AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Nation.com has graciously invited me to post some excerpts from my new book, 101 People Who Are REALLY Screwing America (and Bernard Goldberg is Only #73)–a response to Goldberg’s much-too-successful 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (and Al Franken is #37).
Goldberg, who is dedicated to the proposition that it is liberals who dominate America and are responsible for most of its ills, included, by my count, eighty-one liberals, seven marginal conservatives and twelve indeterminate others in his book. But not, just for example, a single member of the Bush Administration. Not one Republican member of Congress. No one responsible for the Iraq disaster, for the pre-9/11 “intelligence failures,” for illegal spying on Americans, for sanctioning secret detention and torture, for trying to subvert the Constitution by giving the President unlimited, quasi-dictatorial powers, for corrupting Congress, for gutting our environmental laws and giving free rein and fat subsidies to polluters, drillers, strip-miners and other land-rapers, for suppressing scientific information about global warming or for seeking to replace science education with religious claptrap.
You see, it’s actually Phil Donahue, Tim Robbins and Barbra Streisand who are screwing up America. People like that. Not all of my America-screwers are high-level political evil-doers. They’re well represented, rest assured; but I also wanted to include usual and less usual suspects from the culture, media and religion industries. (Roger Ailes. Mark Burnett. Linda Chavez. Alex Castellanos. Ann Coulter. James Dobson. Tim LaHaye. “Dr. Phil” McGraw…. The list goes on and on. Well, up to 101. Or rather, down from 101.)
Not included, regrettably, were editors who force their authors to cut their excerpts’ word count down by 80 percent. What you’re getting here, just so you know, are mere snippets of fragments of excerpts of sample sections. Appetizers. Hors d’oeuvres. I’m wasting words.
#100: The Mysterious Smile of Dan (Da Vinci) Brown
You don’t read airport novels or thrillers. But your view is, as long as they stay on their side of the literature/mass-market-fiction border and don’t bother you, you don’t bother them. But if they begin to stray off the reservation, raid across the border, adopt high-culture airs in an attempt at what the Observer called the “trick of intellectual flattery” (see Flaubert’s Parrot, Galileo’s Daughter, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, Newton’s Manicurist, etc.), and make not just literary but grand historical and conspiratorial claims that billions of readers take seriously–if they become the best-selling hardback adult novel of all time and make their maker so rich that you sit around all day mumbling, “Why didn’t I think of that plot?”–then it’s time to get the women and children into the fort and mount a punitive expedition in The New York Review of Books or someplace.
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The novel may not do Roman Catholicism any favors, but it does encourage New Age nonsense about “the sacred feminine.” According to Code, the figure to Jesus’s right in Leonardo’s The Last Supper is really Mary Magdalene. Her and Jesus’s A-shaped figures together form a giant M. The V-shaped space between them refers to Magdalene’s womb–the real Holy Grail. You get the picture. Or rather, you don’t: Reviewing Code, the art historian and classicist Ingrid Rowland worried that readers may come away believing they have learned something about Leonardo and his art. Adam Gopnik wrote in The New Yorker: “A cultural anthropologist, a hundred years from now, will doubtless find, in the unprecedented success of The Da Vinci Code during the time of a supposed religious revival, some clear sign that, in the Elvis mode, what a lot of Americans mean by spirituality is simply an immense openness to occult superstitions of all kinds.”
#97: Joe Francis, “Girls Gone Wild” and America Gone Dumb
The left has long been inclined to condemn sexploitation and pornography, whether on feminist grounds or out of the old-left view of eroticism as bourgeois and decadent, or out of neo-Marxist, Frankfurt School-style hostility toward capitalism’s commercialization and cheapening of everything good in life, including sex. (Don’t worry, we will make it from Marcuse and Fromm to Girls Gone Wild.) But with the religious right in America seeking, as self-appointed “decency” police, to impose its values on the media and the culture, liberals may feel more inclined to defend raunch as the lesser evil. This, frankly, explains why Howard Stern is not in this book.
California-based Mantra Films, which produces GGW [Girls Gone Wild], sends its camera crews to popular spring break destinations, where they invite coeds to “parties” at bars and clubs, supply them with free drinks, then get them to lift their T-shirts and display their breasts. Or to turn around, bend. The “girls” are overwhelmingly white, blond and scantily dressed (I mean to begin with). Most manage to look stunningly un-beautiful, thanks of course to being in GGW, and to a seemingly invariable look of mindless conformity and appalling stupidity. The mantra is that “[t]hese are just regular girls,” as a male aficionado told the Palm Beach Post. But when they “see the camera guys in those Girls Gone Wild T-shirts, they just take it off…. The guys don’t have to tell them what to do. They just do it.”
