thing.
Gowdy’s long career in public service has left him with few friends at the moment, but from the sideline seats our pre-Trumpian Republican and conservatives selves have been relegated to in the Trump era, we’re rooting for the guy. We still appreciate the impeccably conservative voting record on matters that predated Trump, and even his most blunt spoken rhetoric never cross any of th lines that are stepped over nowadays. His dogged investigation of Benghazi at long last proved conclusively to any objective observer that both Obama and Clinton had been lethally incompetent in their handling of the whole affair, from the ill-fated toppling of the Libyan dictatorship to the failure to prevent Islamist anarchy in its aftermath and the decision to send American diplomats and other citizens into the ensuing chaos and their failure to respond to numerous requests for better security, not to mention the lies they provably told in the following days.
There’s nothing criminal about public officials being incompetent, though, so we can hardly fault Gowdy for failing to lock ’em up. If incompetence we’re a criminal offense the prison population would surely swell and the wheels of government would come to a grinding halt. As old-fashioned and pre-Trump Republicans and conservatives we were never fond of that banana republic “lock ’em up” rhetoric in the first place.
Fortunately for Gowdy, he doesn’t seem to care much about what any of us might think of him. He’s one of several Republicans with impeccably conservative voting records who won’t be seeking re-election this year, and the former tough-but-fair prosecutor has told interviews that he misses a job where facts mattered, and like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and a few others with impeccably conservative voting records he admits that his failure to sign up with whatever conspiracy theory Trump comes up with makes him unelectable in a Republican primary for the moment.
Reality always prevails, though, and in the inevitable conclusion we expect that Gowdy and Flake and maybe Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and a few other factually stalwart pre-Trump Republicans will be vindicated. The Democrats won’t forgive their impeccably conservative voting records and the efew  occasions when they had to admit Trump had a point, but they’ll have to admit they’re the last Republicans standing, even if not in office, and we hold out hope they can rebuild.

