Politics, media and the politics of media.
Don’t cheat by reading the words, but guess which video below is by MoveOn and which is by a pro-Gingrich PAC?
Today, a few million dollars worth of ads like the first one began flooding South Carolina, and the twenty-eight-minute film When Mitt Romney Came to Town was released.
Whether or not Newt Gingrich, who came in a disappointing fourth place in the New Hampshire primary, will tamp down his almost Occupy-like attacks on Romney (for “looting companies” and leaving behind “broken families”) may be of less consequence now that a pro-Gingrich Super PAC is doing it for him. “A story of greed,” the narrator of one of the film’s trailers intones. “Playing the system for a quick buck. A group of corporate raiders, led by Mitt Romney. More ruthless than Wall Street. For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.”
Meanwhile, the last-place finisher and even more desperate Rick Perry, is staking his hopes on the town of Gaffney, South Carolina, where he says Bain Capital has killed 150 jobs. “There’s a real difference between venture capitalism and vulture capitalism,” says the Texas governor, actually coining a clever phrase. “I don’t believe that capitalism is making a buck under any circumstances.”
Up until New Hampshire, it wasn’t easy for these 1 percenters to take it to the .1 percent that Mitt so well personifies. Attacking Romney is to attack winner-take-all capitalism itself, the very core of GOP ideology. And indeed, Gingrich and Perry have faced scathing criticism from fellow Republicans. The Club for Growth calls Newt’s attack “disgusting.” Limbaugh says Newt “sounds like Elizabeth Warren.” Romney surrogate John Sununu labels the attacks “socialist.”
For his part, Romney insists that the slights against him are based on “envy” and (what else?) “class warfare.” Such matters, he says, are better discussed “in quiet rooms.”
Romney is nauseating enough to (almost) make you want to fall into the big, earthy arms of Grandpa Newt.
Why did Gingrich go there, and why now? Never underestimate the force of a Newt snit. If Gingrich could shut down the entire US government after then-President Clinton snubbed him on Air Force One, you can imagine the blowback after a Romney PAC of killer ads in Iowa crushed his presidential ambitions. (Those are the ads Romney said he didn’t see before he said he saw them.)
A month ago, the first time Newt Bained-out, saying Romney should “give back all the money he earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain,” he quickly retreated under fire. But this time, someone besides Calista had his back—his old friend, billionaire wing-nut and casino mogul Sheldon Adelstein, who plopped down $5 million to the Gingrich-supporting PAC Winning Our Future.
Had Newt been in Mitt’s loafers, who knows, he who insists that Freddy Mac paid him $300,000 as a “historian” might well have acted as Romney did at Bain and then accuse his critics of envy.
But whatever his motivation, Gingrich has opened up a crack in the Republican Party between what he poses as good capitalism—“We went in, we invested, and lost money”—versus the no-risk, heads-I-win, tails-you-lose kind he says Romney practices. As Newt told Chuck Todd this morning, “My point is there’s a big difference between financial manipulation and capitalism.” Newt’s all for the free market, he said earlier this week, but “I’m not nearly enamored of a Wall Street model where you can go in and flip companies, have leveraged buyouts, basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers.”
But it must feel good for him to let loose and finally sound an authentic populist note (as opposed to the Tea Party kind that favors the financial elite). As Gingrich told Todd, “I’m middle class, my dad was an Army officer, I grew up in a middle-class background, I have middle-class values. I find powerful, rich people rigging games very distasteful.”
All this season Gingrich, Perry, and the other un-Mitts have had to stand on stage and bear Romney’s insufferable sense of noblesse oblige—his $10,000 bets, his pathetic denial that he’s a politician like the rest of them (“Run again? That’d be about me,” he said, explaining why he didn’t go for a second term as Massachusetts governor—which Newt memorably dubbed “pious baloney”), his manor-born inability to relate to everyday human struggle (he proudly shared his multimillionaire father’s advice: “Mitt, never get involved in politics if you have to win an election to pay a mortgage”).
