Saturday, July 13, 2019

Jim Bouton opened the lid on the closed ol’ boy network of baseball

July 12, 2019
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It is difficult to know where to begin when writing about Jim Bouton, who died Wednesday at age 80. If he had never written “Ball Four,” Bouton would no doubt have still merited a New York Times obituary as a former Yankees pitcher who won 21 games in 1963 and 18 in 1964, then tacked on two World Series wins that October.
But a sore arm cost Bouton his fastball and caused him to end up pitching as a 30-year-old knuckleballer for the expansion Seattle Pilots at the start of the 1969 season. It was also probably the reason he was willing to team with longtime sportswriter Leonard Shecter on a book chronicling that season. Before it was over, Bouton had been sent to Class AAA Vancouver, returned to Seattle and then been traded to Houston.
Bouton never stopped taking notes. A year later, “Ball Four,” written in diary form, was published and became arguably the most iconic baseball book ever written. Some will argue for Roger Kahn’s lyrically brilliant “The Boys of Summer,” but nothing changed baseball or sports journalism as much as Bouton’s seminal work.
Never had an athlete written with as much honesty, candor and humor about what life was like inside a locker room. People often compare “Ball Four” to Jim Brosnan’s ‘The Long Season,” written 10 years earlier, and there’s certainly common ground. But “Ball Four” went to places no athlete had previously gone.
Bouton shocked people by writing honestly about good ol’ boy Yankee Mickey Mantle — not so much about his home runs but rather his drinking, womanizing and mean streak. His description of joining Yankees teammates on the roof of Washington’s Shoreham Hotel to “beaver-shoot” — check out women through their hotel windows — would be unacceptable in today’s world, and Bouton’s revelation of it infuriated baseball insiders.
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New York Yankee starting pitchers left to right, Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, Al Downing, Ralph Terry, and Stan Williams, September 4, 1963.

Bouton took ordinary players and made them into icons: journeyman pitcher Gary Bell yelling, “Smoke ’em inside,” as his scouting report for every hitter in baseball; Alvin Dark’s famous “take a hike, son,” remark to an autograph seeker; Jim Gosger’s “yeah-surre” comment as he burst from a hotel-room closet during a tryst between his roommate and a young woman.
And, of course, there was Seattle Manager Joe Schultz’s “Let’s go pound some Budweiser” war cry and his ability to repeat his two favorite profane words in, as Bouton wrote, “all their possible combinations.”
“Ball Four” has sold more than 5 million copies — Bouton updated it often — so there are plenty of people who will know those anecdotes and many more by heart.
The book also made Bouton into a baseball pariah.When it came out in 1970, he was reprimanded by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who called the book “detrimental to baseball.” Kuhn also asked Bouton to sign a statement saying that the book was fiction. Bouton, naturally, refused.
Kuhn was hardly the only one to take issue with it. Players and many longtime baseball writers, some of whom considered themselves part of their teams, agreed with Kuhn.
Illustration for article titled Jim Bouton Woke Up America
(AP/Jim Lent)
No doubt many writers were simply jealous. In those days, with the wide-open access the media had, a good reporter could have told many of the same stories that Bouton told. But no one wanted to be drummed from the fraternity.
The irony is that few loved baseball more than Bouton. He made a comeback with the Atlanta Braves in 1978 — eight years after first leaving the game — and pitched in semipro leagues into his 50s. The final line of “Ball Four” poignantly expresses Bouton’s feeling about the game: “You see,” he wrote, “You spend a good deal of your life gripping a baseball and, in the end, it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
He also wrote often about sometimes “forgetting to tingle” as he walked across the outfield grass to the bullpen before a game, reminding himself how lucky he was to make a living playing baseball.
Bouton wrote a number of other books, including “Foul Ball,” about his efforts to save a minor league ballpark in Pittsfield, Mass., where he had settled after retirement. The book was written in the same diary form as “Ball Four” and, although the topic was completely different, had the same funny, anecdotal feel to it.
The book was also poignant. Bouton describes the death, in 1997, of his daughter Laurie in a car accident. He also addressed a New York Times op-ed written by his son Michael pleading with the Yankees to release him from baseball purgatory and invite him to Old-Timers’ Day. The Yankees relented and invited Bouton, who joyfully recounts his return to the Yankees’ clubhouse and the mixed reactions of his former teammates.
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I wrote a favorable review of “Foul Ball” and was thrilled when Bouton reached out to thank me. That began a sporadic friendship, most of it on the phone. I loved hearing Bouton’s views of baseball today and his stories about old friends and teammates who had stayed in touch.
Bouton isn’t a Hall of Famer, but baseball should find a way to pay tribute to him and acknowledge, almost 50 years later, his massive influence on the game.
As for sports journalism, we were all influenced by him — whether my colleagues want to admit it or not. Bouton proved the importance of firsthand reporting, of truly getting inside a subject. No book — other than “All the President’s Men” — influenced me more as a reporter. Woodward, Bernstein, Bouton — pretty good role models.
Bouton did one other thing for me. Whenever I’m having a tough day at a ballgame — because of a rain delay, or because someone refused to talk to me or failed to show up for a scheduled interview, or an editor is being difficult (yes, it happens) — I look around and I think about what Bouton would have said.
“Don’t forget to tingle.”
Thanks, Jim.
For more by John Feinstein, visit

