Today, we connect the dots on three terrible moral failings and major abdications of personal responsibility within our politics that no one has come forward to claim with a mea culpa.
Let’s begin by naming three whose moral vision have weakened the national standards by diminishing integrity and encouraging a growing culture of thinking that anything goes, means justifies the means, greed is good, simple is extreme, and lies should be the foundation of national life. Theirs is the moral toxic gas they refuse to destroy, even when confronted. And in a great irony, all three assert themselves to be sentries of the high moral ground of a nation for whom their own acts of deceit and concealment accelerate the fall.
Rand Paul, Niall Ferguson, Dylan Davies, please step forward. Look into the mirror of shame and national decline. Why did you misrepresent and lie?
Rand Paul, with the infallibility of every ideologue, refuses to submit to the judgment of a system he has declared illegitimate—except for its election of him to the Senate. His lie? Repeatedly presenting the work of others as his own, in speeches going back several years. The words were not his own (or his staff’s!). They were simply his sentiments. Is that so bad?
Sure! Why not just repeat Abraham Lincoln’s second Inaugural Speech for each swearing-in of a new President? After all, Lincoln’s words express a broad sentiment with which passing generations agree. True, but an unwritten rule says leaders speak in their own words, finding new ways to describe issues and ideas. They face the difficult work of putting ideas on paper or speaking them to the public because those ideas matter: both as policy and as a principle of character.
Using your own words to communicate to others is one of the sacred canons of creative progress: it shows initiative, not an intellectual laziness that “repeats and repeats in our ear.”* (*Cole Porter, lyric excerpt from the song “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”) It lets the public know you know (or don’t know) what you are talking about!
There are times when words are fixed. Witness any Republican talking point, endlessly looped by a montage of five-second clips on the opinion shows!
But in a Senator’s speech? No. Despite Paul’s claims of the footnote police doing hot pursuit. In his case, he should have shame. His arrogance should receive no mercy.
Niall Ferguson is not a household name but his circle of influence began when he jumped from his Harvard professorship in history to add the title and work of being an economic commentator whose hit pieces have appeared in Time and more regularly, the Wall Street Journal.
His faux pas ought to have Harvard review his tenure. They are breathtaking in the sheer audacity and scope of their flaws and errors. But recently, not only did he err: he billed the misleading mistake as a new insight he discovered and offered as breaking news! Wow.
In an October 4 Wall Street Journal op-ed post, Harvard historian Ferguson declared “the debt to be the real threat,” not the $24 billion shutdown—which made it harder to pay the bills. Continue reading Can Anybody in Politics Get Anywhere Near the Truth?
When the first installment of this column appeared last September, it was unclear how the contest for the GOP nomination would unfold, although it was already a certainty that it would be an eldritch spectacle. And so it has been.
The twenty-fifth and final edition of this column finds the triumphant yet stultified Romney, his rodentine running mate Paul Ryan, still-in-it-but-not-to-win-it challenger Ron Paul, 50,000 delegates, sundry other Republicans and media types, and a developing hurricane named Isaac all converging on Tampa.
Their playground awaits. For weeks, Tampa strip clubs have been gearing up for the convention with that yearning spirit of unfettered free enterprise that gets Republicans all hot and bothered:
One place is bringing in a stripper who looks like former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. There are major renovations taking place. And some nude clubs have already been giving potential customers a taste of the talent online…
Even the Gray Lady decided to raise her hemline and demonstrate some prurient interest:
… Tampa cannot shed its national reputation as the strip club capital of the country. “It’s not true,” said Joe Redner, the owner of the renowned Mons Venus and a man famous for fending off local attempts to close his club. “It would be nice, though.”
While the revelations in the Times piece aren’t really very revelatory, it’s always nice to have one’s intuition confirmed:
Angelina Spencer, the executive director of the Association of Club Executives, which serves as a trade association for strip clubs, said an informal survey of convention business in New York and Denver had determined that Republicans dropped more money at clubs, by far.
“Hands down, it was Republicans,” she said. “The average was $150 for Republicans and $50 for Democrats.”