Worse, Mitt doesn’t just flaunt his status, he does it with a passive-aggressive, mortgage-obsessed mean streak. Referring to his 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy, Mitt said at Sunday’s debate, “I was happy that he had to take a mortgage out on his house to ultimately defeat me.” He boasts of his pettiness—and with a blissful unconcern that many of the citizens he hopes to lead might have contemplated such a desperate move at some point in their lives.
Mitt’s evident pleasure in needling others over money is what makes it seem that his line “I like being able to fire people” isn’t as out of context as some Beltway insiders have made it out to be.
Former RNC chair Michael Steele and others have compared it to the notorious Romney ad that shows Obama saying “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose”—when, in fact, Obama was quoting McCain. Attributing someone else’s quote to your enemy is outright lying; talking about liking to fire people is more like showing your Freudian slip.
Here’s Romney’s full statement::
I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep people healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I’m going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me.
Sure, Romney was talking about firing an insurance company, not his employees. But who talks about “firing” their insurance company anyway? You might want to get rid of them or tell them to go to hell, but only the very wealthy are in a position to have a second insurance company cover them should they “fire” the first. And most people with a pre-existing condition couldn’t purchase individual insurance at all—at least they couldn’t before “Obamacare” came along, the care that Romney vowed in his victory speech that he’d repeal.
Jon Huntsman, the only other Republican candidate astute enough to choose a rich daddy, tried to get a little mileage from Romney’s gaffe, quipping, “Governor Romney enjoys firing people, I enjoy creating jobs.” But he has his limits. Asked on Morning Joe about Romney’s record at Bain, Huntsman said, “Well, I’m not gonna quibble with Bain Capital because you can quibble with my record in manufacturing in business.” His business, by the way, is his father’s multibillion-dollar chemical conglomerate, where, it seems, quite a few quibbles might be found.
Rick Santorum has been careful about keeping his trap shut about Bain too, and Ron Paul, unflappable in the armor of his ideology, would have none of Gingrich’s and Perry’s attacks, saying they just “don’t understand” the free market.
Republican voters, and the nation, may be stuck with Romney, at least until November. But thanks to Newt’s hurt ego (and an Occupy Wall Street–charged atmosphere), something may be changing a bit inside the GOP. All of last year they were haggling over the limits of government—should it be cut off at the knees or at the throat?
Now, however, the rift lurking inside the Republican coalition over the limits of capitalism is suddenly out in the open.
CORRECTION: I was afraid I was giving Rick Perry too much cleverness credit: he did not, as I wrote, coin the phrase "vulture capitalism." There's a 1978 quote of it in the OED, notes lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower, and it's in the title of Greg Palast's latest book, The Vultures' Picnic, published last November.
Mitt Romney has a new weapon to lob at opponents: calling them girls. Or at least famous females.
Mitt launched the stealthily sexist name-calling over the holidays. First, last Wednesday, he likened Newt Gingrich to “Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory,” too goofy and disorganized to even get on the ballot in Virginia. It was a good image, upending Gingrich’s grandiose comparison of his electoral setback to Pearl Harbor and giving the media an excuse to run the hilarious I Love Lucy footage.
It even forced Newt to visit an actual chocolate factory, where he said, rather pathetically, “Now that I have the courage to come to the chocolate factory I hope Governor Romney will have the courage to debate me one-on-one.” (As if to prove he didn’t come up with the Lucy line himself, Mitt later over-explained that “it was humorous joke.” Jokes and pop-culture references are part of the campaign by Romney’s handlers to show their man’s looser, lighter side. “I live for laughter,” Romney informed Wolf Blitzer.)
But two days later, when Romney likened a different male pol to a female, the analogy fell flat. Romney was pooh-poohing Obama’s argument that he prevented the recession from getting worse: “The other day President Obama said, you know, it could be worse. Sounds like Marie Antoinette, ‘Let them eat cake.’ ”
For Mitt—a multimillionaire who joked (again with the jokes) “I’m also unemployed,” who speaks fluent French, and who says more homes should be foreclosed to let the market work—to call someone an out-of-touch elite is absurd on the face of it.
