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. And really, what Regulation Czar wouldn’t dump her? After all, 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.
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