Leslie Savan | The Nation


Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

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. 

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

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.

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Republican Run-ins

Ayn Rand Rand Paul Paul Ryan

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

Santorum um.


MSM Mirrors GOP's Line on Paul Ryan's Medicare-Killing Budget Plan: Don't Hurt His Feelings!

All’s fair in love and class warfare, so it really wasn’t much of a surprise when Republicans reacted to President Obama’s criticism of Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicare-killing, rich-enriching budget plan last week with cries of “insult” and “partisanship.” (See Jon Stewart on the GOP’s fainting-couch fragilities here.)

But do you, as I do, still expect—like a dim-witted whack-a-mole—that the non-Fox mainstream media will refrain from automatically repeating right-wing talking points? Well, whack!—’cause the MSM is just about certain that the core of this story is what Obama is doing to the handsome young Ryan, and not what corporate lobbyists, Tea Party stalwarts, most GOPs, some Dems, Ryan and maybe Obama himself (depending on how much he caves) are about to do to the poor and middle class.

That was on Thursday. On Friday, the Morning Joe crew devoted another sixteen-minute segment to the issue of Republican hurt feelings.

“To say that they’re not American in their proposal, I think, crosses a line,” said the sour-faced Mark Halperin. Scarborough again worried that if a Republican president had said the same thing with Nancy Pelosi sitting in the front row, “not only would the leftwing blogosphere go crazy, the news networks would go crazy, the New York Times would go crazy, the Washington Post would go crazy.”

Of course, the closest Obama came to calling anything “un-American” was when he said the Republican “vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America.” That’s not name-calling; that’s an accurate assessment and, from Obama at least, long overdue.

As for the news media going “crazy,” well, they haven’t exactly been driving themselves crazy trying to defend Obama against ridiculous charges that he wasn’t even born in America. (CNN recently ran a segment that let “you decide” whether Trump’s birther rants are valid.) Any more than they went crazy defending Democrats nine years ago on the charge of being un-American if they so much as thought about opposing two GOP-led foreign wars, at least one of which was based on a big fat lie.

On Morning Joe, though, Mika Brzezinski put her finger on it, asking, “Are the Republicans a bunch of little babies in diapers?” Halperin, perhaps fearing suddenly being thought very, very young, eventually offered: “Let me say one thing positive thing about the president…. This is not just politics. He believes it’s totally outrageous to balance the budget on the backs of the middle-class and [he added, after Mika interjected the word] the poor, while giving tax cuts, more tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations.”

Well, duh, Mika more or less replied. “I believe it’s OK to say that if you believe it.” (Let’s give Mika some credit. All too often she makes cutesy faces and lets Joe walk all over her, but she’s been standing taller lately, recently telling the boys, who were chuckling over what a birther boob that Donald Trump had become, “I think this promotes hate, and this brings us back, and I thought we had gotten past this.”)

Meanwhile, on the ostensibly strenuously nonpartisan CNN, straight news “Talk Back” host Carol Costello broached the same Obama vs. Ryan story but, again, only after posing it in right-wing language. “Is class warfare the right political fight?” Costello asked, inviting viewers to answer on Facebook.

Actually, almost everyone who replied on Facebook was decades ahead of her, as they overwhelmingly saw this as a case of Republican corporate class warfare waged on the rest of us. As one commenter put it, “The question is fundamentally flawed because it already adjudges pejoratively the statements and plan of the president as class warfare.”

When will the Dems stop beating their death panels?

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

I Want to See Trump's IQ Tests!: Birtherism Traps Trump, Gobbles GOP

“I was a really good student at the best school. I’m like a smart guy, OK?” Donald Trump boasted on The View last week. “They make these birthers into the worst idiots.”

For a week now, Trump’s been all over TV going full-tilt, red-in-the-face birther—in order, he says, to defend the honor of those “who happen to think there’s a possibility this man [Obama] was not born in this country.” If Trump is smart, ergo, birthers aren’t stupid. It's quite gallant of Donald, really, this offer to become the Birthers' Brain. But as serious questions arise about his brain, some Republicans are increasingly worried that the battle for the GOP presidential nomination has become a contest between Dumb and Dumber. Because, you know, that might play into the hands of those terrible Dems.