Which makes it all the more obvious that Romney is looking for any excuse, no matter how thin, to girlify his opponents.
Because he did it again, on Sunday, this time comparing Obama to Kim Kardashian. “The gap between his promises and his performance,” Romney said of the president, “is the largest I’ve seen since, well, the Kardashian wedding and the promise of ‘till death do us part.’ ”
That makes it three times in five days that Romney femmed-up his foes. As Howard Fineman said on Hardball last night, “I guarantee you, it’s not accidental.”
And for Mitt in particular the maneuver is telling. In much the same way that he’s lurching hard-right to cover his moderate scent, questioning the cojones of his rivals is an attempt to distract from his own weak, tentative, wishy-washy image.
Of course, the girlie-man rap isn’t exactly new in politics. Maureen Dowd has made a career of it, writing that Al Gore was “so feminized that he’s practically lactating.” Among her descriptions of Obama are “Scarlett O’Hara,” “legally blonde,” “Obambi” and a “46-year-old virgin.”
I don’t want to engage in this emasculating tack; I’m not going to call Romney a girl.
But it sure does seem that Mitt is channeling his inner Maureen.
Here’s how conservative, self-described “word doctor” Frank Luntz labeled each of the candidates immediately after the Republican debate on Fox News last night. Luntz told Sean Hannity:
Newt defined himself as the Reagan conservative,
Mitt Romney, the private-sector conservative,
Ron Paul, the civil liberties conservative,
Rick Santorum, the conviction conservative,
Jon Huntsman, the consistent conservative,
Michele Bachmann, the female conservative,
and my favorite is Rick Perry, the Tim Tebow conservative.
Whatever you think of these flattering tags, note that Bachmann doesn’t even warrant one. Luntz gives each of the guys a value-laden adjective, but Bachmann is merely “the female conservative.” Which is odd, because last night the Minnesota congresswoman clearly proved herself to be the cojones conservative.
We might not see much of her if she does poorly in the Iowa caucuses next month, but let it be known that in Sioux City only she and Ron Paul (and to a lesser extent Huntsman) really punctured some establishment Republican verities: he, on war; she, on buying favors in Washington.
Last night Bachmann whipped Gingrich silly. Going after him for taking $1.6 million from Freddie Mac while insisting that he never lobbied in his life, Bachmann more clearly than ever nailed him. “You don’t need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence-peddling with senior Republicans in Washington, DC, to get them to do your bidding.”
She also forced Gingrich to retreat to one of his most specious, self-damning defenses: that he doesn’t need to lobby because he’s such a fabulous financial success. “I was doing just fine,” he said of his Freddy Mac resident historian days. “I was doing a whole variety of things, including writing best-selling books…” A few weeks ago, of course, Newt told an audience in South Carolina that he didn’t need to lobby because he was a “celebrity” who gave speeches for $60,000 a pop.
Later in the debate, when Bachmann went after Gingrich for being soft on late-term abortion, he tried to avoid talking about it by saying, “Sometimes Congresswoman Bachmann doesn’t get her facts very accurate.” (Video below.) Well, that’s correct—Bachmann has time and time again been utterly reckless with facts. But as even Joe Scarborough said this morning, Gingrich “speaks in a different tone and is far more condescending to Michele Bachmann than he is to the men on the stage.”
Look, I’m feeling some sisterhood here (as I have at times with Joe’s co-host, Mika Brzezinski). This isn’t the first time Bachmann has been treated as the girl in the campaign, but it was particularly sad to see her defend herself to Gingrich last night by stating, “I’m a serious candidate for president of the United States, and my facts are accurate.” (For the record, on Gingrich and the late-term abortion issue, Factcheck.org writes, “we found Bachmann was mostly correct.”)
