Leslie Savan | The Nation


Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

Anthony Weiner and the 'How Can You Be So Stupid?' Question

Others have eloquently discussed whether Anthony Weiner should resign (no, say Mike Papantonio and Andrew Sullivan, and they’ve convinced me), or whether lying about sex necessarily reveals anything about one’s character (nope, says Rick Hertzberg, who made me rethink the character issue).

But I’m still stuck on the postmod question that haunts every political sex scandal: Why didn’t you learn from the last schmuck that got caught?

And its corollary: How can you be so stupid?

So stupid to think your well-known mug wouldn’t be recognized (Eliott Spitzer, David Vitter, Chris Lee), so stupid to think you won’t eventually be caught (Gary Hart, Clarence Thomas, Larry Craig, John Ensign, John Edwards, Arnold), so stupid to try to a cover-up (Bill Clinton, Ensign, Edwards, etc. etc. etc.) and, especially in this day and age, so stupid as to ever, ever send pictures, chats, or anything even halfway creepy—lord, even a little risqué—online, much less on an open, public Twitter account.

Weiner surely exulted in Kathy Hochul’s victory in NY-26, which was made possible, after all, by the aforementioned former Representative Chris Lee, who couldn’t or wouldn’t learn from his predecessors. The married Lee sent hubba-hubba photos of his shirtless self to a woman on Craigslist (and, apparently unlike Weiner, tried to establish personal contact with). The tweeted photo that did Weiner in was sent May 20, long after the Lee scandal had produced the political earthquake of Hochul’s victory and established online gaminess as fair game.

Of course, Weiner didn’t fess up until he realized that more photos, and more women, were about to reach the public eye, forcing him to end his Nixonian limited hang-out of the previous ten days.

And that invokes the ultimate question for such a rising Democratic star: How could you have been so stupid as to make Andrew Breitbart look good?

At yesterday’s crazy, painful press conference—painful to watch him cry, painful to imagine losing such a passionate progressive champion in Congress—someone did ask Weiner the “stupid” question:

Q: When Chris Lee sent that photo and was caught and had to resign, did that make you stop and think, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this because I could be caught next? Did that ever go through your mind?

REP. WEINER: I didn’t think of it that way. From—I would think about—from time to time, I would say to myself, this is a mistake or this conversation—someone could listen in on or translate to someone else. This was a—I know that there is the sense that everything is part of a plan, and it was thought through and calculated. In this case, it was just me doing a very dumb thing, and for that I accept the responsibility.

At this point, the usual answers to male idiocy are that a lot of men, especially those in power, don’t believe they’ll ever be caught; or conversely, that they unconsciously want to get caught, perhaps to punish themselves because they feel undeserving of their status.

I can’t possibly know what was really going through Anthony Weiner’s mind when he did this, and neither can anyone else. But breaking through the wall around your public image with a private urge can be a transgressive thrill.

Can the next pol in line eager to bust through that public/private wall just please think about Weiner and Lee and Edwards a little more than “from time to time”?

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Savannah Guthrie Could Kick Butt, So Why Did MSNBC Position Her as Chuck Todd’s Sidekick?

Friday was Savannah Guthrie’s last day as co-host of The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. As she moves to her new gig co-hosting the third hour of NBC’s Today Show, here’s hoping she gets a much better position. Literally.

Although she’s been a stronger presence than the often flat Chuck Todd, Guthrie was physically positioned as his helpmate: he’d face straight forward, while she sat in a three-quarter profile, often leaning in from the side, as if she were trying to squeeze into the picture. Their postures said it all—she was an appendage to the main man, a vine to his trunk.


The Chuvannah tableau was a variation of the stereotypical male-plus-female pose that people often strike for photos: the woman turns her head to gaze at the guy while he manfully looks into the camera, setting his sights far beyond mere domesticity.