— Bud Norman

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Kansas Comes Through

All in all, it was a delightful day in Kansas on Saturday. We had to be up at the ungodly early hour of 7:30 a.m., and after a long drive back from the funeral of a much-loved family member at that, but the weather was about as perfect as early March ever provides around here, and we got to boo to Donald J. Trump in person and shake the hand of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and by the end of the day the quadrennial Kansas presidential caucuses and the democratic process itself had once again proved great fun.
The festivities began at 8 a.m., which we attribute to the Kansas Republican Party’s still lingering farmer tendencies, as well as the necessity of wrapping things up before the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Wichita State University Wheatshockers played their conference tournament basketball games, and we made the miscalculation that sleeping through the time it would take to brew our requisite two cups of coffee would compensate for their stimulative effects, but we somehow safely somnambulated ourselves out of Riverside and over to the fortunately nearby Century II building downtown. Some old New Journalism instinct told us to be there early, so after we wasted some time waiting in a line that turned out to be for a Trump rally in one of the circular building’s other pie-shaped segments we we soon found our way to the entrance to the caucus’ much larger pie-shaped segment, which was shared with the local youth symphony practice going on in an adjacent pie-shaped segment, so all sorts of fresh-faced kids with cello cases and trombone-shaped luggage were in the same long line with a bunch of grizzled farmer-looking Republicans, but it turned out to be well worth the short wait to receive the yellow sticker that would allow us to cast a ballot. Kansas has all those photo identification requirements that the Democrats are always squawking about, and our Secretary of State is the nation’s most infamous advocate of these outlandish measures, but it was all computerized and quite cheerily transacted by the friendly people in the “volunteer” t-shirts, and we have been duly registered as Republicans since our long-ago eighteenth birthday, so we were quite quickly and efficiently welcomed into the comforting embrace of Kansas Republicanism at its most cornily old-fashioned best.
On our way in we encountered a very fine fellow who’s an old fraternity brother of one our actual brothers and is now chairman of the county’s Republican party, and we were quite circumspect about sharing our preferences in the race, which turned out to be the same. Then we ran into a woman who was campaigning for a candidate in a local statehouse race, and although her candidate was in a district more unfashionably west-side than our own she had an elongated and skinny off-beat beauty that reminded us of Shelley Duvall, and she rightly pointed out that at least we know some people in that unfashionably west-side district, so we stopped to chat with her as well. We also ran into the most delightful fellow who books the speakers for the local Pachyderm Club, who cajoled us into accepting another invitation to address that august meeting of downtown Wichita Republicans, and one of our old friends and favorite penny-pinching County Commissioners, who laughingly noted that we’re not in his district but are represented the only guy in town who makes him look like a squishy RINO establishment guy, which doesn’t bother us a bit. By the time we took our seats in the pie-shaped Republican segment of circular Century II in the third century of the American age, we felt quite at home.
There was a video by the mayor, who is officially non-partisan but generally understood around here to be a Republican, and then our County Commissioner friend filled some time with a Kansas political quiz, which we did well with, and the Lieutenant Governor weighed in via video, and our delightful friend from the Pachyderm Club made a pitch for his monthly meetings, and the head of the Black Republicans in town gave a rousing oration and a kid with skinny jeans and a modern architecture haircut spoke well on behalf of the local College Republicans, and there was a pitch on behalf of Republican Women by another friend of ours who’s the ex-wife of a even better friend of ours. Then some local high school Marine junior-ROTC kids right out of a Norman Rockwell painting presented the colors, our local don’t-dare-you-doubt-his-Republicanism congressman led the assembled electorate in a Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a prayer from a local pastor, and that was followed by a memorable rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The two-male, two-female quartet from a local church knocked the familiar tune out of the park and had the crowd singing along through the familiar “and the land of the free and home of the brave” ending, which brought the expected roar, but they kept singing through that second verse that is so unfamiliar no one could sing along, and it got another big roar when it ended with the same closing lines.
This was followed by a long and soporific delay due to the long lines still waiting to get past such a friendly and efficient and computerized process, filled with some mostly godawful contemporary country and western music, but we eventually got around to the good part about the candidates.
Our local don’t-dare-you-doubt-his-Republicanism congressman, whose Republicanism we do not doubt, had the burden of speaking on behalf of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who had made a touch-and-go appearance in town the day before, which did not fare well at all with the anti-establishment crowd. We’ve met our congressman on a few occasions and found him a most genial fellow, and have only the minor and admittedly arguable quibbles with his voting record, and given the easily accessible chumminess of Kansas Republican politics we must plead guilty to being part of some ill-defined “establishment,” and we’ll take Rubio over some options, but even we weren’t buying the pitch.
Speaking on behalf of the anti-establishment terror Cruz was the man himself, and as much as we hate to resort to cliches we can’t think of anything to say but that he electrified the crowd. He took all of his allowed ten minutes and at least a couple more to go point by point over the things that have infuriated the sorts of Republicans who get up at 7:30 a.m. and probably even earlier than that to be there for the extended “Star Spangled Banner” at a Republican caucus even on the best sort of March day you can expect, and there was a rhetorical flavor to it that we’ll call “evangelical,” and suffice to say that we were not the only ones on our feet at its conclusion. By our estimation at least two-thirds of the crowd were waving “Choose Cruz” signs, and sporting the same sticky slogan on their clothes and chanting his name, and at that point we didn’t need to await the exit polling.
Up next on our local hinterlands stage was none other than Donald J. Trump, the self=described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-professional-wrestling-and-realty-television-and-scam-university mogul, the man who has been unavoidable in the news for the past year or so, and he seemed rather puny. Perhaps he’d been lured to our hick town by the couple of crazy polls that showed him leading here, and the fact that Kansas’ electoral Republicanism entitles it to more delegates than similarly-sized states in more benighted regions, but by the time he hit the stage in downtown Wichita he seemed realize he was facing a hostile crowd. The boos were far louder than the cheers, and the candidate’s bluster was far less than usual. He did boast about the big crowd he’d drawn earlier, few of whom had made their way into the area where the race was going on, and he talked the usual bit about how he was going to hire the best people and do great things, but his heart didn’t seem in it, and the towering media figure looked rather small on that stage, and with hometown pride we can report that he left to more boos than cheers.
There were other candidates on the ballot, but none had bothered to schedule a speaker, so those of us who’d gotten in early were quickly able to cast our ballots and get out. While Trump was speaking we ran into a good friend from the church where we worship, and he showed us the digital pictures of himself and his lovely daughter and handsome son-in-law shaking hands with Cruz, and he told us how he got the candidate’s attention by shouting that his wife, a most delightful woman who had the good fortune to escape from Baghdad to America, had come all the way from Iraq to vote, and how Cruz had seemed genuinely humble when meeting her. As we wandered by the blocks-long line of voters who didn’t get in on all the fun we passed by Cruz, and joined the scrum of voters to shake his hand and wish him well, and we walked away feeling that no matter what awful consequences the American political process might provide at least we were part of it.
On the way back to our car, which was parked due to our early arrival in a spot that would be coveted when the rest of the Republicans and all the Democrats and the folks going to the Home and Garden Show and the youth symphony kids made downtown more crowded than usual, we passed by a couple of homeless guys who were wondering about the blocks-long line of people over on Douglas. We explained that the Kansas caucuses were going on, and added that we’d had a chance to boo Donald J. Trump in person, and one of the homeless guys insisted on giving us a fist-bump over that, which made us feel a part of an even broader American experience. After a frequently phone call-interrupted nap we headed out to Kirby’s Beer Store, a favorite ghetto dive of ours, where all our hipster friends were celebrating Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ anti-establishment victory on the also well-attended Democratic side of the race.
Cruz’ already-called victory in the Kansas Republican caucus had not at all surprised us, given the anti-establishment mood of such established Republicans as ourselves, and the fact that the same caucus which routinely chooses the most conspicuously Christian candidate is not likely to choose a thrice-married and boastfully adulterous gambling-and-strip-joint mogul who mocks the handicapped and blames his perennial tax-audit problems on his being such a strong Christian, and neither were we surprised with Sander’s victory here. The state’s minority of Democrats have all the crazy ideas associated with their party, but they’re heirs to that Prairie Populist tradition that had such crazy ideas way back in the days when the railroads and the Sears Roebuck Company were the Koch Brothers and Wal-Mart of the time, and they have an anti-establishment streak of their own that we can’t help but respect. We had a friendly beer and a nice conversation with an extravagantly homosexual friend of ours who has a knack for rational political discussion, and he shared our concern that Hillary Clinton is at least as awful as Trump on a personal integrity level and that he’s on the other side of a racial divide in his party, and despite all jibes about the “Choose Cruz” sticker on our jacket we enjoyed the beer.
The Kansas results only contributed to a split decision on the day, with Cruz winning also Maine but Trump more narrowly winning in Kentucky and with a lot of help from early voting in Louisiana. Trump still has a delegate lead, although not overwhelmingly, and the voting in all the states seems to have narrowed it down to a two-man with Cruz, whose numbers have been outperforming expectations lately while Trump’s have seemingly stalled, but the upcoming states are very different from the prairie and the outliers still hanging around the race figure to be a factor, and we don’t know what to expect from the rest of the country. Kansas came through, at least, and so did our Okie cousins, and for now the process at least affords some fun.

