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On the Half-a-Centenary of the Breakdown of America’s Two-Party System

By now we’re well aware that Tempus does indeed fugit, as those wise old Romans used to say, but it was still jarring to be reminded on Tuesday that the memorable events of the 1968 Democratic National Committee happened in Chicago just a short half-century ago. The after effects of that event still showed-up in Tuesday’s round of mid-term primaries, as in earlier primaries even here in good old Kansas, and for now we worry that time doesn’t really change things much.
Then as now most big American cities were dominated by efficient if corrupt Democratic political machines, but back then Chicago was run by the non-nonsense boss Mayor Richard Daley, whose rough and ready and every-loyal police department laid a serious nationally-televised beating on those hippies and yippies and civil rights types. The civil rights hero and unrepentant Cold Warrior Humphrey wound up winning the nomination, but in the aftermath of the televised rioting no Democrat stood a chance back in ’68. The Republican nominee was former Vice President and Sen. Richard Nixon, who was more hawkish on Vietnam and more ambivalent on civil yet rights, yet whose nomination didn’t create such a ruckus at his later nominating convention in Miami, Florida,and with help from a former Democrat’s blatantly racist racist and nuke em’ all’s third candidacy Nixon wound up losing by a landslide plurality.
By ’72 the Democrats were taken over by the hippies and yippies and they wound up nominating Sen. George McGovern, who was a bona fide World War II hero but also far-left-of-center at the time, and he wound u0 losing in an historic popular and electoral landslide despite the early and retrospectively obvious intimations that Nixon would resign in disgrace just a few years later.These days, after so many years, seem to offer no better alternatives.
In some states and congressional districts and county commission zones the Democrats are offering up reasonable enough candidates, but they’re going far left in the Bronx and Queens district of New York City and in Tuesday’s Florida gubernatorial primary and elsewhere, and even in Kansas’ third district. They’re running some people running crazy left people we could never vote for. Meanwhile our Republican Party seems enthralled of our current President Donald Trump, whose presidency we fully expect and ardently hope will soon come to the same inglorious end as Nixon’s, and for now it’s hard to decide who we’ll vote for. Even after 50 years, we’re still not sure which desultory choices we would choose.

— Bud Norman

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Last Friday’s Awful Spending Bill

Here at the Central Standard Times we write our Friday posts on Thursday and then take a couple days off from the news, but since then the Republican majorities in the House and Senate passed a $400 billion spending bill that suspended the national debt limit for two whole years and Republican President Donald Trump quickly signed it. Being the grumpy old-fashioned Republican sorts that we are, we spent much of the weekend grousing about it.
The deal includes a couple of hundred billion bucks to bolster America’s military, and while we’re generally in favor of that we have our worries about what the failed casino mogul who is currently Commander in Chief might do with it. The other couple of hundred billion bucks goes to various and usually counterproductive Democratic bleeding-heart programs, and although we’re generally opposed to such nonsense we’ll hold out hope it at least temporarily placates them. The deal at least keeps the government running for another couple of years, which our old-fashioned Republicans sensibilities suppose has some benefit, and it puts off that messy illegal immigration for another few days, which gives us a few days off from worry about that, but it does so with an enormous swelling of the federal deficit, which we cannot abide without becoming craven hypocrites.
