A lot of us are campaign consultants manqués. We’re armchair Karl Roves and David Axelrods. We have free advice to give (and you remember the old line about what free advice is worth).
Well, if I were advising the Biden campaign, I might say: Look, forget this left, right, and center stuff. Run Biden as an American. A plain old American. “We’ve got a menace and an embarrassment in the White House,” he might say. “He’s not a ‘stable genius.’ He’s neither the one nor the other. We’ve managed to get through four years, but we may not be as lucky in the next four. Enough of this grotesque reality-TV show. I’m an old man, in the midst of a last hurrah. One last service for my country. I may not be the sexiest thing on the planet. But I will restore honor, decency, and dignity to the White House, and allow America to get on with life.”
If I were advising the Trump campaign, I might say: Present him as the president you need, whether you like him or not. Yes, he’s rough around the edges. But he’s strong. His heart’s in the right place. And he has “broad shoulders,” as Mike Pence says. We can’t let the weenies and weaklings back in. Remember why we threw them out in the first place. Don’t let this country be pushed around, by the elites and globalists. America First. To hell with political correctness. Never go back. We have made big strides in making America great again, but we have more striding to do. We have drained the swamp, but we have more draining to do. Let’s finish the job, together. Four more years.
So, for Biden, return-to-normalcy. And for Trump, Populism 101, basically.
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned the pandemic. I don’t think the pandemic changes much, frankly, where the 2020 race is concerned. Except in one area, and it’s not a small one: the economy.
Anyway, I will leave all this to the professionals . . .
• Many years ago, a lady read an article in a newspaper or magazine, and put it down ticked. “They had to comment on a woman’s looks,” she said. “They would never do that to a man — to a male politician.” “Oh?” I said. “How many times have you read ‘paunchy,’ ‘cigar-chomping,’ ‘rumpled,’ and the like?” The lady allowed that this was true.
I thought of her when reading Tim Alberta, responding to criticism. He was great, and is great. He’s one of the best political reporters on the scene today. He worked for us at National Review, and now works at Politico.
He wrote an article about Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, his home state (and mine). One of the passages reads as follows:
To the untrained eye, Gretchen Esther Whitmer might seem like a pushover. With the suburban-mom hairstyle, the high-pitched giggle, the nasal accent straight out of “Fargo” central casting, she looks like the type of person — OK, the type of woman — that Donald Trump would chew up and spit out.
But looks can be deceiving, especially when they are strategically deployed to deceive.
A critic didn’t like this, saying, “Is there an example of you writing about a man’s appearance, or his voice? Or describing him as a Dad?” Etc. Tim answered, “Um, yes. There are hundreds of examples. I write profiles for a living.”
He went on to say, “I’ve written about Boehner’s smell, Cruz’s creepy vibe, Ryan’s beard, Cantor’s whine, Rubio’s sweat, Jordan’s ears, Sanford’s wrinkles, Walker’s small hands, Meadows’ glasses, Scalise’s weight, McCarthy’s extramarital rumors, Pence’s facial contortions and Trump’s hair.”
He added, “Go away.”
Tim Alberta sang for me, and many other writers. When I write profiles of women, I go very lightly on physical descriptions and all that. I’ve even been known to say, “I know you’re not supposed to mention these things, but . . .” Of course, I go light in profiles of men, too.
David Pryce-Jones once said to me — after reading a manuscript I’d sent him — “The novelist in me wants more physical description from you.” I took that advice to heart, immediately.
• Here was a typical Trump tweet, jotted on Easter Sunday:
Just watched Mike Wallace wannabe, Chris Wallace, on @FoxNews. I am now convinced that he is even worse than Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Meet the Press(please!), or the people over at Deface the Nation. What the hell is happening to @FoxNews. It’s a whole new ballgame over there!
I had a couple of reactions. One, I put like this:
A great many decent, mature people support and defend Donald Trump. They would never talk like this. They would not countenance it in any Democrat. But they support and defend Trump, and bristle at any criticism of him. It’s the damndest thing.
Yes, it is. At least I find so.
Another reaction, I put like this:
In the olden days, pre-Trump, conservatives prided themselves on a certain maturity. Frankly, we considered ourselves the grown-ups of the country, while others were bratty children. We were like the parents. The present era is incredibly embarrassing, among other things.
The second of these two tweets provoked hundreds of responses. Two-thirds of them were from the Left, I would say, and most of the rest were from #MAGA — by which I mean the Trump Right (if “Right” is the right word — politics is jumbled up today).
The Left was angry and scornful, saying two things, basically: (1) You always stank, and (2) You are responsible for Trump.
