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The Latest from a Desultory Campaign Trail

Has there even been a more awful presidential race in the history of the American republic? Every day seems to bring a fresh batch of headlines reminding us why we don’t want either of the likely winners anywhere near the White House.
Thanks to the efforts of the last honorable men and women left at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the dogged right-wing watchdogs at Judicial Watch, the public now has access to some 15,000 e-mails that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton tried to keep from outside scrutiny, which is a scandal in itself, and they reveal that big-money contributors to her family foundation had a better than 50 percent chance of getting some sit-down time with her while she was Secretary of State. Even such polite media as the Associated Press and The New York Times and The Washington Post felt obliged to give it front page prominence, and to concede that it looks very, very bad for the Democratic nominee. To our more historically informed eyes, it looks even worse than that.
We’re old enough to vaguely recall a time before all the political scandals had the word “Gate” affixed to them, in honor of the gold standard “Watergate Scandal” of the Nixon-era 70’s, and instead they’d include the word “Dome,” a reference to the previous champion “Teapot Dome Scandal” of the Harding-era ’20s. Our long-ago public schooling taught us that “Teapot Dome” resulted in a Secretary of the Interior going to prison for peddling some influence on the sale of a Navy petroleum reserve at someplace in Wyoming improbably called Teapot Dome, and the philandering and gambling and foul-mouth Harding forever being consigned to the bottom ranks of presidents in all those historian polls, and yet that suddenly seems small beer compared to a Secretary of State doing the same sort of wheeling and dealing on a geo-political level. By one of those odd historical coincidences a young Clinton was a newly-fledged lawyer on the staff of the Democratic committee investigating Watergate, before she got she fired for overzealous incompetence, but after nearly 30 years of Cattle Futures-gate and Whitewater-gate and Travel-gate and File-gate and Monica-gate and the many other -Gates we can’t quite recall at the moment, along with all of this more recent and even damning e-mail-gate and family foundation-gate stuff, she by now surely deserves her own suffix.
Still, she’s leading in the average of national polls, things look even better for her in the average of the polls in the swing states and the rest of the suddenly convoluted electoral map, and the only explanation for such a strange phenomenon is that she’s running against Republican nominee Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul is entirely blameless of peddling favors for contributions as a public official, never having held any public office in his 70-year-long life, but he openly bragged on Republican debate stages about buying influence from both Republican and Democratic officials during his varied careers. He even contributed to Clinton’s family foundation, and all the great deal-maker seems to have gotten out of it was her attendance at his third marriage to that foreign-born naked woman in the sapphic poses on the front page of the Trump-endorsing New York Post, so he’s got his own problems winning the public’s trust.
Trump won the Republican nomination largely because he was more full-throated in his opposition to illegal immigration than the rest of the vasty more qualified 16 challengers, but he went column-inch-to-column-inch on the front pages of the polite press by seem to stake a noticeably more squishy position on his signature issue. After rising to the Republican nomination with vows and assurances of “believe me” that he was going to build a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border that Mexico would pay for and that all 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country would be rounded up and deported, and that any of those RINO Republican squishes who thought this fanciful were all for amnesty and “open borders” just like Obama and Clinton and the rest of the “establishment,” Trump has lately been taking a more establishmentarian tack. After hiring a pollster as his new campaign manager he had a meeting with some of the Hispanics he’s been horribly polling with, and he announced a major speech on immigration that was later postponed, and in an interview on Monday with the Fox News Network’s Bill O’Reilly he wound up saying that he’d keep doing what President Barack Obama has been doing “perhaps with a lot more energy.” Trump’s scant ad buys have both time for a spot alleging that Obama has opened the borders, but in the interview he noted that both Obama and President George W. Bush had enforced many deportations, basically agreed with their “felons not families” priorities, dismissed any notion of mass deportations, and couldn’t quite explain how his current stand on amnesty differed from all those squishy Republicans he’d vanquished in the primaries.
This might well moderate Trump’s image to that pesky majority of the country that regards him as an extremist xenophobe, especially those who have noticed what an historically corrupt harridan the Democratic nominee is, but it might also dim the enthusiasm of the extremist xenophobes who have comprised a certain essential percentage of his support. In any case we can’t see it helping his reputation for intellectual or moral integrity, nor find any reason to believe this isn’t the most awful presidential election in the history of the American Republic.

— Bud Norman

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The Next Famous Director of the FBI