— Bud Norman

An Ordinary Flap in an Extraordinary Year

The Republican presidential campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz committed one of those unforced errors the other day, and it’s a doozy. A high-ranking staffer “tweeted” his outraged reaction to an erroneous report in a college newspaper that rival Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had casually disparaged the Holy Bible, the story was quickly retracted, the high-ranking staffer was quickly fired, and there was much indignation from Rubio and some inevitable snarky “tweeting” from the front-running Donald J. Trump, and at the very least it’s a whole news cycle that Cruz did not need at this moment in his beleaguered campaign.
In an ordinary election an apology and a sacrificial firing would probably suffice, and after a day or two of press flagellation that matter would be long forgotten, but this is no ordinary election for Cruz. His hard-earned tough-guy anti-establishmentarian image has made him a target of the “establishment,” or whatever remains of it, but so far he’s gone only one-for-three against the tough-guy anti-establishmentarianism of a boastful billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul who also boasts he can make the right deals with whatever’s left of the “establishment.” Despite his Baptist preacher’s son credentials he’s even losing a lot of the evangelical Christian to a thrice-married gambling mogul who mocks the handicapped and boasts about all the married women he’s bedded and really did try to have an old widow thrown out of her home, and now he’s forced to publicly apologize to Rubio, who was virtually tied with him for second place in South Carolina and is suddenly the darling of the not inconsiderable number of Republicans who are starting to think that maybe an “establishment” isn’t the worst thing that can happen to their party.
So both of Cruz’s rivals in what is shaping up as a three-way race stand to benefit, and perhaps even beyond the news cycle. Both Trump and Rubio have been relentlessly questioning Cruz’s honesty, and although their accusations have often been lies some of it is bound to stick after a while, so admitting that a campaign has even inadvertently spread a falsehood does not help. It’s not the first time, either, after another staffer passed along an erroneous report from the Cable News Network that fading rival Dr. Ben Carson was dropping out of the race just before Cruz won a crucial victory in the Iowa caucus, which the second-place Trump was happy to claim was a theft of his rightful victory, and they also sent out those awful letters telling people they’ve checked on their voting records, and there’s been enough of it unsettle some potential supporters. The incident also raises the question of why Cruz would have hired a high-ranking staffer who wasn’t suspicious of a college newspaper report claiming that such a savvy politician as Rubio, of all people, had disparaged the Holy Bible, of all things, and in front of Cruz’s Baptist preacher father and his own young son and one of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras at that.
We don’t doubt the sincerity of Cruz’s apology, and we’re sure that he had no intention of questioning another candidate’s faith, and we wish this were an ordinary election where that would suffice, but this crazy time around the apology is probably the worst of the damage done. Trump has openly questioned Cruz’s faith, and he once regaled an Iowa crowd by ridiculing Carson’s biographical story of overcoming a childhood temper through prayer and Christian faith, saying he was still “pathological” and akin to a pedophile, even though he did later wax indignant about what Cruz did to his good friend in passing along that erroneous CNN report, and he never apologizes, just as he never apologizes for disparaging women’s looks or mocking handicapped people or belittling American servicemen who suffered wartime captivity for their country or using the most vulgar language in front of the old women and young children, and this time around about one-third of the Republican electorate seems to love him for it. Not acknowledging or apologizing for an obvious mistake, apparently, is what it takes to make America great again.
Which leaves the aggrieved Rubio as perhaps the biggest beneficiary from this campaign brouhaha. He still has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do — as fellow Cuban-American Desi Arnaz used to say — about that crazy immigration deal he cooked up with those dastardly Democrats, which raises questions about his own honesty and competence, but there are honesty and competence questions about everyone. We could go on all day posing questions about it to Trump, and perhaps even longer about either of the potential Democratic nominees, but for at least a news cycle Rubio has an edge over the other guy that will meet Trump in a two-way race. We’d like to see whichever victor emerges go into that matchup without being too bloodied by the preliminaries, and hope that Trump suffers a few more slips he’s forced to not apologize for, but everybody needs to improve their game.

— Bud Norman

The 45 Percent Solution

We’ve been poring over all the recent numbers from the Republican presidential race, trying to decide if the party’s metaphorical glass is one third-empty or two-thirds full. In either case, it’s not at all where we’d hoped it would be.
There’s no longer any way of denying that the front-runner is Donald J. Trump, the billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul, which most certainly is not what we’d hoped for. After a double-digit win in the supposed anti-insurgent “firewall” state of South Carolina he’s two-for-three in actual voting, and following an even bigger win in New Hampshire and a respectable second-place in Iowa, and with similar leads in national and upcoming state polls, he’s looking formidable.
Still, we are not yet ready to abandon all hope. As formidable as Trump might seem, he’s only got 61 of the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, there are still 47 states and some territories yet to vote, and thus far Trump seems stuck at the two-thirds plurality that has provided him two seeming landslides in a seven-way race. Given that the Republican front-runner is regarded unfavorably by most Republicans, and fares even worse than Hillary Clinton among the general public, which is saying something, he’ll have to find something pretty outrageous to bolster that total in a two-or-three-way race.
Trump has already bounced former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush out of the race, which deprives him of a favorite scapegoat for that darned establishment that folks are so riled up about these days, and which deprives him of the tens of millions of dollars that Bush and his supporters were for some reason spending on attack ads against Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who wound up in a virtual tie with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in South Carolina. It’s hard to imagine anyone who preferred Bush switching his support to Trump, and if Rubio had added most of Bush’s numbers to his own, which he would have, since he’s stuck with that darned “establishment” label at this point, and if he could have picked up the votes of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who took second in New Hampshire and is still hanging in after a shellacking in South Carolina, with more to come, it would have been a win for Rubio in South Carolina. If Dr. Ben Carson had gracefully bowed out most of his votes would have likely gone to Cruz, who relishes the same iconoclastic trouble-maker reputation as Trump and makes the same pitch to evangelical Christians, many of whom for some reason or another prefer the thrice-married and proudly adulterous gambling mogul, so Cruz might have also contended in a three-way race.
The race might not winnow down to two or three by the time the delegates start piling up, which is soon, but if it does come down to Trump and Rubio and Cruz almost anything could happen. There will be some very close races in several states, with Trump’s accusations of cheating and threats of lawsuits following any narrow loss, either Rubio or Cruz could commit some disaster blunder that will derail his candidacy, although at this point we do discount the possibility that even a threatened shooting on Fifth Avenue will knock Trump below that two-third margin, and so anyone who gets very far past that two-thirds mark could win a clear plurality of the primary and caucus votes.
Anything less than 45 percent, an elusive Nielsen rating that has thus far proved beyond the grasp of even Trump, might not be enough to get to the still far-away number of 1,237 delegates. If you don’t have that you don’t win on the first ballot, and on the second ballot all the delegates are free to do whatever they want, and it’s and old-fashioned convention from way back even before our time. Trump’s mastery of “The Art of the Deal” will be sorely put to test as he deals with at least a majority of Republican delegates who are pretty much the same “establishment” that Trump has promised to tar and feather, even if they do want Cruz, who has been denounced as a “liar” and “nasty guy” by Trump, and if it comes to that it will be the first reality television show in ages that she’s been glued to.
It could wind up with Trump versus Clinton, the former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President of the United States whose reputation for honesty and integrity is as abysmal as Trump’s and who seems to have vaunted herself back into the Democratic party’s front-runner status with an inexplicable win in a convoluted and small turn-out Nevada caucus. Both the left and the right and especially that mushy middle are all so riled up about big donor fat cats and corruptible politicians and those know-it-alls who think they know how to run an entire are about to have a choice between one of those big donor fat cats and one of the corruptible politicians that he’s paid off with big bucks and public praise and an invitation to his latest wedding, both of them have plenty of red-flag career catastrophes in their past, both offer themselves as models of competence and high moral standards, and that might be the choice.
In which case, we are reminded of an old Woody Allen commencement speech bit, where he told the students: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