Oddly, the Times piece somehow views these lopsided statistics as evidence of some sort of bipartisan naughtiness equivalency, but the paper was at least good enough to correct some numbers days after the article originally ran:
An article… about strip clubs in Tampa, Fla… misstated the estimated number of such businesses in the Tampa Bay area. There are about 30 such clubs, not 50. The article also included an invalid comparison between the number of strip clubs per capita in Tampa and Cincinnati. The Ohio city said it does not have strip clubs.
Not at all coincidentally, the Ohio city doesn’t host national political conventions. Cincinnati’s last convention, a Democratic one, was in 1880. Of course, back then nudity hadn’t been invented yet.
With the convention imminent, website Daily Bleach helpfully offers up the “The 10 Raunchiest Stripper Ads Welcoming Romney and the Republicans to Tampa” with handy links and examples of the graphics, along with a rundown of other sex-related doings:
In the past week alone, a slew of x-rated websites have announced the tawdry, hardcore erotic services they’re offering exclusively to convention attendees. These include VIP cabanas, Sarah Palin impersonators, champagne toasts, free homosexual steam rooms, “smelly foot worship” with a stunning dominatrix and something frighteningly named the “Santorum Stimulus Package.”
Added bonus: beats hell out of having to listen to a Bobby Jindal speech! But strip club owners and their workers aren’t the only busy folks in Tampa right now, as Hillsborough County Sherriff David Gee notes in his “open letter to the public“:
I am confident to tell the public that we are prepared to make it a successful RNC in Tampa…
To the agitators and anarchists who want only to bring a dark cloud to this event, let me be clear: criminal activity and civil disturbances will not be tolerated and enforcement actions will be swift…
There will be arrests. The question is how many. We are prepared to handle any number of RNC-related arrests through our Orient Road Jail. We are committed to due process and the rule of law regarding RNC-related arrests. We have procedures and policies in place to ensure an orderly and lawful process for anyone arrested…
Whence the dark cloud actually originates is going to take the sheriff by surprise, I think, but he’s certainly not kidding about that jail:
Sheriff David Gee has ordered the Orient Road Jail, a 1,700 bed prison in Tampa, emptied, relocating some inmates to another nearby prison and releasing others on bond. The entire facility has been transformed into a one-stop booking, detention, and bond-issuance center capable of handling large numbers of arrests…
Good times ahead, and all part of Tampa’s rich pageant, a pageant described in the title of Will Doig’s excellent Salon analysis as “America’s Hottest Mess.” Doig draws a direct and depressing linkage between the corrosive influence of the Teabagger mindset and the civic neglect and consequent dysfunctional nature of cities like Tampa. How can people afford to frequent strip clubs if they have to waste their money paying taxes?
… Tampa can only do so much thanks to a toxic combination of hostility toward government, revenue and collectively used amenities. What’s the matter with Tampa? The Republican conventioneers will get to see for themselves when they arrive.
One delegate, however, will not. For the first and last time ever, I stand with Paul LePage. His party does not:
Gov. Paul LePage will not attend the Republican National Convention next week after a GOP committee Friday overwhelmingly rejected Maine’s delegates to the convention in Tampa, Fla. The ousted delegates supported Texas Rep. Ron Paul…
Most of Maine delegates chosen at the state convention were Paul supporters. The RNC instead has chosen a slate of delegates split between the libertarian congressman and Mitt Romney…
“I have decided not to attend the 2012 Republican National Convention and instead focus on state business and spending some time with family,” said LePage in the statement distributed at midday Friday. “I made it clear, when the challenge was issued, that I felt the Maine delegates selected at the Maine Convention should be seated in Tampa. It is unfortunate that not all of these delegates will be seated.”
Another late scratch is LePage’s fellow rightwing asshat governor, Florida’s own Rick Scott:
Gov. Rick Scott has announced he will pull out of his Republican National Convention activities, including his speech scheduled for Monday night in Tampa…
The governor said it is a real possibility [Isaac] could have a Category 2 hurricane landfall on the Florida panhandle…
Scott said he and his family are still coming to Tampa, but he will be focused on the storm.
