Coulda Woulda Shoulda: If Wishes Were Horses, Hillary Would Win the Derby

Barbara Streisand, at a recent performance in Brooklyn, paid tribute to Hillary Clinton and shared her dreams of the New Camelot that would have replaced the Evil America being rebuilt by Donald Trump and his legions of straight white males.  Speaking of a recent interview with Hillary, Streisand added that it “makes us yearn for what could have been, what should have been. I was thrilled to hear yourself describe yourself as an activist citizen and part of the resistance.”

Streisand as political commentator is a satirist’s dream come true.  At the age of 75, herself, she actually had the chutzpah to deride the 70 year old Trump as an old man. The poor lady needs one of those make-up mirrors—the kind that allow you to see your open pores and the scars left by even the most successful reconstructive surgery.  But let us give the devil its due:  Many Americans really are yearning “for what could have been, what should have been, and this influential group obviously includes the federal judges who do not allow law, the Constitution, common sense, or honesty to get in their way of blocking Trump’s agenda at every term.

So, I have decided, for so long as the subject interests me or some of the readers, I am going to start harping on this theme of “what could have been, what should have been.”  Perhaps it will calm down one or two of the Trumpists who have turned against him because, as it turned out, not only is he a political narcissist—who didn’t know that?—but also a political realist playing for the first time in the big league sandbox.

As I was scratching out this introduction, a bit of urban slang from the 90’s passed through my lint-attracting mind: Coulda Woulda Shoulda, a phrase used to ridicule anyone who moons over about impossible might-have-beens and trivial used-to-be’s.

If Hillary had been elected, think of all the no-talent Hollywood fundraisers—led by Babs herself—who would have made the inauguration the glittering exercise in vulgarity that the past three presidents created.  We all have our own list, but I’d be hoping for Alec Baldwin, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher, to say nothing of the crown prince of Scientology, Tom Cruise, and both sides of the Brangelina creature, reunited temporarily for the momentous occasion: the inauguration of the first woman to have her finger on the nuclear button.  This coulda woulda shoulda been quite a thrill, since Ms Clinton used to insist that the USA has an obligation to go around the war looking for scarves to tear off the heads of oppressed women and oppressive husbands to murder.

In the past 100 years, there have been very few wars we should not have been better off to have avoided.  If we have to go and knock off a thug, however, we should start with North Korea or Iran, two countries that have repeatedly insulted us and abused our trust.  I’d much prefer Trump to back off and resume productive negotiations with the Russians, but, if we had the first technically female president in the history of the universe, she and the Republicans would be teaming up to bomb the Russians out of Ukraine.

Perhaps Hillary could even bring her Republican soulmate, Condoleezza Rice, into the administration.  The irrepressible Condy—who certainly bears the most ridiculous first name in the history of American politics—wants to go on the record that she is “appalled by what the Russians did, and we ought to find a way to punish it.”  Is this one of those girl-to-girl olive branches?

I don’t see why, in this age of business mergers, the Republican and Democratic Parties do not arrange a merger for the sole purpose of hindering the Trump administration.  With Condy and Crazy John McCain and Boy Wonder Lindsay joining forces with Crazy Bernie, Hillary, and Nancy, there will be nothing to prevent them from establishing their 1000 year Reich.  Nothing, apart, from human reality,

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

20 Responses

  1. Avatar Andrew G Van Sant says:

    In today’s Annapolis paper, our local activist, who once complained about government taking over the vice markets of gambling and drugs, thus depriving Blacks of seed money for legitimate businesses, asked what could have been if not for the untimely deaths of Martin Luther King, JFK and his brother Bobby, and Malcolm X, while hyping a local performance of a play by Jeff Stetson, “The Meeting,” which describes a fictional meeting of King and Malcolm X.

