Newt Gingrich is a one-man, made-in-America melting pot. Here’s a committed devotee of tooth-and-claw capitalism, vultures perched on both shoulders, advocate of 8-year old black children working as janitors – campaigning with a pro-worker film of which John Reed or Ken Loach would be proud, paid for by a rabidly anti-union billionaire who thinks Israel should bomb Iran and drive the Palestinians into the sea.
One has to feel for Romney, thrashing about amidst the Newt horror. Here comes the portly Georgian, brushing aside the Mormon priests guarding Mitt’s hotel suite, kicking open the bedroom door, seizing Romney by the throat…Aaaargh! And then Romney is awake, realizing that this is a cold-sweat nightmare that will last … maybe until they close in Florida on January 31, maybe until Super Tuesday on March 6, when nine states hold their primaries, maybe….
We left Romney amidst the supposed flush of victory in Iowa (now awarded to Santorum), and triumph in New Hampshire, with polls in South Carolina showing him a solid ten points ahead of Gingrich, who made a poor showing in New Hampshire on top of a fourth place in Iowa below Santorum and Ron Paul.
Gingrich burned for revenge for his rough treatment in New Hampshire by Romney’s campaign commercials. But how, on a tight timeline, to acquaint South Carolina Republicans with Romney’s infamies?
He needed money, lots of it, double-quick. Occupy Las Vegas!
Some things don’t change in American politics, and rich people sitting in Las Vegas with pots of cash is one of them. Joel McCleary, a friend, remembers fund-raising in Las Vegas when he was working for the Jimmy Carter campaign in 1976. The crucial Pennsylvania primary was coming up and the Carter people (their chief fundraiser was Morris Dees) needed a big wad of cash for the final push against Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington, known as “the senator from Boeing,” also running for the Democratic nomination and favored by powerful labor chieftains in Pennsylvania.
Joel was told the go-to guy for untraceable campaign cash was Hank Greenspun, publisher of the Las Vegas Sun. Greenspun was a notoriously tough egg, former gun-runner for the Haganah, the man who, in the midst of the Cold War witch hunts, outed Senator Joe McCarthy in the Sun as a homosexual. Joel was told to act manly. Greenspun duly received him in his office. “Why the hell should I get money for Jimmy Carter?” he asked.
“Because Jimmy Carter is going to be president,” Joel answered boldly, “and if you don’t support his campaign he’ll fuck you.”
Greenspun told Joel to come back in two hours. He returned to find Greenspan sitting at a table surrounded by other toughs. In the middle of the table was a paper bag. “So the Baptist fuck wants money,” Greenspun growled, as he pushed the bag over to Joel. “Remember, this comes from the state of Israel. Don’t you ever forget it.”
Greenspun was no doubt also sluicing money to Jackson, a particularly slavish errand boy for Israel. With Carter he was hedging his bets. Wisely, as it turned out. They called the odds right in Las Vegas. Carter won the Pennslyvania primary, beating Jackson 36 per cent to 27 per cent. Jackson pretty much gave up after that, saying frankly, “We’re out of money.” At least Greenspun, who died in 1989, didn’t live to know that he invested $100,000 in a man later to denounce Israel as an apartheid state.
Las Vegas paper bags notwithstanding, in former times there were certain pettifogging constraints on how much a billionaire could lavish on his favored candidate. But then came the “Citizens United” decision by the US Supreme Court ( split 5-4) , issued in January, 2010, ruling that the First Amendment, protecting free speech, prohibits the government from placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions. As Ralph Nader correctly pointed out at the time, “With this decision, corporations can now directly pour vast amounts of corporate money, through independent expenditures, into the electoral swamp already flooded with corporate campaign PAC contribution dollars.”
Enter 78-year old Sheldon Adelson, the world’s 16th richest man, a bit dented by the property crash in Nevada but still with $23 billion at his disposal. The sun rises on his empire in Las Vegas, sets on it in the east in Macao, with its zenith over the state of Israel, whence his second wife hails. On Israel Adelson entertains very harsh views about the advisability of negotiations of any sort with Palestinians and lately has been lobbying fiercely – he owns the free weekday Israel Hayom, the largest circulation newspaper in Israel – for an attack on Iran.
When Newt Gingrich, fishing for Zionist money, abandoned his previous, relatively temperate posture on the Israel/Palestine issue, and declared that Palestinians were an “invented people”, he was directing his remarks to an audience of one.
Adelson was exceeding pleased and expressed his gratification in material terms, with a further $5 million, now staking Gingrich’s campaign ads in South Carolina. To date Adelson has donated about $13 million to Gingrich’s campaign – a US record. The ads put out by the Gingrich forces derive in origin from Senator Ted Kennedy’s successful effort to defend his US senate from Romney’s challenge back in 1994. The Kennedy campaign put together ferocious spots depicting Romney, erstwhile boss of the private equity firm Bain Capital, as one of the most vicious operators in the history of American capitalism, never happier than when taking over factories, destroying jobs, kicking workers into the snow, and sneering at the tears of their distraught wives and children.
Chunks of just such a film have been broadcast this week across South Carolina, airtime bought by a Political Action Committee backing the Gingrich campaign. They are brilliantly done, so effective that the New York Times – evidently worried for the overall reputation of capitalism – ran a very comical piece a fee days ago critiquing the commercials as going altogether too far and being marred by error. Gingrich announced piously that “I’m calling on them to either edit out every single mistake or to pull the entire film. They cannot run the film if it has errors in it.” But the nominally independent Political Action Committee refused, demanding a clarificatory interview with Romney.