But it was Ron Paul who, again and again, deflated the delusions that Republicans—including these candidates and their Fox News questioners—have been under since Vietnam. Bret Baier tried three times to get Paul fightin’ mad by asking what would he do if, as president, he had proof that Iran was close to building a nuclear weapon. Each time Paul refused to play game and only made his antiwar case more eloquently:
It’s no different than it was in 2003. You know what I really fear about what’s happening here? It’s another Iraq coming. There’s war propaganda going on. To me, the greatest danger is that we will have a president that will overreact and we will soon bomb Iran.
To this, Bachmann did in fact overreact, saying, “I think I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one that we just heard from Ron Paul.”
But, like her or hate her, laugh at her or cheer her on, Bachmann’s been a bit more than “the female conservative” in the race.
You may have seen this already—it’s been the wallpaper at MSNBC for days—but le mot juste is juste that:
Ron Paul is right, of course: Newt Gingrich is a serial hypocrite and a vicious one at that. (What I like best about the ad is how each phrase flashed on screen fades at the end, suggesting that Newt, like Cain, Perry et al. will, too.) But he’s here now, his numbers are busting out just as the holidays eclipse politics until the January 3 Iowa caucuses, and that leaves a lot of us—Dems and moderates, naturally, but also most of Newt’s former colleagues in movement conservatism—absolutely dumbstruck.
Gingrich, if you remember,was not only fired as Speaker of the House by his own party, but became the face of an intransigent and bullying faction so full of its own sense of self-importance that he was depicted on the cover of the New York Daily News as a wailing, red-faced baby. And among Republican leaders, if not the base, that’s still how Newt registers. Former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, a Romney surrogate, said this morning, “I don't think Newt Gingrich cares about conservative principles. He cares about Newt Gingrich.”
And while Gingrich now says, “I’m much more mature than I was as Speaker” (being third in line under the Constitution for the presidency being a mere break-in cruise for Newt’s personal development), there’s really very little to show of a “New Newt.” For every moment of restraint he’s displayed during a debate, like saying the party of family values shouldn’t break up immigrant families who’ve been here for a quarter-century, there’s been an equally outlandish comment on the trail, like suggesting that poor children work as school janitors or that poor kids have never known anyone who works for a living (!?!).
But maybe we shouldn’t be completely shocked at Gingrich’s rise. After all, today’s tantrum-throwing, hostage-taking Republican Party was fostered by behavior like Newt’s—acting like a scheming pro wrestler, screaming as he puts weight on one leg or dripping ketchup from a nonexistent wound, is now second nature to the GOP. They’re like people raised on a diet of green bell peppers who, over the course of the last two decades, have slowly been adding jalapeños to the sauce until nothing short of pepper spray even merits a red-hot warning. By now, they’re so used to Newt’s exaggerated howling they can’t hear anything else—especially not poor Mitt’s marble-mouthed me-tooism.
As Speaker of the House, Newt was his party’s stepping-off point into irrationality, into demanding far more than was ever good for them and then complaining even when they got it. That is the Tea Party to a T—from causing America’s credit-rating downgrade to throwing the tantrum of the constant filibuster. The one promise Gingrich has kept to the base is to never compromise with reality—at least not rhetorically. No matter what he’s doing, whether it’s dealing away the key demands of the Contract with America or going on a Greek cruise soon after kicking off his candidacy, Newt’s always saying that it’s done for a higher, grander cause, like, say, countering the forces of Kenyan anti-colonial socialism. Newt’s the kind of guy who doesn’t just take out the garbage, he visits the dustbin of history.
Paul Krugman said it best, when he explained in a recent column why Gingrich hasn’t (yet) been burned by his own fire-breathing hypocrisies.
If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, conservatives often seem inclined to accept that tribute, voting for candidates who publicly espouse conservative moral principles whatever their personal behavior. Did I mention that David Vitter is still in the Senate?
And Mr. Gingrich has some advantages none of the previous challengers had. He is by no means the deep thinker he imagines himself to be, but he’s a glib speaker, even when he has no idea what he’s talking about. And my sense is that he’s also very good at doublethink—that even when he knows what he’s saying isn’t true, he manages to believe it while he’s saying it. So he may not implode like his predecessors.
