The Limits of Loyalty

Is loyalty a virtue or a sin?  Does the world need more of it, or less?

Donald Trump, in a controversial speech to the Boy Scouts of America on Monday, endorsed the former in no uncertain terms, rambling to the gathering of thousands of teenage boys, “As the Scout Law says, ‘A scout is trustworthy, loyal’—we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.”

The subtext of this remark was clear enough to anyone paying attention to current events.  Throughout the past week, the president has been very publicly steaming about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump feels betrayed him by recusing himself from the administration’s Russia imbroglio—and also, apparently, by not investigating Hillary Clinton for God knows what.  In an ongoing series of tweets, Trump has tarred Sessions as “beleaguered” and “VERY weak,” effectively goading him into resigning, lest the abuse continue indefinitely.

The implication—or explication, as the case may be—is that Sessions’s duty as America’s chief law enforcement officer is to protect Donald Trump from the law, not to defend the law against those who violate it, up to and including the commander-in-chief himself.  As Trump made plain in an interview with the New York Times, his hiring of Sessions was predicated on the AG serving the president—not the Constitution.

But then it’s not only Sessions who has found himself the object of Trump’s wrath on the question of absolute allegiance.  Let’s not forget James Comey, the former director of the FBI, who famously met with the president in January, when the latter said, point-blank, “I need loyalty; I expect loyalty.”  Comey’s eventual sacking—like Sessions’s, should it occur—was the result of being insufficiently faithful to the man in the Oval Office.  Of daring to think, and act, for himself.

As someone who has never been leader of the free world—nor, for that matter, held any position of real responsibility—I must confess that I remain skeptical about the value of unconditional submission in one’s day-to-day life and generally regard free agency as the far superior of the two virtues.  Indeed, I would argue (to answer my own question) that “virtue” might be altogether the wrong word to use in this context.

When thinking about loyalty, the question you must ask yourself is:  What, exactly, am I being loyal to?  Is it to a set of principles, or to another human being?  And if you are merely dedicating yourself to a person, what has he or she done to deserve it, and what, if anything, will you be getting in return?

Certainly, the spectacle of Trump demanding total fealty to Trump is the most extreme—and most cartoonish—manifestation of this latter category, since the president has shown minimal interest in reciprocating whatever devotion happens to come his way.  Except with members of his immediate family (so far, anyway), Trump’s modus operandi is to ask for everything and give nothing back.  Part and parcel of being a textbook sociopath, Trump views his fellow humans purely as a means to an end and rarely, if ever, stops to think how he might make their lives easier in the process.  It does not occur to him to treat people with respect for its own sake.  If anything, he views empathy as a sign of weakness.

This behavior may well represent an abuse and perversion of an otherwise useful human trait, but that hardly makes a difference when considering the enormous political power of the man doing the perverting.

Which brings us—by way of analogy—to Adolf Hitler.

In Germany, beginning in 1934, all members of the armed forces were required to swear a solemn oath—not to Germany, mind you, but to the man at the top.  This vow, or Reichswehreid, read, in part, “To the Leader of the German Empire and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and […] at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath.”  As you might’ve guessed, soldiers who refused to comply tended not to live very long.

If that seems like an extreme and sui generis example of a personality cult run amok, let me remind you of the moment in March 2016 when, at a campaign rally in Florida, Donald Trump implored his adoring crowd to raise their right hands and pledge, “I do solemnly swear that I—no matter how I feel, no matter what the conditions, if there’s hurricanes or whatever—will vote […] for Donald J. Trump for president.”

While a stunt like that doesn’t exactly sink to the depths of the Hitler oath—Trump wasn’t about to jail or murder anyone who opted out—it is nonetheless a profoundly creepy thing for a presidential candidate in a democratic republic to say—particularly when you recall that Trump once reportedly kept an anthology of Hitler’s speeches at his bedside table.  This for a man who can otherwise go years without reading a single book.

That Trump evidently views Hitler as some sort of role model—and is haphazardly aping the Führer’s stylistic flourishes on the campaign trail—ought to give us serious pause about where his own fidelity lies—is it to the nation or himself?—and about whether his pronouncement at the Republican National Convention that he—and he alone—is capable of steering America forward was less an expression of supreme confidence than a barely-veiled threat against those who doubt that a serially-bankrupt con artist is the best man to preside over the largest economy in the world.

