Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mark Sanford, Paul Begala, Bill O'Reilly, Karl Rove, John Dickerson and sex and politics American style

(Above: if a rabbit can marry Elmer Fudd, is it time to lighten up?)

Seeing as how it's a quiet winter sunday on loon pond - the wisest commentariat columnists seem to have headed north for the summer season - it's as good a time as any to brood about sex.

In particular, the way conservatives seem to have some weird kind of hang up about it, in a way that leads to all kinds of repression, and then to bizarre break outs that end badly or in tears.

Sweet Governor Mark Sanford and the way he's been shedding tears for Argentina is only one of the latest misadventures, which have caused a few hapless high profile Republicans and fundamentalist Christians to flounder on the rock of their apparently god given sexuality.

Which still hasn't produced much generosity of spirit in sexual matters, on say whether homosexuals can enjoy their own apparently god given sexuality (let's leave the debate over evolution and the naturalness of the natural world and genetics to another day - yes folks there are animals which enjoy homosexual sex other than the human kind).

It seems expected that liberals or progressives - or whatever other label can be dumped on whomever you don't like - are by nature licentious, slutty, sordid and otherwise generally inclined to tom cattery. That's generally one of the best reasons for them being likely to end up in hell.

Never mind that this peculiar fundamentalist mindset led to nailing Bill Clinton for the minor indiscretion of a blow job with an intern (anybody who cares explain how they regularly turn down free blowjobs out of a sense of righteousness will be re-directed to the Catholic church's vocational guidance program - if you're in Melbourne, go here, but remember you have to be unmarried).

The blow job should have been a matter between Bill and Hill, but it sent the conservatives into a foaming lick smacking frenzy, and the US then had to endure the Kenneth Starr trial by media, which despite Whitewater, Filegate and Travelgate, only managed to come up with a semen stained dress and fibs about how the dress got stained.

Lord knows what would have happened to JFK if they'd found out he'd been having a fuck with the girlfriend of Mafia boss Sam "Momo" Giancana, though it came in handy for J. Edgar Hoover, the man who claimed the Mafia didn't exist, because the information compromised any move Bobby Kennedy might have made to kick the cross dresser out of the top dog job in the FBI. Oh for the good old days of furtive fucks and back room deals.

Now of course, as part payback to the Clinton follies, the conservatives are getting their heads kicked in again, with hypocrisy the buzz word. Naturally this gets the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Karl Rove terribly upset:

Rove: I guess what it comes down to is when you get to socially liberal ideas like abortion, and like gay marriage, the left will seize on any opportunity that they think they have in order to condemn those who are pro-life and pro-traditional marriage. And it's just -- you know, there are people who are maybe moderate in their views on economics, or maybe nationalist on their views on international affairs, but when it comes down to social questions, they're liberal, and it's an instinct, and they cause a lot of people -- you know, like Paul Begala.

O'Reilly: I was just going to say that. Is that unbelievable?

Rove: Unbelievable. I don't recall -- you know, who exactly is accusing him of being a poor father or a poor Christian or not a patriot. But this sort of artificial victimhood -- and again, the purpose of it is, is to say to people --

O'Reilly: But wasn't Begala the guy, that it was just about sex, he and Carville were running around -- that's all they said for two years!

Well actually here's what Paul Begala said in Sanford's Dereliction of Duty Trumps His Hypocrisy, and you can sense the sweetness he felt in sticking in the knife:

The Sanford saga is about two things: dereliction of duty on the part of Mark Sanford and a culture of hypocrisy on the part of the GOP.

The fact that the governor stepped out on his wife is his business—and Mrs. Sanford’s. The fact that he stepped out on his job is the business of the people of South Carolina. There could have been a tornado, a hurricane, a prison riot, a terrorist attack—and if, God forbid, there had been, the state’s ability to respond would have been sorely compromised.

Legalities aside, it is shockingly irresponsible to just walk off the job—never mind that he was walking on the wild side. If you want to be incommunicado for days on end, become an insurance agent, not a governor. Dereliction of duty alone is enough to boot Sanford.

In fact it’s a better reason than the infidelity. Do we really have to go through this again? How FDR lifted us out of the Depression and whipped the Nazis while finding comfort with Lucy Mercer? How Nixon was a faithful husband but a corrupt president? Americans long ago sorted this out, wisely separating personal immorality from public duties.

But the Republicans have not. Since the birth of the Orwellian-named Moral Majority, the GOP has claimed it has cornered the market on morality. In truth, all it cornered the market on was hypocrisy. For decades Republicans have sanctimoniously lectured the rest of us—that they’re better husbands, better Christians, better fathers, better wives, better patriots. In so doing, they have been hoisted by their own petard, or, as Gov. Sanford might say, they have immolated themselves by their own sparking.

Well yes, actually the preachers of America - major backers of the Republican party - do endlessly lecture and hector the populace about the wicked, who somehow always seem to be Democrat, which always means socialist, or worse communist or worse still atheist.

And as a result, as the Republicans embraced this constituency, somewhere along the line, long after the good old days had disappeared, the sense of privacy and decency vanished from politics in America, aided by a press that has always been inclined to be yellow in the underbelly, but is now canary yellow right up to the top of the food chain. Sex suddenly became a great way to knee cap the opposition, as if the roaring twenties had never happened.

