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Conservatism in the Age of Trumpism

Way back in late February of 2011, the reality show star Donald Trump was roundly booed during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual convention. Trump declined his next invitation to CPAC’s 2016 convention during the Republican presidential primaries, which is something Republican presidential hopefuls normally don’t dare, but was nonetheless roundly booed when then conservative hero Sen. Ted Cruz derisively mentioned his name.
President Trump was greeted as a conquering hero at the 2017 CPAC confab, however, and is expected to as rapturously received when he returns today. This raises question of whether it’s Trump or conservatism that has changed over the past six or seven years.
There’s a strong case to be made that Trump has been transformed. Back in ’11 he was still flaunting his friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton, writing checks to all the New York and Florida Democrats he relied on for favors, and was still on the record in favor of banning “assault rifles” and allowing unrestricted access to abortion, among his other many heretical opinions. By 2016 he’d been a leading proponent of the “birther” theory that President Barack Obama was not and American citizen, was saying the nastiest things anyone had to say about the Clintons, promising to get tougher on illegal and legal immigration than anyone else dared, all in the snarling rhetorical style of talk radio, but his conservative credentials were still in doubt.
By the time he made his triumphant return to CPAC last year as the Republican party’s very own president, having triumphed over such well-credentialed conservatives as the aforementioned Cruz, Trump was clearly not the New York City liberal he had once claimed to be. When he takes to the stage today he’ll be able to wave a big tax cut bill that he signed into law, point to all the burdensome regulations he’s eliminated, brag about the strict constructionist he appointed the Supreme Court, and rightly claim that although he didn’t repeal and replace Obamacare his tax cut bill at least rescinded the hated individual mandate. So far he hasn’t caved on promises to kick out all those illegal yet sympathetic “dreamers” who were brought here as children, or his promises to deliver the favors the National Rifle Association paid him for, and although he’s sounded kind of wobbly on both lately his conservative credentials probably won’t be checked at CPAC’s door.
Still, we can’t quite shake a sad feeling that this is not the conservatism we signed up for so long ago. In our idealistic youth, which occurred during one of those occasional epochs of cataclysmic cultural change, we embraced a Burkean conservatism that sought to maintain the best of what our culture had established over the generations, to move cautiously toward its highest and most time-tested ideals, and resist the worst of all the craziness coming from the left. This led us to certain conclusions about the government that governs best being the one that governs least, the enduring wisdom of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the many ways that humans gotten it wrong, not letting petty disputes devolve into warfare, and the importance of eventually balancing the books.
For the most part the Republican party has imperfectly followed these general principles for most of our lives, but these days it seems to have made a predictably bad deal with the guy who had “The Art of the Deal” ghost-written for him. The craziness coming from the left is crazier than ever, and we feel it must be resisted, so it’s especially sad to realize that’s about all we have left in common with the right these days.
The conservative cheers for Trump won’t be for the enduring wisdom of Judeo-Christian tradition, as anybody understands it, and the mention of any institutions that have been painstakingly established over the generations to resist his worst impulses will surely be met with talk of “deep state” “silent coups” by “enemies of the people” and chants of “Burn it down!” The CPAC crowds have already indulged themselves with the ritual chant of “Lock her up” at the mention of vanquished Democrat foe Hillary Clinton’s name, just like the crowds at the Ukrainian strongman’s rallies arranged by Trump’s former and now-indicted campaign manager, which did result in the losing opponent going to jail, which actually outraged most conservatives way back then.
These days too many self-described conservatives seem to like that strong man style of governance, even as they insist they’re freedom-loving small government types. They still insist they’re against annual deficits and multi-trillion dollar debts, but don’t seem to mind that all of Trump’s budgets lead to a bigger-than-Obama hole. They still insist they’re the party of family values, but they’ll give a Trump a pass on his extramarital flings with porn stars and Playboy centerfolds. They still want to lock Clinton up for mishandling classified information, but they’re perfectly fine with alleged-wives beaters and a suspicious-as-hell son-in-laws and dozens of other uncleared staffers getting daily access to top security intelligence briefings.
At least he’s not Hillary, the CPAC conventioneers will surely say, and we have to admit they’ve got a point. The CPAC convention has always drawn almost every sort of self-described contrastive, but mostly the types who take it far too seriously, so it’s always been a bit of a freak show. When Trump was booed back in ’11 it was because he disparaged far-libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, who had easily won the convention’s primary straw poll over eventual nominee Mitt Romney, and this time around it featured the last French election’s nominee from the National Front, a far-right nationalist party with fascist roots whose campaign also received cyber support from the Russian government, and she was more warmly received than Trump was back in ’11. As bad as that sounds, though, we’re quite sure the next big liberal confab, full of people who also take this stuff far too seriously, will have something just as bad. The CPAC convention’s one saving grace has always been that it united all those factions in their opposition to the worst of all that leftwing craziness, and for now Trump is the only champion to rally around in that righteous cause.
If conservatism is thus defined as rallying around Trump, though, it’s in worse trouble than anybody at CPAC seems to realize.