The problem, you see, is not that Trump is Hitler.  (He’s not.)  The problem is that he wants to be Hitler—and Mussolini and Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin and every other national figurehead who has managed to wield near-absolute authority over his citizenry—often with sarcastically high approval ratings and totally unburdened by the institutional checks and balances that America’s founders so brilliantly installed in 1787.

While Trump’s ultimate ambitions might not be as violent or imperial as those of the men I just listed—in the end, he seems to care about little beyond self-enrichment—the central lesson of the first six months of his administration—plus the first 71 years of his life—is that there is nothing he will not try to get away with at least once.  No sacred cow he will not trample.  No rule he will not bend.  No sin he will not commit.  He is a man of bottomless appetites and zero restraint.  Left to his own devices, he would spend his entire presidency arranging meetings—like the one with his cabinet last month—whose participants did nothing but praise him for being the greatest man in the history of the world.  A Kim Jong-un of the West.

Remember:  The sole reason Trump hasn’t already turned the United States into a full-blown banana republic is that he can’t.  Constitutionally-speaking, the only things stopping him from indulging his basest instincts are Congress, the courts and the American public, and we’ve seen how tenuous all three of those institutions can be.  Should the remaining branches of government fulfill their obligations as a check on executive overreach and malfeasance, we’ll be fine.  Should they falter—thereby providing Trump the untrammeled loyalty he demands—we’ll be in for the longest eight years of our lives.

Life Imitates ‘Veep’

Here’s a small confession:  I didn’t watch any of the Republican National Convention last month.  For all the hysterical buildup about what was supposed to be the greatest political show on Earth, when the moment finally came, I decided I just couldn’t take four days of vulgar, hateful narcissism posing as American leadership.

So, instead, I watched all five seasons of Veep.

I know:  It was a good week for irony all around.

For reasons that escape me, I hadn’t previously indulged a single episode of HBO’s hit political sitcom.  Now that I’ve seen all of them, my only regret is that there aren’t several hundred more to tide me over until the end of the next administration.

During the Clinton and Bush eras—Bill and George W., that is—we had an exemplary TV show called The West Wing to assure us—perhaps in vain—that the men and women in the executive branch got into public service for all the right reasons and, despite their flaws, were essentially intelligent, decent people.

Now, in our own time, we have Veep—another fictionalized look at the inner workings of the federal government—which argues that the folks in the upper echelons of power are there for all the wrong reasons and are essentially rotten, vindictive pricks.

While these first five seasons have aired during Barack Obama’s presidency, Veep seems tailor-made for whatever nonsense is coming next.  Whether the 45th president is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, Veep will play like a documentary for what the most cynical Americans will assume about the shenanigans in Washington, D.C., over the next four-to-eight years.

If I weren’t such a jaded freak myself, I’d probably conclude that Veep presents an extremely dark omen for the American character and that its enormous popular and critical success is an indication of our country’s ongoing moral decline on the world stage.

However—degenerate that I am—I can only report the truth, which is that this series has made me laugh out loud more than any other TV comedy I can recall.  To borrow a line from The Producers:  It’s shocking, outrageous, insulting, and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Indeed, from a purely ethical perspective, Veep would be a total disgrace if it weren’t so goddamned funny.  Like The Producers and other, similar comedic assaults on good taste, Veep follows the George Carlin credo of identifying the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior and deliberately crossing it over and over again.

The people in this show—principally, the vice president and her staff—regularly do and say things that, in real life, would undoubtedly result in firings, lawsuits, restraining orders and the occasional stint in the big house.  The joke, then, is that everyone else behaves in exactly the same way; therefore, there is no dependable authority figure to hold anyone to account.  The inmates have very definitely assumed control of the asylum, and in this case, the asylum is the U.S. government.

This is not to say the characters in Veep are wholly immoral, incompetent, crooked or insane.  A show like that would get very old very fast, since an entirely evil person is only slightly less boring than an entirely virtuous one.

The genius of Veep—like the genius of Seinfeld—is to have it both ways:  To allow its heroes to behave horribly while subtly punishing them at key moments along the way, forcing them to haltingly, grudgingly learn their lessons.  (Not that it changes their behavior much.)

