Belmont Club

Prison Gandhis and Other Stories

Bad Times Indicators: Among them, backyard pools turn into mosquito breeding ponds, waitresses get prettier, military recruiting advertisements communicate that they don’t need you and people wear drabber ties.

The New Repeal: “The latest Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows that, by the whopping margin of 20 percentage points — 55 to 35 percent — Americans support the repeal of Obamacare. This marks the continuation of a striking trend: Since Memorial Day (just over six months ago), Rasmussen has taken 21 polls on Obamacare’s repeal. In all 21, repeal has won by double-digits.”

America Imports Less Oil — Despite Everything: “But developments on the supply side are particularly striking. U.S. crude oil output has risen by 18% since 2008. Some of that has come from an increase in deep-water output, although after last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill the pace of future growth is more uncertain. The big surprise is onshore, where the United States is experiencing an oil boom. … Just a few years ago the expectation was that the U.S. would be importing large volumes of natural gas and becoming heavily dependent on world markets—and spending upward of $100 billion a year for those imports. Now people, including President Obama, talk about a hundred-year supply of domestic natural gas.”

The Summer of Recovery is definitely not coming: “President Barack Obama outlined a grim picture for economic recovery, saying in an interview to air Sunday night that it could take years for the nation to reverse what he called structural problems ‘that have been building for two decades.'”

“That’s going to take time. That’s going to take more than a year,” Obama tells “60 Minutes” on CBS. “It’s going to take more than two years. It’s going to take more than one term. It probably takes more than one president.”

The Prison Gandhi: Joran Van Der Sloot has a new admirer. “Dr. Mary Hamer, 55, dresses very carefully before she visits the prison. The young man she goes to see in the forbidding complex, where rats crawl out of the drains and the dust of the nearby desert settles on everything, is someone she’s come to think of as a possible spiritual leader, maybe a Gandhi, and she wants to make a good impression. If only he could spend a decade or so under her wing, she believes, he could realize his full potential. Already Hamer, a divorced radiologist from Lake City, Fla., is doling out her savings to pay his lawyers. She is buying him clothes. She is sending him care packages. If only he were released into her custody, she would cast out the violence like a gentle exorcist coaxing away the demons. And if he has murdered before, he would murder no more.”

What is the appeal of Svengali? ABC News notes that murderers behind bars remain lady-killers, an observation that is likely to recall the debate over whether “nice guys finish last“.

Kenneth Bianchi and cousin Angelo Buono, dubbed the Hillside Stranglers for the murders of 10 girls in the Los Angeles area in the late 1970s, both married while in prison.

Serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy both had committed relationships with women before they were put to death. “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez, awaiting execution for a string of brutal murders in California in 1985, married a pen pal in 1996.

Erik and Lyle Menendez, who are serving life sentences for the 1989 murders of their parents, both married after being incarcerated. Erik Menendez recently celebrated his sixth wedding anniversary with a woman he began corresponding after his conviction. Lyle Menendez married pen pal Anna Eriksson in 1997. The couple split up after about a year, but he then married another correspondent in a prison ceremony in 2003.

Scott Peterson, awaiting death in the execution chamber of San Quentin State Prison for the murders of his wife and unborn son, is reportedly flooded with letters from admirers. Even Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh received marriage proposals before he was executed.

The phenomenon has been noticed in Britain, where the Guardian notes “more than 100 British women are engaged or married to men on death row in the US.” One theory is that prison lovers can forever remain fantasy figures. “Woman with imprisoned partners have limited contact and need never move beyond this courting stage. The intense desire for each other need never translate to the ordinariness of sex and marriage. … “He’s a dream lover, a phantom limb.”

It is the appeal of a fantasy figure which may have accounted in part for the appeal of the candidate Barack Obama. Ross Douthat recalls the heady atmosphere of the 2008 campaign and argues that the Republicans are desperately hunting for a superhero of their own to match Captain Barack. They need to fight magic with magic.

But Newt Gingrich’s recent rise in the polls is being sustained, in part, by a right-wing version of exactly the impulse that led Democrats to nominate Kerry: a desperate desire to somehow beat Barack Obama at his own game, and to explode what conservatives consider the great fantasy of the 2008 campaign — the conceit that Obama possessed an unmatched brilliance and an unprecedented eloquence.

This fantasy ran wild four years ago. Obama is “probably the smartest guy ever to become president,” the presidential historian Michael Beschloss announced shortly after the November election. The then-candidate’s Philadelphia address on race and Jeremiah Wright was “as great a speech as ever given by a presidential candidate,” a group of progressive luminaries declared in The Nation. Obama’s “Dreams From My Father” is quite possibly “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician,” Time Magazine’s Joe Klein declared. “He is not the Word made flesh,” Ezra Klein wrote of Obama’s rhetoric in The American Prospect, “but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair.”

Something of the same sentiment may undergird the current vogue for romantic cinematic vampires, who are far more interesting, at least to some, than ordinary guys who go to work, take out the trash and mow the lawn. Steven Graydanus notes that the appeal of the character Edward is based on this very thing. “He isn’t just the bad boy, he’s the bad boy who can be saved if only the good girl loves and trusts him enough. He really is a romantic addict, dangerously seductive, proudly resentful, drawing Bella in with those most irresistible words: Stay away from me for your own good.”

Here I think, Douthat’s parallel fails. You can imagine Barack Obama saying Edward’s lines, but not Newt.

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $3.99, print $9.99
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