When Politics is Personal

Politics ain’t bean bag, as the cliche aptly puts it, but we can’t remember a time when it was quite so pro wrestling-like as it is today. Pro wrestling hall of famer and President of the United States Donald Trump seems to pride himself on flouting the traditional norms of decorum and civility in political discourse, and routinely insults his political opponents with charges of mental illness and criminal behavior and ugliness.
On Tuesday, for instance, Trump called Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi a “waste of time” and “a sick woman” who “has a lot of mental problems.” In the same interview he reiterated his claims that President Barack Obama and various Federal Bureau of Investigation officers had committed especially egregious but unspecified political crimes. Trump also explained that he didn’t know the State Department inspector general who was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for possibly using aides to do personal chores as well as possibly making a corrupt arms deal with Saudi Arabia, but fired the guy because he was an Obama appointee and Pompeo wanted him gone.
The unsubstantiated and unspecified charges levied against Obama and the career public officials are unprecedented in our many years of following politics, as is Trump’s purge of any pesky inspectors general who might find anything embarrassing to the Trump administration, but these are apparently the new rules. To quote an oft-quoted line from The Godfather, “It’s strictly business, not personal.” The Pelosi slurs, on the the other hand, seemed strictly personal
On Monday Pelosi was interviewed by the Cable News Network’s Anderson Cooper, and expressed concern about Trump’s announcement that he was using hydroxychloroqine to ward aff infection by the coronavirus. “He’s our president, and I would rather he was not taking something that has been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and his, shall we say, weight group — ‘morbidly obese, they say.” Say what you want about Pelosi’s political views, and we’ve had plenty to say about them over the years, but you should admit that the daughter of a famously ruthless Maryland politician has some bare knuckle skills of her own. With a finesse Trump will never master, she sounded concerned about the president’s health while also mentioning his obesity.
Trump fans will agree that Pelosi is a “waste of time” and a “sick woman” who “has a lot of mental problems,” and cheer him on for telling it like is, but we figure that the Pelosi’s objective observation of Trump’s obesity is also telling it like it is.
We’re lately feeling liberated from the old rules of civility and decorum and the rest of all that “politically incorrect” nonsense, so we’ll just come right out and say that Trump is fat. We’ll even go so far as to say that he’s a big fat fatty-pants with a ridiculous comb-over and white circles around his eyes in an otherwise orange and jowly face. None which is disqualifying, as we have to admit that Trump isn’t as fat as President William Howard Taft, who we consider a very underrated president, and he’s not so ugly President Abraham Lincoln, who is rightly regarded as the great president ever, Trump does routinely make an issue of other people’s height and weight and looks.
“I didn’t know he’d be so sensitive,” Pelosi responded on the MSNBC network, before adding “He’s always talking about other people’s avoirdopois, their weight, their pounds.” Which is provably telling like it is, and well within the bounds of the new rules.of pubic discourse.
Trump makes his own rules, and expect everyone else to play the old rules, but that’s not going to happen, How this sort of this sort political discussion leads the country out of the greatest public health crisis in more than a century and the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depressioon remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman

