Thursday, January 05, 2012

Speaking of dead parrots squawking ...

(Above: yet another valuable pond guide, found on Facebook. Click on to enlarge).

Every so often the pond likes to be reminded of good reasons not to bother reading The Australian, and on a daily basis the lizard Oz obliges:

On second thoughts, a cursory glimpse of the headers has its rewards, because there could be no finer description of Gary Johns than as a Labor dead parrot squawking.

It's always interesting when the fiercest atheist becomes a fanatical true believer - or vice versa, the Jesuit a doubter - and it's equally astonishing when a politician turns. Johns managed to move from the Labor party to the IPA and the Bennelong Society.

The long and the short of this kind of personal and policy reversal is to wonder if the current views so devotedly held are any more useful or insightful than the original views so devotedly and publicly proclaimed, and whether relevancy deprivation syndrome is the reason why Johns bangs on like a dunny door in a gale for The Australian ...

But enough of Johns, for today we have bonus Paul Sheehan, casting his expert eye on the Iowa results in US shows why elections should be a sprint, not a marathon.

Sheehan shows why filing a column should be a marathon, not a sprint, since he misses the cheerful news that Michele Bachmann has suspended her campaign, with fifth in line Rick Perry the next likely kook to tumble. And happily Newt Gingrinch has walked away bloody and badly battered.

But more to the point for Sheehan-ites is the way Sheehan once again plays fast and loose with language:

If Romney confirms indications and emerges as the standard-bearer for the Republicans against Obama, expect a sustained personal, negative campaign against him. It will not come from the Obama campaign but from its surrogates in the media and political action groups.

Surrogates. The pond immediately consulted an online dictionary:

surrogate n [ˈsʌrəgɪt]
1. a person or thing acting as a substitute
2. (Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) Chiefly Brit a deputy, such as a clergyman appointed to deputize for a bishop in granting marriage licences
3. (Psychiatry) Psychiatry a person who is a substitute for someone else, esp in childhood when different persons, such as a brother or teacher, can act as substitutes for the parents
4. (Law) (in some US states) a judge with jurisdiction over the probate of wills, etc.
5. (modifier) of, relating to, or acting as a surrogate a surrogate pleasure
vb [ˈsʌrəˌgeɪt] (tr)
1. to put in another's position as a deputy, substitute, etc.
2. to appoint as a successor to oneself
[from Latin surrogāre to substitute)

Uh huh. Never mind the eccentric uses by shrinks, the law and Christians, we catch the drift. So who is Obama's surrogate?

Already, a new book by a lapsed Mormon, Tricia Erickson, titled Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters?, is generating publicity for its hostile examination of Romney's deep connections to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the more bizarre beliefs of the Mormon religion.

The trouble is, Erickson isn't an Obama surrogate, she's shifted from being a lapsed Mormon to being a Christian conservative:

Some of the issues Tricia has been called to speak to in the past are the dangers of Radical Islam, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Mormonism, all things political, the imaging-posturing-positioning of Presidential Candidates, the culture wars and more.

She is in fact part of the 'anyone but Mitt' movement amongst American conservatives, who use Romney's Mormonism to flay his flip flopping liberal inclined Romneycare ways (and for a list of Romney's alleged sins and high praise of Erickson, you can head off to the Conservative Pundit here if you can stand the culture shock).

Talking about Erickson as being part of an Obama 'surrogacy' is a bit like Sheehan talking about El Niño when he meant La Niña. Yes, he did that this week too ...

What he should have said is that Erickson is yet another of those peculiar creatures - like Gary Johns - who jump from one side of the fence to the other, squawking loudly about the jump (here's her letter to the media on Mitt Romney for starters).

Naturally Sheehan is on hand to recycle one of Erickson's juicier charges:

During the Vietnam War, a young man on a Mormon mission would receive a deferment from the war. Mitt was given three deferments during the war. Instead of fighting for his country, he recruited people into his … cult.

Actually avoiding a completely useless war - Clinton style - seems like baked apple pie common sense to the pond, the usual problem being that as failed warriors United States politicians who get to be commander in chief often turn into armchair warriors of the first water, George W. Bush style.