If you’re looking for a one-sentence synopsis, we might say that Veep is about a gang of selfish, foul-mouthed sociopaths with a slow-burning contempt for their jobs, themselves, the American people and each other.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the show’s leading lady, has described her character, Vice President Selina Meyer, as “frustrated,” and that helps explain why the show works:  Because, in our own way, we identify with that frustration and feel liberated by how these loony toons express themselves in the teeth of it.

And boy, do they ever.  While the Obama administration has maintained its “no drama” reputation behind the scenes, Veep has functioned as its histrionic evil twin.

If the show has a secret sauce, it’s the dialogue, which is at once infinitely quotable and mostly unprintable.  Even for HBO—a premium cable network that has long pushed the envelope for which words can be broadcast on American television—Veep has proved groundbreaking for its prevalence and variety of four-letter words and other adults-only verbal tics.  I once had a poster in my college dorm that listed over two thousand vulgar words and phrases compiled by George Carlin over the years, and I suspect the Veep writers have that same poster and are trying to cram in every last item before the series gets cancelled.  (It has been renewed at least through 2017, so there’s still time.)

At times, the entire show seems to be powered by pure sarcasm, with insults piled upon insults, each one more ridiculous and linguistically inventive than the last (e.g. “You know, you’re about as annoying as a condom filled with fire ants”).  And when these guys aren’t simply one-upping each other with expressions of outsized mutual loathing, they are in a state of perpetual crisis control, attempting to undo political damage they themselves caused, invariably unleashing even greater havoc in the process.  Almost every line of dialogue is pitched at a level of maximal desperation (“Burn everything incriminating, including this building”) or maximal rage (“If anyone needs me, I’ve gone outside to scream into the night”).  There’s nothing subtle about any of this, and that’s what makes it so invigorating and so addictive.  Call it a perpetual catharsis machine.

Yet the quiet moments work, too—rare as they are—thanks to good old-fashioned comic timing.  Notice, say, the chief of staff’s expression when Selina proclaims, “That’s my final solution.”  Or the speed with which Gary, Selina’s loyal bag man, can turn a smile into a frown upon realizing he has misread the mood of the room.  Or how that same bag man is gradually revealed to be the one major character with any hint of a soul, and how—for that reason—he is perhaps the most abused and underappreciated character of them all.  Typical.

All great comedy is based on exaggeration of a basic human truth.  In the world of Veep, that truth is that public service is an inherently aggravating, thankless business that does not always draw the best and the brightest to the table and that, over time, can force otherwise honorable people to behave in dishonorable ways.

Of the series’ many running gags, arguably the most resonant is the vice president’s team’s habit of instituting elaborate cover-ups whenever anything goes awry, feeding ridiculous “official” stories to the press when simply telling the truth would be far less stressful and—in many cases—less incriminating.  Indeed, the joke is that Selina’s people are equally prepared to lie about something totally benign—for instance, how Selina cut up her face by absentmindedly walking into a glass door—as about something much more sinister, such as the illegal use of Americans’ stolen personal data.

Except that it’s not a joke when it happens for real—as we are virtually assured it will under either a President Hillary or a President Donald.  If these two human specimens have nothing else in common, they share the instinct to conceal any and all information that might make them look bad—no matter how insignificant that information is, and no matter how easily they could get caught in the lie.  While Trump’s penchant for dishonesty is exponentially more disturbing than Clinton’s—indeed, he seems to have lost any capacity to discern truth from fiction—anyone who believes Hillary can be taken at face value is in for a long series of unpleasant surprises in the years to come.

The good news is that neither of these candidates is quite as appalling as their fictional counterparts in Veep—although, in the vulgarity department, at least one of them is sure giving it the old college try.

We always claim that truth is stranger than fiction.  When it comes to our leaders, I’d really prefer it were the other way around.

Donald/Duke

Donald Trump has a Klan problem, and its name is David Duke.

Within hours of Trump’s shrieking, hysterical acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last Thursday, Duke—America’s leading white supremacist—tweeted his unconditional approval for the GOP nominee while announcing his own candidacy for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Louisiana.

Duke’s tweet read, “Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!”

In a separate statement about his Senate bid, Duke added, “Thousands of special-interest groups stand up for African Americans, Mexican Americans, Jewish Americans, et cetera, et cetera.  The fact is that European Americans need at least one man in the United States Senate—one man in the Congress—who will defend their rights and heritage.”