The Case for Civility, Class, and Not Being a Deliberate Jerk All the Time

In this ugly age of political discourse we’ve been heartened in the past week by one Republican candidate’s magnanimity in victory and another’s graciousness in defeat, and thus we temporarily hold out hope for our once Grand Old Party.
The first touching moment came during the National Broadcasting Company’s “Saturday Night Live” program, of all places. The show has satirically skewered even the most unobjectionable sorts of Republicans since it ridiculed the famously athletic and conventionally wise President Gerald Ford as a stumbling fool, and on the previous Saturday cast member Pete Davidson went on its “Weekend Update” segment to ridicule Republican Texas congressional nominee Dan Crenshaw’s eyepatch, saying that “he looks like a hit man in a porno movie.” It might be a good line if the eyepatch were a mere fashion statement, but as Davidson briefly acknowledged during the joke it was because former Navy Seal and Lt. Commander Crenshaw had lost an eye to an improvised explosive device during his third combat tour in Afghanistan, which killed a couple of his friends and fellow American warriors, and we were heartened to see that commentators on both the left and right agreed that the joke was in poor taste.
To his credit, and to the credit of the show, the smart-assed Davidson showed up on the “Weekend Update” segment of the past “Saturday Night Live” to offer an apparently sincere and quite fulsome apology on behalf of himself and the show. Davidson’s often amusing comic persona is that of an admittedly neurotic New Yorker, and he started by saying that “It will come as a huge shock to no one who knows me that I made a poor choice last week.” He also apologized to his mom for offending almost everyone in America, which led t9 one of the “Weekend Update” hosts getting a big laugh by agreeing that it must suck to be Davidson’s mom. Davidson then hoped that “if any good came of this, maybe it’s that for one day the left and right finally came together to agree on something, that I’m a dick.”
At that point Crenshaw himself sat down next to Davidson and said “D’ya think?,” which was probably the show’s biggest laugh line of the year. Davidson then introduced Crenshaw as a Naval Lt. Commander Navy Seal and congressman-elect and acknowledged his undeniable war heroism, then offered a personal and live-on-air apology, and Crenshaw then shook his hand and accepted the apology and told him that “we’re good.” Davidson and “Saturday Night Live” generously allowed Crenshaw a couple of jokes about Davidson’s looks, which Crenshaw took well advantage of in a good-natured way. Crenshaw then acknowledged the heroism of that smart-assed Davidson’s father, a New York City firefighter who died trying to save others in the September 11th terror attacks on the Twin Towers, and gave a nice brief talk about Americans coming together despite their differences.
The reviews were boffo from both the left and the right, and the YouTube video of the segment had more than seven million viewers the last time we checked, and thus a new Republican star was born. Crenshaw’s a pretty-hard line Republican on taxes and regulation and the military and the rest of the traditional Republican agenda as far we can tell, but he’s also distanced himself from Trump’s rhetoric about Muslims and Democrats and other scary Others, and he’s a telegenically handsome fellow with a manly beard and Navy Seal physique who could clearly whip Davidson or even Trump in a fair bar fight even with one eye, and that eyepatch only enhances his sensitive machismo appeal, so given his good-natured sense of humor he might just be the template for a Republican renaissance.
We were also impressed by the performance of Arizona’s Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally, who has some pretty impressive military credentials of her own as one of America’s first female combat jet pilots and a challenger in the courts to America’s policy of making American servicewomen obey Sharia law regarding women’s dress in Muslim countries, but nonetheless was defeated by a centrist Democratic woman with her own compelling autobiography of childhood homelessness and overcoming odds.
That race was exceedingly close and hotly contested, but when Arizona’s Republican establishment followed the law and the vote counts and declared Democratic nominee Krysten Sinema the winner McSally and her dog Boomer gave such a gracious concession speech that it became a YouTube hit and put her in good position to win the seat of dearly departed maverick Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain in just two years. The formerly centrist McSally’s belated and obviously insincere attempts to align herself with Trump didn’t serve her well in this election in usually Republican Arizona, when she was trying to replacing retiring incumbent and Trump critic Sen. Jeff Flake, but we have hope that she’ll do well in a couple of years when she tries to replace the recently deceased but bona fide war hero and outspoken Trump critic and “guy who got caught” McCain in that reliably old-fashioned Republican state of Arizona.
In the meantime, the take-no-prisoners and shoot-the-stragglers and never concede defeat or admit a mistake style of Trump’s Republican party will probably prevail. That party’s not lately getting any boffo reviews from both the left and right, though, and it seems to have taken a licking in the past midterm elections, but its fans are satisfied that at least it never concedes defeat or acknowledges a mistake. They’re currently spinning conspiracy theories about the inevitably close races down in wacky Florida, even though a scrupulously legal counting of the votes will probably yield Republican victories there, which would be all the more impressive without all the conspiracy theories.
In the long run, though, we believe the Grand Old Party would probably do better with magnanimity in victory and graciousness in defeat and a good-natured sense of humor along the way.

— Bud Norman

Politics on the Playground

A prominent member of the House of Representatives has offered a budget proposal, and the President of the United States has publicly called it a “stink burger.”
There’s much to be said about the budget proposed by Wisconsin’s Rep. Paul Ryan, as well as the alternative put forth a few weeks back by President Barack Obama, but we’ll happily leave it all unsaid. Neither proposal has any chance of becoming law, so we find it far more interesting and worrisome that our political discourse has devolved to the point of “stink burger.”
Obama was once widely lauded as the greatest orator since Demosthenes, but surely even his most awe-struck admirers will admit that “stink burger” is not quite eloquent enough to justify that reputation. There were kids on the playground at Kistler Elementary School who could come up with more creative insults, and by the time they had graduated to Brooks Junior High and foul language they didn’t sound nearly so juvenile. We have no idea how taunting is done on the playgrounds of Honolulu’s ritzier private schools or at Columbia University and Harvard Law School, but we had hoped for something a little more high-brow. We certainly expect more of a President of the United States, as we can fondly recall a time when even a relatively low-brow Vice President could come up with something as alliterative and snappy as “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
The “stink burger” slur reportedly went over well with Obama’s audience at the University of Michigan. This does not speak well for the state of higher education, where a higher-toned sort of malicious slander once prevailed, but perhaps they were just grateful to be spared all the boring details of the budget debate. Obama also called Ryan’s budget proposal a “meanwich,” which seems to imply that he finds it parsimonious, which is almost an actual argument, and even a modern-day college student can understand why the president preferred to avoid any specifics.
Ryan’s allegedly radical right-wing proposal is rather tepid stuff, after all, at least by the standards of we actual right-wing radicals. The plan would take ten years to reach a balanced budget, must less begin to eat into $17 trillion of debt, and is mean only the sense that your parents were mean when they wouldn’t give you a pony. You’d probably get that long-awaited pony if the Obama budget proposal were passed, but it is based on the equally fanciful notion that a nation can live happily ever after on trillions of dollars of indefinitely continued debt. That’s a hard argument to make, even to a student full of empty-headed college students, and is best expressed in terms of “stink burger.”

— Bud Norman