SHOCK AND GALL: WHY TRUMP, PALIN, GINGRICH AND BACHMANN ARE THE SAME AS JAYNE MANSFIELD AND MADONNA

Jayne Mansfield knew it. Whenever the blonde, buxom, modestly-talented starlet threatened to become lost amid the endless parade of up-and-coming bombshells Hollywood produced, Jayne found a way to display her breasts in view of a host of compliant paparazzi. Because Jayne knew the secret of success, she managed to support herself and her girls for years.

Buddy Hackett knew it. Whenever the moderately-amusing Catskills graduate threatened to disappear into the funny enough indistinguishable mass of Jack E. Leonards and Jack Carters and London Lees, Buddy would go onto The Tonight Show and say something obscene to get him bleeped. That would get him talked about and written about and boost his bookings. Because Buddy knew the secret of success, he managed to maintain a profitable show business career for decades.

Madonna knew it. Whenever the unremarkable pop star threatened to become eclipsed by other attractive warblers, Madonna would expose some part of her body or insult some sacred cow or so something provocative with a crucifix or a water bottle, and this would open a rich new vein of publicity that would help sell her albums and support her tours. Because Madonna knew the secret of success, she has become a beloved show business icon.

This spring, we have seen the flowering of a new phenomenon: politicians who have learned this secret of show business success. The new formula: run for president, say something outrageous, and cash in. Donald Trump, a man who has no aspirations to be president, no program for the nation, and no chance of winning, nonetheless floated the idea of his own candidacy. He then prosecuted the baseless allegation that President Obama was not native-born, and once that was decisively refuted, demanded to see Obama’s school transcripts. Having used the presidential bid to raise his profile and get the thing he always wanted–the renewal of his TV show–Trump retired his bod.

Sarah Palin has done the same thing. She clearly has no intention of running for president, but to retire form the race would immediately diminish her status. So she continues to refuse to announce, and continues to put no resources into building a presidential campaign, but continues to whisper and leak that she might be interested, and puts targets on her website and uses phrases like blood libel to continue to draw interest to herself. She’ll managle the story of Paul Revere and continue to push nasty’s inferences about Obama’s ancestry (“The perfect example of the media one- sidedness is Obama’s record not being explored. . .and now revelations of maybe some of his upbringing, some of his background, certainly his associations, how they impact his world view and how that affects his decisions today.”) She won’t run, but her bookings and fees will get one more bounce.

Newt Gingrich has done the same thing. As ABC News has reported, Gingrich has not held elective office since 1999, and now lives a life of luxury that includes a beautiful home, private jet travel, and, famously, a lot of jewelry. When he left Washington he was a busted valise, an ineffective partisan and political leader who’d been tainted by scandal. Still, he has managed to hold onto the tatters of a reputation of an incisive and innovative thinker that he once held, mostly by dangling his presidential potential, and by attacking Obama with blustery vehemence. “He is a food stamp president,” Gingrich has said. “He’s a natural secular European socialist. He is the opposite of freedom.” Gingrich’s entire staff quit when Gingrich went on a Mediterranean cruise instead of campaigning, but it matters little: Gingrich isn’t running to win; he’s running have a platform off of which he can launch partisan grenades and sell books and make speeches. Remember: Jayne Mansfield never went to Cannes in order to win the Best Actress award. She went to Cannes because that was where she could find the most cameras, so that when she bent over, her cleavage could get the widest exposure. Same thing here: Trump and Palin and Gingrich don’t run for president to become president: running is just the thing they have to do to create their brand.

The newest member of their club may be Michele Bachmann, the comely Minnesota congresswoman. Bachmann says she is running for president and I have no reason to doubt her sincerity, but it’s true that the things she has to do now to run for president in 2012 are also what she has to do to become a well-rewarded wanna-be in 2013: campaign, seduce the media, and fling wild accusaions at Obama. So far she is running, and has accused Obama of anti-Americanism, infantilism, “turning our country into a nation of slaves,” and most bizarrely, secretly wanting Medicare to go broke so that he can force senior citizens onto “Obamacare”–which is actually Rep. Paul Ryan‘s plan for Medicare.

Bachmann is pursuing a risky strategy. I have this vision of her on election night in 2012. She’s just been elected president, and she’s crying. “Tears of joy?” inquires her dutiful husband.

“No, numbskull,” she replies. “I don’t want to be president! I want to be a windbag!”

NAIVE DAVID BROOKS GETS SLAPPED AWAKE

David Brooks has been a great columnist for The New York Times because he has always conducted himself like a decent guy. Intelligent, prudent, even-handed, he spends a lot of time giving the other fellow his due, in the obvious belief that he ought to behav in an earnest, high-minded, intelligent way because that is how good people act, and we all owe it to society to hold up our end of the deal.