Thank goodness for that. Personally, I think seeing Scott being interviewed by Anderson Cooper as the two of them shout at each other over the wind and rain and struggle to keep their feet planted on Channelside pavement promises to be one of the week’s real highlights.
Remember, though, there’s more to a convention than just strippers and mass arrests. The committee responsible for crafting this year’s official Republican platform has been working hard to obliterate their party’s appeal to independent voters with a perfect balance of unabashed misogyny, fiscal recklessness, firearms fetishism, regressive social policy, and a whole truckload of anti-gay, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry. To nobody’s surprise, they’ve pulled it off: Continue reading Slouching Towards Tampa (Things Fall Apart edition)
Rick Santorum has a BA, an MBA, a law degree, and served two terms in the House and two in the Senate. He also has all the common sense of a summer squash and seems not to know anything about the laws of the country he thinks he should govern.
Campaigning ahead of the March 18 primary, Santorum advised the 3.7 million residents of Puerto Rico to ix-nay the anish-Spay if they want statehood for their archipelago.
His reasoning, such as it was, was this:
“Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law, and that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language such as Hawaii but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language.”
That might be so in Santorum’s theocratic, repressive, regressive and wholly imaginary version of the United States, but the real world United States demands no such thing. Not yet, anyway. And what Santorum would probably consider a surprising number of Puerto Ricans know this, and were righteously peeved by his comments. Thus Santorum sweatily tried to clarify his position the next day, but only managed to convey his apparent belief that Puerto Rico is a country:
“I think English and Spanish – obviously Spanish is going to be spoken here on the island – but this needs to be a bilingual country [sic], not just a Spanish-speaking country [sic], and right now it is overwhelmingly just Spanish-speaking,” he told reporters.
Uh-oh. But wait! Campaign team to the rescue:
A representative of the Santorum campaign, J. Hogan Gidley, said late Thursday that “Rick is an advocate of making English our official language — just like 90% of Americans. He knows there’s no current federal law in place — but what he was talking about — is that once English is made the official language — obviously all states would need to comply.”
Oh, so that’s what he meant! Well, J. Hogan, if he perseveres, maybe Santorum’s own English skills will eventually improve to the point where he can be understood without your help, but I’m not optimistic.
With Santorum having wedged both his feet firmly in his mouth, Mitt Romney managed to keep his own yap shut about eating cheesy arroz con gandules or learning to say “¡Socio!” just long enough to win the primary, with 83% of the vote over Santorum’s second-place 8%. By the way, the District of Columbia primary is a couple of days away and if you’re dreading hearing what Santorum intends to tell DC residents about their path to statehood, don’t worry. He isn’t even on the DC ballot.
After his escape from Puerto Rico, Santorum might have believed that Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois would be a nice, non-threatening suburban venue for his next campaign appearance. But it was not to be:
Two men who kissed one another were kicked out of presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s rally Friday evening…
Santorum was 15 minutes into his speech when the two men shouted and got the attention of the crowd. They exchanged a kiss, prompting guards to eject them and the crowd to chant “U-S-A” while they were leaving the gym.
I remember the damnedest things prompting “U-S-A” chants during the 2008 Republican Convention, for example, and similarly weird instances elsewhere, but this one just beats the hell out of me. In any event, Santorum’s speech was every bit as absurd as the behavior of the crowd:
“We need a president who understands that America is the greatest country in the history of the world and what we’ve done across this country, across this world, it’s not oppress, it’s not invade, we are not invaders, we are not people that seek gain of territory, oil, property. What we seek is security for ourselves and liberty and prosperity for others and it’s nothing to apologize for.”
A Gallup poll taken a couple of weeks back suggests that Santorum might want to apologize to the roughly two-thirds of Republican voters who just aren’t turned on by his candidacy:
A little more than one-third of Republicans say they would vote “enthusiastically” for either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum if either candidate were to win their party’s nomination for president… This level of enthusiasm is similar to Republicans’ feelings about voting for Romney in early 2008, but lower than the enthusiasm level for that year’s eventual GOP nominee, John McCain…
Whether or not such findings have influenced the increasingly heated rhetoric between the Romney and Santorum campaigns, it’s a gas to watch them heave insults and innuendo at one other.
