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Danziger: Fake White House

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

For 2020, More Stupid Pundit Tricks (As If We Needed Them)

Back in the eighth grade, when the world was young, I used to keep an annotated list ranking my feelings about girls I fancied. Imitative of Top 40 radio, the list got updated regularly. Favorites rose or fell depending upon who’d smiled at me in the hallway or let me walk them home from school. My list remained the deepest of secrets, an index of hopeless infatuation.

Has there ever been a bigger dork?

Thankfully, nobody but me knew the fool thing existed.

Indeed, I hadn’t thought of my foolishness for decades until The Washington Post recently unveiled its own version: a “Post Pundit 2020 Power Ranking” — a Top 15 list of Democratic presidential candidates in descending order of probability by the newspaper’s political mavens. It’s supposedly based upon the hopefuls’ “holistic viability to trounce Trump,” a jokey bit of alliterative jargon seemingly intended to make light of the whole enterprise.

“Holistic viability” signifies that nothing’s too trivial to be off-limits. As for “trounce Trump,” if we’re going all junior high school here, why not “dump Trump”? “Hump Trump” works for me too.

But then, I grew up in New Jersey.

The clowning continues with the Post’s thumbnail descriptions of participating staffers: “progressive brawler Greg Sargent, voice of the millennials Christine Emba … Republican stalwart Hugh Hewitt, ex-Republican stalwart Jennifer Rubin,” etc. It’s almost as if the 2020 power pundits — more alliteration — had no wish to be taken seriously.

For all of that, I intend no blanket disrespect. If there’s a single columnist (and frequent TV performer) who is today’s progressive MVP, it’s Jennifer Rubin. And “ahead-of-the-curve expat Anne Applebaum” is a serious historian. Her book Gulag: A History, won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. I have enormous respect for her work. Applebaum understands Russia like few others.

Even so, the whole thing strikes me as redolent of journalistic bad faith: a Heathers slam-book for print pundits wearied by substantive campaign coverage and possibly jealous that American presidential elections have become something akin to the fraudulent spectacles we call reality TV shows.

In this regard, it may be significant that senior Washington Post (and NPR) columnist E.J. Dionne is not among the power pundit voters. He has pointedly lamented the “Triviality Feedback Loop that is the Trump presidency,” adding that Trump’s “I’m-The-Only-One-Who-Matters approach to politics fits well with the needs of modern media, both social and traditional. Clicks, page views and ratings encourage everyone to dwell on individuals more than issues.”

Exactly what the power pundits are all about.

Spoiler alert: Of 15 potential candidates, the Post‘s panel judges Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) the likeliest to secure the nomination, although nobody outside her home state of California has ever cast a vote for her. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is ranked second, followed by old-timer Joe Biden, no-hoper Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and so on. Bernie’s in there somewhere. Bringing up the rear are some even longer shots: Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO), Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Who?

Meanwhile, the kinds of insulting trivialities the nation’s self-infatuated pundits have long used to ridicule previous Democratic candidates are already in evidence. Remember Al Gore’s bald spot and three-button suits? John Kerry windsurfing and his choice of the wrong — indeed, downright “inauthentic” — cheese on his Philly cheesesteak sandwiches?

Meanwhile, everybody supposedly wanted to have a beer with George W. Bush, a down-to-earth regular guy (and recovering alcoholic). And, quite coincidentally, the worst American president since the mid-19th century.

Until now.

Because an American presidential election is above all a TV show, print pundits must go to considerable lengths to get noticed (and, if possible, appear on TV). Hence the Post‘s made-for-TV power ratings. Readers are treated like so many children watching Saturday morning cartoons, candidates like animated characters.

So anyway, here we go. Right down the slippery slide to mass-market inanity: clothing, hairstyles, food choices, sexual peccadilloes. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand eats fried chicken with a fork (inauthentic). Sen. Corey Booker is a self-righteous vegan (snob). Amy Klobuchar yells at the help (bitch). Elizabeth Warren listed “American Indian” as her race on a Texas bar application (phony).

Actually, hold the phone. Warren’s blunder almost certainly dooms her candidacy, because it’s frankly laughable. (I once reported my race as “1500-meter freestyle,” but the registrar made me correct it.)

As for Trump, assuming that he’s still president in 2020, his idiosyncrasies are well known and heavily discounted. Because his 2016 campaign and his entire administration have been an extended professional wrestling extravaganza, his supporters revel in his matchless vulgarity.

Democrats are more vulnerable. Is that a fake smile or a real one?

Which candidates would you like to see naked?

I promise you, we will get there before it’s all over.

Oust Ralph Northam? Most Black Voters In Virginia Wouldn’t

 I have long loved the Commonwealth of Virginia, and everything else being equal might have chosen to live there. The sheer beauty of the state’s pastoral and mountainous landscapes soothed a New Jersey boy’s heart. Walking across the University of Virginia campus along the white-pillared porticoes on The Lawn afforded me a glimpse of an ordered life I’d hardly dared imagine.

