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Fatwah / May 22, 2009
By Mark Ames

sunsteinrecent photo

Last week, Obama moved another step closer to creating the ultimate retro-70s Middelbrow-ocracy when he appointed a loathsome overachieving hamburger-head named Cass Sunstein to a little-known but highly-powerful government post: director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs—otherwise known as the “Regulation Czar.” Before the financial crash, we wouldn’t have thought much of how powerful a post like this is, and how it can shape our lives and help decide whether we have retirement money, a home mortgage, and a plutocracy-led society.

Since it’s the behind-the-scenes activity that is defining our lives, I took a trip into the Heart Of Blandness that is Cass Sunstein’s life story, and the men and women who’ve helped define him. Conclusion: a new set of horrible ghouls are moving in to rule us, and it won’t be perty. The best you can say about the Cass Sunstein-ocrats is that they aren’t Bush-era apemen, who were so savage and destructive that it never seemed quite real.

But as the awful memory of the Bush Era fades, we have to face a more immediate threat: The New Elite, who are taking up their places in power and preparing to rule over us. Anyone who has even a faint childhood memory of the 1970s will understand immediately what’s wrong with the new crew moving into Washington. Cass Sunstein offers a perfect, nauseating example of this Man of the 70s returning to America in the new millennium after having been frozen for the past 30 years like Encino Man.

The 70s, in case you were lucky enough to have missed it, wasn’t about whacky mustaches and zany platforms—it was about ponderous middlebrows concealing their old-fashioned pursuits of sex, money and power underneath a new set of secular lies for the secular 60s generation, because the old lies stopped working in America’s big cities.

So let’s up a few years to 2007 or so—and we focus on Cass Susntein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, still happily “partnered” to Martha Nussbaum, a self-described “daughter of the WASP elite” from the east coast, now a philosophy professor also at the University of Chicago.

If you look at Martha Nussbaum’s body of work, what you see is a classic Soviet bureaucrat who hit all the right buttons at the right times, once or twice straying just far enough outside of the current orthodoxy to rate herself as a bit of a maverick—and by “maverick” I mean in the debased John McCain sense of the word. Now Nussbaum doesn’t believe in marriage, you see—at least, she has to make a big public show of it, because her quasi-maverick, quasi-feminist books kind of corner her into pretending she’s beyond something as cliched as marriage. So she always refers to Cass, whom she clearly loved in a very old-fashioned way right up until he savagely dumped her for someone younger, as her “partner.” Which, you know, isn’t at all a cliche.


Martha Nussbaum: Elite-born WASP, feminist rebel with a personal trainer

But Nussbaum’s non-academic life was as ordinary as 70s lives get. Born Martha Craven (no joke) the spoiled rich daughter “rebelled” against her conservative daddy in the 1960s by—get this—dropping out of Wesleyan after two years, then taking up theater acting, and finally by marrying a Jewish student she met at NYU, Alan Nussbaum. And if that didn’t get daddy’s attention, then her conversion to Judaism sure did. Gosh, sounds like a bad Phillip Roth book from the 70s already! But to Roth’s credit, I don’t think he could have possibly imagined his Martha Craven character saying something as clichéd, earth-toned and idiotic as Martha herself wrote as to what drew her to Judaism. It was the sub-species of 70s boneheads, Martin Buber, or “The Boob” as I liked to call him. Here’s Martha, considered one of the great philosophy geniuses of America, on her, The Boob, and a bunch of pronouns:

“I read Martin Buber and understood that virtually every relationship I had observed at Bryn Mawr had been an I-It relationship, involving no genuine acknowledgment of humanity,”.

Yup, that’s how dumb they were in the 70s, folks. And that’s how dumb we’ll be just as soon as she and her crew get settled back in.

Cliches pile on clichés in the life and times of Martha Craven-Nussbaum: she followed her husband Alan to Harvard, where he thrived, but she claims that some people made nasty little sexist comments to her on the side that upset her very much. Whatever the case, after teaching at Harvard for 7 years, she wasn’t tenured—which she blames on sexism, and threatened to sue the school, but settled instead for the horrific indignity of teaching at Brown and then at U. Chicago. Yes, it’s horrible to imagine the cruelty and inhumanity of someone born rich, skipping from one elite university to the next while pissing off her rich daddy, then after all that pain and suffering, surviving the trauma of only getting tenure at U. Chicago or Brown rather than Harvard. You laugh, but to these people, it’s like being forced to live in a tent city outside of Sacramento. No, worse—it’s unimaginable pain. Seriously, I look around my neighborhood here in Spanish Harlem and I think, “You people have it easy compared to Martha Craven-Nussbaum! You don’t know suffering until you’ve grown up rich and spoiled and didn’t get tenured at Harvard! It ain’t easy, I tell ya!” Me personally—I have a little figurine of Martha Craven-Nussbaum pinned between two crosses, because I figure she suffered twice as much as Jesus did.

