Saturday, November 27, 2004

Wild Ghosts on the Tube, Bright Lights in Fat City

Did you lose your mind all at once, or was it a slow, gradual process?

There are some days when only a terminally crazed madman like Robin Williams could find humor, and this past week was filled with them. The usual cast of characters were in full bloom, for entirely the wrong reasons, and moon was swelling with deviant light. By week's end the beast had roared for more decaying flesh than the downtown morgues could handle, and L.A. Country Jail cells were filling up like cheap strip clubs in Tijuana.

When Williams was faced with a similar plight in The Fisher King, he cried tears of joy and enlightenment, babbled on about being the janitor of God, then bolted off into Central Park with tinfoil sword in hand to slay the dragons of his robust and psychotic imagination. "They [the little people] came to me about a year ago," he explained. "I was sitting on the john having one of those really satisfying bowel movements -- you know the one's that border on mystical."

In fair parallel, there is a whole new mood within the Evangelical brotherhood, bordering on rabid euphoria and hysterical revelations. They have moved shop into national politics with an elan not seen since the days when Racist Radical Cleric Fallwell - otherwise known as RRCF in the reality-based community - started playing witch doctor in the primeval forest that was the Reagan Revolution, and once again they are reeking with a hellish stench of mitzvah and purpose.

The enterprise of providing salvation at light speed has never been a simple exercise - yet there has been a perverse sense of anxiety and ravenous ambition since the 1980s, even amongst the most bitter of the Jesus capo regime, as many of them have come to realize that His far-reaching and omnipotent grace would be better dished out - and be given a NASCAR-equipped supercharger, in the end - if the almighty's humble live-ins took morning coffee in the Oval Office, rather than some plankboard rat's nest of a church in Baton Rouge. They have had such delusions before - these religious berserkers with a built-in excuse - but that kind of true believer never really loses the faith. It is like pagan lust or a bout with Dengue Fever, and there is nothing in this world more magical for a hard-boiled right-wing evangelist to be on speaking terms with the preznut and his senior campaign staff, just like he is with Jesus. The voice becomes officially large, the goals become strategic, and who on God's green earth could dispute a theologian - even if he is a total nutjob who claims to have seen the light - when he has a golden pipeline to the two strongest forces in the judeo-christian universe. Fighting shoulder to shoulder against abortion and gay marriage with the leader of the free world can make even the modest among the flock become dizzy with self-importance.

"Compared to the things I've done for the [preznut]," Racist Radical Cleric Fallwell says, "both Chuck Colson and Frank Sturgis were daffy hedonists."

Pat Robertson had noticed this as well, and started his own campaign to gain favor. He was, of course, Moby Dick in a deep blue of TV evangelist sea monkeys - with a mailing list surpassing that of his closet rival and his own network that could be carried into more than 40 million homes on any given day.

Righteous Pat sat back and studied the landscape for a while, but he was a man given to temptation. Having already used the power of prayer to steer hurricanes away from his Christian Broadcasting Network headquarters in Virginia Beach, it wasn't long before the Lord starting speaking to him again in a haunting voice ... about politics. The words spooked him at first, he acknowledged. But the Big Guy is seldom off-base in these matters, so he formed a tax-exempt board of advisors to test the turbulent waters of the 1988 Republican Party nomination for President. He didn't do much beyond the primaries - receiving more than a few snickers from the campaign professionals at the time - but Robertson was not fazed, not in the slightest bit, because he understands the long game in a way that Dubya never will. The junkyard dog within Robertson fully understands that bright-light politics is nothing more than a new way to push along the collection plate. He might not ever be preznut, but he thinks God appointed him to the position and he's not about to go away - not as long as little white crosses are allowed on private buildings.

Besides that, he is a bonafide faith healer - or so he says - a real fire and brimstone prophet from God. Robertson has said these kinds of things, more than once, and he truly seems to believe in his own mysterious powers. The Christian Broadcasting Network is never in short supply of reformed pimps, hookers who've heard the voice of the Lord, wayward preachers, criminally insane cops, flesh merchants and white slave traders - all of whom need salvation. And Righteous Pat - with his Regis Philbin good looks and sounding like an uncle who dabbles in sheepish pedophilia from time to time - can never back away from the freak show when the ratings game is at hand. He is Jerry Springer with a sermon. Men with body lice and open sores on their arms shaking their canes at the cross are always welcome, because the feeling of helpless ignorance being swayed to the message is what keeps the cash cow fed.

His net worth is between $200 million and $1 billion USD according to the 2002 book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast. Through his ostensibly charitable organization, Operation Blessing International, Robertson claims to have spent $1.2 million bringing aid to refugees in Rwanda. His critics, such as Palast, claim the money was actually spent to bring heavy equipment for Robertson's African Development Corporation, a diamond mining operation.

Robertson's support of former Liberian president Charles Taylor had something to do with precious materials as well. In many episodes of his 700 Club program during US involvement in the Liberian Civil War in June and July of 2003, Robertson repeatedly issued statements of support for Liberian President Charles Taylor. Robertson accuses the U.S. State Department of giving President Bush bad advice in supporting Taylor's ouster as president, and of trying "as hard as they can to destabilize Liberia." He failed to mention in his broadcasts about an $8 million investment in a Liberian gold mine. Taylor had been at the time indicted by the United Nations for war crimes. According to Robertson, Freedom Gold, the Liberian gold mine, was intended to help pay for humanitarian and evangelical efforts in Liberia. Regarding this controversy, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy said, "I would say that Pat Robertson is way out on his own, in a leaking life raft, on this one."

But back to the late 1980s for a moment: Pat Robertson sued Congressman Pete McCloskey (R-CA) and Representative Andy Jacobs (D-IN) for libel. McCloskey, who served with Robertson in Korea, made claims that Robertson was spared combat duty when his powerful father intervened on his behalf. Jacobs repeated these statements publicly. During pre-trial depositions, another veteran who had served with Robertson, Paul Brosman, Jr., spoke of rumors during the war that Robertson had been carousing with prostitutes and hassling Korean women. Brosman stated that Robertson himself talked about his exploits with prostitutes. In the end, Robertson dropped his lawsuit because of scheduling conflicts between court dates and his 1988 presidential campaign, and he was ordered to pay part of McCloskey's court costs.

There is an old wives' tale among pig farmers that says there are only two methods of dealing with a rabid animal - either tie it down to a stake and cut off its head, or drag it behind the barn and put a shotgun blast to its head. Robertston's approach at the flank has not been lost on the White House either, where the only response to his growing influence has been "no comment." Andy Card said nothing as well, and even Eddie Haskell look-alike, Dan Bartlett, has been a deaf mute on the topic. The sheer mention of Robertson's name in the West Wing makes Rethugs yearn for the good old days - when a problem like this could be solved with a quick page to G. Gordon Liddy or E. Howard Hunt, and never more was the issue mentioned.

Come back, we'll rummage.


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