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The Deranged Chorus

by Alexander Cockburn, January 11, 2012

Photo courtesy Gage Skidmore

A Catholic former US senator from Pennsylvania once rated the dumbest man in the US Congress crested Tuesday night in Iowa’s see-saw battle among candidates for the Republican nomination and ran a virtual tie with Mormon millionaire Mitt Romney. Well after chilly midnight on caucus night in the Midwestern state, Iowa’s Republican Party declared Romney the winner by 8 votes, a count that Santorum will inevitably question and perhaps contest. Each hovered just below 30,000 votes, with libertarian Republican Ron Paul of Texas run­ning third with a respectable 26,000-plus votes.

Only a couple of weeks ago Newt Gingrich seem poised for exactly the same unexpected surge that blessed Santorum across the last week. But battered by volleys of viciously negative campaign ads financed by big Republican money backing Romney, Gingrich ran fourth with just under 16,000 votes. Hobbling along in the rear came Texas governor Rick Perry, Tea Party star Michele Bachmann and – with 668 votes – Utah million­aire Jon Huntsman.

Exactly four years ago, Santorum’s surprise showing last night was prefigured by the upset victory of a Protes­tant evangelical, former Arkansas governor Mike Hucka­bee who won with 41,000 votes, Romney came second on that occasion with 30,000 votes, a little more than he managed last week, with a similar 25% of the vote. Third, with 15,000 votes came the man who actually won the Republican nomination, John McCain.

So, as far as Republicans are concerned, Iowa can be a poor predictor. On Tuesday January 10 the surviving candidates went head to head in New Hampshire. Rom­ney has spent months in the state and has one of his sev­eral dreary homes there. Santorum, who committed months of seemingly fruitless effort clasping the hands of countless Iowans, has little presence in New Hamp­shire and a tiny war chest of campaign cash. Romney’s big-money attack dogs who were too busy battering Gingrich in Iowa to notice Santorum’s late surge, will unleash a torrent of abuse via tv and radio.

New Hampshire is a must-win for Romney if he is to escape the charge that he simply can’t clinch any race. Two debates are scheduled and an embittered Newt Gingrich, no slouch in the campaign-debate setting, will be quivering to get his revenge.

Watching the Iowa results with some satisfaction are Obama’s campaign chieftains. To them, the Iowa contest showed that Iowa’s Republicans simply couldn’t figure out who to vote for. No one pleased them for long. Bach­mann, Perry, Cain and Gingrich each had their moment in the sun, then faded. A week ago Ron Paul seemed set to win. Had the Iowa vote been held a week from now, Santorum might too have been eclipsed and Huntsman limped to the front.

The Republican high command decided some time ago that Romney is their best chance of beating Obama. Though infinitely elastic in political doctrine he’s not a nut. It’s imaginable that the all-important independent voters in the general election in the fall could vote for him. He made his millions buying and selling compa­nies, very often firing workers in the process. He gov­erned Massachusetts without egregious failure, passing the precursor to Obama’s health insurance reform, which achievement has been a red rag to the conservatives, who regard him as (a) a crypto-liberal and (b) an agent of Satan, since he is a Mormon. No Mormon has ever been president and reservation about the Church of Latterday Saints extends beyond conservatives. For example, Mormon theology is not friendly to the children of Ham.

Troubling to this same Republican high command is Ron Paul who has won passionate adherents across the political spectrum. The right likes him for his libertarian economics, which prompt Paul to denounce the basic elements of the social safety net – Social Security and Medicare. He would abolish the Federal Reserve (a laudable objective). He’s a gold bug, and in his speech to his supporters last week he shouted a line which I’ll haz­ard has never before been uttered on an election night podium – “We’re all Austrians now” – thereby pro­claiming his allegiance to the economist Ludwig van Mises and parodying the line actually coined by Milton Friedman, though often attributed to Richard Nixon, “We’re all Keynesians now.”

A lot of leftists like Paul because he really is an ardent anti-imperialist – the only one in the race – vigor­ously denouncing America’s wars, its overseas bases and its alliance with Israel. He’s also an eloquent foe of the imperial presidency and of constitutional abuses such as the law signed by Obama on December 31, giving the military a role in domestic enforcement against terrorists and opening US citizens to military detention without benefit of counsel, without charges, and without trial.

Part of Paul’s vote in Iowa was undoubtedly leftists who, under Iowa’s rules, could cross over and vote in the Republican caucus. Republicans fear that if Paul gets sufficiently incensed at his treatment by their party, he might bolt and run on the Libertarian third party ticket, thereby draining votes from the Republican candidate next November. For their part the Obama forces simi­larly fear that Paul would steal vital left votes from those thoroughly disillusioned with the President. In the run-up to the Iowa vote The New York Times ran more than one aggressive onslaught on Paul for newsletters, racist in content, which ran under Paul’s name 20 years ago, and which he has since disavowed.