A woman bartender raised in supposedly licentious, Godless France said: “You’d have trouble finding girls in France to do what they did last night for a video…. They’re educated, university students, showing their breasts. I don’t know. I’m 29 and I don’t understand it.”
Of course, the motives of Mantra Entertainment CEO Joe Francis pose no such difficulty. GGW made him a multimillionaire by age 28. He has sold over $100 million worth of GGW videos/DVDs with titles like Dormroom Fantasies, Wild Island Orgy and Daddy’s Little Girls. Mantra has expanded the GGW line into pay-per-view specials, a feature film and a line of clothing and other gear bearing the GGW logo.
#93: Tucker Carlson: “As Low as You Can Go”
It’s the snide, smarmy, supercilious, smart-ass, East-Coast elitist ‘tude, for one thing, and the Young Republican look–all neatly and punchably summed up by the bow tie. And, for that matter, the name. Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson, I’m not at all surprised to learn, attended St. George’s prep school in Newport, Rhode Island. And didn’t bother finishing college. Sons of former chairmen of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and stepsons of heiresses to the Swanson frozen-food fortune perhaps don’t need to worry about college degrees.
After visiting Iraq in 2004 to report for Esquire, he reversed his support for the war and told the New York Observer it was “a total nightmare and disaster, and I’m ashamed that I went against my own instincts in supporting it.” Carlson, on Crossfire, the same day: “Kerry did vote for [the war], but then he opposed it…. What does John Kerry think about Iraq? Who knows. Who cares.”
September 2002: Carlson accuses Representative Bob Filner (D-CA) of being a liar and of committing “slander on the United States” for saying the United States had sold biological weapons to Iraq. Newsweek, that same week: “According to confidential Commerce Department export-control documents,” there were “numerous shipments of ‘bacteria/fungi/protozoa’ to the [Iraq Atomic Energy Commission]. According to former officials, the bacteria cultures could be used to make biological weapons, including anthrax.” A few months later, Crossfire guest Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution–a supporter of the Iraq invasion–told Carlson: “Well, we sold Saddam the anthrax and we kind of looked the other way.” (Carlson: “Have we done that?”)
May 2003: Carlson falsely denies that any Homeland Security Department resources were used to track the plane of Texas Democrats who left the state in order to thwart a quorum on Tom DeLay (#6)’s scandalous redistricting plan.
May 2004: “The Democratic Party has announced a new affirmative action plan for gays, lesbians, and cross-dressers.” Previously, Carlson referred to “cross-dressing and abortion” as “two great Democratic values that go great together.” Perhaps he would know.
July 2004: “That’s a total lie…. Nobody prevented anyone from voting” in Florida in 2000.
August 2003: “I draw the line at honesty…. I try to tell the truth.” Tucker, anything you put your mind to…
#92: Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim: Pride, Poultry, Preaching, Prejudice and 31 Billion Pounds of Chicken Shit
The septuagenarian chairman and principal owner of Pilgrims Pride Corp. of Pittsburgh, Texas, America’s second-largest poultry producer, is a Texas legend. The legend was described in a Philanthropy World profile in 2003: “Lonnie Pilgrim stands for something profoundly grand. Bo…is a gentleman of impeccable character, a generous spirit, and a crusader for Christ…. Along the path of taking a small farm supply store to a $2.5 billion company, Bo…kept honesty and integrity at the forefront…. [H]e takes an interest in [employees’] needs–ensuring that troubled employees receive counseling and an opportunity to know Jesus…. ‘He is respected by all who know him because of his high ethical standards’…. But Bo’s greatest joy comes from witnessing and introducing the plan of salvation to as many people as he possibly can.”
That refers to a pamphlet Bo published, which he hands out everywhere he goes, inviting readers to receive Jesus as their Savior. “Inside the back cover is a crisp $20 bill, which he says encourages people to hold on to it.” That kind of generosity seems to be a Bo habit. In 1989, he handed out $10,000 checks on the Texas Senate floor during a debate on a bill he supported to gut state workers’ compensation laws. (Meatpacking is one of the most dangerous jobs.) Bo left the “payee” line of the checks blank for lawmakers to fill in themselves, presumably to avoid any appearance of, like, bribery or anything like that. The episode prompted the next legislative session to pass ethics reforms. Getting Texas politicians to pass ethics reforms is the stuff legends are made of.
From 1980 to 1995, Pilgrims Pride paid Texas’s notoriously lax environmental regulators a record $825,000 in fines for pollution, improper wastewater discharges and “nuisance odors.” We’re talking chicken carcasses and vast amounts of shit, which contains arsenic and bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, which make their way into surrounding streams and wells. Exceptionally high rates of bacterial meningitis and other diseases caused by fecal contamination were found in areas surrounding poultry plants in East Texas and Arkansas, and had claimed at least thirteen lives, according to a 1996 exposé by Mark O’Connor in Touchstone magazine.
