Days after signing a “religious freedom” bill that allows businesses to be indemnified from lawsuits filed by LGBT people for discrimination, Indiana governor Mike Pence tried to backtrack for fear that his state would be vilified and face economic boycotts by the rest of the country. What compromise will he come up with to assuage his right-wing FoxNews-watching base, while appearing not to be that homophobic?
Women of a certain age are thrilled by the prospect of a possible President Hillary.
Over-50 females are so overjoyed that one of their own might finally achieve the nation’s top political post — better two centuries late than never — that they’re willing to overlook the former First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State’s not-so-minor defects.
Like her very long resume, minus significant achievements. Like the blood of a million Iraqis dripping off her warmongering claws. (She voted in ’03 for a war she ought to have known would soon become unpopular. What was she worried about? That New Yorkers, liberal as they come, wouldn’t reelect her in ’06?) Like the ugly optics of America’s first woman president having to be a former First Lady because we can’t find a woman who made something of herself on her own merits. Like the nasty truth that, aside from her chromosomes and body parts, she’s not one of them at all — just another slimy influence peddler. Not to mention, she doesn’t stand for anything, or have a vision that differs from the status quo.
For the rest of us, a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign is an incredibly depressing thought.
Starting with her much-vaunted Inevitability. Doesn’t anyone remember that we went through this in 2008? Democrats didn’t want her then; we don’t want her now. Can’t we do better than this tired old warhorse?
When I see Hillary’s chipmunk-cheeked countenance, I see old. Part of this is primal physicality, the sexist social conditioning that says guys age more gracefully than women. (How much you wanna bet that’d be the opposite under matriarchy?) But Hillary is actually old: she’ll be 69 on Election Day 2016. Her supporters point out that that’s the same age as Reagan when he took office. Considering the fact that the Gipper went senile in office, they might want to hush up.
More than calendar years, Hillary is spiritually old. She’s a throwback to another time, one that’s never coming back.
Like Reagan, Hillary Clinton is a cultural hiccup. Disconnected. Passé.
Post-Obama, who for his many shortcomings managed for a time to project a youthful vigor, an elderly President Hillary would mark a grim, dutiful restoration, a political return to the 1970s and 1980s, when she toiled as a talented if sketchy corporate lawyer. She harkens to the presidency of her husband, a conservative who banished liberals from the Democratic Party, severing the last connection between Washington’s political classes and the people they were supposedly sent to serve, never to be seen again after post-9/11 Bush went insane right-wing and Obama codified and expanded it all.
I don’t mind that she stayed married to Bill after he cheated on her. What’s unforgivable is that she stayed married to him after he destroyed American politics.
I hate Hillary — if you think about the million Iraqis she voted to kill, how can you not? — yet I don’t feel contempt for her.
What I feel is bored.
Bored, tired and sad. We have so many pressing systemic problems (economic decline, endless war, national purposelessness); is it really possible we’re going to have to endure another four-to-eight years of a presidency that doesn’t even try to address what ails us?
Because, let’s face it, there is no universe in which a President Hillary kicks ass. There is no chance, not even a remote one, that she is interested in decisive action on climate change (her “plan”: hope for young people to form a “movement“), bold moves to reduce unemployment or raise wages, putting an end to NSA spying on Americans (she’s in favor of it), or slamming the breaks on Washington’s kneejerk reaction to anything that happens overseas: blow it up (she’s really in favor of war).
You only get one thing by electing a President Hillary: a first woman president.
An old, tired, unimaginative, uninspiring, boring, useless, first woman president.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Hillary Clinton says she and her husband Bill were “flat broke” when they left the White House in 2001. But not everyone who is “flat broke” has a friend willing to lend them $1.2 million (Terry MacAuliffe) to buy a house. Then she claimed Americans don’t resent the $100,000,000 she and Bill earned through “the dint of hard work.” What hard work? Is Hill the new Mitt?
