The Moustache of Wisdom is off today, and Ta-Nehisi Coates is guest columnist. MoDo has a question: “Who’s on America’s Side?” She says Mitt Romney’s banking on harsh attacks to help him in his White House bid, but, unfortunately, it’s a Swiss account. Mr. Coates, in “Leave the Statue, to Remember,” says we shouldn’t let Penn State ignore its complicity in the cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s abuse. Here’s MoDo:
Usually, at this stage of a presidential campaign, Republicans are doing a much better job of sullying the Democratic candidate as un-American.
Michael Dukakis was accused of having a funny last name and failing to say the Pledge of Allegiance 10 times a day. John Kerry was faulted for acting French and eating Philly cheese steaks with Swiss cheese. Al Gore was into the earth and earth tones — need we say more?
And the G.O.P. has had so much practice over the last four years at skewering Barack Obama as an existentialist socialist apologist for America with a secret foreign birth certificate that it should be like shooting mahi-mahi in a barrel.
The dude used to wear a sarong to do The Sunday Times crossword puzzle, for Pete’s sake — a look more exotic than Ralph Lauren’s Chinese French berets. Yet this week’s Republican attacks have been so shriekingly shrill, they make Poppy Bush campaigning at a New Jersey flag factory back in 1988 look like a masterpiece of subtlety.
“I wish this president would learn how to be an American,” said John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor, on Tuesday during a Romney campaign media conference call. (He later apologized.)
He also went on Fox News to assert that the president “has no idea how the American system functions, and we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, another set of years in Indonesia, and frankly, when he came to the U.S., he worked as a community organizer, which is a socialized structure.”
On Monday, the ever-delightful Rush Limbaugh weighed in: “I think it can now be said, without equivocation — without equivocation — that this man hates this country. He is trying — Barack Obama is trying — to dismantle, brick by brick, the American dream.”
He continued: “He was indoctrinated as a child. His father was a communist. His mother was a leftist. He was sent to prep and Ivy League schools where his contempt for the country was reinforced.” As it was for the Bushes and Mitt Romney?
But that nonsense sounds reasonable compared with Michele Bachmann’s McCarthyesque charges that the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the U.S. government. She ludicrously cited Hillary Clinton’s trusted aide, Huma Abedin, the Muslim daughter of professors of Indian and Pakistani descent and the wife of former Representative Anthony Weiner, as someone who shouldn’t have a security clearance.
It’s hard for the haters to get traction when the president and his wife are looking so all-American, smooching for the “kiss cam” at the U.S. vs. Brazil basketball game here Monday night, as the lovely Malia excitedly looked on.
Campaigning Tuesday in Pennsylvania, Romney called Obama’s course as president “extraordinarily foreign.” But it is the Mitt-bot who keeps getting caught doing things that seem strangely outside the norm to most Americans.
Americans have been trained to be wary of Swiss bank accounts and tax shelters in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Guys who have those in the movies are always shady and greedy.
As Nicholas Shaxson writes in Vanity Fair, though Romney left Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he founded, in 1999, he “has continued to receive large payments from it — in early June he revealed more than $2 million in new Bain income. The firm today has at least 138 funds organized in the Cayman Islands, and Romney himself has personal interests in at least 12, worth as much as $30 million, hidden behind controversial confidentiality disclaimers.”
Jack Blum, a Washington lawyer and offshore expert, told Shaxson: “What Romney doesn’t get is that this stuff is weird.”
George Romney set the gold standard by releasing 12 years’ worth of tax returns. But his son’s refusal to release a decent sampling is so suspicious that even some top Republicans have balked.
Why would the scion of a political family who always wanted to be president tangle himself in a cat’s cradle of tax trickery in the first place?
Romney contended that he had “no role” at Bain after 1999 when some of its companies went bankrupt, shipped jobs overseas and fired workers. He remained the firm’s chairman of the board, C.E.O., president and only stockholder until 2002. Other than that, he had nothing to do with the place.
Aside from his time running the Salt Lake City Olympics, which he’s happy to publicize, Romney’s whole life, from his $250 million fortune to his tenure at the cultish Bain to his Mormonism, seems as though it’s secreted in a hidden shelter.