The big Republican tax-cut bill that was all the big news a few news cycles ago might yet bolster economic growth enough to result in a net increase in tax revenues — and that corporate tax cut seems especially promising — but in the meantime it’s going to add a few hundred billion of decreased revenues to the added $400 billion in spending and result in one of those trillion dollar deficits last seen in the darkest days of the early administration of President Barack Obama. Those eye-popping digits inspired the Tea Party revolt in the Republican party, which wound up wresting control of the House and then the Senate and ultimately resorting the fiscal sanity of the mere half-trillion dollar deficits of the President George W. Bush year, but since then the party has changed.
Trump ran on on extravagant promises that with his managerial genius he could wipe out America’s $20 national debt within eight years, and offered his own several successful business bankruptcies as proof, but he also promised not to touch the entitlement programs that are mostly driving America’s debt, and far more than all that cold-hearted military spending or bleeding-heart domestic programs. Somehow most of the Tea Party types who hated those establishment Republicans who’d tolerated Bush’s half-trillion dollar deficits bought into Trump’s anti-establishmentarian rhetoric, after that even such stalwart establishment types as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the once-redoubtable House Speaker Paul Ryan willingly went along with the next trillion dollar deficit, and at this point we figure were among the very last of those old-fashioned Republicans who are dismayed by it all.
Our own Republicanism goes back to good ol’ President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his obsessively budget-balancing ways, and oh how we still like our fellow Kansan Ike, but we also remember when the wage-and-price-controlling President Richard Nixon proclaimed that “we’re all Keynesians now,” and even after such long experience none of the current Republican policies make any sense. It seems clearer than ever that America’s finances should be on more solid ground than a Trump casino and strip club, and the latest budget deal doesn’t make any sense even according to the convoluted but occasionally useful thinking of John Maynard Keynes. Trump continually boasts of the low unemployment rate and high growth of the overall economy he has wrought in a mere year, yet insists on a double amphetamine injection of tax cuts and a trillion dollars of stimulative tax spending, which has lately legitimate inflation concerns that have scared the Federal Reserve Board into threatening interest hikes that have lately spooked the stock markets that Trump was recently bragging about. When the next inevitable recession comes around, and we hope it’s later rather than sooner, it will be a more indebted federal treasury that is called on to bail it out.
Kentucky’s Republican Sen. Rand Paul called his party out on its hypocrisy, and even managed to shut the government partially down for a few inconvenient moments while doing so, and there’s somewhere between 20 and 30 Republican House members in the “Freedom Caucus” that sprang from the “Tea Party” movement who also resisted, so God bless ’em for their stupid and futile gesture. The putative Republican yet anti-establishment president and the rest of the party, including such erstwhile establishment types as McConnell and Ryan, were all on board. The Republican party also seems wavering from long held positions on wife-beating and cheating with porn stars and and dissing the federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which also bodes ill to our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities.
Of course those darned Democrats and their profligate bleeding-heart ways aren’t helping the fiscal and general economic things at all. Say what you want about that budget-busting deal to avert another so-what government shutdown, we’ll wager you’ll get more bang for your buck out of that couple hundred billion spent on defense than you will out of that couple hundred billion spent on social programs. The current Democratic indignation about Republican deficit spending is at least as hypocritical as the past Republican indignation about Democratic profligacy, and offers no solution to the problem.
Ah, well. We had a heartening church service on Sunday, and hold out hope that despite all those newfangled Republicans and forever darned Democrats the rest of us will somehow work this out.