SYNDICATED COLUMN: At Some Point, Progressives Need to Grow a Pair and Stop Having Anything To Do With the Democratic Party
At a certain point, if you have any relationship with dignity, you’re supposed to get sick of being used and abused. Speaking of which: liberal Democrats.
Democratic politicians act like right-wingers. Liberals vote for them anyway.
The Democratic Party espouses right-wing policies. Self-described progressives give them cash.
Comedian Bill Maher gave them a million cash dollars — yet Democrats don’t agree with him on anything. Why? Because he hates Republicans even more.
Why didn’t Maher save his money? Or better yet, fund a group or a writer or an artist who promotes ideas he actually agrees with? Because he, like tens of millions of other liberals, are stuck in the two-party trap.
The relationship between liberals and Democrats is dysfunctional and enabling, abused pathetics sucking up to cruel abusers. Progressives like Maher are like a kid with two rotten parents. The dad drinks and hits him; the mom drinks less and hits him less. The best call is to run away from home — instead, most children in that situation will draw closer to their mothers.
Voting-age progressives, on the other hand, are adults. When will they kick the Democratic Party to the curb, as Ricki Lake used to say?
Probably not in time for 2016. But they ought to.
You don’t have to be clairvoyant to see that the next presidential election promises nothing for liberals but more of the same: dismay, disappointment and disgust — in no small part with themselves.
Hillary Clinton, a conservative warmonger ideologically indistinguishable from Dwight Eisenhower, will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee. But she isn’t really a Democrat. Traditionally, Democrats were pro-worker; she and her husband pushed through NAFTA, GATT, the WTO and a slew of free-trade scams that have destroyed American jobs and depressed salaries. Democrats cared about the poor; Hillary has never so much as suggested a substantial anti-poverty initiative. Democrats aren’t supposed to invade sovereign countries for the hell of it; Clinton repeatedly pushed WMD lies, voted to invade Iraq and still hasn’t apologized for the two million Iraqis whose deaths for which she shares responsity. Democrats want single-payer healthcare; instead, she created the template for Obamacare, which keeps rates high to protect insurance company profits.
Yet in today’s “Democratic” Party, Hillary is “inevitable.”
Yes, the highly resuméed, slightly accomplished ex-senator could face a challenge from the left. But not a real one. Even if party bosses allow an actual primary process (they did not in 2012), any primary challenge will be symbolic and impotent (hello Bernie Sanders), poorly funded and sad, raising the faded, tattered flag of liberalism in a quixotic bid to coat Hill’s coronation with a veneer of small-d democratic legitimacy.
If you’re a leftie, the Democratic establishment doesn’t care about your opinion. They certainly don’t want your input. What they want is your vote — in exchange for exactly nothing in return. They’re political parasites, draining the enthusiasm and idealism of progressives, simultaneously neutering and exploiting mainline libs.
Like a tick, mainline “centrist” (i.e. conservative) Democrats will suck you dry. First they misdirect your hope for real change. Then they extract your vote. By the time you realize you’ve been chomped, the buggers drop off, bloated on stolen power and wealth.
You’re left with drained political energy.
During the initial months following the election, you get angrier. You watch con artists like Obama take office, appoint right-wingers to the cabinet and ignore America’s victims — the poor at home, the bombed overseas. Off goes the president — your president, since you voted for him! — golfing and shooting hoops and vacaying on the Vineyard while millions lose their homes to illegal foreclosures, poverty soars, the military gins up new wars and expands old ones, Gitmo stays open and killer drone planes fill the skies. Eventually, of course, you get over it. You recover.
Then, two to four years later, the parasitical Dems are back to suck out whatever idealism you’ve managed to regenerate.
