Presidential Politics & P. J. O’Rourke

O'Rourke at CClub
P. J. O’Rourke

Journalist/satirist P.J. O’Rourke breezed through San Francisco on a recent book tour for his weighty new book (640-page Thrown Under the Omnibus) and left no presidential candidate un-skewered.

O’Rourke opened with a list of candidates – “Clinton, Bush, Fiorina, Sanders, Rubio, Cruz, Christie, O’Malley, and Trump. That’s not a list of presidential candidates. That’s the worst law firm in the world.” And from that summary he plunged into a commentary on the candidates themselves:

Hillary Clinton “retains her iron grip on second place. Whoever’s in first place is so far out we don’t know who it is yet. Hillary carries more baggage than the Boeing she used as Secretary of State to visit every country that later blew up in her face. On the upside, she’s familiar with the White House. She knows where the extra toilet paper is stored and where the spare key to the nuke-missile launch briefcase is hidden.”

Bernie Sanders? “Bernie is a socialist. He says so himself. Let me give you the dictionary definition of ‘socialist.’ A socialist is somebody who will take your flat-screen TV and give it to a family of meth addicts in the backwoods of Vermont. Bernie says he wants to make America more like Europe. Great idea. Europe has had a swell track record for 100 years now. Make America more like Europe? Where can we even go to get all the Nazis and Commies and 90 million dead people that it would take to make America more like Europe?

Carly Fiorina – “If she runs America like she ran Hewlett-Packard, it’d be great as long as you shorted the stock. H-P stock fell 65% between July, 1999 and February, 2005. I can forgive Carly, but my Keogh Plan never will.

Jeb Bush has everything. He’s young (for a Republican), a Phi Beta Kappa, a successful businessman, and a two-term governor of Florida – where balloting incompetence and corruption are vital to the GOP. Jeb Bush has just one problem, the name problem. But don’t worry, Jeb is all set to legally change his name to George Herbert Walker Bush. Everybody likes him… and he only served one term, so he’s constitutionally eligible to run again.”

Ben Carson is “doing okay unless you’re one of the fact-checkers. He’s a genius brain surgeon. I’m saying please quit running for president and get back to work because we need you. Maybe he could fix George W and Jeb Bush’s conjoined heads.”

Rand Paul? “Rand thinks the government should go by the rule ‘Mind your own business and keep your hands to yourself.’ I call it the Hillary and Bill Clinton principle: ‘Hillary, mind your own business; and Bill, keep your hands to yourself.’ But Rand Paul isn’t a Republican, he’s a Libertarian. His libertarianism appeals to those who consider themselves ‘fiscal conservatives and social liberals.’ This means they want to get high and have sex while saving money; and who doesn’t? But what candidate’s going to admit that in public?

Marco Rubio’s “got kids; I love kids. But he’s got to stop it with the abortion stuff. Really, Republicans, don’t make it illegal, make it retroactive. A kid gets to be 25 – zap.”

Personally, O’Rourke says he supports Donald Trump, because of something the great political satirist H.L. Mencken once said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Trump’s “chief goal is to be on TV,” O’Rourke says. “As president he can be on TV 24/7. Plus, he can yell ‘You’re fired!’ all he wants. Trump will grow the American economy the way he grew his own, with bad debt, bad debt and more bad debt. Trump has ‘restructured’ $3.5 billion in business debt and $900 million in personal debt; ‘restructured’ means he didn’t pay it. We Americans know a leader when we see one. Trump’s foreign policy will be to build hundreds of Trump casinos, Trump hotels and Trump resorts in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Raqqa, Kandahar and the Gaza Strip. Then all of them will go bankrupt the way Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza Hotel and Trump Entertainment Resorts did. Hell, it might just work.”

O'Rourke & Caen
O’Rourke with Melissa Caen

O’Rourke delivered these – and other – political opinions at a Commonwealth Club of California event moderated by Melissa Caen. Caen, a lawyer best known as an astute but light-hearted columnist and TV commentator, said by way of introduction that she couldn’t believe her luck in being asked to interview O’Rourke. In her writing, she said, she had for years “shamelessly stolen” from his satiric observations. Writers today will find it easier to do that, with the release of Thrown Under the Omnibus, a nearly three-pound anthology of O’Rourke’s “funniest, most outrageous, most controversial and most loved pieces.” Copies were selling briskly after the Commonwealth Club talk.

David Brock: Hillary’s the one

David Brock 10.12.15
David Brock in San Francisco 10.12.15

If you don’t believe there’s a right wing conspiracy poised to take over the U.S. you haven’t been listening to David Brock.