  2. Avatar Raymond Olson says:

    What an appalling little nightmare! Barbra Streisand belongs to a tradition of American entertainment whose avatars utterly fail to be amusing, let alone musical or comedic. It includes, besides her, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Liberace, Johnny Mathis, just about everyone who ever darkened the doors of the Brill Building, the Mamas and the Papas, Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen–and by then I was in my thirties and simply could tolerate no more. I expect them all to constitute the floor show at the gala announcing the merger you foresee.

  3. Avatar Dot says:

    At 75, Barbara Streisand is in the same category of ageing liberals who continue to think of themselves as adolescents and young adults. Ms Hillary is in the same category. They act like a bunch of 2 year olds who did not get their way, thumb in mouth and demonstrating until they get what they want. They need to be ignored.

    One can’t be frozen in time. When I was young a very popular song was “Music, Music, Music”.
    “Put another nickel in,
    In the nickelodeon,
    All I want is loving you,
    And music, music, music.”

    The Four Lads, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra were very popular then. I was young but their music also appealed to my parents. “Liberace”? His music was played along with regular music. I began to learn classical music from Liberace.

    As far as ‘Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, and Jerry Lewis” go, they were a fine respite to the daily grind, a time to relax and enjoy some comedy. The Ed Sullivan show was very popular and produced musical stars like the Beatles.

    The problem now is many people want to stay in the adolescent stage. I’ve seen ageing hippies knocked out on drugs on more than one tourist green.

    We can’t keep playing “Music, Music, Music” forever.

  4. Avatar Andrew G Van Sant says:

    My mother watched Liberace on tv. Bishop Sheen, too.

    She read too and took me and my sister to the lbrary, which is one reason why my sister and I are readers.

  5. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    I have to agree with Ray’s judgments. Most 50’s pop music is so dull and tawdry it explains why rock and roll took over. Frank Sinatra is one thing, but the Four Lads, the Ames Brothers, and most of them were awful then and even the haze of nostalgia cannot obscure their tackiness. There were still good singers and good songs–Margaret Whiting, the incomparable Ella, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, Billy Eckstine, but Perry Como gave me the creeps.

    My piano teacher did not have a television and he invited himself to dinner to see if Liberace could be as appalling as he had heard. Even before playing a note, my teacher–a German-American communist homosexual, by the way–was horrified by his grin and his flamboyant hand gestures. When he began to play, I thought the poor man was going to have a heart attack. I don’t know how anyone could ever learn anything about serious music from Liberace–though I know why Ray has picked on him: Lee Liberace was from Milwaukee!

    As for Lucy, Red, Uncle Milty, and Jerry–all no-talent bums. Red was dirty, whenever he could get away with it, and that was too often. He combined a smarmy affectation of middle American virtue with a sly approach to blue material. Lucy was a commie rat, who only did one thing right in her life, which was to marry an intelligent Cuban who kept her out of the clutches of Joe McCarthy and made her a star. Ed Sullivan consorted with gangsters, a thoroughly bad man, and he had nothing to do with producing the Beatles.

    On one point I disagree with Ray. Although I disliked Carson at the time and felt he degraded late-night talkshow television into the celebration of Vegas celebrities, he studied his craft well, and constantly ripped off Jack Benny, Groucho, etc. He was only a host, but when I see little clips, I realize how much he had assimilated and how good his comic timing was. The show still stank.

    But then the 50’s and 60’s stank in general: movies, TV, music. There were honorable exceptions, but the pop culture in which I grew up was uniformly degrading. As luck would have it, Dot, I had turned on a silly You Tube recording of Aldila, performed in a movie, as we were sipping some George Dickel last night. Youtube than automatically selected an Ed Sullivan performance of Domenico Modugno signing “Volare.” Modugno was at the beginning of a wonderful career as songwriter and singer, and he was doing his best to mug for the American audience. (It was a little like a better looking and talented Robert de Niro playing an Italian pop idol.) Ed seemed genuinely charmed by the Neapolitan, and seeing him pretend to be a nice guy and halfway hug Modugno struck me as a good augury for the future.

