Fallout Day

Sometimes a slow news day is a good thing – everyone needs time to recover and put things in perspective. And this was the week that Obama finally endorsed same-sex marriage – as a basic right and a matter of common decency. And the next morning the Washington Post published a carefully-sourced five thousand word item on Mitt Romney’s high school days at the impossibly exclusive Cranbrook School – where he was, by all accounts, a mean-spirited brutal bully, fond of tormenting the weak and helpless and probably guilty of simple assault and battery – because he felt entitled or something. And that evening President Obama showed up here in Hollywood, just on the other side of the hill out back, for an exclusive fundraiser at George Clooney’s place – with all the stars and movers and shakers. And while he was hanging with the celebrities the only stable big bank left lost, in an instant, two billion dollars, or maybe three, on secondary hedging of credit-default swaps – so here we go again. And that’s more than enough news for a month. So when nothing much happened on Friday everyone got a chance to step back and consider it all.

As for Obama’s fundraiser, well, that seemed pleasant enough – no one made any real news – and the fears of a massive traffic jam right here in Laurel Canyon proved groundless – folks must have used Nichols Canyon or Coldwater to get home from work. And the Secret Service kept the news helicopters far away, so it was a rather quiet evening in the neighborhood. The clubs down the block on the Sunset Strip – the Roxy and the Whisky and so on – may have had a quiet night too – too much security everywhere. Obama should visit more often.

As for Jamie Dimon and his hangdog announcement that his JPMorgan screwed up and lost all those billions of dollars, that didn’t move the markets much. JPMorgan makes more money than God and two or three billion is really chump-change to them. It’s just that Dimon has been ranting and raving about how the last thing the banks need is more regulation – or any at all – and how proprietary trading in rather imaginary indexes of other indexes, of derivatives of other derivatives, to hedge risk and make tons of money, is a fine thing, and good thing, and entirely safe and sensible. Now he had to admit his own bank just gave a whole lot of ammunition to those who think regulating such things might be wise. And others noted this hurt Romney, who agrees with Dimon – that regulation of any sort is bad, and certainly un-American – or it hurts Obama, who has been slow on getting anyone to implement the new Dodd-Frank regulatory reforms. Take your pick. See Robert Reich – How JPMorgan-Chase Has Made the Case for Breaking Up The Big Banks and Resurrecting Glass-Steagall – and SEC Opens Investigation Into JPMorgan’s $2 Billion Loss – and New Wall Street Scandal Threatens Romney in contrast to Why Is “Fail Whale” Trade a Problem for Romney, and Not the Administration That Watered Down the Volcker Rule?

But that’s arcane stuff. Most people know that something is terribly wrong, but when they hear about secondary hedging of credit-default swaps and such things, their eyes glaze over. Who understands these things? If there is such a thing as learned helplessness this is it. The next collapse of the economy will ruin everyone’s lives – but there will be no one who really understands why it happened. And now we’re used to that.

The Romney-as-bully story is not like that. We get it – he organized a posse of better-than-you assholes to hunt down a weak kid with funny hair, probably gay, and he himself held down the crying kid, begging for help, and cut off his hair. And the day after that story broke Time’s Joe Klein had second thoughts:

I fear that I went too easy on Mitt Romney with regard to his high school bullying escapades. It’s not the incident itself that troubles me – though it was, obviously, outrageous and disgraceful – so much as his current response: He doesn’t remember it. This is patent nonsense. How could he not remember it? Obviously he remembers it, or he wouldn’t have been so quick to issue his blanket apology yesterday for any and all hurt he may have caused at Cranbrook. And this transparent fudge once again raises questions about his character.

Klein sees a pattern here:

It comes during the same week that he claims credit for saving the auto industry, even though he opposed the bailout that made possible the structured bankruptcy he favored. It comes the same week that he expresses his opposition to gay marriage, even though he promised to be a more aggressive proponent of gay rights than Ted Kennedy when he ran for the Senate in 1994. Of course, it’s possible that Romney has evolved in the opposite direction as President Obama, and most Americans, on this issue, but I doubt it. It seems a day can’t go by without some Romney embarrassment or bald-faced reversal of a former position.

