Combat! blog has returned to Missoula, where the weather is suspiciously nice and normalcy resumes. I should warn you that we will only be operational for a short time. On Friday I drive down to Jackson, Wyoming to hang out with Stubble and his girlfriend, and I won’t get back until Tuesday, so this is pretty much the only regular blog post for a week. But how fine it is! Last week, the White House redistributed a column headlined “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why” in support of its proposed budget. The column, by Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri, was satire. Petri suspects that they didn’t actually read it but assumed from the headline that it supported their position. In this way, the Trump administration continues to operate as your aunt’s Facebook feed come to life.
I should warn you right away that today’s post is probably a variation on what Richard Hofstadter called the paranoid style in American politics. I mean the style, not the essay. Yesterday, the White House withdrew its threat to veto S. 1867, the defense authorization bill that provides for (A) annual Pentagon funding and policy directives and (B) the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens suspected of aiding terrorists. See, it does two things. But don’t worry—the White House has concluded that:
the language [in Sec. 1031 of the bill] does not challenge or constrain the president’s ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people, and the president’s senior advisors will not recommend a veto.
Press Secretary Carney’s remarks were interrupted when a bunch of crows got scared and flew away.
Here is something amazing that the federal government is doing right now: if you put together a petition with 5,000 signatures, the White House will respond to whatever that petition asks. It’s like praying, if god actually existed and/or cared what people thought about him. At a time when a lot of people think the United States has strayed from Constitutional principles, this program is an unprecedented realization of the First Amendment. The people have the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances—something that almost never works when you do it via an actual petition, which is to contemporary politics what asking for a snack machine in the cafeteria is to student council. Nobody with a letter after his name has given a rat’s ass about petitions since the Sherman Act, until now. The good news is that this new program is very well-timed, since the internet has made the logistics of petitioning easier than ever. The bad news is that the two petitions answered thus far have 1) asked the President to legalize marijuana and 2) demanded that the federal government acknowledge the existence of extraterrestrial life.
Ever since Stephen Colbert used his time at the podium to point out that George Bush was kind of a bad president, the choice of headlining comedian at the White House Correspondents Dinner has been a symbolic act. Bush—who in retrospect was not the kind of guy who has a great sense of humor about himself—chose as Colbert’s 2007 successor Rich Little. In addition to his spot-on impression of what awaits us all at the end of our lives, Little brought to the event what could only be described as maximum safety. The sheer tactical deliberateness of his selection—no one walked into that meeting saying, “You know who’s funny? Rich Little”—elevated the choice to the level of discourse. Like your favorite NBA player,* your Correspondents Dinner headlining comedian says something about you. Last year, President Obama chose Wanda Sykes, who was hilarious and repeatedly threatened to say the n-word. This year, he went with Jay Leno. It wasn’t the biggest mistake of his presidency, but it was the one that sums up all the others.
Senator Jim Bunning (R–KY, net worth $607,000*) continued his objection to a 30-day extension in federal unemployment benefits and highway funding reimbursements today, after successfully stopping the bill on a point of parliamentary procedure Thursday. Yesterday morning, two thousand federal transportation workers were furloughed without pay, thanks to Bunning’s insistence that a specific funding source be identified for the $10 billion bill and, presumably, the rest of the $3.8 trillion federal budget. On a more personal level, my father had his last day of work on Monday, having opted not to retire on Friday so that he would be eligible for COBRA health insurance through the end of March. That program, too, has been suspended, and now my father does not have health insurance because a Hall of Fame pitcher from Kentucky has taken it upon himself to end the welfare state. Bunning repeatedly affirmed his objection even as Democratic senators pointed out unemployment numbers in Kentucky, expressed their dismay at being kept up late, and generally employed the means by which an old man is made to feel shame. While Bunning was overheard swearing and complaining that he’d been “ambushed,” he held to his resolve, and the bill could not come to a vote. Which brings us to where we are now.