And #MAGA? Nothing new — how could there be? — but here are some samples, hitting the important themes:
“Yeah f*** you and your let’s play by the rules mindset.” (I have added the asterisks, constrained by my delicate taskmasters.)
“And you lost,” said another tweeter. Another said, “I’d rather win elections.” (In truth, we old conservatives won a few elections — quite a few, actually.)
This was interesting: “Too bad you ended up never actually getting anything done especially in regards to the deficit and national debt.” Since when is the deficit or the debt a #MAGA concern? I don’t think President Trump, or the GOP in general, is aware of it.
From another tweeter: “It’s called defending yourself, your position, and not allowing the left wing media to define the narrative. Plain talk is what appeals to plain folks!”
I’m all for plain talk. In the 1970s, Merle Miller wrote a best-selling biography of Harry Truman called “Plain Speaking.” But you may want to ask: Is it true, this speaking? Is it reasonable? Is it admirable?
Is “Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd” “plain talk”? Or is it the way a ten-year-old brat talks? (Quick aside about “Deface the Nation”: When I was a kid — a ten-year-old brat, let’s say — I regularly read a cartoon in which politicians would sometimes appear on “Faze the Nation.” I got a kick out of that.)
More from my fans on Twitter: “Go polish your wingtips and move another company to China.” (Wingtips! She should take a look at my closet . . .)
This one was from an actor — stage, movies, and TV — with a blue checkmark after his name: “I like how it hurts your feelings.”
One more, which encapsulates the entire spirit and mindset, I think: “Your incompetence was covered by your faux maturity when in reality you were weak babies selling out to whomever hurt your little feelings and threatened to take away your allowance. Trump’s a fighter. Republicans before him rolled over and sold out the American people.”
There you have it. Perfectly expressed, in a nutshell (and what are tweets but written nutshells?). “Trump’s a fighter. Republicans before him rolled over and sold out the American people.”
That is the “narrative,” as people say today. On the right, it is entrenched.
• Doug Sanders has died at 86. He was a champion golfer, and known at least as much for his attire as for his golf: He wore colorful and flashy clothes. “The peacock of the fairways,” they called him.
I learned something from his obit in the New York Times. I knew a lot about his game and his career — wide stance, abbreviated backswing, painful seconds to Nicklaus — but not this:
He grew up in rural Georgia during the Depression . . .
. . . Sanders picked cotton for a nickel a day at age 7.
“There wasn’t enough to eat,” he recalled. “No doctors, lice in our hair, ratty hand-me-down clothes.”
The things people go through. You and I might want to dress like a peacock too.
• To me, this is one of the most remarkable stories of this whole period of home confinement: Steph Curry, by acclaim the best shooter in the history of basketball, went and bought a hoop for his driveway. Spent five hours putting it together.
I loved that. Like Itzhak Perlman having to make his own violin or something.
• Catch this headline? “Czech nudists reprimanded by police for not wearing face-masks.” (Article here.) Rules are rules, baby!
• In recent days, I’ve talked with two brilliant friends, both of whom studied philosophy. One is Jason Steorts, National Review’s managing editor. As both of them know, I haven’t read much philosophy. I’ve spent a lot of time — too much time? — on music and politics.
In our conversations, two names came up, among others: that of Ludwig Wittgenstein and that of Bernard Williams. I had to smile. This may make you smile, too.
It says something — probably not something good — that I know more about Paul Wittgenstein, the philosopher’s pianist brother, than about the philosopher. And more about Shirley Williams, the British politician who was once married to Bernard, than about Bernard.
Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bernard Williams are the bigger figures, by far. They are two of the greatest minds of modern times. But Paul and Shirley — those are my guys, inhabitants of my “worlds” . . .
• A friend of mine writes,
We had the most violent thunderstorm I ever saw last night. Power out from 9:30 until mid-morning. You would have thought we’d won the lottery or something when it came back on. Jubilation.
To be without WiFi for a few hours? To heck with plagues, famine, locusts. Worst tragedy ever!
I know the feeling.
• Loved a tweet from Michelle Dean:
Please everyone stop worrying about children and screen time right now. I glued myself to the tv and watched every episode of Who’s The Boss and Full House several times over as a kid and grew up to write a book about mid century intellectuals. They’ll be fine.
I don’t know if I’m fine. (Big debate about that.) But I logged a lot of TV when I was a child — and an adolescent. A lot. I haven’t really watched TV since about 2000 (except for sports, presidential debates, and inaugurations). But TV in the ’70s and ’80s? Just quiz me, baby.
• A friend of mine pointed out a verse from Psalms, especially pertinent to this time: “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” Hope and trust you’re doing fine, my friends. See you later.
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