Progressive Democratic voters are understandably unenthusiastic about Hillary Clinton. After enduring her conservative Southern Democratic husband (major accomplishments: bombing Bosnia, ignoring Rwanda, NAFTA, trashing welfare) and Obama (major accomplishments: drones, Libya, Syria, Iraq again), they know what’s coming: more of the same. Because they’re not willing to ditch the Democratic Party, however, they’re trapped in a state of cognitive dissonance, unable to act in order to avoid certain disaster.
Thus progressives are resorting to ridiculously transparent non-tactics. For example: “deploy[ing] the spectral presence of [Elizabeth] Warren to extract as many [liberal] concessions as possible.”
“It’s not a crazy strategy,” libbies are told. “The mere thought of Warren seems to rattle the Clintons, who are haunted by the debacle of 2008.” Actually, it is crazy. Because the Clintons watch the news — and Warren ain’t running.
Noam Scheiber recently wrote a New Republic piece titled “How Hillary Won Over the Skeptical Left,” in which he argues…well, read the title. (Note: by “left,” Scheiber doesn’t mean left. He means centrist Obama supporters, who are slightly to the left of Hill.)
“It’s not that liberals don’t perceive some ideological distance between themselves and Hillary Clinton, at least as they become more informed,” writes Scheiber. Hillary became First Lady in 1993. What is there left to learn? “Nor is it that they recognize this gap and simply don’t care about it. It’s that, after the somewhat disillusioning experience of the Obama years, many actually consider this gap an advantage for Clinton.” In other words: we’re out to beat Republicans, not help poor people.
I’m quoting the following section from Scheiber’s piece at length because it supports my contention that, at this early stage, it is perfectly obvious that Hillary Clinton will screw over progressives. Not only is it evident that she will break their hearts, it is clear how she will go about it.
So let’s say Democrats’ faith in Clinton is rewarded and she wins the presidency. Here is how the 2016 transition is likely to play out. Having talked about inequality during the primaries, and maybe even the general election, she will feel pressure to appoint economists who know something about the issue. She will pluck a few advisers from the reserve army of liberals at think tanks like the Center for American Progress (home to many former Clinton White House aides over the years), the Economic Policy Institute, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
But as the transition goes on, liberals will notice a disconcerting shift. They will watch most of the senior posts in her Treasury Department go to alumni of Wall Street. They will see her fill out the top echelons of financial regulators—the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency—with banking-industry lawyers. They will even notice bankers turning up in agencies with little role in finance, like the State Department and the U.S. Trade Representative. Though any one appointment may be justified—the Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance should probably have a finance background, for example—the larger mass of Wall Street transplants will create a stubborn level of groupthink. Their skepticism toward policies like a financial transactions tax, aggressive prosecution of financial-market crime, and breaking up the megabanks will ensure they never happen.
Don’t come back in 2017 and say you were surprised.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
The Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Phil Robertson Racism Trials
Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Phil Robertson have more in common than dumb opinions about blacks. They’re examples of working classism at work.
The billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, the grazing fee refusenik Nevada rancher and the hillbilly patriarch in the TV reality show “Duck Dynasty” are bit players in a familiar drama.
After being embraced by the establishment — right-wing Republican politicians and media figures in the case of the last two, the NAACP for the former — their not-so-previously-secret racism exposes itself through their big mouths. After which said establishment proclaims shock and surprise, runs away screaming, and gets rid of their once-favorite racists faster than a chick-turned-chicken after Easter.
The racism trifecta is very 2014, but there’s nothing new about this overall dynamic.
The Reverend Jeremiah Wright was so close to the Obamas that he officiated their wedding. However, when Wright’s sermons criticizing American foreign policy came to light during the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama quit his church and publicly insulted him.
Unlike Sterling, Bundy and Robertson, Wright’s controversial comments came from the Left of the corporate “mainstream.” As a progressive, Wright identifies with African-Americans, the poor and working class.
Nevertheless, it was the same basic theme in action: an establishment figure defining himself as “mainstream” by ostracizing an erstwhile ally, one who is identified with or as a member of the working class.