— Bud Norman

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Prophetic Words From a Burning Bush

Something deep in our old-fashioned Republican souls feels a certain nostalgia for the administration of President George W. Bush, and lately even our most newfangled Democrat friends will admit to some degree of the same feeling. Bush was an imperfect president, as we freely admit and our Democrat friends and our Democrat friends often remind us, but on Thursday he gave a rare and remarkable speech that reminded us all he could have been a whole lot worse.
With characteristic classiness Bush has mostly retreated from the public stage since leaving office, preferring to spend his time with family and paint some surprisingly fine portraits of the servicemen and servicewomen who carried out his controversial foreign policy, and otherwise devote himself to the happily apolitical good works of his family’s foundations, which has eventually endeared him to most of the American public at large. He re-entered the political fray on Thursday with that remarkable speech, though, and it heartened us as well as our Democrat friends.
Bush’s oration at the George W. Bush Institute welcomed a Latino amigo who had served in his administration’s military, as well as several foreign visitors in the audience, along with Secretaries of State from both his and President Bill Clinton’s administrations, then launched into a an eloquent defense of such cherished American values of liberty and democracy. He lauded the post-World War II order of free markets and free trade, decried the current Chinese and Russian threats to that order, and lamented that too many Americans now fail to appreciate its benefits. Bush further denounced the recent degradation of America’s political discourse, warned against rising nativist sentiments, unequivocally denounced white supremacy, and called for a new civility in America’s public square.
Such anodyne sentiments wouldn’t be at all remarkable in ordinary times, but these days it’s the stuff of controversy. With characteristic classiness Bush didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, but no matter how old-fashioned a Republican or newfangled a Democrat you might be there’s no denying it implied a severe criticism of the current and putatively Republican president, so there was an unavoidable flap.
Bush’s assertion — completely correct as far our old-fashioned Republican souls are concerned — that “free trade helped make America into a global power” is an obvious response to Trump’s claims that the rest of the world has been stealing America’s wealth. When Bush griped that now “bigotry seems emboldened” and “Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” the metaphorical shoe fit Trump well enough that he has to wear it. “we have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said, and although he might have been talking about all the talk radio hosts that used to defend him, but everyone knows he was talking about a president who has mocked a reporter’s physical handicap and his political opponents’s heights and the plainness of their wives. His warnings about the cyber-attacks on American democracy by foreign adversaries were just as clearly aimed at Trump, who continues to deny against mounting evidence that it’s a problem.
All of the casually cruel talk radio hosts who used to defend Bush were properly appalled, of course. By now they’re all obliged to rally ’round the current putatively Republican president, so they all denounced Bush as an “elitist” and “globalist” and worse yet “establishment” voice. None of them could articulate a persuasive point-by-point refutation of what Bush said, but these days such meaningless calumnies as “elitist” and “globalist” and “establishment” will suffice for their audience. Although we’re not at all elite nor globalist, and in fact are barely getting by these days, we’re still nostalgic for the good old days when they were defending to the death even Bush’s worst moves.
These days even our most newfangled Democrat friends are giving Bush some long overdue respect, and we’ll hold out hope it provides some common ground on which to find a way out of our current difficulties. Some of our most newfangled Democrat friends share Trump’s aversion to free trade and traditional role in sustaining world order, and are every bit as un-civil as Trump in their discourse, but we appreciate Bush’s help in any case.

— Bud Norman

A Fairly Smooth Start to Trump’s Trip

President Donald Trump’s first overseas trip is going well enough, so far. There have been none of the glaringly undiplomatic moments that some feared, some begrudging praise for his speech in Saudi Arabia from the erstwhile Republican foreign policy establishment, and it managed to push all those stories about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia off the front pages and top-of-the-hour reports for a weekend.
No president goes to the Middle East and without provoking some controversy, of course, and Trump was never going to be an exception to that rule. There was some relatively minor quibbling about his swaying along with an all-male sword dance that the Saudis like to do, as well as the usual nitpicking about protocol. Although the left was obliged to praise the First Lady and First Daughter for refusing to cover their hair according to local custom, they also came up with the inevitable past “tweets” by Trump criticizing Democratic visitors for doing the same. The right was mightily pleased that Trump didn’t bow to the Saudi king, as President Barack Obama was accused of doing when he stooped a bit too low to shake hands with the much shorter monarch, but the left delighted in pictures of Trump also leaning a bit to accept a golden medallion from his relatively diminutive host.
There are also the more substantive controversies about more substantive matters, of course. A much-ballyhooed speech to an audience that included several heads of Islamic states managed to avoid the “Islam hates us” and “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on” rhetoric, which was a relief to to his critics on the left but a disappoint to some of his supporters on the right. The speech was quite clear in its opposition to Iran’s regional and global ambitions, which played well on the right and especially well with his Sunni audience, but naturally upset those on the left that had grown accustomed to Obama’s Shiite tilt, and was worrisome to the centrist types who thinks it’s best that America not take either side in the bloody millennia-and-a-half-year-old schism. There was no mention of human rights in the speech, and instead a clear disclaimer that Trump had no intention of telling anyone how to deal with their internal affairs, which these days wins both praise and criticism from certain sections of both sides of the aisle.
The visit also saw the signing of a $110 billion defense deal with the Saudis for some very high-tech weaponry, but that was pretty much the same deal that the Obama administration had negotiated, so no one in either party seemed to have much to say about that. There was also some high-brow discussion about how Trump’s apparent support for authoritarian regimes so long as they suppress terrorism will address the root causes of terrorism, which are thought to include U.S.-backed authoritarian regimes suppressing all sorts of needed reform movements, but in all fairness no one on either the right or left or anywhere in between seems to have figured out what the hell is going on.
Trump’s trip moves on to Israel and the Vatican and Belgium and a G-7 meeting full of wary world leaders before he gets home, so there’s still plenty of potential for something glaringly undiplomatic to happen, but he’s got figure it’s going pretty well so far. If he can keep his thumbs away from a “twitter” machine he might even be able to keep that Russia thing with Trump and Russia on the inside pages and bottom-of-the-hour updates for a whole week, with the inevitable controversies being more easily ignored.