“Do you ever think about the fact,” Gretchen Carlson wondered on Fox & Friends, “that maybe [Obama] is not showing [his birth certificate] because it keeps sort of stirring the pot about these other people discussing it, and it doesn’t make them look so good?” Without naming names, she meant people who tickle the tiger of birtherism, like Trump, Huckabee, Gingrich, Hannity, Bachmann, Lou Dobbs and other stars of the Fox box.

And Gretchen’s not alone. Glenn Beck has long been pushing this conspiracy theory about the birthers’ conspiracy theory: It posits that Obama is promoting the idea that he isn't an American citizen and therefore shouldn’t be president in order to make all Republicans look like morons. Beck has even called the folks who unwittingly do Obama’s bidding “crazies,” “fringe,” and “birther idiot[s].” “One of the reasons why [Obama] doesn't just come out [with his birth certificate] is because it is so great for him, because it immediately marginalizes anybody who says that kind of stuff,” Beck said on his radio show in 2009. “It makes them immediately look like they're flat-earthers.”

If so, 51 percent of Republican primary voters have dropped off the edge, believing that Obama wasn’t born in the United States (while a teetering 21 percent say they’re not sure), according to a recent poll. Non-birther Bill O’Reilly doesn’t believe these numbers, but they give Karl Rove the willies.

"This is the White House strategy, they love this," Rove told O’Reilly. “We need the leaders of our party to say, ‘Look, stop falling into the trap of the White House.’ ”

Too late. The GOP leadership, by refusing to unambiguously disavow birther beliefs, has lent birtherism tons of cred. And now Trump is splashing in, making more noise in the shallow end of the celebrity pool than all the potential GOP candidates combined, thereby calling attention to the dingbattiness of the entire field. This cannot be good. Any more than it is good that Trump is offering himself as proof that not all birthers are, as Beck says, “idiots.”

Because as much as I want to take Donald Trump at his word that he’s “really smart,” questions remain. As Lewis Black points out, for instance, “The guy bankrupted his own casino! A casino—where the house always wins!”

That doesn’t sound like someone who went to “the best school.” And neither do the other bright moves Trump’s made within the last few days:

In an “exclusive” to Newsmax on Monday, Trump released what he said was his birth certificate—only to find it wasn’t an official document at all! In fact, he couldn’t have even gotten a passport with it. Unlike the official Hawaiian certificate of live birth that Obama released (thoroughly vetted, inside and out, by FactCheck.org), Trump’s hospital-issued certificate doesn’t even have his mother’s first name. He finally found the real thing, but only after stepping on his own message.

Trump insists he’s only asking Obama to release what previous presidential candidates had already ponied up. On Fox & Friends, he said, “They asked John McCain for his birth certificate. They've asked others for their birth certificate. They asked Bush for his birth certificate, by the way. I just found out over the weekend.” (He soon added Reagan to this list of birth-vetted pols.)

Trump hasn’t offered a smidgen of evidence for these heretofore unheard-of, potentially historical requests, and of course his Fox pals never questioned him. During the 2008 Senate hearing on a prophylactic resolution declaring that John McCain (who was born in the Panama Canal Zone) was eligible to run, no one demanded his birth certificate, contrary to some blather Trump may have “found out over the weekend” from a Hannity radio show. Trump’s office has not responded to several phone and e-mail requests for the boss’s sources.

Despite all evidence, Trump insists no one remembers the young Obama. When the 72-year-old governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, says he was there at his birth, Trump pounces: “I think this guy should be investigated. He remembers when Obama was born? Give me a break!”

