The Pasty Little Putz has produced a thing called “Sympathy for the Radical Left” in which he gurgles that in Greece, a failed establishment confronts an extremist alternative. In “Moral Dystopia” MoDo has a question: as our institutions decay, is our sense of right and wrong crumbling as well? It sounds like she and Bobo are starting to cross-pollinate. The Moustache of Wisdom is now in Istanbul. In “First Tahrir Square, Then the Classroom” he says an education revolution may be the next step to empowering the youth of the Arab world. Mr. Kristof is in Tehran. In “Pinched and Griping in Iran” he says a drive across Iran suggests that economic sanctions are biting hard and causing many Iranians to blame their own regime, not the West. Mr. Bruni addresses “2012′s Financial Free-For-All” and says the candidates spend too much time and energy on platinum-level panhandling. Here’s The Putz:
It is difficult to envision an American parallel to Syriza, the far-left political coalition that has a chance to throw Europe into further turmoil with a victory in this weekend’s Greek elections. But imagine a movement that combines elements from Occupy Wall Street and Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign, and you have a sense of where Greece’s leading opposition party would fit in the American political spectrum.
The party’s full name translates as Coalition of the Radical Left, which sounds like something that Glenn Beck might have scrawled on his blackboard during the health care debates of 2009 but actually describes the party’s supporters pretty accurately. Syriza is led by a former member of Greece’s Communist Party, and its constituents range from socialists to Trotskyists to groups with beyond-parody names like the Renewing Communist Ecological Left.
Greece is more hospitable to radical politics than the United States, but when Syriza was founded in 2004, it was strictly marginal. It took 3.3 percent of the vote in Greece’s legislative elections that year, while the country’s mainstream center-right and center-left parties won 86 percent of the vote between them.
But that was before the financial crash knocked over Greece’s fiscal house of cards and made its entry in the European Union’s common currency look like one of recent history’s gravest blunders. Today the Greek unemployment rate is 22 percent, the youth unemployment rate is over 50 percent, and the country has no political mainstream anymore. In last month’s legislative elections, the center-right party took 19 percent of the vote, the collapsing center-left party took 13 percent — and sandwiched in between them was Syriza, with as strong a claim to legitimacy as either.
This weekend Greece is voting again, and the Coalition of the Radical Left has a chance to improve on that performance. If it does, and its leadership finds a way to form a coalition government, Syriza has promised to cancel the austerity program that the euro zone effectively imposed on Athens in exchange for loans and bailouts. In doing so, its leaders would be daring the E.U. to push Greece out of the currency union — and the E.U. might have no choice then but to shove.
The elite consensus is that this would represent economic suicide for the Greeks, as well as a potential disaster for Europe as a whole. (And not only Europe: rest assured that the Obama White House, too, is praying that Syriza underperforms.)
This consensus is probably correct, and probably persuasive enough to prevent the Greek electorate from delivering the country into the hands of the far left. But there are two realities that explain why so many Greek voters find Syriza attractive.
First, recent experience has given ordinary Europeans no reason to trust elite predictions about anything. The entire E.U. project was hailed as a self-evident good by a generation’s worth of statesmen and intellectuals, and Euroskepticism was confined in many countries to the fringes of the left and right. Now those fringes have been vindicated, and all the statesmen and intellectuals stand exposed.
Yes, a Greece that had never joined the euro wouldn’t have prospered as much during the fat years of the 2000s. But as in the United States, much of that growth has turned out to be illusory. And when a system the entire European establishment promised would deliver prosperity and stability delivers political paralysis and 20 percent unemployment, it becomes hard to convince voters that they have much to lose by listening to extremists and radicals instead.
Second, countries that vote to stay the course now may find that they lose their right to vote at all in the future. The answer to the current crisis, every eurocrat agrees, is further integration: In the words of Germany’s Angela Merkel, “not just a currency union,” but also “a so-called fiscal union, more common budget policies … [and] above all a political union.”
