Jul 1 2013
In the spirit of full frontal disclosure, as I like to call it, the following is something I’ve published before, in a pamphlet written for the New Press in 2004 called Schwarzenegger Syndrome: Politics and Celebrity in the Age of Contempt. It was a book written as a public service, in the wake of the California recall election of 2003, in which it was possible, simply by being a resident of California and paying a $5,000 filing fee, to appear on the ballot as a serious contender for the job of the state’s governor, depending on your definition of serious.
I wrote Schwarzenegger Syndrome for a laughably small fee—like I said, as a public service. Its residue on the internet seems to consist entirely of a link to a turf-marking, piss-spray review by an ostensibly leftist wastebasket in the LA Weekly—the kind of deliberate friendly fire that speaks volumes about why the left never gets any traction in the US. The LA Weekly was an exception; other reviews were positive. Still, the book had a hobbled career. The editor who commissioned it was fired, to his complete astonishment, by a widely detested colleague at the New Press whom he’d never been informed was actually his boss. She, spitefully, removed the books he’d commissioned still in hardcover from the next year’s paperback list, so my little book and several others simply disappeared.
As I’ve mentioned in an earlier VICE column, I don’t believe it is possible to "plagiarize yourself" any more than it is possible, at the end of the day, to fuck yourself, but I would not normally quote myself, let’s say, at what will be unusual length, even from material of which I am the sole owner, were it not for many recent appearances of a certain rat-faced, repulsive member of Congress on various talk shows, where he is apparently considered a serious political mouth to be reckoned with, as well as a ‘personality,’ one moreover who considers himself a great wit in front of a camera, though I have never heard him raise a single laugh apart from his own canine chuckle. I was startled when this person emerged as a talking head, and discovered that no one I knew outside of California had the slightest idea of his history. So I’m going to supply it for you here, in hopes, once again, of providing a public service:
It is early 2003. A petition to recall the California governor, Gray Davis, launched by various monied right-wing interests (mainly ones in the Texas utility sector who are under investigation in Sacramento, through their cutouts in California), has been garnering thousands of signatures—but not fast enough to trigger a special election before the 2004 national primary, “when heavy Democratic turnout would improve Davis’s chances of staying in office.” At this juncture, subject enters the scene:
“An Arab American member of the US Congress, Darrell Issa, stepped into the breach with a third pro-recall entity called Rescue California in May 2003. Issa had immensely deep pockets, having reaped millions from the car-alarm business. He intended to run for governor himself.
“Like the other groups, Rescue California numbered among its talking points the state’s ‘negative business climate,’ a neatly phrased appeal for larger corporate tax breaks. As it happened, Darrell Issa’s own company, Directed Electronics, had moved its corporate headquarters to Florida to avoid paying California taxes. This can, of course, be viewed as proof that Issa had firsthand experience of this negative business climate. In any case, he was able to dump his tax savings into the recall movement.
“Rescue California hired professional signature-gathering firms and ad time, swiftly yanking the signatures up to 16,000 per day. By announcing his plans early, Issa also became a sidebar issue himself.
“Issa’s was the kind of success story familiar from novels by James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler. In 1971, while in the army, 18-year-old Issa was accused of stealing a car from Sgt. Jay Bergey, who settled the matter out of court. ‘I confronted Issa,’ Bergey later said. ‘I got in his face and threatened to kill him, and magically my car reappeared the next day.’ Issa was demoted from a bomb-squad assignment after an Article 15 hearing on bad conduct and ‘allegations that he had stolen a fellow soldier’s car.’
“In Ohio, in 1972, Issa was indicted for auto theft. Charges were dropped when the local district attorney decided not to prosecute.
“In Michigan, in 1973, Issa was convicted on weapons charges.
“In 1980, Issa was again charged with grand theft auto, in San Jose, California. Again, the DA declined to prosecute.
