The more things don’t change
Recycling old political talent is the special province of Wall Street defenders and apologists, and we’ve been seeing a lot of it since November 2008. In fact, most of the smarmiest and most uncouth attacks on the president have come from recycled consultants, money men and white-collar goon squads whom it would be flattery to call hacks. They get used by the GOP mainly for two reasons: one, the GOP—as Willie Sutton said about banks—is where the money is, and they can get well paid for their efforts; and two, the GOP needs all the hired help it can get because it has no inspiration to offer. As I said years ago, basically the contest is people on one side, money on the other.
So the same worn ideas get fed into the public discourse, or rather, the same slogans and euphemisms get trotted out, to obfuscate the same attacks on the public weal. Examples are easy to find—‘debt’ and ‘budget’ and thrift-associated language, used to justify the gigantic unthrift of throwing money at the top; vilifying ‘big government’ and ‘regulation’, to prevent essential reforms in everything from mines to giant banks acting as stockbrokers without accountants.
To deliver the smoke bombs, smoke-and-mirrors or smokescreens—pick your metaphor—the same conveyances get used over and over. Massive paid advertising on television, financed by PACS and super PACS, is the most overt example and a given. Airing right now in the DC area, there’s one about President Obama’s ‘broken promises’—the national debt being the main example. Predictably, the (pro-Romney) ad does not mention that the Republicans’ trillion-dollar wars and trillion-dollar tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations produced the debt, or that the last outgoing Democratic administration left a budget surplus, or that Republicans in Congress have opposed every federal cost-saving measure in health care. Et cetera.
This is not to say that the lexicon is completely unvarying. In the wake of the most recent Wall Street disasters—JP Morgan Chase and Facebook—we are actually hearing a little discussion, in public, about ‘too big to fail’ and related problems including lack of scrutiny, in the business press and on cable business programs. There are even corporate-media commentators saying mildly critical things about the hand that feeds them. So what do they (currently) go after? Excessive executive compensation? Bonuses? Lack of capital reserves? Lack of tangible assets? Excessive ‘leverage’, aka debt? Millions spent on lobbying and on cost-ineffective legal defenses in court? Bad investments? A blindly greedy merger-and-acquisition focus resulting in offshoring, outsourcing and layoffs that cut into their own customer base? A determined refusal to boost sales by improving product and service?
No, lately they’re going after—wait for it—companies that pay dividends. ‘Dividends’ is the new dirty word on Wall Street. The temerity of those companies that would actually reward their investors, you know, pay something back to the millions of people who enable the companies to stay alive . . . The argument seems to be that a company that pays out stock dividends—watch out for the word ‘austerity’ in this context*–is engaging in crowd-pleasing mountebankery, sort of like reminding the public of public health and public safety issues in a political context.
Sigh. (Note: Income from dividends, as from capital gains, is still income and IMO should be taxed as such.)
Back to the same-old.
Not only do we get the same words and slogans, the same tactics, and the same delivery system, we also get many of the same personnel. Naturally former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in politics for most of his life, and GOP lifetime honchos in Congress—Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. John Boehner–are in the old sleaze game up to their hips. Naturally some of our least distinguished representatives preying upon the southeastern states—Rep. Joe “You lie!” Wilson—are carrying on as ever, sustained by money, ignorance and prejudice. Naturally some of our longest-serving GOP congressmen continue to represent rural districts and continue to turn an ever blind eye to the meth labs fueling their local economy. Take a close look at the Conroe, Texas, region for a good example of GOP-dominated law and order at work. Or not.
Naturally some of the same old hands also continue to operate less conspicuously behind the scenes. George H. W. Bush’s national co-chairman Peter Terpeluk, Jr., is one of the names behind the GOP’s infamous 2010 ‘Joker’ campaign strategy, reported by Politico. Despite the hoopla over the Tea Party, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), writing rightwing state laws around the country, continues to work through local non-movers and non-shakers ensconced in state GOP hierarchies. NationofChange reports that the anti-Newt Gingrich ads produced by a pro-Romney super-PAC came via some of the consultants who bestowed on us the Willie Horton and ‘swift boat’ ads of 1988 and 2004. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that retreads from the GWBush administration, the GHWBush administration, ghosts of Congress past and longtime GOP consultancies dominate the political discourse as reported in media, just as they serve as gatekeepers to the political process, often for both major parties. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, after being ousted from his senate seat by Pennsylvania voters, kept his hand in in Washington, D.C., by working as a lobbyist until entering the 2012 presidential election contest—a point only tepidly acknowledged during the season of Santorum’s peak attention.
All this goes far to explain why the general public often turns away from the political process—a turning away that benefits exactly the people and companies who cause it—and why the national political press has lost so much credibility, especially among younger voters.
The damage is exacerbated when national media attention goes to some of the most transparently spent, used-up, reused and hauled-out-of-storage media personalities in politics, who emerge from other operations to present or to re-present themselves as candidates for high office. Viz Donald Trump. Rudy Giuliani. Rick Perry. Newt Gingrich?!? Do the fans-of-prominence writing for major newspapers and the television networks honestly believe, in their hearts of hearts, that anyone out there—aside from flaming overt racial bigots–didn’t look at the Gingrich candidacy and say, inwardly if not to the family-room walls aloud, Really?!?
The larger corporate media outlets always lean corporate-ward. It’s in their DNA. Thus we have a spatelet of reports the past few days emphasizing Romney’s money draw. Not that Romney doesn’t pull in big bucks from his fellow Wall Streeters, of course; that’s a given. But the Center for Public Integrity reports that the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee nearly doubled the haul of Romney and the GOP for April.
If Romney and the GOP had done the same (instead of the reverse), the headlines in the WashPost among other capital media outlets would have been bigger (instead of nonexistent).
Nor is the heavy reliance on used-up retreads in the GOP getting the political analysis in news media that it deserves. Perhaps nowhere is this breathtaking blandness about the unthinkable more apparent than in regard to the Commonwealth of Virginia, where the GOP frontrunner for senator now is George Allen.
Yes, Mr. Macaca himself is currently the foremost candidate for the Republican Party nomination for U.S. Senate in the Birthplace of Presidents.
This is the kind of thing that makes the work of satirists so difficult.
Remember the big news about Gov. Allen during his last senate campaign—which was in 2006? It was his mother’s descent from a Jewish family in Tunisia. Unknown to Allen himself in his growing-up years, he had a Daniel Deronda story in his background; his mother was part of the Lumbroso family. –And widespread news reports were followed by inevitable commentary along the lines of look-what-George-Allen-found-out. My own take was a little different: Forget what George Allen found out. Look what the Lumbrosos found out.
The Lumbroso family in Europe, called the ‘Italian Rothschilds’, seems to be a family not just of wealth but of some distinction. Along with companies headed, family members have contributed significantly to the arts as well as to industry; it’s all a rather scintillating heritage of culture as well as presumably of status. So they find Our American Cousin and whom do they get? –George Allen. Where they could in another distribution of DNA have scored a Madeleine Albright or a John Kerrey or at least a step-grandparent of Hillary Clinton, instead the Lumbrosos get this shit-kicker, and not a real shit-kicker either, but the synthetic self-identified kind born in Whittier, Calif., grew up in Los Angeles and Chicago, son of a famous football coach, in the Senate via the University of Virginia on top of his father’s reputation; sort of the plastic kind of shit-kicker you hang from your rear-view mirror driving away from Lubbock. What my late father used to call a drugstore cowboy. You can always tell a drugstore cowboy at a glance; he’s the one who wears cowboy boots with his business suits because he has never been informed that boots are for riding, not walking. That’s why cowboy boots have those high heels canted back on high arches, to keep the feet in the stirrups. Traditionally they used to be made for sinewy little guys with aristocratic small feet.
If Allen turns up wearing a yarmulke prior to Virginia’s GOP senate primary on June 12—unlikely—or the general election Nov. 6, it will be no more spurious than, or less spurious than, his boots.
Speaking of remakes–
I have not seen the remake of All the King’s Men, with Sean Penn in the role earlier played by Broderick Crawford, so am not reading through any review of it or reading down to the bottom of comment about it. My question is whether the movie retains the ending in the Robert Penn Warren novel or goes with the revisionist moralized ending. I hope that Hollywood has had the decency to go back to the original ending rather than to the bowdlerized one, but I don’t want to know before seeing the film.
That said, All the King’s Men is still not a very strong book. Robert Penn Warren found himself with the ungracious task of trying to contain Huey Long, who had been assassinated eleven years before but who was bigger than Willie Stark, and bigger than Warren. The prose is padded with misogynistic, repetitive descriptions of female beauty aging, a kind of rhapsodizing adored by insecure Prufrockian guys who in another generation used to subscribe to National Geographic so they could look at naked native ladies without censure.
Southern politicians are a rare example of a political topic handled as badly by popular culture, including fiction, as by the big news outlets.
*Or any context.
Btw The saying that “The more things change, the more they stay the same” is a tiresome saying. Planet on one side, cynical superficialities on the other. The problem is not things changing or staying the same per se; the problem is failing to distinguish between better and worse.