But as The Times’s Floyd Norris noted on Friday, a recent speech by the head of the German Bundesbank suggests that such a union would feature a central authority empowered to bypass national governments whenever they turned uncooperative on budget policy. This would effectively turn the European Union into a kind of postmodern version of the old Austro-Hungarian empire, with a Germanic elite presiding uneasily over a polyglot imperium and its restive local populations.
There are worse political arrangements, certainly, than the old Hapsburg model. But that doesn’t mean that voters in Greece (or Italy, or Spain …) should be expected to quietly acquiesce to it.
This is the irony of Europe’s current predicament. From the point of view of Berlin and Brussels, the only way to save the euro zone is to gradually take power away from voters on the grounds that they can’t be trusted not to vote for radicals like Syriza.
But from the point of view of patriotic Greeks, it’s precisely the threat of losing their sovereignty that might justify a vote for Syriza in the first place.
Now here’s MoDo:
Everyone is good, until we’re tested.
We hope we would be Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons,” who dismisses his daughter’s pleas to compromise his ideals and save his life, saying: “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.”
But with formerly hallowed institutions and icons sinking into a moral dystopia all around us, has our sense of right and wrong grown more malleable? What if we’re not Thomas More but Mike McQueary?
Eight tortured young men offered searing testimony in Bellefonte, Pa., about being abused as children by Jerry Sandusky in the showers at Penn State, in the basement of his home and at hotels.
But the most haunting image in the case is that of a little boy who was never found, who was never even sought by Penn State officials.
In February 2001, McQueary was home one night watching the movie “Rudy,” about a runty football player who achieves his dream of playing at Notre Dame by the sheer force of his gutsy character. McQueary, a graduate assistant coach and former Penn State quarterback, was so inspired that he got up and went over to the locker room to get some tapes of prospective recruits.
There he ran smack into his own character test. The strapping 6-foot-4 redhead told the court he saw his revered boss and former coach reflected in the mirror: Sandusky, Joe Paterno’s right hand, was grinding against a little boy in the shower in an “extremely sexual” position, their wet bodies making “skin-on-skin slapping sounds.” He met their eyes, Sandusky’s blank, the boy’s startled.
“I’ve never been involved in anything remotely close to this,” the 37-year-old McQueary said. “You’re not sure what the heck to do, frankly.”
He was slugging back water from a paper cup, with the bristly air of a man who knows that many people wonder why he didn’t simply stop the rape and call the police instead of leaving to talk it over with his father and a family friend.
Tellingly, he compared the sickening crime to the noncomparable incident of being a college student looking for a bathroom during a party at a frat house, and inadvertently walking into a dark bedroom where a fraternity brother is having sex with a young lady.
He said he felt too “shocked, flustered, frantic” to do anything, adding defensively: “It’s been well publicized that I didn’t stop it. I physically did not remove the young boy from the shower or punch Jerry out.”
He told Paterno the next morning and went along with the mild reining in of Sandusky, who continued his deviant ways.
Put on administrative leave, McQueary has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the school. (He was promoted to receivers coach and recruiting coordinator three years after the incident.) “Frankly,” he said, “I don’t think I did anything wrong to lose that job.”
It’s jarring because McQueary looks like central casting for the square-jawed hero who stumbles upon a crime in progress, rescues the child thrilled to hear the footsteps of a savior, and puts an end to the serial preying on disadvantaged kids by a man disguised as the patron saint of disadvantaged kids.
Bellefonte, the town in the shadow of Beaver Stadium, also looks like a Hollywood creation: the perfect sepia slice of rural Americana reflecting old-fashioned values. There’s an Elks Lodge, a Loyal Order of Moose hall, a Rexall drugstore, the Hot Dog House with hand-dipped ice cream, and a nice senior citizen shooing you into the crosswalk. This was a big “American Graffiti” weekend in town: the annual sock hop and hot rod parade.
How could so many fine citizens of this college town ignore the obvious and protect a predator instead of protecting children going through the ultimate trauma: getting raped by a local celebrity offering to be their dream father figure? A Penn State police officer warned Sandusky in 1998 to stop showering with boys; Saint Jerry ignored him.