‘Justice on Trial’ Is The Definitive Account Of Brett Kavanaugh’s Confirmation

By Nathaniel Blake
July 12, 2019

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Brett Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford

“Justice on Trial” is a political thriller about sex, power, and lawyers. In this excellent book, Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist and Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network have provided the definitive account of Brett Kavanaugh’s ascent to the Supreme Court.
Both authors were part of the confirmation battle. In addition to her work at The Federalist, Hemingway is a regular on Fox News. Severino’s group supported Kavanaugh with millions of dollars in advertising. Following his confirmation, the authors interviewed more than 100 crucial actors in this political drama, including the president, Supreme Court justices, high-ranking officials, and dozens of senators.
Thus, although the basics of the Kavanaugh confirmation fight will be familiar to readers, this skillful retelling provides many more details about everything from the selection process to Kavanaugh formally taking his place on the Supreme Court. Hemingway and Severino tell their story in crisp prose while deftly deploying detail and humor to punctuate and enliven the narrative.

The Drama and the History

The madness of the confirmation process is illustrated by a multitude of anecdotes, from the Kavanaugh family having to stash luggage in a neighbor’s treehouse as they avoided the press, to the spectacle of a protestor wandering Capitol Hill “dressed as a giant condom.”
But this book is not just about the drama of one judge’s nomination and accusations against him of youthful sexual misconduct. The authors adroitly place the story in context, situating it amidst both recent events such as the Trump campaign and the Neil Gorsuch nomination, and broader political and legal history, including the excesses of the Warren court and the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.
Like the Thomas hearings, this attempt to scuttle a Supreme Court nominee was a defense of a judicial coup that redistributed power in defiance of the Constitution’s design of a government of limited and enumerated powers. For much of the last century, the federal courts were complicit in the unconstitutional expansion of centralized government power in the administrative state.
The courts also seized enormous power for themselves, deciding policy on a host of contentious political issues such as abortion. The Supreme Court became “the forum where philosopher kings impose the final decision in our most divisive political and social disputes.”

Crux: The Invented Right to Abortion

“Justice on Trial” lays out the history of conservative disappointment with Republican judicial appointments, including Anthony Kennedy. Despite past failures, conservatives hoped Kavanaugh would solidify an originalist majority on the Supreme Court that would work to restore the legitimate constitutional order.
But Democrats were terrified at this prospect, especially as regards Roe v. Wade, which invented a constitutional right to abortion. Sen. Diane Feinstein opened the Democrats’ remarks at the initial hearings by “declaring that the confirmation battle was about abortion.”
Thus, the Kavanaugh fight was never just about his purported sexual misdeeds, but about the entire sexual culture that depends on abortion on demand. Ironically, the crude, abusive sexual culture that Kavanaugh was accused of participating in as a young man in the 1980s was enabled by the very decision his opponents most feared he would overturn.
This fear induced some Democrats to declare their opposition to Kavanaugh before he was even nominated, with many more joining in immediately after the announcement. Hemingway and Severino remind readers how Democrats turned the initial hearings into a circus with endless interruptions, costumed protestors, and Sen. Cory Booker trying and failing to have a “Spartacus moment.” Nonetheless, Kavanaugh seemed assured of confirmation.
Then the Democrats and their media allies released their secret weapon: an accusation of high school sexual assault that they had held in reserve for weeks.

