Monday, May 30, 2016

Clinton Exhaustion

Many recall “Clinton Fatigue,” one of the reasons Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign faltered and fell. Now people are tired of even bringing up that old fatigue excuse, though, of course, it still pertains. I am not a fan of counter-factual examples, but one that seems pertinent is what this primary season would look like if Bernie Sanders didn’t exist, or, almost as fantastical, if he played the role most people expected before the primaries started. That is, he appeared and then quietly disappeared, like that other fellow, what’s his name? O’Malley?

Without Bernie I wonder if Hillary would be getting any daily coverage whatsoever from the networks and cable. Imagine her campaign coverage if the Democratic primary season had been seen as a coronation? With no real opposition. Donald Trump, as many have observed, has been getting the lion’s share of coverage as it is. If Hillary had no real competition, Trump would be gathering not just the lion’s share, but the whole pride’s share, the entire veldt’s share. Hillary would be an afterthought.

The social circle of the press would doubtless have to nod in her direction (emails!), but Clinton fatigue would generate a general soporific. Trump’s attempts to slime Bill Clinton, and by inference, Hillary, actually serves to create history lessons for all those young Bernie supporters, most barely born in the 1990s.

Without Bernie giving Hillary a real run, who would be taking any interest in the Democrat primaries? Bernie has served as an engine of interest for the Hillary campaign. And now Bernie wants to debate The Donald. And, who knows, it might happen, since Trump loves spectacle. Now, there’s some virtual counter-factual television to come. But don’t hold your breath.

Donald Trump running for President fits his business model, especially his model used the last couple of decades. He’s now leasing his brand to the GOP and is willing, it appears, to lease it to the country at large: THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY! We already have Trump Tower and, in Chicago, on a once quite compelling-looking skyscraper perched on the site of the old Chicago Sun-Times building, recently defaced with just the name TRUMP in garish letters.

We’ll have to wait and see if we eventually get to see the 18th green below the North Face of Yosemite’s Half Dome, the future final hole of the Trump Presidential Course. And why not? There’s already an airport at the Grand Tetons National Park, so the rich of Jackson Hole can fly in private jets.

See, it’s hard to stay on the subject of Hillary, since she has been so much a part of our country’s national lassitude, brought on and bringing to mind all the things that have been haunting us for decades. Do I need to name them? Starting with the largely created story of Whitewater, the sorriest low-rent land deal of the last century.

Remember the name of the guy who was at the center of it? Poor Jim McDougal. What would he have done back in the day when he tried to rope the Clintons into buying some bug-infested lots along Arkansas’s White River if someone had said to him, “Jim, you know your friend Bill Clinton, the governor, will be President of the United States and you will die of a heart attack in solitary confinement because of him.” Hard to believe. But The Donald is bringing up yet another sacrifice to journalists with nothing better to do, Vince Foster.

Fishy, indeed, Foster’s suicide. There are arguably more books about Bill and Hillary Clinton published during (and before and afterwards) Bill Clinton’s two terms than any other president in American history. Of course, ninety percent of them were attack books. There was a vast right wing conspiracy, except, despite Hillary’s popularizing of the term, it wasn’t a conspiracy - it was quite out in the open.

Bernie claims over and over he trounces Trump in the polls. I doubt if the Hillary’s right wing conspiracy crowd has spent a dime on Sanders, but, if the unexpected happened and Sanders became the nominee, they would drop more than a dime on him.

Regarding the Republican right’s focused attention, as Madonna would say, Bernie’s Like a Virgin. So far, he’s gotten more or less a free ride from the vast attack machine so critical and instrumental to the country’s quarter-century of Clinton fatigue. So, Hillary owes Bernie a thank you for succeeding as well as he has. He keeps both the spotlight on her and, more importantly, off of her.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Transforming The Donald

Transformations within the Trump candidacy are ongoing. Unfortunately, the one that is the most worrisome is how the national press is treating him. With respect, that is. This first turned up with the photograph MSNBC uses of Trump on primary nights, the headshot that goes up beside his many state victories. It’s the most complimentary picture of Trump that I have seen, even if he doesn’t currently look like the photo. In it, he has darkish hair, brown, brunette, thicker on the sides with a touch of gray, neatly combed, a winning smile. It is Mitt Romney hair.