The first witness for the prosecution, now 28, recalled that Sandusky wooed him starting when he was 12, letting him wear the jersey of the star linebacker LaVar Arrington.
In his Washington Post blog, Arrington, a retired Redskin, wrote that it was “mind-blowing” to hear about the boy’s hurt. He recalled that he had asked the kid, “Why are you always walking around all mad, like a tough guy?”
He assumed that since the boy had been involved with the Second Mile charity, he must be from a troubled home.
“I will never just assume ever again,” he said of dealing with an angry child. “I will always ask, and let them know that it’s O.K. to tell the truth about why they are upset.”
That accuser testified that at the Alamo Bowl, Dottie Sandusky, a good German, came into the hotel room while her husband was in the shower threatening to send the boy home if he would not perform oral sex. Jerry came out and she asked him, “What are you doing in there?” But she soon disappeared.
“She was kind of cold,” the young man recalled. “She wasn’t mean or hateful, nothing like that, just, they’re Jerry’s kids, like that.”
Another accuser, now 18, testified that he screamed when Sandusky raped him in the basement; though Dottie was upstairs, there was no response.
NBC’s Michael Isikoff reported on a secret file discovered in Penn State’s internal investigation, led by Louis Freeh, the former F.B.I. chief. Graham Spanier, a former university president, and Gary Schultz, a former vice president, debated whether they had a legal obligation to report the 2001 shower incident, and in one e-mail, agreed it would be “humane” to Sandusky not to inform social service agencies.
That revoltingly echoes the testimony in the trial of Msgr. William Lynn in Philadelphia, where the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua ordered the shredding of a list of 35 priests believed to be child molesters. Lynn testified that he followed Bevilacqua’s orders not to tell victims if others had accused the same priest of abuse, or to inform parishes of the true reason that perverted priests were removed and recirculated.
When a seminarian told Lynn in 1992 that he was raped all through high school by the monstrous Rev. Stanley Gana, Lynn conceded he let it fall “through the cracks.” He also admitted he “forgot” to tell the police investigating a preying priest that the diocese knew of at least eight more cases.
Yet Lynn claimed he did his “best” for victims.
Inundated by instantaneous information and gossip, do we simply know more about the seamy side? Do greater opportunities and higher stakes cause more instances of unethical behavior? Have our materialism, narcissism and cynicism about the institutions knitting society — schools, sports, religion, politics, banking — dulled our sense of right and wrong?
“Most Americans continue to think of their lives in moral terms; they want to live good lives,” said James Davison Hunter, a professor of religion, culture and social theory at the University of Virginia and the author of “The Death of Character.” “But they are more uncertain about what the nature of the good is. We know more, and as a consequence, we no longer trust the authority of traditional institutions who used to be carriers of moral ideals.
“We used to experience morality as imperatives. The consequences of not doing the right thing were not only social, but deeply emotional and psychological. We couldn’t bear to live with ourselves. Now we experience morality more as a choice that we can always change as circumstances call for it. We tend to personalize our ideals. And what you end up with is a nation of ethical free agents.
“We’ve moved from a culture of character to a culture of personality. The etymology of the word character is that it’s deeply etched, not changeable in all sorts of circumstances. We don’t want to think of ourselves as transgressive or bad, but we tend to personalize our understanding of the good.”
Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor dubbed “the Elvis of cyberlaw” by Wired magazine, was seduced by his rock star choirmaster at the American Boychoir School in Princeton in the 1970s when he was 14 and turned into his supportive “wife,” as he calls it. “It made me really feel like a grown-up. Typically, sex doesn’t have to be terrible.”
In 2004, he represented another victim in a successful lawsuit against the school. He told me that “an astonishing 30 to 40 percent” of his peers there had been abused, “and everybody knew and nobody did anything.” That echoes the horror at the Horace Mann School in the Bronx in the 1970s and 1980s, where a culture of sexual abuse by teachers developed.
