Daughters of the Gipper

Plump as a boudoir cushion, her dimpled countenance as rosy and excited as those of Watteau’s most gamesome courtesans, Christine O’Donnell established in her debate at the University of Delaware, that she is most certainly qualified to take a seat in the U.S. senate. I reached this conclusion after the Harry Reid / Sharron Angle debate in Las Vegas, where the two are neck and neck in the final run down to November 2. By the measure of the performance of the US Senate Majority leader, O’Donnell would shine in the Upper Chamber like Demosthenes. And next to Tea Partier Sharron Angle, a former state legislator, O’Donnell sounded like Aristotle.

Reid is a career politician, veteran of the stump speech, the extempore oration, not to mention the formal rhetoric of a seasoned Solon. So how come he can barely frame a sentence, or convey a simple thought?  In his two-minute opener he evoked his childhood in Searchlight, his mom taking in the washing from the brothels. Checking his notes and speaking in the halting tones of one unfamiliar with the English language, he limped through his core credo: “I believe my No. 1 job is to create jobs as United States senator.”

Both Reid and Angle speak as though rejects from the Disney animation shop. “Stiff” is too limber an epithet to toss at them.  The brightest bulb on the platform in Vegas PBS was Mitch Fox, host of Nevada Week in Review. Citing Angle’s notorious remark Fox asks,  “Do you believe getting jobs is not your job?”

Angle: “My job is to create the policies to encourage the private sector to do what they do best, and that is creating jobs.”

Fox: “So that means ‘no’?”

Angle nods in agreement.

Reid responds. He boasts of ways he’s helped bring jobs to Nevada through tax policy — at McCarran Airport, at Harrah’s, where, he said, “We saved 31,000 jobs alone. My opponent is against those. My job is to create jobs. … My opponent is extreme.”

Angle responds: “Harry Reid, it’s not your job to create jobs. It’s your job to create confidence to get the private sector to create jobs.”

This is insanity. We are in Nevada, as dependent on federal dollars as Limbaugh was once on Oxycontin. Nevada, home of the Hoover dam, of the nuclear test sites, of…  of….  Vegas is filled with laid-off construction workers utterly dependent on a government check. And Harry can’t muster the strength to ridicule the utter absurdity of Angle denouncing the role of government.  Already the audience is groaning and beginning to shuffle out.

Mitch Fox again. He quizzes Angle on the fact that before the Republican primary she had referred to the need to “privatize” Social Security. Now she uses the term “personalize,” as though the nature of one’s pension is a matter of aesthetic discrimination, like chosing an underarm spray.

“Why did you change your position on Social Security?” Fox asked.

She said she used the word “personalize” because it described a type of personal retirement account that lawmakers, such as Harry Reid, have.

Reid says other nations have tried personalizing retirement accounts with disastrous results.  He doesn’t say simply that if the Social Security accounts had been handed to Wall Street, as George Bush had attempted to do back in 2004,  anyone opting to withdraw their retirement money from Social Security would by now have starved to death.

It’s time for the closing statements. Harry fumbles for his notes.  “I am a fighter. I will continue to fight for what I believe is best for the American people.”

Angle: “People ask me why I smile so much,” she says. “I am an optimist. Like Ronald Reagan, I believe in American exceptionalism.”

Let’s hear it for the Gipper!  It was Reagan who brought total insanity into political life and installed it as a permanent prop.

Back to Delaware. O’Donnell is wallowing in the polls, as many as 19 points behind Coons in many polls taken in the past few days. Battered by comedians for her strictures on masturbation, and for her imperishable campaign ad proclaiming “I am not a witch”, O’Donnell held her own against Coons and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who asked three times with increasing asperity whether she believes in evolution – a theory of biological development refuted on an hourly basis by CSPAN’s  coverage of the deliberations of the US Congress.

Turning aside Blitzer’s challenge, O’Donnell deprecated her personal beliefs as “irrelevant” , when set against her commitment to the U.S. Constitution – a clue that actually this Tea Party favorite is somewhat pragmatic in her politico-religious doctrines. A religious fundamentalist  would have insisted that embedded in  the U.S.  Constitution  is the divine law, with each article inscribed by the divine finger.

O’Donnell offered another clue to her pragmatism, when invited to sketch out her program for the U. S. Department of Education. A conservative Republican would answer promptly, “Burn it to the ground.” O’Donnell said she did  not see the need for so drastic a step. She’s also on record opposing the  cutting of  Social Security benefits and isn’t  sold on the idea of private accounts – two prescriptions held by almost all Republicans and many Democrats.

Then she dimpled up again and declared, gazing at the somewhat nerdy looking and balding Coons that he was a Marxist.  Coons plaintively tried to explain that his self description as a “bearded Marxist”, made many years ago in a student paper had been  a joke, allowing the national audience to reflect that maybe O’Donnell’s high school  cavortings  as a witch should be forgiven as somewhat of a joke too.

O’Donnell offered some definitions of Marxism worthy of Reagan:

“My opponent has recently said that it was studying under a Marxist professor that made him become a Democrat. So when you look at his position on things like raising taxes, which is one of the tenets of Marxism; not supporting eliminating death tax, which is a tenet of Marxism – I would argue that there are more people who support my Catholic faith than his Marxist beliefs”

Coons tried to come back with the declaration that he’s never been anything but a “clean-shaven capitalist” but O’Donnell took the round. The Forbes website, reporting this exchange, added helpfully, “In its simplest terms, Marxism philosophy is based on the idea that class struggle drives history and that capitalism will be replaced by socialism and eventually a classless society that governs itself.”

There’s no point in trying to evoke substance in the O’Donnell-Coons debate. Almost everything said was a rich mulch of distortion or absurdity, but it was clear that O’Donnell is actually smarter and quicker on her feet than the patron saint of the Tea Partiers, and booster of O’Donnell, Sarah Palin.  (Again, a low bar.) She’s shown Republicans in Delaware that they can vote for her without undue embarrassment, which is maybe why Pat Buchanan, assessing the debate, wagged his head dolefully and said Christine had been hobbled by milquetoast Republican advisors, like Randy Scheunemann.

Alas for Christine, even as she was trying to winch herself off the shoals of national ridicule, the University of Indiana released some of the results of a huge new survey of America’s sex habits.  O’Donnell’s  strictures on masturbation as wrong (because it’s an expression of lust largely conducted outside the passionate  physical conjunction of married partners of differing gender) are, as amusingly discussed by JoAnn Wypijewski in a recent Nation piece, out of step with national preferences.

Culled from detailed responses from 5,865 Americans between the ages of 14 and 94  the university surveyors disclose in the October issue of the The Journal of Sexual Medicine that among people 70 or older 80 percent of men and 58 percent of women have masturbated solo over a lifetime. Among people aged 25 to 29, rates peak at 94 percent among men and 84 percent among women. Worse news yet for Christine: Masturbating with a partner is becoming increasingly popular.

So the question is not whether the American people deserve Christine; it’s whether Christine, deserves this nation of wankers.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.