It Came From the ’60s

Remake of Dubya

As the Philadelphia coronation nears, the Republicans’ senior strategists are being put on parade, including the key theoreticians who helped retool George W. from puking Yalie frat man to compassionate conservative presidential hopeful gifted with the common touch. The drill goes like this:

Dubya drank heavily during much of the ’60s, and when he was sober enough to get what was going on, he felt left out and rather confused by it all. According to The Washington Post, which is running a four-part series on what makes Bush click, Shrub’s mentor, Karl Rove, who studied at the feet of the great North Carolina operative, Lee Atwater (Mikey in the tank; Willie Horton), sought to mold Dubya’s bitter memories into a political strategy.

First, Rove introduced Bush to Marvin Olasky, a New England Jew who went to Yale and became a Communist before being reborn as a fundamentalist Christian capitalist. Then Rove brought in David Horowitz, a red-diaper baby and former Trot, who had himself become embittered after a miserable experience with the Black Panthers while at Ramparts magazine. Finally, Myron Magnet of the conservative Manhattan Foundation helped put it all together with the explanation that it was liberal Ivy League elitists who essentially had been responsible for the disruptions of the ’60s.

This was done with an eye toward reconstructing the Republican “big tent.” Under Reagan, conservatives of conflicting tendencies got together under the umbrella of anti-communism, so you had the bonding of Christian wackos like Pat Robertson and Paul Weyrich with supply-siders like David Stockman and neoconservative intellectuals. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the coalition pretty much fell apart. Efforts to revive it around threats posed by drug cartels or “rogue states” didn’t work. A crucial question was how to get libertarian capitalists back into bed with Christian rightists. The answer: turn state social welfare policy into church charity (a concept Shrub has been honing in Texas), thus appealing to anti-tax libertarians and giving church bigwigs a priority role in administering what is left of social welfare according to their tenets.

This strategy solves another problem. Conservatives have long distrusted the Bushes, who are in reality rich Easterners, considering Dad a liberal sellout and Shrub a tagalong doofus. Although “compassionate conservatism” has the earmarks of neocon wonkism, coupling religion with libertarian economics is canny politics, and it just could bring the right-wingers together again. The only problem is how to keep Gore from co-opting the revival.

Sexecutions on Death Row

Dead Fetus Walking

For most people, the question of whether a pregnant woman should be executed—which Gore, looking like Dukakis, fumbled bigtime last week—might seem like a remote possibility. Currently, there are no pregnant women on death row, and since many state death houses keep prisoners strictly segregated, even denying “contact” visits, the prospect of a prisoner becoming pregnant seems slight.

In fact, however, death row prisoners engaging in intimate relations is not that unusual, and there are two well-known recent cases involving death row inmates and sexual intimacy. In 1993, an Alabama appellate judge rejected a clemency petition by Judith Ann Neeley, condemned to death for the kidnap-murder of a 13-year-old girl, despite allegations that her counsel had engaged in “jailhouse games” to “keep her spirits up” in which he hugged, kissed, and “nibbled” her. The judge found the charges “speculative,” and said they did not adversely affect Neeley’s representation. Last year, Neeley’s sentence was commuted.

In a 1998 case, Marianne Marxkors, the attorney for Reginald Powell, condemned to die for his part in a gangland fight in St. Louis in 1986, revealed she had sex with the defendant in a holding cell at the state circuit court building. And on the day Powell’s death sentence was handed down, Marxkors said she again made love to Powell in a court holding room.

The most notorious incident involving death row sex involves the rumored fathering of a child by serial killer Ted Bundy during a contact visit before he went to the electric chair in Florida.

The U.S. is a signatory to an international treaty forbidding the execution of pregnant women, but some state officials say the treaty may conflict with U.S. law.

Asked by Tim Russert whether a pregnant woman should be executed, Gore initially didn’t know what to say. Bush, on the other hand, was quick to declare that he backs the federal law that “blocks” the execution of pregnant women because a “second life is involved.” Dubya hammered at Gore’s equivocation on the issue, noting, “My opponent refused to take a position on this. No matter what your position is on abortion or the death penalty, you shouldn’t put a pregnant woman to death.”

Gore, after consulting with his office, said he supports the federal law banning execution of pregnant women, adding that a woman should have the right to choose whether to bear a child or have an abortion before being killed: “The principle of a woman’s right to choose governs in that case.”

Supreme Injustice

Steal This Court

One of the rationales to elect Gore is the Supreme Court. It’s not a clear-cut case, since Republican presidents have appointed perfectly sensible justices (Warren and Brennan are two outstanding examples), but it’s compelling. With Orrin Hatch as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, you have to worry. “No David Souters, I could guarantee that,” Hatch vowed during his brief presidential campaign fling. Souter, of course, was appointed by Shrub’s Dad. And it’s Hatch’s committee that holds the key to who gets on the Court—not the prep school president, be it Bush or Gore.

A Supreme Court tilted to the right by Dubya might well initiate rulings that would undermine the way the federal government currently interprets the “takings clause” of the Constitution. Consider two examples of what right-wing free-marketeers on the Court are working toward:

Suppose a big polluter buys property on the water solely to process chemicals. He ruins the water supply, makes thousands of people sick, but he makes millions. The government passes regulations preventing him from despoiling the water supply. Under an enhanced reading of the takings clause, the taxpayers must pay for the businessman’s losses, since the only way he can make money is by ruining the water supply.

A second entrepreneur owns an airline that is made unprofitable by new regulations. Since nobody will purchase it, he can collect damages under the takings clause.

Another investor owns property that is subjected to price controls or rent controls, or is affected by minimum-wage regulations, etc. His losses could conceivably be considered “takings” by the government, and taxpayers would have to reimburse him.

What makes such scenarios serious possibilities is not just that far-right reactionaries sit on the Court but that conservative ideologues and big-business lobbyists have worked steadily to beat back government regulations since the days of Reagan. And they have been abetted by Clinton-Gore, who joined with the Gingrich coalition to maintain their grip on political power.

Window on Web Sex

Virtual AIDS

Real sex, not government regulations, may put the first crimp in Web porn if an article in the current Journal of the American Medical Association is right. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control sought to determine if use of the Internet to solicit sex partners should be considered a potential risk factor for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Some 850 people who went for testing in Denver were interviewed. Seventy-eight percent were white, 69 percent were men, 65 percent were heterosexual, and 84 percent were between 20 and 50 years old.

Respondents said that seeking sex partners on the Net is quite common. The study found that 15.8 percent of respondents reported “that they have logged on to the Internet to seek sex partners,” 65.2 percent of those have “successfully initiated sexual contact,” and 38.7 percent of “those who had sex with Internet partners had met more than three partners using the Internet.” The study concluded that “online seekers were more likely to have had a previous STD than offline clients, thus increasing their risk of acquiring future STDs or HIV.”

Shag Those Fat Cats

As Carolyn Kennedy Schlossberg hits the podium on the second night of the L.A. Democratic convention, along with Jesse Jackson and Bill Bradley (an evening being billed as “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”), Hugh Hefner, 74, with female friends Sandy, Mandy, and Brande, will throw open the doors of the nearby Playboy Mansion to Bunny-guided tours for deep-pocket Democratic fundraisers. Remarked Hefner, “The Playboy Mansion gives you permission to fulfill a lot of fantasies that wouldn’t be acceptable elsewhere.”

Those interested in hearing George W. Bush’s reflections on the “heaviness” of the ’60s might check out Who Wants to Be President?, a documentary by Kevin Rafferty, Frank Keraudren, and myself, on the Learning Channel at 7 p.m., Monday, July 31.

Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi