Take Five (New Year's Eve edition)

ONE: Post-Apocalypse Study Group Rolled Out

Man of constant sorrow Reince Priebus recently announced that the Republican National Committee is launching what it calls the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” an exercise in institutional soul-searching designed to identify how the party got its collective butt whupped last November and to find ways to “ensure Republicans are victorious in 2013, 2014, 2016 and beyond.”

The RNC is so serious about this that they’ve already unveiled the names of the heavy hitters who will form the project’s steering committee. And what names they are! Henry Barbour, nephew of the legendarily execrable Haley, former Jeb Bush Chief of Staff Sally Bradshaw, former GW Bush propaganda catapult operator Ari Fleischer, plus Glenn McCall, a – gasp! – African American, and Zori Fonelledas, a – ZOMG! – Puerto Rican.

While I can’t help the RNC with future victories (and I’ll be horrified if they ever have any), in the spirit of good old-fashioned bipartisanship and this joyous holiday season, I’m quite happy to identify for them what went wrong in 2012. I can do it in six short words. Got a pen handy, Reince? You’ll want to jot this down.

Mitt Romney. Paul Ryan. Your policies.

You’re welcome!

TWO: Un-American Heritage

2012 still has a few minutes to go, but I have my nominee for the year’s most inadvertently funny quote, and I’m sticking with it. Asked to comment on Jim DeMint’s decision to resign his Senate seat to preside over that notorious America-hating “think” tank, the Heritage Foundation, conservative academic John J. Pitney claimed:

“What Heritage does is influence the intellectual debate.”

In a way, I suppose Pitney’s absolutely correct. Heritage (among other malevolent rightwing institutions) has influenced the intellectual debate, but only by removing intellect from it completely.

Which brings us to Jim DeMint, whose impressive track record of egregious tomfoolery, twaddle and Teabaggery is a perfect fit for the Heritage Foundation. “Greenville’s foulest” has insisted that gay people and women who have sex out of wedlock should be barred from teaching, averred that “the bigger government gets, the smaller God gets,” threatened to read the full text of 2010′s START treaty and omnibus spending bills on the Senate floor as a deliberate stalling tactic because the mid-December timing of the legislation was somehow “sacrilegious,” compared the United States to “Germany… before World War II where they became a social democracy,” cheered for the 2009 military coup in Honduras, and gushed about the idea of working with Glenn Beck.

So what does Senator Teabag envision for the Heritage Foundation? Not surprisingly, his end game is getting more ultraconservatives elected:

… DeMint said he is taking the Heritage job because he sees it as a vehicle to popularize conservative ideas in a way that connects with a broader public. “This is an urgent time,” the senator said, “because we saw in the last election we were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections.” Mr. DeMint, who was a market researcher before he entered politics, said he plans to take the Heritage Foundation’s traditional research plus that of think tanks at the state level and “translate those policy papers into real-life demonstrations of things that work.” He said, “We want to figure out what works at the local and state level” and give those models national attention.

The RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project, though, might just want to think twice about keeping DeMint on speed-dial:

Mr. DeMint’s leadership PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, spent $5.48 million in the 2010 and 2012 elections, and out of 27 races that it stepped into, his preferred candidate won either the primary or general election 8 times.

Keep on keepin’ on, Jimbo.

THREE: First, Do Much Harm

Despite DeMint’s impending departure, the 113th Congress will not want for cretinous Republican senators. Exhibit A: Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn. The lurid war of disinformation and misinformation about the impending “Fiscal Cliff” has been heating up for weeks, but Coburn’s remarks to George Stephanopolous on December 9 remain a uniquely objectionable contribution to the discussion:

“It doesn’t really matter what happens at the end of this year because ultimately the numbers and the bond holders throughout the world will determine what we’ll spend and what we won’t. So, we can play the political game that is being played out in Washington right now or we can be absolutely honest with the American people and say, ‘Medicare is going bankrupt, Social Security disability will be bankrupt in two years, Social Security trust fund will be bankrupt in five years, Social Security total will be bankrupt in 16,17 years.’

“The fact is we are spending money we don’t have on things we don’t absolutely need…”

Coburn is a medical doctor who’s also terrified that Obamacare is a stealth method of eventually imposing – horrors! – a single-payer healthcare system on innocent freedom-worshipping Americans. He has also voted against a raft of measures that would increase revenue and voted against many others that would save billions without harming Social Security, SSDI and Medicare beneficiaries in the slightest.

While the rest of us realize that Coburn’s about as trustworthy on fiscal issues as Marie Antoinette or Bernard Madoff, this sort of blather about entitlements actually earns someone like him respect from fellow conservatives. If Oklahoma voters ever come to their senses and vote to send the miserable little pud packing, don’t be surprised if the Heritage Foundation has a position for him.

FOUR: “Barefoot paradise for a child…”

I still remember the day my classmates and I were brought into the auditorium of Jacob G. Smith Elementary School in Savannah and taught to sing a new Johnny Mercer song entitled “Georgia, Georgia.” Mercer had written it at the behest of the Georgia General Assembly, with the idea that it would become the new official state song. With all due props to the spectacularly gifted Mr. Mercer, “Georgia, Georgia” was essentially a monotonous paean to the supposedly transcendent joys of Georgia, a paean which left an uprooted young Floridian, me, rather unmoved. (State legislators apparently had misgivings of their own; the song was later rejected in favor of “Georgia On My Mind.”)

