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Charlottesville and the Crucial Center

Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of the prettiest towns in America, and home to one of its most venerable institutions of higher learning, but over the weekend it became the tragic focal point of the country’s ugliest and most stupid elements.
A few hundred proudly self-described Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis and various other far-right white supremacists who prefer to be called “alt-right” gathered in a local park with a soon-to-be-removed statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to “Unite the Right,” there was of course the usual larger gathering of counter-protestors that included the usual small number of “anarchist” and “antifa” far-left idiots itching for a fight. The inevitable resulting skirmishes culminated with a Dodge muscle car allegedly driven by an alleged Nazi sympathizer plowing into an annoying self-righteous but entirely peaceable crowd of counter-protestors, killing one and injuring 19 others, and a couple of law enforcement officers dying in a helicopter crash while dealing with melee. That culminated in another round of street brawls between the self-described racists and the so-called anti-fascist forces on the streets of Seattle, Washington, and much rhetorical skirmishing in Washington, D.C., as well as everywhere in the real and virtual worlds, so at this point there’s no telling how it all plays out.
Everything in the news these days has something to do with President Donald Trump, of course, so he wound up playing his usual starring role in the whole mess. He responded the car-plowing-into-the-peeaceable-counter-protestor situation more slowly than he does to news of Islamic or left-wing terrorism, which drew criticism from the usual corners, and when he did his statement condemned the hatred and bigotry and violence on “many sides,” repeating “on many sides” just for emphasis, and that drew criticism from pretty much everywhere. Most of the Republican party had already issued statements that unequivocally condemned the KKK and Nazism and any other hateful movements that consider themselves the “right,” as they’ve vainly and nobly struggled to do since the Civil War, and of course the Democrats had a field day with Trump’s more tepid response.
The KKK and the Nazis and the “alt-right” and the rest of the hateful movements that claim to be “right” were publicly pleased with Trump’s comments, though, and there was enough of a reasonable argument for them that so were many of his more reasonable supporters. There is indeed a similarly sliver-sized segment at the leftmost corners of the political spectrum that routinely engage in violence, often directed at Trump’s most visible supporters, some of whom no doubt played their role in the unpleasantness in Charlottesville over the weekend, and it’s only fair that should also be condemned. Democrats are indeed too often slow and equivocal in their denunciations of the violence associated with the black-hooded “antifas” or the more deadly riots that have followed Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and the double standard reasonably fuels that lingering reasonable suspicion of a certain anti-white animus on the left which did so much to get Trump elected.
There will surely be plenty of future opportunities to condemn that leftist strain of political violence, though, and to our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities the past weekend seemed an especially inopportune moment to do so. In this case all of the tragic events were set in motion when a bunch of KKK and neo-Nazi and more politely named “alt-right” types from around the country invaded a lovely town that is home to a respected university to assert their hateful ideologies, and it culminated with one of that crowd’s muscle car plowing into a crowd of annoyingly self-righteious but entirely peaceable counter-protestors, so it was not the time to assert a moral equivalence between people who are marching down a public street armed with shields and helmets and spears waving Nazi and Confederate flags of a picturesque college town and the people who were tempted to punch them in the nose. It’s not only a losing political argument, unless you’re trying to maintain a shrinking base of support, but it’s also on shaky moral grounds.
Sooner or later those ugly and stupid and itching-for-a-fight types on the left will be responsible for some similar tragedy, and when it happens we want to be able to unequivocally condemn it without any plausible charges of hypocrisy. By now there’s a large segment of the right that argues reasonably enough that the left is willing to resort to the bare-knuckle rhetoric of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” and outright violence to achieve their goals, and there’s enough of the right that thinks it must respond in kind to counter the threat, but we’re still hoping it won’t wind up with those end-of-the-Weimar-Republic street brawls between the Commies and the Nazis, which didn’t end well for anybody.
Those annoyingly self-righteous but entirely peaceable folks just left of the center seem willing to work things out amicably, and as old-fashioned and too-old-for-street-brawling re-constructionist Republicans just to the right of the center we’re eager to do the same, and we hold out hope that most of our party’s unequivocal repudiation of the Nazis and the rest of its violent elements will be met with the left’s unequivocal repudiation of its worst actors. Several White House officials have lately emphasized that the president’s “all sides” statements obviously included the KKK and the Nazis and the rest of the “alt-right,” as per usual after his more controversial statements, but as per usual the president himself hasn’t backed down, and it remains to be seen how that will work out.
As we await the culmination of this latest ugly and stupid episode in America’s history, we’ll offer our prayers that peaceable counter-protestor and the brave law enforcement officers who died trying to keep some semblance of peace in a lovely southern town, and our hope that the center somehow holds.

