Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Less Bread, More Circuses for America

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

As Americans observed the 233rd birthday of the United States, the country seems to have become a three-ring circus. And I’m not even referring to the grotesqueries surrounding Michael Jackson’s death.

Since January, three state governors have provided grist for the mill of the tabloids and gossip-mongers.

Elvis look-alike Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed as governor of Illinois last January after being charged with corruption. In Illinois, as in most other states, the governor appoints a replacement to serve out the term when a United States Senate seat becomes vacant, and Blagojevich was accused of trying to “sell” the one formerly occupied by newly-elected president Barack Obama.

This practice – seeking money in return for political favours -- is known in Illinois as “pay to play.” Blagojevich allegedly wanted promises of campaign funds in cash; a Cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself; and to have his wife placed on paid corporate boards where she might garner as much as $150,000 a year.

A federal grand jury in Illinois returned an indictment against Blagojevich on April 2. He still awaits trial.

In June, South Carolina governor Mark Sanford mysteriously disappeared for almost a week, leaving no way for anyone – including his wife and four sons -- to reach him.

At first, his staff maintained that he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail. However, a determined reporter from a South Carolina newspaper finally tracked him down – at the Atlanta airport, where he had landed on his way back from Argentina.

It turns out that he had been visiting a lover in Buenos Aires during the Father’s Day weekend. Caught in his lie, Sanford revealed that he had been having an extramarital affair with an Argentinian woman, María Belén Chapur.

The rambling news conference in which Sanford admitted to the long-distance involvement with the woman he described as his “soul mate” was nothing if not bizarre. In response to calls for his resignation, Sanford compared himself to the biblical King David, who also committed adultery. He has refused to leave office.

Now comes the even stranger saga of Sarah Palin, who just last year ran as the Republican vice-presidential candidate. On the eve of the Independence Day holiday weekend, she announced, to the surprise of nearly everyone in the state, that she will be resigning as governor of Alaska, just two years into her first term.

Speaking from the backyard of her Wasilla home, Palin asserted that she was acting in the best interests of her family, of Alaska, and of the entire United States.

This, from a politician whose overweening ambition knows no bounds: Sarah Palin probably couldn’t pass a high school history, geography, political science, or economics test, yet assumed she could become president of the United States.

Some analysts speculate that she -- or more likely, her husband Todd, who has been her adviser and éminence grise -- has been caught doing something illicit.

There are allegations of an embezzlement scandal related to the building of the Wasilla Sports Complex constructed during her tenure as mayor of the town. Was the cost of the sports complex inflated to provide free building materials and labor for the Palin home being built nearby?

Her lawyer has denied what he called “false and defamatory allegations” that her resignation stemmed from a criminal investigation.

Both Palin and Sanford are prominent in the evangelical “family values” wing of the Republican Party. Both were touted as potential Republican candidates for president in 2012. They can forget about that now.

Given the current economic recession, there’s less bread for Americans, but at least they do have circuses.