— Bud Norman

The Sisterhood and Its Generation Gap

According to all the public opinion polls and press reports and other political tea leaves, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will likely lose today’s New Hampshire primary to self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, of all people. At this point it’s apparently an acceptable part of the political vocabulary to say she’ll be “schlonged,” which seems as apt a description of any for what is being forecast, and that’s how the long-planned coronation has lately been going for the long-presumed First Woman President.
The elders of The Sisterhood are not at all pleased by any of this, of course, and we’re not entirely unsympathetic to their laments. We quite agreed when they objected that “schlonged” shouldn’t be an acceptable political part of the political vocabulary, although in our case it was because we thought it vulgar while their objections had something to do phallic privilege or cultural appropriation or something, and for that matter we often find ourselves in agreement with the elders of The Sisterhood about those tawdry hip-hop chanteuses with their “twerking” and “tweeting” and scantily clad activism, but that’s just the same shared fuddie-duddiness of us old folks. One would have a heart of stone not to feel some sympathy for any lady in distress at the sight of seeing her dream of a First Woman President dashed by the likes of a bumbling self-described socialist and Vermont Senator named Sanders, too, but our sympathy only goes so far as a freshly laundered handkerchief, a consolatory pat on the shoulder, and a little bit of “there, there.”
Such formerly formidable feminists as Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright are especially aghast that the younger of The Sisterhood are abandoning the long-awaited First Woman President for such a schlub as the self-described socialist Sanders. The once-famous journalist Steinem told an incredulous talk show host that young women were at Sanders rallies because “that’s where the boys are,” fondly recalling an old Connie Francis tune for us, and the First Woman Secretary of State Albright warned the little hussies that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” A writer for The Washington Post lamented that Clinton is a victim of sexism because Sanders’ schlubbiness gives a certain authenticity and that as a woman she isn’t allow to be as schlubby. Although we strive to not be sexist, some manly instinct still residing in our soul thinks this all goes a bit too far.
Steinem was still something of a household name back when she defended Bill Clinton against the sickening allegations of Paula Jones, writing that even if he did use his office to order a state trooper to summon a young and low-level government employee to a hotel room where he exposed himself and made a suggestive remark and then used his office to tarnish her reputation it was no reason he shouldn’t be president, and she some retained some credibility when she later wrote that an allegation Clarence Thomas might have made an off-color joke and an unwanted request for a date should disqualify him from the Supreme Court, but by now she won’t do Clinton’s wronged wife any good. Today’s young women have plenty of chances to “hook up” with bearded and disheveled and self-described socialist young men, who in most cases they won’t care what candidate she prefers, even if it’s a Republican, and few of them have ever heard of Steinem. Albright was a lousy Secretary of State, as was Clinton, and even such racist Republicans as ourselves much preferred the First Black Woman Secretary of State in between, and the worst of all might turn out to be John Kerry, who is the first White Male Secretary of State since John Foster Dulles or John Quincy Adams or one of those guys, so by now we figure that all of us can expect some special place in hell, and we don’t expect those young women at the Sanders rallies will pay her any mind. As for the idea that a woman can’t be schlubby and play in politics, the fine observer Ann Althouse suggested a look at any old video of Rep. Bella Abzug back in the ’70s glory days of The Sisterhood, which looks and sounds eerily like a Sanders rant.
At some point the elders of The Sisterhood are going to have cowgirl up and admit that at last part of the problem is that Hillary Clinton is awful and old and obviously incompetent and thoroughly corrupt and phony,and while sanders is also awful and old his incompetence isn’t yet proved and he’s untainted by all that Wall Street money the young folks so despise and he quite authentically is a full-blown crazy socialist as he describes himself, and he’s promising more free stuff than Clinton can and a full-blown bound-to-be-fun revolution to boot. The feminist cause has always been subordinated to the First Black This or First Hispanic That or stopping whatever war the left was griping about, and forced genital mutilation and honor killings of rape are always subordinate to multi-cultural tolerance, and there’s a young woman in Germany who sent out a selfie with hand-drawn offer to “Trade Rapists for Racist,” and every part of the whole leftist project has been in service of The Revolution that the schlubby Sanders somehow seems to be leading.
In all the excitement, and after more than seven desultory years of the First Black President, the next First This or First That no longer seems so motivating. Sanders would be the First Mostly Secular Yet Ethnically Jewish President, but he never mentions that, nor do his supporters in a party that no longer supports Israel and is often explicitly hostile toward Jews in general, nor do his Milton Friedman-loving and Republican opponents who are far more offended by his self-described socialism and lack of support for Israel, and it even goes unmentioned in the press. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas could be the First Latino President, but they only allude to their immigrant roots to inoculate themselves against charges of racism for being tough on border enforcement, and their opponents insist that their Cuban heritage and all the anti-communism that implies make them not really Latino at all, even though the Laotian and Vietnamese and Chinese and other immigrants who fled communist horror are still considered Asian, and the Czechs and Poles and Hungarians are still just white people, and everyone seems to have far better reasons for liking or disliking both senators.
We’d have no problem with a theoretical First Woman President, and on many a warm spring day we have lolled on the grass and daydreamed about a Margaret Thatcher or a Golda Meir coming our to rescue, but Clinton is one of the last one hundred or so women in this populous country that we’d choose for the honor. That’s at least one thing that we and those randy young women at the Sanders rallies seem to agree on.