There are a lot of photos of Trump, but why this one? So friendly and, I hate to say the word, presidential.

The same photo continued to be used the night Trump won the Indiana primary. And this week’s West Virginia and Nebraska primary triumphs, more or less uncontested. Of course, the audience could see Trump himself after the Indiana win in the lobby of the Trump Tower, giving his victory speech. That night his remarks were subdued, full of love. His hair was the usual blend of orange and copper and brass, yellow, and, from the back, a color favored on birthday cakes, lemony, pound cake-like. Or bad teeth, old piano keys.

My contention is that there is no upside for the network/cable conglomerate, any of them, for not treating Trump with deference. If not immediately The Donald himself, his new staff is praised. See, they are serious guys! The media now seems to understand Trump might actually win. At least, he has a shot, even if one very long, much longer than his fingers.

The same thing occurred in 1980. Until the summer of 1980, the time of the Mariel boatlift, a lot of the establishment press treated Ronald Reagan as a clown, his candidacy as an amusing sideshow. But that all stopped in the summer. By then it was clear that Reagan might actually win, become president. Carter’s administration was falling apart. Castro was sending over all those Trump-like rapists and criminals from Cuban prisons, the mentally disturbed, and, by far, the largest and darkest group of refugees Americans had ever seen coming across the 90 miles to Key West. The proportion of criminals and the disturbed has been estimated at between 2-3 percent, doubtless the same figure for Trump’s marauding Mexicans.

By 1980 the Iran hostage crisis was in its second year, lines had formed at gas stations, we had boycotted the summer Olympics, given away the Panama Canal, and, in April, had helicopters burn in the desert during a botched rescue attempt, etc. So, Ronald Reagan went from being a light-weight Hollywood figure with odd ideas to a remarkable statesman. I was in Key West in the summer of 1980 watching dilapidated school buses being filled with Cubans heading to the underpasses of Miami highways, Arkansas, wherever. But what I read in the daily papers was more shocking, this bestowing of new seriousness on candidate Reagan.

The national press needed to elevate the eventual winner, because Carter had loser written all over him. The titans of the press diminish their own importance if they have to cover a buffoon. Their impulse is to raise him up in their estimation. The Carter-Reagan race is not unlike the current one - Hillary Clinton, of course, being Jimmy Carter and The Donald being Ronald Reagan. Carter was president, but Hillary has been Senator and Secretary of State. Trump, of course, has some fractured Hollywood allure, but has never been governor of anywhere, so we’ve actually, as a country, lowered basic requirements for eligibility to run for the highest office in the land.

President Obama may well be Hillary’s last bulwark, if no crisis beyond the usual turns up pre-November. Carter was beset by Biblical plagues his last year in office and, in contrast, Obama is having what can pass for a good year.

But, you now see it everywhere, the nascent elevation of Trump, the begrudging self-censorship of the pedantry (or punditry), though one can still read demurrals here and there. The press corps, too, along with the flummoxed Republican establishment, is trying to come to grips with the new nominee of the Grand Old Party. I’ve been saying “President Trump” to friends for months, much to their expected horror.

But now people are beginning to say it without irony, because, after the summer, when there are only two candidates to choose between, the odds become, alas, 50-50. No sure bet there.

The HuffPost version ran May 12, 2016: Click here.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Ted's Excellent Mansplaining

I was exercising at my university’s faculty gym when Ted Cruz was laboriously mansplaining why he was choosing Carly Fiorina as his virtual Veep for his holographic future presidency. It was a classic case: I, Ted Cruz, a man, will now tell you why I have the good judgment to select Carly, a woman, the glass-ceiling shatter-er. Fiorina may or may not have the potty-mouth of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character in Veep, which seems to be the chief qualification of our modern era, but, at this point, who cares? While exercising away, I kept wondering when Cruz was going to bring on Fiorina, since I had been on the elliptical machine beyond my usual allotment of time and Cruz, who had appeared around 4:15 was still blabbering on after 4:30.