— Bud Norman

The Summer of ’73, Redux

The midsummer sun has lately been exceedingly hot here on the southern plains, with the latest breaking national news even hotter yet, and it’s all somehow redolent of that long ago summer of ’73.
We were just young punks about to turn a typically surly 13 years old, but even then we were engrossed by politics, and by far the most engrossing story of the day was the unfolding Watergate scandal. The whole Watergate thing started slowly back in ’72 with a routine burglary bust, but by the summer of ’73 the only three channels on the television were all preempting the afternoon soap operas and game shows to broadcast the live congressional hearings about it, and we took time out from our long-distance bike rides and driveway basketball games and other summer vacation adventures to watch it all. We also read every word about in the morning and afternoon newspapers that our parents subscribed to, along with the newsmagazines that arrived in the mailbox, and then learned more when we’d biked all the way to downtown library’s impressive periodical shelf.
To this day we still recall E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy and the three Cubans who were busted in the burglary, and the turncoat White House advisor Howard Dean and his crazy wife Moe and the loyal Attorney John Mitchell and his crazy wife Martha and fellow loyalist who wound up making the news in the subsequent investigations, and presidential secretary Rosemary Woods who was blamed for a suspicious gap in the White House tapes that eventually surfaced We still know the names of Judge John Sirica who ordered those tapes and made some other crucial legal rulings, and the Attorney General Elliot Richardson who was fired by President Richard Nixon for refusing to fire the special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and an obscure fellow named Robert Bork who eventually stepped up to do the firing.
We’d bet all our winnings that we can still run the Watergate category in a round of “Jeopardy!,” but even the surliest young punks of today know that it all somehow wound up with Nixon resigning in disgrace. That’s pretty much the long and short of the whole Watergate affair and all you’d need to know to pass a junior high history quiz about it, but of course there’s a lot worth noting in between.
The whole sordid saga began when a third-shift janitor at the swank Washington, D.C., hotel-and-office Watergate complex noticed some tape on the door lock to the Democratic National Committee. He was streetwise enough to know to call the local cops, who promptly showed up to arrest the aforementioned Hunt and Liddy and three Cubans who were attempting to install a wiretap in the office, and two relatively young and still on late-night duty reporters as the local Washington Post who were assigned the crime story story were astute enough to discover they were all official and fully paid employees of the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
That was a bad enough start to the story, if not so bad that a forthright acknowledgement but stern disavowal of the operation and its operatives would have ended all the hubbub, but the Nixon administration took a typically more dismissive response. They denied everything, attacked The Washington Post and The New York Times and the three television networks who were making such a big deal about one presidential campaign breaking and entering to bug the headquarters of another, and wound up on national television admitting to the hush money they paid to the burglars and all sorts of other sorts of other things that were considered scandalous at the time. An Admiral in the administration whose last name we still remember was Butterfield told a televised committee that the White House had taped everything, and Sirica got his hands on the tapes and except for that 18-and-a-half-minute gap blamed on the White House secretary it seemed all the prosecutor needed for an impeachment case. It was bad enough that Nixon fired the guy who wouldn’t fire the guy who was running the investigation, and shortly after that the impeccably conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater was leading a congressional delegation of Republicans to tell him that resignation in disgrace was the only honorable option.
Which was bad for the country in ways that the surly 13-year-old punks of today probably can’t understand. The first presidential election we’d followed was back in ’68, when Nixon edged out a plurality win over Democratic rival Hubert Humphrey and third-party candidate George Wallace, and we were for Nixon. Our grandparents were all New Deal Democrats, but our parents had rebelled against by voting for the impeccably conservative Goldwater in ’64, by ’68 all three generation were agreed that Democrats had gone crazy left. Humphrey was tied to President Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam, which was a bloody big deal that hurt him with all the hippies that were suddenly popping up everywhere, and although Nixon was also for the war he seemed to want to win it, which was the way Americans used to end wars back then. Wallace was still an outright racist at that point, and our cosmopolitan and Christian parents had taught us better than that, so Nixon and his surprisingly pristine civil rights voting record was the one.
By ’72 the hippies had taken over the Democratic party and nominated far-left South Dakota Sen. George McGovern for president, and it was fine with us that Nixon won re-election with a popular and electoral vote margin that not even President Franklin Roosevelt had ever achieved. As bloody as the Vietnam situation was Nixon’s peace with honor platform made more sense than McGovern’s plan of complete surrender, and as much as we liked the rock ‘n’ roll music and sexual frisson of the Democratic counter-culture we had an instinctive multi-generational affinity for the Silent Majority of hard-working and tax-paying and lawn-mowing and baby-having Americans who gave Nixon his landslide win.
We were surly soon-to-be-13-year-old punks, though, and the weird sorts who were already enamored of unfettered free-market capitalism and other sorts of rugged individualism that left all those hippies in the dust, so we also had our doubts about Nixon. When the unemployment and inflation rates divulged in ways that free market theory hadn’t anticipated he embraced wage-and-price controls that not even the hippies would have dared, and despite his pristine civil rights record and reasonably tough stance against all the inner-city rioting that was going on he was the first president to institute racial quotas, and the notorious cold warrior even normalized relations with the commie Chinese and pursued “detente” with the commie Russkies. We still liked that he stood steadfast against the hippies and The Washington Post and The New York Times and those three damned channels on the television, but by that point we were wondering he might think of us.