Sterling and Robertson are both very wealthy; by most measures, Bundy is rich. Culturally, however, Bundy the rancher and Robertson the redneck automatically go into the outsider box along with their hick accents. Ditto for Sterling, née Tokowitz, a self-made man who hustled in the trenches as a crass L.A. divorce lawyer—and offended polite society by slutting around with hookers and age-inappropriate courtesans.
Only in America can you be worth a billion bucks yet still be classified as white trash.
Even if your accents are northeastern and your diplomas issued by the Ivies, political identification with the plight of the underclass makes you a target for the first-we’re-friends-next-not-so-much rug-pull.
Also in 2008 and also in reaction to attacks from the right, Obama shunned former leftie activist Bill Ayers — formerly a member of the revolutionary Weather Underground in the late 1960s — and disavowed their previous interactions in local Chicago politics. Obama’s campaign strategists believed it was important for a candidate who sought to become the country’s first black president to reassure the white power elite that he was one of them, or at least not enamored of the underclass whose wrath they reasonably feared, and so were quick to jump at the chance to exploit Ayers and Wright to achieve double “Sister Souljah moments.” (More on Souljah below.)
Obama’s Republican rival that year, John McCain, similarly embraced “Joe the Plumber” as an embodiment of salt-of-the-earth America, taking the Ohioan on the campaign trail with him. Inevitably, their public bromance soured, and McCain distanced himself after his working-class buddy turned out to be a bit of a liar concerning his tax status, a gun nut and, well, just too lumpen to establishment tastes. (Joe’s 2012 assertion that Germany’s Jews were doomed by gun control under the Third Reich is a classic example of widely-believed historical manure.)
It isn’t necessary for the establishment big-shot to personally know his working-class-identified victim in order to betray her. All that’s needed is to point out someone with dangerously antiestablishment ideas and smear her for personal gain.
Sister Souljah, the hip-hop artist and author after whom the term “Sister Souljah moment” was coined, got lambasted by Governor Bill Clinton during the 1992 primaries for musing: “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?” Clinton, who played golf at a no-blacks-allowed country club, played the punk card, opting to beat up someone who couldn’t hit back: “If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black,’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech.” The media didn’t give Souljah a platform to reply.
Souljah’s career foundered for years as a result, but Clinton—personally suspect by major donors and the political class because he’d grown up poor, and continued to exhibit picayune tastes in such signifiers as fast food and big-haired Arkansan women—won the White House, where he used his power to push through NAFTA, the WTO and other free trade agreements that decimated workers.
In 2000, GOP primary contender John McCain shot for the ultimate Sister Souljah moment by saying: “Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.”
Farrakhan and Sharpton were identified with black militancy; Robertson and Falwell were leaders of the Christian evangelist movement, which was predominantly poor and working class. In U.S. corporate politics, defending the downtrodden—whether progressive or reactionary—is defined as “extreme” and bizarre.
Even family isn’t exempt from working classism. As President, Jimmy Carter—former governor, agribusiness entrepreneur and Naval Academy graduate—distanced himself from his brother Billy, targeted by the press as a hard-drinking embarrassment.
Why do the 31% of Americans who self-identify as working class put up with working classism?
(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Like every other political cartoonist, I love shooting fish in a barrel. So there was no way no how I was going to pass up L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s surreptitiously recorded racist rant.
However, this is one of those stories where you easily guess what every other cartoonist’s take is going to be. In this case: racism is bad. Not that I don’t think racism is bad. I do. It’s simply that, after American cartoon consumers have read a hundred cartoons saying that racism is bad and that Donald Sterling, as a racist, is bad, I don’t see what would be added to the national conversation on race by a 101st, Ted Rall cartoon saying that racism is bad.
I may be self-deluded (but then how would I know?) in my belief that one of the things that sets me apart from the herd is my interest in facets of big stories that get overlooked by other commentators.