Self-deception is a fundamental requirement of today’s extreme Republicanism, as is dumbing oneself down. In order to promote obviously ludicrous notions (like that Obama “represents a hard-left radicalism. He is opposed to free enterprise. He is opposed to capitalism,” as Gingrich said this week), Republican leaders must necessarily “be totally cynical or…be totally clueless,” Krugman writes. “The fact that the party is committed to demonstrably false beliefs means that only fakers or the befuddled can get through the selection process.”
Helped by the calendar and an appalling ignorance fed by Fox News, Newt may just walk through the fires of his own hypocrisy unscathed.
And some of us thought only salamanders could do that.
An absolutely illuminating post by Thomas Frank in Harper’s traces what happens when the 1 percent grab their picket signs and go on strike. From John Boehner’s September 15 announcement that “job creators in America are essentially on strike” until they get their tax cuts and other enrichments to Ayn Rand’s fictional, masters-of-the-universe strike to the “capital strikes” that really did take place during FDR’s tenure—they’re all of a moldy piece. Frank writes of the
revolt of business interests, which were supposedly struggling to preserve laissez-faire political conditions by withdrawing investment from the economy in 1937, sabotaging the recovery and the chances of President Roosevelt. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes delivered a ferocious iteration of this theme in December of that year, warning that “the United States is to have its first general sit-down strike—not of labor, not of the American people—but of the sixty families [a then-popular term for what we now call “the 1 percent”] and of the capital created by the whole American people of which the sixty families have obtained control.” Should Americans yield to the demands of the walkout, Ickes warned, “then the America that is to be will be a big-business Fascist America—an enslaved America.”
Perhaps this was the historical episode that inspired Ayn Rand to write Atlas Shrugged, the thousand-page 1957 novel in which politicians badmouth business, and business leaders launch a vast counterattack—a capital strike—that does indeed bring the nation to its knees. As Rand’s entrepreneur-hero John Galt announces in one of the book’s most famous passages: “We are on strike, we, the men of the mind. We are on strike against self-immolation. We are on strike against the creed of unearned rewards and unrewarded duties. We are on strike against the dogma that the pursuit of one’s happiness is evil. We are on strike against the doctrine that life is guilt.”
While the modern-day Galts, from Ronald Reagan to Scott Walker, have relentlessly attacked unions and equate labor strikes with commie fests, Boehner in a speech to the Economic Club spoke approvingly of strikes—but only for the Big Boys. From his website: “Speaker Boehner said ‘job creators in America are essentially on strike,’ paralyzed by “the constant threat of new taxes, out-of-control spending, and unnecessary regulation from a government that is always micromanaging, meddling, and manipulating.”
Other self-proclaimed “men of the mind,” like mentalist Newt Gingrich, have come up with a very Depression Era solution to all those workers getting rich on “unearned rewards”: fire ’em and get their kids to scrub toilets.
Remember when Mitt Romney said during a debate kerfuffle that of course he wouldn’t allow “illegals” to work on his lawn? “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake,” he said. “I can't have illegals.”
Now he’s telling Fox News anchors that of course he values them. “I’ll be on Fox a lot,” he told Neil Cavuto on Tuesday, “because you guys matter when it comes to early primary voters." (h/t:TPM)
Message: He cares about winning the presidency.
Newt Gingrich is riding high right now, surpassing Romney in most polls, and if Herman Cain drops out because allegations of a thirteen-year extramarital affair on top of a bunch of sexual harassment charges are just too much for any fledgling pseudo-candidate, what’s left of the Cain train will probably hitch onto Newt’s caboose. (TPM: “among Cain supporters, Newt Gingrich has clearly been favored over Romney as a second choice.”)
But to Joe Scarborough, who served loyally in then-Speaker Gingrich’s 1994 “Republican Revolution,” Newt is one of those joke candidates, like Cain, who “should not be running for president of the United States.”