And so we watched with a certain disinterested horror as it all slowly wound up a year or so later with Nixon flashing his “V for victory” sign as he boarded an ex-presidential helicopter to exit the White House after resigning in disgrace. He was replaced by the impeccably honorable but utterly ineffectual President Gerald Ford, who didn’t have the political clout to order the air strikes that might have maintained the peace with honor that Nixon and all those soldiers and sailors and airmen had won in Vietnam, and the best he could do about all the inflation and unemployment that defied free market theory was to print up some buttons. Despite all that he was only narrowly defeated by the Democrats’ putatively centrist Jimmy Carter, who four years later lost in a landslide to the Goldwaterite Republican nominee Ronald Reagan. That led to an inflation-choking but otherwise severe recession that shortly thereafter led to an unprecedented economic boom, which led to an even bigger re-election landslide than Nixon or Roosevelt or anyone else ever achieved, and despite that admittedly embarrassing Iran-Contra scandal and other things we mostly enjoyed those Reagan years.
The commies were pretty much gone by the end of Vice President George H.W. Bush’s third term of the Reagan age, but during a time of relatively mild economic recession that only made a plurality of the public more willing to elect the southern and putatively centrist Democrat Bill Clinton and his equally hideous wife. Despite Clinton’s efforts the economic boom continued well enough that he survived the impeachment trials of his various sex scandals and won another plurality re-election, but that wound up with eight years of Republican George W. Bush. That was mostly OK by us, but what with all the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that he’d been obliged by circumstances to do, and another ill-timed and far more severe recession, it led to eight straight years of President Barack Obama
We spent the entire eight Obama years griping about that unrelenting catastrophe, but at the end of it we wound up with the choice of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or the Republican nominee Donald Trump. For the first time in our lives we wound up voting for none of the above, and resigned ourselves to watching the inevitable scandals that would play out not matter who won. Clinton had been in the public eye for all the 30 or more years that her cheating husband had been in office, and had plenty of undeniably disqualifying scandals of her own, but Trump was a political neophyte whose long and legendary career in the private sector was no more reassuring.
When we subjected Trump’s campaign to the due diligence that you’d apply to anyone else you might invest in, we found that he’d had three wives and countless bragged-about married mistresses and four bankruptcies at his casinos and strip clubs, which are hard businesses to screw up, as well as a long history of failure in steaks and vodka and football leagues and airlines and scam universities and various other enterprises, so we didn’t much cotton to him no matter how much we hated that Clinton woman. His sons had boasted to the press about how much funding their business empire had coming from the Russkies despite all the bankruptcies, and Trump himself was so pro-Russkie that he told a fan hosting a Fox News show that the the Russkies’ killings of journalists and other dissidents was no worse than what routinely happens in America, so all of that gave us pause about the guy.
We weren’t about to vote for that awful Clinton woman, but from the outset all the preliminary stories about Russia and Trump looked pretty bad. By election day it was reliably reported from all the intelligence agencies that the Russkies had launched a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s election, Trump was clearly running on the most Russia-friendly platform in the history of the United States much less its Republican Party, even more friendly than that awful Clinton woman and her ridiculous leftist “reset” button, and there was already something ominously redolent of that summer of ’73.
Since then the president’s national security advisor has resigned and his attorney general has recused himself from Russia-related matters because of Russian ties, and his son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman have been invited to testify before congressional committees about their current Russkie relations, which will likely be broadcast live on national television, and there’s something all too familiar about it. There’s another special prosecutor who’s currently looking into the president’s world-wide financial holdings, which he’s held on to in a way that no previous president ever dared to do, and we can’t shake the same old sense from ’73 that sooner or later he’s bound to come up with something pretty damning.
Which is also a damned shame, because Trump was elected by the same plurality of tax-paying and law-abiding and baby-having and lawn-mowing Americans who beat back all those dirty hippies in ’72, and we’re still rooting for them. It would be another outrage to see The Washington Post and The New York Times and those congressional committees and special prosecutors and the rest of those dirty hippies score another win, but we’ve been through this before, and on another decade’s hot midsummer’s night we’ll only hope that the truth will prevail and things work out best in the long run.
The news these days seems somehow disturbingly familiar to way back then, but also disturbingly different. As crazy a leftist loon as that McGovern guy was he’d flown more than the requisite number of bombing missions over Germany during World War II, and even then nobody questioned his patriotism. As relatively right-wing as Nixon was in the early ’70s none of his critics ever mocked the decorated military officer and historically vindicated congressional cold warrior and former Vice President as an historically illiterate and poorly-spoken buffoon, and his outreaches to communist China and Russia arguably kept the peace long enough for Reagan’s more confrontational stance to win the Cold War. In retrospect, that awful election of ’72 seems like the good old days.
The testimony of the president’s son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman will probably preempt the soap operas and games before the summer is over, and although we’re still somehow part of that still-extant silent majority we don’t expect it will go well. Already the president’s son has admitted he responded to a newfangled e-mail promising the Russkie’ commitment to til an American election by saying “I love it,’ which is a hell of a place to start, and the president is stating that anyone would have taken that meeting, so that’s also a bad starting point.
A couple of years before Nixon headed off in ignominy on that helicopter, which was was just a couple of years before the helicopters launched off the South Vietnamese embassy with a bunch of our last-ditch allies making a futile effort to cling the skids, it was already clear to us that the Watergate scandal wouldn’t end well for anybody. As much as it pains us to alarm those good tax-paying and law-abiding and lawn-mowing members of the silent majority that we still love, this time around doesn’t look to turn out any better.