Which is why it was at once frightening and hilarious to see in this morning’s column Brooks’ world view explode. All it took was the publication of Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner to stand Brooks’s world on its ear. Reckless Endangerment is about the Fannie Mae scandal, and how this company’s scandalously loose and self-rewarding financial practices underwrote the irresponsible behavior of Wall Street, cost taxpayers $153 billion so far, and brought about the terrible financial problems of the last several years.

Brooks points to two people who are “egregiously immoral” for their roles in creating and protecting the Fannie Mae mess–longtime Democratic stalwart Jim Johnson and Rep. Barney Frank–but he identifies other establishment stalwarts–Bill Daley, Tom Donilan, Joseph Stiglitz, Dianne Feinstein, Kit Bond, Franklin Raines, Larry Summers, Robert Zoellick, Ken Starr–who acted to protect Fannie Mae’s misdeeds. Brooks, a conservative who believes with all his heart in the collective morality of the establishment, is shocked by their behavior. He writes:

“The scandal has sent the message that the leadership class is fundamentally self-dealing. Leaders on the center-right and center-left are always trying to create public-private partnerships to spark socially productive activity. But the biggest public-private partnership to date led to shameless self-enrichment and disastrous results. It has sent the message that we have hit the moment of demosclerosis. Washington is home to a vertiginous tangle of industry associations, activist groups, think tanks and communications shops. These forces have overwhelmed the government that was originally conceived by the founders. The final message is that members of the leadership class have done nothing to police themselves. The Wall Street-Industry-Regulator-Lobbyist tangle is even more deeply enmeshed.”

Well said, Mr. Brooks! Hear, hear! Let us twitter his words across the length and breadth of this great land. But Dave baby, let me ask you a question: Has it not always been this? Malanowski’s First Iron law of politics is that the rich and powerful will always act in their own self interest. Malanowski’s Second Iron law is that the rich and powerful will then get the rest of us to act in their interest as well, usually by making us believe that we’ll be acting in our own interests, or at least the common good. (Over the weekend I’ll be working on Malanowski’s Third Iron Law, which is that the rest of us figure out ways to act in our own self-interests, the rich and powerful are likely to outlaw whatever we’ve come up with. Eh, Wisconsin?)

I know what you’re thinking: Always? Always? Okay, maybe not always. But it’s always the way to bet.

Poor Brooks. He seems utterly shocked to discover that gambling has been going on in the casino.“ Fannie Mae co-opted relevant activist groups. . . ginned up Astroturf lobbying campaigns. . . lavished campaign contributions on members of Congress. . . .ginned up academic studies. . . .spent enormous amounts of time and money capturing the regulators who were supposed to police them.” Yeah, well, duh. Come on, Brooks, buy yourself a Woody Guthrie album? (Or do us both a favor and buy And the War Came, and see how self-serving slaveholders lied, cheated, manipulated and muscled ther countrymen into secession just to protect their right to own slaves.)

“People may not like Michele Bachmann,” writes Brooks, “but when they finish Reckless Endangerment they will understand why there is a market for politicians like her. They’ll realize that if the existing leadership class doesn’t redefine “normal” behavior, some pungent and colorful movement will sweep in and do it for them.” When that happens, it will be interesting to see if Brooks have joined the pungent and colorful, or if he remains among the respectable.

FUCK IT–LET’S DO THE RIGHT THING!

Explaining his intention to support the gay marriage bill now before the legislature, New York State Senator Roy McDonald said “You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, fuck it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.” Way to go, Roy! Like “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore,” “Fuck it, I don’t care what you think, I want to do the right thing” captures the feelings of frustrated electorate. Put it on a button and I’ll wear it. Put it on a banner and I’ll wave it. Give me a candidate who runs on that line, and he or she just might have my vote.

TECHNO-TAINER!

And the War Came received an excellent write-up in Michael Humphrey‘s blog Techno-Tainers on Forbes.com:

“Byliner’s third Original, “And the War Came,” marches readers chronologically from just before Abraham’s Lincoln’s election to the doorstep of war. We arrive byway of every imaginable thought direction – the passionate abolitionist and adamant slavery defender, the brave-savvy leader and insipid-spineless type, reasoned editorials and rants – they all get a say. Malanowski, a well-respected magazine editor and author of the political novel The Coup, aspires to place us in the minds of contemporary observers, but perhaps the greatest triumph of his writing is we don’t feel forced there. He prefers understatement to breathlessness. If there’s going to be fire spewed, Malanowski puts it in the flaming mouth rather than the narrative. Consider a mob scene outside Virginia Governor John Letcher’s mansion:

Denied a bravura ending by the governor, the crowd devised one on its own. They stormed the Capitol building and scaled its roof, where they raised the Confederate flag. After more boisterous singing and speechmaking, the mob drifted off.

“It works, because the stakes are as unmistakable as the outcome is inevitable. But the point of “And the War Came” is that none of it was inevitable, that false conceit of history class, which only deepens the poignancy of the story. Against that weight, Malanowski’s light touch is just right.”

The write-up includes a brief Q&A with yours truly. Thanks, Michael–I’m glad you liked it.

