He’s No Bill Clinton!

As he prepares to follow Gov. Rick Perry into the oubliette of campaign history Herman Cain can at least console himself that as an alleged harasser of women, his was certainly a classier act than that of a man who not only got elected president in 1992 but was triumphantly reelected in 1996, each time by about 45 million Americans armed with the knowledge that if you left your wife at the next table to Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas in Macdonald’s, by the time you got back from ordering more fries Bill would  be ensconced in your seat, his hand already hovering above your wife’s thigh.

Sharon Bialek, one of the women accusing Cain of seeking to take advantage when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in 1997, says that her apprehensions were aroused when in his car, having offered to drive her home,  Cain told her he’d  already called Washington’s  Capital Hilton and upgraded her accommodations to a luxury suite. It was only after this material demonstration of his high regard that Cain put his hand up her skirt and then sought to guide her head towards his lower regions. Ms Bialek says the minute she said No, Cain abandoned his advances and drove her home.

A luxury suite!  One of Bill’s targets, when he was governor of Arkansas, would have been lucky to get a ride home in the troop car, after a brisk session in the governor’s office, with bruises on her arms when she resisted the guiding hand.  Who says this isn’t the land of progress? Seventy years ago a  black man making the sort of advances of which Cain is accused tended to end up swinging from the branch of  a tree, not running for president with a hefty quotient of Americans saying they don’t give a toss about the harassment charges.

Actually Cain has never had a prayer of getting the Republican nomination. He doesn’t have the money, or the big backers, just a handful of staffers and the 9-9-9 thing. His star began to rise when the Tea Party crowd figured Gov Rick Perry of Texas  as a hypocrite and also a moron, as he conclusively demonstrated in the debate in Michigan Wednesday night. Him a conservative Republican and he couldn’t remember all three of the federal agencies he’s pledged to wipe out. “Commerce, Education,…” Then, 53 seconds later, “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.” He forgot Energy. It’s like an Anglican parson only able to get through two thirds of the Trinity: “God, the father, God the son and… and… “ Duh!  And this is the man Texans elected as their governor three times?

Cain’s final bit of bad luck has been  to have his harassment charges sitting cheek to cheek on the front pages and in the newscasts with gross details of the gay sex scandal at Penn State.  Wednesday Nov 9  saw the god of college football,  84-year old coach Joe Paterno, fired for effectively covering up the locker-room and shower-stall rampages of  assistant coach Jerry Sandusky with Pennsylvania youth.

So Obama’s opponent in 2012 will surely be Mitt Romney, a Mormon millionaire reminiscent in style and utter lack of any fixed political conviction beyond knee-jerk conservatism to George Bush Sr. Romney is the former governor of Massachusetts and son of George Romney , head of American Motors,  who futilely  sought the Republican presidential nomination back in 1968, and was famous for saying on the campaign trail  that  he’d been “brainwashed” by the US military into declaring his support for the war in  Vietnam.

There’s no point in trying to sketch in “the real Mitt Romney”, because there isn’t one. He’s been campaigning for the Republican nomination for eight solid years, and his brain has been washed clean years ago of anything approaching an original or useful thought about America’s condition.  It would be exciting to think that the fears of the Christian right are true and that Romney, his lower regions swathed in Mormon underwear, is the agent of a master plan to deliver America into grip of the  Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, but no such luck.

In today’s political topography Romney is classed as a man of the Republican center. Only a couple of months ago it looked as though he’d be sunk by the Tea Party ultras, but they’re a wan bunch these days. Their star is sinking fast. On Tuesday Ohio’s voters issued a crushing defeat – 62 per cent  to 38 per cent on a provisional count —  to proposed Tea Party legislation drafted by Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, designed to curb the power of public sector unions to organize and strike. Other right-wing initiatives across the US got similar black eyes on Tuesday. A couple of respectable polls show Romney beating Obama a year from now, though they’re currently outnumbered by a larger number of polls calling it for Obama. These are early days.

Lest readers think I’m being unkind about Gov. Bill Clinton, let me evoke the man in his youthful prime. Clinton said this week on a talk show promoting his new book Back to Work that he can’t see why an ex-president couldn’t return to the job after previously serving two terms.