— Bud Norman

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What Seven Years of Hope and Change Have Wrought

After seven years and a month or so of Hope and Change the country is in such a foul mood that it’s threatening to elect either a bumbling socialist revolutionary or a bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star, but President Barack Obama is still keeping his chin up. Returning Wednesday to the city where he launched his first presidential campaign, back in those halcyon days when a hopeful nation first cast its eyes on his heroically-upturned chin and all the young hipsters were chanting his name, Obama spoke with his usual telepromptered eloquence about the current state of politics as if he were once again levitating above that messy fray.
Although he claimed with a straight face that “I still believe in a politics of hope,” Obama nonetheless rued the nastiness of the contests between his would-be successors. With a bipartisan ambiguity, and no names mentioned, he intoned that “We’ve got to build a better politics. One that’s less of a spectacle and more of a business.” Then he launched into some talk about campaign financing and voting restrictions and gerrymandering, meaning that he wants government-regulated speech and rampant voter fraud and differently gerrymandered districts, and of course some laments about petty bickering. He added that “In America, politicians should not pick their voters, voters should pick their politicians,” which might have been an allusion to those fishy Iowa Democratic caucus results and all those “super delegates” that have padded Hillary Clinton’s advantage despite her lack of popularity so far with Democratic voters, but probably not. His talk of “spectacle” might have been an oblique reference to Donald J. Trump, the aforementioned bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star and current Republican-frontrunner, and probably was.
Still, Obama was ambiguous enough to levitate above that messy fray, and the fawning account of the speech in Time Magazine was happy to sustain the illusion. The reporters wrote of the fresh-faced young candidate of that long-ago campaign and contrasted it with his “graying hair and a face wrinkled by the stress of the job,” as if they can be sure it isn’t a result of too many after-dark parties and sun-drenched golf rounds, and how he is “again hoping to rally Americans around in believing that the country’s politics can must be better.” The New York Times’ putative token conservative columnist had already beaten them to that telegraphed punch with a fawning love song about Obama’s scandal-free dignity, and we expect to hear a lot more of that from all sorts of media and historians and documentarians over the coming months and years, but of course it’s all bosh.
All that talk of Hope-and-Change was always interspersed with talk of if-they-bring-a-knife-we-bring-a-gun and get-in-their-faces and punish-your-enemies and and speaks rudely of corporate jet-flying billions and typical white people their gun-and-Bible-clinging ways and everything else in Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” playbook, not to mention passing the likes of Obamacare without a single Republican vote, and all that punishment the Internal Revenue Service inflicted on the president’s enemies, and the subsidies lavished on his campaign bundlers’ phony-baloney and soon-to-be-bankrupt “green energy” scams, and all those executive actions he took to get around the Congress that the voters voted for, so the inevitable results are the garish spectacles now on display in both parties.
We can well understand why the president might resent hearing all the hipsters chant the name of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a bumbling old socialist who’s somehow so hip and up to date he doesn’t feel the need to pretend he’s not a socialist, as the suddenly stodgy and wrinkled Obama still does, especially when it’s a cranky old geezer with no hip-hop cred who freely admits the economy that Obama brags about is actually awful, but we wonder what he might have expected. His own election was celebrated by the doomed Newsweek with a headline bragging “We’re all socialists now,” his best explanation for why he wasn’t a socialist was that even such a right-wing conservative as that all-purpose scapegoat President George W. Bush had brought about that Medicare prescription drug plan and all sorts of other socialistic sorts of things, no one in his party can any longer explain the difference between a Democrat and a socialist, he’s a proud product of an academic establishment that’s been carefully laying the ground work for a socialist revolution the past 50 years or so, and the economy is indeed lousy enough for a more frank socialist to call it the long-awaited Crisis of Capitalism.
The only candidate that’s proudly promising another four years of Obama is his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is also a former First Lady and Senator and a longtime fixture of the Democratic party’s lucrative crony capitalist yet vaguely socialistic establishment, and the fact that she’s been bloodied by a bumbling and even older old socialist such as Sanders doesn’t say much for him. There’s that ongoing scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation over a unsecured e-mail system that he sent correspondence through, all the Wall Street money that both of them took, and the Dodd-Frank regulations that enriched their contributors even as they’re both trying to claim it as a great victory for the anti-Wall Street crowd, and the lies they both told about the deadly attacks on an American consulate in Libya, which Democrats don’t care much about but still feed into a general cynicism about the establishment, so another four years of Obama is now a hard sell even to Democrats. Obama could still let that FBI investigation run its rightful course and then install some candidate more to his liking with the help of all those “super-delegates” that are currently padding Clinton’s numbers, but he’s now assured he thinks the voters should choose their politicians.
There’s plenty of “spectacle” on the Republican side, too, and we also blame Obama for that. After seven years and a month or so of Hope of Change and a socialism that dare not speak its name, an effective plurality of Republican voters have settled on a bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star who always brings a gun to a knife fight, gets in people’s faces, punishes his enemies, tells his vanquished opponents to sit in the back, is a billionaire with the biggest corporate jet this side of Air Force One with his name emblazoned in capital letters, and is a gambling mogul and proud adulterer who boasts of the politicians he’s bought off and claims to speak for typical gun-and-Bible-clinging white folk. He’s switched parties more often than he’s traded in his wives, and would apparently prefer something more socialistic than the Obamacare law that was passed without any Republican votes, but by gum, at least he fights, and after seven years of Hope and Change that’s good enough for a plurality of Republican voters. Trump is a reality TV star, too, and after seven years of Hope and Change and presidential appearances on the late night comedy shows there’s something comfortingly familiar about that.
Still, Obama and his scribes at Time and The New York Times and all those historians and documentarians will probably be able to cast a flattering light on his wizened visage and fondly recall all the telepromptered eloquence about bipartisan compromise and political civility and moderation, and with any luck the next big terrorist attack and the inevitable economic catastrophe won’t happen until the bumbling old socialist or her corrupt and incompetent rival or that bullying crony-capitalist reality TV star or some more right-wing cowboy are installed in office. From this point on, he levitates above the messy fray he’s created.