    As little as I like most Italian pop music, I’ll take Modugno–I cannot hear Il Vecchio Frak without tearing up–Adriano Celentano, Giorgio Glaber any day over their Italo-American counterparts. You can see on Youtube, by the way, Celentano performing his big hit, Un Ragazzo della Via Gluck, in Berlin. He holds out the mike and lets the audience sing the first few verses, before he takes over. He lets it drag on and on and then launches into a beautiful performance of a touching song about the loss of neighborhood community, the world and friends of our childhood. I really don’t know any pop song in America from 1966 that takes on such a serious theme.

    Even Memo Remigi, doing “Innamorati a Milano” is a small masterpiece. I once managed to pull it out of my memory in a conversation with a fine poet from Milan, pointing out the beauty of the lyrics:

    Sapessi com’e’ strano
    sentirsi innamorati
    a Milano.
    Senza fiori, senza verde,
    senza cielo, senza niente
    fra la gente, (tanta gente)
    Sapessi com’e’ strano
    darsi appuntamenti
    a Milano.
    In un grande magazzino,
    in piazza o in galleria,
    che pazzia.
    Eppure,
    in questo posto impossibile
    tu mi hai detto ti amo,
    io ti ho detto ti amo

    You know how strange it is to feel you’re falling in love in Milan. Without flowers, without green, without sky, without anything, among people–so many people….,

  6. Avatar Dot says:

    I happen to like music and good comedy. I even like some jazz. My taste in music is quite different, obviously. But that’s okay. The music that was part of my youth mixed some Italian with the pop music. The closest to Italian lyrics you present that I enjoy is the Medieval pop Latin that is sung in Orff’s Carmina Burana.
    The Beatles did get their start here in the US on the Ed Sullivan Show – in 1964. Elvis Pressley likewise got his start on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. It was then that Rock and Roll started. (internet source). I was not a fan of Elvis Pressley. There is nothing wrong with the change in style of pop music to Rock and Roll. To me, the listening public was receptive to a change in style and it caught on. Some Italian was sung then such as O Sole Mio (Di Capua) and Arrivederci Roma (Rascel. I like to hear Appalachian Spring, Rodeo and Tis a Gift to be Simple by Aaron Copland. His music has an American feel to it.

    The changes in the RC church that started in the 1960s went along with the changes with pop music. In order to let in some fresh air, the church through out the sacred Latin music – the Gregorian Chant, the Panis Angelicus, Tantum Ergo, Ave Verum, Laudate Dominum.

    Today, I just listen to classical music. My favorite station is WDAV for anyone who can get it.

  7. Avatar Alexander Coleman says:

    I never knew Lucille Ball was a commie rat.

    Oh, Dr. Fleming… Creating one rendezvous after another between many a reader and sobering reality.

    Il Vecchio Frak hits my sentimental side as well.

  8. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    The Beatles were formed in 1960, by 1963 “Beatlemania” had entered the lexicon, after release of their first US album (simply a new name for first UK album) in January, their appearance on Ed Sullivan in February was in response to their overwhelming popularity. Elvis did not create rock ‘n roll and Ed Sullivan did not create Elvis. “Heartbreak Hotel” was number 1 hit when Sullivan had him on the show. The only stars Ed created were Topo Gigio the little Italian mouth and Senor Wences the ventriloquist.

    Interestingly, “Arrivaderci Roma” was composed for a particularly silly Mario Lanza movie (1955) which by some strange misfortune I have seen twice in the past year.

    Changes in popular music taste have nothing to do with changes in popular attitudes and everything to do with mass marketing.

    I do not at all accept the notion that in the case of any of the arts, there are “different strokes for different folks.” There are areas of legitimate disagreement–e.g. I am prepared to accept the opinion that Aaron Copeland is merely a third-rate hack rather than the abomination I have always found him to be.