Like: as creepy as Sterling obviously is, this violation of his privacy rights is a nasty piece of business. As I wrote for the tech news website A New Domain:
“As we learned from The People vs. Larry Flynt, society must defend its worst scumbags from having his rights violated, or everyone else risks losing theirs too. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a world where every stupid thing I blather over the phone is potential fodder for public comment, Twitter wars and cause for dismissal from work. Until we descend into the Stasi-like “Lives of Others” dystopia into which the NSA seems determined to transform the Land of the Formerly Free, everyone — including racist douchebags like Donald Sterling — ought to enjoy a reasonable presumption of privacy on the telephone.”
Privacy isn’t the only under-discussed aspect of a story that, like the O.J. trial and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, has more angles than a porcupine.
Step aside, Bill (“I did not have sex with that woman”) Clinton. There’s a new non-denial denialist in town: the anonymous PR flack in at Clippers HQ who penned this beaut:
“Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them.”
Man. I love this.
Where to start? The hilarity of apologizing for saying things you haven’t actually admitted saying? (As of press time, Sterling still wasn’t fessing up. But NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Sterling admitted it was his voice asking his ex-mistress V. Stiviano not to be photographed with black people or bring them to Clippers games.)
Yes, we’ve all said we wish we hadn’t. But most of haven’t, like Mel Gibson pissed off and drunk and all anti-Semitic, or Donald Sterling going on and on and on for 15 whole minutes, revealed, in great detail, our obviously deeply-felt bigotry. Which is because most of us don’t have those feelings. Even when we’re drunk. Or baited by Instagram and/or a wildly age-inappropriate girlfriend.
So how to explain Sterling’s assertion that “what is reflected on that recording” is inconsistent with and doesn’t reflect his “views, beliefs or feelings”? Besides, I mean, that he and his PR flack think we’re total morons?
The answer is clear: Sterling must be a devotee of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Derrida, a pioneering postmodernist best known for his work as a “poststructuralist,” argued that meanings of words and phrases were inherently arbitrary: “Language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique, deconstructive criticism aims to show that any text inevitably undermines its own claims to have a determinate meaning, and licenses the reader to produce his own meanings out of it by an activity of semantic ‘freeplay’…There is, with respect to the very structure of language, no proper context to provide proof of a final meaning.”
Many poststructuralists, active in the 1980s and 1990s, carried Derrida’s theories to their logical conclusion that words were meaningless, everything is unknowable and that life is therefore not only absurd in the Sartrian sense, but devoid of substance.
Derrida, however, died cruelly misunderstood by his own disciples. Fortunately for Donald Sterling, he is about to have a lot of newly freed-up time on his hands. He’s already shed his expensive ex-girlfriend. He’s not allowed to attend any more basketball games — and what could be more meaningless than watching men throwing and bouncing a ball back and forth?
I recommend that Sterling continue his studies with Benoit Peeters’ riveting “Derrida: A Biography.” At a mere 700 pages, he’ll be sad it’s over way too soon. But that’s why God — whatever He means or is or whatever — created — whatever that means “From the New Criticism to Deconstruction: The Reception of Structuralism and Post-Structuralism.”
On the other hand, this essay may just be a sandwich menu.
Why We Care About Mr. Mushroom Head
Media coverage and thus most over-the-water cooler and cocktail party chit-chat about Anthony Weiner obsessively focuses on what the scandal — or circus, or freak show, whatever it is — says about him. More interesting, yet utterly ignored, is what it says about us.
The historian Richard Hofstadter began his classic book “The American Political Tradition” by quoting the 19th century journalist-economist Horace White. The Constitution of the United States (and by extension the nation’s Ur political philosophy, White wrote, “is based upon the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin. It assumes that the natural state of mankind is a state of war, and that the carnal mind is at enmity with God.”
Americans assume that people are basically bad. That, left to exercise their free will, people will usually succumb to their basest impulses. As the Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, an ardent Calvinist, wrote: “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire.”