— Bud Norman

The Hillary Treatment

The big trend in movies these days is Hillary Clinton, of all things. Pre-production work is already underway on a much-ballyhooed big-budget feature titled “Rodham,” about our heroine’s historic yet previously unknown role in the Watergate scandal as a 26-year-old congressional staffer. CNN is currently at work on a documentary slated for theatrical release, with an Academy Award-winning lefty as director. Meanwhile, NBC is preparing a four-part biographical mini-series, which the network is hoping to air before the expected announcement of Clinton’s presidential candidacy so as to avoid messy equal-time rules and the necessity of producing a mini-series about Chris Christie or Rand Paul or some other icky Republican. Hollywood is hot for Hillary, as the alliteration-loving Variety headline writers might put it.
Ever eager to cash in on any Hollywood trend, and having had no luck pitching our Transformers-meet-zombie-Abe-Lincoln-meets-the-Hunger-Games concept, we’ve hastily penned a treatment for our own Clinton bio-pic. Our proposed movie is tentatively titled “Hillary!” — if the focus groups don’t like that we are willing to add another exclamation mark or two — and we think we can bring it in at well under a mere $250 million or so. An earlier movie about Clinton, boringly titled “Hillary: The Movie,” was critical of her career, but that wound up in litigation all the way to the Supreme Court as the Citizens United case, which annoyed the liberals to such an extent that ads are still popping up all over the internet with Sen. Al Franken’s smiling face demanding that the ruling somehow be overturned, and we don’t need that kind of trouble, so our effort will focus only on her accomplishments. Filling out a feature-length movie under these constraints will require some poetic license, of course, but ours is fully up to date and will surely be renewed by the feds when they see how sympathetically we have portrayed Clinton.
We’ve written the following treatment on “spec,” as they say around the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, so if you know any agents looking for a hot property feel free to pass it along. Agents with colorful nicknames such as “Swifty” are preferred, but at this point we are not picky.