And as if we needed more evidence that perversity lurks everywhere, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been ordered to pay more than $20 million to a woman who was abused for two years, starting at age 9, by a congregation member in California. She had filed a lawsuit accusing the church of instructing elders to keep sex-abuse accusations quiet.
“You don’t want to be the outsider who betrays the institution; whistleblowers are always the weirdos,” Lessig said. “There are so many ways to rationalize doing the easy thing. And it’s really easy for us to overlook how our inaction to step up and do even the simplest thing leads to profoundly destructive consequences in our society.”
I asked Cory Booker, the Newark mayor, why he ignored his security team and made a snap decision to run into a burning house to save his neighbor. He said his parents taught him to feel indebted to all the people who had sacrificed for his family. And he recoiled in law school at the idea that there was not always a legal obligation to help the vulnerable.
“We have to fight the dangerous streams in culture, the consumerism and narcissism and me-ism that erode the borders of our moral culture,” he said. “We can’t put shallow celebrity before core decency. We have to have a deeper faith in the human spirit. As they say, he who has the heart to help has the right to complain.”
Next up is The Moustache of Wisdom:
A few weeks ago, I was in Amman, Jordan, talking with educators, when I met a young American woman with the most remarkable job description. Her name was Shaylyn Romney Garrett. She introduced herself by saying that she and her husband, James, were former Peace Corps volunteers in Jordan who had stayed on to start a nonprofit, Think Unlimited. It helps Jordanian schoolteachers learn how to “teach creative thinking and problem solving” in their classrooms. “Now that,” I said, “would be the real Arab Spring.”
Rote learning is still the dominant education method in most Arab public schools. The Garretts, with some backing from Queen Rania of Jordan’s school-reform initiative, designed a program to enable and inspire Jordanian teachers to adopt a much more creative approach to education. They also conduct summer “Brain Camps” for young students to hone their problem-solving skills by creating solutions for water shortage. Garrett told me one story, though, that really stuck in my mind.
“There was a 16-year-old girl in our Peace Corps village in Jordan,” she said. “She came from a very conservative family, always wearing Islamic dress. When you asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said ‘doctor,’ which is what they all say, because it is the most prestigious job. After completing our six-day summer camp, she realized, though, that she could do something else with her talent, that she could be a change-agent. So she started a girls’ club in the village. [At the camp,] we teach kids the concept of ‘brainstorming,’ and one day we were walking together and she was running ideas past me, and she said, ‘Miss Shaylyn, I stormed my brain last night to think of different ideas for what the theme of my club should be.’ She eventually made it a leadership club.” It was an example, said Garrett, of taking a specific creative-thinking skill — brainstorming — and applying it to her community.
The Arab awakenings may or may not succeed in ousting the dictators, but they will have no chance of really empowering the new generation without this kind of revolution in education. The Arab awakening — at its core — was a nonreligious event, led by young people frustrated that they lacked the space, job opportunities and educational tools to realize their full potential. That was the volcanic energy source that blew the lid off Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and Libya. While Islamist parties have seized this opening to initially take power, if they don’t satisfy the aspirations of those youths who stormed their brains and then stormed the barricades, they will — sooner or later — get blown away just like the Mubaraks and Qaddafis.
Dalia Mogahed runs polling in the Arab world for Gallup. She would not predict if the Muslim Brotherhood candidate would win this weekend’s Egyptian presidential election, but she did note that, since January, support for the Brotherhood and Salafists in Egypt has fallen by 20 percent. Why? Because they misinterpreted their parliamentary victory as a religious/ideological mandate, she said, “and it wasn’t.” When a female parliamentarian from the Brotherhood’s party made statements suggesting that female genital mutilation no longer be criminalized, it triggered a backlash from Egyptians worried that this is what the Brotherhood’s priorities were.