Trump feels perfectly confident making reckless, easy-to-disprove charges.“I grew up with Wall Street geniuses,” he said last night on O’Reilly. “What they do in terms of fraud and how they change documents, and I’ll tell you something, if you notice, those dates [of Obama’s birth announcements in two Honolulu newspapers] were three days later” than his birth. (As Media Matters points out, “Take a look at the other birth announcements published on that day's paper—all of the newly announced births took place on dates ranging from July 30 to August 6. Did all of those people, too, have their child out of the country, only to...then publish birth announcements in the local paper?”)

Then O’Reilly gives Trump a very public IQ test:


He’s never seen a birth announcement? I think this guy should be investigated!

And talking about smarts, schools, and “fraud,” Trump University, the mogul’s how-to-get-rich cyber-school, has received miserable grades. Last year, the Better Business Bureau handed the school, which boasted of an “Ivy League quality curriculum,” a D-minus rating (up from an F in 2009). Its rating is still under review, according to the BBB site. “Attorneys general in six states have fielded dozens of complaints—and the New York Education Department demanded Trump U. stop calling itself a university,” Doug Feiden wrote in the Daily News last May. That month the newly named Trump Entrepreneur Initiative also became the target of a class-action fraud lawsuit filed in California; the school has countersued for defamation.

It's all enough to make a former child think that going to school is itself one big conspiracy. Remember when, during the primaries, Hillary attacked Obama as too ambitious because he wrote a kindergarten essay titled “I Want to Become President”? By birther logic, she did that so that she’d look ridiculous, thus helping Obama win, so that she could become secretary of state and off Qaddafi in order to help Bill assuage his guilt for not intervening in Rwanda because, of course, she’d rather he suffer guilt only, and eternally, over Monica.

Wait, I got that messed up—I’ve never said I was a really smart student at the best school. It should read: Republicans pander to birthers not only for the obvious reasons—that it makes Obama’s presidency seem illegitimate, sets him up as an anti-American Muslim atheist (as Gingrich, that other self-proclaimed genius, might say) and is the most effective dog whistle since “welfare queen.” The deeper purpose behind the pandering is to encourage us all to relax into the stupid.

The more a population can be enticed to accept fringe delusions—whether birtherism, creationism or Martian anal probes, it doesn’t matter—the more they’ll accept mainstream delusions (cutting spending will create jobs). This isn’t ideology, it’s the exaltation of ignorance and dark paranoia. And it leaves people less willing to think critically or even recognize their own interests. And so, more and more, we’re seeing “populists” fight for the right of millionaires and corporations, like GE, to avoid taxes—which in turn creates the canard that states have no money to pay teachers, who could possibly teach “smart guys” to look at evidence before they start blabbing at the mouth.

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Burying Our Heads in Radioactive Sand

Japan is the most nuke-fearing country in the world—Hiroshima and Nagasaki saw to that, and Godzilla is one way they’ve taught their children to never forget. The Japanese take such care in making their skyscrapers, bridges and tunnels earthquake-proof that most of us assumed they’d go even further to protect their nuclear reactors... until those cores started melting down like knots on a fuse after Friday's tsunami.

So if nuclear meltdowns, partial or full, could happen there, they could happen anywhere, and all those pictures of cars and buildings bobbing in ink-black water like disaster-movie props carry a very immediate sense of warning. They're a reminder of just how fragile the whole world is—and how brittle are the mental containment systems we use to assure ourselves that whatever we're doing in the name of our way of life is safe, sane and right.

The enormity of the unfolding catastrophes in Japan is unnerving, but you don't have to be Pat Robertson to get the sense that it’s the exclamation mark at the end of a long and depressing sentence about global uncertainty. Afghanistan, Iraq, the financial collapse, unemployment—our military and economic woes have too often reinforced the power of those who led us into these disasters in the first place. At that point, we can seem as powerless to affect our fate as those three elderly Japanese trapped in a car for days after being washed up in a pile of debris by the tsunami.