If people are scum, it follows that they must be controlled. Americans accept Lord Acton’s aphorism that power corrupts; thus we admire the wisdom of the founding fathers for crafting a system of government based on checks and balances.
A corollary of the assumption that people are inherently bad is that the ability to resist temptation is rare, and thus admirable. George Washington, we are told, stands as a paragon of virtue for retiring, Cincinnatus-like, resisting the siren call of his admirers to stay on as a sort of American king. The perfect American leader is like Washington — self-effacing, self-denying.
When Anthony Weiner, then a relatively obscure, verbally combative New York Congressman, was, um, exposed sending photographs of his genitals via Twitter in 2011, what happened next initially followed a familiar political redemption narrative. He resigned, apologized, and vanished for a while. A little while. Then he gave a pair of carefully crafted interviews that put his attractive wife, and by extension their marriage, front and center.
He apologized again. No more sexting, he promised.
Next he announced his candidacy for the mayoralty of America’s largest city. Though not necessarily a step down in his career, neither was it perceived as an attempt to leap forward.
So far so good. Weiner climbed quickly in the polls, and no wonder: though few people could identify with his proclivity for self-photography, it didn’t seem as serious as actual cheating — boning a young intern in the workplace, for example. New Yorkers are fond of feisty politicians, even more so nowadays when people feel betrayed by a system run by and for the 1%.
As a liberal Democrat, Weiner didn’t face accusations of hypocrisy (c.f., former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, a “family values” right-wing Republican who bashed gays on the Senate floor while cruising for them in the St. Paul airport men’s room). Anyway, New York is the most liberal city in the country, hardly a bastion of Bible Belt self-righteousness. It didn’t hurt that his principal rival, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, was a singularly unattractive candidate, physically as well as politically. Few New Yorkers have forgotten Quinn’s perfidy in using her City Council to overturn term limits — which had been passed by a wide margin on the ballot — so that her ally, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, could run for a third term.
But then a low-rent website, The Dirty (!) revealed that Weiner had continued his old shenanigans. Not only was he sending out more photographs of his junk to random women online, he was carrying on cheesy virtual relationships with them. As Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC, this was something new: lying in the apology. And things got worse from there. It wasn’t just one woman, maybe it was three or six or whatever, who could really count? These days, the man who would be mayor can’t even say that he has stopped.
With the media, Democratic Party establishment, and even his wife’s mentors, Bill and Hillary Clinton, aligned against him, Anthony Weiner is plunging in the polls. It’s hard to imagine how he could recover by next month’s primary.
When you talk to voters in New York, they’re more amused by than disgusted at what Weiner did. Taking photographs of your penis, after all, is silly. Getting sexually aroused, or expecting women to get sexually aroused, by sexting seems kind of juvenile. It’s a boring kink, like a foot fetish. It isn’t gross, but it’s incomprehensibly goofy. Most people react to this sort of thing with a shrug. Whatever, if it makes you happy. And if his wife’s okay with it, why should we care?
What people really hold against Anthony Weiner is his lack of control. Clearly this man has a compulsion. All he had to do to become mayor of New York City was to stop sexting for 18 months. Clearly he couldn’t help himself.
It’s not the sin. It’s not the sexual proclivities, the unusual desires. It’s his lack of stoicism. His inability to suppress his compulsion.
Like all cultural assumptions, we take this one — our admiration for those who know how to play the game and our contempt for those who can’t/don’t — for granted. But it isn’t universal. Former Italian prime minister and media baron Silvio Burlosconi may well be heading to jail for tax evasion, but Italian voters didn’t give a damn about his prodigious sexual appetites, which manifested themselves at his notorious “bunga bunga” orgies, which featured under-aged prostitutes.
It’s easy to see how the inability to resist one’s primal sexual urges might make one a poor candidate for a position that required top-security clearance, for example. But Mayor of New York? I don’t really know the answer.