— Bud Norman

An Awful Deal and Its Political Implications

Anyone who’s been paying the slightest attention to the Republican presidential nomination race has by now noticed that the party’s rank-and-file are in full tar-and-feathers revolt against its elite leadership. The big budget deal that newly-fledged House Speaker Paul Ryan has negotiated is not like to sooth things.
Although Donald Trump’s latest “tweet” is probably getting more attention, the deal is just awful by any rock-ribbed standard of Republicanism. There’s $1.1 trillion dollars of spending, which is bad enough, and it includes full funding for Planned Parenthood despite revelations of its baby-parts business, continued contributions to the Green Climate Fund that pays American penance for the country’s alleged global warming sins, no reins on the Environmental Protection Agency’s power-grabbing “clean waters” regulations over the puddle in your backyard, and money for all those “Syrian” “refugees” that the Obama administration wants to import from the most crazed areas of the Middle East. Even the big business wing of the party is betrayed by the deal, with provisions to spare some financial institutions from the burdens of the Dodd-Frank monstrosity dropped and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bossy Consumer Financial Protection Bureau still exempted from any congressional control, so it’s hard to imagine any portion of the party outside of Washington that will find it acceptable.
Part of the deal is another deal that extends about $600 billion of business tax breaks, which is fine by traditional Republican thinking but only of immediate importance to the affected businesses and their employees without any commensurate spending cuts is not likely to satisfy the rest of the part. There’s something about allowing the export of American oil and a couple of other reasonable provisions that have enraged some of the more far-left Democrats, enough for Ryan to make the strange boast that nobody is happy with the deal, but we can’t help but noticing that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid seem very eager to get it passed. Our fellow Republicans will like notice as they warm their tar and pluck their feathers, too.
This might bolster the front-running Trump, who will surely have something scathing to “tweet” about it, and it could play to his strength as a legendarily tough negotiator, which even such strident critics as ourselves cannot dispute, but it’s more complicated than that. His surging rival is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has earned a reputation as one of the few congressional Republicans willing to engage in the government shutdown brinksmanship that this deal was clearly intended to avert, and Trump has lately criticized Cruz for being a “a bit of maniac” in his opposition to similarly awful deals in the past, although he backed off that after his talk radio pals who had cheered Cruz on each time stopped gushing, so if Cruz is deft he could also easily benefit from the party’s outrage. There’s a case to be made that the current deal isn’t so awful for the party as the fall-out from another round of government shut-down brinksmanship, which would bring down such opprobrium from the press that even Trump’s “tweets” could not drown it out, and if the more-or-less “establishment” candidate Florida Sen. Marco Rubio can successfully make that case he might wind up the beneficiary. That’s a tough case to make to the typical Republican primary voter these days, however, and Rubio already has a tough case case to make regarding his past heresies on the all-important illegal immigration issue.
The deal isn’t entirely done yet, with crucial votes awaiting in Cruz’ and Rubio’s Senate, so we’re eager to see how it plays out. The deal itself should be the big story, and there should be some way of working out something better within the current political arrangement, but that doesn’t seem very likely. At this point we’re only hoping that it will help an enraged Republican party make better choices in the future, and if Ryan’s lousy deal at least makes that possible we’ll at least give him and that creepy new beard of his some scant amount of credit.

— Bud Norman

A Good Night for Royals and Republicans

Due to our principled refusal to pay for cable television, and the National Broadcasting Company’s refusal to share its cable affiliates’ content over their internet without recompense, despite their constant rants about evil capitalism and corporate greed and the rapacious one percent and all that share-the-wealth drivel, and because every bar television in town was of course showing the Kansas City Royals battling the New York Mets in the second game of the World Series instead, we missed most of Thursday’s Republican presidential debate. The press accounts describe an interesting contest, though, and apparently it was mostly fought between the ten invited candidates and the panel of CNBC moderators.
Although it is our usual style to use the full name of an institution on first reference, no matter how much more familiar the acronym might be, we’ve made an exception here because we have no idea what CNBC stands for and don’t care to look it up. We assume the NBC is National Broadcasting Company, and that the C is for Cable or Communism or the first name of some executive’s mistress. In any case, the company seems to have gotten the worst of it, at least as far as the Republican audience was concerned. Some questions were booed, and all of the inevitable pushback by the candidates played well. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz reportedly started it off with a rant about the obviously pointed nature of the questions that brought sustained applause, and then Florida Sen. Marco Rubio got off a line about the media as the “ultimate Super-Pac” and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie interrupted by the moderator’s interruptions by saying it was rude even by New Jersey standards.
The Republican National Committee chairman “tweeted’ his own indignation about the the questions, but it’s worth noting that he signed off on CNBC and its choice of moderators despite their long records of on-air anti-Republican animus, so we can only hope that he was expecting the field would prevail against the questioners and it was all part of a diabolical plot. Or perhaps he’s prepping the eventual winner for the post-season, to borrow a sports metaphor, and knows that he or she will need to be inured to such biased questioning. It does seem to have been pretty biased, too, with almost every query framed according to such liberal assumptions as the 77 cent pay rate for women or the inevitable failure of tax-cutting as an economic stimulus or the Republicans’ supposed relative tolerance for deficit spending, or clearly intended provoke fights between particular candidates. In a debate ostensibly devoted to economic issues Ben Carson was asked about his past service on the board of a corporation that provided benefits to same-sex couples, with the clear implication that he was therefore a hypocrite for opposing same-sex marriage, and his characteristically soft-spoken but stiff-spinner reaction seems to have won that round as well.
So far as we can tell from the first round of stories, though, neither Carson nor fellow front-runner Donald Trump had the expected starring roles. Most of the pundits declared Cruz and Rubio the big winners, and given their past strong performances we’re not surprised. None of the candidates who most needed a strong performance are getting any rave reviews, except perhaps Christie, who won’t be the nominee, so our guess is that Carson and Trump will remain at the top of the next polls but that Cruz and Rubio will be the ones who still stand a chance despite having previously held elective office. We expect that CNBC’s ratings won’t much improve, either, and the Royals wound up winning convincingly enough to rest the bullpen that had been worn out by the previous game’s 14-inning victory, so all in all we’ll count it a good night.