Of course, Guthrie never gazed into Todd’s eyes, and her role on the show was anything but ancillary. An attorney and now Today’s chief legal analyst, Guthrie was the sharper and more aggressive interviewer, often putting questions right past Todd, holding their subjects’ feet to the fire, pinning down Trump on abortion here or nailing Bachmann on her falsehoods there. Chuck, meanwhile, often seemed to be diligently checking off a list of questions.

And so having her sidle up to him at their desk seemed a very odd throwback. Even Fox News’s female hosts face forward or sit equally angled with the guys.


But except when Guthrie hosted solo, she’s had to assume the sidekick position, placing herself just so every weekday morning since Rundown debuted seventeen months ago.

Since talk show seating arrangements are meticulously designed, you have to wonder whether MSNBC producers put Guthrie in a physically secondary position in the same way they’ve put Mika Brzezinski in a verbally secondary position on Morning Joe, where she tries to squeeze into the conversation dominated by Joe and the boys.

Maybe having Brzezinski talk less than Scarborough was meant in some twisted way to justify paying her less than Joe—fourteen times less!—and less than the male regulars, even though it’s Mika, and not Mike Barnicle or Willie Geist, who’s billed and heavily promoted as Joe’s co-host. She almost left the show over the pay disparity, as she writes in her new book Knowing Your Value, but she says the problem has since been fixed.

Did the Daily Rundown create Guthrie’s Lean Forward From the Side angle to justify paying Todd more, and is that one reason she shifted horizontally to the Today Show?

I have absolutely no idea what either of them have been paid, or if money was a key factor in her departure. I’m just sayin,’ as Chuck would say.

At least as likely an explanation is that the producers thought the solid but stolid Todd needed to appear more like The Man. If Guthrie came in sideways, he’d look like the center. Remember, he once played an ancillary role himself. He was the cool geeky guy that the anchors—stronger personalities like Brian Williams, Chris Matthews or Keith Olbermann—would rely on to interpret polls, give dimension to stats, explain Congressional districts and generally grind through the information that was too emotionally inert to merit their attention. His passion was to dispassionately reveal the telling detail.

Todd was actually fun to watch in that role, because he was often able to tease out meanings others overlooked. In fact, he was so popular—with his own fan club yet—that NBC promoted him to chief White House correspondent and then to a show of his—and Guthrie’s—own. But the promotion has changed him from someone who calmly analyzed politics at the granular level to someone who tries to kick up a little dust, straining to achieve the emotional range needed to keep viewers’ attention for a full hour. (Not to mention that the network severely overworks the guy.)

Maybe Todd will continue Rundown without a partner, and maybe he’ll grow into the space, even absorbing some of Guthrie’s livelier, more unpredictable spirit.

But if they do give Chuck another female co-host, let’s hope they’re both allowed to Face Forward.


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Jon Stewart Sticks a Fork in Trump's Slice with Palin

Remember how the right-wing media excoriated John Kerry in 2003 for ordering a Philly cheese steak with Swiss cheese instead of Cheez Whiz? That was proof positive, Rush Limbaugh said, that the “reputed Vietnam veteran” thinks he’s “better than all the people in ‘flyover country.’ You can tell that this cheese steak looks very foreign to Kerry.” Or remember how they pilloried President Obama for eating a burger with mustard? “What kind of man orders a cheeseburger without ketchup but Dijon mustard?” asked Laura Ingraham. Signs of Frenchification! Of feminization! Of being traitors to American Exceptionalism!

Mustard may be the evil condiment, but eating pizza with a fork—as the supposedly NYC-bred Donald Trump did yesterday with the supposedly family-vacationing Sarah Palin—well, that doesn’t offend the right at all. But food-borne indignation over that is red meat for Jon Stewart:

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When Obama Imposed a No-Touch Zone on DSK


Strauss-Kahn meets the Obamas at the G20 conference in 2009. Photo: IMF’s Flickr, via New York magazine

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The Tea Party Leads a Revolution Against Itself

If there’s one thing to be learned from the Democratic victory in New York-26—aside from the fact that the Dems would be malpracticing incompetents if they don’t use Medicare as a silver bullet in 2012 races—it’s that money isn’t everything. Outside right-wing groups, primarily Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, outspent their progressive counterparts $1.36 million to $916,585 in an overwhelmingly red district and still lost big.