The Morning Joe host said Tuesday that he just thinks Gingrich is a flip-flopper of Romnetic proportions. He could barely stop laughing at Newt’s claim in a radio interview that he’s “a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney.”
Scarborough, who’s been scorching Newt for two consecutive days now, says that back in ’74 and ’76, Gingrich “ran as a Rockefeller Republican,” and even bragged about it. And while Scarborough assures us “this isn’t personal. I think it’s kind of funny,” Joe goes on to recall, “In 1994, he actually came into my race [in Florida] to endorse the moderate in my race, and said I was quote too conservative to get elected. Of course, I got 62 per cent of the vote.
“But that’s always Newt. Is it in fashion to be moderate this year, or is it in fashion to be conservative this year?…
“I’ve got nothing personal against Bachman, I’ve got nothing personal against Cain. I’ve got nothing personal against a lot of these people. But a lot of them should not be running for president of the United States.”
The segment ends with a quiz, Who Is the Real RINO?
First we had the Pepper-Spray Cop. Now we have the Pepper-Spray Shopper, an as-yet unidentified woman who allegedly sprayed open an avenue for herself amid crowds grasping for Black Friday bargains in an LA-area Walmart. Apparently, she needed an Xbox at half off.
As the Los Angeles Times described it:
20 customers, including children, were hurt in the 10:10 p.m. incident, officials said. Shoppers complained of minor skin and eye irritation and sore throats….
The woman used the spray in more than one area of the Walmart “to gain preferred access to a variety of locations in the store,” said Los Angeles Fire Capt. James Carson.
“She was competitive shopping,” he said.
Of course, big box stores have long encouraged “competitive shopping.” After an employee was trampled to death at a Long Island Walmart on Black Friday in 2008, stores vowed to improve their crowd control. But they don’t advertise their sales with the words “door busters”—with that hint of drug-raid-level violence—for nothing. They know that hysteria can drive higher sales. It works so well that stores have been moving door busters back earlier and earlier, so that this year Black Friday at Walmarts across the country began on Thanksgiving night, forcing employees to work on the holiday in order to sow the itching powder of urgency among customers.
Friday’s “Day of Spray,” as TPM dubbed it, included not only reports of an off-duty cop pepper-spraying a shopper during a disturbance at a North Carolina Walmart, but a cop tasing someone in an Alabama Walmart, and shootings and robberies outside Walmarts in South Carolina and California. (I won’t pin any of these actions directly on this obnoxious, constantly running Walmart TV commercial, but it does portray a shopper as a babbling, practically drooling idiot.)
But the suspected Pepper Spray Shopper—who turned herself in to police, though her name hasn’t been released—provides the most telling example of our twisted economic times. If she did what she’s accused of, then this woman picked up the same device she’s almost certainly seen police use against Occupy protesters and used it against her fellow citizens; she may be part of the 99 percent, but a competitive edge is a competitive edge.
And that is, of course, what the 1 percent want, a debilitating free-for-all among the masses in the Promised Land of constant competition. Stay divided and be conquered. Sic the middle class on, say, public-employee union members for their health benefits rather than demand that corporations (like the famously anti-union Walmart) provide decent benefits.
Republicans tell you all the time: don’t direct your frustration at the “job creators.” They and their tax breaks must be defended in the name of “freedom,” and sometimes, sure, it takes an increasingly militarized police force to do it. Pop culture doo-dads like HD TVs, Xboxes, the latest i-Product—the tokens of capitalist acceptance—on the other hand, are worth gassing your neighbor over.
This Ayn Rand logic was in fact what set the Tea Party in motion in early 2009. Remember CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli’s rant on the trading floor of the Chicago Board of Traders? He was incensed at a White House proposal that would have helped troubled homeowners restructure their mortgages. “This is America!” he yelled, and, turning to the traders behind him, asked, “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand!” To which the traders booed as of one throat. “President Obama,” Santelli shouted, “are you listening?”