But it's uncommonly quaint and piquant for devotees of one cult to turn around and abuse others for being a member of another cult. If Rick Santorum can explain the cult of transubstantiation, the pond is all ears, and if Ron Paul can explain how the world can function libertarian style without government, the pond is elephant ears. (Speaking of crazed political philosophies, The New Yorker did an excellent profile a month or so ago of Peter Thiel in No Death, No Taxes, the libertarian futurism of a Silicon Valley billionaire, but sadly it's behind the paywall for cheapskates looking for an amusing take down of a libertarian).

The point of course is that the same nonsense did the rounds about John Kennedy, and the way the Papacy - that whore of Babylon - would come to run America if he became the first Catholic president, when what people really meant is that he was a damned liberal Democrat from the poncy side of the US divide (and still managed to get the United States involved in Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs).

But does Sheehan's eternal sloppiness matter? Probably not in the vast scheme of things, anymore than a walnut cracking makes a pleasant sound, not even when he can manage to scribble an incoherent, sequentially meaningless sentence like this one:

Religion played a big role in Iowa and plays a role in the wider dysfunction of Washington politics, where the cost and complexity of government has contributed to political gridlock and economic decline.

So is the problem religion, or government? And did Republicans spend eight years under Bush failing to reduce costs and make governing three hundred odd million people as simple and as easy as scribbling a Paul Sheehan column about complex government?

Never mind, where Sheehan continues to irritate, and no pearl ever results from the sand in the oyster, is the way he leaps to conclusions of an unsubstantiated kind:

The process of selecting a president this year will extend for more than a year and consume more than $1 billion. In Australia, a federal election campaign lasts 30 days and costs less than a single Senate race in California.

Uh huh. Fair point. The race in the United States is lengthy and expensive, but then as the head of the executive, the Presidency is a kind of monarchical role model, expected to manage miracles and keep the United States great, so the pre-selection campaign serves the American love of vast Barnum and Bailey circuses (dear absent lord, three hours for a football match), providing great entertainment as well as an in-depth vetting which sees many tested and fail. So long Michele, here's hoping Rick, be seein' ya Newt ...

But what's it got to do with Australia?

Anyone who thinks Australia would be better served by having a directly elected president as head of state does not understand why such a model will doom the republican movement.

But electing a ceremonial president would take no longer than a federal election campaign of thirty days, and cost less than a single Senate race in California. The parliament could pre-select five eminent Australians, fling 'em at the electorate at the same time as federal politicians go to the polls, and then hand them all the routine, pomp and circumstance ceremonial duties of the GG, no more and no less.

The debate has never been about attitudes to the monarchy so much as it is about the reluctance of the electorate to add a new layer of pomp and politics to federal government.

And there you go. As usual, by imagining that an election of an ersatz de facto impotent ceremonial GG in Australia could be as expensive, lengthy and circusy as the campaign for the executive commander in chief of the United States, Sheehan jumps the shark, and manages to sound incredibly stupid while nuking the fridge.

The republican debate in Australia has always in part been about attitudes to the monarchy - otherwise David Flint has lived his life in vain - and no one in the 'direct election of an Australian president' side of things has seen it as a way of adding a new layer of pomp and politics to federal government.

Who could imagine any elected president of a neutered kind adding a layer of pomp beyond the current pomp of the GG and visits by the House of Windsor?

Only Paul Sheehan. And perhaps Mr. Sheen, as servants scurry about making Admiralty House, Kirribilli sparkling clean ...

And that's where Sheehan's sloppiness matters, because at some point he will vent some mindless stupidity without seriously considering alternatives, or offering interesting insights.

And so the Fairfax press continues to offer dross where they could offer useful commentary, and any sensible reader will head off to the many journals available online in the United States for news of the American presidential campaign ...

Meanwhile, it seems Bachmann is looking forward "to the next chapter in God's plan" ...

Could it involve dead parrot squawking on Fox?

(Below: an oldie, but in the bizarre American religious landscape, still strangely relevant).


  1. Rick Santorum, as pegged by Roop, is a truly worthy addition to the Loon Pond. The full flower of American Exceptionalism, it will do them good to pit him against Obama & Hil. They will learn something about themselves.
    Romney, though, has the cold dead eyes of the true fanatic. What a choice.


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