After getting her tenured job at U. Chicago, Nussbaum started pumping out one chin-scratcher after another, hokey do-gooder books that would have made Martin “The Boob” Buber proud, books with names like “The Fragility of Goodness” and “For Love of Country” and of course who can forget last year’s “Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality,” destined to become a classic in home-schooling civics courses from the Smokey Mountains to Yucca Mountain, and all sparsely-populated school districts in between. Yup, this is what passes for intellectual thought in America’s “elitist” universities.  If Martha proved one thing, it’s that she has her finger on the middlemost eyebrow hair of Middlebrow America.

Which brings me back to Cass Sunstein, our new “Regulations Czar”—Martha’s former “partner.” In an interview as recently as 2007, Martha told the Guardian newspaper that the greatest love of her life was “My partner Cass Sunstein, and my daughter, Rachel.” In that order, mind you (Rachel is her daughter from her first marriage). To the interviewer’s cheesy question “What was the best kiss of your life?” Martha answered: “Last night, as we celebrated Cass’s birthday.”

Within a few months of that interview, the greatest love of her life and America’s new regulation czar, Cass Sunstein, dumped Martha for a much younger Samantha Power. Oh, he had his enlightened Obama-liberal reasons all right. Surely age had nothing to do with it. (Side note: Martha passed the 60-year milestone, whereas Cass’s new beau, the famous power-player Samantha Power, was a tender 37.)

It gets even more romantic than that—Cass and Samantha met while working together for Obama’s presidential campaign.

Read more:, Mark Ames, Fatwah

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Add your own

  • 1. aleke  |  May 22nd, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    God I hate these people. Everything has that neoliberal tinge of death to it. It’s like we’re moving from Ultra-Reaganism to Nixonism-Reaganism just to save their skin. It’s awful. I’d rather be living in totalitarian state capitalism than see this kind of boring and vicious authoritarian parade.

    Seriously, does anti-intellectualism and weird mix of nationalism and Enlightenment-rationalism have to provide such a horrible ruling class? We can’t even make fascism cool, look at Dubya. It’s just dumber than ever.

  • 2. rick  |  May 22nd, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    That’s it Ames, show those goddamn “snarky” smartass kids how you do “hate”!

  • 3. pin diesel  |  May 22nd, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Ames, did you actually make it all the way through A Problem from Hell? Exactly man, exactly. When she had juice in the Obama campaign before she was sent off for the Hillary Clinton thing I read that book and tried to write a piece but it took me a couple pages to say what you did in one line. “Because genocides are really bad, she wants us to know.” Gotta maintain that political viability, dontcha know… reminds me of a certain monsterous someone…

    I wonder how many Serbs had to die so the Samantha Power careerist types could check the war tourist box off on their resumes?

    Power’s Irish originally. And all she ever did was a few years in the Balkans, so she probably doesn’t even speak a foreign language. Ha ha, typical American diplomat dumbass, can’t even speak a language besides English. I lived in Mexico, Spain, and Argentina for years before the $$$ ran out so at least I’m not a monolingual DC yuppie idiot.

  • 4. buzz  |  May 22nd, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    So an old balding guy with a new fancy DC job throws out the wasp bitch and replaces her with a newer model. like this is new or news ?

    “Now, both Cass and Samantha teach at Harvard. Which you know had to hurt, like pouring salt into Martha’s wounds, because, like, they didn’t give her tenure at Harvard.”

    ouch ! the pain ! the indignity !

    really, who the f___ are these pussies and what the f___ are they going to do ?

  • 5. John Douglas  |  May 22nd, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    А тем,кто ни разу не видел,
    Закройте глаза равнодушной рукой.
    Никто не хотел умирать.
    Никто не хотел умирать.
    ..никто не стал выбирать,
    ..никто не смог выбирать

  • 6. Warren Moon  |  May 22nd, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I scrolled down the page without reading the article at first, and I thought the picture of Nussbaum was Sunstein in drag.