And Klein adds this:

I’m still waiting for the moment when Romney actually tells the truth about something difficult. He could have said, “You know, I’ve been troubled by the Cranbrook episode for most of my life, and I feel relieved, in a way, that it’s come out now. I did a really stupid and terrible thing. Teenage boys sometimes do such things and deserve to be punished for them. What I most regret is that I never apologized to John and won’t be able to now that he’s gone, but let me apologize to his family and friends. Bullying is unacceptable under any circumstances. It is especially unacceptable when prejudice – against one’s race, ethnicity or sexual orientation – is involved. If elected President, I will try to atone for my teenage behavior by campaigning against bullying all across this country. What I did back then should be an example of how not to behave. I hope we can all learn from this. I know I have.”

Instead, Romney has a near perfect record of cowardice, obfuscation and downright lies. It shows enormous disrespect for the intelligence of the public.

Sometimes you need a day to think about things, and Andrew Sullivan simply quotes Tennessee Williams – “Some things are not forgivable. Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable. It is the most unforgivable thing in my opinion, and the one thing of which I have never, ever been guilty.”

On the other hand, Jonathan Chait offers an alternative theory:

Maybe Romney didn’t hate gays – maybe he just hated hair. Or, other peoples’ hair, anyway. Perhaps that is the deeper fixation: It is not enough for Romney to have perfect hair. Others must have terrible hair.

Chait is kidding of course, but Mike Lux isn’t:

The American public should not be surprised by this story, because Romney and his Republican party’s entire philosophy is straight out of Lord of The Flies.

It’s not just that the Republicans oppose hate crime and anti-bullying legislation because it gives certain people they don’t like “special status” or that they have been trying to defund the Violence against Women Act or withdraw its help from immigrant women. It’s not only that they want the American government to be able to torture people in violation of our constitution, our treaties, and our oldest traditions as a country. In fact, the Lord of the Flies philosophy is at the very heart of their economic plans. The Ryan-Romney budget is all about giving the wealthy and powerful everything, and taking money and resources away from the elderly, people with disabilities, the poor, and the working class in this country. They want to let polluters go free to do what they will in poisoning our air and water and climate, and big oil to take unending subsidies and tax loopholes. They want the big insurance companies to be able to keep the sick from getting coverage. They want to leave the Wall Street titans free to speculate and cheat their customers and wreak ever more havoc with the economy. In short, Romney and Ryan want the strong to be set free to do what they will to the rest of us. Each of us would be on our own, the safety net and most basic consumer protections would be shredded, and the devil-take-the-hindmost. It is the cruelty of Romney’s high school “pranks and hi-jinks” turned into an entire economic system.

The story about Romney’s merciless cruelty, which he says he doesn’t even remember and writes off as a harmless, boys-will-be-boys prank, is not an aberration, it is part of his whole life story. He went from being the big bully in his high school, to being the cavalier dad who made the family dog ride on top of the car even when it was making him sick, to being the “vulture capitalist” at Bain Capital loading up companies with debt for short term profit and doing mass layoffs before selling off the companies.

Now he is the Presidential candidate advocating for the Ryan budget, the single cruelest policy document I have ever seen in 30+ years of politics.

And Digby adds this:

I have no doubt that Mitt sees himself as being a very decent and kind person. Most of us do. But in truth, he is a person who represents the dark, predatory side of American culture – that aspect of our society that fetishizes ambition and avarice and believes that altruism is a form of weakness. It’s always there, but until recently we more or less had an agreement that it was well … un-Christian, at the very least, to be too obvious about it.

