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Ryan and the Old School of Republicanism Bow Out

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced Wednesday that he won’t be running for re-election, so for now his vituperative critics on both the left and right won’t have him to kick around anymore. These days we’re not sure where we land on the political spectrum, but from our current position here on the sidelines we’re going to mostly miss the guy.
Not so long ago when we and our readers considered us rock-ribbed conservative Republicans, Ryan was our guy. He not only talked the necessary talk about averting America’s quickly accruing national debt and eventual bankruptcy, but walked the necessary walk along the perilous path of the painful entitlement reforms and budget cuts that are required to keep America solvent without even more painful tax increases. Such sensible if unappetizing prescriptions naturally outraged the left, which produced widely-seen advertisements depicting Ryan throwing your beloved grandma off a cliff, and he politely but quite resolutely endured the slanders to stand his ground.
Such civil defiance of the Democratic left naturally endeared Ryan to the tax-cutting and budget-balancing “tea party” Republican right of the time, and thus he wound up way back in 2012 as the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket with presidential nominee Mitt Romney to reassure the party’s conservative base that Romney was all right. Romney on his own seemed a sound enough Republican to us at the time, and we still think he’d have been a far better president than incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama, but he’d somehow once been governor of the loony left state of Massachusetts, and had wound up signing into law something that looked an awful lot like the hated-by-Republicans Obamacare act that Obama had signed, and his pick of the steadfastly anti-Obamacare Ryan as a running mate and potentially heartbeat-away-from-the-resident was reassuring to the those of us on the right as it was appalling to those of you on the left.
Both Romney and Ryan wound up enduring the slings and arrows of the left with the civility and calmly convincing arguments we’d come to expect from the best of the Republican party, but they also wound up losing to the hated Obama, and since then the Grand Old Party hasn’t been quite it as it once was. It turns out that a lot of those “tea party” types we once rallied with like their Medicare and Social Security more than they hate the welfare payments that account for a far smaller share of that once-scary national debt, and by 2016 a decisive plurality of the Republican party had concluded that civility and calmly convincing arguments were no longer a match for the slanderous slings and arrows of the left.
Which wound up with putatively Republican President Donald Trump. Trump ran on promises that he wouldn’t mess with any tea partier’s Medicaid or Social Security, somehow balance the budget without any tax increases, build a “big, beautiful” wall too keep Mexicans away and somehow force the Mexicans to pay for it, and he outdid even the right-wing talk radio hosts in talking tough about all those damned Democrats and left-wingers, and he didn’t bother with any of those dull but calmly convincing arguments. Trump wound up losing the popular election by a few million votes, so he eked out enough ballots in a few states Romney narrowly lost, including Ryan’s own Wisconsin, that the former casino mogul and reality show star wound up winning the electoral vote.
Since then it’s been a different American political landscape in general and a wholly different Republican party in particular, and at the moment neither Ryan nor ourselves seem to know where we fit in all of it. Like us Ryan took a principled Republican stand against Trump early in the Republican primary process, and even after Trump had secured his party’s nomination he gallantly declined to defend Trump’s outrageous statements on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape about grabbing women by their where-evers, but since Trump’s election he’s been more conciliatory.
Aside from the occasional criticisms of Trump’s crudity, he successfully guided a Republican tax-cut bill through the House which also passed the Senate and wound up with Trump claiming all the credit when signed it. He made good on a promise to get the House of Representatives to repeal the hated Obamacare law, although a slimmer Republican majority in the Senate couldn’t do the same and Trump never got to sign it, and he dutifully endured the opprobrium that the right heaped on the GOP ‘establishment” and never questioned the new party’s religious faith in Trump’s divine deal-making abilities. The one-time champion of fiscal sobriety also spared Trump the political problems of a government shutdown by helping passage of a deficit-funded and worse-than-Obama budget busting spending bill that didn’t address any of the nation’s looming fiscal woes or those ginned-up immigration problems Trump is always railing about, and willingly accepted the slanderous slings and arrows of the right.
None of this will placate the newly-fangled right that regards Trump as the epitome of au courant conservatism, and the stubbornly old-fashioned left will still revile him as the son of a bitch who threw your beloved grandmother off the cliff, but from our view on the sidelines we take a more sympathetic view of Ryan’s career.
Our lazy asses don’t have to worry about reelection, however, as we never stood a chance of getting elected to anything in the first place, so we’ll not sit in judgment of a poor politician such as Ryan. Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee in the last presidential election, after all, and despite everything we’ll readily forgive any Republicans who went ahead and voted for Trump. It was Trump’s populist campaign that made meaningful entitlement reform impossible, so we’ll generously assume that Ryan intended to keep the government operating just long enough to confront fiscal reality, and he generously allowed Trump to take credit for the big defense spending increase, and despite the rants of the right wing talk radio hosts he did persuade a majority of the House to repeal that damned Obamacare.
None of which will squelch the left’s glee at Ryan’s departure. Even as the recent Republicans decry Ryan as a “Republican in Name only” and “establishment” “deep state” “globalist” sell-out, the current Democrats still regard him as the guy who who pushed your beloved grandmother over the cliff. The more high-brow leftists still give Ryan credit for his civility and calmly stated arguments, but that’s all the more reason that Trump-loving Republicans will regarding him as a squishy sort of beta-male.
That scant plurality of remaining Trump-loving Republicans should note, though, that Ryan is just the most prominent of an unprecedented number establishment Republicans who no longer know where they fit on the political landscape and have decided not to seek reelection. At this relatively early point in the Trump era of the Republican party several GOP House seats in suburban districts and even a Senate seat in usually reliable Alabama have flipped to the Democrats, even the Speaker of the House and erstwhile conservative hero was in danger of losing his own race, and no matter what uncivil taunts Trump might “tweet” that political landscape seems fraught for both the best and worst sorts of Republican candidate.
Ryan insists that he’s stepping down to spend more time his children, who have thus far known him as a “weekend dad,” and his more generous critics on both the left and right agree that he’s the decent sort of family man fellow who would take that into account. We’re sure it’s at least partially true, and we’ll wish him and the rest of his family well. Still, his temporary departure from the pubic stage doesn’t augur well for either the Republican Party or the rest of the political landscape, and the national debt is bigger than ever, and we expect an acrimonious outcome.

