Impromptus

Balls and strikes, &c.

During a Twins-Padres game in August (photo: Jake Roth / USA TODAY Sports)
On assessing the president; a British blunder; the return of a Reagan line; and more

Since the rise of Trump, conservatives have had a bit of a debate — conservative writers, I mean. Should we “call balls and strikes”? Should we ump the Trump presidency? Should we go day by day, issue by issue, pointing out what’s “good” and what’s “bad”? Or should we take an overall stance on Trump — his fitness for office, and his effect on the country and world?

There is merit to both approaches, I think, and many of us have done some of each. I can tell you this about umping: It’s far more pleasant to call pitches that are favorable to Trump, rather than unfavorable. His judicial nominations, for example, which have been sterling. Or his bold decision on the U.S. embassy in Israel.

I have a question, which has been on my mind: Are conservatives calling enough balls and strikes? Enough pitches? Pitches that are not so favorable to Trump? Much of journalism has to do with omission and commission: what you choose to ignore, what you choose to address.

There is a longstanding conservative group called “Accuracy in Media.” Accuracy is extremely important, of course. But bias lies in selection, really. I learned this long ago. Bias lies in omission and commission.

President Trump said something about Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York — something that many people regarded as low and vulgar. What do we think of that? How about Trump’s attacks on the FBI? What about his name-calling? “Flake Jeff Flake,” “Liddle’ Bob Corker,” “low I.Q. Crazy Mika,” and all that? If you’re a conservative, rooting and working for conservative policy victories, the temptation is to ignore these things. But maybe they should not be ignored. Maybe they are important in society.

Then there is the delicate issue of … well, telling the truth or not telling the truth. Of lying, to be blunt about it. Trump says that Senator Corker decided against running for reelection when he, Trump, refused to endorse him. Corker says that Trump urged him to run again, assuring him of his endorsement.

Someone’s lying. Who?

Trump says that James Comey, while FBI director, asked to have dinner with him in order to beg for his job. Comey says nothing could be further from the truth.

Someone’s lying. Who?

Trump says that “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” was “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” The lady herself says this is ridiculous.

I could go on and on.

Trump retweeted a group called MAGAPILL — a pretty far-out group — and a group called Britain First, which is far-out indeed. Should this be addressed? Doesn’t presidential promotion — promotion by the president of the United States — mean something, for good or ill?

This president bragged about causing certain stocks to crash (health-insurance stocks). I think we conservatives would jump down the throat of any Democratic president who did this. Who among us called this particular pitch? Did we opt to let it go by?

Vladimir Putin holds an annual press conference, in December. In his latest, he paid compliments to Trump — who quickly called to thank him. A president susceptible to flattery, especially from dictators, is a president of concern. Conservatives should realize this and say so, and not just in whispers.

(On the right, the temptation not to give aid and comfort to the Left is very strong. And vice versa. Both camps chatter, or whisper, behind closed doors.)

Then you have the amazing spectacle of Trump’s recent speech in Pensacola, Fla. One of his statements was about America at large: “This is a rigged system. This is a sick system from the inside.” True or false? What is the effect of such a declaration from the president?

How about the story he told about Angela Merkel? Is it true? And the one he told about Justin Trudeau? True?

What about his statements concerning home ownership, and wages, and his Electoral College victory, and wealth creation, and the return of factories to America? True? Or false? Should those pitches be umped? We will pounce on any error by CNN, ABC, or the rest of the “MSM.” What about presidential statements?

Then there is the matter of sexual harassment: the allegations against him by a variety of women, including, lately, the wife of a hockey star. (You can read about it here.) After the woman leveled her charge, someone accused her of being “a liberal lefty making up unverifiable stories” and seeking attention. She answered, “I’m not a liberal lefty and I’m not looking for attention.” She just “felt bad” about keeping the story to herself.

Now, she may be a lying sack, and so may all the others accusing Trump. But I don’t think the matter should be swept under the rug. I think it should be confronted.