Duke—for those with short memories—is a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who served three years in the Louisiana House of Representatives and 15 months in prison for tax fraud.  In the meantime, he has run unsuccessfully for just about every public office you could imagine, including two previous bids for the Senate.  In the popular imagination, he is a perennial candidate for America’s racist-in-chief.

Here in 2016, Duke is such a flamboyantly toxic and antiquated character that he would hardly be worth our time, except that—for those with even shorter memories—he has demonstrated a real knack for tethering himself to Donald Trump in a way that Trump cannot quite shake.

Back in February on a radio program, Duke implored white listeners that “voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage”—suggesting, in effect, that Trump is the candidate of and for white supremacists in America.

To the surprise of possibly no one, Trump’s response to this problematic endorsement was pointedly—and tellingly—incoherent.

Initially, Trump appeared to be caught off-guard by Duke’s unsolicited support, reflexively telling a roomful of reporters, “I disavow, OK?”  However, two days later in a satellite interview with Jake Tapper, Trump performed a 180 by claiming not to know anything about Duke and his background and taking umbrage at being put on the spot “to condemn a group that I know nothing about.”  (That group was the KKK.)

Finally, the next morning on The Today Show, Trump asserted—incredibly—that his earpiece hadn’t worked properly and he couldn’t really understand what Tapper was asking him.  From there, he reverted to his original disavowal of Duke’s support, insisting his view on the matter had never wavered—a claim proved demonstrably false by a cursory review of Trump’s own words.

All of which is to say that it took Donald Trump the better part of a week and a series of elaborate linguistic back flips to distance himself from a man who used to burn crosses for a living—a feat that any normal candidate could’ve performed in a matter of seconds.  Then and now, the whole episode begs the question:  What in holy heck in this cretin up to?

In previous iterations of this Trumpian game of rhetorical rope-a-dope on explosive social topics, we have been compelled to wonder whether the Donald is a supreme cynic or a supreme dolt.  Whether a) he is attempting to dupe the American public about the inner workings of his mind, or b) he is a dead ringer for the old Groucho line, “He may talk like an idiot and look like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you.  He really is an idiot.”

At this point, let’s say it doesn’t matter.  Let’s assume—as John Oliver has posited—that there is no functional difference between feigned bigotry and actual bigotry, and thereby conclude that, for all intents and purposes, Donald Trump means what he says.

Which would mean, in short, that he is a bigot.  That by wanting to prohibit all Muslims from entering the United States, he believes Christian lives matter more than Muslim lives.  That by denouncing brutality against police without even mentioning brutality by police, he believes white lives matter more than black lives.  And that by attempting to deport all illegal Mexican immigrants and building a big, stupid wall between our country and theirs, he believes…well, that most Mexicans are murderers and rapists, apparently.

The extraordinary ugliness of these positions seems entirely self-evident to most sentient beings—including most Republicans—but the Republican National Committee cannot abide the full implications of Trump’s consistently outrageous remarks about every religious and ethnic minority under the sun.

Why not?  Because if they did, it would mean that David Duke is right, and that Trump has adopted white supremacy as his party’s central cultural identity.

Shortly after Duke announced his Senate run, RNC chair Reince Priebus tweeted, “David Duke & his hateful bigotry have no place in the Republican Party & the RNC will never support his candidacy under any circumstance.”

Wise and noble words, but how exactly does Priebus account for them?  What standard of decency has Duke violated that the party’s presidential nominee has upheld?  What racist, prejudicial statement has Duke made lately that Donald Trump, in his own way, has not?  If Duke’s hateful bigotry is anathema to Republican Party values, why did that party’s voters anoint a candidate for commander-in-chief whose entire appeal is rooted in hateful bigotry?

By supporting Trump’s candidacy while simultaneously denouncing Duke’s, Priebus and the RNC are practically begging us to call BS, and we are duty-bound to oblige them.  They might (and do) argue that Trump doesn’t really represent Republican values and that their formal support for him is purely in deference to the will of Republican primary voters, but then again, what else could define the true values of a party than the values of its electorate?

Nope.  So long as Trump continues to exist in his present form—so long as he doubles and triples down on a platform of purging America of every type of human species that white men like him don’t approve of—he and David Duke will be a two-for-one deal in American politics, and the GOP itself will grow more fanatically prejudiced by the day.