I don’t know if this is Ayn Rand permeating the national consciousness or the application of “tough love” as an excuse for cruelty, but this Lord of the Flies psychology is becoming mainstream. Mitt Romney personifies it. No redemption necessary for this fellow. He’s always known who he was.

So one day passes. People step back. And they decide this is even worse than it seemed.

But see this – Rush Limbaugh: Obama was a bully, too – as Obamacare is the real bullying here, or something. And people should lighten up, as losers get what they deserve – as in Seller of Trayvon Martin Gun Range Targets Says They Sold Out in Two Days and 230,000 Unemployed Will Lose Benefits This Weekend for example. People just envy Mitt Romney, because he’s winner and they’re not. Winners get to beat up other people, the weaker people, the losers. Deal with it.

And as for Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage, there were reactions like Alex Koppelman saying this:

In an election about a struggling economy and about people out of work, people want to see that their next President can, to borrow a phrase, feel their pain. Romney’s opponents will spend the next several months telling you he can’t do that. Hari Sevugan, the former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, previewed that strategy Thursday on Twitter, writing, “The bullying wasn’t a teenage one-off. Seamus, slashing jobs. It’s all telling of a lack of empathy and compassion – Presidential qualities.”

And Roderick Long looks at the matter historically:

It is true that the term “marriage” has traditionally been applied, for the most part, to heterosexual unions specifically (though often polygamous ones, a fact such critics persistently pretend to overlook). But it is also true that the term “marriage” has traditionally been applied exclusively to relationships in which the husband held legal authority over the wife – relationships in which the wife was not only subordinated to her husband but actually absorbed into his legal identity.

If we are going to appeal to traditional usage to deny that same-sex partnerships are genuine marriages, then by the same argument we will have to deny that relationships between legal equals can count as marriages. In the traditional meaning of “marriage,” then, there are no married couples in the United States today.

And Jonathan Bernstein argues this whole issue doesn’t matter much:

At the margins, Obama’s new position makes him slightly more prepared for the fall campaign; should marriage hit the headlines (say, from a major court decision), it’s probably easier for him to talk about it now than it was under his old position. And I’m not saying that social issues overall are not important politically. They certainly can be – but their importance, so to speak, has already happened; those who care about these things have sorted themselves by party long ago. So mostly, as far as November is concerned, this new wrinkle just doesn’t seem likely to have any effect at all.

And Amanda Marcotte sees things this way:

With the gay rights issue, the don’t-care factor is rising rapidly alongside the open support for same-sex marriage – which is to say that a lot of people who oppose gay marriage do so in a softer way than before. They will hold on to their belief, but they also see the writing on the wall and are adjusting their commitment to this issue accordingly. They’ll vote against gay marriage in a special election, sure, but they’ve also decided they’re not going to lose any sleep if the courts declare same-sex marriage a right.

And the polling followed – Poll: 51% Agree with Obama’s Endorsement of Gay Marriage – Six in 10 Say Obama Same-Sex Marriage View Won’t Sway Vote – Poll: Most Voters Don’t Care About Obama’s Gay-Marriage Evolution – and so on and so forth.

But sometimes you fight something anyway:

Gay service members who want to marry often can’t have the ceremony on military bases in the United States. It’s not the Pentagon that has authority, but the states where the bases are located.

Many states that are home to some of the nation’s largest military bases have outlawed same-sex marriage, including North Carolina, Texas and California.

So if a gay military couple wants to get married in those states, they can’t, even on U.S. military property.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: “State law controls in that situation. So you know, where state law provides for that, then obviously that kind of marriage can take place. And if the law prohibits that, then it cannot take place on a military base.”

But you can fight that:

If Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have their way, no gay marriages will take place on any military bases. In a straight party-line vote, the GOP members of the HASC voted Thursday to include a provision in the new defense authorization bill outlawing any gay marriage ceremonies on military bases.