— Bud Norman

How to Trump a Record of Accomplishment

We can well understand the anti-establishment mood of the Republican electorate, given the timid resistance of the party’s congressional leadership to the past several years of the Obama administration, but when a buffoonish and oft-bankrupt billionaire is leading the pack and two governors who did outstanding jobs far away from Washington are the first to drop out it’s starting to get a bit ridiculous.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced his withdrawal from the race on Monday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry did the same last week, and its hard to see what fault even the most disgruntled Republican might find with either of them. During Perry’s long tenure as Texas’ governor the state became the economic powerhouse of the country, creating most of the jobs that the Obama administration likes to claim credit for, and he did it with the low-tax, low-spending, low-regulation policies that conservatives have long championed. Walker bravely took on the powerful public sector unions in a stronghold of the labor movement and somehow prevailed through an election and a recall and re-election despite all the money and mobs and rogue prosecutors that his enemies could throw at him. With all the talk about Republicans seeking someone who’s willing to fight, and the clamoring for results, Walker and Perry seemed well-positioned for a serious run.
Both were once wobbly on the illegal immigration issue that is now crucial to the party, but with Walker’s recent rhetoric and Perry’s decision to deploy the Texas militia to the border both seem to have found the light. Perry still suffered from an embarrassing moment during an early debate in his previous presidential campaign when he returned too early after a surgery and paused to remember some small detail of his proposals, but that hardly seems sufficient to overshadow his many years of effective public service. Walker’s plain-spoken and low-key style might not have fit the fighting spirit that the Republicans seem to be in, but surely that humble appearance was belied by his steadfastness through one of the most bare-knuckle political battles of recent years.
As recently as mid-summer Walker was considered the front-runner in the race, and the Democrats were nervous enough about that they unleashed a torrent of media criticism about everything from his alleged “Unelectable Whiteness” to his being a few hours short of a college degree after dropping out of Marquette University. Whiteness does not render a candidate unelectable among the Republican electorate, of course, and the fact that Walker long ago chose to begin his extraordinarily successful career in politics rather take another useless course in political science likely only burnished his anti-establishment credentials and made him seem Truman-esque to a typical Republican voter, so there must be some other explanation for his fall from front-runner to back-of-the-pack.
Our best guess is that it has something to do with Donald Trump’s entry in the race. Since his vainglorious announcement Trump has received more free media attention than the combined war chests of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush could ever buy, with the Democratic-friendly press eager to publicize his latest put-downs and bizarre conspiracy theories rather than Walker’s or any other Republican candidate’s record of accomplishments, and a worrisome plurality of Republicans has apparently bought into the idea that schoolyard taunts and petulant facial expressions and obnoxious boastfulness are better indications of a fighting spirit than a willingness to steadfastly defy the money and mobs and rogue prosecutors of a powerful special interest. We live in a time, alas, when a substantive record of accomplishment is less important than flash.
This is nothing new, of course. At this point in the ’08 election cycle we were rooting for Rudy Giuliani, whose track record of transforming New York City from a bankrupt and crime-ridden and otherwise socialist hell-hole into a livable city seemed to fit him for an even bigger job, but his “big state strategy” of sitting out Iowa and New Hampshire and other places where New York social values don’t hold sway left him too far behind by the time the big states started voting to stay in the race. The Republicans wound up with the war hero and “maverick” image of Arizona Sen. John McCain instead. At this point in ’12 we held out hope for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another soft-spoken but rock-ribbed conservative who had somehow done a lot of good things in the blue state of Minnesota, and we wound up with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who would have made a better president than he did a presidential candidate. This time around we’re once again looking for a second choice, and remain hopeful that there are still good choices left in the game, but it seems the preference for flash over substance is worse than ever, so we’ll have to see how it plays out.
Walker made mistakes, of course, and for the remainder of the news cycle they’ll be carefully analyzed and then forgotten. One pundit blames it all on his reliance on one of those “establishment” campaign managers, which might explain his cautious performances in the two highly-related debates against his far flashier opponents, the panel of sensible people on one of our favorite talk radio shows cite his failure to emphasize his long record of fighting the good fight, and of course he should have known the rest of the media were unlikely to pay any attention to his remarkable history. One can hope that he’ll learn from these mistakes in future elections, but any good conservative will also be hoping that his next chance is in eight years when the Republicans will be up against the long history of parties failing to win a third term in the White House.
The fact that Walker has been a remarkable governor concedes the fact he’s also been an office-holder, which somehow suddenly seems a black mark on any office-seeker in a Republican nomination race, but there’s still some hope. Former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina has greatly impressed us in the debates, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson also strikes us as far better than any of the Democrats. Should the Republican electorate decide that having held office isn’t a disqualification for any office seekers there’s also Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose obvious lack of timidity has annoyed the party’s congressional leadership enough to earn the establishment’s scorn and perhaps some exemption from the disgruntled base, and even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose heresy on immigration is troubling but whose record otherwise is exemplary. There’s even a chance that such an impressive fellow as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will get some traction, and for all his squishiness we’d settle for a proven winner such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich to go up against whatever nominee the even more crazed Democrats are likely to settle on.
Reports indicate that Walker’s departure from the race was prompted by his concerns about going into debt to support the campaign operation he was forced to organize by his momentary front-runner status, which further endears him to us, and his parting speech suggests he wants to clear the way for any of the other candidates to defeat Trump, which is even more endearing. His retreat is getting at least a day’s worth of media attention that otherwise would have paid to Trump’s latest schoolyard taunt or crazy conspiracy theory, so his short-lived candidacy has at least accomplished that.