In tracking polls, Gallup asked Egyptians which parties they supported and, at the same time, what their priorities were for the new government. No matter which party they voted for, said Mogahed, “there is no difference across the board — not the slightest — between liberals and conservatives on priorities for the next government. They are jobs — No. 1 — then economic development, security and stability and education, in that order. Take out security and stability, and they look just like American voters. If the Muslim Brotherhood misreads their win as a popular ideological mandate, rather than a practical vote for good governance, they will work on the wrong things and, therefore, lose power.”
According to the Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2012, “Earning a fair wage and owning a home are now the two highest priorities for young people in the Middle East — displacing living in a democracy as the greatest aspiration of regional youth.” Democracy is now third. And no wonder. If you are not properly educated, you can’t get a decent job and buy an apartment — and, without that, you can’t get married. Record numbers of Arab youth today are still living with their parents after college. Indeed, 25 percent of all young Arabs ages 15 to 24 are unemployed. What makes this cohort so dangerous, though, is that they are the educated unemployed — who are not really educated. Most Arab state public schools score very low on the international math/reading comparisons, thanks to a system that asks students to take notes, spew back what they learned and pay for private tutoring from the same teachers after school if they want anything remotely better.
The dominant trend in the Arab world today remains “education for unemployment” rather than “education for employment,” said Mona Mourshed, an Egyptian-American who leads McKinsey’s global education practice. “You have a teaching method that is centuries old and a curriculum that does not support students with the competencies they need.” It takes the average employer in the Arab world nine months to train a new worker to be proficient. The single most popular thing the U.S. could do right now to support the Arab Spring is to identify six or seven specific fields of work — in light manufacturing, textiles, services, word processing, etc. — and establish education programs that can impart real skills for those jobs.
I read the other day that a U.S. drone had killed “the No. 2 man” in Al Qaeda. I am sure the world is a better place. But I don’t think President Obama realizes how much U.S. drone strikes have become his signature policy in the Middle East today. President Obama needs to remember, said Mogahed, what a radical act his election was. Every Arab knew that could never happen in their societies, and it had a huge impact on their sense of the possible. “It was such a symbolic win for American values, for the idea that it doesn’t matter who your grandfather is, you can succeed on merit,” she added. But we’re drifting away from that story line. If we don’t storm our own brains and redirect our Arab foreign aid to education for employment, we’ll forever be killing the No. 2 man in Al Qaeda.
We’ve done that now, what, about 25 times or so? Here’s Mr. Kristof:
Before beginning my road trip across Iran, I stopped at a shopping mall for computer equipment in Tehran. It was brimming with iPads and iPhones — not to mention a statuette of Steve Jobsin a store window — and one shop owner smirked condescendingly at my laptop.
“You have a very, very old computer!” he scoffed. “Is this older than I am?”
The encounter was a reminder that Iran is a relatively rich and sophisticated country, more so than most of its neighbors. Yet one lesson from my 1,700-mile drive around the country is that, largely because of Western sanctions, factories are closing, workers are losing their jobs, trade is faltering and prices are surging. This is devastating to the average Iranian’s pocketbook — and pride.
To be blunt, sanctions are succeeding as intended: They are inflicting prodigious economic pain on Iranians and are generating discontent.
One factory owner, Hassan Gambari, who makes electrical panels, told me that he had had to lay off 12 of his 15 workers. Another, Masoud Fatemi, who makes cotton thread and textiles, said that Western sanctions had aggravated pre-existing economic problems.
“Prices have gone ridiculously high, so production is almost impossible,” he said. “Everything has become harder, more time-consuming and more expensive because of the sanctions.”
Fatemi said that an electrical inverter blew out a year and a half ago, closing one of his factory lines and costing him $500 a day. Because of sanctions, he said, he has been unable to get a replacement from the West, although he hopes to install one soon from South Korea.
In Tabriz, in the west, I chatted with the owner of a store selling Nike, Adidas and Saucony sneakers, hugely prized as status symbols. If a young man wants to find a girlfriend, the shop owner explained, the best bet is to wear Nikes.
But sales have dropped by two-thirds in the last year, he fretted. He added in disgust that some Iranians are in such penury that they attend parties wearing Chinese-made, fake Nikes.