  • 7. Brody  |  May 22nd, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    How do people have the drive and energy for these sorts of careers? Don’t they want to get drunk sometimes and say what they really think? Thanks for reminding me for the zillionth time why I fled beigism and everyone associated with it.

  • 8. aleke  |  May 22nd, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    You know this careerism on the Balkan wars remind me of an article the War Nerd wrote on the British in Tibet. Ah yes here it is:

    I may as well just quote a passage:

    “They invaded Tibet in 1904 basically because they were bored. I’m serious. They owned everything on the planet worth having, so they were always having to invent new “menaces” to get funding for more invasions, grabbing the places they hadn’t considered worth taking in their earlier waves of conquest. So in the late 1800s they started talking up the Russian “threat” to swarm over the Himalayas and take away India. That was such utter crap that even the Brits talking up the threat must have had a laugh about it over their port, back at the officers’ club. Russia was weak, so weak that the Japanese crushed it on land and sea in 1905. The British knew Russia was in no position to threaten India. What they wanted was an easy conquest that would produce lots of medals, honors, stuff to wear on their chests in the London social season so they could snag an heiress and never have to work. So they invaded Tibet.”
    Good thing liberalism made so many strides, we can just use the humanitarian angle! So much for the liberal Obama administration. More medals on the chests! More honorary degrees and speaking fees!


    They’re gonna run our country and have way too much say in the affairs of the world! I think it’s good to know what we’re dealing with

  • 9. eric  |  May 23rd, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Once again, a ranting screed that entertains and rings true. Stick to your roots, kids, you’re making me nostalgic.

  • 10. george  |  May 23rd, 2009 at 3:09 am

    It adds a certain irony to Martha that she played the sexist card for her own career path given the fact that she herself devotes a lot of time denouncing feminists like Butler MacKinnon and others that are taken seriously within the feminist posse.
    This irony aside, read the article The Professor of Parody by Martha Nussbaum. Out there on google. It is a hilarious slaughter of the mother of all confused feminist-male- who-even-thinks-about-a woman-is-a-rapist rants the last 30 years.

  • 11. Frankenblank  |  May 23rd, 2009 at 3:18 am

    This is really good shit. Where else can you read something that would put the boot into those people? Excellent. Marks Ames knows that truth alone is not enough for decent writing–there’s gotta be hate as well.

  • 12. aleshkule  |  May 23rd, 2009 at 5:34 am

    i’m totally with aleke. honestly, i’m not prepared to (forgive the language) sit around like a little bitch being “nudged” into doing this or that by some beigey assholes who rose to the gelatin crust through sheer head-underism and inertia.

  • 13. Mark  |  May 23rd, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Keep the hatred boiling!

  • 14. Oksana  |  May 23rd, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    So is Obama out already? Or is it just his era we don’t dig.
    Thought I saw The Exiled cheer for his victory (well, cheer in eXiled-style but there was enthusiasm alright).

  • 15. Realist  |  May 23rd, 2009 at 7:10 pm


    those nudging benevolent social planner types caused me to expand my gun collection over the years.

  • 16. Asehpe  |  May 23rd, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    I’m not sure there’s much more than snarky hate in this whole article. At no point are their ideas discussed or disproved; they are just mentioned as “clichés piled on clichés” that nobody with a “working gag reflex” could put up with.

    I’m sorry, all I can see in this article is that you don’t like them and what they say. Why this is so isn’t clear at all, given the absence of any real discussion of what they think.

    Let me do a little paragrpah in your style, applying it to yourself. Warning: these are not my beliefs, just an attempt at producing paragraphs similar to yours without even knowing anything about your life.

    “Who they really are”, yes… and who says it? Mr Ames, the writer whom I read and react to even though no one reads me or even my comments, Mr. Ames, the person I wish to someday become and…

    Oh heck, who am I fooling? I couldn’t write anywhere in the ballpark like Mark Ames if my life depended on it. Sorry, this was a bad attempt at “turning it around” on Mr Ames. Only a dumbshit like me would think a tactic as idiotic as this would be effective. Fact: I can’t write; Ames can; I worship the ground he walks on; he doesn’t even know I exist. End of story.

  • 17. Realist  |  May 24th, 2009 at 3:09 am

    Well, lets see…

    “Improving” decisions of other people is a presumption of knowlege at best. And knowing the academic ilk proposing such a thing, it is the reign of petty tyrants very much in love with themselves. After perverting the tax code for decades, the kind komissars expand the scope of their paternalic care from the realm our economic decisions into our private lives.