If We Can’t Get Him One Way, We’ll Get Him Another

All hell broke loose, and “Justice on Trial” provides readers the inside scoop on how Republicans responded and triumphed. Most importantly, the confirmation team believed the judge’s denial of any wrongdoing. Trump did not waver in his support for the judge, and the president’s team encouraged Kavanaugh to fight back.
They refrained from attacking accuser Christine Blasey Ford personally—they did not publicize her own alcohol-fueled escapades “in high school and college,” which were “dramatically at odds with her presentation in the media”—but they aggressively disputed her claims, and Kavanaugh “wanted a public hearing to clear his name.”
While Ford’s lawyers and the Democrats stalled, Kavanaugh was attacked with additional accusations. The media, drunk on the prospect of the Me Too movement toppling a Trump Supreme Court pick, hyped every new allegation. But unlike other Me Too cases, each new charge was less believable. The Democrats and their allies sought to establish a pattern of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh, but the pattern they actually demonstrated was their willingness to promote any story, no matter how outlandish, to stop his nomination.
After Ford and Kavanaugh finally testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats leaned on Republican Sen. Jeff Flake and dramatically secured a delay for a new round of FBI interviews. This “frustrated Kavanaugh’s supporters, but the investigation turned out to be a godsend.” By the end of that weeklong effort, “each of the three main allegations against him was crumbling.” Reviewing the claims against him emphasizes that they ranged from implausible to insane.

A Herd of Unproven Allegations

Julie Swetnick’s lurid tales of high-school gang rape were “obviously ridiculous,” and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, is a sleaze who is now facing a multitude of unrelated federal felony charges. Deborah Ramirez’s allegations were also self-discrediting. She refused to testify, no one at Yale University remembered seeing Kavanaugh expose himself to her, and she claimed to have clarified her recollections by spending six days wracking her alcohol-soaked memories “with an attorney provided by Democrats.”
Blasey Ford’s story was the most credible of the accusations, and her emotional testimony impressed many. But former prosecutor Rachel Mitchell’s gentle questioning revealed how insubstantial Ford’s claims were: no location, no date, no recollection of how she got to the party or got home. Furthermore, the witnesses Ford named as having attended the party, including her longtime friend Leland Keyser, recalled nothing of the sort.
Initially, Keyser had declared that although she could not corroborate her friend’s story, she still believed her. But “Justice on Trial” reveals that after her first interview with the FBI, Keyser had time to reflect and review details of the summer of 1982, and
she lost confidence in Ford’s account of the incident and came to the conclusion that she had to supplement her statement to the FBI…During the second interview, Keyser described the summer with much more detail, adding that she didn’t believe there was any way she was at this gathering. She expressed concern at the pressure she had felt to go along with the story…She detailed certain parts of the story that didn’t make sense to her.
Keyser no longer trusted her old friend’s account, and though she did not want Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, she would not lie to try to keep him off of it. Without corroboration, and with her inconsistencies exposed, Ford’s tale withered, leaving Democrats with nothing but bizarre theories about the juvenile jokes in Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook (had he perjured himself by wrongly defining “boof”?) and petulant complaints that he had become too upset when they falsely accused him of gang rape.
This was not enough for Sen. Susan Collins, who had not been intimidated by the media frenzy or the harassment campaign directed at her. After a careful examination of the record, she concluded that Kavanaugh was likely innocent and cast the deciding vote to confirm him.

It’s Not Over, By a Long Shot

For the new justice, the worst of his trials were over, but the next nominee may face an even greater ordeal. As Kavanaugh joined the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was absent with significant health problems.
There will be more nominations that make the left fear for its ill-gotten judicial gains. “Justice on Trial” reminds us of their ruthlessness in such battles. It also vaccinates against the sort of revisionist history that has occurred since the Thomas confirmation. At the time, public opinion overwhelmingly favored Thomas, but the media never stopped presuming him guilty, and that view has become Democratic dogma.
Democrats will undoubtedly complain that “Justice on Trial” is a biased history, and it does not provide the same insight into the Democratic side as it does for Republicans. But absent new evidence supporting the allegations against Kavanaugh, it does not matter beyond an academic interest in the Democrats’ strategy.
Furthermore, the questions it leaves unanswered are uncomfortable for the Democrats. For instance, who leaked Ford’s letter, and why did Ford prepare for a public fight—high-powered lawyers, social media scrubs, a polygraph, and much more—even though she insisted she had not wanted to go public? Why, after all this preparation, did she and her lawyers repeatedly try to delay her testimony, including the easily disproven claim that she was terrified of flying?
There could have been a confidential, professional investigation early in the confirmation process, but instead Ford’s story was held and then leaked at the last minute. The Democrats chose to make the confirmation process into a public parade of grotesques, and the media gleefully went along, amplifying every ludicrous smear. “Justice on Trial” provides a thorough record of media malfeasance that shows why Trump’s “enemy of the people” insults resonate with so many voters.