In March, Iran was pushed out of Swift, a banking network for international payments, so the businessman now pays for his imports through the traditional hawala system. That’s an unofficial global network of money-traders. You lug a briefcase of cash to a hawala office in an Iranian bazaar and then ask for it to be made available in Beijing or Los Angeles. This is more expensive and less reliable than a bank transfer, but it’s now the main alternative.
“We are finding a loophole around sanctions,” a hawala trader told me. “The Iranian nation has no other option.”
Economic frustration is compounded because President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been lifting subsidies for everything from bread to gasoline — probably sound economic policy, but very unpopular.
Western sanctions have succeeded in another way: Most blame for economic distress is directed at Iran’s own leaders, and discontent appears to be growing with the entire political system. I continually ran into Iranians who were much angrier at their leaders on account of rising prices than on account of the imprisonment of dissidents or Bahais.
“We can’t do business as we used to, and our quality of life is getting worse,” one man, who lost his job as a salesman, said forlornly. “We blame our regime, not Western countries.”
Economic pressure also may be distracting people from other nationalist issues. For example, many ordinary Iranians side with their government on nuclear issues and are angry at assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. But people are much more focused on lost jobs and soaring prices.
“The economy is breaking people’s backs,” a young woman told me in western Iran.
I regret this suffering, and let’s be clear that sanctions are hurting ordinary Iranians more than senior officials. I’m also appalled that the West blocks sales of airline parts, thus risking crashes of civilian aircraft.
Yet, with apologies to the many wonderful Iranians who showered me with hospitality, I favor sanctions because I don’t see any other way to pressure the regime on the nuclear issue or ease its grip on power. My takeaway is that sanctions are working pretty well.
This success makes talk of a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites unwise as well as irresponsible. Aside from the human toll, war would create a nationalist backlash that would cement this regime in place for years to come — just when economic sanctions are increasingly posing a challenge to its survival. No one can predict the timing, but Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen have shown that unpopular regimes that cannot last, don’t.
“People putting bread on the table, bearing the pressure, they have a limit,” said a businessman I chatted with on a beach of the Caspian Sea. “Sooner or later, the limit will come and things will change.”
Insha’Allah. (God willing.)
Last but not least, here’s Mr. Bruni:
Friendship brings such blessings. And such bargains! Only because of our closeness was President Obama willing to drop his asking price and offer me a picture and a moment with him on the cheap. At least that’s what my invitation to a fund-raiser last Thursday night said.
I don’t mean the Thursday night fund-raiser: that vaunted din-din at Sarah Jessica Parker’s crib in Greenwich Village, where 50 glitterati paid 40 grand each. (I’ll multiply: that’s a $2 million haul.) I mean a second, follow-up fund-raiser, headlined by Mariah Carey at the Plaza, to which the president and first lady quickly zipped, double-dipping in Manhattan’s lucrative waters to maximize their catch.
The Plaza event was for a “small group of friends,” said the invitation, which came to me by mistake. (Like most journalists, I don’t give political donations.) The invitation also said that in light of those friendships, the “contribution amount has been kept low.” How low? I had to open up an attachment to find out: a mere $10,000 for one person, $15,000 for a couple. Pocket change! Since 250 “friends” reportedly ended up in this “small group,” that’s another $2 million haul, give or take.
Four years ago, Obama opted out of public financing for the general election, which would have given him $84 million for the September-to-November phase of the race but prevented additional fund-raising. He raised many times that — his total, stretching back to the start of his primary campaign, was about $750 million — and hugely outspent John McCain, who took public financing.
Two years later the Supreme Court, in the disastrous Citizens United ruling, cleared the way for unlimited donations to — and expenditures by — “super PACs” that could promote a given candidate so long as they didn’t coordinate with him or her. Republican bigwigs got to furious work, determined to put Obama at the financial disadvantage this time around.
