On Race, Gender, Class, the Olympics, and Of Course Presidential Politics

The 2016 Olympics won’t wrap up until some sort of bizarre post-modern samba-dancing and gender-bending closing ceremony on Sunday evening, but already the American team is assured of heading home with by far the biggest haul of gold, silver, and bronze medals. America’s athletic dominance of the international games has provided a pleasant distraction from the dispiriting domestic presidential election, but of course these days it’s impossible to keep the two events entirely apart.
Over at the reliably liberal Politico.com site a longtime Democratic operative is smugly noting that Republican nominee Donald J. Trump hasn’t yet spoken or “tweeted” a single congratulatory remark about the American champions, reasonably inferring that it’s because their success seems to contradict his campaign theme that “Crippled America” just “doesn’t have victories anymore” and he alone can “Make America Great Again.” The author also rightly notes that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has been a far more full-throated rooter for the American squad, and has happily seized on the politically convenient fact that the medal-winners are an exquisitely diverse group according to the racial and sexual and economic class categories that are a Democratic obsession.
A proportional share of those gold and silver and bronze medals have been won by American women, a gorgeous lot of athletes who recall the great Walt Whitman’s poetic notion of an American womanhood as “tann’d in the face by shining suns and blowing winds, their flesh has the old divine suppleness and grace, they know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle, shoot, run, strike, retreat, advance, defend themselves,” but we wonder how many of these women who are “ultimate in their own right — they are calm, clear, well-possessed of themselves” are going to vote for Clinton’s campaign themes that women are victims of American society and she alone can make them great. One of our favorite Olympians of this leap year has been Kim Rhode, who picked up her fifth Gold medal in as many Olympic games for skeet shooting, a sport we have tried and found we have absolutely no talent for, like us she’s a Second Amendment absolutist with no intention of voting for Clinton, and even that Democratic operative at Politico.com concedes that America’s Olympic champions are “presumably as politically diverse as they are culturally.”
Economic class plays its usual role in these Olympics, too, but we don’t expect that any Democratic nominee would want to delve too deeply into that. We’re pleased to note that Great Britain is once again a world-class sporting power, and is currently going nose-to-nose with Communist China for a distant second-place in the medal count, but across the pond there’s usual grousing that too many of those medals are being won by equestrians and rowers and fencers and other sorts of upper-crusty athletes, even if they can’t explain why their more yobbo athletes can’t compete with America’s ghetto stars in the more proletarian events. A lot of America’s medals were won by the sons and daughters of upper-middle class suburbanites who woke up early to get their kids to a swim club or volleyball practice before a long day of school that yielded high grades and SAT scores, and there’s no telling how they’ll vote, and even the sons and daughters of the working class parents who did the same are probably politically diverse.
Over at the reliably Republican National Review, which is so reliably Republican that it’s still NeverTrump, they’re smugly noting that America’s overwhelming Olympic success has come despite the lack of a Ministry of Sports or any other top-down bureaucratic central planning. They argue that America has won “bigly” at these Olympics because individuals of all races and sexes and classes were free to pursue the natural talents they alone knew they possessed, and that such independent and competitive institutions as the members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association were there to provide some much-needed assistance. This strikes us as a more compelling argument, and we can only wish that the Republican nominee wasn’t so cocksure that only he can make America win again that he can’t be shouting “USA, USA” during the closing ceremonies.

