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Another Week in a Dismal Race

The campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has had a couple of awkward moments lately, with several widely disseminated photographs showing her needing assistance to climb the steps of the White House and several others showing the father of a mass-murdering Islamist terrorist sitting just behind her in a prime seat and cheering heartily at one of her rallies. The former revived reasonable suspicions about Clinton’s physical fitness to assume the office, and in an eerily literal way at that, and at best the latter called into question the ability of her famously well-staffed campaign organization to stage an effective photo-op and at worst recalled her past insane statements about Islam having nothing to do with Islamist terrorism.
Any old Republican nominee should have had a good start to the week, but in this crazy election year the nominee isn’t just any old Republican but rather Donald J. Trump.
In his long and varied private sector career Trump has always had an undeniable knack for generating more headlines than any old Republican presidential nominee, or even any Republican president for that matter, and he’s never much cared if it was good press or bad press so long as they spelled his name correctly, so it’s no surprise that he somehow managed to overshadow his opponent’s photographically documented missteps by telling a North Carolina rally that “If she gets to pick her judges there’s nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” This impromptu aside was enough to generate such widely disseminated headlines as “Trump appears to encourage gun owners to take action if Clinton appoints anti-gun judges,” and for the oh-so-respectable press to fret that he “appeared to raise the possibility that gun rights supporters could take matters into their own hands if Hillary Clinton is elected president and appoints judges who favor stricter gun controls,” and it put Trump’s apologists in the awkward position of talking about how he actually meant to the “unification” of the gun-owning population that would thwart a Clinton presidency Trump seemed to be talking about and how in any case he was just joking.
Our abhorrence of both these awful candidates, as well as our disdain for the respectable press that is covering their awful campaigns, allows us an easy objectivity on the matter. From our appalled perspective we can see how the Republican nominee really was talking some peaceable uprising or merely joking about knocking off a president or her judicial nominees, and we can also allow that maybe the Republican nominee of this crazy election year really was sanguinely contemplating some armed uprising against a possible Clinton administration. Something deep in our Republican souls also has to concede that this crazy election year’s nominee makes it hard to say for sure what the hell he meant to say.
Way back when Trump started knocking off the far more qualified field of Republican candidates his fans were enthused by his willingness to say whatever grammatically incoherent thought popped into his mind, which seemed such a welcome change from the poll-tested and focus-grouped responses of past Republican nominees, but even at the time we wondered if that tendency was really what we wanted in a president. We share Shakespeare’s opinion that one should “Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportioned thought his act. Be though familiar, but by no means vulgar,” and we wish that any old Republican nominee would be as well-read and hipped-up. As awful as that Clinton woman is we have to concede that this crazy election year’s Republican nominee’s un-parseable word salad does allow for any number of readings, including the only slightly reassuring possibility that he was merely joking about someone offing a president or her judicial nominees, and that in any case it undeniably and unnecessarily does distract attention from the awful week that awful woman has been having.

— Bud Norman

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If He’s So Rich, How Come He Ain’t Smart?