And here we are, in an age of austerity surreally contradicted by the hundreds of millions being poured into campaigns. By some estimates Election 2012 will be a $2 billion affair, the majority of that probably amassed and put into play on the Republican side.
There are indeed two Americas and two economies: one in which a conservative titan like Sheldon Adelson and his relatives blithely funnel $21 million toward the lost cause of Newt Gingrich, and another in which the median net worth of an American family has dropped to $77,300, which is roughly where it was in the early 1990s.
Campaign spending skyrockets while government spending is under siege. Political ad makers get rich while infrastructure crumbles. And presidential candidates have been turned into platinum-level panhandlers. When they could and should be mulling the metastasizing challenges of a country on the ropes, they’re begging: to crowds of more than 1,000 and klatches of just a few dozen; over breakfasts and lunches and dinners; in multiple states on single days. Obama traveled to Maryland and Pennsylvania on Tuesday and pulled off six fund-raisers in as many hours.
Today’s office seekers present vague promises but a detailed pricing chart. For X amount you get a speech; for more, a photo; for even more, all of that plus banter over canapés. Politicians are like airlines. You can fly them economy, business or first class.
Or you can try to buy one of your own. Isn’t that essentially what the Koch brothers and Adelson are doing? As Nicholas Confessore reported in The Times last week, Charles and David Koch lead a group of conservative donors who have pledged to raise some $400 million during this campaign cycle for issue groups, including their super PAC, while Adelson and his family have thus far given at least $35 million to super PACs that support Republicans. Of that, $10 million recently went to Restore Our Future, which backs Romney. Adelson has said that he might spend $100 million when all is said and done.
“That is a great deal of money,” noted McCain, a longtime proponent of tighter regulations on money in politics, in an interview Thursday on “PBS NewsHour.” “And, again, we need a level playing field.”
What we have, instead, is a gaudy free-for-all, so loopy and unctuous as to defy belief.
We have Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, yukking it up on the phone with a blogger who successfully passed himself off as David Koch and said, “I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.”
“Outstanding,” Walker responded.
We have Romney ignoring Donald Trump’s attention-mongering tantrums about Obama’s birthplace in return for fund-raising help, including a 63rd birthday lunch for Ann Romney on the 66th floor of Trump Tower in Manhattan. That was in April. The cynosure of the equestrienne-themed cake was an edible Ann on an edible horse. The tally was reportedly $600,000.
We have both the Romney and Obama campaigns soliciting donations by promising to enter donors in lotteries for dinner with the candidate and one (or more) of his celebrity boosters, and we have e-mail subject lines from the Obama campaign like these: “Clooney,” “George Clooney. Really” and “Throw Bo a bone.”
Bo as in the First Dog. The money hunt enlists all creatures great and small.
We have early, primary-season assessments of candidates that hinge largely on what sort of fund-raising chops they seem to have. It’s a bizarre qualification for governing, but a transcendent one, and that’s been true for a few nutty decades now. George W. Bush in 2000, Howard Dean in 2004, Rick Perry this time around: all generated excitement because all generated money. Before the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary comes the first fund-raising report. It’s nearly as relevant a verdict.
We have difficulty taking anything at face value. Did Cory Booker, the Newark mayor, denounce the Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain Capital because he was really all that nettled by the negativity, or was he pacifying Wall Street, whose largess, which he enjoys, can be essential to a New Jersey politician? It’s impossible not to wonder.
We have a financial arms race, which leads to a barrage of negative attack ads, which turn an already incendiary partisanship positively sulfurous.
Last week, as the fund-raising frenzy came into more ghastly relief, there were calls for a constitutional amendment to dismantle super PACs and for the Supreme Court to revisit Citizens United.
There was also a speech by Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate, who likened the Obama campaign’s complaints about conservative megadonors to President Nixon’s so-called enemies list. McConnell praised Citizens United as a victory for free speech.
Hearing the word “free” in this context was the most surreal wrinkle of all, because right now we’re shackled to a system that demeans the people running for office, corrodes voters’ trust in them and doesn’t do any honor to this democracy of ours.