Last weekend, Santorum told a Wisconsin audience to beware his rival:
“Pick any other Republican in the country. He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama,” Santorum said at an evening rally near Racine.
Santorum later tried to clarify that he was talking only about Romney’s ability to campaign against the national health care law championed by Obama and the Democrats.
“Tried to clarify” in this case is shorthand for flying off the handle when Jeff Zeleny, a reporter for the New York Times, pressed Santorum on his characterization of Romney:
“What speech did you listen to? Stop lying! I said he is the worst Republican to run on the issue of Obamacare. And that’s what I’m talking about. I said uniquely for every speech I give, I’ve said he’s uniquely disqualified to run against Barack Obama on the issue of healthcare. Would you guys quit distorting what I said?”
Santorum added: “Quit distorting my words. If I see it, it’s bullshit! Come on man, what are you doing?”
The candidate later unveiled his new GOP litmus test on Fox News:
“If you haven’t cursed out a New York Times reporter during the course of a campaign, you’re not really a real Republicans is the way I look at it.”
Yet, sensing that Bullshitgate might get out of hand at a crucial point in the primary race, Santorum went out of his way to be conciliatory a day later in a CBN appearance:
“Of course,” Santorum said, when asking whether he’d consider being Romney’s running mate.
This follows by several weeks Romney’s slightly more-than-implicit “of course not“:
Speaking on Fox Business Network, Romney was asked, if he won the GOP presidential nomination, whether he would pick a running mate more conservative than him on the economy.
“Well, that would preclude Rick Santorum,” Romney responded. “I find it interesting that he continues to describe himself as the real conservative. Rick Santorum is not a person who is an economic conservative to my right. His record does not suggest he has the fiscal conservative chops that I have.”
Which is a small point in Santorum’s favor, actually. Romney’s “fiscal conservative chops” have been front and center in the serial revelations about his La Jolla beachfront property. First it came to light that Romney is tearing down the 3,000-square-foot home on the plot and replacing it with a more Romney-appropriate house three to four times larger (depending on which news story one cites). Then detailed plans for the new house were revealed, showing that it will have: Continue reading Slouching Towards Tampa (¿Habla Jackass? edition)
It’s the April Fool’s Day edition of Sunday Talks! However – no fooling! – Joe Biden is going to be on Face the Nation. Not to worry, though. There are still plenty of fools hitting the Sunday . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 4/1/12
Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Just turning their names over in your mind is like finding something grotesque and inexplicable at the side of the road and rashly poking it with a stick.
Last Tuesday – Super Tuesday! – was supposed to usher in the end game of their epic Clash of the Titmice, but of course it did no such thing. Romney remains the likely nominee, yes, but even Republicans find him as appealing as chlamydia, and Santorum is still accruing enough delegates to continue believing he has a shot. Hell, given the overarching weirdness of this entire Republican primary cycle, maybe he does. Romney still outpaces Santorum more than two to one in delegates, but nearing mid-March he’s still not even halfway to the 1,144 needed to clinch the nomination.
Meanwhile, GOP voters in Alaska, mavericks that they are, went for Ron Paul, and Georgia Republicans, the sentimental fools, provided Newt Gingrich with another notch on his bedpost. I’m expecting that Gingrich will bow out soon after picking up some face-saving delegates in tomorrow’s Mississippi and Alabama primaries, assuming there’s also some sort of quid pro quo involved, like a major cabinet position in a (mercifully fictitious) Santorum administration.
All of which is to say, really, that Superfluous Tuesday sucked. Nothing was decided, no tear-stained, deep-down-special “suspension” announcements ensued, no Rubicon was crossed, no Last Stand was fought nor Last Supper served.
This isn’t surprising, though. As they’ve proven over and over for months now, Republicans can’t even do being wrong right anymore.