 Money may be the mother’s milk of politics, but the Tea Party base is ostensibly lactose-intolerant (at least of Keynesian spending), and Beltway greed now threatens their last remaining claim to “populism.” Killing Medicare, as Paul Ryan’s budget would do, is bad enough. But when the base also realizes that the Tea Party Republicans they elected last November are already pocketing huge amounts of cash from the same bailed-out firms they once railed against, the sense of betrayal among the ranks could become venomous.

A story in the financial publication The Deal revealed this week that the 10 Tea Party–backed House freshmen who leadership appointed to the Financial Services Committee have received almost $600,000 from Wall Street since the November election. The aim of the banks’ generosity, of course, is to cripple the legislation designed to prevent another financial meltdown—like the one that sparked the Tea Party’s anger in the first place. As The Deal’s Nicole Duran writes (subscription required):

The Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in last year's election was fueled in large part by Tea Party enthusiasts whose mistrust of government—including anger at Washington's bailout of Wall Street—fueled their organizational and monetary support for candidates who labeled themselves as populist conservatives. 

Now, a fair number of those new GOP lawmakers are raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Wall Street. At the same time, those lawmakers are now pushing legislation that would rewrite many of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, passed last summer when Democrats still controlled both chambers of Congress. 

That so many Tea Party–backed lawmakers are now pushing pro–Wall Street legislation draws into question their commitment to the populist ethos that has characterized the movement.

Take, for example, Representative Nan Hayworth (NY-19). During her campaign, Hayworth refused to distance herself from the extreme Tri-State Sons of Liberty; indeed, she wrote on Facebook, “I am proud to be a member and honored to have their endorsement.” Now, Hayworth is pushing the “Burdensome Data Collection Relief Act,” which would repeal the Dodd-Frank Act's CEO pay disclosure provision. That would be so heinous a burden that, as Duran points out, “In just the first three months of 2011, companies and trade organizations spent more than $5 million lobbying on behalf of Hayworth's bill, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Many of those corporations, such as Bank of America, Citigroup, and J.P. Morgan Chase, were also Hayworth donors.”

Or take Sean Duffy (WI-7), the former MTV Real World dude who took retiring democratic Representative David Obey’s seat. “Since Election Day,” Duran writes, “he has added almost $250,000 to his re-election kitty, the bulk of which came from industries with business before the Financial Services Committee.” Earlier this month Duffy introduced a bill (approved by his subcommittee) that would make it easier for a council of regulators to veto any actions by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB, of course, is the agency that Elizabeth Warren has been organizing and that Republicans are desperate to strangle in its crib, even to the laughable extent of accusing the soft-spoken academic of being a power-hungry tyrant. (On Tuesday, at a House Oversight subcommittee hearing, Representative Patrick McHenry (NC-10) called her a liar.)

These freshmen’s cozyiness with Wall Street reveals not only the hypocrisy of Republicans who pose as Tea Party populists when it suits them; it also reveals that the TP itself lives in a Potemkin Village.

As Rachel Maddow has been pointing out all along, the Tea Party powerbase is small and getting smaller since the 2010 elections. A South Carolina rally last week featuring Governor Nikki Haley and Donald Trump was expected to draw 2,000 people, but when Trump pulled out, the fearsome TP crowd amounted to… thirty.

The Tea Party as a mighty, monolithic force to be reckoned with exists less in reality than in the Beltway minds of the MSM and John Boehner. A recent McClatchy-Marist poll, in fact, showsthat 70 percent of registered voters who identify with the Tea Party are opposed to cutting Medicare—or Medicaid—in order to reduce the deficit. Paul Ryan, as a new ad showing him dumping Granny off a cliff makes clear, is a Patriot missile aimed right at their hearts.