— Bud Norman

Seizing the Means of Counter-Production

The violent protests at presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump’s campaign rallies are not only continuing but escalating their level of violence, and with each new outrage we expect the protestors are nudging their hated nemesis a bit closer to the presidency. Such is always the counter-productive nature of all protest movements driven more by rage than reason.
We’ve seen it often over our lifetimes, starting way back in our childhood when the hippies and the yippies got their hated nemesis Richard M. Nixon elected president on a “law and order” platform. The Weather Underground and other outright leftist terrorist organizations, along with the general craziness of the bra-burning and free-love counterculture out to undermine the extra-legal social arrangements, also helped to make the reliably anti-communist but otherwise not very conservative Nixon seem palatable to an understandably nervous America. Even then we were able to see that the anti-war crowd’s best bet to end the war early was to go “Clean for Gene” and knock on middle America’s doors and make a polite pitch with a clean-cut appearance for the candidacy of anti-war but otherwise boring Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy. Riots and bombings were more emotionally satisfying, though, even if the war was thereby prolonged for several more years before the commies foreign and domestic were at last able to secure a victory.
Since then we’ve seen the same mistake made several times on both the right and the left. The borrowed-from-the-left “direct action” strategy of the radical anti-abortion Operation Rescue movement not only shut down the local abortion clinics but also the essential Kellogg Avenue artery of our hometown back in the ’90s, and we well recall how the anti-abortion polling numbers went down even in this church-going and instinctively anti-abortion community. When a bunch of a drag queens dressed as nuns starting shutting down Catholic worship services in San Francisco a short while later, and shutting down some nearby thoroughfares as well, their polling numbers went down even in that unchurched and libertine metropolis. The radical anti-government terrorists who wound up blowing a gaping and deadly hole in downtown Oklahoma City helped re-elect the bossy government of President Bill Clinton and discrediting its most principled and non-violent critics, that less deadly but appallingly un-hygeinic “Occupy Wall Street” movement helped elect the current Republican majorities in Congress, and we can’t think of any protest movement that has ever succeeded on a platform of blind rage.
These anti-Trump riots seem likely to become the definitive example of the phenomenon. Trump’s rise to the status of presumptive Republican presidential nominee has largely been the result of his arguably xenophobic and undeniably blunt if nonetheless carefully vague pronouncements about illegal immigration, all fueled by a suspicion that there’s a revanchist Latino afoot, and a bunch of protestors waving Mexican flags as they violently disrupt a perfectly legal American political rally is unlikely to allay those already well-founded suspicions. If they at least succeed in forcing his just-as-awful Democratic opponent to embrace their unabashedly revanchist ambitions and violent methods they’ll be doing even more of a favor to their hated for the nemesis, as we read the momentary demographic moods, and they would have been far better off going clean for Hillary.
Their hated nemesis has his own record of encouraging violence at his rallies, and there really is arguably something xenophobic about the shifting policies he’s proposed that could be well defended without any resort to xenophobia, and there’s an unmistakably lawless and disordering ring to his Nixonian appeals for “law and order” and simultaneous promises to shake everyone thing up, but the video of Mexican-flag-waving thugs creating chaos will surely make it palatable to a perhaps-decisive portion of the electorate. At the moment the only likely alternative seems Hillary Clinton, whose long-planned coronation by “the man” will also be attended by such riotous behavior, and probably none of those anti-Trump protestors will ever realize how very counter-productive their righteous rage proved to be.
Trump’s unlikely status as the presumptive Republican nominee has been driven more by pure rage than reason, too, and against the same ill-defined “establishment” that the incoherent opposition on the left claims to be railing against, so we can’t predict any happy outcome no matter who prevails. Nothing good came out of any of those rage-driven protests movements we’ve ever seen, and neither of these seem at all promising.