Not everybody does listen to David Brock, author/journalist, self-described “former right-wing hit man” and founder, in 2004, of Media Matters for America; but his most recent book, Killing the Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary and Hijack Your Government has definitely caught many new ears. Including a largely progressive audience (judging from comments and questions) at the Commonwealth Club of California who listened recently with curiosity and interest. Brock, swinging through San Francisco on a nationwide book tour, fielded questions after his talk in a session moderated by University of San Francisco Professor of Politics and Director of African-American Studies James Taylor.

Brock speaks with the fervor of a committed activist and the conviction of a political insider, having gone from right wing hit man to Democratic operative. “One move in the Republican playbook,” he says, “is to do everything to cause dissension among Democrats.” To this end the Republican opposition is promoting the notion that Hillary (Clinton; Brock uses the candidate’s first name for simplicity) is out of touch. . . “(and) the Republicans are salivating over the bloodbath.”

Brock’s first book, The Real Anita Hill was a defense of Clarence Thomas against her accusations – and a national sensation when it was released in the spring of 1993. “When a competitive book (Strange Justice: the Selling of Clarence Thomas by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson; November, 1994) came out with new facts, I went back and asked (my sources) and they said essentially that they didn’t believe that guy. I take responsibility, but I was sold a bill of goods.” In 2002 Brock published Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, “a sort of confessional. When I fell out with the conservatives,” he added, “I lost all of my friends – so I got a dog.”

The book tour focus, though, was strictly on Hillary. “Hillary isn’t moving toward progressive,” Brock maintains, “she has always been there. On raising income levels, strengthening the safety net, paid sick leave, addressing climate change, addressing mental health and substance abuse issues. . . We don’t have to wonder if she’ll walk the walk, she’s been walking the walk. . .”

In the Commonwealth Club audience were more than a few who had earlier chanted “Run, Bernie run!” when another candidate dropped by, but Brock got a rousing applause. The left, it seems, is substantially more considerate than the right.

Bernie Sanders, presidential candidate?

Bernie Sanders 3.30.15

Bernie Sanders, the feisty Vermont senator introduced as “Independent in every sense of the word” isn’t likely to change if he runs for President. And if he does run – a suggestion that brought the evening’s loudest applause during a recent appearance at the Commonwealth Club of California – it should not be dull.

Within the first several minutes of his talk Sanders had ticked off a list of reasons he might indeed be tempted to enter the presidential fray: “Income inequality, planetary challenges, growing disillusionment with the establishment, massive greed, reckless and illegal behavior on the part of Wall Street resulting in millions of people losing their jobs and homes, a corporate establishment that cares only about its own interest…

“The American middle class,” Sanders says, “has been disappearing for the last 40 years. Forty-five million Americans live in poverty. Despite the Affordable Care Act, 35 million are still uninsured. The U.S. is the only major country that does not guarantee healthcare as a right.”

Sanders deplores what he sees as a movement toward oligarchy, with a handful of very rich holding the reins of power. Within that handful are the Koch brothers. Citing their 1980s Libertarian campaign goals, Sanders lists a few expectations of what oligarchic control would bring: abolition of Medicare, Medicaid and the postal service, abandonment of all government welfare, abolition of the minimum wage…

Sanders’ rapid-fire listing of grim possibilities ahead, shared in both his prepared remarks and in the Q&A moderated by San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, had more than an occasional campaign-speech sound. “It would be a very sad state of affairs if Hillary (Rodham Clinton) ran without serious opposition,” he said. Nor does he have much enthusiasm for likely Republican candidate Jeb Bush. “There clearly is something wrong with the political system if we’re not seeing dozens and dozens of vibrant young leaders whose dad wasn’t president or whose husband wasn’t president.”

Sanders & Campos 3.30.15His own platform would likely have the overturning of Citizens United and movement toward publicly funded election as a primary plank, a change Sanders sees as necessary to restoring democracy to our democratic system. Sharing the top would be fixing income inequality, an injustice he terms obscene and grotesque. “Between 2013 and 2015,” he said, “the 14 wealthiest people – Gates, Kochs, Buffett – saw their wealth increase by $157 billion. Not what they’re worth; increase. That $157 billion is more wealth than is owned by the bottom 40 percent of the American people. One family, the Walton family, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent.” Sanders on income inequality is Sanders in a rage against injustice.

The senator also has solutions: make public colleges free, weatherize houses, invest in solar, build a national rail system. Overturn Citizens United.

“The issue is not what happens in Congress,” he says; “it’s what happens in the grassroots. You’re going to have to start listening to the working class, not just billionaire corporations. Mobilize young people to say ‘stop spending billions on the military, spend on education.’

“This stuff is not easy,” the possible-candidate adds. “These guys who have got it all want more.” And Sanders is quick to say that he has few friends on Wall Street, in corporate America or in the military-industrial complex. “But I have seven beautiful grandchildren,” he adds, “and I’ll be damned if they’re not going to live in a country we can be proud of.”

Which sounds a little like he may run for President.