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Susan Sarandon, Smear Artist

From The Scrapbook

Oct 31, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 07 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Susan Sarandon’s left-wing “activism” is too well known to be recounted here in much detail. The actress has embraced causes as various and predictable as the 2008 presidential campaign of John Edwards and the bona fides of author-murderer Jack Henry Abbott (1944-2002), for whom she named her son. Last week, however, Sarandon hit a nerve. 

Photo of Susan Sarandon

In a question-and-answer session with actor Bob Balaban at the Bay Street Theatre on Long Island, she recounted her role as the anti-death penalty nun Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking (1995). Indeed, so impressed was Sarandon by Sister Helen that she sent a copy of Prejean’s memoir, on which the movie was based, to the pope: “The last one [John Paul II],” she specified, “not this Nazi one we have now.” When Balaban gently rebuked her for this slur of Benedict XVI, Sarandon pointedly repeated it.

The Scrapbook does not expect, or require, that Susan Sarandon count herself among the pope’s admirers: People are entitled to their own opinions. However, as the late Senator Moynihan once ruled, they are not entitled to their own facts. Benedict XVI, born Joseph Ratzinger, is German, as everybody knows; but he was not a Nazi, as Sarandon should know. At the age of 14 (1941), he was conscripted into the Hitler Youth, as required by law, but is reported to have skipped most meetings. Later, while a seminarian (1943), he was drafted into the German Army’s antitank corps but deserted to his family’s home (1945) when his unit ceased to exist, and was briefly incarcerated in an Allied POW camp. By November 1945, age 18, he was back in the seminary.

In the many decades during which Benedict XVI has been a senior Roman Catholic cleric there has never been any suggestion, or even hostile allegation, that he was a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer. Indeed, quite the contrary, as his subversive attitude toward the Hitler Youth would imply. The Scrapbook need hardly add that visible contempt for the Hitler Youth and reluctant conscription into the Wehr-macht during the Third Reich would have required considerably more courage—indeed, courage at the risk of death—than any of the fashionable causes embraced by Susan Sarandon. 

The real problem, however, is that “Nazi” has become an all-purpose epithet, especially as applied to conservatives, employed by progressives ranging from TV personality Keith Olbermann to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights veteran. “Only in the Hamptons,” commented Newsday, which reported the incident, “could Sarandon get a laugh with such a comment.” 

Well, the Hamptons—and a lot of other comfortable locations as well. Susan Sarandon and friends are free to find Pope Benedict objectionable, as they wish. But “Nazi” is a term with very specific meaning and horrific connotations; and its abuse is an insult to the memory of the millions killed by the Nazis or—left, right, and center—who risked their lives to rid the world of Hitler.

Decline and Fall

You can count on one hand, perhaps on two or three fingers, the presidencies that have declined as rapidly and appallingly as Barack Obama’s. Now Obama is desperate. And you can see it in the crass, corrupt, and dishonest campaign he is running for reelection.

On a three-day bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia, he poisoned the air with attacks on Republicans. Their jobs plan is “let’s have dirtier air, dirtier water, less people with health insurance,” he said. Republicans “want to gut regulations. They want to let Wall Street do whatever it wants.”

That wasn’t all. Republicans are fine with taxes on the middle class going up “when all they’ve been doing is cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans.” There was more. Layoffs of firefighters and police are okay with Republicans, which means “firefighters can’t always get to fires before they become major fires,” Obama said. “And that makes their job more dangerous. It means police officers can’t respond to every crime.”

This was Democratic hack talk of the Harry Reid variety that the president of the United States was mouthing. He showed no sign of embarrassment or shame. The crowd at one stop chanted “four more years” and the speeches were anything but bipartisan, yet the White House insisted it was a purely “presidential” trip, not a campaign excursion. Which means: The taxpayers foot the bill.

Obama’s chief argument for the jobs bill, that it will create nearly two million jobs and boost economic growth by 2 percent, is absurd, by the way. A survey of 34 economists found it would create or save 288,000 jobs over two years. Obama claimed a consensus of “independent economists” agreed with the two million figure. When pressed for names, the White House could cite only two.

Obama can’t run on his record and hope to win. So the alternative he’s adopted is a campaign of mangled facts, dishonest numbers, and baseless charges. “I just want to be fair,” he said in North Chesterfield, Virginia. He hasn’t come close.

 

Raping the Truth

Vice President Joe Biden also hit the campaign .  .  . whoops, the official business trail last week, touting his boss’s “jobs bill.” Early in the week, at a stop in Flint, Michigan, he  made a rather novel argument in support of the $35 billion bill that Democrats want to use to shore up the salaries of teachers and first responders: “Murder will continue to rise. Rape will continue to rise. All crime will continue to rise.” That’s a bold and frightening assertion, though it reeks of such desperation that we feel no real need to refute the ironclad logic of “pass this bill or they’ll rape your daughter.”

However, The Scrapbook will never tire of reminders that Joe Biden long ago ascended to the pantheon of buffoonery and has tirelessly committed himself to remaining a national embarrassment ever since. 

This latest incident is particularly illuminating in one respect. Most people assume Joe Biden is generally well meaning in his doltishness. The Great Amtrak Commuter just likes to hear himself talk, and once he gets on a roll he’s prone to say some inadvisable things. 