South Carolina has been faring badly in the current national slump. Tough talk about job-killers, particularly Mormon millionaire job-killers, commands a sympathetic audience. By Tuesday the press was hailing Gingrich’s Monday debate performance as worthy of Edmund Burke, which indeed it was, since in its rancid racism towards black people it rivaled Burke’s slurs on the French revolutionaries.
It became clear by midweek the ads were taking their toll on Romney. By Wednesday the polls were showing the Mormon millionaire with 30 per cent support and Gingrich surging, with 27 per cent of the vote. By Friday, Gingrich was running ahead 32-30 in some polls, after his carefully rehearsed “Have you no shame, Sir” reproof to CNN’s John King following the latter’s opening question about the “open relationship” Gingrich’s second wife Marilyn says he proposed after disclosing his affair with Callista. Marilyn’s disclosure probably won Gingrich an extra slice of the state’s male vote, on ground that this is the sort of thing men blurt out when driven into a corner in a “her or me” confrontation with the Missus.
On Tuesday Romney finally lifted a corner of the previously tightly sealed file containing his tax returns. The partial disclosure won’t help him nor his evasiveness in the debate. He said his effective tax rate was “probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything.” That 15 per cent is on investment income, — a huge perk for the very rich — as opposed to the higher rates on wages and salaries – up to 35 per cent — paid by many Americans. He also deprecated his speaking fees last year of $374,327 as “not very much.” This man definitely lacks the common touch. So much for my fears last week for the future of the election industry after what looked like an imminent Romney closeout.
A tumbril (n.) a farm cart often used for carrying manure, also to carry prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution.
Any headline modeled on “It’s the economy, stupid.” This tedious phrase derives from the Clinton campaign of 1992, and is still echoing on opinion pages 20 years on. To the tumbrils with it!
“Well…” , as in constructs like “His performance was.. well… frankly bad.” Equally awful is “…er”, as in “Is Angeline Jolie a great actor? Er… no.” The British are particularly keen on this piece of stylistic coyness.
“Staunch”, as so often used to describe right-wingers: “a staunch Republican,” “a staunch Conservative”, though not I think, “a staunch fascist.” I see left writers using this phrase freely about Republicans and Conservatives. Don’t they know that “staunch” carries the aroma of unstinting, courageous loyalty. It’s an honorific. How about “fanatic Republican”? “crazed Conservative.” No rightwinger would talk about “staunch liberals” – admittedly an oxymoron, just like “staunch Democrat.” Now, there really are staunch pacifists. Save the word for them.
Michael Donnelly offers “At the end of the day,” which, I need scarcely remind you, is the hour when the fat lady sings, after the rubber has met the road. The fat lady line was first popularized in George H.W. Bush’s run for the Republican nomination in 1980. When he finally threw in the towel, the press corps hired a fat Valkyrie with a horned helmet to rush up to him and sing at the top of her voice, waving a trident.
From Jean-Pierre Duboucheron: “Bad guys.” Spot on, Jean-Pierre.
From Sean Dunne in Ireland: “this ain’t my first rodeo” ; “just sayin’”; “Really.” True, one does see the terse “Really” all too often. Time for the final haircut.
“I would like to request that you consign one more word to the tumbrils. And that word is ‘stakeholder.’” Vukoni Lupa-Lasaga. Happy to oblige, Vukoni.
From Egidio Mondolfi: “Natalie Bauman and I submit ‘folks’ for your consideration. If ever a word was long overdue fora ride in the farm cart…”
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Listen to a powerful voice from the grave, Robert Fitch. An excellent journalist and all-around left troublemaker, he died in March last year at the age of 72. Fitch wrote a great deal on the role of Wall Street and the real estate elite in planning New York City, and laid out the full criminal saga in The Assassination of New York, published by Verso in 1996. As Doug Henwood wrote of a central theme of the book, “So many of the things that were attributed to anonymous global forces, like the deindustrialization of the city and its transformation into the prototype of the globally oriented post-industrial metropolis, were consciously guided by bankers, developers, and their hired hands. They used all the instruments of state power – subsidies, zoning laws, eminent domain – to get their way.”
True of New York; true of Chicago where Barack Obama began his journey to the Chicago state legislature, to the U.S. Senate and finally to the White House.
On November 14, 2008, right after Obama had been elected, Fitch gave a speech to the Harlem Tenants Association. The warm glow ignited in countless progressive and left hearts by the “Change we can believe in” candidate had not yet been extinguished by the chill embrace of reality. Fitch had no illusions about Obama, and expressed none that day to the Harlem tenants. Better still, with a wealth of detail, he set the rise of Obama in the context of a city – Chicago – in the throes of the racket known as “urban renewal.” We are printing that little-known speech now. Who, really, is Obama? Here’s an important part of the answer.
Also in this spectacular new issue: the truth about the liberals’ favorite economist – Rob Urie on Paul Krugman PLUS Does Putin face real trouble? Israel Shamir reports from Moscow PLUS Serge Halimi on presidents without power.
Alexander Cockburn can be reached at email@example.com.