It’s hard to imagine Santorum getting long term trac­tion, particularly given his scrawny campaign finances. He is a very conservative Catholic, actually a member of Opus Dei. Perhaps the Vatican will organize a hasty funding drive through Catholic billionaires like Tom Monaghan, Opus Dei member and founder of Domino’s Pizzas (which was bought in the late 1990s by Mitt Romney’s old firm, Bain Capital).

Santorum says that as president he would bomb Iran tomorrow. Romney and Gingrich don’t lag far behind in their ravings against the Islamic Republic. Obama ratch­ets up sanctions against Iran while supposedly telling Netanyahu that the US will not endorse any attack by Israel on Iran. Only Ron Paul stands out against this deranged chorus. Given a chance, I’ll vote for Paul, even though he hasn’t a prayer of taking over the Oval Office. One has to draw the line somewhere, though I don’t feel in the least Austrian.

Into The Tumbrils With Them

First up: “sustainable.” It’s been at least a decade since this earnest word was drained of all energy, having become the prime unit of exchange in the argot of pur­poseful uplift. As the final indication of its degraded status, I found it in President Obama’s “signing state­ment” which accompanied the whisper of his pen, as on New Year’s Eve — a very quiet day when news editors were all asleep — he signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012 which handed $662 billion to the Pentagon and for good meas­ure ratified by legal statute of the exposure of US citi­zens to arbitrary arrest without subsequent benefit of coun­sel, and to possible torture and imprisonment sine die, abolishing habeas corpus. Don’t bother asking what happens to non-US citizens.

As he set his name to this repugnant legislation the president issued a “signing statement” in which I came upon the following passage: “Over the last several years, my Administration has developed an effective, sustain­able framework for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected terrorists…”

So much for “sustainable.” Into the tumbrils with it.

Obama is against signing statements, at the theoreti­cal level. In 2008 he said, “I taught the Constitution for ten years, I believe in the Constitution, and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end run around Congress.” Whatever Obama may have taught, a signing statement, whether issued by Bush or Obama, doesn’t have the force of law. Obama’s December 31 signing statement was part of a diligent White House cam­paign to suggest that (a) there is nothing in the NDAA to perturb citizens, but (b) anything perturbing is entirely the fault of Congress, and (c) Obama solemnly swears that so long as he is president he’ll never OK any­thing bad, whatever the NDAA might be construed as authorizing, and anyway (d) there’s nothing new about the detention provisions because they merely reiterate those of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, signed by Bush in 2001.

Next up: “iconic.” I trip over this golly-gee epithet 30 times a day. No warrant for its arrest is necessary, nor benefit of counsel or trial in a US court. Off to the tum­brils, arm in arm with “narrative.” These days everyone has a narrative, an earnest word originally recruited, I believe, by anthropologists. So we read “according to the Pentagon’s narrative…” Why not use some more ener­getic formulation, like, “According to the patent non­sense minted by the Pentagon’s press office…”? Sud­denly we’re surrounded by “narratives,” all endowed with equal status. Into the tumbrils with it.

I think “parse” has almost run its course, though occa­sionally this shooting star of 2011 is spotted panting along in some peloton of waffle from the Com­mentariat. Off with its head, along with “meme,” an exhausted little word that deserves the long dark rest of oblivion.

Back to janitors and the flailing of Newt’s’s master­plan for youth. Doug Lummis writes from Okinawa:

“Alex,

You should know that the public schools in Japan do not hire janitors. The kids do it, boys and girls, all of them. Nobody gets paid for it, so it doesn’t have any­thing to do with rich or poor. It’s just something you do at school. They dust and sweep, and wipe down the floors with damp rags, and clean the toilets. I don’t know if it teaches a ‘work ethic,’ but it teaches them some valuable skills, and it also teaches them that that kind of work is not ‘beneath them,’ something only poor people do. I suppose some of the kids dislike doing it, but a lot of them seem to enjoy it, and take pride in their skill at wielding the broom, or bending over and laying your wet cloth on the floor, putting your weight on it and running to the end of the hall, leaving a clean damp streak behind. Of course this is utterly different from what Gingrich is proposing which, like the present US system of hiring adults to clean the children’s schools, is bound to teach that certain jobs are only for certain classes. The Japanese system doesn’t produce an egalitar­ian society, but it does have a good educational effect.

“You might mention that I consider myself qualified to talk about janitoring because when I was in the fifth and sixth grades I was the janitor for the one-room Don­ner Trail Elementary School at Norden, California. I was chosen not because we were the poorest family but because I was one of the few who didn’t have to take the school bus to get home. They gave me $20 a month, which in those days (1947-48) was very nice money for a kid to get.”

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at: alexandercockburn@asis.com

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