So, in short, the Department of Defense will defy state law, and refuse to conduct same-sex marriages on all bases everywhere, or there will be no money, not one dime, for the military – even if no one cares all that much. They didn’t add anything about holding anyone down and cutting of their hair. Mitt Romney isn’t president yet.

But, when you have a day to think about it, maybe Obama didn’t really do much of anything on this issue. At least that’s what Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West argue here:

When President Obama announced his support of same-sex marriage, he talked broadly about “equality” and “fairness.” He spoke of “opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians” and making sure that nobody is treated as “less than full citizens when it comes to their legal rights.” It was a powerful moment – historic and emotional. In the Aaron Sorkin version, the orchestra would have soared at this point as the supporting cast members exchanged teary-eyed yet knowing nods.

But then President Obama described how these rights should be protected and the music stopped with a squawk. Same-sex marriage, he said, is not in fact a federal issue but should be left to the states. He praised as “a healthy process and a healthy debate” the current patchwork of state referenda, amendments, laws, and judicial opinions that our marriage federalism has produced. He said he didn’t want “to nationalize this issue” and added that the states are “working through this issue … all across the country.”

But that does work now in North Carolina – they just did away with gay marriage, and civil unions, by referendum. Nothing much is going to change:

The “marriage is a purely state issue” rhetoric has been around for some time. It’s become a familiar default argument, maybe because it sounds fair and feels safe. But having “evolved” this far on gay marriage, the time has come to evolve our own thinking on what is really at stake when we talk about marriage equality. We must embrace that this is a constitutional and not a democratic issue. Equality is not a popularity contest. This is hardly a radical argument. This is Supreme Court doctrine: Our rights to be treated as equal and full citizens do not evaporate when we cross state lines. Rather there are certain essential liberties, even in the realm of marriage, we all enjoy regardless of our ZIP code.

This is pretty simple. We vote on lots of things, but we have the Constitution which carves out certain things not up for a vote – all that stuff in the Bill of Rights. And that’s the issue here:

The Supreme Court recognized, in its landmark 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia that the “right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals” and “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness.” After Loving, marriage is deemed a “fundamental freedom” protected by the constitution, and states cannot deny an individual of this basic right without an exceedingly good reason. If it’s not a good enough reason for a state to prohibit someone from getting married because he committed a crime or failed to pay child support, then it’s clearly not enough that he happens to be gay.

Give people a day or two to think about things and they do just that, and see the real issue here:

You wanna know what is messy? What’s messy is what we have now – an oddball collection of marriage laws, civil unions, and same-sex bans that stop and start at state lines. This is simply unworkable in a country where we all have the right to travel (another one of those “fundamental rights”) and there’s no way to ask people to check their marriages at the border. Add to the mix that nobody has any idea whether the Defense of Marriage Act can overrule the Full Faith and Credit Clause by telling states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages that they can ignore unions from states that do. We have interstate child custody disputes that are Solomonic in scope. And our schizophrenic tax codes treat the same couple as married on one form and not married on the next. Social security, Medicaid, health care directives, estate planning, and immigration all hinge on marital status, which in turn hinges on the whim of the voters. The courts are just now wading into that morass and we won’t lie, it’s ugly out there.

So let’s get real:

The current system is unsustainable. Just as our country couldn’t go on with a mix of free states and slave states, we cannot continue with this jumble of equal marriage states and discriminatory states. Recognizing a federal constitutional right is the only, and the best, method to put this issue to rest. …

Eventually we do reach a tipping point where, as a country, we need to address this as the federal civil rights issue it truly is. Or more appropriately, we need to acknowledge that basic equality is not subject to popular vote, even when majorities would like it to be. President Obama’s announcement, we believe, knocked our country over that tipping point, but it needs to go further. The court has been clear that we can go further.

It’s time to fight this battle where it belongs, which is on the federal stage. It’s time to embrace the language of constitutional justice. It’s time to say what is at stake here – true equality, full citizenship for everyone, basic human dignity and, yes, a fundamental right. The state-by-state rhetoric gives too much credence to the argument that the states have an option to discriminate, sometimes, so long as enough of their citizens cast a vote. They don’t. The Constitution forbids it.