Helping your neighbor in a crisis—even if you’d also help yourself by preserving the value of your home—well, that just smacks of socialism. In fact, any sign of public cooperation should be regarded with suspicion. As the UC Berkeley chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, wrote of Occupy demonstrators there two weeks ago, “linking arms and forming a human chain…is not non-violent civil disobedience.” It’s a dangerous hint of collectivism, a Hayek-raising horror that must be stopped before that human chain fetters the 1 percent.
We’ll know for sure that the masses get it when they finally start using private drones for Presidents’ Day sales. Until then, vigilance…
Even as Sunday talk show pundits laugh at Newt’s follies (like his claiming that Freddie Mac hired him as a “historian”), they never tire of rhapsodizing about his supposed smarts. He’s “intellectually formidable” (Mike Murphy on Meet the Press); he’s “a very smart guy” (Matthew Dowd on This Week).
I think, though, that Paul Krugman, also on This Week, put it best: “Somebody said he’s a stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.”
The Newtifying begins about two minutes in:
Did you know you can tell a lot about the motives of women involved in sexual harassment cases by their makeup? Especially their eyeliner, or lack thereof? Here’s how the New York Post’s Andrea Peyser began a column (“Jobless & Shameless Gal Going for Gold”) on one of the women charging Herman Cain with sexual harassment:
Gold diggers—unite! Sharon Bialek is 50, out of work and, according to one who knows her, she’s a smooth operator living way above her means. From the look of her heavily painted face, she’s also soon to be in acute need of a new tub of eyeliner.
The makeup slam is odd, and not only because Bialek doesn’t appear to be wearing more of it than many women on TV. During the 1991 Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings (which inspired a pro-Cain ad to declare him the victim of another “high-tech lynching”), the right’s take on female makeup was: the more the better! Former Reagan and Bush I speechwriter Peggy Noonan had determined that the eye makeup worn by a witness for Thomas made her believable, was proof, even, that she was one of “normal humans,” as opposed to the feminist abnormals with unadorned eyes.
You could see it in the witnesses. For Anita Hill, the professional, movement-y and intellectualish Susan Hoerchner, who spoke with a sincere, unmakeupped face of inherent power imbalances in the workplace. For Clarence Thomas, the straight-shooting, Maybellined J.C. Alvarez…. Ms. Alvarez was the voice of the real, as opposed to the abstract, America: she was like a person who if a boss ever sexually abused her would kick him in the gajoobies and haul him straight to court.
Good ’ol J.C. (wherever she may be now) wouldn’t have bothered to file some movement-y complaint or sign furtive nondisclosure documents and get all weirdo anonymous about it. No, this populist gal would have just hauled her gajoobied boss straight to court. In Noonan’s fantasy world, Ms. Alvarez’s reputation wouldn’t be dragged through the mud, and she wouldn’t be targeted by lawyers like Herman Cain’s, who chillingly warned any potential accusers that they “should think twice” before speaking up. The judge would flat-out believe Ms. Alvarez’s word over her boss’s, simply on the strength of her real Americaness and her Maybelline.
The right’s attitude toward the way women look, from their eyelashes to their bosoms, is bifurcated and crisscrossed, based on a Madonna-or-Whore myth that even they're having a hard time keeping straight.
On one hand, we have Peyser and Limbaugh asserting that Bialek’s looks indicate she’s a conniving hussy; Peyser also derides Bialek for being a “bleached blonde” and her lawyer Gloria Allred for wearing “patent-leather do-me pumps.” (Let’s hope Peyser doesn’t blurt this out to Fox News’ many blonde, stilettoed and deeply cleavaged anchors.)
On the other hand, we had Noonan saying that drugstore cosmetics are a sign of working-class heroism, not to mention of being “normal.” (To her credit, Noonan isn't going there in the Cain situation.)
It’s difficult to follow the zigs and zags of the conservative cosmology of cosmetics, which is as arbitrary as the conservative cosmology of skin color. It will change on a dime, depending on which dame, or black candidate, they want to valorize or demonize.
They make up the rules on makeup, along with everything else, as they go along.