Has any of this dampened the right’s enthusiasm for American exceptionalism, for “creating our own reality” as the biggest empire on the block? Not really. Some truths turned out to be inoperative—like, for example, that housing prices would always go up, or that we’d face a “mushroom cloud” if we didn’t send an army against Saddam. That a radioactive cloud is more likely to drift our way on prevailing air currents from nuclear reactors that we designed ourselves (GE designed six and built three of Fukushima’s disintegrating reactors) is so mind-boggling that it’s best dismissed as part of the left’s “agenda.” Which is what Glenn Beck did Monday, insisting that (perfectly rational) talk about Japan’s nuclear disaster is being fomented by none other than George Soros and the Tides Foundation.

These disasters, nuclear and otherwise, are going to happen, again and again, like oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. All around the globe, today’s economic leaders are making multibillion-dollar deals for energy—Canadian tar sands, Venezuelan gasification plants, offshore Nigerian wells—that will inevitably send tons of climate-changing gasses into the atmosphere over the lifetimes of the next several generations (and these deals will take generations to exhaust their value). Nothing will convince the people who have invested in these long-term projects that they could possibly be wrong, that we could, in fact, be living on an Easter Island of a planet spinning in space.

We’ve always had a hard time accepting facts that would stymie our lifestyle. The Easter Islanders did, too: When the disappearing forests were no longer salvageable, they didn’t make canoes to get off the island—they cut the remaining trees to make rollers to transport their giant stone heads, setting them up in supplication to ancestors who could not help them.

Maybe, instead of making massive commitments to safe, green energy projects, we should just erect a giant stone head of David Koch and sacrifice to it.

Like this blog post? Read it on The Nation’s free iPhone App, NationNow.

Huckabee Replaces N-word With 'Mau-Mau'

For Democrats, and reportedly for the Obama White House, Mike Huckabee has always seemed a deadly combination: A hard-right, anti-gay, antichoice social conservative tempered, it seemed, by a humanity and humor lacking in other potential Republican presidential candidates. He’s hard to pigeonhole as a nut job or an extremist because his personality lacks the prickly rigidity that so often defines the right—Southern Baptist minister that he is, Huckabee nevertheless plays Keith Richards bass riffs like a groupie.

During the last round of GOP presidential primaries, Huckabee was one of only a few contenders who didn’t have a “scheduling conflict” preventing him from attending a PBS debate at the historically black Morgan State University. Meanwhile, his rivals had a field day criticizing the former Arkansas governor for such mortal Republican sins as raising taxes and being mildly tolerant of immigrant children. More recently, Huckabee has dismissed the birther argument and has defended Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign against wingers who insist she’ll sic the hot-dog police on them (though the once obese Huckabee could hardly not defend FLOTUS, given that he’s been preaching the same health advice for years). 

His relative flexibility, folksy demeanor, and non-Martian “likeability” drove a media characterization that’s shaped the Huckabee coverage: A small-c, Main Street conservative, Huck may be “too nice” to get the Establishment nod, but as second place on the ticket he could help win over the crucial religious right/Sarah Palin base. This media narrative has proven as durable as “Bush the cowboy” or “McCain the maverick”—at least it did until last week.

That’s when Huckabee, to the surprise of most everyone, started squawking that President Obama grew up in Kenya, where he was influenced by his father’s and grandfathers’ anticolonial Mau-Mauism to despise the British Empire—and, by implication, all white power.

Only after being called out did the Fox News host say he “misspoke” on the growing up in Kenya part (he later claimed he apologized, though that, too, isn’t true). Then he blamed the media for attacking him, and simply relocated the lie from Kenya to Indonesia. “Most of us,” he told far-right radio talker Bryan Fischer, “grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas.” (Of course, Obama was born and grew up primarily in Hawaii, spending only the years between ages 6 and 10 in Indonesia—where, by the way, there were Rotary Clubs and he was a Cub Scout. In fact, according to the Boy Scouts of America, “The BSA is the second-largest Scouting organization in the world. The largest is in Indonesia.”)