— Bud Norman

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Hillary Clinton’s Lost Weekend

The past weekend was kind to us here in Wichita, what with the Wingnuts knocking a grand slam homer in a seven-run fifth inning en route to a 13-0 blowout in an American Association playoff game against the Sioux City Explorers on a cloudless and slightly crisp evening Saturday evening over at the ballpark, and a fine sermon by the lay preacher who was filling in at the low church where we worship on Sunday morning, along with more of the recently perfect weather allowing for a long nap afterwards. We read that the weather was also quite pleasant in New York City over the weekend, yet somehow Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s already sputtering campaign seems to have seriously overheated there.
Clinton’s weekendus horribilis, to coin a Latinate phrase, began on Friday with another round of disappointing poll numbers. She’s still ahead in the supposedly definitive Real Clear Politics average, but her once-formidable lead has lately been narrowed to worrisome within-the-margin of error levels, and given that she’s mainly running against the widely reviled Republican nominee Donald J. Trump that was enough to have even The Washington Post admitting that “Democrats Worry: Why isn’t Clinton far ahead of Trump?” The obvious answer to that headlined question is that Clinton is by now as widely reviled as Trump, with at least equally good reason, and by now the even most stubbornly sanguine Democrats are starting to notice.
With her Republican opponent uncharacteristically not offering any headline material of his own for the past few days, except for all that plunder and pillage talk and the vaguely homoerotic Russophilia he was gushing in that “Commander in Chief Forum,” where she was also awful, Clinton desperately needed a weekend free of gaffes or troubling incidents. Despite the nice weather, though, it didn’t work out that way.
Clinton’s problems started Saturday evening when she engaged in some grossly general language about half of Trump’s supporters. Lest you think we’re being unkind in describing it as grossly general, what she actually said was, “You know, just to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables, right?” The crowd at a homosexual rights group’s fundraiser reportedly responded with laughter and applause, apparently not noticing the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard quality of that “generalistic” coinage nor that “deplorable” is an adjective that does not lend itself to pluralization, so Clinton elaborated about “The racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to have only 11,000 people — now have 11 million.”
The remark naturally outraged the pro-Trump media, such as they are, and even the more polite press was reminded of Mitt Romney’s disastrous “47 percent” remarks last time that they made so much of last time around. In case you’ve happily forgotten the details of the ’12 race, Republican nominee Romney was clinging to a worrisome within-the-margin-of-error lead when some electronic eavesdropper recorded his off-the-cuff and intended-to-be-off-the-record remarks to a couple of donors that the Republicans’ anti-government agenda would always have a hard time appealing to the estimated 47 percent of Americans whose receipt of government spending exceeds their tax contributions. Romney’s lead evaporated after that, never to reappear, and we can see why the analogy is troubling.
At the time our only complaint with Romney’s remark was that it was grossly general, as we could see how the military veterans and necessary civl servants and the severely handicapped and the hard-working poor among that number might resent the implication, but also thought there was an argument to be made that some smaller portion of the country does indeed have an entirely self-interested motivation for vote for an ever-expansive government. This time around intellectual honesty compels us to admit that there are indeed some very nasty characters among the Republican nominee’s supporters, and that the Republican nominee has widely “re-tweeted” some of the worst of them, and that his campaign’s “chief executive officer” previously ran a web site that he openly touted as a “platform for the alt-right,” but we retrain a right to complain about the gross generalizations. Trump has consistently polled around 40 percent, we will not concede that 20 percent of the country is sexist, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, or you name it, and even if they’re not as feminist and white-guilt-ridden and pro-homosexuality and sanguine about Islam as the average attendee at a Clinton fundraiser we can see how they resent the implication. It’s never a good idea to be so grossly general.