#84: Franklin “Not of the Same God” Graham
Maybe it’s too much to ask, but it would be nice if people engaged in the genuinely holy work of saving people’s lives by feeding and caring for their bodies would allow them to keep possession of their souls–their own beliefs and heritage. And try not to embarrass and endanger America by enhancing its image as a land of ignorant, Bible-thumping, Muslim-hating redneck louts.
Reverend Franklin Graham is no ordinary, two-bit, sleazeball evangelical huckster. He’s the eldest son of Billy Graham, and, as president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, heir to his evangelical empire. He’s also a friend and confidante of George W. Bush, who has credited Billy Graham with having turned him from booze to the opiate of the people.
Graham the Younger gave the prayer at Bush the Younger’s first inaugural. As head of the Christian relief agency Samaritan’s Purse, Graham “has earned international respect for supplying food, water, shelter, and medical care to regions where other angels fear to tread.”
But why does he have to go and spoil it all by saying something stupid (on NBC Nightly News, right after 9/11) like Islam is a “very wicked and evil religion,” “wicked, violent, and not of the same God”; writing that Christianity and Islam are “as different as lightness and darkness”; and declaring, “The true God [#77] is the God of the Bible, not the Koran”? And was it wise, or good for America, for Graham to state at the Pentagon’s Good Friday service in April 2003, just a month into the war in Iraq, that “There’s no other way to God except through Christ”? Or to announce that Samaritan’s Purse, which mixes its humanitarian aid with a liberal dose of proselytizing, was heading to Iraq “to save [Iraqis]…in the name of Jesus Christ”–this at the very moment when America most needed to assure Iraqis and the Muslim world that we were not there on a religious crusade? (What ever gave them that idea–the fact that a Samaritan’s Purse director said, “We are first a Christian organization and second an aid organization”? That Graham “asserts that the two religions are locked in an eternal struggle that will only end with the triumphant return of Christ”?)
#70: Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Dumbinator
(Warning: This section contains bad puns based on every goddamned Schwarzenegger movie title, role or trademark expression.)
A specter haunts America–the specter of a Schwarzenegger presidential bid. And one haunts California: the certainty of a Schwarzenegger gubernatorial re-election bid in 2006. To be sure, the Governator’s odds for either office lengthened in 2005, as his popularity dropped faster than a 300-pound barbell from the arms of a girlie-man. But that Ahnuld managed to become even a one-terminator governator is a Raw Deal (1986). Arnold and Ronald (Reagan) are of course not just anagrams but analogs, if not Twins (1988): Both are towering role models for all who aspire to high office with no qualifications except primitive showbiz skills, a macho persona, a conservative-populist posture, plenty of pesos and, above all, sheer celebrity.
As much as the spectacle of a wrestler elected governor of Minnesota may have helped turn American politics into a circus or freak show, the Governatorship of California is a far more likely launching pad for a presidential Running Man (1987). Even one with foreignness issues, accent issues, Hitler issues, women issues, gay issues, Enron issues, other conflict-of-interest issues, steroid-use issues, makeup issues (“what’s he using–wax?” wrote one blogger), heart-valve-surgery issues, abortion-issue issues (he’s pro-choice) and good old-fashioned failure-as-governor issues. (As for the foreignness issue, in 2003 Senator Orrin Hatch [R-UT] proposed a constitutional amendment to allow naturalized Austrian-Americans to run for President.)
After running on the True Lies promise that he would not “take any money from anybody” because “I have plenty of money myself” and because “the people should make the decisions rather than special interests,” Ahnuld proceeded over the next two years “to collect campaign contributions from private interests at a greater rate than any politician in California history, including Gray Davis, whom he criticized on that very issue,” amassing around $57 million from real estate, financial, entertainment, technology, retail and agribusiness interests.
Only months before the election, Ahnuld told Entertainment Weekly about his inspiration for a scene during the filming of Terminator 3: “I saw this toilet bowl…. How many times do you get away with this–to take a woman, grab her upside down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl?” That apparently endeared him to the California Republican Women’s Caucus, which endorsed him, saying he “supports family.” But more important than his behavior on movie sets, wrote columnist Robert Scheer, is whether Schwarzenegger, who “appears [to] delight in the extreme violence he peddles” in his films, makes any connection between that and the violence of our society.
#49: The Wall Street Journal Editors
The Wall Street Journal is like Pravda…. You don’t want to underestimate the importance of the Leninist model…. They don’t tolerate dissent. –Conservative political scientist John Mearsheimer
On the day I happen to be writing this, the paper and its online editorial page, OpinionJournal.com, offered the following: An editorial blaming the rioting by Muslim youth in France on the country’s “high taxes…powerful public-sector unions…GM-like benefits in pensions, early retirement, working hours and vacations, sick- and maternity leave,” and my favorites, “job security” and “the debilitating effects of unemployment insurance.”