“In 1982, Issa took control of Joe Adkin’s car-alarm company by calling in a $60,000 loan after making verbal promises to allow Adkin several additional weeks to pay it. Without notifying Adkin, Issa went to court the following day and seized his company’s headquarters. Next, he quadrupled the fire insurance on the company’s headquarters. He was observed hauling records and computer equipment out of the building the day before it burned to the ground in an arson fire.
“Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Issa drove several competitors out of business with nuisance lawsuits and intimidation, while outsourcing manufacturing jobs to Taiwan. He found time to run and lose a Senate race in 1998. In 2000, he ran, unopposed, for a House seat, at a cost of $1.7 million—the same figure he eventually sank into the recall.
“Issa’s background in auto theft was obviously useful in becoming a car-alarm entrepreneur. His habit of enriching himself at other people’s expense, on the other hand, didn’t recommend him in any obvious way for the job of governing the world’s sixth largest economy. One right-wing columnist referred to Issa’s role in the recall effort as that of ‘a useful idiot.’
“Aside from a colorful business and military resumé that was, in truth, less unusual than otherwise, Issa’s record in Congress appeared unlikely to win crossover Democratic votes, or votes from moderate Republicans. Even most conservative Republicans in California considered Issa rather loathsome because of positive statements he had made on behalf of Hezbollah.
“He advocated school prayer, the criminalization of flag burning, and restrictions on abortion and stem-cell research. He strongly advocated offshore oil drilling. He opposed campaign-finance reform, malpractice suits against HMOs, and litigation against gun manufacturers. After 9/11, Issa ‘threw a temper tantrum’ while trying to late-board an Air France flight, creating an international incident. During the recall period, he made many menacing phone calls to Scott Barnett, a co-founder of Republicans Against the Recall.
“Issa had a history of brandishing firearms when under stress, or to make a point to his employees, or to ‘send a message’ to business rivals. In many ways, Darrell Issa embodied the inchoate anger roiling under the $3 million homes and manicured gardens and SUVs maintained by that part of California that perceived itself to be in crisis. He belonged to that top tenth percentile income bracket that saw its future eradicated by ‘taxes,’ by the issuance of drivers’ licenses to the people who tended their gardens and mopped their floors and blew fallen leaves off their lawns, by affirmative action, by bilingual education, by wetbacks spilling over the border. Still, Darrell Issa had the whiff of rotten fish about him, a trace of some fetid glandular disorder or the subborn lingering smell of the arriviste.
“And then, once the recall petition was certified, and the special election scheduled, Issa suddenly decided not to run. He wasn’t anyone’s favorite cup of tea in the first place, but Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entry as a candidate effectively removed whatever tiny possibility Issa might have had in the general fracas. The latter withdrew in what was tactfully reported as a ‘tearful announcement.’
“In an interview with Inc.com, a publication Issa had once awarded himself an imaginary prize from, the non-candidate put a game spin on the whole misadventure: ‘If you can take $1.7 million and leverage it against a $38 billion problem and help fix that problem, then it’s the best leveraged capital you can invest.’
“Some would stipulate that that depended on whose $1.7 million and whose $38 billion Issa was talking about. He took the occasion to cloud his 1973 weapons arrest, the 1980 indictment, and other notable achievements of his own by attributing them to his brother, who was, he said, such an incorrigible car thief that he ‘even stole two of my cars.’ Issa spoke of this brother as a kind of evil twin whose messes he’d been cleaning up for years. ‘Had I at times been unwilling to implicate my brother in things that I knew or could have known that he did? Yeah.’
“Issa did, actually, have a brother. Witnesses had noticed singed hair on Issa’s brother’s arm the day after Joe Adkin’s car alarm company burned down.”
Along with the echoes of Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep in the Darrell Issa saga, the alert reader will note a striking parallel between Issa and Flem Snopes, Faulkner’s son-of-a-white-trash barn-burner who inexorably rises and rises through society by threats of violence, horse-trading, skeevy real-estate transactions, calling in debts prematurely, and a blissful absence of any moral sense—a real American success story, of which the US Congress is overgenerously full.
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