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Rachel Ben-Avi

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Contempt

Posted: 10/09/2012 6:33 pm

I grew up in a house in which seething with contempt was the norm. My father so seethed at everyone from Buzzy, my beloved nine-year-old schoolmate, because he was a half an inch or so shorter than I, to my maternal grandfather, who was in the newspaper distribution business and not an intellectual, to my aunt because she was fat, to the likes of William F. Buckley Jr., with whom my father lunched one day, the lunch an audition, I believe, for Buckley's talk show, one which my father failed in some never-revealed way.

His was an equal opportunity contempt that he had flowing through his synapses, doled out according to some obscure measure of success vs. failure, and/or desirable vs. undesirable human characteristics. The Cheney-esque sneer, the quivering lips fairly dripping, the smile one smiles at an idiot, the sad shake of the head at the poor, defective other. I see them as I write.

Trust me, I know contempt when I see it.

My mother was good at it too, but a mere tyro compared to Dad. I suspect she learned it from him and recall that she visited it upon him from time to time. But her contempt for him was mixed with anger and bitterness; it was impure and therefore less lethal. And it did not come naturally to her.

But there it was. Contempt. Around me and my brother with miserable regularity. I had to unlearn it, myself; years of therapy helped, but I have to watch myself to this day. It is sometimes an ugly manifestation of unconscious self-loathing, I think, projected onto another; it is sometimes a way to render someone less than human, thereby elevating one's self. And sometimes, it is just plain snotty nastiness.

In our daddy's DNA. Sometimes in mine, way back when. I confess.

Of this, I am not proud.

But the point is: takes one to know one, and I am a maven. I grew up thinking everybody felt contempt for almost everybody else who did not, in some way, measure up. I found bit by bit that that was not true. I am not denying that there are some people, some behaviors that richly deserve contempt. Those who hurt others without qualm are contemptible: the Nazi, the pedophile, the rapist, the bully, the one who takes pleasure in ruining the lives of others, he who likes to fire people, for example.

It would seem to me that the pundits on TV (the ones that I have seen since Wednesday's horror show, i.e., presidential debate #1) have had the good fortune to have grown up in households in which contempt was absent. Not one seems to have noticed it, recognized it, when it was right there on the big screen, smack in front of him or her. Or at any rate, no one brought it up. Not that first night, right after the debacle. Not since then, so far as I have heard or read. Only Bill Maher, on his show on Friday night, came close.

I couldn't believe that no one else noticed it. I couldn't not notice it.

There it was on Mitt's face from the minute he wished the president a happy anniversary (but forgot about Michelle) until the very end of the show. It was present, that sneer, all the time the president spoke, that "yeah, yeah, go on blabbing, you moron," unabating grin. The look was the image itself of condescension and communicated such perfectly. (Along with the contempt for our president, Mitt offered the same, in a somewhat diluted measure, to Jim Lehrer, who tried, unsuccessfully to shut up the mouthy bully on the stage before him.)

This was not contempt that was deserved. This was attitude toward The Lowly One.

I imagined Mr. Romney's handlers telling him to "Get out there on the stage and make your mouth a bulldozer that flattens both the president and the moderator, so that they look impotent in your presence. Roll right over Obama, fast and furiously -- don't worry about content; tell the people what they want to hear. Strike out at 'the elite' as if you weren't one of them; cozy up to that 47% you got caught dismissing. You don't have actually to do anything about anything you promise, once you are elected." And, boy, did he ever succeed, as anticipated, despite the actual content of his stated plans.

He promised to kill Obamacare on day one, while bragging about his Massachusetts' health care plan, which is essentially, as I understand it, similar to Obamacare; he insisted that his numbers were not his numbers where the economy was concerned; he promised not to lower the taxes of the rich; insisted his health care plan had a provision for pre-existing conditions, which we all know it does not, and on and on. To cut spending, he said he'd dump public television -- the education station, while in the same breath talking about how important education was to him and warmly reassuring Jim Lehrer that he liked him (how cringingly condescending) and that he liked Big Bird too. (This last provoked a hilarious batch of cartoons of Big Bird out of a job, Big Bird inserted into a photograph of an unemployment line taken during the Great Depression, and the like). By now, those of us interested in this race are familiar with the speech. Even those of us who did not watch it. Unfortunately, neither the president, nor the moderator, was up to telling Mitt to shut up. Or to telling him he was a liar.

I watched, thinking this guy missed his calling; he ought to be an actor.

The president seemed to be attempting suicide by self-control, while we, who will vote for him just wanted him to hit back, get mad, let loose a wise-crack, and behave as he did the very next day in Denver -- with gusto, sarcasm, disgust for this man that he so dislikes, this man who is without core, without substance, without principle.

An article, written by Igor Volsky and distributed by ReaderSupportedNews, shouts: "Romney told 27 myths in 38 minutes." 

The "pundits" did not focus on the myths.

"Theater" (as Paul Krugman called it in Romney's Sick Joke, his New York Times Op-Ed on Friday, October 5, 2012) was all.

I watched the whole gang at MSNBC before and after; poor Chris Matthews looked as if he was about to have a coronary when the debate was over. Mitt had trounced Barack. He'd run all over him. Why he had FIVE points all laid out right there at the beginning, and Barack just kept looking down. Writing notes. No question who won. Everyone agreed. My liberal friends were underneath wherever the doldrums are, when I spoke to them the next day.

Here's what I don't get. I don't get why everyone reacted to the sound, the strength, the look, the punch, the drama of the show, and no one seemed focused on the content. I don't get it, that no one seems to have found Romney as disgusting as I did. His contempt for our elegant, intellectual President alone was thick as sludge. And almost weirdly unabashed. Throughout. He is a bully. He is (my guess) a racist. No one mentions race. I don't get that either. I cannot believe that a Black man in the White House has not rankled the entire Republican Klan since day one of Obama's presidency, since the Right decided to Just Say No to anything Obama suggested, the one and only concern being no second term, the welfare of the country be damned. I think racism is alive and well in much of this country; we've just learned to hide it better than we used to.

Appearance was all. And Romney's got it. He's the closer. It's how he made all his money: sounding sincere, looking sincere, smiling, empathy personified, any means to his desired end, the worker be damned. The perfect psychopath, to my psychologist's mind. (I am one, by the way.) And fabulous at it. He has genuinely smart and well-educated people, some whom I know and love, hoodwinked. They are actually voting for him. The damage he would cause, were he and his equally frightening running mate elected, might finally sink our ship. Bush, when president, almost did. Romney could finish us off.

Note here, for those of you who think "psychopath" refers only to serial murderers and the like. Psychopaths are people with no conscience, no anxiety, no empathy, not a smidgen of concern for the other fellow's welfare. The psychopath is driven by what will accrue to his own quality of life. And nothing more. Think Bernard Madoff. Everyone loved him. He was a charmer. He was successful. Rich. Sought after. Many -- I am not saying all -- of the most successful business tycoons in this country are very, very good psychopaths. The better they are, the less they look it. And, they are considered by the psychoanalytic community, to be beyond help. They do not change. They don't want to. They think they're just fine, especially the really successful ones.

Voila! We have a master psychopath running for leader of the free world. And even the sophisticates are blown away by his performance. God help us.

Of course, the above diagnosis is mine. Maybe I'm wrong, and the many Romneys we have met are all, each and every one of them, genuine good guys, just a little unbalanced by ambivalence. Whether they are or not, seems to me the contempt is the real thing, genuine through and through, and runs right through each and every Romney -- and remember, I recognize it when I see it. I'm an expert.

 
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