“HILLARY!”

The movie opens in suburban Chicago with HILLARY as a first-grader, resembling a young Shirley Temple in her girlish sailor outfit, leading a general strike of her classmates to protest segregation at the school. When she defiantly presents her demands to the principal he patiently explains there are no black children within her suburban community to be segregated, but she snarls her insistence that some be provided at taxpayer expense. Cowed by her obvious moral authority, as well as the dog-eared copy of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules For Radicals” she is wielding as a cudgel, the principal relents. As Hllary triumphantly marches off to the cheers of an adoring throng of first-graders, the principal watches wistfully and mutters to himself “By gum, that girl is going places.”
After the credits roll over a slow-motion montage of academic award ceremonies, sporting triumphs, live-saving heroics, and other highlights of Hillary’s girlhood, accompanied by a swelling symphonic soundtrack from John Williams, if we can get him, we move ahead to the green lawns of Yale Law School in 1972. Hillary, now dressed in the fashion of Xena Warrior Princess, is seen leaving a building with a group of awestruck professors following behind to pepper her with arcane questions about the law. Looking across the lawn she sees BILL, a handsome young fellow in a patched hat, overalls, and bare feet, with a piece of straw dangling from his sultry lips and a stack of law books tucked under his muscular arm, watching her with a smitten look. As their eyes meet and the music swells, a group of young men dressed in prep school fashions, one of them resembling a young Mitt Romney, come along and begin to push and poke at Bill, telling him that they are Republicans and don’t like having his kind around. Hillary drops her books and rushes to intervene, felling each of the bullies with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. Bill, still trembling with fear, professes his undying love for Hillary and swears that he will never, ever cheat on her.
Cut to a year later, with Hillary and Bill sitting forlornly in the McGovern campaign headquarters as they watch the electoral map light up for Richard Nixon on a fuzzy black-and-white television. Rising slowly from her chair, her face contorted with rage but still somehow alluringly feminine, Hillary raises a defiant fist and vows that she will avenge this injustice. Moving ahead two years to the Watergate hearings we see Hillary whispering folksy witticisms into SEN. SAM ERVIN’s ear, which he repeats verbatim in his endearingly cornball southern accent, then slipping away to a dark parking garage somewhere in Washington. Under atmospheric dark lighting she confronts G. GORDON LIDDY, E. HOWARD HUNT, BOB HALDEMAN, and JOHN ERLICHMAN, each slapping baseball bats against their palms as they chuckle deviously, then fells the bullies with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. After some Tarantino-esque slapping around of the suspects by Hillary, each of the men offers a whimpering confession that leads to the resignation of President Nixon, thus ushering in the golden age of Jimmy Carter. A slow-motion montage of gas lines, unemployment lines, price increases, hostage-takings, killer rabbits, and leisure suits illustrates the era.
After a slow dissolve we find Hillary in Arkansas, where she is living with Bill in the gubernatorial trailer. While Bill busies himself with such mundane state business as caving into the teachers’ union and hiring interns, Hillary dabbles in the cattle futures market and establishes herself as the greatest lawyer in the history of jurisprudence. She takes the case of a young black man who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman, defying the condemnation of the racist townsfolk and the effect it has on her daughter, SCOUT, who has a subplot of her own involving the creepy and reclusive neighbor BOO RADLEY, who bears a slight resemblance to Dick Cheney. Despite her moving closing argument, delivered in a faux-black accent reminiscent of Butterfly McQueen in “Gone With the Wind,” the man is unjustly convicted, but unlike the wimp in “To Kill a Mockingbird” Hillary responds by felling the jury with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops.
Although the entire country is clamoring for Hillary to become president, as demonstrated by a slow-motion montage of “Draft Hillary” headlines, she decides to let Bill take the office in hopes that it will bolster his perpetually low self-esteem, which she suspects is the reason for his recently flagging libido. Moving ahead to the White House, we find Hillary bravely riffling through Federal Bureau of Investigation files and uncovering a criminal organization operating out of the White House travel office. She hires Bill’s cousin to set things righ at the office, then infiltrates and sabotages a plot to reform the health care system and thus makes possible the miracles of Obamacare.