But the rape and murder charge was different—Biden cited crime statistics for Flint to back up his claim that the federal government needs to spend billions more subsidizing public employees:

Let’s look at the facts. In 2008, when Flint had 265 sworn officers on the police force, there were 35 murders and 91 rapes in this city. In 2010, when Flint had only 144 police officers, the murder rate climbed to 65 and rapes—just to pick two categories—climbed to 229.

Biden later used some, uh, stimulating math to argue that these numbers show how rapes in Flint had “quadrupled.” Let’s take a competent look at the facts. According to factcheck.org, Biden was comparing the first figure of 91 reported rapes with 229 incidents filed under the much more inclusive heading of “all cases of criminal sexual conduct.” So the two numbers are not comparable. According to FBI statistics, rapes in Flint actually declined 11 percent from 2008 to 2010.

But this brief foray into fun with numbers illustrates the real problem. The national press corps tends to excuse or ignore Biden’s ramblings out of pity. However, as this incident demonstrates, Biden is the Lennie Small of American politics. He isn’t just daft—he’s mean.

Make no mistake, the $35 billion jobs bill is explicitly partisan legislation. Note that public employee unions gave Democrats well in excess of $100 million during the last election cycle. Of the $35 billion in the current jobs bill, $30 billion is going to teachers, with just $5 billion for cops and firefighters. If public safety is such a big issue, why are cops and firefighters getting such short shrift? We might cynically suggest that cops’ and firefighters’ unions didn’t pony up as much campaign cash as the teachers’ unions, which spent nearly $70 million electing Joe Biden vice president in 2008. (Police and firefighters’ unions also occasionally have the temerity to back Republicans.) 

So heading into an election year, Biden takes a piece of legislation specifically designed to reward Democratic campaign benefactors, flies to the American city with the highest violent crime rate in the nation, accuses the legislation’s opponents of being accessories to rape and murder (multiple times), and has somebody on staff cook up a bunch of bogus statistics to buttress his case.

In a just world, the press and the American people would see Biden for what he is: a guy who has consistently lied, including multiple instances of plagiarism, to advance his career. It may be easier to laugh at Biden than accept how nasty and dishonest he can be. But as long as he remains a heartbeat away from the presidency, the joke’s on us.

Puppy Love

The Scrapbook would like to extend hearty congratulations to New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson on the stunning critical reception of her new memoir, The Puppy Diaries. The book, which chronicles her adventures raising a young and rambunctious golden retriever named Scout, received not one, but two honest-to-goodness rave reviews last week. Way to go, Jill!

John Grogan, quite the puppy diarist himself as the author of the bestselling Marley and Me, thinks Abramson’s book is a “worthy addition to the crowded so-called
dogoir genre.” Not to be outdone, William Styron’s daughter Alexandra declares that Abramson “has vanquished the writer’s self-regarding pose” and “comes up with a golden retriever of a memoir.” As a cat person, we thought this might be an insult, except that Styron goes on to explain that Puppy Diaries is “unaffected, unironic,” and “should hit the wide, heart-shaped mark cultivated by dog fanciers everywhere.” 

And though Styron warns that “sentimental notions and flights of extreme anthropomorphism abound in The Puppy Diaries,” she is quick to point out that “Abramson seems confident of her congenial audience.” And why shouldn’t she be confident? Both of these reviews appear in (drum roll please) .  .  . the New York Times. Yes, the very same New York Times where Abramson is the new boss.

Despite this seeming conflict of interest, The Scrapbook is inclined to give Abramson and her publicity agent—um, newspaper—the benefit of the doubt. Is it really so hard to believe that the book offers a “candid glimpse .  .  . into the softer, personal—yes, even cuddly—side of one of the world’s most influential opinion shapers”? After all, Abramson is “a prize-winning investigative reporter.” Of course she “writes with intelligence and grace and never descends into the saccharine.” Why, just look at this graceful and intelligent passage: “Besides looking for any excuse to inhale that irresistible puppy smell, I felt a reflexive urge to cover the top of Scout’s soft head with kisses.”

We can hardly dispute Grogan’s charge that “some readers will be looking to brand [Abramson] elitist,” but we sympathize with his contention that this is unfair. So what if she fed her first dog “rosemary dusted chicken and wild Alaskan sockeye salmon”? She has had to deal with the same doggie dilemmas as even the lowliest, non-prize-winning investigative reporter, like Scout’s “relieving herself in the middle of the Duxiana mattress” ($5,000 and up, in case you were wondering), and “trying to swipe a chicken from an outdoor table at Locanda Verde.” And her “voice is bighearted and surprisingly down to earth”—even if she is “a powerful journalist few would dream of discounting.” 

Like Styron and Grogan, The Scrapbook wouldn’t dream of discounting Abramson. She runs the New York Times, after all. As we all know, the Gray Lady’s stout commitment to objectivity is the very light that guides her through the shadowy caverns of modern life in search of all the news that’s fit to print—and stuff like this, that isn’t.

Sentences We Didn’t Finish

"Huntsman will almost certainly fail, but that doesn’t make what he is doing any less important. He’s betting everything—“a Vegas move,” he called it—that there is still some constituency in the Republican Party for reason .  .  . ” (Dana Milbank, Washington Post, October 18).

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