Like W., he’s coming across as the privileged kid who grew up at the country club and got special deals because of his dad, but then runs around claiming to be a self-made businessman. That lack of self-awareness, and Romney’s refusal to take responsibility for his own company, are disturbing traits in a leader.
No shit, Modo, really? Here’s Mr. Coates:
Happy Valley is a nation, nestled in the rolling green of Pennsylvania, currently wrestling with its martial tradition and the disgrace roiling its core. Once Happy Valley’s venerable hero, Joe Paterno, led his knights in defense of the nation’s honor. Paterno’s champions were known for a making a show of their particular brand of scholar-athleticism and bragging of doing things “the right way.”
They were drilled on the importance of developing the body as well as the mind and outfitted for the quiet civilian life that awaited them after the sounds of battle had faded. The ethos of team sports, personal sacrifice for the greater glory of all, was embodied in the great warrior cry, “We are Penn State.”
On the night Joe Paterno was fired, the wizened warlord led his nation in that great chant one last time. He was standing outside his house, arm around his longtime wife. He was 84 years old and soon to be given a diagnosis of lung cancer. His eyes flashed behind the great windows of his ever-unwieldy frames. He was, for the first time in many decades, unemployed. But much worse, his name was tied to the heinous crimes of a child predator, Jerry Sandusky.
He urged the crowd to get a good night’s sleep and study. He urged prayer for Sandusky’s victims. Then he turned to the crowd and shouted, “We are Penn State!” The chant is supposed to summon up notions of honor, strength and sacrifice. But after Paterno disappeared into his house to wrestle with his own private demons, the assembled citizenry of Happy Valley took to the streets and vented theirs.
It is a truth of history that good people do sometimes do heinous things, but that makes it no easier for the human mind to accept. Acceptance got a little easier last week when Louis Freeh, a former director of the F.B.I. who led a special investigation into the Penn State matter, produced damning evidence that Paterno, when confronted with a most horrific crime, the rape of a child, laid down his arms and ran for cover. This is not the kind of man to whom we dedicate memorials, and following the Freeh report there has been a movement afoot to take down the statue of Paterno that stands outside Beaver Stadium.
The need to clean history so that the record might reflect our current values, and not our sordid past, is broad. In Columbia, S.C., there stands a statue of Ben Tillman, the populist South Carolina senator who helped found Clemson University and, in his spare time, defended lynching from his august national offices. For years there have been calls to remove Tillman’s statue, emanating from those who think it a shame to continue to honor him. But in a democracy, memorial statues are not simply comments on their subjects, but comments on their makers. That Americans once saw fit to honor a man who defended terrorism from the Senate floor is a powerful statement about our identity and history.
Whereas Tillman’s most spectacular sins were known at the time of his lionization, Paterno’s only later came to light. And yet the central sin that now haunts Happy Valley has long been in evidence — a tragic myopia. The Freeh report noted that a janitor who’d witnessed one of Sandusky’s rapes declined to report it, fearing that Penn State would close ranks to protect the football program. It is easy to talk about what we would do were we in the janitor’s place. Much harder is to conclude that we might be susceptible to the same fear, that living in a culture where football is a creed, we too might tremble before the nation’s wrath.
The problem here is not that Paterno shamed Happy Valley, but that Happy Valley, through its broad blindness, has shamed itself. Last week an artist who’d once painted Paterno with a halo altered his mural by removing it. This effort has less to do with the better rendering of Paterno and more to do with escaping the shame of hasty canonization.
Arguing for the statue’s removal, the legendary coach Bobby Bowden said he wouldn’t want Sandusky’s crimes “brought up every time I walked out on the field.” That’s the point. Sandusky’s crimes should never be forgotten, nor should the crimes of the broader community. It is shameful to deify men who put nationalist ritual before children. But it is more shameful to pretend that this elevation was achieved by Joe Paterno’s singular hand.
Removing the Paterno statue allows Happy Valley to forget its own compliance in a national crime, to expunge its own culpability in its ruthless pursuit of glory. The statue should remain, and beneath it there should be a full explanation of Sandusky’s crimes, Paterno’s role and some warning to all of us who would turn a pastime into a god and elect a mortal man as its avatar.