— Bud Norman

About That Debate

Thanks to the miracle of the internet we were able to see or at least hear almost the entirety of the big Republican presidential debate, either on the Cable News Networks’ spotty web site or a local talk radio station’s somewhat more reliable feed, and we found it most entertaining. Although we’ll leave it to the pollsters to declare who won, our many years in the theater criticism business leave us unable to resist the temptation of writing a review.
Unaccustomed as we are to saying anything nice about CNN, we thought it wasn’t altogether horrible. Moderator Jake Tapper had an annoying habit of interrupting the good stuff about the Obama administration’s failures and indulging all the internecine criticism, and the first-rate conservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt, who has been called “third-rate” by Donald Trump after he flunked the host’s simple quiz about the Middle East’s leadership, only got a couple of questions in, and the time allowed to the overcrowded stage of candidates did seem wildly unequal, but at least there were no out-of-left-field questions about contraception or some other non-issues that were calculated to create a controversy intended to further some Democratic campaign theme. Most of the questions seemed fair enough, and exposed a wider range of opinions than you’ll likely find in the Democratic debates, if they ever get around to having one, and allowed the candidates to demonstrate this is a very deep and talented field that just might include a very good president.
There’s some grousing on the right that the first part of the debate was all about Donald Trump, but at this point there’s no using denying that he’s what the race thus far has been all about, so we see no reason why they shouldn’t get it over with at the beginning. Happily, we can say that Trump didn’t seem to fare well by the attention. He was asked about his habit of making unfavorable and utterly irrelevant comments about peoples’ appearances, and after hearing a disapproving comment by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, whom Trump had already stated shouldn’t be on the same stage with him due to his lower poll numbers, Trump snidely responded that “I never attacked him on his looks, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there.” This followed Paul’s golden opportunity to worry about entrusting America’s nuclear weaponry to someone whose “visceral response is to attack people’s appearance. Short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high.” More formidable candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former computer industry executive Carly Fiorina also responded to Trump’s junior high name-calling with an even more effective dignity, and we saw Trump coming off as a small, petty, obnoxious man. His fans no doubt loved it, and apparently rushed to the Drudge Report to record their cheers, but we don’t expect the upcoming polls will reflect that the rest of the post-junior high country was impressed.
Trump did well with his signature issue of illegal immigration, and of course wasn’t shy to take some well-earned credit for broadening the parameters of that debate, but we thought several of his rivals showed equal passion about the issue even as they proposed more moderate solutions. Unless the the Republicans somehow wind up with Bush or Rubio, which seems unlikely, and the self-described socialist yet tough-on-immigration Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders winds up with the Democratic nomination, which no longer seems so unlikely, the Republican will be on the popular side of the illegal immigration debate.
Not to say that she was the “winner,” a title that only more scientific polls than the one at Drudge can confer, but we must note that Fiorina is very, very good at this sort of thing. Throughout the proceedings she exhibited an impressive command of the facts and a logical response to them on a wide range of issues, offered a compelling life story of her rise from secretary in a small business to Chief Executive Officer of a leading high-tech company, a convincing account of her firing from that company and the lay-offs it made during a tech-sector downturn, and made a persuasive case that she’s a person whose intellect and character should be taken seriously. Our study of the classical art of rhetoric introduced us to the concepts of logosethos, and pathos, and Fiorina has achieved the trifecta.
She was especially good on her foreign policy, in regards to both Russia’s adventurism in Ukraine and the rest of the old Soviet Union and the even more rapidly deteriorating situation in the Middle East and the increasingly convoluted relationship between the two, and was impressively blunt and specific and  hawkish about the military spending that will be required to achieve it. We were reminded of the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and we can think of no greater compliment than that. Another high-point of the night was when CNN generously allowed her the opportunity to respond to Trump’s statement about her in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, of all people, in which he said of her, “Look at that face. Why would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that face, the face of our next president? I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posteda say bad things, but really folks, come on. Are we serious?” The question to Fiorina about it conveniently followed one that had Trump doubling-down on his criticism of a obvious misstatement Bush had made about funding women’s health care during an interview about the narrower issue of Planned Parenthood, and after Bush’s apologies and clarifications Trump sneered “I heard what you said,” so Fiorina siezedthe opportunity to note that everyone in America also heard and fully understood what Trump had said about her. After nearly a full moment of deafening applause, Trump was reduced to his previous explanation that by “face” he meant “persona,” and the apologetic addendum that he he thought she had a “lovely face.” Already Fiorina had come out with a compelling campaign advertisement about her face, boasting that it’s 61-years-old and and that she’s “proud of every year and every wrinkle,” and featuring the faces of other women that Donald Trump wouldn’t treat to shrimp cocktails but otherwise deserve the full respect of anyone aspires to the presidency of the United States, and we don’t expect the insult will reap further rewards for Fiorina. Ordinarily we wouldn’t comment on such matters, but given the latest events in the news we’ll admit that to our 56-year-old eyes the 61-year-old Fiorina and her wizened and dignified persona strike us as quite fetching, even if her happily married status and our old-fashioned standards render that entirely moot, and at the risk of sounding junior high we think that the libidinous Trump and his absurd hairdo should thank his lucky stars that he’s so famously rich.
Another Fiorina triumph came toward the end of the evening, when the moderator asked an admittedly frivolous question about which woman should take the place of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. A couple of the candidates persuasively argued that the former-slave-holding and Indian-oppressing Democratic hero President Andrew Jackson should be nudged aside from the $20 bill to make room for a woman, but all were willing to name some woman another who deserved the honor. Some suggested their wives or mother, others preferred Rosa Parks or Susan B. Anthony or various other politically correct heroines of recent decades, but the only woman on the stage felt free to say that both the $10 and $20 bills should stay the same. She dismissed the issue as mere symbolism and pandering to women as a special interest, when now constitute a majority of the electorate and have the same interest in men in sensible policies and sound leadership, and we note that the supposedly sexist audience at a Republican presidential debate gave her another prolonged applause.
The rest of the cast was pretty good, too, although only to an extent that’s not likely to change those upcoming polls. We though Bush as pretty combative, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seemed to enjoy an outsized role in the production, at which point you can insert your own fat joke, but we’ve never figured either will play any role in the race. Bush has committed to positions on illegal immigration and the Common Core curriculum that the middle-of-the-country Republican electorate will never support, no matter how sincere or well-stated his arguments might be, and being from New Jersey Christie has similar heresies to overcome. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was strong, but has the same illegal immigration problem as Bush and wasn’t nearly strong enough to overcome it. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was good, as the veteran television presence always is, and we loved his defiance of the same-sex marriage ruling and the rest of his evangelical furor as much as the next Republican, but he doesn’t seem the right guy to deal with that $18 trillion deficit and the steady growth in government, and we don’t expect his performance will move him up in the polls. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who convincingly claimed that he could deliver his bellwether state to the Republicans, also drifted too far afield from Republican orthodoxy to hope for any improvement in his standing. The other non-politician that has been polling well in this anti-politics year is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, whose low-key and soft-spoken and humble persona contrasts nicely with the garish and bombastic and braggadocios Trump, was a little too low-key and soft-spoken and humble to stand out in the debate, and had a few awkward moments explain his past opposition to fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
We’re still tentatively rooting for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, due to the three impressive electoral wins he pulled off while fighting tooth-and-nail against the combined national might of the public sector unions in a most righteous attempt to reform his long misguided state, somehow pulling off the God-given right-to-work in the process, and on the whole we thought he did all right. He didn’t command the stage nearly so much as we might have hoped, and we fear he might have even gone largely unnoticed, but at least there were no memorable gaffes. The somehow anti-establishmrny Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is another candidate we’re liking, and he also did well, but his performance likely did nothing to change his standing.
We also like the performances of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has already dropped out of the race, and whiz-kid Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who lingers so far back in the polls he was relegated to the not-ready-for-primetime debate, which we admit we did not watch, so that’s how reliable a barometer our opinions are. Still, the evening’s entertainment left us with a hopeful feeling. At some point in the debate the charming Huckabee noted that no one seeking the Republican nomination is a self-described socialist or being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for using a private e-mail server for official business, and that he would have no hesitancy to to vote any of them against the possible Democratic nominees. This is one of those rare occasions when we agree with Huckabee, although we have to admit there would be some nose-holding involved in at least one case, and again we say that we enjoyed the show.
The Democratic episodes should be entertaining, too, if they ever get around to one. At the moment that Sanders guy seems the craziest of the competitors, and therefore the most likely to win, but Clinton still has all that money, and Vice President Joe Biden could conceivably inherit President Barack Obama’s die-hard fans and simultaneously capitalize on the anti-status quo sentiment that Sanders is currently riding, but we have no idea how that might turn out. If it turns out to be Fiorina and Clinton standing next to another on a debate stage, though, we think Fiorina would romp like that Ronda Rousey in the “mixed martial arts” game taking on Beth Correia.
No votes have yet been cast, and won’t be until next year, which we like to think is still a ways off, so we won’t reach any conclusion except that it was a good show.

