An Early Christmas and a Break From the News

It was still November and warmer than usual on the central plains Wednesday evening, but we nonetheless found ourselves ironing a button-down shirt and some pleated pants and donning a coat and tie to commence the Christmas season, which seems to come earlier every year. The occasion was a Christmas party the beloved folks were hosting at their swanky retirement home over on the newfangled and schmanty-fancy east side, and we must say it mostly provided a pleasant distraction from all the news and the rest of the modern world.
The other guests at the elegantly adorned table were a charming couple who have been married for nearly 70 years, and had been courting since he was in the second grade and she in the first, another delightful pair who had also been childhood sweethearts but only got together in her widowhood after many happy days, another dear woman recently widowed after as 66 years of fruitful marriage, as well as the beloved folks, whose sixtieth year of marriage seems their best yet, even closer and more heartfelt than in those carefree early days in exotic places that they still love to talk about. Our own romantic history isn’t so much worth talking about, especially with all the heartwarming conversation that was going on, so we happily sipped the wine that was served with each delicious course and vicariously soaked in the memories. Everyone at the table also told tales of the rigorous educations and successful careers that had brought them to that swanky retirement home, and the friends and children and hard times and belly laughs they had encountered along the way, as well as some fascinating talk about a couple of golf outings where one had a buddy who died on the green and another hit a hole-in-one. Our own educational and professional careers aren’t so much worth talking about, especially in such company, and we never did get the hang of golf, but it did our heart well to listen in.
Eventually the talk got around to politics, and we weren’t the least bit surprised that everyone else said they voted for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, the thrice-married-to-an-illegal-immigrant-nudie model and six-times bankrupt casino-and-strip-club-mogul and former reality star and professional wrestling performer. None of them seemed at all happy about it, but they all noted that their only alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose romantic and professional history also isn’t worth talking about, so we couldn’t argue with their reasons nor their hard-earned presence. Our mom revealed that we hadn’t voted for Trump, so we quickly explained that we sure enough also hadn’t voted for Clinton, along with our rote statement that we were against her back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and saying she was the best Secretary of State ever, and in their wizened wisdom they seemed respectful of our choice.
In the America that our fellow Christmas revelers grew up in neither Clinton nor Trump would have ever been even momentarily considered for the presidency, but they’ve all seen some less-than-stellar presidents in their times, and on our way back from the men’s room we overheard another one of the residents talking about her grandson with the weird hair, and even on such a warmer-than-usual evening and such a convivial Christmastime celebration there’s no escaping the conclusion that times have changed. Our fellow revelers had been through many changes, some for the better and some for the worse, and they all seemed hopeful, so we took that with us on the way home.
You can quickly get from our folk’s swanky retirement home on the fancy-schmantzy east side to our old but fashionable neighborhood by taking the bypass and the canal route to 13th Street, but we decided to take the city streets that wind past Kirby’s Beer Store, the notorious bohemian dive bar where we stopped to take in a beer and some convivial conversation with the lovable losers we always find there. A couple of our younger yet seasoned musician friends gave us a complimentary copy of a seven-inch vinyl surf music revival record they’ve recently cut here in the central plains, we had a nice chat with a delightful and still idealistic young fellow we’ve recently met who is studying journalism at the university across the street and is seriously considering a newspaper career, which we can’t recommend but can’t quite bring ourselves to discourage, given our own well-remembered but currently unsatisfactory history in the profession, and all in all it was a nice stop in a day away from the news. Nobody seemed particularly pleased with that moment in history, but they had same fatalistic hope as at the earlier party, so we decided to carry that home as well.
There will be another round of news today, probably, but for now we’ll just try to pass along that same hope of wizened old age and idealistic youth as well as  our early wishes for a Merry Christmas.

— Bud Norman

A Good Life Out of Office

George W. Bush seems to be enjoying his retirement. In a recent interview with the Hoover Institution’s Peter Robinson, Bush even went so far as to say that his post-presidential life is “awesome.” We were delighted to hear it, for several reasons.

Although we had some complaints with Bush’s brand of “compassionate conservatism,” often finding it a bit too compassionate and insufficiently conservative, we also admired many of the difficult decisions he made during the tumultuous time he was in office. Nor do we do blame him for the economic crisis that occurred during the last days of his administration, which we attribute to the ill-advised subprime lending policies that he repeatedly if unsuccessfully tried to reform.

Bush never deserved the white-hot hatred that he somehow inspired in his most fervid critics, so we’re also happy to contemplate that his current contentment is no doubt driving them crazy. The hard-core Bush-haters were already frustrated by their inability to damn his detention camps, drone strikes, unwinnable wars, deficits, and even his management of the economy without having to make excuses for Obama’s policies, so knowing that Bush isn’t miserable and self-loathing will be especially hard for them to bear.

The low-key and classy post-presidency of Bush hasn’t given his critics any fresh reasons for their hatred. He hasn’t been a meddlesome pest such as Jimmy Carter, nor does he seem to have Bill Clinton’s constant craving for attention, and his rare public appearances have been gracious and appropriately apolitical. Obama will no doubt continue to blame the current difficulties on his successor, but Bush’s gentlemanly and charitable behavior has been making the effort difficult and perhaps even counter-productive.

Mostly, though, we’re glad to know that it’s still possible for a person to embark on a career in public service and come out of it a happy man. Given the viciousness of contemporary American politics, with both sides ever eager to savage their political opponents, it is hard to see why the country’s most able men and women would ever want to be involved. If someone so maliciously maligned, so aggressively detested as George W. Bush can somehow find satisfaction in a career of public service, there might be some hope left.

— Bud Norman