If the trash gets picked up on time and the subways run faster and the streets get cleaned and the schools improve, would it matter if the city’s chief executive spends his spare time setting up just the perfect shot for his private parts? If poverty is reduced and development is managed intelligently and the city’s budget gets balanced, would there be much harm in emailing dirty photos of himself to Midwestern floozies?
Like I said, I don’t know the answer. But we should be thinking about these questions — about what our societal priorities ought to be — more than about what is going on in Anthony Weiner’s brain.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
No-Talent Hacks Suck Up Millions, Degrade Culture
I hate celebrities.
Not in the particular. Many rich and famous people got that way by working hard, being talented and getting lucky.
Let me take that back. I do hate them in the particular.
Since two out of three of the required ingredients for success in our society, talent and luck, are beyond our control, it follows that no one deserves wealth or fame. But that’s not how we treat celebrities.
We worship them.
They’re in a class above, like gods. We fawn over them and gossip about them.
We’re even sad — really, truly grief-struck — when they die!
Like a dysfunctional relationship, all the love flows unidirectionally, from us to them. Insulated in first class, consulting with their private bankers and safe behind the guardbooths of their gated communities, they don’t care about us; they don’t know about us. They don’t give a crap and are, therefore, the sane ones.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with noticing achievements — when they result from moxie and grit. A person who, through effort and will (not luck or talent or some other accident of birth), transcends the norm to do something amazing, is worthy of celebration. The average passerby who runs into a burning building to save someone is a hero; a firefighter who draws a paycheck, received training and consciously chose the job is not.
Trouble arises when, as in America today, what a citizen has achieved by her own effort and courage is dwarfed by the tsunami of adulation she receives. Why do cable news anchorpeople end interviews with military generals by thanking them “for their service”? As with the firefighters, joining the army is a job. They chose it. There is nothing admirable about such service; to the contrary, they have enlisted as professional assassins in an institution that hasn’t engaged in a justifiable killing in three-quarters of a century. But even if you don’t feel that way (which means you do not live in Pakistan), these desk jockeys don’t fight. The biggest dangers they face are paper cuts and office politics. Thank them for their service? Screw that.
TV generals are celebrities. They are famous because The System has somehow elevated them above all others; we pay attention simply because they are famous.
At this writing, the gatekeepers of the media have decided that it is time for you to care deeply, not about something you should care about (homelessness, climate change, the class divide, mass species extinction, bands that are good but that you’ll never hear about), but the imminent birth of the Royal Baby of England to Prince Bill and Princess Kate.
“The royal couple can’t do anything else but wait,” we are told. Also: “the world [is] waiting.” Royal baby hype, when you think about it — but who has time? — is a Dagwood sandwich of absurdity. We’re not British and we really really really didn’t/don’t want to be. Even in the U.K., only a few dozen psychotic “royal watcher” dorks are paying attention. And the main takeaway — that “the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s baby will one day be Head of the Armed Forces, Supreme Governor of the Church of England, head of state of 16 countries and possibly if the role is maintained in the future, Head of the Commonwealth which covers 54 nations across the world and two billion citizens” — is belied by existence of one Prince Charles, age 64, still no closer to the throne since Queen Liz refuses to kick off. Poor Chuck! “I’ll run out of time soon. I shall have snuffed it if I’m not careful,” he confided last year. Once he too was a Royal Baby.
The Royal Baby is the ultimate celebrity — before having drawn a breath, (s)he has been dubbed Someone You’re Supposed to Know and Care About, and thus guaranteed a life of ease.
One almost longs for a miscarriage.
Everywhere you look, celebrities cash in — like that Los Angeles billboard icon Angelyne, for being famous for being famous. I wish they would all die. I wish the idea of celebrity would die.
Like Lena Dunham, who created the HBO show “Girls.” If Hades, God of the Underworld is reading, I would happily trade her in for the late investigative journalist Michael Hastings. Lena drives her burning car into a wall, Michael comes back, it’s all good. (Oh, Lord, now I’m doing it — intimatizing celebs as if I knew them, calling them by their first names.)