— 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

Back to the Scandalous Future

There’s a certain unsettling feeling of the 1970s to this moment. Leisure suits and platform shoes aren’t back in vogue and the current pop hits aren’t quite disco, but the fashions and the music are otherwise just as horrible. Officially there is no “stagflation,” because except at the grocery store and the gas pump the inflation rate is low, but the stagnation part of that long-forgotten portmanteau is evident in even the most gussied-up government statistics. There’s the same foreboding sense of international turmoil and domestic scandal, too, and the same nagging suspicion that no in charge has a clue. The impending fall of Baghdad is evoking unpleasant memories of the fall of Saigon, Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine bring the chill of a new Cold War, and now there’s a two-year gap in the Internal Revenue Service’s e-mails that eerily recall the 18-and-a-half minute gap in the Watergate tapes.
Those too young to have been transfixed by the Watergate scandal won’t appreciate the ominous meaning of an 18-and-a-half-minute gap, but suffice to say it was a big deal back in the day. A third-rate burglary to wire-tap the Democratic National Headquarters in the fancy-schmantzy Watergate building in Washington, D.C., had been linked to operatives of President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign, high-ranking administration officials were implicated in a cover-up that seemed to go to the very top, and when the stone age reel-to-reel tape recordings that chronicled the White House conversations were subpoenaed by a Congressional investigation they included a suspicious gap of that famous duration just when they were getting to the good parts. The White House’s explanation that the missing portions had accidentally been erased by the president’s ever-loyal personal security was widely ridiculed, especially after photographs of her desk and the tape recorder demonstrated the strange contortions that would have been required to accomplish such an accident, and public opinion reasonably concluded that the erasure was an intelligence-insulting ploy in a broader conspiracy. Nixon eventually resigned rather than be convicted in his upcoming impeachment trial, and Pulitzer Prizes and Academy Awards and a lifelong gig on the talk shows was awarded those who had uncovered the crime.
Only the most obsessive Watergate buffs will recall that the articles of impeachment also included that Nixon had “endeavored” to use the Internal Revenue Service against his political foes. There was some evidence of this on the unexpurgated portions of those tape recordings, but they also reveal that the administration’s effort came to naught because the IRS was too thoroughly dominated by Democrats and other political foes of the president. That a president would even contemplate such a thing was then considered an impeachable offense, however, and it outraged the citizenry as much as the break-ins and huggings and the subsequent attempts to obstruct justice. Say what you will about the ’70s, and all its myriad sartorial and musical and political failings, but at least people could still rouse themselves to an appropriate degree of outrage over such things.
Nowadays there’s a story buried deep inside the local newspapers that the IRS has been caught red-handed harassing a president’s political foes, and the public seems willing to accept the president’s word that it’s just another “phony scandal” like the four dead Americans at an unprotected consulate in a Middle Eastern hell-hole, or the 200-plus Mexicans killed by guns provided to south-of-the-border drug gangs by our federal government’s gun-running operation, or the gang members being allowed entry north-of-the-border by a non-enforcement policy, or the many brave American veterans dead due to the neglector a government-run health care system, or any of countless other recent incidents that once would have had the country riled up. Now the key high-ranking figure in the IRS’ harassment of conservative groups is invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a Congressional investigation of this “phony scandal,” there are two years of her e-mails that have been suspiciously erased by a claimed computer crash that is every bit as dubious as that accidental-erasure-during-a-yoga-routine that was offered during the Watergate days, and would be laughed at by IRS agents if a private business came up with such a flimsy excuse for failing to provide information during an audit, and yet the story is treated only briefly by the most of the media and doesn’t even rate so much as mention in “All the News That’s Fit to Print” on the pages of the New York Times. The average citizen is blissfully unaware of the story, and certainly not clamoring for impeachment.
The average citizen of the ’70s was probably no more civic-minded and beholden to higher standards that the average citizen of the day, but back in the day the media landscape was more conducive to public outrage. That old joke that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you was never more true than in the case of Nixon, who had been hated by the sophisticated since ever since he’d defeated their progressive dream girl in his first Congressional run and rightly exposed their pal Alger Hiss as a communist spy, no matter how many Environmental Protection Agencies and affirmative action programs and wage-and-price controls and other liberal projects he gave them, and when he at long last provided them necessary rope to hang him with they pre-empted all the soap operas on the only three channels a television set could get and made sure that everyone in the country knew about it. Equally outrageous scandals by the current president are more easily hidden amongst all the the other scandals and the news about bigoted basketball team owners and homosexual football players and the latest exploits of some drug-addled celebrity other another, especially when most of the media have been eager to promote the president ever since he first emerged as an agent of hope and change and healing the planet and all the rest of nonsense.
We have no desire to return to the days of three channels and a handful of big-time newspapers rubbing the public’s nose in the scandals of their choice, nor do we care to re-live any other aspects of the ’70s except perhaps the best of Merle Haggard’s work from the era, but it would be nice to get a big of that moral outrage back. Another impeachment trial would have a nice nostalgic feel, too, but that seems as likely as a comeback of the leisure suit.