We should note that yesterday—48 hours after the fact—Trump himself told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that he disavows Duke’s support “as quick as you can say it.”  In case that makes you feel any better, realize that Trump didn’t trouble himself explaining just what it is about Duke that he finds so objectionable—possibly because if he did, he would be making a rod for his own back.

Don’t Let the People Decide

In the first decade of the 19th century, the Federalists became the first major American political party to keel over and die.  Led by such luminaries as Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, the party was done in—or rather, it did itself in—largely through internal squabbling and managerial incompetence.

At the heart of this disintegration, however, was the Federalists’ increasingly unpopular theory about government, which argued—in a nutshell—that America ought to be run by a select group of intellectual elites—a “natural aristocracy,” as it were—who were smarter, wiser and nobler than the public at large.  They viewed ordinary citizens as an unsophisticated “mob” prone to irrational, violent outbursts, whose opinions, therefore, should be neither sought nor heeded in matters of great national importance.

In short, the Federalist Party didn’t really believe in democracy—not directly, anyway—and felt the country would function just fine without it.

In light of this year’s party nominating contests, I think this would be the perfect time to consider whether they were right all along.

A boatload of Republicans certainly seems to think so.  Having seen GOP primary voters anoint Donald Trump as the party’s presidential nominee, a great many officials are still entertaining the possibility—however remote—that the party will stage a coup at the upcoming Cleveland convention  by somehow stripping Trump of the nomination and handing it to somebody—anybody!—else.

The immediate rationale for this would-be hostile takeover is that Trump could not possibly defeat Hillary Clinton in November, and since political parties have no greater duty than to win elections, this entitles the so-called Republican establishment to take matters into its own hands by overruling the will of the people and hoping all goes well.

The implication is clear:  Given the choice, it is better to win with a candidate whom primary voters did not choose than to lose with a candidate whom they did.  The democratic process may be all well and good, but when push comes to shove, all that really matters is victory.

It has been theorized that had the GOP copied the Democrats and introduced “superdelegates” into the mix, Trump may well have been overtaken by some other candidate.  In truth, based on Trump’s lead in “pledged” delegates at the time his rivals dropped out, it’s unlikely that a superdelegate revolt would’ve been enough to produce its desired effect.

But let’s grant the premise, anyway, and suppose that a) the GOP elite succeeds in removing Trump from the race, and b) the replacement nominee actually defeats Hillary Clinton in the fall.  Would we consider that fair?  Would it signify that the system “works”?  Would it reflect the sort of country we want to be or, rather, would it suggest that democracy, as we know it, is a mere figment of our imagination?

The answers might seem obvious to us—namely, that the above would be a clear perversion of the principles of representative government and a big, fat middle finger to Republican voters from a party leadership that views them with patronizing contempt.

By today’s standards, yeah, that’s about the size of it.  By definition, if the party decides, the country does not.

However, by dismissing such tactics as brazenly undemocratic—and, by implication, blatantly un-American—is to ignore almost the entirety of American history and the U.S. Constitution along with it.

Although political parties have existed for almost as long as the country itself, our founding documents conspicuously omit mention of presidential primaries—possibly because they didn’t exist until 1904.  For the first century of the American presidency, nominees were selected not by a state-by-state popular vote, but rather by—you guessed it!—a group of party elites, acting on nothing but their own superior wisdom and, presumably, a series of crooked backroom deals.  In this preliminary stage of presidential campaigns, the “will of the people” was not yet a thing.

What’s more, once primaries were formally introduced, it soon became clear that the results were not exactly binding:  However the rabble voted, delegates went right on choosing whomever their hearts desired—based, again, on which candidate might actually win the election.  Indeed, it was as recently as 1968 that the Democratic Party selected a nominee, Hubert Humphrey, who had not even competed in direct primaries, but who nonetheless secured enough delegates from non-voting states to jump the line past such candidates as Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, who had taken the trouble to actually campaign.

Was the 1968 Democratic nominating contest an electoral farce?  According to us in the present, yes, of course it was.  (Plenty of folks thought so then, too.)  However, when compared to all previous primaries up to that point, the shenanigans that produced Humphrey were essentially par for the course.  What mattered to the party was not how its voters felt at the time, but rather how the entire electorate might feel in the first week in November.