Cruz obviously loves the sound of his voice. He grins inappropriately during his speeches and his unhappy slice of smile signifies the pleasure he takes hearing his own voice. I left the exercise room fifteen minutes later and Cruz was still there yapping. No Carly. I don’t tweet much, but had I a smart phone, as a number of other fellow exercisers did, staring transfixed at their small screens, I might have tweeted: #Where is she?

I saw later in the day from various news outlets that Fiorina finally made it to the podium, to little effect. God knows Carly understands losing, having done it so often both in the private and public sector. From the clips I saw, she evidently sang a song and seems to have pleasant voice while singing.

Indiana is now hot. Cruz and Carly came to South Bend yesterday and clogged up the downtown when I tried to get to the road show version of The Book of Mormon (I’m trying for contrast here) playing at the Morris Performing Arts Center. A lot of Cruz supporters in his crowd at the nearby Century Center were obese (less at the Mormon musical, which was wonderful theatrically, but reprehensible in every other way), though I don’t think, unlike the First Lady, Cruz considers obesity a national health issue. I am not body shaming, I’m just reporting. In any case, the Cruz rally was in one of the Century Center’s smaller venues, a room I last was in when a friend took me to a cat show held there. Lots of cats in cages.

Trump is coming to the Century Center on Monday night and Bernie Sanders is booked there Sunday, May Day. Hillary Clinton appeared at a more or less private setting, the AM General plant outside of the city that now makes Mercedes-Benz-es for the China market, a couple of days ago.

Some commentators out there in mediaworld are saying that Indiana may be someone’s Alamo, Cruz, Trump’s, it’s hard to tell. The connection is very thin. Maybe it’s because Cruz is a Senator from Texas. Is he Jim Bowie, Santa Anna, Davy Crockett, the Mexicans, the fort? It doesn’t make much sense. Who is running over whom? I guess it’s the last-stand business.

Truth might be the first casualty in war, but language seems to be the first in campaigns. Now, the self-presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, wants to slogan-ize once again America First! Not that many voters are going to think of Charles Lindbergh and his various enthusiasms pre-WWII that were attached to the slogan when first coined. Lindbergh loved the Luftwaffe. Poor Lindbergh. He flew planes. The Donald owns many. Perhaps Pat Buchanan is Trump’s unacknowledged campaign model.

Locally, there are contested races down ticket going on throughout Indiana, which may or may not affect the upcoming election. A Senate seat is open, thanks to the happy retirement of Dan Coats. He returned to Indiana in 2010 to assume the seat vacated by Evan Bayh. Coats is the only recidivist Senator, once retired, active lobbyist, then elected once again.

But the Democrats are still hoping for a win eventually against Mike Pence, the current governor, former right-wing radio talker (The Mike Pence Show), who even moderate Republicans have difficulty putting up with, especially after the costly fiasco of his Religious Freedom Restoration Act of late March, 2015. Pence was pictured with what looked like a high school production cast of Nunsense, after he signed the bill. Yes, let us restore all those lost religious freedoms! Pence has half-heatedly “endorsed” Ted Cruz, “I will be voting for Ted Cruz....” this coming Tuesday. Democrats have John Gregg running, who has run and lost before, but this time is changing his image, becoming a bit less rustic.

But it is the Republican primary for Senate that is interesting. Two contenders, Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young, both GOP Indiana district U.S. representatives, are lashing out at each other for the position, given Coats’ departure and longing for the hard work of lobbying. No love lost there, just like most of the Republican presidential primary cohort. Both candidates are really unappetizing, so there’s a slim chance for the potential Democratic candidate. Baron Hill, who lost to Coats a long time ago, in 1990, is serving as the warm-body sacrifice.

But, what really goes on here in Indiana won’t be covered much in our week in the sun. It’ll be more drive-by journalism, the 90 plus percent hoping for good visuals, the desired seen and heard reportage. On the bright side, if Trump gets the nomination Pence may well lose his reelection. I am not much into predictions - I was wrong about water beds way back when - but in the presidential primary race here I will predict wins for Bernie and The Donald. In any case, it will be close.

This ran in the Huffington Post on April 29, 2016. Click here.