— Bud Norman

The Grand Tour

Way back in our younger days it was a widely accepted truism that only Nixon could go to China, but these days anyone with the airfare and cost of a decent hotel can do it. Even First Lady Michelle Obama, who can simply put the trip on the taxpayers’ ever-swelling tab, is currently on tour on in China.
First Ladies usually get the kid-glove treatment from the press, especially the First Ladies’ of Democrat presidents, and most especially the First Ladies’ of Democrat presidents who can claim some historic ethnic first or another, but this trip has garnered some unusually critical coverage. That’s partly because of Obama’s inexplicable decision to not bring along her usually adoring media groupies, partly because of the explanation that it’s a “non-political” trip makes the undisclosed but easily guessed-at price-tag seem all the more extravagant, and to no small extent because she has come across as what in our younger days was known as an ugly American.
Granted, the sneering coverage has come from British press that is always snarkier and less politically-correct than its American counterpart. The reliably conservative Telegraph headlined that because of the refined behavior of Chinese President Xi Jingping’s wife “China Claims Victory in Battle of First Ladies.” The even snarkier but less reliably conservative Daily Mail reported that the Obama entourage was racking up an $8,350-per-night lodging bill for their 3,400-square-foot suit, and that despite such amenities as a 24-hour butler the First Lady’s mother was driving the hotel staff to distraction with her constant demands and criticisms. The temptation to crack the inevitable mother-in-law jokes must have been difficult for the American press, but they resisted admirably and contented themselves with straight-forward coverage of Obama’s public pronouncements.
Even the most straightforward accounts could not help embarrassing to the First Lady, however. At one point Obama was lecturing the Chinese on the need to tolerate dissent and political criticism, noting with pride the unending tolerance she and her husband have for such lese majeste, but the reports’ failure to mention the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative groups or its vilification of prominent opponents was conspicuous. Other reports proudly quoted Obama urging the Chinese to undertake educational reforms, with USA Today adding that “she has won praise for her approachability and admiration for her comments supporting freedom of speech,” but surely only the most star-struck readers weren’t reminded of her husband’s obeisance to the teachers’ unions and opposition to charter schools or vouchers or any other serious educational reform. One hopes that the first kids are enjoying the pricey visit, and not proving too much a pain in the neck to the hotel staff, but otherwise it’s hard to see what the taxpayer is getting for his money in this visit.

— Bud Norman

Droning On

A reliably right-wing friend was sharing a beer with us recently, and the talk naturally turned to the topic of drone strikes. Our pal confessed that he was initially opposed to the president’s claim to a legal right to order the death of any American living abroad who is suspected of terrorist activities, mainly because of an instinct honed over the past four years to oppose any Obama policy, but that he had since reconsidered his position. He had always supported even the most vigorous protocols in the war against Islamist terrorism in the past, our friend said, and “You don’t want to stop thinking.”
The ensuing conversation didn’t allay all of our concerns about the policy, and we wound up agreeing only that it made Obama’s endless moral preening about the dark days of the lawless and bloodthirsty Bush administration all the more insufferable, but our friend’s determination to think through an issue with intellectual consistency and disregard for partisan politics impressed us nonetheless. That’s a rare trait these days, on both the left and the right, and the lack of it is largely responsible for the currently sorry state of the country and the world. Perhaps it is our own partisan prejudice at play, but the left seems especially prone to knee-jerk reactions against anything their enemies are doing at a given moment, no matter what contortions of logic are required.
Obama and his entire administration have this very tendency, and it has left them with a foreign policy that is both morally incoherent and strategically ineffective. Eight long years of self-righteous denunciations of Bush’s anti-terrorism protocols compelled Obama to promise an end to indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay and harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, but doing has forced him to embrace Bush’s formerly controversial drone policies with a gusto his cowboy predecessor would have never dared. Although Obama has quietly abandoned his efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp he can’t afford the political embarrassment of adding to its population, nor can he extract any information from the prisoners that they aren’t willing to divulge when asked nicely, and by being so meticulously moral he is left with no option but to incinerate any suspected bad guys along with whomever happens to be standing nearby when the Hellfire missile arrives. We’ll leave it to the leftists to lament the fate of these poor terrorists, who would probably have preferred the sunny climes of Cuba and a brisk round or two of waterboarding, but our objection is that the policy doesn’t work as well as the old method of going in with special forces unit and nabbing the terrorists.
In one case, according to a story in The New York Times, it was a brave anti-al Qaeda cleric in Yemen who happened to be standing nearby when the Hellfire missile arrived. The blast took out several terrorists, along with whatever information they might have possessed, but it seems unlikely to advance the large project of turning the Muslim world against terrorism. There were no doubt many cases where drone strikes achieved a more unmitigated good, during both the Bush and Obama administrations, but it would be better to limit their use to those occasions.
Similar inconsistencies bedevil other aspects of the Obama foreign policy, such as its sanctimonious demands for congressional and approval when a Republican is in office and its utter disregard for both once a Democrat is installed. Sen. John Kerry’s confirmation hearings for the Secretary of State post didn’t get the same amount of publicity as former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s disastrous performance when applying for Secretary of Defense, but we were amused by an exchange between Kerry and Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul, who demanded to know why the famous former anti-war activist had so loudly denounced Nixon’s decision to bomb Cambodia without explicit congressional approval yet applauded Obama’s decision to bomb Libya with the same lack of legal authorization. Kerry mumbled some ahistorical nonsense about how presidents now have to respond to situations quickly, as Nixon were delivering his bombs by horse and buggy, but one gets the sense that he yearned to come right out and say that in one case it was a Republican president, and not just any Republican, but Nixon, and in the other it was a Democrat, and not just any Democrat, but Obama.
Paul is impressively conservative on domestic issues and a welcome member of the Republican party, but he has many of the isolationist views of his father, the peacenik libertarian Ron Paul, and he’s therefore free to critique the administration without party loyalty or intellectual inconsistency. Such neo-conservative standard-bearers as John Bolton are rising to the defense of Obama’s drone policy, even as they remain staunch critics of almost everything else he’s doing, and a few intellectually honest lefties have dared to defy their beloved president by sticking to their bleeding-heart guns. Most of the country seems willing to support or oppose anything Obama does, however, and it seems likely that the drone policy will continue without much controversy until another Republican happens to get into the White House.