— Bud Norman

The Photoshop Rebellion

A regular reader of this publication has complained that it is too relentlessly gloomy about the state of the union. This criticism was offered in a friendly conversation shortly after the Super Bowl, which had been delayed for more than 30 minutes by an electrical outage in a city the government touts as a leader in the “energy efficient forefront,” and he seemed sympathetic to our argument that we are merely offering our most dispassionately objective assessments of the contemporary scene. Still, we vowed to our friend that we would henceforth scour the most reliable new sources for any heartening developments.
It isn’t much, perhaps, but we are pleased to report on a brief episode of resistance we shall dub the Photoshop Rebellion.
This minor skirmish in the culture wars began with the latest clamor for any sort of gun control that might get passed into law, whether it does any good or not, and the president’s unmistakable endorsement of this frenzy. In an apparent attempt to seem a likeable sort to guy to the gun owners whose rights he was threatening, the president then revealed to the press that he practices skeet shooting “all the time.” This claim was met with widespread ridicule, including a especially witty posting at this site, and the White House was so stung by the mockery that its spokesman derisively called the skeptics “skeeters” and presented a refuting photograph of the president firing a shotgun. It made for an enjoyably comical spectacle, except that the White House added an ominous warning that “The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.”
In other words, the White House was warning the supposedly free citizens of the United States that it would not tolerate any ridicule of its silly photograph of the president looking utterly ridiculous. Such thin-skinned and heavy-handed language is common to authoritarian states, where the populations meekly heed the threat, but here the public responded with an appropriate outpouring of more ridicule. Wags of varying wittiness took to the internet with “tweets” of derision and defiantly manipulated versions of the photograph, providing many chuckles to conservatives at a time when they are in distressingly short supply. These subversive satires will likely reach a limited audience, mostly comprised of those already inclined to regard the administration as ridiculous, but it seems a heartening development nonetheless.
The truest measure of freedom, after all, is a country’s ability to laugh at its leaders. Although the administration seems determined to eradicate this troublesome American trait, and has largely succeeded in the mainstream entertainment media, it is good to know that noses are still be thumbed out there.

— Bud Norman

The Secret Life of Barack Obama

Had you been standing nearby and armed with a feather you could have easily knocked us over when we read President Barack Obama’s claim that he shoots skeet “all the time.”
What we know of the activity seems so startlingly incongruous with what we know of the president’s personality, after all. Old movies indicate that skeet shooting can be an upper-crusty pastime, and is even a favorite sport of super-rich arch-villains, but out here on the prairie we associate it with that bitterly gun-and-God-clinging segment of the rural working class commonly known as the good ol’ boy. This is not to imply that Obama isn’t good, old, or a boy, but he does seem to possess a certain metrosexuality that defies the description.
Our own experiences of skeet shooting date back to our boyhood days of hurtling “clay pigeons” for the old man, an erstwhile country boy who had retained a keen eye even after moving to the suburbs and an executive office. He would occasionally haul us out to a remote field on the outskirts of Wichita, now the site of a gargantuan Home Depot store, and have us wear out our arm flinging disks from a primitive spring-loaded device as he knocked down one after another. The old man tried his best to impart the skill to the next generation, but we had no knack for it, and we sadly confess that if the country is ever invaded by skeet we will contribute little to the national defense. We did gain an appreciation of the art, however, and try as we might we just can’t envision Obama shooting skeet.
Still, the story comes from The Telegraph, which is pugnaciously British and generally reliable. Lending further plausibility is the detail that Obama does his shooting while at Camp David, where a skeet shooting course has almost surely been installed by one or another of those past Republican presidents, presumably with one of those fancy-schmantzy machines that will spare the presidential daughters the onerous chore of hurtling the skeet, and we were also convinced by the lack of any extravagant claims about the president’s skill. The Telegraph’s correspondent slyly insinuates that Obama might merely be attempting to reassure gun-owners as he pushes an unprecedented gun control regime, but we would never be so cynical as to suggest such a thing.
Learning of Obama’s gun-toting exploits did get us to wondering what other unknown proclivities he’s been keeping private, however, so we consulted with a source close to the president. Those readers who are unaware of satire should be forewarned that our source is entirely fictional, and his information completely made up, but we felt his observations worth passing along nonetheless.
It turns out that the president is also partial to pickup trucks. “He has a special fondness for Ford F-150s,” our source said. “Get him out in one of those babies on a muddy road with a tree stump that needs pulling, and he’s a happy man.” The presidential pickup is apparently well stocked with cassette recordings of country-and-western music, as well. “Obama’s favorite is probably Buck Owens and his Buckeroos, especially from the era when Don Rich was adding that great high-lonesome harmony,” our source told us. “But he pretty much likes anything with that Bakersfield sound — Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, you name it. He’ll play Tommy Collins’ ‘Opal, You Asked Me’ over and over, and it always cracks him up. Says it reminds him of Michelle.”
Our source also reports that the White House chefs have been required to master the preparation of chicken fried steaks and fried okra, that a room near the Oval Office has been re-decorated as an exact replica of Elvis Presley’s jungle room at Graceland, and that Obama has complained to friends about Bill Clinton already laying claim to nickname “Bubba.” All those unwashed yokels in flyover country who didn’t vote for Obama should be reassured to know that he’s such a regular skeet-shooting kind of guy, but we suggest they take a long hard look at his gun control proposals anyway.

— Bud Norman