  • 18. И́. В. Курча́тов  |  May 24th, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    He была даже одна справка о KPFK?
    Еб меня к смерти! Мы, большой неумытый пролетариат, требуем больше луцианов! Слава Сталину! Слава машинам KAMAZ! Слава патоке!


  • 19. porkers-at-the-trough  |  May 24th, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Come’on Mark… you ain’t giving Samathana a lick of credit beyond “interesting” for her “Hillary is a monster” comment – however true and/or misbegotten it may have been.

    More to the point, ya seem to forget that ol’ Brecher column (War Nerd) “Look who paid your mortgage, dude!”
    about America being (literally) built on a foundation of good, ol’ fashioned genocide & conquest.
    Indeed, every last one of us living humans is the product of a long series of _unions of survivors_… people who did whatever it takes to stay alive, which usually means beating the competition over the head, Cain (and Abel) style, to get first dibs at the juicy fruit tree, or animal harvest (meat), or water-hole, or what-have-you.

  • 20. porkers-at-the-trough  |  May 24th, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    oops! (accidentally posted previous)
    The important thing being, “Just what the hell, or who the hell, do YOU propose would be any better?”
    Just doing a 2 minute search, and coming up with a “the Likudniks are ‘worried’ about her [Powers]” article or two, gives her props, near as I can figure – you can’t ask for too much!
    (Although the bit about “Obama _ignored_ the Harvard/Kennedy School of Foreign Policy” in his campaign 2008 being pretty pathetic – Hello? Samantha Powers _is_ a professor at Harvard! You can’t stray very far off that reservation, as your whole Martha tear-jerker illustrated.)

  • 21. fajensen  |  May 25th, 2009 at 4:43 am

    I’d rather be living in totalitarian state capitalism than see this kind of boring and vicious authoritarian parade.

    @aleke: Some people are just never happy – you are getting both totalitarian state capitalism AND authoritarian intellectuals telling you what to do … At the same time 😉

  • 22. Ratko Mladic  |  May 25th, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Pa jebemu..

    Even the damn elite in USA is bland and boring.
    If they are still going to fuck us over anyway at least they could do it in style.
    Makes one pine for the Red Guards, or at least for the likes of Denis Salnikov.

  • 23. aleke  |  May 25th, 2009 at 12:42 pm


    Well I was invoking the Soviet Union with the state capitalism thing, I’d call this some sort of worse strand of state capitalism. But I would never call these people intellectuals. I’ve grown up with these type of people in my classes and they’re no intellectuals.

  • 24. Realist  |  May 25th, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Quite right.

    European universities spew out this garbage for quite a while now. A gutless caste of funcionaries and ideologues who celebrate their own isolation from reality with ever growing “Plans” for regulation, administration and improvement of human society.

  • 25. cobblers  |  May 26th, 2009 at 4:28 am

    Ames, just saw “Going Postal” on BBC 2. Easily the most intelligent and insightful doccie on the phenomenon thus far.

    Saw you, heard you, celebrated every single word you said. No documentary would have been complete without you.

    Problem is, you’re in danger, to judge by the doccie, of being drowned out by bullshit about mental illness. Ooh, if only it were that simple. People killing people: it’s all down to fabled mental illness. Couldn’t possibly be another reason.

    Your message about Reaganomics came through clear as a bell. I’m impressed that the filmers ran with that. You’re one smart guy. I hope to fuck there are a few in the cheap seats who get it, otherwise, it’s just pearls before swine.

  • 26. Wyatt  |  May 26th, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Orwell already wrote this piece.

  • 27. Spin  |  May 27th, 2009 at 10:20 am

    You really live in Spanish Harlem? Didn’t know you were in the Rotten Apple. I’ll buy ya a drink sometime, Ames.

  • 28. SKutt  |  May 27th, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Public sexual conquest, power, tenure, pensions – how elegant the intellignesia! You are TOO jealous dude. Hostility is unhealthy. These people are fun! You must have missed out on the 70’s. Wierdness and adaptablity are all the evolutionary rage.

    Catholics get stuck in traditional roles like the Supreme COurt – which soon shall have six (6).

    The WASP elite knows that a bunch of profound and meaningful (i.e. profitable) policy is made in the regulatory arena. You are soo green with envy Ames.

    Let the proles squabble over the abortion and affirmative action sideshow, we know who is allocating bandwidth and defining just what “renewable” means.

    The good news is that they do accept a universe of moral relativism, so chill. Marginally better is pretty sweet!

