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.

Sarah Palin stirs up California

Sarah Palin speaking at a rally in Elon, NC du...
Image via Wikipedia

Sarah Palin flew in for a much-ballyhooed speech Friday night, at a price still undisclosed — and which may never be known. Therein lies the rub. It also, as Palin is inclined to do, decidedly pumps up the politics.

Palin was invited some time ago to speak at  a fundraising event for the Cal State University Stanislaus Foundation‘s 50th anniversary celebration. How much she was paid — the event raised $200,000 for the school’s endowment — became a subject of much controversy and high political drama. Eventually it invoked an investigation by State Attorney General Jerry Brown, now facing off for Governor against gazillionaire former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, into whether public disclosure laws are being broken by the university’s refusal to say what she got paid. Along the way, sides are being drawn by incumbent U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, whose opponent former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina rather famously criticized Boxer’s hairdo a little while ago and said more recently she is honored by Palin’s endorsement; and by Democrats in general who see the Palin Effect as fine ammunition to aim at state Republicans.

In other words, as San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci commented in today’s update, “They don’t call Sarah Palin the Thrilla from Wasilla for nothing.

After months of buildup, including investigations, outrage and celebration, the former Alaska governor’s trip to California’s farm belt over the weekend proved beyond a doubt that she delivers – for Republicans and Democrats.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown probably will be grateful that he was the focus of the 2008 vice presidential candidate’s barbed criticism as he investigates her compensation from the Cal State University Stanislaus Foundation for her speech Friday night at the nonprofit’s 50th anniversary event at the Turlock (Stanislaus County) campus.

Brown’s office is looking at whether the campus foundation violated state public disclosure laws by refusing to make public the terms of Palin’s contract for her appearance.

In her speech, Palin quipped of Brown: “This is California. Do you really not have anything better to do?”

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s response: “I don’t think she understands the process. It’s about the operation of the foundation to see if they handled things professionally.”

The Palin Effect played well in Republican primaries, but may not be quite so welcome as candidates now seek to broaden their appeal.  All of which makes watching the political high-wire balancing act, though sometimes tiresome, never dull.

Boxer’s campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, called Palin and Fiorina “two peas in a pod” and released a Web video aiming to remind voters that the Republicans’ “shared positions are out of step with Californians.”

On the GOP side, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Fiorina said that while she couldn’t meet with Palin on this trip, she was “honored” to be endorsed by Palin, who characterized Fiorina as a “commonsense conservative.”

“It’s the question of how she will play to the political middle. Will she take away votes?” said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

He said that a close connection with Palin may be a concern for candidates like Fiorina, in part because Palin manages to stir it up, no matter what her forum.

“If you think people are tired and worn down by politics, Sarah comes into town and the circus follows, and the arguments break out,” he said. “Wherever she goes, there’s a dustup. … It gets everyone angry and yelling, and it stirs up divisiveness.”

It’s going to be a long, hot summer in California.

Palin’s Stanislaus visit shows political power.