MADISON SQUARE PARK, JUNE 9, 2011, 5:15 PM

I had the great good fortune to be visiting the office of my accountant near Madison Square yesterday, which gave me the opportunity to see this wondrous sculpture sitting in the middle of the lawn. It is called Echo, and it is by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. Forty feet tall, and sprinkled in marble dust, the giant head seems to float like an apparition against the surrounding trees and limestone buildings. My poor photo doesn’t do it justice–it’s beautiful, mystical, like a dream.

BLOGOSPHERE? MOI?

It was my great pleasure to participate in the 1st Annual Writers’ Conference of the Writing Center, now of Hunter College, late of Marymount Manhattan. I was on a panel that made pronouncements about the Blogosphere, of all things. Joining me in this mission was the estimable Patty Marx, Jesse Kornbluth, Susan J. Behrens, and moderator Marcia Yerman. It was fun, and there were many good questions. It was great to see my former students Millie Burns and Joe Lisanti. In this photo, as I speak, I turn Patty Marx into one of those children from Village of the Damned. Thanks once again to my friend Lewis Burke Frumkes for inviting me.

HERE COMES “AND THE WAR CAME”

And the War Came, my new book, is a reality, or at least an e-reality, since at this point, it can be obtained only in digital form. Nonetheless, it is here, and real, and starting to get attention. I’m almost as pleased with the above video as I am with the book. Many, many, many thanks to my friend and longtime collaborator Ken Smith for putting it together, and to Chris Napolitano, Rob Wilson, Tim Hart, Paul Lindstrom, Josh Robertson, DeLaune Michel, Cliff Etheridge and Anne Lindstrom for voicing the parts (Alas, the wonderful readings by Ann and Cliff had to be cut for space.) It takes a village to make a video, and I am grateful I have such good friends. Thanks to all for your help!

THE JOB FOR MITT ROMNEY

In the Times this morning, Paul Krugman, who clearly opposes Paul Ryan‘s Vouchercare plan, nonetheless acknowledges that “medicare has to get serious about cost control; it has to start saying no to expensive procedures with little or no medical benefits, it has to change the way it pays doctors and hospitals, and so on.” Writing in The Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelson convicts “spiraling health spending [as] the crux of our federal budget problem. In 1965 — the year Congress created Medicare and Medicaid — health spending was 2.6 percent of the budget. In 2010, it was 26.5 percent. The Obama administration estimates it will be 30.3 percent in 2016. By contrast, defense spending is about 20 percent; scientific research and development is 4 percent.” Samuelson, who finds much to like in Ryan’s plan, calls it “shock therapy” that would theoretically empower medicare beneficiaries to “shop for lowest-cost, highest-quality insurance plans providing a required package of benefits”, and would force the health-care delivery system “to restructure by reducing costs and improving quality. Doctors, hospitals and clinics would form networks; there would be more “coordination” of care, helped by more investment in information technology; better use of deductibles and co-payments would reduce unnecessary trips to doctors’ offices or clinics.” Samuelson then asks the $64,000 question: “Would it work? No one knows.”

But as Samuelson makes clear, “few doubt that today’s health-care system has much waste: medical care that does no good; high overhead costs. . . .In one survey, 20 percent of patients reported that doctors repeated tests because records were unavailable; the health-care sector has twice as many clerical workers as nurses and nine times as many as doctors; care of patients with chronic conditions is often slapdash, so that, for example, only 43 percent of diabetics receive recommended treatment.” And as Krugman makes clear, cost containment is a goal that can be realized. “Consider Canada, which has a national health insurance program, actually called Medicare, that is similar to the program we have for the elderly, but less open-ended and more cost-conscious. In 1970, Canada and the United States both spent about 7 percent of their GDP on health care. Since then, as United States health spending has soared to 16 percent of GDP, Canadian spending has risen much more modestly, to only 10.5 percent of GDP. And while Canadian health care isn’t perfect, it’s not bad.”

It seems to me that what the president needs is a medical cost containment czar, someone who, wherever possible, will use the power of the executive to rewrite rules and procedures and write or rewrite or suspend regulations that would save money; and where the power of the executive does not apply, to get Congress to act to save money. In this atmosphere of frugality, empowering someone to go into every hospital and clinic and turn over every bedpan in a quest for savings is both good government and good poliitics.

Now, who could do it? You need somebody with business credibility. An efficiency expert. Someone who has run big organizations, and who knows government and health care. Say, is that Mitt Romney doing anything worthwhile?

LISTEN MY CHILDREN AND YOU SHALL HEAR. . . GIBBERISH

This just in: Sarah Palin is an ignoramous.

Just to get this straight: “He who warned, uh, the … the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringin’ those bells and, um, by makin’ sure that as he’s ridin’ his horse through town to send those warnin’ shots and bells that, uh, we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free … and we were gonna be armed.” We weren’t going to know much about our history or our literature or our heroes, but we were going to be armed.