The editorial warned “above all, those who want America to emulate the French social model by mandating health and other benefits.” Health benefits = mayhem in the streets! A piece by deputy editor Daniel Henninger blaming the rioting on the resistance of “French elites…to such modernizing forces as the Doha [free] trade round, agro-bioengineering and fast food”–i.e., their insufficient love of globalized, capitalist “creative destruction.”
“[F]or nearly 400 years,” wrote Henninger, America has been “high on change. Lucky us. In Europe, every village and town has roots that run 1,000 or more years deep.” Horrors! And all those French nuclear warheads just going to waste…. The text of Karl Rove (#3)’s speech to the Federalist Society (#25) the night before, on the theme of “judicial imperialism.” (Lead example: the Supreme Court banning the death penalty for persons under 18.) An editorial lambasting successful ballot initiatives in that week’s elections–measures that, for example, discouraged military recruiting in public schools and colleges and enacted strict gun-control laws in San Francisco. The next day brought an OpinionJournal editorial arguing that “A ban on aggressive interrogation would amount to unilateral disarmament in the war on terror.” It began by suggesting that critics of the use of “torture” (Journal’s quote marks) in US military prisons are encouraging Osama bin Laden with “signs of flagging US will to fight the war on terror.” It went on to attack Republican Senator and former POW John McCain’s amendment (which the Senate passed 90-9) banning “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of prisoners (which the editorial called “stressful interrogation techniques”) and to defend the Bush Administration’s denial of prisoner-of-war status and Geneva protections to terror suspects.
#31: The Boring, Abwhorent David Horowitz
Two quotations may serve to describe the political maturation of this writer, activist and commentator.
— From a 1969 essay: “Liberation is [not] merely a national concern. The dimension of the struggle, as Lenin and the Bolsheviks so clearly saw, is international: its road is the socialist revolution.”
January 2001: “What about the debt blacks owe to America–to white America–for liberating them from slavery?” At the same time, Horowitz managed to claim that blacks benefited from slavery and to accuse a black historian of racism for questioning his claims. Horowitz edits the online magazine FrontPage and has authored such books as Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes; Liberal Racism; The Feminist Assault on the Military; Noam Chomsky’s Jihad Against America; How the Left Undermined America’s Security; Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left.
With millions in funding from the Bradley, Olin, Scaife (#21) and other right-wing billionaires’ foundations, Horowitz pursues a multitude of exciting projects. A top target is the campaign for reparations for slavery, a campaign Horowitz calls “racist.” Horowitz’s legal arm, the Individual Rights Foundation (IRF), represents professionals who see themselves as victims of affirmative action policies.
Since 9/11, Horowitz has been specially busy smearing liberals as traitors. The antiwar marchers in Washington, DC, in October 2002 were “100,000 Communists” “dedicated to America’s destruction,” “a movement of, by and for America’s enemies within,” whose agenda is to “weaken America’s defenses” and “force America’s defeat in the war with terror.” (On the weakening of the military and the pre-9/11 neglect of terrorism, see, for example, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice.) As Kurt Nimmo wrote in CounterPunch, “Because David Horowitz wanted to destroy his country when he was a Marxist some thirty odd years ago does not mean all progressives desire to do the same now.”
#26: Michael Ledeen: Improving on Mussolini
Ledeen has been called the driving philosophical force behind the neoconservative movement and (by me) “the most influential and unabashed warmonger of our time.” A resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (#7), contributing editor at National Review and former Pentagon, State Department and White House consultant under Reagan (when his Israeli intelligence contacts were used to help broker the illegal Iran-contra affair), Ledeen is often quoted by top Bush officials, including Cheney, Rumsfeld and former Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. But they don’t quote quotes like these–at least not in public: In March 2003, Ledeen, a leading and longtime proponent of the invasion of Iraq–and of Iran, Syria and no doubt other countries yet to be named–told a forum that “the level of casualties [in Iraq] is secondary” because “we are a warlike people…we love war.”
He has written that “Change–above all violent change–is the essence of human history”; “the only way to achieve peace is through total war”; and “The purpose of total war is to permanently force your will onto another people.” He was quoted approvingly by National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg as saying, “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”
In April 2003–one month into the Iraq war–Ledeen gave an address titled “Time to Focus on Iran,” and declared, “the time for diplomacy is at an end.” Ledeen’s attacks on Iran, even when Iran was assisting the US, “helped keep the Bush administration from seeking any rapprochement with Tehran,” wrote William Beeman of the Pacific News Service in 2003. “Were it in Ledeen’s hands, we would invade Iran today.”
Most Americans have never heard of Michael Ledeen, Beeman noted, but if the US “ends up in an extended shooting war throughout the Middle East, it will be largely due to his inspiration.”