— Bud Norman

About That Ballyhooed Speech

President Donald Trump’s much-ballyhooed address to a joint session of Congress wasn’t awful, at least by his usual standards. There was none of the “that I can tell you” and “believe me” and “OK?” or other tics that usually pepper his speeches, the characteristic boastful hyperbole was toned down a more typical political level, his sentences were parseable and occasionally almost oratorical, and he didn’t give the late night comics anything obvious to ridicule.
That was sufficient that even the media Trump has identified as enemies of the American people were offering begrudging praise, and although his most ardent supporters might have found it a bit boring and been disappointed that there it offered nothing to chant they probably liked it as well. Still, by the standard of what was needed it wasn’t a very good speech. Once people start to recover from the shock of a presidential-sounding Trump, pretty much everyone will find something in it to grouse about.
Trump shrewdly disarmed his most hysterical critics by opening with a condemnatory few words about a recent shooting in Olathe, Kansas, of two immigrants from India by a man who shouted “Get out of my country” as he opened fire, as well a recent uptick in anti-semitic incidents and other crimes apparently motivated by racial or ethnic animus, but it won’t stop complaints that his previous nativist rhetoric has contributed to the problems. His critics will also note that later spoke at greater length about the crimes committed by immigrants, and had a couple of widows on hand to illustrate the point, and emphasized how big the problem was by creating a new agency in the government to deal with its victims. Although we were advocating stricter enforcement of immigration laws way back when Trump was calling Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney “cruel” for his relatively modest proposals, we’re also leery of new agencies and can’t help wondering why the country can’t better serve victims of crime no matter who perpetrated it.
Trump also made clear he was steadfast against all crime no matter who perpetrates it, and he wasn’t quite so extravagant about overstating the extent of it as he has been in the recent past, but he didn’t offer any specific solutions, He spoke of supporting “the men and women of law enforcement,” which we take to mean to that his Justice Department won’t be harassing local police departments into retreat from their more aggressive tactics, as the administration President Barack Obama did, which almost certainly has to do with that undeniable if overstated recent uptick in crime driven largely a few cities where the Obama administration was particularly tough on the cops and crimes rates have indeed been soaring, but we would have liked to have seen that argument more fully developed.

The same lack of specificity permeated the rest of the speech. Trump swore his fidelity to “free trade,” but he sounded so perfunctory about it and so impassioned when he went on at much greater length about “fair trade” we would have appreciated a clearer description of what he wants the international commerce to look like. There is still an influential number of Republicans who still hew to the party’s erstwhile free market principles in Congress, and all the Democrats there who still aren’t so far left as self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders were all for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals that Obama negotiated, and we expect they’re also wanting some further clarity about the matter. Anyone employed by or invested in one of America’s many export-dependent industries, such as the agricultural and aviation sectors that make up the biggest chunk of the economy around here, are also bound to be anxious for further details. He spoke of how America’s iconic Harley-Davidson motorcycles have a 100 percent tariff slapped on them by some unnamed countries, which so far as we tell are India and the Maldives, which is indeed unfortunate for any aspiring Indian and Maldivian biker gangs, but we like to hear more about a trade war might affect the wheat and airplane markets. He’s for getting rid of Obamacare’s individual mandate that requires people without health insurance to pay for the privilege, which is fine by us and a great relief after his campaign statements to the contrary, and he’s for interstate insurance markets, as is every sentient being on the planet, but he’s for that preexisting conditions part of Obamacare and was conspicuously vague about how he’s going to make all that work.