Lest you think we’re unkind in saying so, we’ll note that the next day Clinton told the press, “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying half — that was wrong.” Continuing in damage control mode, she added that “many of Trump’s supporters are hard-working Americans who just don’t feel the economy or our political system has been working for them.” She didn’t cite what percentage of Trump’s supporters she still believed fit her generalization, although we would have been interesting to see how it compared to our estimate, and she also promised to continue “calling out bigotry and racist rhetoric in this campaign.” Which is pretty much analogous to the response Romney had after that “47 percent” remark, but in Clinton’s case we expect the more polite organs of the press will be quicker to let the matter drop.
Unfortunately for Clinton, even the most polite press are now obliged to report on her apparent collapse and subsequent medical condition after a memorial service for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City. A couple of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras captured Clinton falling into the arms of her entourage as she started to board her black van after an early departure from the ceremony, and after a few hours of recovery at her daughter’s nearby apartment she came out to wave at the cameras looking somewhat hale and tell reporters “It’s a beautiful day in New York.” At the first the campaign blamed it on Clinton “overheating” in the reported 75 degree and 40 percent humidity weather, but later she admitted was also being treated for pneumonia. Given that Clinton’s health has already been a bubbling-below-the-surface issue for months, with even the most respectable press forced to concede her frequent coughing fits and less-than-rigorous campaign schedule, and the pro-Trump press, such as it is, speculating on everything from incontinence to Parkinson’s Disease to demonic possession, this cannot be helpful to Clinton’s candidacy.
The Trump campaign is already calling for further release of Clinton’s medical records, and the public is bound to have the same curiosity. She’s already released far more information than that hilarious doctor’s letter that Trump offered, but he seems all too hale for our tastes, given his Vladimir Putin-esque tendencies, and we doubt that many will have the same concerns about his health. Already even the most polite press are starting to look into what happens if a major party nominee is unable to campaign or hold office, and there’s a relatively reasonable friend of ours on Facebook who is already calling for a substitute, and in this crazy election such an awful weekend as Clinton has had could plausibly bring that about.
If Clinton were to decide that being a First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and First Woman Major Presidential Nominee were enough, along with the millions she’s raked in with those speaking engagements and family foundation contributions that would be shut off for at least four years, we expect that just about anyone the Democrats might come up with would immediately be so far ahead of Trump that it would allay all those Democratic worries. Anyone they might come up with would also be awful, of course, but the mere lack of name recognition would immediately ensure that he or she didn’t have anywhere near the dismal approval ratings of either Clinton or Trump. The more polite press could immediately come up with some hagiographic story, the pro-Trump press, such as it is, would be playing only to already pro-Trump voters, and the Republicans would be left regretting that Trump didn’t evince some disqualifying medical conditions like he did back in the Vietnam draft days.
Even in this crazy election year we’re hard-pressed to imagine Clinton taking one for the team, though, and we expect she’ll slog right on through this joyless campaign year no matter what sorts of tubes and transfusions are required, and we would be surprised if she pulls it off. We wish her a speedy recovery, because that’s what we’re taught to do at that low church of ours, and we’re not wishing another attack of bone spurs on Trump’s feet, because that’s also against the creed, but we will offer a prayer for some wise outcome to this election, as unlikely as that seems.