But the GOP just can’t help itself--greed is such a powerful incentive. Stephen Colbert’s one-man parody of Citizens United fundraising—his “Colbert Super PAC”—hit just the right note when he offered to shake hands with the fans who gathered before the Federal Elections Commission to cheer him on—for one dollar per shake.

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Why the Bad Grandpas—Newt, Arnold, Trump, Strauss-Kahn—Are Falling Down


Newt is oldt. That's one way to explain why Gingrich fell so hard so fast. Chris Matthews was struck by Newt's Nixon-era dog whistles, like "food stamps, Detroit, all the codes," saying they reminded him of his grandfather’s “language of yesteryear.” "You know, my grand pop used to call Connie Mack Stadium ‘Shibe Park’ 30 years after they changed the name," Matthews said Wednesday. "I don't know, who is the last politician you heard ragging on food stamps? Last time you heard somebody talking about food stamps? A while ago. Reagan, maybe?"

Of course, it's really Republican policy itself that's caught in a time warp again—in addition to calling for the end of Medicare, the House-passed Paul Ryan budget would cut the food stamp program by almost 20 percent, as Katrina vanden Heuvel discusses here

Just seeing Newt on the stage tells you the GOP has slipped over the event horizon. Gingrich hasn't run for office since 1998, so he doesn't get, as John Heilemann told Matthews, that in "the age of blogs and twitters and tweets and Facebook… you can't play some of the kinds of games that you could play as recently as 10 years ago. You get called out now."  

All that's true of course, and zinging pols for their outdated technological and pop cultural knowledge has been an American indoor sport for half a century. (Talking about stale references, can the news media please stop repeating the long-since disproven "Newt is smart" meme? "We know he'd bring intellectual rigor[!] to the debate," said No Labels' Mark McKinnon this week. "He's smart, and he has ideas, serious ideas," observed NBC's Nora O'Donnell. Didn’t Newt lose his few remaining pointy-head points when he deemed the “idea” that Obama is a Mau Mau-loving Kenyan anti-colonialist "the most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama"?)

Yet as we all know, Newt has problems beyond being pickled in aspic. And they are problems he shares with a whole line-up of other Big Men of a certain age (between 62 and 67) who, within days of each other, have fallen steeply and suddenly from their former glory. I mean, what a couple weeks it’s been: Newt, Trump, Schwarzenegger, and (now former) IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn—did somebody send around a chain letter demanding self-immolation from vain Boomer Bad Boys of the 1990s?

In each case, the tragic flaw that led to the pol’s quick demise had been obvious for a long time: All four suffered from an outsized ego that made them feel bulletproof. Trump's extreme narcissism was played as polo field hijinks by the tabloids for decades; Gingrich's self-aggrandizing recklessness has destroyed his political career twice already; in France, DSK’s well-known womanizing even earned him a chapter in a bestselling book, Sexus Politicus (Albin Michel, 2006); and Arnold's penchant for groping women erupted into headlines during the final days of his first campaign for governor in 2003.

With 10 marriages among them, all four Bad Grandpas apparently felt they could woo women and the press at the same time. I can’t pretend to plumb the French media’s notions about l’amour fou—Strauss-Kahn appeared to be sailing towards the French presidency until he tried his charms on a maid in a fancy New York hotel room. But the three Americans weren’t bulletproof just because they filled their mirrors frame-to-frame.

Each thought he had a lock on the media in some way, a lock developed over years of mutual appreciation. In Trump’s case, the link was an obvious one, an ad buyer who often got favorable coverage, eventually becoming a popular Richy Rich character for the big city tabs and a national figure with his own TV show (and, starting with his birther blather, a regular Monday guest spot on Fox & Friends). Similarly, financial arrangements that Arnold struck with American Media, Inc. before he became governor helped keep the gossip at bay. Publisher of The National Enquirer and Star, AMI aquired some body-building magazines for which Arnold signed on as “executive editor.”   