Speaking of the Republican party’s erstwhile free market principles, Trump also took some largely unearned credit for strong-arming and bribing some recognizable brand names into keeping some of their American workers on the job, and he promised more of the same. There were no flow charts or graphs to exactly how Trump intends to personally manage a $17.4 billion economy with all of these great deals, and we couldn’t help recalling how he’d run his casinos and airline and real estate university and various other namesake ventures, but we were reassured that at least he didn’t say “believe me, OK?” He promised to do a lot of de-regulating, which warmed our principled free market Republican hearts, and even announced a policy of only allowing one new regulation for every two repealed, which struck us as rather arbitrary but nonetheless reasonable, but all that talk about intervening in every corporate re-location suggests that the one new regulation will be more far-reaching that those few forgettable lines from section two A part IV of the This Thing or the Other Thing Act of 1936 and that bit about proper wattage of lighting in federal buildings from the Affordable This or That Act of the dying days of the Obama Administration that are tossed out.
Trump read the usual Republican boilerplate about the national debt, and rightly noted how it had nearly doubled during the Obama administration, but he also proposed enough infrastructure spending to re-build the entire country, and suggested we could do it maybe twice or even three times if we don’t get it just right, and surely we’re not the only ones left hoping for a more explicit explanation of how he plans to pull that off without the debt. He’s talking big tax cuts and promising that along with all de-regulating they’ll speed up the sluggish pace of economic growth, which we our free market sensibilities regard as good bet, but we’re not such risk-takers that we wager it will be enough to rebuild an entire country of this size a couple of times over. Trump said we’d already spent that much in fighting the war against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is only true if you very much want to believe Trump because that he can tell you, OK?, and he seemed to promise there’d no more such foolish spendthriftiness for at least the next four years, but he also promised to eradicate the Islamic State terror gang and radical Islamic extremism in general, so we’re still unclear how those numbers will work out.
The only other mention of foreign policy was some talk about new alliances with old enemies, which Trump likened to our post-World War II arrangements with Germany and Japan, which we took to mean that he’s going full steam ahead on selling both of them and number of other countries out to the Russian dictator that he has frequently praises. It got short mention in the speech and the immediate stories about it, but given all the allegations of Russian meddling in the election and the recent leaks about the Trump campaign’s contacts and the past officials with undeniable ties to the Russkies who have been kicked off team Trump and whatever might or might not be in those still-undisclosed tax returns, as well as all that gushing praise Trump keeps heaping on Putin, the story is likely to linger.
All those Democrats who laughed at Romney’s Cold War-era foreign policy are suddenly sounding like John Birchers, and there is still a significant number of Republicans left who hold to the party’s erstwhile stern position about the Russkies, and we expect they’re eagerly awaiting more details about the matter. The same coalition is likely to take a look at the fine print in all that infrastructure spending, too, as every last pre-Trump Republican stood firm-fast against such spendthrifty tomfoolery back when Obama was proposing it, and all those Democrats who used to think it was a great idea will hate it because it’s now Trump’s idea, and we have to admit that they’ll have an argument that the private investment part of the spending is an invitation to outright corruption, and even the Sanders wing of the Democratic party will probably oppose Trump-branded protectionism. The Democrats were mostly well-behaved during the address, but they couldn’t suppress a laugh when President Trump repeated candidate Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of corruption, and given that Trump retains full ownership of business interests that don’t necessarily align with the national interest we expect the late night comics will provide plenty more laughs about it in the coming months and years.
For now, though, Trump will probably enjoy a few days of relatively good press. That shtick of reading parseable sentences without provoking any “Twitter” feuds worked well enough for Trump that even the enemies of the American people are glumly admitting a certain presidential tone, and it will be interesting to see if he sticks with it.

