Tag Archives: Monica Lewinsky

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Deconstructing Donald Sterling

Words Mean Nothing



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.

Bien sur.

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.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: 3 Big Reasons Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President

Zero Accomplishments. Bad for Women. And She’s Dumb.

“Hillary Clinton remains the most formidable presidential nomination frontrunner for a non-incumbent in the modern era,” Harry J. Enten writes in The Guardian. It’s not just Brits. “Since leaving Foggy Bottom,” Linda Killian waxed in The Atlantic, “she has positioned herself as an icon of women’s empowerment. That makes another White House run even more important and likely.”


Please stop the Hillary puffery. The last thing the country needs is a Hillary candidacy — much less another President Clinton.

PrezHill would be bad for America, awful for Democrats and downright deadly to progressives — especially feminists. (She may know that herself; it may explain her reluctance to prepare for a 2016 run.)

Here, in an easy clip-and-take-to-the-primaries nutshell, is the non-vast-rightie-conspiracy case against Hillary:

1. Zero record of accomplishment.

Since 2009 we’ve seen what happens when we elect a president with charisma but minus a resume: weakness, waffling, national decline. Obama’s signature/single accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, embodies design-by-committee conception and autopilot execution.

Hillary’s admirers have conflated her impressive list of jobs with actually having gotten things done. When you scratch the surface, however, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the woman has done little more than warm a series of comfy leather desk chairs. How has this career politician changed Americans’ lives? Not in the least.

No doubt, Hillary knows her way around the corridors of power: First Lady, Senator from New York, presidential candidate, Secretary of State. Nice resume, but what did she do with all her jobs? Not much.

First Lady Ladybird Johnson led a highway beautification campaign that literally changed America’s landscape for the better. Betty Ford courageously exposed herself as an alcoholic, serving as a role model by publicly seeking treatment. In terms of achievement, Hillary Clinton’s political life peaked in 1993 with “HillaryCare,” a botched attempt at healthcare reform that failed because no one, including liberals, agreed with the  core mission of what liberal Democratic Senator Robert Byrd called “a very complex, very expensive, very little understood piece of legislation”: federal subsidies for wildly profitable private insurance corporations (sound familiar?).

After sleazing her way into the Capitol as an out-of-state carpetbagger — New Yorkers still remember — Senator Clinton wiled away the early 2000s as a slacker Senator. This, remember, was while Bush was pushing through his radical right agenda: the Patriot Act, wars, coups, drones, torture, renditions and so on.

While Bush was running roughshod, Hillary was meek and acquiescent.

Clinton’s legislative proposals were trivial and few. Her bargaining skills were so lousy that she couldn’t find cosponsors for her tiny-bore bills — even fellow Democrats snubbed the former First Lady on stuff like increasing bennies for members of the Coast Guard. “Senator Clinton is right when she claims to be the experienced candidate,” Adam Hamft wrote for HuffPo during the 2008 primaries, “although it’s not the experience she would like us to believe. It’s a track record of legislative failure and futility.”

Hillary cheerleaders brag that she logged nearly a million miles of air travel as Secretary of State. “She reminded the world that Woody Allen was right even when it comes to diplomacy: 80 percent of success really is simply showing up,” Megan Garber cheered in The Atlantic (what is it about that rag and Hillary?).

What success?

The best case I could find for Hillary as kickass StateSec comes courtesy of PolicyMic, which I hope is on her payroll given how much they suck up to her. An article titled “5 Top Highlights in Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State Tenure” cites “People-to-People Diplomacy” (all that travel), “The Importance of Economics” (“helping U.S. companies win business overseas”), “Restoring American Credibility” (“outreach to [the military junta in] Burma,” “brokering a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel,” and “coordination with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi will likely give the U.S. greater leverage to pursue a robust peace process in 2013″ — but “likely” didn’t pan out…why doesn’t Mo return my calls anymore?).

“Rock star diplomat,” as The New York Times Magazine called her? Hardly.

As Stephen M. Walt notes in Foreign Policy, “she’s hardly racked up any major achievements…She played little role in extricating us from Iraq, and it is hard to see her fingerprints on the U.S. approach to Afghanistan. She has done her best to smooth the troubled relationship with Pakistan, but anti-Americanism remains endemic in that country and it hardly looks like a success story at this point…She certainly helped get tougher sanctions on Iran, but the danger of war still looms and there’s been no breakthrough there either…Needless to say, she has done nothing to advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace or even to halt Israel’s increasingly naked land grab there.” (Talks with Iran began after Clinton quit.)

Yeah, she’s been busy. But she has little to show for her time in office — she works dumb, not smart. At least with Obama, 2008 voters saw potential. Hillary has had 20 years to shine. If she hasn’t gotten anything accomplished in all that time, with all that power, why should we think she’ll make a great president?

2. She’s a terrible role model for women.

A woman president is two centuries overdue. It’s embarrassing that we’re behind such forward-looking nations as Pakistan in this respect. But our first female leader should not be Hillary Clinton.

I’m not rehashing the oft-stated argument that she should have divorced Bill post-Monica: I’m 99% sure they have an open marriage and anyway, the monogamist demand that jilted spouses DTMFA because, just because, is stupid.

The real issue is that Hillary married her way into power. Sorry, Hillarites: there is nothing new here, no cracked glass ceilings. Owing everything you have to your husband is at least as old as Muriel Humphrey, who succeeded Senator Hubert after he died in 1978. In a nation with more than 150 million women, it ought to be possible to find a president who got there on her own merits.

Remember, it’s not like Hillary did much with the remarkable opportunities she was given.

3. She’s kind of dumb.

In 2003, Senator Clinton cast the most important vote of her life, in favor of invading Iraq. Not only was it morally unconscionable — Bush ginned up the war from thin air, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and there was neither evidence nor proof that Saddam had WMDs — her war authorization vote was politically idiotic.

Hillary lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to Obama (who, though voting six times for war funding, and not in the Senate in 2003, had criticized that “dumb war”) due to that vote.

Though Clinton has never apologized for pandering to post-9/11 yellow-ribbons-all-over-the-car militarism (which is also stupid), her lame excuses in 2008 (she claimed she “thought it was a vote to put inspectors back in” even though it was called the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002”) indicate that she knew she’d blown it.

Also, the fact that she thought anyone would buy such ridiculous lies further indicates less than awesome intelligence.

Let’s give Hillary the benefit of the doubt: we’ll assume she wasn’t so breathtakingly stupid as to think invading Iraq was moral or legal. Even so, her pandering betrays poor political calculus.

It should have been obvious — it was to me — that the U.S. would lose in Iraq. Given Clinton’s options at the time (run for president a year later in 2004, reelection in 2006, or 2008), she was an idiot to think that her vote to authorize what would soon turn into an unpopular war wouldn’t decimate her support among the Democratic party’s liberal antiwar base.

Having a cynical political operator as president is bad. But I’ll take a smart cynic over a dumb panderer.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)


Presidential Entropy

Just wait…a few years from now, we’ll look back at George W. Bush and wonder why we were so hard on him.