And Newt? Newt’s been buried in the oyster of right-wing media so long he’s one of their pearls—with a half-million-dollar tab at Tiffany’s to boot. It was during his time as Speaker of the House that Republicans helped engineer the forest of exemptions and deregulations that made Rupert Murdoch’s Fox possible in the first place.

So do these last few weeks suggest that the media have rediscovered their sense of power and propriety? Or is there simply a point at which men cease to be roguishly charming and become embarrassingly buffoonish instead? 

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Lawrence O'Donnell Trumps Pundits

As he often is, Lawrence O’Donnell was right: Donald Trump’s campaign was fake, and he’d announce that he wasn’t running for president on May 16—which is exactly what Trump did on Monday.  

May 16, as O’Donnell’s been reminding us, was the day that NBC would announce its fall lineup—if Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice was on it, there’d be no candidate Trump. A few weeks back O’Donnell criticized the Beltway media for not pressing NBC on whether it would renew the show, and he zapped NBC, his own employer, for not immediately ending Trump’s charade—and all the birther time it bought—by revealing what it already knew.

But O’Donnell went beyond crowing “I told you so.” He went to the heart of the matter: the political pundits’ “inability to understand what is happening right in front of them.”

And it’s not just Trump. In his excellent rant (video below), O’Donnell went at the New York Times for treating Huckabee’s announcement that he wouldn’t make a presidential bid “as news, when, in fact, Mike Huckabee, at Fox News Roger Ailes’s insistence, had made it patently obvious that he wasn’t running for president as far back as March 2.” That was the day that Fox News suspended Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum from its payroll because Fox knew they were running, but kept on Huck and Sarah Palin, because it knew they weren’t. But to this day, O’Donnell complained, political pundits frame Palin in the will-she-or-won’t-she category.

Whether it’s buying into fake WMDs, fake “urgent” issues like the deficit, or fake political campaigns, the MSM seems unable, or unwilling, to grasp the difference between real politics and hype. 

These charades may or may not be good for ratings, but they’re definitely bad for connecting even the most glaring of dots: they continually tell viewers and pundits alike that getting by on ignorance and wishful thinking is the way to go.

“Political pundits,” O’Donnell said at the end, “have been given their first intelligence test of the 2012 campaign.”  

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

CORRECTION: D'oh! In the original version of this story, I wrote that MSNBC contributor Jon Meacham believed that Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States. But in the Morning Joe segment I linked to, he and Joe Scarborough were totally, and quite wryly, joking. I apologize to Meacham, whose views on Trump are in fact much closer to O'Donnell's.

Chris Christie: GOP White Knight or White Elephant?

Desperate Republicans, panicking over the pathetically weak field of presidential hopefuls (a Fox focus group declared the winner of last week’s GOP debate to be Godfather Pizza founder Herb Cain), are still holding out hope that New Jersey governor Chris Christie doesn’t really mean it when he swears he won’t run in 2012. Even heartland conservatives are certain that the tough-talking East Coaster—who to much of the country reads like the offspring of Tony Soprano and Snookie—is their long-awaited Great White Hope.

On May 31, a group of small-government Iowa Republicans will make a pilgrimage to the governor’s mansion in Princeton, NJ, to urge him to close his eyes and think of the party. Headed by businessman Bruce Rastetter, the Iowa delegation played an important role in returning Republican Terry Branstad to the Iowa governor’s office last year, so they may feel they’re on a roll. "There isn't anyone like Chris Christie on the national scene for Republicans," Rastetter told the AP. "And so we believe that he, or someone like him, running for president is very important at this critical time in our country."

But have these people read up on Christie lately? Their fantasy of a wildly popular and invincible Jersey guy has already gone stale. In fact, Christie’s approval ratings have been sliding downhill ever since he took office almost 16 months ago.