— Bud Norman

And So It Begins

The presidency of Donald Trump got off to a predictably contentious start on Friday, and we expect that will continue for a while.
Trump commenced his administration with a characteristically pugnacious inauguration speech, and pretty much everything in it promised a lot of fussing and fighting and back-and-forth-“tweeting” over the next few years. He did give the obligatory shout out to the past presidents in attendance, and thanked President Barack Obama and his wife for their “gracious” and “magnificent” help during the transition, but he seemed to have all of them in mind when he immediately launched into the part about “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the costs,” and “The establishment protected itself, but not the people.” He assured the country “That all changes — starting right here, and right now,” and although he explained that is because “this moment is your moment, it belongs to you” he seemed as always to regard the moment as being all about him. He described his election as “part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before,” and painted a very dark picture of what America was like before it came to the rescue.
America’s infrastructure “has fallen into disrepair and decay,” “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the world,” “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” and an education system “which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” He summed it all with the phrase “American Carnage,” which sounds like the title of a graphic novel soon to be made into a major motion picture, but again promised that it “stops right here and right now.”
We’ve been peddling our gloomy accounts of American decline since Trump was busy firing people on “The Apprentice,” and we’re not about to stop now, but even we thought Trump’s diagnosis a bit overwrought, and to the extent we glean them his prescriptions seemed likely to do more harm than good.
America’s infrastructure is always in need of repair, but that usually happens at the state and local level, and judging by all the orange cones and ditches being dug around here the country seems as busy with the task as always, and our old-fashioned Republican principles as just opposed to a pork-laden trillion dollar spending program as we were Obama was proposing one. The part about the prosperity of the American middle class being redistributed to the rest of the world suggests that Trump regards the global economy as a zero-sum game, with any gain in another country’s standard of living somehow being directly billed to the home of some Rust Belt opioid addict in a “Make America Great Again” ball cap, and Trump’s promise to “protect” us from such looting smacks of the protectionism that has always left all the world poorer. Some of those tombstone factories used to manufacture Kodak film and Betamax videocassette recorders and celluloid collars and other products that are no longer in demand, others were simply no longer any more viable than Trump Steaks or Trump University or Trump Mortgage or the Trump Taj Mahal casino and strip club or any of the other countless businesses that come and go in a competitive and creatively destructive economy, and we fear that any attempts to revive them will not prove fruitful. We’re more convinced than ever than America’s educational system is awful, but have an American president who writes a sentence about “our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge” does not make us any less pessimistic about it.
The foreign policy portion was all about “America First,” another pithy and movie-title phrase that sounds good, unless you were educated early enough to know about the last “America First” movement, which argued in the years leading up to World War II that an isolationist America would do just fine in world otherwise dominated by the worst sorts of totalitarianism. Ever since that proved tragically untenable there’s a bi-partisan consensus that international military alliances and economic cooperation between the more democratic and humane countries is needed to sustain peace and prosperity and ward off the ever present bad guys, but apparently that also ends right here and right now.
To our old-fashioned Republican and conservative ears it was probably the worst inaugural address ever, and we can only imagine how harsh it must have sounded to a Democrat and any other sort liberal. Some of them were literally rioting in the streets even as Trump delivered it, with the Starbucks shops seeming to get the usual worst of it, and many thousands more were already in the streets protesting more peacefully. By the next day the Washington Mall and its surrounding streets were filled with anti-Trump protestors, hundreds of thousands more took to the streets of many other American cities, and when you throw in a fair guesstimate of the turn-out in cities from Europe to South America to Australia there were more than a million of them. That’s a lot of angry opposition, far more than the usual newly-inaugurated president provokes, and it’s hard to imagine Trump either overwhelming them with his popularity or charming them into submission, so we expect that should last a while.
Trump had a pretty good turnout of his own, by the standards of the usual newly-inaugurated president, but of course he felt obliged to overstate that. His press secretary had a press conference that allowed no questions but instead merely castigated the assembled media for broadcasting their footing and publishing their photographs that sure did seem to suggest a smaller crowd than the one that assembled for Obama’s ’09 inauguration, and he huffily noted that there were no official numbers, as the Interior Department wisely bowed out out of the crowd-estimating business decades ago, and he went on to boast that Trump of course had the biggest numbers ever, and he flat-out lied about the ridership numbers on the District of Columbia’s subway and the security precautions that might have kept out some the people he insisted were there. When Trump spoke before a group of Central Intelligence Agency employees on Saturday he also groused about the media, and insisted that he could clearly see up to a million and a half people hanging on his every word, and we doubt that a group of CIA analysts bought a single word of it. Inauguration audiences are mostly drawn from D.C. and its surrounding counties, where Trump got tiny percentages of the vote and Obama was a landslide winner, and Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters surely had more pressing chores than traveling a long distance and coughing up the $800 a night for a stay at Trump’s hotel, and despite Trump’s apparent insecurities about such things size doesn’t really mean all that much in any case, so with all the fights yet to come it seemed hardly worth fighting.
Trump also took the occasion of his visit to the CIA to reiterate his belief in wars of pillage, wistfully remark that we might yet get another chance to appropriate Iraq’s oil reserves, and promised the spooks that “you’re gonna get so much backing, maybe you’re gonna say, ‘Please, don’t give us so much backing, Mr. President, please, we don’t need that much backing.” After “tweeting” that the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s meddling in the past election made him feel that he was living in Nazi Germany, Trump assured the audience that any impression he was not a big fan of the intelligence community was entirely due to that lying media, which allowed him to segue into the longer rant about the huge turnout for his inauguration.
All in all, we did not find it an encouraging start.

— Bud Norman

A Transgendered Heckle

The same Greece that was once the Cradle of Democracy is about to go bust, American troops are moving into eastern Europe as if the ’80s were calling and they wanted their foreign policy back, and the Republicans seem intent on entrusting President Barack Obama with the power to negotiate a top-secret trade deal with Asia that will allow all sorts of environmental and immigration shenanigans, but the story that caught our eye was the one about a transgendered illegal immigrant heckling a presidential speech. So far as we can determine this is the first time in the history of the republic that any president has ever been heckled by a transgendered illegal immigrant, so it seemed worth noting.
We’re not at all sure how Washington or Lincoln or Coolidge or either of the Roosevelts or any of the rest of those other archaic old white guys would have handled the situation, as it apparently never came up during their terms, but Obama responded with what strikes us as a very generous indulgence. He was addressing an “LGBT Pride” conference, the acronym referring to lesbian and gay and bisexual and transgendered persons, when a person identified as Jennicet Guttierrez started loudly shouting a demand to “release ‘LGBTQ’ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations.” The added “Q” stands for “questioning,” as we understand it, although we can’t pretend to understand what “questioning” means, except for a vague sense that it’s suppose to include those who can’t quite say what they’d wind up doing if they were stranded on a desert island or given a lengthy prison sentence or found themselves in some other unusual sexual circumstance. At any rate, Obama politely implored the heckler to restrain himself or herself, whichever the case may be, and quite reasonably asserted that such behavior was impolite for an invited guest to the East Room of the White House, which he presumptively referred to as “my house.” When the heckler persisted in his or her heckling, Obama at last had his sizable security contingent remove him or her from the premises, although so far as we can glean from the press reports Obama did not have him or her removed from the country, as the law would require.
Apparently there are some 75 transgendered illegal immigrants currently being detained in America, a surprisingly large number given the famously macho cultures from which most illegal immigrants come, but even so Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Guttierrez seems to have little cause for heckling. The president has been far more indulgent toward illegal immigrants than we would prefer, or what we believe the plainly written laws would permit, and the fact that he had invited a collection of Ls and Gs and Bs and Ts to the White House, even if he did neglect to invite all those more countless Qs, suggests that he’s more or less au courant on the latest sexual fashions. Why transgendered illegal immigrants should enjoy preferential treatment over the more traditional sorts was not explained in the heckling, and neither did the heckling make a reasoned argument that America should stop enforcing its borders. Even the rest of the assembled Ls and Gs and Bs and Ts, and presumably those Qs who also somehow snuck in, helped to shout down the more au courant heckler.
The crowd’s response was probably heartening to the president, who for some reason endures more heckling from the left than the right. Except for that State of the Union address when some little-known Republican shouted “You lie” during a line about how Obamacare won’t cover illegal immigrants, which has since turned out to be an entirely accurate heckle, or Chief Justice Roberts’ silently mouthed protestation of “not true” after Obama’s verifiably not true description of the Citizen’s United decision, all of the heckling during his speeches has come from the pacifist Code Pink group or the anti-free trade labor groups or some other faction that finds him insufficiently liberal. He used to be heckled by pro-illegal immigration groups that demanded he allow open borders by executive action, and he used to try to politely quell the dissent by explaining that he had no constitutional authority to do so, but apparently there has since been some change in the Constitution that no longer makes this necessary.
Greece’s descent into bankruptcy and the revival of the Cold War and that awful free trade bill that the Republicans are signing on to are probably more important matters, but at a time when transgendered illegal immigrants are heckling the president they seem all the more unlikely to come to any happy conclusion.