Voters Figured Out What Happened

Trump’s selection of outstanding judges, and the depths to which the Democrats stooped to try to stop them, also rallied Republican voters (myself included) for the midterms and beyond, likely boosting GOP gains in the Senate and stemming losses in the House. An outraged Sen. Lindsey Graham spoke for us all when he told his Democratic colleagues off: “Boy, y’all want power. God, I hope you never get it.”
We should share this righteous anger. Democrats are so desperate to preserve their illegitimate judicial victories that they are trying to destroy the lives and reputations of good men and women. We must resist such political wickedness.
In addition to opposing the bad, we must cultivate and love the good. We should love our country and our Constitution, a love that will be made manifest, in part, by defending the rule of law, including the rights of the accused, both legally and in our culture.
These virtues are not only for conservatives. In a saga where few on the left come out looking good, Keyser appears as an American hero, unwilling to lie for political gain. Collins, a moderate disliked by many conservatives, reached a decision for Kavanaugh based on the evidence and fundamental American principles of justice.
There is room for genuine and principled disagreement over the meanings of laws and of the Constitution. What is antithetical to our Constitution, and deeply harmful to our nation, is the belief that judicial power is a political weapon to be exploited for maximum advantage. Using the Supreme Court as the “nuclear bomb of political warfare” exchanges the rule of law for despotism in the hope that the latter will be enlightened. It rarely is.
Nathanael Blake is a Senior Contributor at The Federalist. He has a PhD in political theory. He lives in Missouri.

New Bestseller Reveals Liberal Women Carried the Day for Kavanaugh

By Ken Blackwell
July 13. 2019

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Pundits credit different events for turning the tide on now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious Supreme Court confirmation. Some point to Kavanaugh’s impassioned testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Still others say it was Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) fiery speech, in which he lambasted his Democratic judiciary committee colleagues for withholding the allegations against Kavanaugh and then leaking those allegations at the most politically opportune time for Senate liberals.

As Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino detail in their just released bestselling book, Justice on Trial, Democrats might have succeeded in derailing Kavanaugh’s nomination if it weren’t for the courageous women who bucked the progressive groupthink and stood true to their moral compass—namely Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), traditionally more moderate and left-of-center than her Republican peers, and registered Democrat Leland Keyser, a childhood friend of Kavanaugh accuser Professor Christine Blasey Ford.

“I think [Sen.] Collins … did more to expose the ugliness of the controversy around the Kavanaugh [nomination] process than any other senator,” then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) tweeted after Sen. Collins delivered a 43-minute statement explaining her rationale for voting to confirm to the Supreme Court now-Justice Kavanaugh. “I commend [Sen.] Collins for her thoughtfulness [and] am proud to have her support for such a well[-]qualified nominee.”

Sen. Collins’ speech covered a lot of ground and systematically addressed the allegations against the judicial nominee, his credentials and first-hand analysis of the longtime litigator and judge, including commentary from Lisa Blatt, an abortion proponent and former clerk to left-leaning Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“Lisa Blatt, who has argued more cases before the Supreme Court than any other woman in history, testified, ‘By any objective measure, Judge Kavanaugh is clearly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. His opinions are invariably thoughtful and fair,’” said Collins. “[Blatt] also observed that Judge Kavanaugh is remarkably committed to promoting women in the legal profession.”

Indeed, Kavanaugh is ahead of the times and his peers when it comes to putting women on his payroll. As Erin Hawley, associate professor of law at the University of Missouri and a former clerk to Chief Justice John Roberts, said in a Chicago Sun-Times column ahead of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, he “has hired more women as law clerks than men. Eighty-four percent of those women have gone on to clerk at the Supreme Court. And he is the only D.C. Circuit judge to have ever hired four women in the same year for a clerkship.”

Kavanaugh’s sterling legal credentials and history of supporting women in the legal profession, however, isn’t all that was necessary to quiet the partisan fury stirred up against the nominee. Kavanaugh’s future on the court hinged on whether the allegations against him could be prosecuted in a court of law. In other words, could others back up the allegations? As it turns out, nobody could back up Blasey Ford’s story, and star prosecutor Rachel Mitchell said as much in a memorandum for members of the Senate Judiciary Committee after cross-examining Blasey Ford.

“Dr. Ford identified other witnesses to the event, and those witnesses either refuted her allegations or failed to corroborate them,” Mitchell says. “All three named eyewitnesses have submitted statements to the Committee denying any memory of the party whatsoever. Most relevantly, in her first statement to the Committee, Ms. Keyser stated through counsel that, ‘[s]imply put, Ms. Keyser does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present, with, or without, Dr. Ford.’”