So Random House, which routinely rejects brilliant manuscripts by authors who would have been thrilled to have landed $35,000, bought her upcoming collection of “personal essays about sex, mortality and food” for $3.5 million.
Dunham is 26. Maybe she can write, but there’s no way to tell that from her show, which has the distinction of being the only truly dreadful show HBO has ever aired — awful writing, lame acting, insipid plots. Why is Random paying her one hundred advances for one book? Why did HBO sign her? Why does The New York Times cover her show so relentlessly?
Well, as The Guardian notes: “Dunham’s parents are both well-known members of the art world and the girls of Girls are all children of famous parents. Zosia Mamet (Shoshanna) is the daughter of playwright David Mamet, Jemima Kirke (Jessa) is the daughter of former Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke and Allison Williams (Marnie) is the daughter of newscaster Brian Williams.”
As with the Royal Baby, heredity more than makes up for lack of talent.
Magazine covers: they run what sells, what sells is what’s famous, what’s famous is celebrity. The covers make the celebrities even more famous. Which makes everyone else more obscure.
Take, for example, the Clinton family.
To Guantánamo, ideally.
First there’s Bill, whose presidency stands as a memorial to squandered opportunity: screwed up healthcare, sucked up to Republicans and got himself impeached after pushing through two significant policy changes — NAFTA and “ending welfare as we know it” — that screwed millions of Americans. Oh, and didn’t leave behind a single new social program despite presiding over the Internet-fueled Biggest Boom of All Time.
Unlike, say, Jimmy Carter, Bill hasn’t done much as ex-president either. Yet he’s making bank as a speaker: $13.4 million in 2012 alone.
What does Bill have to say that’s worth so much money? Nothing. I’ve seen him speak several times. He’s pretty boring. “The work he does around the world has given him a very unique perspective,” claims Vancouver-based communications exec Norman Stowe. “Not just a former president’s perspective, but also the very unique perspective from his philanthropic work.”
Bullshit. People pay to see Bill because he’s famous. Now he’s famous for earning a lot of money for speaking. Which makes more people want to pay him.
Clinton collected $500,000 for yapping at ex-Israeli President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday party. Assuming he would have lived through them, Peres could have had 100 first-rate experts on a variety of important subjects speak to him for the same amount.
Now his wife Hillary is cashing in on the lecture circuit. Hillary Clinton’s main accomplishment is having married Bill. And putting up with him. And daughter Chelsea isn’t far behind. Three famous Clintons with nothing to say, no accomplishments to point to, $100 million richer just for being famous.
Does it matter? You bet. Celebrities suck the air out of the room, depriving more important issues, and the people who advocate for them, from media attention and thus an audience. They collect money, as with those book advances, that would do society a lot more good in more hands. By attracting so much attention, by being so insipid and famous at the same time, they warp our values and our politics.
What to do instead? Quentin Tarantino has it right. He plucks talented actors out of obscurity and elevates them. Christoph Waltz’s brilliant turns as a sadistic SS officer in “Inglorious Basterds” and as a dangerous dentist and bounty hunter in “Django Unchained” rate as some of the best performances in cinema of the last few years.
Thank God, no one is putting Waltz on any magazine covers. Yet.
(Ted Rall’s website is rall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
This week: Before he leaves office, Villaraigosa will host ‘The Ultimate L.A. Block Party,’ where guests will join the mayor for food, fun and a ‘final farewell.’ The cost to taxpayers is criticized by a labor group whose members have been laid off.
Some pundits say that the early presidential front-runners for the 2016 campaign are Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush. They act like it’s the most exciting thing in the world to go to these familiar familial retreads, but what could possibly be more boring than for a country of 311 million people to resort to the same old same old? We may have had a revolution to throw out the British and the monarchy, but the old tribalist instinct lives on.