Huckabee even managed to trash his relatively decent stand on Obama’s birthplace. “What I have never done,” he said,“is taken the position that Obama was born in Kenya or Indonesia or anywhere other than Hawaii, where he claims to have been born.” That little “claims” is of a weasely piece with John Boehner, who says he “believes” that Obama is an American-born Christian because he takes the president “at his word.”

To be an electable Republican today you don’t have to be racist, you just have to convince racists that you’re not going to make them feel uncomfortable. You have to genuflect, speak ambiguously, and hope that independent voters forget all that by the general election.

It’s at times like these that you can really appreciate Chris Matthews’s doggedness at exposing dog whistles, as he did all last week, particularly in Wednesday’s segment, called “The lie that won’t die.” “It’s one thing to be a rube. It’s another one to pretend you’re a rube, and playing to the rubes,” Matthews said of Huckabee. “This isn’t about ideology—it’s about bearing false witness. It’s in the Bible, check it out, Huckabee.”

All this garbage started last year with Dinesh D’Souza’s repulsive headliner for Forbes, which maintained that Obama’s “anti-business” policies could be explained only by his “Kenyan anti-colonialism.” That other presidential flirt, Newt Gingrich, had hailed this nonsense as the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama" and “the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.” “What if he is so outside our comprehension" that he can be understood “only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior?” (The media long ago should have retired its characterization of Gingrich as an “intellect,” but, remarkably, you still hear it.)  

But here’s a simpler theory: The right spews this bizarre “anticolonial” claptrap because it gives them a chance to say “Mau Mau,” which conjures a more fearsome threat than the N-word itself.

Is Huckabee trying to prove he can be a good hatchetman as a Veep candidate, or is he just letting his freak flag fly? It’s hard to say—or anyway, harder to say than “Mau Mau.”

Like this Blog Post? Read it on the Nation's free iPhone App, NationNow.

Camels and Puppies and Unions, Oh My

Last night Stephen Colbert did a funny bit on how Tea Partiers should act like “union goons” and do horrible things to puppies in order to turn the public against pro-union protesters in Wisconsin. Colbert was inspired not by Gov. Scott Walker (who told a fake David Koch that he didn’t plant troublemakers in the protests only because it might backfire politically), but by the non-fake former head of the Tea Party Express, who expressly advised people to fake it as “greedy and goonish” union stereotypes. So, after donning a “Union Goon” baseball cap and a “bada-bing-bada-cheddar-cheese” attitude, Colbert pretends to shove a live puppie into a wood chipper. The audience shrieks, but at the end Stephen holds up the intact doggie and says, “By the way, no animals were hurt in the crushing of these unions.”

It was a great bit, but it also seemed to be a (sly? apologetic?) comment on how, for the previous night’s Daily Show, one very large animal was hurt in the spoofing of these unions.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s what happened: The Daily Show brought a camel to Madison to help John Oliver poke fun at people who’ve compared the protests in Wisconsin to those in Egypt. Any such parallels, Stewart has been insisting all week, are indulgent and exaggerated.

The only problem was Stewart’s indulgent use of a camel to make such an exaggerated point. Not used to the cold, slushy streets, the camel slipped and was hurt in the process. Even less funny was Oliver telling a blogger who was recording the scene to stop taping; Oliver even momentarily blocked the guy’s camera.

Stewart’s too-clever-by-half stunt has been criticized by PETA, his fans and others. But he didn’t mention the incident the night the skit ran (sans camel), or last night. If he ignores it again tonight, that will leave only Colbert’s enigmatic puppy statement to clean up after Stewart’s stupid animal trick.

And in related events, Greg Sargent finds that none of the networks have so far booked a single labor official for this Sunday's talk shows—even though self-crowned anti-union king Chris Christie will appear on CBS’s Face the Nation. Getting labor to appear regularly, or even occasionally, on corporate TV’s coverage of labor conflicts may be like passing a camel through the eye of a needle.

NBC has announced that AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka will be part of a Meet the Press roundtable.

What Would a Liberal Glenn Beck Do?