  9. Avatar Dot says:

    English is a tricky language. I noticed that in the second to last sentence, “In order to let in some…, the church through out the sacred Latin music” I meant threw, not “through”. People learning English must really have a difficult time with the spelling. What about ware, where, and wear and weather or whether? Then and than shouldn’t be tricky but I hear then used for comparison when than is the word to use.

  10. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    Lucy the Red is a long story. The evidence against her were the communist meetings held regularly at her house–she blamed it on her uncle–and on all the petitions she had signed for Front organizations–You know, she explained, how under FDR we just signed anything! She had no real defense against the McCarthyists, until Desi held a press conference in which he made light of the whole thing, brilliantly quipping: The only thing red about Lucy is her hair–and that comes out of a bottle. The entire nation breathed a sigh of relief. It doesn’t much matter to me if an airhead entertainer picks up stupid ideas, no matter how dangerous. What I objected to, even as a child, was her mugging and her poor imitations of Harpo Marx.

    I don’t wish to sound too censorious, but even in popular culture, one should try to develop some discrimination. I detest Sinatra as a human being and don’t much care for his repertoire of vocal tricks, but when he sang clean, without straining his voice, he was quite good at what he did. Elvis, after his initial rockabilly period, rapidly went down the rathole of Lieber and Stoller and Tin Pan Alley, whereas there was always something rather charming about Carl Perkins and–in his own goofy way–“the killer.” I almost had a double-date with Jerry Lee, but, while I was sorry when his child bride showed up to ruin the party, I suppose I should count myself lucky.

    What I most dislike in all levels and aspects of American culture is the tendency of managers, producers, PR racketeers to control the market and mold public taste. How else did Bernstein get taken seriously as a composer? Whenever any radio host puts on Copland’s “Fanfare” I not only turn off the radio but resolve never to listen to programs hosted by, say, Lynn Worfel. Ed Sullivan, Phil Spector, Leiber and Stoller, Dick Clark, Alan Freed, Robert Iger–it is all the same, Fastfood music and film.

    The main point I want to emphasize is that aesthetic relativism–you like disco, I like Hank Williams, what’s the difference?–is as destructive as moral relativism. While there will always be areas of disagreement–I simply cannot abide Berlioz and prefer Haydn to Beethoven and Ella to Sarah Vaughan, Prokoviev to Shostakovich–there are vast areas that should be beyond dispute, e.g. that Rogers and Hart songs are better than Rogers and Hammerstein, that Bach beats Bernstein, of course, but so do Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Busoni, Boccherini, and just about anyone else including Bobby Bland, whose name begins with “B.”

  11. Avatar Dot says:

    All I can say is that this sounds like another North/South divide.

  12. Avatar Stephen Charles says:

    Before I “kicked in my TV and read Fahrenheit 451” I liked the quote “The whole purpose of American popular culture is to produce moral numbness” well enough to print it out and tape it to the screen. I never quite managed to put this plan in operation.

  13. Avatar Dot says:

    My late husband and I used to watch the 6pm news and a public broadcasting program. He passed away 8 years ago and I stopped cable. The result is that I am so busy that I have a back log of things to do between reading material, house work, yard work anything to do with the kitchen – shopping, cooking etc. I have a freezer and store most of the meals I prepare. I also sew and just finished making three beautiful pairs of curtains for my kitchen. My home is on 3/4 acres of land and I also mow some of it when I have a chance. I am faithful to my walking program which is quite hilly. I would say that 2 hills must be at about a 30 degree angle. I gives a good work-out. Next week I hope to get back to swimming laps at the local pool. Thing is, it takes time to get there, swim for 1/2 hour, shower, get dressed and drive home. Computer time is eating too much into my life. I stopped my daily paper because of the $200 year of wasted expense.