— Bud Norman

An Israeli Election and the American Consequences

Israeli politics seem to us a confounding mix of those convoluted European parliamentary systems and the even more arcane points of Talmudic mysticism, and as we write this there is still a chance that the results of Tuesday’s elections in that far-away country might yet come down to hanging chads and butterfly ballots in Palm Beach, but it does appear from the latest press reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won another term. This strikes us as good news for Israel, at least from our faraway vantage point, as well as a happy development in our own domestic politics.
Like most American conservatives, we have been puzzled that Netanyahu was ever in danger of not winning re-election. He’s long been the world’s most forthright and effective opponent of Islamic terrorism, after all, and the notion of his countrymen failing to recognize such leadership seemed as inexplicable as the British rejecting Prime Minister Winston Churchill after the Second World War. All politics truly is local, though, and the Israelis have been susceptible to fanciful leftist economic schemes since the country’s kibbutz days, and Netanyahu has already been in power for more ten years and even the most admirable politicians everywhere eventually become wearisome to a public, so some drama should have been expected. The results don’t necessarily vindicate Netanyahu’s domestic economic economic policies, according to the general tenor of the world press, and they don’t necessarily constitute a referendum on national security policy, as even the most crazily liberal Israelis are by now realistically hawkish, but the party of the Arab minority that isn’t committed to the country’s survival might have involved in a coalition to unseat Netanyahu, and there is reason to believe that Israel’s desire for continued existence had something to do with it.
It’s so hard to say how much Netanyahu’s recent well-publicized spat with American President Barack Obama had to do with it, but we’d like to think it played at least a small part. Netanyahu accepted an invitation from the Republican party to address Congress recently, the president huffily declined a meeting for the stated reason that he didn’t want to interfere in another nation’s elections, a slew of unnamed White House sources made it clear that the president clearly intended to influence the the Israel elections against Netanyahu, Netanyahu went ahead and gave a speech decrying the president’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, and it seems to have worked out well for him. If Netanyahu had lost the president’s apologists would have gloated about it, so American conservatives are entitled some to gloating about the victory. Better yet, Netanyahu’s victory might even help persuade a crucial number of Democrats to join a unified Republican in overriding a presidential veto of an impending bill that will impose economic sanctions on Iran and wind up scuttling the president’s disastrous negotiations. At the very least, Netanyahu’s victory deprives the president of an argument that his appeasement policies are acceptable to even Israel.
The very latest press reports from Israel indicate that the election wasn’t even very close, and we say shalom to Israel and God bless America.