— Bud Norman

Two Down, Forty-Eight to Go

Another football season is in the books, basketball won’t begin its all-important post-seasons for a few more frigid weeks, and baseball’s spring training seems an eternity away, so at the moment the only scores a sports fan has to pore over are from the New Hampshire presidential primaries. Although it’s still early in the long political race, the results are already intriguingly different from all those pre-season predictions.
Over at the Democratic league, the senior circuit in more ways than one, the presupposed long-shot, self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was a blow-out winner over former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the once-presumptive First Woman President of the United States. Following her minuscule margin of victory in the season-opening Iowa caucus, which by now everyone knows was officiated as fishily as the 1972 Olympic basketball finals, Clinton’s long-assumed coronation suddenly seems very much in doubt. All the bettors in the party and the press who went big on her candidacy seem panicked, all the big news and entertainment media are begrudgingly obliged to acknowledge the existence of a self-described socialist called Sen. Bernie Sanders, all the kids are acting like they’re at the Ed Sullivan Show when The Beatles were playing, and all those federal agents are still snooping around her e-mail accounts and fishy family foundation donations, so the race is at least more interesting than was promised.
Next on the schedule is South Carolina, and any objective sportswriter might resort to an old cliche and say Clinton is in desperate need of a win there to salvage her season. In her last failed season Clinton lost badly in South Carolina, following a much-needed win in New Hampshire, but this time around she’s assumed to have a home field advantage. The more polite press are embarrassed to explain exactly why, but it’s implied that it’s something to do with the fact so many of state’s white people are Republicans that the Democratic party is largely comprised of black people. Last time around Clinton was running against Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive and sure enough First Black President, but this time she’s running as Obama’s personally-chosen Secretary of State and the wife of the first First Black President, and she’s running against a guy from the whitest state in the union that anyone who’s ever seen a “Seinfeld” episode will immediately recognize as not only New York but Jewish, and even we hesitate to imply how that will play with an average South Carolina Democrat, so if Clinton doesn’t win there it will probably mean that the establishment team is forced to make one of those messy early-season quarterback changes.
There was a blow-out win in the Republican contest, too, but to the discerning eye of a veteran political sports fan it was not so significant. Real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show mogul Donald J. Trump more than doubled the numbers of his nearest competitor, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is merely  one of the Congressmen who delivered the last more-or-less-balanced budgets and a twice-elected chief executive of a bellwether swing state, which should tell you something about how very different this season of Republican politics has already been. This is enough for the headline writers, and will allow Trump the end-zone dance that was so cruelly denied the showboating quarterback Cam Newton in last Sunday’s Super Bowl, but it doesn’t have the same effect on the standings. The Democrat race is already down to two teams, but the Republicans still have a crowded field of contenders, and although we wouldn’t compare it to the Masters we will analogize that there are a lot of holes left to be played. A full 66 percent of the voting went to someone other than Trump, who continues to suffer downright Clintonian levels of disapproval in the same public opinion polls that show him leading the race nationally, New Hampshire is a crazy state that goes for Pat Buchanan one year and Mitt Romney in another, and the guys who were hanging around in the round are all capable of shooting high scores.
Still, it’s a win for Trump, the end zone dance will have to be indulged, the headlines will be all that anybody reads, and those who of us who are lustily booing his professional wrestling shtick will have to get used to it for a while. The early result will likely shake out a few of the bottom-tier candidates, and their cumulatively important number of supporters will likely be distributed among the remaining candidates who are someone other than Trump, but it leaves in place all the jockeying for inside lanes that have caused all those campaign pile-ups Trump has somehow always raced past, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will still be sniping at one another and everybody will be sniping at Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who won Iowa and had a good-enough showing in New Hampshire, for some reason known only to 16 percent of New Hampshire’s Republican voters Kasich will also be sticking around and acting above the fray. All in all, a good night for Trump.
Next on the schedule is South Carolina, though, which is a different course with different ground rules and extended three-point lines or whatever sports analogy you might prefer. Like New Hampshire it is an open primary, which allows the independents and Democrats that Trump seems to be drawing to participate in the Republican election, but the white folks and the few few black folks who predominate in the party’s voting tend to be Christian and capitalist and traditionally conservative, earning it a reputation as a “firewall” against insurgent candidacies, so it could prove unfriendly for Trump. Our best guess is that he’ll get his usual sizable chunk of the electorate, but our hope is that someone will be able to garner a competitive share of the more sizable-not-for-Trump vote. Cruz would seem a possibility, but retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson might still be around to take away some much-needed evangelical votes, and with Kasich still around to steal votes from Rubio and Bush, who are for some reason known only to themselves still squabbling with one another rather than leading a full-on assault against Trump, there’s little likelihood of whatever’s left of “the establishment” playing any role in this race.
It’s still early in the season, as already noted, but so far it looks to be a memorable one.