If I were Glenn Beck, right about now I’d be chalking in the lines linking these recent, startling events:

--The Wisconsin governor tries to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Ohio, Tennessee, other states follow suit.

--The New Jersey governor cuts police forces, school budgets, much more; saves special animus for teachers, even tells students Ms. Frizzle hates their guts.

--A pro-business Missouri state senator wants to repeal the ban on child labor, calls it “archaic.”

On the surface it looks like these politicians, Republicans all, are simply trying to demolish workers’, women’s, and whippersnappers’ rights. That’s what they want you to think. But—and this may shock you: Are they actually saying that we don’t need New Jersey teachers or Wisconsin nurses because they can be replaced by Missouri children—and at little or no salary?

I admit, I found that hard to believe myself. But then I saw this headline:

Huckabee Compares Abortion To Slavery.” That’s when I got it: they believe that abortion is slavery, but child slavery is not!   

Now, all their job-killing, union-busting budget bills make sense, a terrible, terrible sense: With the majority of American adults unemployed and uninsured, and with every able-bodied child under 14 working at slave wages, Social Security and tax revenues will plummet, more safety-net spending will “have to be” cut, and the right will have finally accomplished its decades-long dream of starving the beast and destroying the Nanny State. Nannies, of course, will also be out of work, as their former wards will be sweeping streets or, for those deputized as the new sheriffs in town, rounding up women seeking abortions.

I know, this sounds crazy. Yeah, whoo-hubba-hubba-boing, all us craaaazzzy liberals, seeing anti-worker, anti-woman conspiracies behind every anti-worker, anti-woman attack. The lamestream media can call me crazy all they want, but they cannot make the truth shut-up!

OK, I’m running out of chalk connecting these dots, so I’ll say this plainly: The Koch brothers and the underage public-employee sector are orchestrating the coming insurrection together. You’d think they’d be the last two groups to be in cahoots, I know. But the Koch’s have lured the kids with a plan code-named “4 billion acres and not a school.” The idea is to establish nothing less than a Cali(fornia)-fate across America.

This map tells you everything you need to know about the future:

Texas will control South Dakota, the southern half of Montana, part of Nevada, Oregon, maybe Alaska and God only knows what else. And Georgia—see the big star there?—will control Iowa, all of the former upper Midwestern progressive bloc, plus maybe New Jersey, Florida and any other state that refuses federal money for high-speed rail. I'm not really sure.

I realize this sounds preposterous. But preposterous happens. (Four words: George Bush, Sarah Palin.) So I urge you: be aware of signal events, like a Mississippi governor running for president who won’t denounce license plates honoring the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. And take precautions: store seeds, and convert the monies you receive from your old Nanny State breast-pump tax deductions into the new South Carolina currency. Why? you ask.

Because—and I hate to tell you this—the South will rise again, but this time as far north as Wisconsin.

Egypt Leaves the Right Crazed and Confused

The uprising against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt has left the US right wing confused and grasping for talking points: Unlike most political events, the crisis in Egypt can’t be neatly hung on one of their us-versus-them frames. Not knowing what side to take, unable to easily tell the good guys from the bad, they’ve been suddenly thrown from the comfort of certitude into a slush of self-doubt.

Should they side with Mubarak or the Egyptian people? Should the demonstrations be labeled jihadist, commie or Tea Party East? Should they attack Obama for not standing by Murbarak and “losing Egypt” (Dick Morris), or for not calling for his ouster loudly enough (Fox News contributor Ralph Peters)?  

Let’s acknowledge that most of us are confused on Egypt: no one knows what will happen when Mubarak is gone, or how it will affect Israel, the region and the world. But if you’ve always shouted “USA is number one!” (and “Israel is number one-A!”), and you’ve tolerated talk of “Second Amendment remedies” against our own “tyranny” (led by a secret Muslim, no less), the cognitive dissonance has got to hurt your brain.