— Bud Norman

A Not-So-Crazy Middle East Conspiracy Theory

Being unfamiliar with the Kuwaiti press, we have no idea how much credence to give Al-Jarida‘s report that in 2014 the Obama administration thwarted an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities by threatening to shoot down the Israeli jets. Being all too familiar with the Obama administration and its dealing with both Israel and Iran, however, we can’t dismiss the story as entirely implausible.
The usually reliable Times of Israel quotes a former Israeli Defense Forces chief as saying that a strike against Iran was seriously considered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but ultimately rejected on the advice of himself and other top military officers, which also seems within the realm of possibility, and we will await with open mind whatever confirmations or denials the administration’s various spokesmen might provide. Still, there’s no shaking a unsettling suspicion that President Barack Obama might actually have threatened to wage war against Israel in defense of Iran.
Obama’s antipathy for Israel and ardent desire for rapprochement with Iran have long been apparent, but have been especially conspicuous in the lead-up to Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Tuesday. The speech is at the invitation of the Republican leadership, and the president is claiming it is a breach of diplomatic protocol for Netanyahu to have accepted without the president’s approval, that it constitutes unethical meddling in a foreign nation’s politics to schedule the speech within weeks of Israeli elections, and that it could endanger America’s on negotiations with the Iran government over its nuclear weapons program. None of which is at all convincing, unless you’re one of the obedient Democrats who are huffily boycotting the speech. Obama’s own frequent breaches of protocol toward Israel include having its head of state cool his heels in a White House office for hours and allowing high administration officials to impugn Netanyahu’s courage with barnyard epithets, groups loyal to Obama have been openly campaigning in Israel and his own preferences regarding the election have been well-known to the Israeli public, and Netanyahu can only endanger America’s deal with Iran by making a persuasive case to Congress and the American people that it is dangerous the security of Israel and America and the rest of the world. The president’s annoyance with Netanyahu and Israel at large preceded the invitation to make the speech by at least seven years, and his peculiar affinity for Iran’s America-hating theocracy goes back as far.
Obama’s apparent desire is to allow Iranian regional hegemony and nuclear weapons and international respectability in exchange for, well, we’re not sure exactly, but assume it will include some assurance that they’ll help deal with the Islamic State al-Qaeda and other regional pests and abandon their frequently stated goal of the death of America. He probably also expects a grand photo opportunity as he delivers peace in our time, and a good write-up in the history books as the man who finally brought lasting amity to the Middle East, but he seems awfully worried that Netanyahu will make a persuasive case that it’s all a dangerous pipe dream. Iran’s state-run news agency is peddling the typically crazy Middle East conspiracy theory that America is secretly behind the Islamic State, the government is offering safe haven to al-Qaeda terrorists despite their Sunnism, Iranian street demonstrations still feature the ritual chant of death to America, and the country’s influence is reading into Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan and elsewhere in the region without ceding anything to the Great Satan. With Obama protecting Iran from the sanctions that had recently brought its economy to a near halt, and with no immediate disavowals that he’s also been protecting it from Israeli jets, the country has no reason to agree to any deal that threatens their dream of nuclear weapons and whatever apocalyptic plans they might have for them. That would set off a nuclear arms race in a region characterized by religious manias and ancient hatreds, with Saudi Arabia having already made arrangements with nuclear-armed Pakistan in the event of an Iranian bomb being developed, and Netanyahu can hardly be blamed for any discomfort he might have about that scenario.
The Secretary of State has declined to state “what is or isn’t the situation” regarding his negotiations with Iran, and Obama’s only argument for his policies seems to be that we should trust him, but alas, we don’t. At this point, we’re not even sure that he hasn’t threatened to shoot down Israeli planes to defend an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

— Bud Norman

Empathy for the Devil

Former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is also the presumptive next presidential nominee of the Democratic party, gave an interesting speech at Georgetown University a few days ago. Most of the press coverage focused on the size of the crowd, which was conspicuously less than the Led Zeppelin reunion tour-sized turnout one might expect for such an credentialed person, but her remarks were also worth noting.
The reviews of the speech were so uniformly negative that even such a reliably Democratic scribe as The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank opined that Clinton has “lost that ‘new car smell,'” and even went so far as to ridicule her arguments for feminine leadership of the world as a remedy for its woes, but only the conservative press was so unkind as to delve into its content. The gist of the speech, so far as we discern from all the snark, is that American foreign policy must be based on an “empathy” for its foes.
“This is what we call ‘smart power,'” Clinton said in her speech, if the transcripts are to believed, “using every possible tool and partner to advance peace and security, leaving no one on the sidelines, showing respect even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and, insofar as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view, helping to define the problems to determine the solution. This is what we believe, in the 21st century, will change, change the prospects for peace.”
Anyone trying to understand why Russia now controls a large chunk of what used to be Ukraine and China is rapidly exerting similar control of large swathes of the formerly autonomous Pacific Ocean and Iran is steadily progressing toward nuclear weaponry that it has already announced they will use to affect another Holocaust need only realize that such hippy-dippy thinking has informed America’s “smart” foreign policy for the past six years or so. We have nothing against trying to understand our adversaries’ thinking, and cooly assessing that Russia is nostalgic for the good old days when it imposed its totalitarian ideology on Eastern Europe and China feels entitled to the same hegemony in its region and that Iran’s medieval theology compels it to hate infidels in general and Jews in particular, but we aren’t so suicidally empathetic as to concede that any of them have any valid points that America is obliged to respect. Back when the French were big in the diplomacy business they had an expression that “tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner,” which roughly translates as “to understand all is to forgive all,” and it was such enlightened thinking that led to that country’s many years of Nazi occupation.
What strikes us as most odd about such progressive thought, however, is that it so rarely extends to domestic issues. The likes of Clinton are ever eager to offer a “reset” button to the likes of Vladimir Putin as penance for the sins of the George W. Bush administration’s harsher response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, but will always regard Bush as Chimpy McBushitler for his 32 percent income tax rate on the top margins. The Chinese communists can be forgiven their bullying of the Taiwanese and Filipinos and Japanese and anyone else in their vicinity, but any American cop or neighborhood patrolman who defends himself against the life-threatening aggression of a neighborhood thug is presumed racist. The Iranian government’s policy of executing homosexuals is not reason to worry about what it might do with a nuclear bomb, but any resistance to same-sex marriage in America is regarded as a religious mania.
Conservatives can just be as prone to a lack of empathy, which is after all a normal human tendency, but the pervasiveness of liberal thinking makes it harder for them not have some understanding of their ideological opponents’ reasoning, such as it is. The modern media landscape too often allows liberals to shield themselves from conservative thinking, and to regard it with the same suspicion and prejudice they ascribe to anyone outside their carefully cocooned circles. We advise them to show some respect and understanding for their enemies, and insofar as is psychologically possible to empathize with their perspective and point of view. We’d also advise them to start to looking around for another presidential nominee.