— Bud Norman

With All Due “R-S-P-E-C-T”

We long ago lost track of Dan Quayle’s whereabouts, but we hope he’s on a golf course enjoying a cocktail and a slight chuckle of sweet vindication.
For the benefit of younger readers, we should explain that Quayle served as Vice President of the United States during the late 20th Century and was best known for having once misspelled the word “potato.” The incident occurred at a public school spelling bee, where Quayle affixed an extraneous “e” to the end of the word when reading it off an incorrect card provided by the professional educators who had organized the event, and it was endlessly replayed in the news, on late night comedy shows, and in countless conversations. Ensuing widespread ridicule, much of it coming from people who would go on to spend the internet age calling one another “loosers” on astoundingly illiterate comment boards, effectively ended Quayle’s career in public life. A few apologists for Quayle argued that it could have happened to anyone whose every public utterance is being videotaped for posterity, but they could not dissuade the public from the media’s aggressively promulgated view that Quayle was the dumbest person who ever lived.
This vaguely-remembered chapter in American history was brought to mind last Thursday when President Barack Obama, once touted by the very same media as the most brilliant person who ever lived, publicly misspelled the word “respect.” The incident occurred at a White House tribute to the great soul singer Aretha Franklin when Obama made reference to her classic hit “R-S-P-E-C-T,” leaving out the same “e” that Quayle had inadvertently added to “potato.” Lexicographers will find both errors equally objectionable, although we think Obama’s is more egregious because it not only got the title of a fine soul song wrong but left out of the mnemonic notes..
Obama’s many apologists will argue that it could have happened to anyone whose every public utterance is being videotaped for posterity, and they will have a point, but there’s no need for it. The gaffe will not be endlessly replayed on the news, the late night comics won’t heap on ridicule, the internet conversationalists will concede they don’t know how to spell the word, and the president’s critics will find more substantive examples of why the president is the dumbest person who ever lived. Like the president’s numerous other comic malapropisms, ranging from the 57 states that he’d claimed to have visited to his apology to Austria for not speaking Austrian to his morbid pronunciation of “corpsman,” and other similar non-teleprompted howlers uttered with a frequency George W. Bush himself could not keep up with, this inconsequential error will be politely overlooked.
Still, the incident is worth at least briefly noting. There’s the galling double standard regarding how such gaffes are treated when made by a Democrat such as Obama rather than a Republican such as Quayle, for one thing, and this should be more widely recognized the public. That same double standard applies to the news and entertainment media coverage of far more important matters, and the public has often fallen for similar unfair accounts of who is stupid and who brilliant.
Former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was even more effectively ridiculed to the margins of public life than was Quayle, and her public prediction that Obama’s weakness would provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade the Ukraine was offered as proof as her extraordinary stupidity. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s claim that Russia was a “geo-political foe” elicited the same sort of snickers, along with the sneering conclusion that the right was still stuck in an outdated Cold War mindset that had been oh-so-jingoistic and gauche in the first place. Contrasted with sophisticated and nuanced view that all the world’s problems had been Bush’s fault and that electing a more apologetic person of a darker hue would immediately set things right, the Republicans naturally seemed quite ridiculous to an electoral majority in the past two presidential elections.
The consequences of this deception are now clear even to such formerly reliable Obama supporters as The New Republic, which has come around to warn that Obama must “respond intellectually” to Putin’s predicted incursion into Ukraine. The magazine’s criticisms are carefully phrased, but basically it argues that Obama should stop regarding Putin as an insufficiently placated potential friend and start regarding him as a geo-political foe. A headline writer at The Boston Herald goes even further, conceding that “Romney was Right.” Meanwhile, over at The New York Times, which once reacted to Obama’s habit of saying “you and I” even when “you and me” is called for by attempting to re-write the time-honored rules of grammar on his behalf, their snarkiest columnist is even making snide reference to the “R-S-P-E-C-T” blunder to launch into the bigger blunders on the world stage. When a Democratic president’s mistakes are so catastrophic that such sympathetic media are forced to acknowledge it, something is seriously awry.
Excuses will eventually be made, of course, and in the end it will all be nothing more than an opportunity remind a forgetful public how that stupid Dan Quayle once misspelled the word “potato.” Here’s hoping that somehow things work out in the Ukraine and Iran and the islands of the Pacific and the American economy and all the other places where the American public was assured of who’s stupid and who’s brilliant, but we also hope that Palin and Quayle can share a cold cocktail on a warm golf course somewhere and share that satisfying chuckle of vindication.