Mitt Romney, for example, delivered himself of a predictably crappy little speech in Snellville, Georgia on March 5. Then he fielded questions from the audience, including one from an 11-year-old boy about Iran getting nukes, in response to which the candidate horked this up:
“It’s pretty straightforward in my view. If Barack Obama gets re-elected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change if that’s the case.”
It’s pretty straightforward in my view, too: there has never in my lifetime been a worse presidential candidate than Mitt Romney. Now, I know better than to hold Republicans up to even a threadbare minimum standard of common sense, genuineness or acumen, but I mean, come on. Romney’s handlers have worked their sorry asses off trying to present him as a canny manager, a shrewd colossus of high finance, a miraculous job creator who – drat the luck! – is out of work himself right now.
Yet no matter how fervently some people pretend to believe this crap, everyone knows Romney’s a pathetic, pampered, poorly programmed, patently preposterous panjandrum. The only difference between his supporters and everyone else is that everyone else actually admits to loathing him.
Last week, Romney’s wife Ann unhelpfully said this in response to an interview question that wasn’t really even about money:
I don’t even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing. It can be here today and gone tomorrow…
Yes, that is interesting. I’m not a financial expert , ma’am, but maybe you need to divest some horses from your portfolio, or ports. Your family income last year was an ostensibly cushy $20 million or so, but I remember that you’re right in the middle of tearing down an oceanfront mansion in La Jolla so you can build a much, much bigger mansion on the lot. If you Romneys really were rich, you could have bought two lots, or at least a lot big enough to accommodate two huge houses at a time.
Her Bertie Woosterish overtones notwithstanding, Ann Romney’s opinions sound richly human compared to some of her husband’s legendary public musings, mind. Remember when the mainstream media desperately wanted you to believe that Joe Biden was a gaffe machine? Don’t be surprised if, when this Absurdist election season is over, Mitt Romney founds an institution of higher learning offering advanced degrees in gaffology. That’s assuming, of course, that he won’t have blown his transnational bank balances by then, hurrying to his own private political Waterloo.
After making an ass of himself in front of a Mississippi crowd on Thursday with unsolicited anecdotes about “y’all” lessons and his white-knuckle, living-on-the-edge introduction to grits, he doubled down on Friday in Jackson:
“Mornin’ y’all,” the candidate said with a grin. “Good to be with you.”
“I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits, I’ll tell ya. Delicious,” he added. “Hilton Garden Inn knows just what to serve me in the morning.”
Yes, nothing says “genuine Deep South” like a Hilton Garden Inn. Romney’s campaign team probably wishes the hotel had served up a side order of gag with those grits, but at this point I suppose they’re numb. The point of no return for them might have been that day they got to stand by while their boss compared Daytona 500 fans’ rain ponchos to garbage bags and confessed that he doesn’t follow NASCAR closely, but has friends who own racing teams.
Just this morning, Romney marked his 65th birthday in a Mobile downpour, huddled under an awning with supporters:
“This is the greatest group ever had beneath an awning, I’ll tell you that. This is really something. This is like a sardine can here. Look at us in here. We’re all nice and wet, you know, like a can of sardines.”
“I’m going to come around and say hi to everybody. Please give us a big hug – that’s the girls,” said Romney as the crowd laughed. “I’ve been getting hugs from the Southern girls today, and I mean from 12 to a lot more than 12.”
Stay tuned! Next up, in a nod to a great former President, Mitt falls in love with pork rinds as he discovers supermarket checkout scanners, and in a shrewd, postmodern twist, executes a tricky leveraged buyout of the scanner company. Continue reading Slouching Towards Tampa (Superfluous Tuesday edition)
A visibly haggard Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus emerged from a closed-door emergency meeting of the RNC’s Executive Council this afternoon and announced to the crowd gathered outside the meeting room the immediate suspension of his party’s 2012 Presidential primaries.