— Bud Norman

Borked but Unbowed

The eminent jurist and legal scholar Robert Bork died Wednesday at the age of 85, and we hope that he rests in peace. His provocative opinions allowed him precious little peace on this earthly plane, and he deserves better in whatever lies next.
Although his long and varied career in public life included several notable contributions to his country, he might be most remembered for giving the English language the verb “Bork.” To “Bork” someone is to destroy his reputation with a sustained campaign of vituperative and dishonest propaganda, and the oft-used term derives from the fact that few people have ever been so successfully “Borked” as Bork was during his ill-fated 1987 Supreme Court nomination.
The left had loathed Bork long before then, going all the way back to his days as one of the exceedingly rare conservatives on the faculty of the Yale Law School. Bork’s book “The Antitrust Paradox” had made him famous within legal circles as a leading proponent of the law-and-economics movement, which argued that the law should take economic realities into account, and such heresy was predictably controversial. Despite the outrage that Bork provoked, or perhaps because of it, Bork was then appointed a solicitor general for the hated Richard Nixon.
Bork’s tenure in the Justice Department would have been only a minor annoyance to liberals if not for the Watergate scandal, which earned him a minor footnote in history and the undying enmity of the left. When Attorney General Elliott Richard resigned rather obey Nixon’s order to fire special investigator Archibald Cox, and then Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus did the same, third-in-command Bork stepped in to do the deed and fire several more Justice Department lawyers in what the press called “The Saturday Night Massacre.” We offer no definitive judgment regarding the debate that still rages about Bork’s role in the scandal, although we found the Wall Street Journal’s defense of his actions very convincing, but we will note that press coverage of subsequent scandals has not included the word “massacre” even though it could have been used literally during the Fast and Furious program and the Benghazi embassy attacks.
As a circuit court judge Bork continued to rankle the liberals, who immediately launch an all-out attack when he was nominated for a seat on the highest court. The smear campaign culminated in Sen. Ted Kennedy’s infamous oration on the Senate floor, where he charged that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are at the heart of our democracy.” Not a word of it was true, and it was especially galling coming from a longtime advocate of unrestricted government power such as Kennedy, but it worked well enough that Bork was denied the Senate’s confirmation.
It worked well enough, in fact, that it became a favored tactic of the left for the next 25 years. The idea had long preceded Bork, dating at least as far back as Saul Alinsky’s “Rules in Radicals,” in which the guru of community of organizers urged the left to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” but the original “Borking” proved such a successful model that it became a neologism. Sometimes the ploy is to portray an ideological opponent as laughably stupid, as in the cases of Dan Quayle or Sarah Palin or even the Ivy League-educated George W. Bush, but when a person with Bork’s impeccable educational credentials comes along it does just as well to characterize them as evil geniuses. In the past election the tactic was refined to turn an honest businessman’s hard-earned success into proof of rapacious greed, but it’s all the same old-fashioned “Borking.”
Bork continued to anger the liberals right up to the end, when he served as a judicial advisor to Mitt Romney’s well-Borked presidential campaign, and one admiring obituarist concluded than “he won.” It’s hard to agree with such an upbeat assessment, given that Bork’s originalist notions of constitutional law are set to lose more seats on the Supreme Court to men and women willing to grant government more invasive powers than Ted Kennedy ever yearned for, and that the smear tactic that carries is name has proved triumphant once more, but at least Bork got his licks in. May he rest in peace.

— Bud Norman