— Bud Norman

The Second Time As Farce

Russia’s brazen revanchism in Ukraine has led to talk of another Cold War, and that does not bode well. After five decades of toil and trouble and the occasional close call on a nuclear catastrophe the last Cold War ended more or less to the satisfaction of the free and democratic world, but this time around the people in charge of our side have forgotten how it was done.
Worse yet, they stubbornly refused to ever learn. The current Secretary of State was wrong on every Cold War issue his entire adult life, from his slanderous testimony against his fellow servicemen during the Vietnam War to his opposition to President Reagan’s aggressive moves against the Soviet Union to his embrace of the South American Marxists who continue to impoverish and oppress that continent, yet he seems not to have noticed how history repudiated his views. Our current president was smoking dope with the Choom Gang and reading Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” when the Cold War was being brought to a successful conclusion, but time clearly hasn’t changed his simplistic understanding of those complex events. Their Democratic party backed out of the Cold War during George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972, and it remains so resentful of how it worked out that it seems intent on nominating the architect of the present apologetic Russian “re-set” diplomacy in 2016.
The people are ultimately in charge, according to a cherished theory of American government, but they also seem to have forgotten the lessons of the Cold War. Many of them are now too young to have any personal memory of the era, and what little they know of it has been gleamed from “The People’s History of the United States” that was assigned by their hippie high school teachers or the self-serving rationalizations of the tenured radicals at their state-funded universities, while those old enough to recall when the Iron Curtain first descended on the European continent are gradually dwindling in number and strength. Most of those in between are forgetful of a conflict they never had to fight, reminded only when the late movie is poking fun at the duck-and-cover fearfulness that Hollywood found so funny or praising the blacklisted communist screenwriters that it found so brave, and few care where a candidate stood in those long-ago days or even how they think of today’s foreign policy challenges.
In 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin warned that the weakness then-Sen. Barack Obama had shown in the recent Georgian debacle might provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, and of course this was offered by the press as proof of what a dim-witted yokel she was. In 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney warned that Russia was seeking to re-establish its Soviet-era empire, and Obama responded by taunting that “the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” The lame and unoriginal line got a big laugh in the press gallery and the faculty lounges and the other progressive corners of society, and it certainly didn’t hurt Obama’s re-election chances, but it should have served as a warning that the president was himself stuck in an ‘80s mindset of nuclear freezes and moral relativism and a naïve yearning for peace through weakness.
Now Obama is explaining that he doesn’t see Ukraine as a “piece on a Cold War chessboard,” and we are to be reassured that he won’t play the same dreary game that dragged on over the decades. Putin is clearly intent on playing it, however, and will not stop pushing the pieces around just because Obama declines to take his place at the board. To carry the chess analogy further the position has clearly changed, but the correct strategy and tactics of the game have not. Apologies and appeasement have always provoked aggression, cultural confidence and a strong military have always deterred it, and anyone paying attention during the Cold War has seen the proof. The administration is now vowing to “stand with the international community,” as if that might put a scare into the Russians, and threatening to revoke the country’s membership in the Group of Eight, as if Putin so yearns for those pointless meetings, and even suggesting economic sanctions, as if Russian had anything it wanted to sell except for oil and natural gas that Europe has to buy, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being intimidated by a president who is cutting the military and withdrawing from America’s global leadership role and is clearly embarrassed at the way his predecessors won the Cold War.

— Bud Norman

Fight Fiercely, Harvard

Of all the nasty names that one might hurl at a political opponent, none is quite so annoying as “anti-intellectual.” The term implies hostility to the intellectual process itself, evoking an image of rubes in John Deere ball caps pulling suspenders away from their beer bellies as they spit tobacco and rail against those pointy-headed perfessers back east, but it usually means nothing more than dissent from the consensus of elite academic opinion. Any true intellectual would concede that over the centuries the consensus of elite academic opinion has often proved catastrophically wrong, while history has just as fr equently vindicated the views of the beer-bellied and tobacco-spitting rubes, but for some reason “anti-intellectual” remains a term of opprobrium.
The point was brought to mind by a recent editorial in Harvard University’s student newspaper, The Crimson, in which the authors take two Harvard-educated Republican politicians and a social conservative news commentator to task for daring to criticize their alma mater. Attributed to “the staff,” the editorial damns the trio as apostates, class traitors, and of course “anti-intellectual.” Anyone unwilling to toe the Harvard Line for the rest of their days, the editorialists say, should matriculate elsewhere.
Although we are not regular readers of The Crimson, the editorial was so widely ridiculed in the conservative media that we could not resist taking a look at it for ourselves. Sure enough, it’s quite ridiculous. The authors ooze self-righteous condescension, lamenting that they could not have met a “young, wide-eyed Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, or Bill O’Reilly” and shown them the error of their error of their narrow-minded ways, and they adhere to the stereotype of Ivy League snootiness so faithfully that their work reads more like a parody from the Harvard Lampoon than an earnest editorial. Despite their archly ironic tone, the writers charge that conservatives are intolerant and thus not be tolerated on the Harvard campus, and they argue that anyone who independently reaches conclusions that differ from what he has been taught by his supposed betters is anti-intellectual, and they don’t seem to notice any irony there.
The editorialists are presumably undergraduates at Harvard, and perhaps should therefore be forgiven the characteristic arrogance of youth, but too many of the people who are graduated from the elite colleges and universities carry the same presumption of intellectual superiority through public life. Such hubris always brings about a downfall, just as the Greek philosophers warned, but apparently today’s Harvard students are spending their time on more modern texts such as the Marxist clap-trap that the editorialists seem to seem to cherish. There’s no reason that more sensible sorts should be cowed by the ivy-covered credentials of such snot-nosed brats, though, and if these are the intellectuals there is no shame in being against them.