And then I met this Arkansas girl at a reception in one of Thomas Jefferson’s serpentine-walled gardens, and never looked back. We went to hear Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys at a high school gym in the Nelson County boondocks. The music, see, bluegrass and blues, had drawn me southward. It would be years before the Arkansas girl confessed that she’d never really liked either one.

But I digress. “Mr. Jefferson’s academical village,” as it’s called, stands as a sort of eighteenth century theme park—a monument to a serene life its creator idealized but never lived. As a slave owner who wrote the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was one of the great men of the age; also among history’s great hypocrites.

Yet today, his white and African-American descendants—cousins all—meet yearly to acknowledge and celebrate their mutual heritage.

That’s Virginia.

So no, it’s not astonishing to me that a Washington Post poll reveals that Virginia’s African-American voters favor giving Gov. Ralph Northam the benefit of the doubt by 58 to 37 percent. They’ve been dealing with history’s brutal ironies for 400 years. Virginians overall are evenly divided at 47-47 percent about whether Northam should be forced to resign in the wake of that dreadful blackface/KKK photo in his medical school yearbook.

As an historical artifact, the offending photo is both sickening and absurd. Sickening in the unspoken assumption behind “blackface”: that African-Americans are essentially clownish and inferior, figures of fun. Also in the understanding that the Ku Klux Klan in their hoods and robes are an equally comical lot, socially inferior to very clever medical students playing dress-up at a Halloween party.

Absurd too in that as recently as 1984, intelligent white people would not only think it appropriate to wear such demeaning costumes, but to publish the photos memorializing the event. Amazing.

However, it was also amazing to me, as a Virginia grad student at the same age Northam was when the offending photo was taken, that just south of the James River, Prince Edward County closed down its public schools altogether rather than integrate. “Massive resistance,” they called it, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch was all for it. Most white Virginians were.

The way I saw things, it was a bit like living in a foreign country: not my responsibility. I do recall once making a remark in a class on Southern literature to the effect that I was getting tired of lamentations for the Confederacy. A high school teacher in the front fixed me with a glare.

“Ever since the war,” she began, “and there was only one war…”

She pronounced it “woe-ah.”

OK, enough nostalgia. The point is that Virginia has been a very different place within living memory. Actually, several different places, and the Eastern Shore, where Gov. Northam grew up on a farm outside the rural community of Onancock has never been a hotbed of social justice. Separated from mainland Virginia by the Chesapeake Bay, it struck visiting reporters from the Post last week as “a place apart from the rest of Virginia, yet a place where the history of black and white is as painfully enduring as anywhere.”

But, see, there’s also this other yearbook photo of Ralph Northam, depicting him as one of two white players on the Onancock High School basketball team. When the local schools integrated during his sixth grade year, Northam’s family disdained the private seg academies that sprung up. Nobody there depicts him as either a saint or an ogre, but neither does anybody recall his using racial slurs—ever in his life.

No rebel flag for him, he once told a friend: Because that war is over.”

“Friends, neighbors and schoolmates—liberal and conservative, black and white,” the Post reported, “rallied around Northam last week, not simply because he is from their town, but because they believe he is not what his yearbook page implies.”

For the past 13 years, Northam and his family have attended a black-majority Baptist church down the highway in Capeville, VA. A pediatric neurologist who long volunteered at a children’s hospice in Portsmouth, Northam ran for governor on a platform of racial reconciliation and Medicaid expansion, issues that earned him 87 percent of the African-American vote.

Northam made an ugly mistake 35 years ago, and he’s made a downright hash of explaining himself. Even so, it would be heartening to see a seemingly decent man survive one of these made-for-TV festivals of recrimination that have turned American politics so ugly.

Report: Prosecutors Probing Alleged National Enquirer Blackmail

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are reviewing the conduct of the National Enquirer and its parent company, American Media, Inc., after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos alleged Thursday that the tabloid attempted to blackmail and extort him by threatening to publish his nude selfies, according to Bloomberg News.

The Associated Press has also confirmed Bloomberg’s report.

Bezos said that a lawyer for AMI had formally demanded that he publicly denounce the suggestion that the National Enquirer’s recent coverage of his extramarital affair was driven by political motivation, perhaps because of coverage from the Washington Post, which Bezos owns, about the Trump administration or Saudi Arabia.

AMI and its CEO David Pecker have entered into a non-prosecution deal for their role in the campaign finance crimes carried out by Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer. Cohen pleaded guilty to the crimes and said in court that Trump himself had directed him to arrange criminal hush money payments.  Trump has a long history of a mutually beneficial relationship with AMI and Pecker.

It’s not clear whether AMI’s reported blackmail attempt of Bezos would violate the law, but if it did, it could nullify the non-prosecution agreement with SDNY and open up the company and Pecker to potential criminal charges.