It was Blasey Ford’s word against Kavanaugh’s, and our American tradition of “innocent until proven guilty” reigned victorious in the end thanks to Keyser’s statement—and thanks to Sen. Collins who, in good conscience, couldn’t torpedo the confirmation of a man with an otherwise outstanding reputation based on toothless allegations that a “reasonable prosecutor” wouldn’t even bring before the committee.

Likewise, as Justice on Trial reveals: despite being Ford's friend, despite her desire not to see Kavanaugh on the court, and despite being pressured to lie in order to sink his nomination, Keyser's integrity won out.

As Sen. Collins said, “That such an allegation can find its way into the Supreme Court confirmation process is a stark reminder about why the presumption of innocence is so ingrained in our American consciousness.”

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Jim Bouton never let ‘Ball Four’ repercussions ruin him

By Mike Vaccaro
July 11, 2019

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This was during the last and most brutal baseball strike, on an August afternoon in the terrible hot summer of 1994. Baseball was on most people’s hit list, which is the reason I’d gotten in my car and driven to a ballpark in Newburgh, N.Y. Jim Bouton was appearing there that night. It seemed the perfect time to talk to him.
He greeted people before the game, and he was more than happy to sign autographs, mostly of dog-eared copies of “Ball Four.” Time and again, he would draw a laugh by giving a variation of the same line: “I know a lot of people want baseball players to say they’d play for free. But baseball players who play for free all have something in common: They’re not good enough anymore than anyone wants to pay them.”
I got my audience with him late. I told him a story he’d surely heard 100,000 times by then, how reading “Ball Four” had changed the way I’d looked at baseball, how it humanized ballplayers, even God-like ballplayers. How it made me appreciate the game in a whole other way. And how it made me laugh like hell.
He signed my book, “To Mike: If I’m responsible for bringing one more sportswriter into this world, then it’s pretty clear I’m never getting into Heaven. Jim Bouton.”
Bouton died Wednesday at 80 at his home in the Berkshires after a long and difficult decline. The cause of death was vascular dementia, but he’d also suffered a stroke in 2012, and in 2017, he revealed he had a brain disease, cerebral amyloid angiopathy.
He was a mostly middling pitcher, known mainly for a pair of quirks: As a young player, he threw with such a vicious motion that his hat would often fly off when he delivered his fastball. Later, as he struggled to keep a place in the game — the central storyline of “Ball Four;” the hijinks and the laughs were just a bonus — he developed a knuckleball.
As a 24-year-old kid with the Yankees, he’d been good enough to go 21-7 with a 2.53 ERA in 1963, when he made his only All-Star team and finished 16th in the American League MVP voting. He won 18 more in 1964, then added two of the Yankees’ three victories in the World Series against the Cardinals.
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Jim Bouton loses his cap while pitching for the New York Yankees in the 1964 World Series. (AP)

By 1965, though, he was 4-15, and his ERA ballooned to nearly 5. He’d already earned a reputation for dancing to his own drummer, whether it was in his yearly salary squabbles with Ralph Houk that he detailed gleefully in “Ball Four,” or for his left-leaning opinions, something that stands out in baseball clubhouses that have always tilted the other way.
Of course, it wasn’t until “Ball Four” that he became a household name. Bouton had always found a kindred spirit in a former Post baseball writer named Leonard Schecter, himself something of an oddity in the press box because he tended to write baseball stories that weren’t always limited to a baseball diamond.
Bouton spent the 1969 baseball season talking into a tape recorder as he tried, and succeeded, to make the expansion Seattle Pilots, as he earned a demotion to Vancouver and then a trade to Houston, introducing the world to a colorful Pilots manager named Joe Schultz and an unknown Seattle rookie named Lou Piniella, traded to Kansas City before the season started. He’d send the tapes back East to Schecter. The writer knew right away they had something; it turned out to be literary gold.
Bouton’s tales of ballplayer byplay and bacchanalia were irresistible to readers. “Ball Four” sold millions of copies and remains in print 49 years later, and was the only sports book included in the New York Public Library’s 1996 list of “Books of the Century.” It also sent the baseball establishment into a tizzy; Commissioner Bowie Kuhn called it “detrimental to baseball” and press box vanguard Dick Young called both Bouton and Schecter (who died in 1974) “social lepers.”
“Bleep you, Shakespeare!” Pete Rose howled at him once, from a dugout.
Bouton shrugged it all off, found fame and fortune as a sportscaster, as an actor, as the first investor in “Big League Chew” baseball gum, as a ballplayer again (he made it back to the bigs in 1978, starting five games for the Braves), as an author of four other books. If there was one consequence that hurt him, it was the Yankees never invited him to Old-Timers’ Day, fearful of how some of the stars of “Ball Four” — notably Mickey Mantle — might react.
But after Bouton’s daughter, Laurie, was killed at age 31 in a 1997 car accident, his son, Michael, wrote a letter to the New York Times the following Father’s Day, appealing to the Yankees to forgive and forget. The cheers he heard July 25, 1998, were louder than any he’d ever heard as a ballplayer. There were 55,638 people at the Stadium that day; you can bet most were cheering the author every bit as much as the pitcher.
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Old-Timer's Day, 1998 (Chuck Solomon/Getty Images)
And you can bet as Bouton let those cheers wash over him, he remembered the last sentence of his book, as good a closing line as you could ever summon.
“You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball,” he wrote, “and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