— 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

Learning to Like Mitt

Mitt Romney’s greatest appeal to his supporters at the outset of his campaign, to be perfectly honest, was that he was not Barack Obama. That remains Romney’s biggest selling point, to continue with the honesty shtick, but lately we’ve noticed that his supporters seem to like him because of who he is almost as much as because of who he is not.

There are polling data to bolster this impression, but mostly it has been formed by listening to alternative media and conversations with a variety of the regular folks we routinely encounter. Our own growing regard for Romney is part of it, too, as we were as skeptical as anyone at the start of his presidential quest.

We rabid right-wing sorts were initially put off largely because of that health care bill Romney championed while governor of Massachusetts, a government-heavy that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the hated Obamacare bill, but also by the fact that he had once stooped so low as to serve as the governor of Massachusetts. Such failings would ordinarily disqualify a person from the Republican presidential nomination, but as it became clear over the course of an embarrassing primary campaign that the more consistently conservative alternatives were unlikely to survive the inevitable attack ads and media caricatures he was reluctantly chosen as standard-bearer. Not a single Republican of our acquaintance thought he was worse than the incumbent, not by a long shot, but neither was there any enthusiasm for the ticket.

Gradually, though, Romney seems to have won over his party’s base. The ivy-covered conservative media based on the east coast were on board all along, but eventually even the proudly disreputable voices of talk radio began to stop nit-picking and start praising their candidate. The hugely influential Rush Limbaugh is now an unabashed fan, and Mark Levin, the unbearably dour talker who is usually even more scathing toward anyone not 99 and 44/100ths percent pure than he is toward the actual enemies, has also lately been laying off the criticism. Numerous chats with bona fide grassroots types have revealed a similar growing approval, with our most reluctant right-wing friends now expressing a genuine admiration for Romney.

The transformation began with Romney’s bold choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, a clear signal that he understood the severity of the nation’s fiscal problems and the need for politically risky solutions, but we sense that the candidate’s forthright defense of capitalism, the Constitution, and an old-fashioned Americanism has been even more important. Most conservatives have a keen sense of a candidate’s sincerity, and Romney’s background in business makes his paeans to the free market utterly believable in a way that Obama’s recent praise of capitalism do not.

In a rather neat trick, Romney seems to have solidified his conservative support while simultaneously winning over those incomprehensible moderate types who are often thought to be scared silly by conservatism. Because the change appears to have occurred since the first debate, which drew an unusually large audience, we’ll attribute this to the dangerously uninformed getting a first-hand look at Romney and noticing that he bears little resemblance to the demonic figure portrayed in the Obama campaign’s over-the-top negative advertising. They might have also noticed that he’s a strikingly intelligent, competent type, qualities that have as much appeal to middle-of-the-roaders as to conservatives, and that he’s been remarkably pleasant even as he endures the obvious efforts of the media to suggest otherwise.

Romney obviously hasn’t endeared himself to the president’s most stubbornly loyal supporters, of course, and instead has begun to provoke the same sort of red-hot hatred that was once reserved for the likes of George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. That’s a good sign, too, though, because it suggests that Romney’s rising popularity has them scared.

— Bud Norman

Where the Buck Stops

As the tragedy that occurred in Libya on Sept. 11 becomes an ever greater embarrassment for the Obama administration, the administration’s excuses become ever more desperate.

The latest official line was trotted out in last week’s vice presidential debate when Joe Biden, in between his constant snorts, sighs, and rude interruptions, attempted to deflect the blame onto the State Department for failing to inform the president of repeated requests from the ambassador for more security and onto the House Republicans for cutting for the State Department’s security budget. Obama’s remaining supporters should hope that he comes up with something better for tonight’s debate, because neither argument is convincing.