A healthy ego is required to run for the presidency of the United States, but Donald Trump takes it to his characteristic levels of excess. The tendency was on full display Tuesday during the announcement of his campaign for the nation’s highest office, where he boasted of his top-secret-but-foolproof plan to defeat the Islamic State, confidently predicted that “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” bragged that his nearby Gucci store was worth more than Mitt Romney, and described himself as “the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far.”
The oft-bankrupt real estate mogul and longtime reality television series star clearly isn’t running on the usual aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-regular guy shtick that fabulously wealthy Democrats such as Hillary Clinton routinely employ, and we must admit that he’s at least savvy enough to know that wouldn’t have worked for him, and that it probably wouldn’t have hurt the aforementioned Romney to have been a little less defensive about his more honestly earned and more generously shared wealth, but surely some small measure of humility is required to actually be the President of the United States. We’ve read enough Greek dramas to know about hubris and nemesis, and enough of the Bible to know that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, and when you throw in that ridiculous haircut of his and the embarrassment of a long-running reality television show Trump seems to be just asking for it. While we admire financial acumen just as much as the next guy, or at least the next Republican guy, we also have to quibble with his rather limited definition of success.
Trump might or might not be the richest person ever to run for the presidency, depending on which accounting of his extremely complicated spreadsheets you choose to believe, but that hardly makes him the most successful. George Washington had successfully led a rag-tag army of farmers and merchants to victory over the world’s mightiest military, which is at least as impressive as getting rich, which we he also did. Alexander Hamilton’s failed candidacy came after he had played a key role in that same rag-tag army’s victory, and then as the first Secretary of the Treasury had set up an American financial system that was the most successful wealth-generator in history until our recent profligacy ruined it, and we’re further impressed that he selflessly chose not to enrich himself in the process. Ulysses S. Grant had successfully forced the legendarily wily Robert E. Lee to Appomattox, which most historians agree was of far greater significance than his numerous failures as a businessman. Dwight Eisenhower had led a fissiparous coalition of out-gunned countries to victory over the Nazis, thus saving the world from history’s greatest calamity, and one needn’t be a historian to see how that’s a bigger deal than a Gucci store and an Atlantic City casino. That Trump measures success only in terms of dollars and cents, and even then by the most favorable accounting methods, is as problematic as his ego.
Other past presidential candidates have offered up impressive resumes full of notable successes, as well, and in many cases they’ve haven’t resulted in successful presidencies. Herbert Hoover had become quite wealthy with his international mining ventures, and he did so without the benefit of inherited wealth and in a way that won him world-wide acclaim for his ethical business practices, then volunteered for such hard jobs as coordinating relief efforts for Europe after World I, coordinating similar relief efforts for the victims of the Great Mississippi Flood, and serving as Commerce Secretary during the boom years of the Coolidge administration, and he was widely regarded as spectacularly successful in each of these tasks. He’s now regarded as one of the least successful presidents, however, and we think that’s largely due to all the counter-productive tinkering he did to overcome the Great Depression because he believed in his own powers more than he did the resilience of the free enterprise system. George H.W. Bush had a resume that not only included a successful private sector career but also public service posts ranging from Central Intelligence Agency director to Ambassador to China to being Vice President during the most successful presidential administration of our lifetime, and a similar confidence in himself had less dire consequences but slowed the momentum from the aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-B-movie-actor Reagan years.
Pretty much every presidential candidate ever has had a less a ridiculous haircut than Trump, going all the way back to the powdered wig days and even through the era when the bald were still eligible for the job, and none of them ever became famous for saying “you’re fired” to the sorts of desperate attention-seekers who co-star on cheesy reality television shows, and even the egotistical likes of John Kerry and Barack Obama preferred to let their allies in the mainstream press talk about how they would be the greatest presidents God ever created, and all of these things also figure into our definition of successful. By our accounting Donald Trump isn’t anywhere near the most successful person to run for president, and we have no doubt he’d be a spectacularly unsuccessful president, and his candidacy seems the quixotic quest of one of those desperately attention-seeking sorts you find on cheesy reality shows. The money and the name recognition and the desire of much of the media to portray the Republican nomination race as a freak show will bring him plenty of attention, and the fabulously wealthy and downright ridiculous Ross Perot has already proved that a certain percentage of the country can fall for it, but the sooner he’s out of this race the better.

— Bud Norman

Rubber and Glue

The folks at Newsweek are now questioning the manhood of presumptive Republican presidential Mitt Romney, with their latest cover story going so far as to call him a “wimp.”

They probably figured that the slur worked well enough back in ’87 to dog George H.W Bush, who had been a star college athlete, decorated combat pilot, and former CIA chief, so it should work again with a candidate lacking those macho credentials. The “wimp” tag didn’t keep Bush from winning the election in ’88, though, and there’s no reason to believe it will be any more effective now.

For one thing, Newsweek is a shell of its formerly fearsome self. The magazine was sold to a new publisher two years ago for the partly sum of one dollar — even The Central Standard Times could fetch as much as ten times that amount — and is now rarely read except by people waiting for dental treatment or oil changes.

More importantly, the “wimp” charge is unlikely to trouble Romney because he’s running against Barack Obama. As voters weigh the relative wimpiness of the two candidates they’ll inevitably be linked to video of Obama’s girlish throwing arm, photos of the dorky helmet he wears when pedaling his girls’ bike slowly along smooth surfaces, be reminded of a physique so slight that none dare call it “skinny” for fear of being branded a racist, and perhaps even remember that very same Newsweek thought it was doing Obama a favor by dubbing him “America’s first gay president.” Once an avowedly dovish sort who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for George W. Bush-bashing speeches, Obama now prefers to strike a more cowboyish pose with “unnamed administration sources” boasting of his top secret swashbuckling, endless celebration of the death of Osama bin Laden, and increased use of the drone attacks he once condemned, but that can’t change the perception that has come about after resetting Russo-American relations to a supine position, having his minions boast of “leading from behind,” and being increasingly ignored by foreign leaders.

Such comparisons have thus far blunted all of the attacks on Romney. The Obama campaign and its media allies have tried to portray Romney as an out-of-touch rich guy, but after four years of gushing over his glamorous lifestyle, and spending more time with his fellow rock stars than with the guns-and-Bible-clinging masses, the charge merely serves as a reminder that Romney earned his money in ways that suggest a familiarity with what makes a private sector economy work. They charged that he ruthlessly shipped jobs overseas, and were met with a flurry of stories about the millions of stimulus dollars that were lavished on foreign concerns. They tried to make an issue of Romney’s alleged bullying while at a fancy prep school, and conservative media responded with Obama’s own words describing how he was drunk, stoned, and prone to radical ideologies during his time at an equally fancy prep school. They tried to define Romney as a dog-hating brute who strapped a pooch atop the family station wagon, and heard countless replays of Obama’s fond recollection of eating a dog.