During Iran’s Green Revolution, less than two years ago, Republicans were livid that Obama wouldn’t intervene on the demonstrators’ behalf to overthrow the Iranian government (even to the point of demanding military action, though anybody with any sense realized that an incursion would have united all Iranians against the United States). Their line back then was 110 percent pro-democracy: "In the cause of freedom America cannot be neutral," Rep. Mike Pence essayed. Obama was a "cream puff," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher; he’s “timid,” added old “Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran” John McCain. Charles Krauthammer was boiling over: “The president is taking a hands-off attitude instead of standing, as Reagan did in the Polish uprising of 1980, and say we stand with the people in the street who believe in democracy.... it is a disgrace that the United States is not stating it as simply and honestly as that.”

Today? The GOP is all over the map: Krauthammer is griping that Obama has stated his support for the people too honestly. “It looks as if it was our decision, our pressure, and I’m not sure that we want a direct connection between our President and Egypt.” Not a word on Egypt from Pence or Rohrabacher; McCain, along with speaker John Boehner and minority leader Mitch McConnell, has decided to go along with Obama’s cautious approach.

Then there are those like Ann Coulter, who are torn—Murbarak is awful, Coulter said on Hannity (at 3:30), though “nothing good has ever come from riots like this in the streets”—but who deal with their cog dis by finding one consistent bad guy. “Contrast,” she said, Obama’s “response to this uprising to the uprising in Iran, when poor Neda was being shot and Obama was out getting ice cream, saying, ‘Oh, we don’t want to say anything.’ Well, as soon as this mob gathers, you see.... the Obama administration releasing secret information, they support the protesters, we support the protesters. Oh, couldn’t do that when the Iranian students were out on the street.” (Making her commentary even flimsier, Coulter went on to say Cairo isn’t Tiananmen or Tehran because no women are participating—even as the video running showed that to be completely wrong.)

You must also blame the president if you’re running for the Republican nomination. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee called Fox & Friends from Israel, where he was meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and, as Think Progress put it, “joining a ceremony for a newly built illegal Israeli settlement.” Huck reported “real shock and surprise down to the average, on-the-street Israeli citizen at how quickly the Obama administration abandoned a 30-year ally and a long-standing friend to peace and stability, President Mubarak.”  

The most intriguing confusion, though, must be that addling the Tea Party crowd, for whom Muslims are generally a very dangerous “them.” And yet some TPers can’t help but identify with these Muslim protesters, filling Tahrir Square like so many anti-tax rebels tail-gating for Glenn Beck on the Mall. On Fox News a few days ago, a middle-aged man at a tea party gathering in Chicago cheerfully asserted, “We need to do what they’re doing in Egypt!”

But if you really want to see how Egypt has unhinged the right, Beck is the man to watch. On the one hand, he’s seen the light: Bush had it wrong when he claimed 9/11 terrorists hated our freedom. “They don’t hate our freedom. They envy our freedom,” Beck told Bill O’Reilly. On the other hand, the Egyptian uprising "is not about freedom. It is being orchestrated by the Marxist Communists and primarily also the Muslim Brotherhood." 

On the other other hand (Glenn needs a lot of hands for this one), "We have to stand for something. [Mubarak] is torturing people with our money!" Yet, he says, if the Mubarak government falls, it could lead to “a caliphate” that would invade Europe and make the Mediterranean Sea an Islamic lake.

Wait, there’s more: a giant game of “Risk” spreading across the blackboard. “China,” he says excitedly, “will control Asia, the southern half of Africa, part of the Middle East, Australia, maybe New Zealand, and God only knows what else. And Russia, which will control all of the old former Soviet Union bloc, plus maybe the Netherlands. I'm not really sure.”

But do be sure of this, Americans: "This is not about Egypt,” he warns. “This is about your hometown and your lifestyle."

The conspiracy theories that hold all this together are so complex, Beck says, it’s going to take several days, maybe weeks, to explain. So you’re going to have to watch a lot of his show, and a lot of ads for gold.

Like this Blog Post? Read it on the Nation's free iPhone App, NationNow.
Syndicate content