Even as Biden was pleading Republican-imposed poverty as the reason for the fiasco, we were wondering if the money allocated for security was insufficient or merely misspent according to naïve notions about the Middle East. There were already reports that the Marines were denied ammunition to guard the Egyptian embassy, which had been attacked and trashed by an Islamist mob the same day as the murderous assault in Libya, and it seemed unlikely that the budget was so niggardly that it couldn’t afford a few bullets. Since then the story has proved even more improbable, as we’ve learned that the State Department’s security budget is twice what it was a decade ago, and that there was an extra $2 billion sitting around in the agency coffers earmarked for embassy security. In another example of the administration’s questionable priorities, we’ve also learned that there was enough money in the State Department’s budget to purchase a $108,000 charging station for one embassy’s newly purchased Chevy Volt.

Nor are we impressed with Biden’s claim that the fault lies not with the president but rather with the woman that he appointed to oversee the State Department. Although Hillary Clinton has dutifully accepted responsibility for the failure to provide the necessary security, surely Obama deserves some blame for putting her in charge. Nor does Clinton’s soldierly mea culpa change the fact that she and Obama, as well as several other administration officials, continued to peddle the story that a virtually unknown low-budget video had caused the tragedy, a bald-faced lie that resulted in the imprisonment of a filmmaker and yet another blow to the invaluable tradition of free speech.

Perhaps Obama will be so bold as the reiterate that argument advanced by campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, who has claimed that the death of an American ambassador and three of his brave countrymen in a terror attack by a group supposedly vanquished by the administration would be of no interest to anyone if not for the nitpicking of Mitt Romney. There might be something to that, but if so the country has bigger problems any presidential candidate can possibly remedy.

— Bud Norman

Taking Satire Seriously

These are hard times for the satire business, and not just because of the bad economy. The bigger problem for the modern satirist is that no parody can be so broad, so exaggerated, so obviously made-up that much of the public won’t take it seriously.

Yet another example of this phenomenon was recently provided by the many supposedly smart writers who regurgitated some obviously fabricated quotes attributed to Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. The column had Ryan responding to some pol’s claim that he would have to wash off the “stench” of his association with Mitt Romney by saying such things as “If Stench calls, take a message” and “tell Stench I’m having finger sandwiches with Peggy Noonan and will text him later.” A casual reader could be forgiven for failing to notice the satirical intent because of its lack of humor, a usual indicator of satire, but the quotes are so at odds with the usual caricature of Ryan as bland and annoying wholesome that it should have tipped off anyone the slightest bit astute.

An even more frustrating example from recent days is Mitt Romney’s infamous statement that “I can relate to black people, my ancestors once owned slaves.” Romney never said any such thing, of course, and anyone who wants to trace this bizarre rumor to its source will eventually arrive at a little-known internet publication with the telling name of “Free Wood Post,” which bills itself as “news that’s almost reliable” and offers a disclaimer that flatly states all articles are fiction and “any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental.” Even this was insufficient to prevent the quote from appearing on countless blogs, tweets, and exceptionally gullible cable news networks such as MSNBC.

Similar mistakes are too numerous to mention. Cases of people falling for similarly obvious attempts at satire in the widely-read on-line satire publication The Onion are so common that a site called “Literally Unbelievable” has been created just to chronicle them.

This problem goes back at least as far as the era of Mark Twain, who noted that “To write a burlesque so wild that its pretended facts will not be accepted in perfect good faith by somebody is very nearly an impossible thing to do,” but we suspect that it’s far more in the post-Gutenberg era of sitcoms and Saturday Night Live-derived movies. As practitioners of a drier form of wit, we’ve discovered that too many people now require a comically contorted face or outstretched palms or some other form of ample warning that a joke is coming, with a howling laugh track to accompany both the set-up and the punch line, and then have it followed by a capitalized “LOL” in order to understand that a remark is not meant to be taken literally.

We suspect the polarized state of American politics probably has something to do with, too, as people are ever more eager to believe the very worst about their ideological opponents. At the “Literally Unbelievable” site there are several examples of Republicans falling for clearly satirical exaggerations, but the Democrats who truly believe that anyone to the right of Sen. Al Franken is plotting for environmental Armageddon and the restoration of slavery seem to be most susceptible to mistaking satire for journalism.

Alas, the fabricated quotes will undoubtedly cost Romney a few votes from the humor-challenged community. Given the skittishness that the supposedly brave and transgressive wags lately have about poking fun at the president, it’s unlikely that the lost votes will be offset from imaginary quotes attributed to Obama. Which is a shame, because Obama is the one who actually said that line about his ancestors owning slaves, and we write that with a straight face.

— Bud Norman