Which is why when you get somebody like Karl Rove carrying on about it, you can only marvel at the sheer cheek, the astonishing gall of the man:

Rove: What we saw last night was the coarseness and ugliness in American politics, carried forward by people who claim not to be political actors, but commentators and observers. And they gave the lie to their so-called neutrality or objectiveness last night.

Pot meet kettle, and let's agree we're both black.

Which makes the desperate attempts of someone like John Dickerson to carry on about the humanity of it all in Slate is a bit like Larry Hagman trying to stuff Barbara Eden back into the bottle.

In Heartless The Disturbing glee at Mark Sanford's downfall, he seems to have entirely forgotten that Sanford was one of the cheerleaders in the persecution of Bill Clinton. So naturally it's payback time, but Dickerson is smitten by the suffering:

The minute Sanford started speaking, the reviews poured in via e-mail and Twitter. He was rambling, confused. He didn't tear up enough when talking about his wife. He favored his mistress. He answered the questions too thoroughly. All these judgments seemed absurd. A man standing in front of a bank of cameras in the middle of a complete collapse is going to say a lot of things poorly.

The snap judgments failed to acknowledge a grain of the fundamental human carnage we were witnessing. You can laugh at Sanford, as you can laugh at a video of a wrecked Amy Winehouse falling all over her house. But at some point, even though they did it to themselves, you have to feel sorry for them as human beings. You can do that, I think, and not be a fan of adultery or drug use.

Well yes, and you might even be a fan of drug use (if you like a beer) or adultery (if you have an open marriage, not that anyone can speak of such things these days).

More to the point, there's something exceptional about the fall of a hard man. You watch the fate of a head kicking hard man in much the same way as you watch Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday, playing an old fashioned London gangster happy to bump people off to maintain his evil empire, only to find himself being taken for a long ride at the end of the movie.

I look at Sanford the way I'd look at any train wreck, including the wrecks I've been in myself, because they're self induced, and involve hubris and delusions, ultimately not worthy of Greek tragedy so much as a Shakespearian comedy about inept, bumbling fools who've never taken the trouble to know themselves or the world. The more Dickerson tries to find some sort of excuse involving gravitas, the more all I can think is what goes around comes around:

Sanford's fumbling efforts to explain how he's tried to rescue himself with his faith offered some people an opportunity to make fun of his religion, as if a confused, lost, flawed person were the right spokesman for anything. People tend to think the most awful thing about a person is the most true thing. They also apparently think it's the most true thing about his or her associations. So an e-mail arrived asking, "[I]s there any Republican not sleeping around?" Maybe Sanford should have been a presidential candidate. He apparently represents an entire party and an entire religion.

Well actually no more than so-called liberals or homosexuals or progressives are reckoned to represent the decline and fall of western civilization as we know it. 

Cf Rove yet again trotting out the idea that somehow it was all the fault of people who were into socially liberal ideas and that somehow these people condemn people who into traditional marriage. Hey baby you can get married and stay married for sixty years, until death does part you, and it won't make me lie awake at night, but at the same time you might spare a thought for the fifty per cent or so of Americans who do get divorced. (And we won't go into the number of teenagers who get pregnant, since that would only lead to Bristol Palin, tears and even more righteous indignation).

Anyway, when I read Dickerson trying to soft soap Sanford, I wanted to box them both around the ears:

What Mark Sanford seemed to be trying to say is that he screwed up, in the biggest possible way, because he lost his bearings. He lost his self-control. He was indulgent. He forgot that there were other humans in the world. Yet in the constant flow of abuse, joke-making, and grand conclusions about his failings, it seemed everyone having a good time pointing at his self-indulgence was also engaging in a form of it.

Actually the self indulgent ones snickering in the darkness are just doing what Sanford did about Bill Clinton, and what others do when they carry on about the dangers of sex in others without recognizing the dangerous pulse of sex that beats in most of us (Catholic priests wedded to god always the exception of course).

It's sad that the genie of personal relationships in politics in the media is out of the bottle, and unlikely it'll ever be stuffed back in. But if you suddenly turn liberal progressive in sexual matters, as Sanford did, maybe the message is that the Republican party might benefit from a little progressive liberalism,  at least in matters of private sex. How does it go? Don't ask, don't tell.

If I were Rove - wash out your mind for thinking it - or a few of the others who tracked down Bill Clinton relentlessly, I'd repent the part they played in that particular version of the Salem witch trials. And I'd try to steer the Republican party back to the middle in matters of morality, so that some of the heat goes out of the issue.

Heck, they might even think a gay couple wanting to engage in the bizarre rituals of marriage and divorce won't bring down western civilization as we know it.

I know, I know. I'm dreaming. But truth to tell, just as Sanford getting the hots and trotting off to Argentina is an indiscretion too far for him, in the wider world it amounts to no bigger hill of beans than the fate of poor old Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle or the shooting of William Woodward Jr or JFK fucking a Mafia moll ... or any of a thousand other personal scandals and crimes of the century.

Hey, it's America. If only conservatives could learn to go with the flow, since as in the case of Sanford they end up going with the flow whether they like it or not ...

Here's a tip: take a look at Some Like it Hot, and learn to laugh about the vagaries of sex. It was Billy Wilder's gift to America, and America's gift to the world ...

(Below: and while you're at it, how about a bit of cross dressing in I Was a Male War Bride).

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