A Whole Lot of America

Ross Perot, R.I.P.

Paul Beston
July 10, 2019

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(USA Today Network via Reuters/Michael Mulvey)

We’re in an era of frantic, “historic” presidential elections. In their book Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin called the 2008 election “the race of a lifetime,” and it seemed so, with Barack Obama battling with Hillary Clinton in a dramatic Democratic primary before finally securing the nomination—then going on to become America’s first black president by beating John McCain in November, after a general election cycle that also saw the introduction of Sarah Palin. Yet 2008 seemed tame by comparison eight years later, when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the two most disliked presidential candidates that anyone could remember, warred in a year-long race that crossed modern Rubicons for nastiness and culminated in an Election Night shocker that evoked 1948. Even the 2000 race, while dull in its particulars, delivered an unmatchable final act: an electoral deadlock, a month-long recount, a Supreme Court ruling to decide the matter.
Often overlooked in this catalogue of thrills (if one wants to call them that) is the 1992 contest, which, nearly 30 years on, looks more prophetic than any other recent election cycle, as it foreshadowed the populism and anti-systemic politics that have become so prominent today. In the Democratic primaries, the last man standing in Bill Clinton’s path to the nomination was former and not-yet-future California governor Jerry Brown, who, talking protectionism and wearing a union jacket while soliciting donations with an 800 number, played the Bernie Sanders role, but with a twist—Brown supported a flat tax. Playing the Donald Trump role—in fact, forging the Trump coalition—was Patrick Buchanan, who challenged President George H. W. Bush for the Republican nomination and lost, but not before highlighting the issues that Trump would ride to victory 24 years later: free-trade skepticism, border control, American national identity.
Buchanan and Brown were gone when the primaries were over, but the 1992 election’s most distinctive character (and Trump’s true precursor) would stay around to the end, garnering enough support that he earned a place in October on the debating stage with Clinton and Bush: businessman H. Ross Perot, who died yesterday at 89. Perot was the citizen politician whose seemingly offhand remark to Larry King about running for president set off a frenzy of interest and support. Even in 1992, legions of Americans didn’t love either party, and many fell hard for Perot, a Texas billionaire who, as founder and CEO of Electronic Data Systems and later Perot Systems, was one of the wealthiest men in the United States—especially since Perot promised, in one of his many homespun witticisms, to “clean out the barn” in Washington, a gentler version of Trump’s later “drain the swamp.” At other times, Perot would ask: “How stupid do they think we are?”
For a time, Perot led Bush and Clinton in the polls, and it seemed plausible that he could become America’s first independent president. Then, inevitably, the swamp, or the barn, began to envelop him: a man accustomed to being listened to, not shouted at, Perot struggled to field hostile questions from journalists and town-hall voters. He disliked the relentless scrutiny of his life, career, and ideas, and especially the impact this had on his family. He revealed himself as thin-skinned and prone to conspiratorial thinking. His poll numbers headed south, and he dropped out of the race in early summer.
Then he changed his mind and came back, just in time for the post-Labor Day race to the finish line. Showing the genuine appeal of his compelling if often vague message, Perot shot from 7 percent in the polls before the debates began to 19 percent on Election Day, a remarkable gain in such a short period. Nearly 20 million Americans pulled the levers for him, making him the most successful independent presidential candidate of the modern era.
His performance in the debates was a big reason why: here was a completely untrained amateur politician squaring off against a sitting president and an uber-debater who had spent most of his adult life preparing for these competitions. Yet Perot was at ease on stage, never fumbling for answers (as did his unfortunate running mate, the immensely heroic James B. Stockdale, in the vice-presidential debates), and always ready with a good quip. Yet he wasn’t all quips. Here was his answer, in the first debate, to a question on whether he had the proper experience for the presidency:
Well, they got a point. I don’t have any experience in running up a $4 trillion debt. I don’t have any experience in gridlock government, where nobody takes responsibility for anything and everybody blames everybody else. I don’t have any experience in creating the worst public school system in the industrialized world, the most violent crime-ridden society in the industrialized world. But I do have a lot of experience in getting things done. So if we’re at a point in history where we want to stop talking about it and do it, I’ve got a lot of experience in figuring out how to solve problems, making the solutions work and then moving on to the next. I’ve got a lot of experience in not taking 10 years to solve a 10-minute problem. So if it’s time for action, I think I have experience that counts. If there’s more time for gridlock and talk and finger pointing, I’m the wrong man. 
In the third debate, addressing the issue of whether he could win, Perot said: “Now, you got to stop letting these people tell you who to vote for, you got to stop letting these folks in the press tell you you’re throwing your vote away—you got to start using your own head.” 
Like many third-party candidates, Perot railed against “gridlock” as if it were the product of small-minded stubbornness and not ideological disagreement among the representatives that the people themselves had elected. He sold a pleasing vision of “problem-solving” divorced from thorny political realities. Nonetheless, this kind of rhetoric has always been game, set, and match in presidential debates—and for Perot, it wasn’t rhetoric. It was the way he spoke. It was old-fashioned American can-do talk, leavened with a Texas drawl and a sense of humor, and even those who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for him enjoyed the show.
And it wasn’t all show. Though Perot became, almost effortlessly, a classic political performer, behind the presidential run and the infomercial charts and the caricatures and impersonations lay a life that evokes cherished American notions about hard work and ingenuity, about devotion to country and family. The motif of striving—and succeeding—ran through his life. He started his work career at age seven, selling garden seeds door to door, later graduating to paperboy for The Texarkana Gazette, which he delivered on horseback. He was an Eagle Scout at the tender age of 12. He was president of his Naval Academy class. As an IBM salesman, he once made his annual quota in three weeks. At EDS and later Perot Systems, he ran a tight and hugely successful ship. Like some other business pioneers, he was a moral traditionalist, imposing strict dress codes and rules against marital infidelity. His devotion to his own family was well known.
All this Americans saw in 1992—not just the alluring performer’s persona. In the final presidential debate, Perot closed by saying: “To the American people, I’m doing this because I love you.” A sappy political line? Maybe. But tell that to the servicemen and POWs for whom Perot spent countless hours and dollars advocating. In 1969, he chartered two jet airliners, filled them with food and medicine, and flew them to Vietnam, in an attempt to bring aid to American prisoners there. In 1979, he famously engineered, with the help of a retired army colonel, a rescue of two of his company’s employees from an Iranian prison. And tell it to the people who voted for him in 1992, many of whom saw his deficiencies but responded to his campaign’s unspoken theme: that America was great but wouldn’t remain so forever if we stood on the sidelines and let political elites squander our inheritance.
“He was a real Texas legend,” a colleague said, via email. “He has a huge footprint in Dallas–Fort Worth.” That’s for certain. But if there’s a whole lot of Ross Perot down in Texas, it’s also true that there was a whole lot of America in Ross Perot.
Paul Beston is the managing editor of City Journal and author of The Boxing Kings.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Jeffrey Epstein Should Cancel the Culture’s Humbert Humberts