Word of the announcement spread like wildfire as several of the lunchtime throng seated in the main dining room of the Whitewater, Wisconsin Applebee’s realized that the seemingly disoriented individual who had just emerged from the restaurant’s banquet room to disturb their midday meal was no ordinary rambling lunatic, and apparently something important was afoot. While several took to Twitter and Facebook to document their presence at this unprecedented, historic event, another called a local newspaper to suggest they send a reporter.
“I honestly couldn’t believe my luck — this is probably the best scoop I’ll get all year,” said Skippy Fartbuster, editor-in-chief of the Whitewater Central High Weekly Bugle, who took the call.
In a Fartbuster exclusive, Priebus explained RNC strategy going forward: Continue reading RNC to Suspend Presidential Primaries, Introduce New Logo
The absurdity is still compelling, but I just don’t find the Republican primary battle much fun anymore. I miss Michele Bachmann. I miss Rick Perry. I miss Herman Cain. I even miss Jon Huntsman, since it was always enjoyable to watch him standing onstage with his rivals while I hummed “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others” to myself.
Sure, there are still some laughs to be had. Last Wednesday’s CNN debate from Mesa, Arizona, for instance, provided a few. The first came 10 minutes before the debate got underway, when former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, playing pundit, said something to the effect of: If Rick Santorum can look presidential tonight, he could blow this thing wide open. Comedy gold, right?
And the candidates themselves did their best to turn my frown upside-down, beginning with Santorum accusing Romney of adopting Occupy Wall Street’s rhetoric. Even the live audience at the Mesa Arts Center tried to keep me amused, as when they reacted to moderator John King reading a viewer question asking which candidate believed in birth control, and if not, why, by booing lustily. It was a vivid snapshot of the Republican zeitgeist, AD 2012, and – hell, yes – I laughed. Continue reading Slouching Towards Tampa (Blab Four edition)
In a stunning move that rocked the political world from Nome to Homs, Bashar al-Assad announced earlier today that he will be stepping down as President of Syria and will immediately focus his full attention on his pursuit of the Republican Party’s nomination for President of the United States. According to aides, he has also already resigned from the Ba’ath party and will register as a Republican as early as Monday, presumably in La Jolla, California where he owns a residence which is currently undergoing an expansion.
Due to a diplomatic technicality, Assad, whose mother unexpectedly went into labor and gave birth to him during a function at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, is eligible to hold the office of United States President since the embassy grounds are recognized as American soil and he is therefore a “natural born” U.S. citizen. Also, according to Hafez al-Fi-Slammaj Amma, a member of his personal staff who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic, “According to longtime members of the presidential security detail, President Assad coincidentally was also conceived at a U.S. Embassy function – so any obstructionist who might invoke the ‘where his life began’ argument would be barking up the wrong bush, as I believe the expression goes.”
And even before the first reports of a possible cessation of the artillery fire striking the city of Homs came in, Assad was already busy lobbing mortars at the four current GOP contenders.
Referring to his new rivals as “the Marx Brothers” and commenting that “not one of them has the remotest clue of what it takes to be a strong chief executive,” Assad told reporters that he is looking forward to his first contested campaign and expressed his belief that, “America is ready for an openly Muslim president.”
When asked for clarification of his “Marx Brothers” reference, the Middle Eastern strongman who most observers believe will leap to GOP front-runner status as soon as the first polls including his name are released, explained, “Well, I think of Gingrich as Groucho just because the name seems to fit. Romney, of course, is Chico, as he is the son of a Mexican immigrant. Santorum I like to think of as Harpo because I believe he is a good and sincere man whose career would benefit greatly if he could only learn to maintain silence when the cameras are on. And Ron Paul, naturally, is Zeppo, because after following American news coverage of the campaign, it is only when I see Dr. Paul on stage with the others at the debates that I am reminded there is indeed a fourth candidate.” Continue reading Syria’s Assad to Step Down, Launch Belated GOP Bid
This Sunday’s television talk shows crunch the numbers in President Barack Obama’s new budget proposal and look ahead to the Feb. 28 Republican presidential primaries in Michigan and Arizona.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” House Budget Committee . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 2/19/12