Obviously, you can’t chart, or comment on, the flight of every Trumpian sparrow. In a presidency, there are a million pitches, and you can’t call every one of them. Nor should you. But if you’re going to be a ball-and-striker — if you’re going to act the Good Umpire — then, you know: do it.

Conservatives have a lot in common, just as liberals have a lot in common. Probably, all of us conservatives agree on low taxes and a strong defense (or 95 percent of us do). Still, we are different people, with different values, priorities, etc. I hate to be Captain Obvious, but the point is worth stressing, I think. And in recent days, I have thought of a story, from way back. I’m reluctant to tell it, because I will be “judgmental,” and personal. But here goes …

Henry Hyde was just about my favorite politician. An Illinois congressman, he was superb on foreign policy, defense, economics, the judiciary, the “social issues” — everything. (When I say “superb,” I mean from my point of view, of course.) Plus, he had the qualities of leadership, including the ability to speak and debate.

I used to play a game with some of my friends: Whom would we appoint president, if we had appointive powers? And you couldn’t name your grandfather or your high-school basketball coach or another such person you admired — you had to name someone in public life, someone already in politics (broadly speaking). I said either Henry Hyde or Bill Bennett. I met Hyde once, actually, telling him he was my favorite politician. And that he ought to be president.

During the Lewinsky scandal, it came out that Hyde had had a years-long affair with another man’s wife. (Hyde, too, was married.) The affair broke up one of the families; no doubt it had a serious effect on the other, too. When the news came out, Hyde was pretty cavalier about it, I thought. (He spoke more responsibly about it later on.)

At some point, I was talking with some of my colleagues, and I let slip that I felt bad about Hyde — and that I was sorry to think less of him. One of my colleagues mocked me as a prude and puritan and so on: How could I be so stupid as to let something like that influence my view of a politician?

I replied the only way I could: “We all get to pick what we value. We all get to pick what we admire and what we disdain. We all get to say what is important to us and what is less important to us. You can’t decide for me, and I can’t decide for you. It’s individual.”

Today, there are people who will tell you that you can’t bring Trump’s “character” into the question, because what really matters is tax reform and the like. I understand this. I even respect it, to a degree. And some of my nearest and dearest are Trumpites, strong ones. But remember: I can’t choose for you and you can’t choose for me. We all get to pick what we value. And there’s nothing anyone else can do about it.

Which is kind of nice, right?

•  Since we’ve been talking about baseball, sort of (balls and strikes): I was watching a British quiz show, Mastermind. And one of the questions, unfortunately, was this: “In basketball, what term is used for a single hit that enables a batter to make a complete circuit of the bases?” The contestant — perhaps bewildered — answered “strike.” The correct answer, of course, was “home run” — but the quizmaster got the sport wrong.

To see this, go here, at about 20:29.

•  Stick with Britain. A headline in the Telegraph read, “Police spark shoplifting boom by not probing thefts under £200.” (Article here.) That illustrates a classic conservative point, doesn’t it? I am reminded of “broken windows” theory — or broken-windows fact.

•  A few days ago, I heard an ad from the movie Jumanji. A character said, “Where’s the rest of me?” This old Reaganaut smiled. (It was a line from Reagan’s most important movie, Kings Row, and it became the title of his first autobiography.)

•  I saw a picture of a man holding a sign with a twist on the Golden Rule: “Tweet others the way you’d like to be tweeted.”

•  In New York, I saw a sign that said “No Entry.” It was helpfully translated into Spanish: “No Entre.” My question: Are Spanish-speakers not insulted? Years ago, I had the same question while in a voting booth. On the ballot was a yes-or-no question, a referendum. Alongside “Yes” there was “Sí.” And alongside “No” there was “No.”

Why aren’t people insulted? To quote Bob Dole (in ’96), “Where’s the outrage?”!

•  Let’s end with a little music. A young music student told me the following joke: “What’s the difference between a large cheese pizza and a musician?” Answer: “A large cheese pizza can feed a family of four.”

Brutal, Juice. See you.

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