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Fatwah / May 22, 2009
By Mark Ames

Okay, so Samantha Power ain’t exactly a teenager or naïve, but in the stilted East Coast elite world that Cass Sunstein moves in, a 37-year-old Samantha Power is the equivalent of 14 Priscilla Presley years .

power2Cass traded up for the youngish Samantha Power, the “Bob Geldof of academia”

So who is Cass Sunstein? Like his former “partner” Martha and like his new love Samantha, Cass has devoted his life to pleasing the guild by stuffing its vaults with the sort of forgettable Beigeist nonsense that it likes to see—because no person with a functioning gag reflex could possibly spend decades of his or her life writing endless articles about law and how to make citizens more citizen-y. Cass, however, is the kind of guy who could swallow a pepperoni stick without gagging—just look at the record:  roughly twelve gazillion articles and books on legal issues and behavioral psychology’s relationship to the law. In fact Cass Sunstein is such a prolific Middlebrow in his field that there’s even a joke among his colleagues that Cass is the Kevin Bacon of legal journals. You know, because every legal academic has either done an article with Cass, or done an article with someone who’s done and article with Cass… Seriously, in the lounges, that Kevin Bacon joke really bowls ‘em over. And please don’t mention anything to them about how they’re about three decades late with that joke. They are tenured academics, after all—show some sensitivity, please!

It’s all adding up to a bad 70s East Coast thinking-person’s divorce-drama. I mean the names themselves are earth-toned: Martha; Samantha; Cass. The campus settings; the academic must and competition. The affairs. It’s like a bad Updike book! Which is to say: The Obama Era is a bad Updike book. Rabbit’s Reduxing all over again! And we’re stuck reading it for the next 8 years!


The Obama-Era Elite at play: “Oh Cass!” “Oh Samantha!” “Shall we have a game of squash before we return to saving The People?” “Yes, I believe we shall!”

Anyway, so after Cass dumped Martha in Chicago last year, he moved to Harvard where Samantha teaches. 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. (At this moment, cue the Erik Satie soundtrack. Either that or Billie Holiday…Updike is cursing us from the grave! Burn his bones, someone!) Samantha Power is the third segment of this horrible Middlebrow Love Triangle. For Samantha, however, she had a “defining moment” in her biography. That defining moment was Bosnia—the tragedy that attracted hordes of defining-moment-tourists from the West’s top academic and struggling-journalist institutions. Every Orwell-swooning middlebrow secretly cursed under their breath that they’d never be able to duplicate his moral outrage and moral courage without a perfectly defined cause like his—so when Bosnia presented its tragedy on a bloodied platter, Samantha, along with all the David Rieffs and Peter Maas’s and you-name-‘em-if-they-read-Orwell-they-were-in-Sarajevo’s all entered the “watch me being morally outraged on behalf of humanity” competition in Bosnia, then took the “lesson” that “defined” them there, and came away with this: in the future, if America sees slaughter going on in some part of the world we don’t understand, we should bomb the bad guys and save the good guys. Now, don’t get Samantha wrong—she ain’t no George Bush. No no no, she’s totally, totally different. I mean sure, both went to Harvard and all, but really—Samantha Power is soooo smart, and George W. Bush is sooooo stupid.

How smart is she? Samantha wrote a “landmark” book, a book that really bowled over Team Obama, about genocides in the 20th century. Because genocides are really bad, she wants us to know. Not all genocides, mind you—just the genocides she chooses to focus on. She didn’t include in her book the genocides that might muddy up her Dubya-brained moralizing about genocide—anyway, it’s sexist to criticize her for omitting American-led genocides in the 20th century that led to millions of deaths in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Central America, and elsewhere; or Britain’s genocide-guilt in about 2/3 of the globe. Those aren’t officially “genocides” in Samantha’s classification, because that’s not playing by the rules. The rules say very clearly that these are genocides and those aren’t—so for example, when America financed and armed the genocide in East Timor, Samantha writes that America “looked away.” Well, you get the point here.

The only interesting thing about Samantha Power is that she once called Hillary Clinton a “monster,” which caused such a hullabaloo that she had to resign from the Obama campaign. But it’s clear that was a moment of petulant indiscretion on Samantha’s part, not something she would repeat if given a second chance. No, Samantha would only repeat that again and again if she was the type who an ounce of genuine integrity. But that’s not Samantha—the Samantha of Cass’s eye, the Samantha of the Obama Era is little more than a motherboard of careerist ambition, Tracy Flick with entitlement.


Speaking of that, Samantha’s new husband Cass put out his most popular book yet last year, called “Nudge.” See, he’s a “paternalistic libertarian” who thinks the way to make America work is not to tell people what to do, but to–yes, that’s right–“nudge” them to the right thing. (Sort of like how Cass “nudged” his wizened ex-partner Martha out of his life for the tight-skinned Samantha–supposedly, in keeping with the retro-70s horribleness, Cass and Martha and Samantha are all pals still.) Anyway, Cass’s big breakthrough, the thing that got Obama’s attention, is that Cass believes that government should nudge The People gently, and that way, The People will make the right choices but feel they’ve done it on their own. Because deep down, Americans will do the right thing if you just show them the way without pushing them too hard. Reverend—I mean Dr. Sunstein uses examples like 401Ks and organ donor cards to make his example. (You have to wonder if Sunstein stole this brilliant theory from a third grader’s civics class report.) Like his wife Samantha, Cass has to make exceptions for just about every horrible thing that human beings do in order to make his theory work. So he makes those exceptions, and voila! Everyone agrees that it works! It’s a hit! Now Cass and Samantha are a Washington Power Couple. Wow, I just gotta get their cards!

The return of the worst of the 1970s: here it is. Tracy Flick in earth-tones set in an endless tape-loop of ponderous middlebrow tripe of the sort that brought us The Seduction Of Joey Tynan. Put another way: imagine if Jonathan Livingston Seagull was written by Milton Friedman, which was then adapted for the screen by the makers of Kramer Vs. Kramer, and there you will find the Zeitgeist of the looming Obama Era nightmare.

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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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