— Bud Norman

On Indifference and Outrage

Those high-brow fellows over at Commentary magazine recently published a fine essay on the art world’s self-inflected irrelevance, and we recommend it to all our culture vulture readers who still take an interest in such things. We’ve already fulminated a few times on these pages about pretty much the same unhappy point, though, and what most struck us was an opening anecdote that nicely illustrates an even bigger problem with what people are now indifferent to and what still offends them.
The author, who seems such a reasonable thinker that we are pleasantly surprised to note he is somehow the Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art at Williams College, recalls showing one of his classes the grainy black-and-white film documentation of a 1971 performance art piece by the late Chris Burden, which involved having a friend shoot him in the arm with .22-calibre rifle at close range. We can still recall how the alleged artwork provoked a wide range of reactions even at such a late date in modernity as 1971, but the 21st Century students who watched were mostly interested in the legal ramifications and tried hard to it put into the context that savvy art students now understand their professors expect, but were otherwise indifferent. The professor seems somewhat surprised at such a dispassionate reaction to the spectacle of a man being shot in the arm at close range by .22-calibre rifle, but we are not. As the professor notes in the rest of his essay, even by the time Burns got around to it this sort of shock-the-squares stuff had already been going in the art world since approximately the end of World War I, and that Burns had to top it by having himself famously crucified atop a Volkswagen Beetle, and that subsequent attempts at giving offense have required ever more over-the-top outrages, so by now indifference to such efforts is both the sophisticated and sensible reaction.
What strikes us as odd, and went unmentioned by the professor, is that these same 21st Century students are the ones who require “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” and protection from “micro-aggressions” and outright censorship of Ovid or Mark Twain or The Bible or that vaguely Republican commencement speaker or any other vestige of pre-World War I Western Civilization that might call into question the comforting consensus of academic opinion. Such strangely differing standards of what should be met with indifference and what should be met with offense are by no means confined to the academy, or to those corners of the world only culture vultures still take an interest in, but also define the broader public’s approach to politics.
Thus The New York Times is outraged by the four traffic tickets that Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio has received over the past 20 years, but seemingly indifferent to the four brave Americans who were killed in an American consulate in Libya that failed to receive requested security from Democratic presidential contender and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following her ill-fated war against Libya. Thus the civil rights establishment is aroused to hash-tagging “black lives matter” and rioting in the streets when a black man is killed by police in even the most justifiable circumstances, yet indifferent to the vastly greater number of black men killed by other black men, and further indifferent when that horrible number inevitably increases after the hash-tagging and rioting inevitably hamper law enforcement efforts in poor black neighborhoods. Thus it is that polite opinion holds the insane profligacy of the Greek government is not only to be tolerated but forever to be subsidized, while a corporation that prefers not to pay its minimum wage employees any more than they produce is considered outrageously greedy. Thus it is that the mass executions of homosexuals in the Islamic world is met with sincere attempts to understand context and generally with indifference, while some Baptist confectioner’s reluctance to bake a gay wedding cake is met with widespread outrage.
A couple of years after Burden’s performance art piece provoked widespread outrage the public was so shocked by executive lawlessness that President Richard Nixon was forced to resign, with the second article of impeachment being that he had dared raise the possibility of using the Internal Revenue Service to harass his political opponents, but these days the president flouts immigration law with powers that even he had previously stated he does not constitutionally possess, and the stories about how the IRS actually did harass his political enemies and then engage in a Nixonian but up-to-date cover-up continue to trickle out, yet it is met with indifference. Perhaps it’s the same process of the public becoming inured to indifference by endless repetition, but that can’t explain why there’s still plenty of outrage left for far less inconsequential matters.
We continue to read about those high-brow culture vulture issues even in this age of art’s irrelevance, and to follow all those silly academic quarrels going on within the “safe spaces” from “micro-aggressions,” even as we recognize that by now they are of far less importance than the first four dead Americans from a failed foreign policy and the overlooked black lives that are taken while the police are under indictment and the eventual global consequences of the profligacy of the Greeks and just about everyone and the horrible fate of homosexuals in the Islamic world and the injustice being done to traditionalist confectioners in the name of homosexual rights, because we think they also matter. A society that can no longer recognize the difference between art and some nihilistic nutcase inviting a friend to shoot him in the arm, or prefers the comforting consensus of contemporary academic opinion to the challenging truths of of Ovid and Mark Twain and The Bible and that vaguely Republican commencement speaker or any of the rest of pre-World War I western civilization, is unlikely to choose wisely about what should be met with indifference and what should be met with outrage.

— Bud Norman