  14. Avatar Raymond Olson says:

    Dot–Good for you! I use the TV only to watch movies on DVD. I cut the cable at the wall in my Chicago apartment in 1999 because it was interfering with the “sound image” of the two speakers of my new DVD-playing system and because the only programs I could stand anymore, because I didn’t need to watch them, were on C-SPAN. Now, alas, that I’m “retired” and back home in St. Paul, I also resent spending too much time on the laptop.

    As Tom well knows, I don’t despise popular culture of the 1950s and ’60s in general. The performers I picked on became famous because, using their media connections, they packaged themselves as products as shiny, vapid and, unfortunately, addictive as prefab breakfast cereal.

    Early rock ‘n’ roll was like that. It was, as virtually all pop music styles have been, an irruption of the vernacular into the marketplace, which quickly captured and subdued it. It lasted as a vital idiom only until “the Colonel” ordered Elvis into the army and the other Southern rural thrill-seekers who’d brought it to white listeners–Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran (an Okie scion born in Albert Lea, Minnesota), Buddy Holly–had managed to get themselves killed, gravely injured, or in trouble with the Mann Act and its kindred. R&B was wonderful during the same period, ditto country music, and both those styles resisted heavy music industry (a term that’s always made me cringe) pressure to become, completely, as soporific as the stuff it engineered for “mainstream”, “MOR” listeners. I remember how I loathed much of Eddy Arnold’s and Jim Reeves’ outputs; still do.

    Tom astonishes me again with how much his musical taste coincides with mine. He writes, “I simply cannot abide Berlioz and prefer Haydn to Beethoven and Ella to Sarah Vaughan, Prokoviev to Shostakovich”. I heartily concur with the entire sentence. Which is why I must make time to hearing the Italian popular songs he mentions. (By the way, I prefer Monteverdi to Vivaldi, Puccini to Verdi, Giovanni Fusco to either Nino Rota or Ennio Morricone.)

  15. Avatar Raymond Olson says:

    The first sentence of the third paragraph in my just previous post should be “Early rock ‘n’ roll was NOT like that”.

  16. Avatar Andrew G Van Sant says:

    John Lukacs addresses the “devolution” of music in his essay “Beyond the End of an Age” in his latest book of essays: We at the Center of the Universe.

  17. Avatar Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Mr. Olson do you have any knowledge about the streaming service Filmstruck? It is a Ted Turner enterprise that is supposed to offer access to classic movies. I have been considering subscribing to it. Are the available movies worth the monthly cost?

  18. Avatar Raymond Olson says:

    Mr. Van Sant–I hadn’t heard of Filmstruck until your mention of it. It sounds promising. If it’s available, look over its catalog and see if it suits you, is my advice. I rent DVD’s from ClassicFlix, which has nothing newer than 1969 in its holdings; a slight drawback is that it doesn’t have as many foreign films as I’d like. I also rent from Netflix, though I may be drawing that relationship to a close. I’m exceptionally lucky that St. Paul Public Library has a large and well-rounded collection of DVDs, and sometimes, when SPPL doesn’t have what I want, Hennepin County Library (which includes the much larger, erstwhile Minneapolis Public Library) does. (Pluses for using the library are that the walk to and from the nearest SPPL branch is approximately a mile, and the nearest branch of HCL is 10 minutes away by car.) If it’s possible for you, you could adopt my strategy of checking the library first, then the rental services.

  19. Avatar Dot says:

    Mr. Van Sant: The classical music station I mentioned (WDAV) comes out of Davidson, NC. It is 89.9 or 90.0 FM.

  20. Avatar Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Thanks for you advice, Mr. Olson.

    Filmstruck offers a 14 day free trial period. The regular plan is $6.99 per month. For an additional $4.00 you get access to the Criterion Channel.

    I will try the free trial and try to find out more about Criterion.

    Dot, thanks for the tip. For years I purchased CDs of classical music and I also subscribed to BBC Music magazine, which contained a CD with each issue. I usually listen to music on an MP3 player ripped and copied from my CDs.