All you have to do is think about it – when you have time. Obama gave his personal opinion – and then he punted, talking about the state’s making law – law that is, potentially and often actually, unconstitutional. Step back and this big news is not quite what it seems.

But nothing ever is, and there should be no slow news days. They give people too much time to think.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Fallout Day

  1. Rick says:

    I always liked Joe Klein. In fact, way back when, he was the only reason I subscribed to New York Magazine. I particularly loved his imagined conversations between Satan and Governor Mario Cuomo. When Klein left the magazine, I didn’t renew my subscription.

    He’s always been a very bright man, but I disagree with his opinion that Mitt Romney is lying about not remembering this bullying incident from high school. I’m pretty sure Mitt is telling the truth.

    I remember at my last high school reunion on Long Island, reminding a group of guys of the time they all got arrested and thrown in jail for stealing hundreds of cases of beer from someone’s garage. They all stared blankly for a minute, then one of them said, yeah, yeah, that’s right, I forgot about that, and then they all started reminiscing and laughing about all the other “pranks” they pulled, including the time they stole a 65-foot yacht and took it for a joy ride across Long Island Sound.

    I’d always wondered if any of the bullies I knew from school changed after graduating and becoming adults, but at that same reunion, I saw one of them swaggering around, still playing the bully. Maybe it’s possible for someone who was chronically a nasty jerk in his school days to change his stripes, it’s just that I have yet to see a documented case.

    It’s true, certain bad behaviors do disappear as we grow up. I’m willing to bet that Barack Obama, who admitted to doing drugs in high school, doesn’t anymore. I remember a boyhood friend and I got caught swiping a few cases of empty coke bottles from a restaurant, planning to cash them in, but we both immediately felt awful about it and swore we’d never steal anything again, and we never have.

    But I think certain traits, such as a propensity for cruelty, don’t go away so easily. Yes, that Maxwell guy, the one who admitted to holding down Lauber’s arm and leg while Romney cut his hair, saw the fear in the victim’s eyes and immediately had a serious change of heart, and has remembered the whole affair with dismay for all these years since. Maxwell wasn’t really a bully, he was just guilty of tagging along with bullies, but he regretted it, and then he grew up.

    But what does it say about Mitt Romney that he laughs and says he doesn’t remember the incident at all? It sounds like there were just too many cases of his bullying people, many of which were documented (the habit of shouting “Atta girl!” whenever a certain effeminate classmate spoke up in class; causing the blind teacher to smash into a closed door, among others listed in the WP article), for him to remember the details of each and every one.

    So should we hold people responsible for “stupid” things they did when they were kids? Yes, especially if the stupid things they did back then involved cruelty. Some claim these were all just silly “pranks” and “hijinks”, but “pranks” are things that are, if you play them at all, played on your friends, and I’ve not heard anyone claim this Lauber guy was in Mitt’s circle of friends.

    I’ve also heard it said that attitudes about bullying have changed, that back then, bullying was acceptable behavior that “helped build character” and “toughen kids up”, which is why schools just told victims to “suck it up and take it!” But no, I too lived back then (in fact, I’m older than Mitt) and I remember schools trying to do something about bullying, but were helpless, since it usually happened when teachers were not around, so they could rarely prove anything, and were not able to persuade those (conservatives, mostly) who defended bullying. Maybe all that has changed since then is that the “meek” have begun to inherit the earth, which may not be such a bad thing.

    But how would this nasty schoolyard attitude manifest itself in an adult? You shouldn’t have to look too hard to see it. In Mitt, I personally think knowing his history helps explain a lot about not only his policies but his apparent belief that everyone looks up to him and secretly “envies” him his wealth and power.

    (Okay, this settles it. Now I’m definitely not voting for the bastard.)


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