The man would even lose a presidential race in his own state: New Jerseyans would vote for President Obama over Christie 52 to 39, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll (taken last month before the bin Laden killing). Unbeloved at home, Christie’s 47 percent approval/46 percent disapproval rating is down from 52-40 in February. More important, his gender gap is huge--men approve of him 56-38 percent while women disapprove 53-38 percent. And when asked for one word that best describes the governor, by far the term that most often sprung unprompted to Jersey lips was “bully.”

Even in Joisey (full disclosure, I live here myself) being a rude son of a bitch—like telling students to their faces that their teachers don’t care about them—eventually makes people sour on you. Of course it doesn’t help that Christie’s hit the state with killer cuts—slashing teacher, police, and social service jobs—while refusing to restore the expired “millionaire’s tax.” Or that his high-handed interpersonal abrasiveness cost the state $400 million in federal “Race to the Top” education funds. (His numbers have also taken a dive in the decidedly pro-choice state for supporting anti-abortion activists, though that would obviously play well elsewhere.)

And apparently those besotted Iowans haven’t heard about Christie’s latest bullheaded move: He wants to expand Xanadu, the ill-fated, checkerboard-patterned, ultra-mega-blow-your-eyes-out mall/entertainment/polluting complex that two private companies have already sunk $2 billion into over seven years and still can't seem to open. It’s the longest-running losing battle America’s ever fought, except for the Afghan war.

As WNYC public radio’s Bob Hennelly writes, Christie held a press conference last week at the “moribund site” to announce that he wants to give $200 million dollars in state funds to yet another developer to finish the project. Because 2 million square feet of mall—at a time when malls are shutting down across the country—ain’t big enough, the new project will add another million square feet. If the project is ever finished, it’s supposed to be the largest such entity in the world, and will include a Hawaii-themed water park and a 16-story indoor ski slope, which will emit high rates of greenhouse gas to keep the “snow” frozen year-round. The developer, and presumably Christie, even wants to increase layover times for international passengers at Newark Liberty Airport, so they'll be bored enough to hitch a shuttle to the mall, now rebranded the "American Dream@Meadowlands.”

“Of course there were no critics at the presser,” Hennelly writes, but longtime Xanadu critic, NJ Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel, told him, “’The American Nightmare Mall will be the biggest source of greenhouse gasses in NJ after the governor. The governor can give $200-$350 million to subsidize a mall, but will kill a mass-transit project.’” He’s referring to Christie's order to kill an already-in-progress rail tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York, the largest shovel-ready infrastructure project in the country when the Great Recession hit, for fear of cost overruns. Now Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is demanding that NJ repay the $271 million the feds already spent on the tunnel because Christie broke existing contracts to kill it.

So, the GOP’s would-be white knight is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds on a private corporate project that has little chance of succeeding but will create all sorts of environmental problems, yet he won’t follow through on a joint federal-state project certain to create thousands of jobs and simultaneously take a gazillion cars off the road.

The Republican field itself—from Trump and Newt to Palin and Huckabee--is something like Xanadu: designed for the ‘90s, a bunch of gas-guzzling, money-wasting, high-fructose entertainers spinning as if we have nothing to do but amuse ourselves to death, when in fact we need to build infrastructure that will create jobs in a modern economy. The Republicans—no matter who they nominate—will almost inevitably turn any great white hope into a great white elephant. 

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Torturism, the New Birtherism

Like the death of bin Laden, the death of birtherism was a long time coming, but when it finally came, it was swift and dramatic: President Obama rappelled down to the birther level to release his long-form birth certificate; at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner three days later, Obama and wingman Seth Myers broke down Donald Trump’s extraordinarily well-guarded ego, with jokes; and within hours, simply by announcing that bin Laden was dead, Obama sent Trump’s verkakte ideas to go sleep with the fishes.

If the narcissistic real estate mogul had become a 3-D avatar for the Obama-hating Republican base, you have to wonder where all their resentment and anger—augmented now by humiliation—will go now?