The Obama campaign and its supporters at such last gasp media as Newsweek are intent on making the election about Romney and any human failings he might possess, but voters are unlikely to forget that the alternative isn’t the God-like figure he was presented as in the last election. The voters will probably then turn to such weightier matters as the economy, and that’s where the real troubles for the president’s re-election campaign begin.

— Bud Norman

Bringing Up Obamacare

One of our Democrat friends was warning us a few days ago that the Republicans would be foolish to make a campaign issue of their opposition to Obamacare. This seems to be a fashionable notion among Democrats, as we’ve heard it several more times since then. Sen. Chuck Schumer, for instance, took to the airwaves on Sunday’s “Face the Nation” to give the same advice.

Perhaps all these Democrats genuinely have the Republicans’ best interests at heart, and are generously offering what they truly consider wise council, but we can’t quite banish a nagging a doubt about their motives. Given that no Democrat seems eager to run on the party’s support of Obamacare, the warning sounds suspiciously like Br’er Rabbit imploring Br’er Fox not to throw him into that awful briar patch.

What Schumer told the nation, or at least the miniscule slice of it watching “Face the Nation,” was that “if the Republicans make as their number one issue the repeal of Obamacare” they will suffer electoral losses, and he’s correct to the extent that it shouldn’t supplant the bad and worsening economy as the Republicans’ main argument. There’s no reason not to add Obamacare to the lengthy list of complaints with the current administration, however, and Mitt Romney’s campaign should be able to make a convincing case that the health care reform law’s byzantine regulations and expanding costs are among the reasons that employers are reluctant to take on new help.

Our aforementioned Democrat friend acknowledges that the poll numbers don’t look good for Obamacare, but insists that they overstate the intensity of the opposition to the law. We think he’s got it precisely backwards. Much of Obamacare’s support comes from young people and other inattentive sorts who still believe that it will provide free health care, and that they’ll soon be able to go to a clinic for a dose of needed penicillin and have them send the bill to some rich guy, so when they find out that it really means they’ll be paying a penalty in order to have no insurance the law should become even more unpopular. Much of the opposition is comprised of people justifiably worried that the law will cause them to lose existing coverage that they’re mostly satisfied with, and that provides a strong motive to make it a voting issue.

Chief Justice John Roberts’ convoluted argument that Obamacare’s individual mandate passes constitutional muster because it is a tax should make it clear even to the most uninformed Americans that Obamacare isn’t free. The ruling has already provided plenty of comedy as Democratic spokespeople have desperately tried to explain why the costs that taxpayers will be forced to pay aren’t really a tax, even if that is the only reason the bill wasn’t struck down, and all the stuttering is in itself a sufficient reason to press the issue. Alas, Romney also has some explaining to do as a result of his support for a similar state health care reform plan while he was governor of Massachusetts, but at least he can always conclude by saying that he’s going to repeal the bill and institute more effective ideas such as tort reform and interstate competition.

The Democrats’ advice is much appreciated, of course, but is best ignored.

— Bud Norman

Too Hot For Politics

It’s summertime, when the living is supposed to be easy, and this is usually the slow news season when politics and other matters of national importance are supplanted in all the papers by stories about bath salt-crazed cannibals, natural disasters, and celebrity sex scandals. Not this summer, though, as the politics continues unabated.

This hot and hazy Thursday brings two stories that would dominate the front pages at any time of year, as the Supreme Court will unveil its long-awaited ruling on Obamacare and the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on holding the Attorney General of the United States in contempt of Congress. Both stories will drag out over the rest of the summer, regardless of what news today brings, and will inspire seemingly endless arguments and analysis.

Much of the analysis will concern how the developments affect the ongoing presidential race, which has been constantly intruding into the news. Presidential campaigns once took time off after the primaries and didn’t begin in earnest until the conventions, but like so many other worthy traditions that schedule has fallen by the wayside. One can also expect any number of unforeseen developments to command the attention of the civic-minded throughout the summer, too, including foreign crises, economic calamities, and assorted scandals.

The relentlessness of the political news is wearying, even for those of us who find it fascinating, and offers yet another argument for conservatism. A properly limited government wouldn’t require the constant attention of its citizens, and would allow time for such happier pursuits as baseball, lawn work, and addressing all of the problems that government hopes to solve but usually winds up exacerbating. Politics has insinuated itself into almost everything, but it should at least take the summers off.

— Bud Norman