— Bud Norman

A Tough Crowd at West Point

President Barack Obama is fond of giving speeches at colleges, where he can still rouse some of the old rock star enthusiasm among the empty-headed multi-cultural studies kids who haven’t yet returned to their parents’ basements and started paying off their student loan debts with their tips from the artisanal sandwich shop, but for some reason the military academies have always proved a tough crowd. Wednesday’s commencement speech at West Point, which was much ballyhooed as a major foreign policy address, is the latest example.
The sympathetic reporters at CNN described the response from the graduating cadets as “pretty icy,” while the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail generously upgraded that to “tepid,” but we would dispense with the meteorological metaphors all together and say the infrequent and scattered applause was perfunctory or grudgingly polite. According to CNN this was because the speech was “philosophical,” rather than the obscenity-laced sort of battle cry that George C. Scott delivered at the start of “Patton,” we presume, and aside from the stony silence the network didn’t find much fault with the oration. We suspect the reaction had more to do with the absolute balderdash that the speech contained, and that those rigorous engineering courses required at the academy have somehow enabled the graduates to think clearly through the speech’s frightening implications.
In keeping with commencement speech custom, Obama began with a jocular reference to the campus sporting teams, an apparent reference to his “Choom Gang” days as an addled schoolboy, and the obligatory flattering of the graduates. He then flattered himself with a suspiciously rosy assessment of the world today, including a “growing economy that can provide opportunity for everyone who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home,” a decreasing dependence on foreign energy, freedom being championed in public squares around the world, and unrivaled American military supremacy. The record number of people who have given up looking for work, the president’s blocking of oil pipelines and closing of federal lands from drilling and efforts to regulate the tracking revolution that have made us more energy independent, the routine crushing of those who speak for freedom in an increasingly chaotic and less democratic world, and the president’s proposal to reduce America’s military spending to a level less than the annual debt payments all went unmentioned but apparently not unnoticed by the icy audience.
From that point the president started talking tough, bravely battling the usual straw men opposing his policies. There are those who would ignore the rest of the world and those who would launch constant wars against it, the president helpfully explained, but in his wisdom he has found a third option. America will continue to lead and enforce international order, he assured the graduates, but he established some rather strict criteria for when it would use military force to do. The country will still respond to a direct attack against the homeland or the country’s “core interests,” although it is not reassuring that a president feels obliged to offer such assurances, but the president seemed to imply that anything less will be death with by strongly worded statements and hashtags and “multi-lateral actions.” As proof of the wisdom of this approach the president cited Iran’s nuclear endlessly ongoing negotiations over its still-chugging nuclear weapons programs, aid to the Syrian rebels who are being thoroughly routed by the red-line-crossing regime, the sparsely attended recent election in chaotic and menaced Ukraine, and of course the negotiations over those still-kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls that the president mentioned several times, so it’s hard to imagine this getting much applause even from the multi-cultural studies students at the average university.
The scariest part was when the president warned that “We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by the United States Senateā€¦” It’s scary that the president makes mention of the Law of the Sea Convention, which has been a pipe of the dream of the globalist left ever since they started negotiating the thing back in the early ’70s, and has been a dead issue in American politics ever since President Ronald Reagan showed what real foreign policy leadership is by nixing it in ’82. The president says that all of his military advisors believe it will make the country safer, apparently because they’d rather enforce an international border that insists on limits that China and all the other potential major military adversaries dispute, but he also says that every economists agree that bringing another 10 million or unskilled non-English-speaking immigrants into the country will revive the economy. Scarier yet is that the president has announced to China that he’s unable to resist its increasingly belligerent claims on its neighbors territory until the little-known yet widely hated treaty that has been dead since the ’70s is ratified. He might as well announce that we’re unable to help any kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls or other female victims of Islamic radicalism until the Era Rights Amendment is passed.
We don’t wonder why the newly commissioned officers of West Point were so unenthusiastic toward the speech, but of course they weren’t the intended audience. More important to the president were those increasingly anxious supporters who still bother to listen to his speeches, and with a few remnants of the old Bush-era anti-war movement protesting outside the campus with papier mache drones he was anxious to reassure them that although he has to pander to the blood-lusting general public he’s not going all neo-con on them. The tough talk was also intended for the potential adversaries who might be calculating that now’s the time to make that long-desired land grab or smash that long-troublesome foe, but they probably understood the speech as well as those West Point graduates seem to have done. Nervous allies in Kiev, on the bombed-out battlefields of Syria, in the Israeli and Saudi bureaus that are following the Iranian nuclear program, and all over the South China Sea probably offered even less applause.

— Bud Norman