Some on the birther-inflected right are actually acting out the parody headlines, like “Trump: Where’s the Death Certificate?” The words have changed to “Where’s the death photo?” but the idea’s the same. “Show photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction. No pussy-footing around…” Sarah Palin tweeted shortly before Obama decided not to release the photo. (Never mind that it could be more inflammatory than, say, a Koran burning, or that Obama’s critics won’t be satisfied until they see the long-form bin Laden, all the waterlogged, 6-feet 6-inches of him.) Fox’s Andrew Napolitano was sowing some very familiar-sounding doubts, complaining that there are “No photos, no testimony from eyewitnesses, just the president's word that he's dead,” and wondering “whether the government is telling us the truth, or pulling a fast one to save Obama's lousy presidency.” Glenn Beck sure wasn’t taking the president’s word. “Is it possible,” he asked, “that Osama bin Laden has been ghosted out of his compound, and we’re seeing a show now at this point?” Yes, OBL was spirited out alive to join Obama in establishing a CaliphateNow! franchise in Kenya.

But going full-tilt death-photo has the unfortunate effect for the right of aligning them with conspiracy theorists in the Muslim world, many of whom also believe Osama’s death was faked.

No, the more “patriotic” and viable vessel for hatred of Obama is “torturism”—the dogged belief that waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques provided the key intelligence that led to bin Laden’s death, and that, ergo, Bush/Cheney should get as much if not all the credit for the remarkable raid: It’s the best new way of denying Obama his legitimacy. OK, maybe Obama was born in Hawaii, this thinking goes, but the idea that Obama nailed Osama is based on a lie that could endanger America. As Sean Hannity told a concurring Donald Rumsfeld, “if he [Obama] had had his way [in opposing torture] and Democrats had their way, we wouldn’t have had this intelligence.” And Osama would still be knocking around the compound.  

In the best-case torturist scenario, Obama did little more than follow the Bush/Cheney mastermind plan. Ridiculous? A Washington Post/Pew Research poll found that 81 percent of Republicans believe that Bush deserves "some credit" for nabbing bin Laden, while only 61 percent say that Obama does. As St. Louis Tea Party radio host Dana Loesch roared, “God bless President George W. Bush for implementing enhanced interrogation…!”


Despite Loesch’s enthusiasm, torturism originates not so much from Tea Partiers like her, but from Neocons—Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Rumsfeld—who are desperate not only to grab credit but to save their butts from ever being tried as war criminals. Torturism has the added benefit of providing the Neos—many of whom, like Rove, detest birthers as a distraction—a bridge back to that spurned base and the powder-keg of red hot anger it can supposedly dispense at will. After all, torture and/or fantasies of torturing are themselves a pretty direct expression of intense anger.

Now, torturism differs from birtherism in one significant way: the former may not be made up entirely from whole cloth. It is feasible that some torture produced some information that indirectly led to bin Laden’s death. Let’s not be in denial ourselves by insisting that’s not possible. By most early accounts, this doesn’t appear to be the case. "To the best of our knowledge, based on a look, none of it came as a result of harsh interrogation practices," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Andrew Sullivan has a great breakdown on why the one piece of intel that torture defenders claim was instrumental to finding bin Laden is a bunch of “truthiness.” But less truthy info may yet come out in this story that will take years to unravel. We just don’t know.

The point, however, is that whether or not torture procured vital clues, the rightwing base can obsess over it, magnifying every rumor out of all proportion. Conspiracy theories that Obama is hiding the evidence that torture worked are only just around the corner.

We don’t yet know Donald Trump’s view on whether torture saved the day. But don’t be surprised if he makes torture his battle cry. Look at what the man does to his hair.

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Republican Run-ins

Ayn Rand Rand Paul Paul Ryan

Rick Scott Scott Walker Scott Brown (Heck of a job) Brownie

Santorum um.


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