Until very, very recently, that is how American democracy functioned:  From the top down, with the public playing an exceedingly minor role in how our leaders are chosen.  Even today, the existence and idiosyncrasies of the Electoral College dictate that the country install the people’s choice for commander-in-chief only after all other options have been exhausted.

The rationale for this is rooted in an admirably straightforward assumption:  On the whole, the American people are a bunch of idiots and rubes whose ability to choose a leader is no more informed than a toddler’s ability to land a jetliner.

Now that the rise of Donald Trump has lent real credence to that theory, we are forced to confront whether unfettered democracy—that is, a direct primary that cannot be overturned by superdelegates or anyone else—is simply too dangerous for the continuing health of the republic and the world at large.

Our system has institutional checks for when our leaders lose their minds and put the entire country at risk.  Why shouldn’t we retain similar checks for when voters behave the same way?

Respect My Authoritah

Clint Eastwood’s “surprise” speech—or should we call it a performance?—during the final night of the Republican National Convention probably raised a lot more questions about Mitt Romney and the GOP (and Eastwood himself) than it reasonably intended to clarify.  Indeed, there are so many approaches one can take to explaining Eastwood’s ten minutes in Tampa—during which he engaged in an increasingly-contentious debate with a chair containing an invisible President Obama—that it seems almost unfair to have to pick only one.

What particularly struck me and millions of other viewers, I dare say, was the shtick’s overall tone.  Certainly words such as “absurd” and “irreverent” would find themselves at home here, not to mention “ridiculous,” “macabre” and good-old “strange.”

But then there’s the one that crossed many lips, suggesting a more serious concern:  Disrespectful.

To begin:  It is the nature of a political convention, in a year when the president is seeking re-election, for the opposition party to say less-than-flattering things about the incumbent, often in extremis.  It is the right of every citizen to do so; no one could possibly argue to the contrary.

However, this does not resolve the following proposition:  Is there a base level of respect—of due deference, you might say—owed to the president of the United States, whoever he happens to be, below which no decent person should publicly sink?  If so, did Eastwood’s act, and others like it last week, cross the line into unacceptable disrespect toward the highest officer in the land?

Inherent in this quandary is the crucial distinction between the president as a person and the presidency as an institution.  When the president enters the House chamber every year to deliver his State of the Union address, for instance, it is tradition for everyone in the hall to applaud, regardless of partisan considerations.  Here, they are applauding the office of the presidency itself, not the particular present holder of it.  The moment stands as affirmation of the miracle of America’s endurance as a democratic republic, a government of laws and not men.

Accordingly, on a day-to-day basis the president is very much an individual, no better or more sacred than any of us, not above the law and certainly not above the scorn of the public he serves or the Congress with whom he negotiates.  When George W. Bush was the man in charge, there was no end to the insults and critiques—be they serious or petty—toward him and his policies, as was the case during the reigns of Clinton, the elder Bush and every other leader you can think of.  Who could possibly have it any other way?

The answer to that, you might recall, is John Adams, who in 1798 signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which (among other things) made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish” anything deemed “scandalous and malicious […] against the government of the United States, or […] the Congress […] or the President.”  The collective legislation yielded 25 arrests and ten convictions before expiring in 1801.  Today it is viewed, with near-unanimity, as the most shameful act of Adams’ career.

As historians have noted, the Sedition Act curiously did not include the vice president amongst its protected would-be targets—likely because the office-holder at the time, one Thomas Jefferson, was so hated by those who drafted it.

We could dismiss this as mere playful trivia today, but is there not some residual currency in this dynamic, whereby the vice president stands to endure the wrath to which the president is somehow immune?  The vice presidency itself being a rather paltry institution by comparison, perhaps this is an apt use for it:  Collect the arrows directed at Barack Obama and redirect them toward Joe Biden.  I leave the thought with you.

Disrespectful or not, I enjoyed Eastwood’s takedown of President Obama for its novelty and irreverence.  For its function as a rebuke to supposedly free countries such as Russia, where members of the punk-rock group Pussy Riot were recently jailed for making disparaging comments about President Vladimir Putin—a turn of events that rightly strikes any American as intolerable.

Imperative in any case is the principle of consistency—approving or disapproving of certain speech against the president irrespective of who he is.  As with so much else, to delight in the rhetorical flogging of a President Bush only to recoil in disgust at identical behavior when directed at a President Obama is not merely intellectually dishonest—it is boring.