All is then well in the land, but shortly after Bill wins re-election by a landslide plurality a vast right-wing conspiracy is launched to frame him for adultery. When the conspirators produce a stained dress as proof of Bill’s misdeeds, Hillary stands over it shouting “Out, damned spot” — a Shakespearean reference that will wow the high-brow critics — but the conspiracy proves so successful Bill is forced to confess. Afterwards Hillary devotes herself to world peace, and during a trip to Bosnia she finds herself under sniper fire and zigzags through an open field to fell the would-be assassin with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops.
Hillary then wins election to the Senate on a campaign promise to continue Bill’s highly successful policy of forcing banks to make subprime loans, and quickly earns a reputation as the greatest Senator in the history of representative democracy. She bravely wages a marathon filibuster against a bill that would build a dam where she had hoped to create a national boy’s camp, and the public is so moved by her conviction that evil Republican SEN. CLAUDE RAINS is forced to withdraw the bill. Unlike that wimp in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” however, Hillary then fells the corrupt politician with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. The incident leads to another slow-motion montage of “Draft Hillary” headlines, but she selflessly contrives to hand the presidency to young BARACK OBAMA in hopes that it will bolster the lad’s perpetually low self-esteem.
Eager to keep an eye on her young protégé, Hillary becomes Secretary of State and quickly earns a reputation as the greatest diplomat in the history of international relations. She is joined by constant companion HUMA ABEDIN, who dresses in the fashion of Xena Warrior Princess’ sidekick, Gabrielle, and provides the same subtle lesbian undertone. The two quickly act to prevent the villainous Czechs and Poles from obtaining missile-defense technology that they are plotting to use to deviously defend themselves from Russian missiles, intervene on behalf of a Marxist coup in Honduras, and prevent the construction of an apartment building in Jerusalem that might have been used to house Jews. In a musical number, done in the flamboyant style of Busby Berkeley, Hillary sings a rousing rendition of Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry” to VLADIMIR PUTIN, who then takes her in his muscular arms and says “You have reset my heart, you hot, tempestuous American girl.” Hillary pushes him away and says that her heart will always belong to Bill, prompting Huma to stifle an annoyed laugh, and Putin promises his full cooperation with America despite his heartbreak.
Another series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops to dictator HOSNI MUBARAK brings lasting peace and prosperity to Egypt, and with all well in the world Hillary begins to plan a return to a quiet private life of baking cookies and standing by her man. A group of crazed Tea Party members launch a deadly assault on an American consulate in Libya, however, and another vast right-wing conspiracy attempts to hold her responsible for failing to provide adequate security. Hillary boldly responds by finding the obscure filmmaker whose YouTube video hailing Obama as the messiah had so enraged the Tea Party members, then felling him with a series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. In the climactic scene she confronts a congressional investigative committee that hopes to question her about the matter, and with the same hazy cinematography that accompanied Scarlett O’Hara swearing that with God as her witness she would never go hungry again we reach Hillary’s memorable closing line: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

—-

That’s all we’ve got, so far, but by the time “Hillary!” ends its run on the premium cable networks there should be plenty of material for a sequel. Hillary will at last become president, quickly earn a reputation as the greatest president in the history of presidents, lead the country to new heights of greatness, and administer many series of highly stylized kicks and karate chops. Bill’s hijinks will provide plenty of comic relief as well as some much-needed nudity, and we can envision a sort of “A Star is Born” story arc for their relationship. The one with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, we mean, and not those boring old Judy Garland or Janet Gaynor vehicles. Also, the Huma character has spin-off potential, and a pre-quel about Hillary’s high school days might do well with the pre-teen market.
Bidding for the screen rights will begin soon, so all you Hollywood big-shots out there should be ready with seven-figure checks. If your own Clinton bio-pic projects somehow prove less worshipful, there could be trouble.

— Bud Norman