We’re old enough to remember a time when J. Edgar Hoover was not only every bit as famous as Johnny Carson or Spiro Agnew or Tiny Tim, but was even as legendary a character as Wyatt Earp or Gen. Douglas MacArthur or the cross-dressing Z-movie director Ed Wood. Hoover earned his renown, or notoriety, depending on which side of the vast political chasm of the time you were on, as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and although even such politically-obsessed sorts as ourselves would be hard-pressed to name a single FBI director since then we suspect that Jim Comey is about to achieve a similar household-name status.
Comey’s FBI is so clearly and undeniably no matter what she says closing in on an investigation of possible multiple oh-my-God sorts of felonies against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices and charitable work that even such polite media as Time Magazine acknowledges it, and Comey is quite publicly playing a leading role in the matter. Because Clinton is also the more-or-less-front-runner in the Democratic presidential nomination race, this will eventually require the attention of even the very most polite media. The whole problem could easily be resolved by a Democratic Attorney General appointed by a Democratic President and a mostly politely Democratic media all agreeing that there’s nothing to see here, and that might yet happen, but this Comey guy strikes as one of those intriguing characters that occasionally gum up the works.
The cynical assumption on both the left and the right is that eventually a Democratic Attorney General appointed by a Democratic President won’t file charges against a more-or-less-front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and that the mostly politely Democratic media and eventually the rest of the nation will agree that there’s nothing to see here, seems reasonable. This Comey fellow, though, has a long history of being admirably unreasonable. He first tangled with the Clintons as a deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee, where he made a case that Hillary Clinton had mishandled documents and ordered others to do so constituting a “highly improper pattern of deliberate misconduct,” which endeared him to the subsequent George W. Bush administration to earn a high post there, but when he was serving as acting Attorney General during a health emergency by John Ashcroft and refused to sign on to a controversial surveillance program and later challenged other Bush policies he so endeared himself to Bush’s subsequent successor that he was named FBI director. Since then he’s been an admirable pain in the posterior to the Obama administration, offering frank testimony to Congress about Syrian refugees and policing that undercut the president, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t gum up the works yet again.
If he brings a convincing case against Clinton, or at least one as convincing as the most polite media have already been forced to acknowledge, it will surely shake up the most shaken presidential race of our long recollection. Even if the Democratic Attorney General appointed by the Democratic President with the blessings of the mostly politely Democratic media decide there’s nothing to see here, Comey seems likely to continue to his very public role in the investigation, but if he chooses to do so we wish him well in the effort. Such a quixotic quest against the Clintons would surely entail some controversy, and even the Republican security hawks would find something to dislike, but that goes with the territory. J. Edgar Hoover was a household name long before our birth, and his crazy career included something for both and liberals and conservatives to celebrate and loathe, much like MacArthur or Johnny Carson or our hometown bully-boy sheriff Wyatt Earp or any of those other childhood icons we could never quite settle on, so we hold out hope that Comey is cut from from the same crazy quilt.

— Bud Norman

The Hillary Show

Popularity has always been a most perplexing phenomenon. As far back as our school days we noticed that the most popular boys were often arrogant jerks, the most popular girls often vain flibbertigibbets. Since then we have frequently been confounded by the box office success of silly sci-fi shoot-‘em-ups, the vast viewerships of inane sit-coms, the rock star status of talentless caterwaulers, and of course the presidential preferences of the past two electoral majorities.
Even after so many years of proud membership in the minority of opinion, however, we were downright flummoxed upon reading a Quinnipiac poll showing that Hillary Clinton is “easily the most popular actor on the American political stage.” We could understand on an intellectual level that our well-liked classmates were at least good-looking and possessed of a certain manipulative charm, those insipid sci-fi flicks and television shows had an understandable appeal to people who prefer to stop thinking during their leisure, the hot bands provided a seductively simple beat, and the president had the good fortune to be running against Republicans, but there seems to be no accounting at all for the popularity of Hillary Clinton.
Certainly nothing in Clinton’s recently-completed term as Secretary of State justifies her good standing with the public. A partial list of her acts includes backing a Marxist coup in Honduras, the betrayal of our Czech and Polish allies on a missile defense agreement, an obsequious and inept courtship of our Russian adversary, a similarly supine relationship with our Chinese creditors, praising Syria’s brutal dictator as a “reformer,” hastening the ouster of a generally reliable friend and the installation of a radical Islamist government in Egypt, ineffectual entreaties to Iran about its on-going nuclear weapons program, as well as an ill-conceived war against Libya. There was also the incompetence that led to the deaths of four brave Americans in Libya in the aftermath of that unauthorized Libyan war, as well as the dishonest scapegoating of an obscure American filmmaker that followed. If there is any portion of the world where America’s prestige and strategic position has improved over the past four years, except perhaps the salons of the European intelligentsia, we can not readily identify it.
Nor can we find anything in Clinton’s long career as a public figure that explains her apparent appeal to the public. Her brief time as a Senator was marked by her outspoken support for the subprime lending policies that led to the crash of ’08, some partisan bomb-throwing, and no legislative accomplishments of note. Her earlier role as First Lady is remembered for her mysteriously lost records in the Whitewater scandal, a failed attempt to socialize the American health care system, and her ridiculous claims of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to explain her husband’s philandering.
As a feminist icon she has been an embarrassment to the sisterhood. Going all the way back to hear earliest days as a lawyer Clinton’s career has been due to her willingness to silently endure the humiliation of her husband’s serial infidelities, and her complete lack of accomplishments in her many posts is the proof of nepotism. The only sexual double-standard that has come into play has been in her favor, as any man whose spouse had so publicly betrayed him would mocked as a cuckold and laughed off the public stage.
One might chalk up Clinton’s enviable poll numbers to an ineffable likeability, but she seems to have none. A dour, self-righteous woman whose only sense of humor is expressed by an occasional sneering cackle, Clinton is clearly a ruthless sort lacking in any warmth. Such a bare knuckle persona might endear her to the hard left, but one shudders to think there might be enough of them to explain her high favorability ratings.
Our best guess is that the Hillary Clinton reality show has had such a long run on television that the public has grown accustomed to her increasingly haggard face, and embraces her for the same strange reason they seem to enjoy the antics of all the other unremarkable people who have attained unearned celebrity. This is only a guess, though, and if we had any real ability to explain such odd popularity we would likely be given a more remunerative job as a network programmer.

— Bud Norman