Back in 1979 our friend Tim Hermach, now fearless leader of the Native Forest Council and breathing the righteous air of Eugene, Oregon, was a businessman seeking commercial advantage. In 1979 this search took him to Little Rock, Arkansas, where an associate said the swiftest way of getting a certificate of origin necessary for a rebar (reinforcing steel for construction) deal was by conferring personally with the new governor of the state.

In short order a dinner was arranged with young Governor Bill at the Little Rock Hilton. Tim recalls that they were scarcely seated before Bill was greeting a pretty young waitress in friendly fashion, putting his hand up her dress while announcing genially to the assembled company, “This woman has the sweetest cunt in Little Rock.”

Tim, an Oregon boy by origin, tells us he listened with burning ears and mouth agape as Bill talked of womanhood in terms of astounding crudity. Badinage notwithstanding, some business was transacted. Hermach tells us that Governor Bill “very openly, nothing shy about it, said words to the effect that our end use certificate would cost about $10,000”, said transaction being of a personal, informal nature.  “Since ours was a $2 million deal, we didn’t care,” Tim recalls.

These tractations concluded, Governor Bill repaired to the Hilton’s nightclub with boon companions, where they cavorted lewdly with sundry flowers of Little Rock before repairing to bedrooms in the upper regions of the hotel.

Back to work indeed.


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Our Latest Newsletter

We offer two terrific pieces, by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Fred Gardner. A distinguished anthropologist,  Scheper-Hughes is one of our favorite writers. Indeed your CounterPunch editors listed her Death Without Weeping in its top 100 non-fiction books published in English in the 20th Century.  A few months ago we ran her amazing investigation of the international trade in body parts.  This time she contributes a very powerful piece – in part autobiographical – on the slow death of the Roman Catholic Church, centered on the Vatican’s  appalling response to the  disclosures of the past few years of the sexual predations of Catholic priests on children, among them indigenous peoples.

On September 23, 2011,  Scheper-Hughes writes, human rights lawyers and former clerical sex abuse victims filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court in the Hague, asking for an investigation to prosecute Pope Benedict XVI and three of his top officials, including William Levada, a cardinal, and the former bishop of the diocese of San Francisco, for crimes against humanity.

“The request to war crimes court may seem theatrical. The Vatican did not ratify the Rome statute that created the court, although both Germany (Benedict’s birthplace) and Italy (home of the Vatican) have done so. The ICC only has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed after 2002. Nonetheless, the International Criminal Court has agreed to examine the papers, and a spokesperson has said that the case has merit.

So, finally, what’s a former Catholic to do when her Church is corrupt and moribund? Today, the defections are not just of unhappy priests and nuns, but of the global Catholic community at large. Churches are closing in European and in American cities. The will and the desire to fight the Vatican are mostly gone. The damage, beyond the current sex scandal, to women’s bodies, the indifference to maternal and infant mortalities, to the populations at risk of the AIDS epidemic, especially in Catholic parts of Africa, are too much to bear.

“Some former Catholics take solace in other spiritual traditions. Given the animistic quality of Catholic ancestor worship, some former Catholics embrace a cult of everyday saints, virgins, and martyrs, adding Steven Biko, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, Dorothy Day, and Harvey Milk to their older devotion to Saint Joan, San Antonio, and Saint Francis of Assisi. Others look to a green theology based on reverence for earth, and sky and sea, and all the critters that slither and crawl, walk and swim. Some, like Paul Farmer, continue along the Vatican-savaged remains of a once vibrant liberation theology, a theology of hope.

“I am grieved and not relieved by my loss of a faith that once gave beauty, richness and fullness to my life. The secular humanism of anthropology offers an alternative form of discipleship, built around the practice of studied observation, contemplation and reflection. I know that anthropology is a powerful tool capable of taming unruly emotions, replacing disgust with respect, ignorance with understanding, hatred with empathy, and a practice of compassionate and modest witnessing to human sorrows. But it is cold comfort for the former believer, when the mystery is gone and with it the light has gone out of one’s soul.”

Don’t miss this marvelous essay.

Also don’t miss Fred Gardner’s contribution to our ongoing series on Obama’s record. Gardner examines the pledges on medical  marijuana  he made on the campaign trail and his substantive record thereafter and the current onslaught of the Justice Department on medical marijuana dispensaries in California. Gardner’s question to the leaders of the marijuana reform movement: Did they really read his lips? Did they “over-read” and too optimistically interpret what the candidate was saying.


Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com

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