Monday, July 23, 2012

Dad, What's A Sununu?

Dad, What’s A Sununu?

For Father’s Day, my kids gave me David McCullough’s “The Great Bridge” the fantastic story about the conception and building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Smart children.  The Great Bridge has some of my favorite obsessions.  My big, noisy, pushy, awful and altogether appealing city.  Interesting and obscure technical details about wires, trusses, coils, braces, the Bends.  And politics; lots and lots of politics, Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed, juicy bits of graft, spittoons, mistresses, bribes, blackmail, no-show jobs.

It is the kind of book that can put a smile on your face as you jump from one appalling story to another.  But there was one item that seemed out of place. John Roebling, the engineer and architect of the Brooklyn Bridge, a precise, correct, dignified, highly organized man renowned for his attention to detail, his grasp of minutia, his austere and unemotional demeanor, also became a devotee of spiritualism in the last years of his life. 

Roebling wasn’t alone.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the supremely rational detective Sherlock Holmes, was also a believer, as was the evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace.  These men held meticulously planned séances, with each “manifestation” deepening their conviction that an alternate spirit world did exist.

The idea that people of high intelligence and great accomplishment in the “real world” should think this way may seem outlandish to many of us.  We tend to associate spiritualism with dotty old Aunts in long dresses and longer hair, Ouija boards, and bad teen movies.  But they were committed, and no amount of debunking would shake them. 

It is easy to make fun of this, but faith need not know of reason.  And wanting very badly (Roebling had lost his wife) can make the sanest people deaf to contrary facts.

This is especially so in politics, where memories are evanescent, and an ends and means dissonance can express itself aggressively.  We equate our desires with moral imperatives.  That can sometimes mean winning by the sword.  In the 21st Century, helmets and lances are out, but making it up as we go along, flinging out wild accusations and half-truths is decidedly not.

The last week we had few excellent examples of this.  First, the profoundly unhinged Michelle Bachmann demanded an investigation of the highly regarded Huma Abedin (a key aide to Secretary of State Clinton) alleging Ms. Abedin had ties to terrorist organizations and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Then, up sprang an ugly little conference about a film challenging Mr. Obama’s parentage.  It alleges that the President was really fathered (and still influenced) by Frank Marshall Davis, a radical Communist Party USA propagandist.  This disgusting piece of garbage is supported by Cliff Kincaid, who heads the conservative watch group Accuracy in Media 

So, what was the Romney campaign’s and the establishment GOP’s reaction to this?

Bachmann was apparently a bridge too far.  John McCain condemned the accusation, and Speaker Boehner termed Bachman’s allegations “dangerous.”  And in the flocked-wallpapered rooms of the wirepullers of the GOP, they gave a silent prayer of thanks. They don’t want Bachmann to be featured at the Convention, which is going to be one big happy family of Ozzie and Harriet solidity, good solid conservative values, prayer, and patriotism.  Nothing to look that’s in the least bit odd or fringe out there.  These aren’t the droids.  Move along.

But for the bizarre cult of Obama-haters who met under the embracing eye of Mr. Kincaid, a bit more of a hush falls over the GOP crowd, because they like and need Kincaid.  No harm in letting a little doubt flow, is there?  Of course, this does have the inconvenient effect of actually making Obama a citizen (sorry, Donald and Sheriff Joe) but there’s no reasons why rational people can’t hold opposite views when they confirm core irrationality.  Perhaps the Commie whisked Obama’s mother to a foreign locale for romance?

And that brings us to Mr. Sununu.  Last week, Mr. Sununu said, on a Romney campaign conference call, and “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”  Then he traipsed off to the succoring arms of Fox, where he declared that Obama “has no idea how the American system functions….because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia.”  And he offered that Mr. Obama came from Chicago “that murky political world where politician and felon have become synonymous.”

Ok, so, now we have Obama the unborn, or Obama born of Communist seed, or Obama the un-American sucking up weed and worse while immersing himself in radical thug culture here and abroad.  Pick it, Mitt?  Which mole do you care to whack in the name of decency? 

I’m afraid it’s none of the above.  Ms. Bachmann just got the full-throated support of Tea Party Nation so we will let McCain’s righteous indignation stand on its own (no need to rile the base.)  And Mr. Kincaid is really an ok guy (after all, he’s urging Rupert Murdoch to do more to support the Romney campaign.)

And what about this Sununu fellow?  Apparition from another world? No, Mr. Sununu is the former Governor of New Hampshire. He’s also the former Chief of Staff to the first President Bush.  Wrap your head around that for a moment.  He’s not the Bachmann crazy lady portrayed by Kristen Wiig on SNL, all hyperactive eyelashes and freak-show statements, and he’s not a conservative operative immersed in muck.  He’s the 75-year-old former Chief of Staff to the most powerful man in the world, and he’s clearly not off the reservation when making those statements. 

When you want something really badly, even conjuring up scary things from the spirit world is justified.

Kids, that’s a Romney surrogate.  That's a Sununu.