“Georgia, Georgia” has been going through my head, maddeningly, as I read the latest news from the Empire State of the South. Somewhere along the line, Mercer’s dreamy land of scuppernong and Spanish moss and honeysuckle became a land that progress and common sense forgot. If Sherman had known what damage conservatives would eventually do to Georgia, maybe he would have saved his matches.

Georgia Senate majority leader Chip Rogers hosted a training seminar at the state capitol for fellow Republicans back in October, to get them up to speed on the grave and gathering threat posed by the UN’s non-binding, largely forgotten, two-decade-old sustainability policy framework known as Agenda 21. Invitations to the event warned of:

“… a Socialist plan to change the way we live, eat, learn, and communicate to ‘save the earth.’”

The seminar included a video featuring a fellow named Field Searcy, who was actually kicked out of the Georgia Tea Party last spring for his noisy advocacy of birtherism and various Alex Jones conspiracy theories. Ever wanted to know what it’s like to leave Planet Earth for one minute and nine seconds? Just watch the video clip here. Searcy generously shared his special expertise with the Republican legislators:

So who is promoting this agenda…? Well, at the very top, the United Nations. A non-government organization called ICLEI, or Local Governments for Sustainability. Other NGOs are promoting this. Federal agencies.

They do that by a process known as the Delphi Technique. Now, the Delphi Technique was developed by the RAND Corporation during the Cold War as a mind-control technique.

Rogers has since resigned his seat to take a job with Georgia Public Broadcasting (!), while Searcy is still sending occasional transmissions from the alternate universe he inhabits. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that his understanding of what is correctly called the Delphi Method is laughably faulty. Continue reading Take Five (New Year’s Eve edition)

Digging Deeper: Race, Sex, and the Obamas

You never heard of the O. J. Simpson syndrome? Maybe the literary tradition of the tragic mulatto is familiar? Have you seen the late night or Black History Month reruns of the movie classic, Imitation of Life? Or perhaps you have read Richard Wright’s powerful novel, Native Son?

What all of these ideas, experiences, and creative works have in common is race and sex. They mark the attitudes and norms of different points and plateaus in our national dialogue about the meaning and acceptability, and the failures, when race and sex share a common social ground.

Up until fifty years ago, the thinking and tragedies of race and sex all ran in one direction. Culturally it was assumed the mix of race and sex resulted in toxic failures and always involved white males with black females. From slavery, this tradition produced what was called “the yard child,” a child who lived among the enslaved who had been parented by a white slaveholder. This tradition enters Presidential politics with Thomas Jefferson, and was later vigorously denied by both the historians and descendants of Jefferson, who concocted all sorts of alternatives to Jefferson parenting children by Sally Hemmings (the DNA virtually proves he did), she herself the daughter born of a relationship between holder and slave.

Thus, the tradition of the tragic mulatto emerged, generally a woman of refinement, grace and manners, thoughtful, caring, light-skinned to the point of easily passing for white, but denied opportunity because she was legally black. The implied loophole was that discrimination and oppression were acceptable to darker-featured blacks, but those whose who resembled whites should be given a pass. A foot in both worlds, today called multiracial, was historically seen as tragic, a source of alienation and rejection—and highlighted and projected unequal treatment for a woman, as a lover, mistress, wife, or worker, albeit slave or free. In the movies, Imitation of Life and later Queen (with Halle Berry) brought tears, with no change or challenge to the norm.

Harlem’s former Congress Representative, the legendary Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. spoke in his autobiography of his grandfather accepting and raising the child of the man who had whipped him in slavery, and marrying the woman who had sired the child. His family history had a deep impact on his faith and politics and his impatience with injustice.

But Richard Wright, the Mississippi-born writer, saw the problem from a profoundly different viewpoint. His socially marginal literary character, Bigger Thomas, unskilled, impulsive, poor, kills and cuts off the head of a young white woman, stuffing her body in a furnace in one of the most provocative and unsentimental scenes in American literature. It foreshadowed the O.J. Simpson syndrome.

The broad idea of the O.J. Simpson syndrome is that interracial love leads to personal destruction and bad societal ends. It is countered by the cult of white womanhood, especially strong in the civil rights era, when a rallying cry against equal opportunity pointedly asked: would you want your daughter to marry one [a black]? White women were not to abandon their own kind. To do so invited peril.

What has this to do with Presidential politics in 2012? Aren’t we past these outmoded considerations? Besides, the Obamas constitute a strong black family unit. I may be overreaching, but I see a cultural embed in Newt’s wife standing next to him. I see a subtext in the ferocity of political attacks which are visceral and invasive against women and their bodies. I see in very ugly and scatological tweets aimed at Michele Obama and even her children. I see an impotence that is hate. I see it in the way that has made the greatest family unit ever to occupy the White House into a sexless, invisible couple, when all their forms of love, from agape to eros, are so transparent that we watch astounded by this relationship which is as solid as a rock and ridiculously, obviously hot. Continue reading Digging Deeper: Race, Sex, and the Obamas