  • 29. aleke  |  May 28th, 2009 at 12:40 pm


    What kind of meritocratic fantasy are you living in?

  • 30. SKutt  |  May 29th, 2009 at 10:00 am

    surely one who prefers to be living in a totalitarian state, mr. 29.aleke, would be inured to any value system other than the bullet or the cudgeol. you’re welcome to open up a just a tiny bit here. you write that you hate the new regualtors. are you nostalgic for dzhugashvili and bush? yes? you hate relatavism, despise the academy, feel free to judge who is and is not an intellectual?

    not me. i’ll take my chances with the new “meritocracy”. at least my in “fantasy” the rulers have jobs. and apparently values, too

  • 31. aleke  |  May 30th, 2009 at 11:51 am

    hahah take your incoherent braying elsewhere, apologist scumbag

  • 32. JimBob  |  May 30th, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Good stuff. Glad I found this blog, as depressing as the piece on CS is…

  • 33. Curious One  |  May 30th, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Once saw Samatha Power on C-Span booktv talking about genocide and do not remember the ‘content’ of her presentation because I was so amazed at ‘how’ she was delivering it. She seemed to be enjoying her subject and there was a ‘I know this and you don’t’ aspect to her performance. Didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t engage the listerners/watchers of the program -acted like genocide was her own, she owned it and she was the one and only important person to know about it so all of you better shut up and listen. Too bad she missed that opportunity – seemed like she got in the way of her own message.

  • 34. Stasi Slut  |  June 4th, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    a. I very much like that I can now add the term beigism to my vocabulary.

    b. This awful, mediocre neoliberal ‘elite’ is so horrible you more want to put them up against a wall to put THEM out of their misery rather than your own satisfactory sense of revenge.

  • 35. m.a.s. ak  |  June 5th, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Maybe America need a Revised version of the 80s movie
    Theylive starting these people…

  • 36. capt  |  June 9th, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    You had me until “the Boob.” Now I have to dismiss you. Bye bye!

  • 37. Chapulin Descolorado  |  June 15th, 2009 at 5:39 am

    Every moral tradition on the planet views sins of commission as much worse than sins of omission, & yet SP just somehow doesn’t have time in her 500p genocide book to mention Guatemala, Indonesia’s anti-Communist bloodbath, or East Timor. (OK, a single sentence on East Timor.) And this book is courageous? What a crock! Now she’s mongering the Af-pak crusade. I wish she’d go back to Kosovo, & stay.
    Cass Sunstein’s recent work of the death penalty–he’s now in favor of it, having discovered statistical “proof” that it’s a deterrent–is similarly revolting. Woe to us that this amoral power couple is high up in our government.

  • 38. Radovan  |  June 16th, 2009 at 6:05 am

    Ratko, ne filozofiraj nego dodji na stoni tenis.

  • 39. cts  |  September 8th, 2009 at 9:20 am

    “Every moral tradition on the planet views sins of commission as much worse than sins of omission,”

    Just for point of fact, this is not true.

  • 40. Graeme  |  September 9th, 2009 at 9:09 am

    I must say I will no longer be able to watch any of the administration’s prancing on CNN without thinking of Updike. The whole piece cracked me up. J. L. Seagull as done by Friedman! I love it.

  • 41. -  |  December 7th, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    that was longgggg. don’t quit the day job.

  • 42. George Mann  |  March 19th, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Very interesting reading. Especially in light of today’s announcement that Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power are working together to advise Obama on the American involvement in the current Lybian crisis.

  • 43. Ryan Weil  |  September 1st, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    This isn’t serious journalism or opinion writing. You’re attacking these individuals on a personal level; you never once address their ideas. If you feel alienated by the academic world, perhaps it’s because you concern yourself too much with the family dramas of scholars and too little with their arguments.

    Unless, of course, your website is meant to be dogmatic–and with such blindly devout followers as you appear to have, I suspect that it very well may be.

    If I didn’t do my research I would mistake this piece for satire.


  • 44. m  |  September 24th, 2012 at 5:19 am

    #43 … You are a dried up humorfree taint-lip … plus you take these lightweight academics and yourself way too important

  • 45. Jeremiah Fernandez  |  February 7th, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    man this is a brilliant essay, i’m quite skeptical of any dumbshit article commenter who is essentially moronic rather than substantive. Since I’m a moron that makes me a self-skeptic

  • 46. cleanbootjack  |  March 20th, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    …us kids are hoping there’s a stolen sex tape of Samantha with her lover…

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