By Kyle Smith
July 9, 2019

The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York speaks during a news conference on Jeffrey Epstein.

Federal prosecutors announce case against Jeffrey Epstein. (AP/Richard Drew)
Perhaps the most historic, in the sense of era-defining, moment in the history of the Academy Awards was that standing ovation Roman Polanski got when he was given Best Director honors in 2003. There they are, leading Hollywood liberals, leaping to their feet to cheer for a man who, at age 43, gave a 13-year-old girl Quaaludes for the purpose of having sex with her and sodomizing her. Polanski suffered in no significant way for his crime, and today it seems obvious he should at the very least be denied the highest honor his profession can bestow.
In 2018, Polanski (along with Bill Cosby) was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which suddenly discovered 40 years after his crime that he was no longer in accord with “ethical standards that require members to uphold the Academy’s values of respect for human dignity.” They meant “moral standards,” but acknowledging the existence of morality is still too much to ask of the Academy. Before Harvey Weinstein, the only person ever expelled from the Academy was Carmine Caridi, an actor who appeared in The Godfather. His crime was sharing a DVD screener with a friend, who put it on the Internet.
The Jeffrey Epstein case should end a nearly 50-year era in which the mandarins of our cultures — the intellectuals, writers, and artists — almost unanimously ignored, laughed off, or even outright celebrated sexual exploitation of girls and very young women, even in many cases prepubescent ones. Humbert Humbert somehow became the culture’s idea of a barrier-breaking hero whose predilections provided jokes such as the nickname for Epstein’s infamous ‘Lolita Express’ jet, the one stocked with young flesh. Epstein’s habits were so unremarkable that Bill Clinton and Donald Trump were happy to be associated with him. Clinton and Trump were not outliers. They were simply symptoms of a disease.
Hugh Hefner fired up a flare lighting the way to an almost anything-goes view of female sexuality, and it reached its apex at the 2003 Oscars. Under the regime of Hefnerism, conservative prudes and often the law stood charged with being uptight and repressive about sex involving girls just over or even under the age of consent. That Polanski became an exile from this country after his crime made him Hollywood’s favorite martyr. The Academy was eager to give him the Oscar both to showcase its view that he had been victimized by prudery and to dunk on conservatives. Attendees didn’t just applaud, they let out a mighty whoop of approval when Polanski’s Oscar was announced by a smiling Harrison Ford. Meryl Streep, Martin Scorsese, Weinstein, and others all jumped to their feet to participate in a chilling standing ovation. Jack Nicholson, at whose house Polanski’s assault took place, looked confused and joined in the applause, but remained seated. So did Nicolas Cage. No one captured by the cameras looked particularly peevish. As far as I know, no one in Hollywood had any problem with lionizing Polanski at the time.
Related image
Harrison Ford presented Polanski with the Oscar in Deauville, France in 2003. (AP)
Polanski is a man of his era. At 33, Ringo Starr had a No. 1 hit singing “You’re 16, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine.” Woody Allen made what felt like an autobiographical movie about a 42-year-old television writer having an affair with a 17-year-old high-school student, and nobody blinked. Time magazine put him on the cover under the legend “American Genius.” (It turned out Allen had had affairs with two teenagers around that time). Urged on by her horrible mother, Brooke Shields built a career around being jailbait, posing nude at age 10 for a Hefner publication called “Sugar and Spice,” then starring as a 12-year-old hooker in Pretty Baby (which began filming when she was 11), then at 14 starring in a film about two teens discovering their sexuality, The Blue Lagoon (though a double did her nude scenes). At 15, she starred in Endless Love, which as filmed initially received an X rating, before most of the nudity was cut to achieve an R. Whatever “controversy” attached to any of this was reported by the press solely to pump up the box office, as though conservative naysayers were aliens from a quaint, slightly daft foreign country. The media itself had no problem with it.
Look at the response to Pretty Baby, which features a nude Shields as a prostitute’s daughter who grows up in a brothel and joins her mother’s profession. (Pretty Baby, like Endless Love, enjoyed the cultural camouflage of being directed by an artistically unimpeachable European, Louis Malle. It can’t be smut if it’s arty, was the general view.) The film “takes a robust and humorous approach to life in a brothel,” wrote then–film critic Judith Martin in the Washington Post, before she became advice columnist Miss Manners. That “a daughter of the house should go into the communal family business is natural,” Martin ruled. “And the fussing and excitement surrounding her debut seem not much different from those associated with more respectable ceremonies to launch young girls. Tea dances, packing to go off to college, weddings — those, too combine titillation with finery and giggles.” Child prostitution, you see, was much like a tea dance. Penelope Gilliatt’s New Yorker review of Pretty Baby combines a panting quality with a yearning to sound tasteful that would have enthralled Humbert Humbert:
The most beautifully intelligent picture to have come out in America so far this year . . . A jammy-mouthed little girl of twelve, who is the child of a whore in the brothel, uses her virginity as a lure. . . . For all her look of the nubile, though, she could nonetheless not pass for a grown-up. . . . This may be a film set in a brothel, but it is no more lewd than a Bonnard of a naked woman in a bath. . . . There are many scenes that buzz gently with the giggles of children in the background.
In years to come, anyone learning about the Jeffrey Epstein case will ask: Why didn’t anybody raise the alarm? “What is so amazing to me is how his entire social circle knew about this and just blithely overlooked it,” the journalist Vicky Ward, who profiled him for Vanity Fair, told the New York Times. “All mentioned the girls, as an aside.” Epstein’s acts had deep cultural roots. But things don’t always stay the same, or get worse. Sometimes attitudes take a turn for the conservative. We should be grateful that standards have evolved in the right direction. The next Epstein or Roman Polanski will have considerably more difficulty getting people to shrug off their deeds, much less join in a standing ovation.