MARTHA STEWART, CONVICTED LAST WEEK on all four counts against her – not for insider trading, but for her lies attempting to cover up behavior that likely would have been punished with only a fine and slap on the wrist – has much to teach us about Clinton-era America.
Packing her tennis rackets and suntan lotion for a Club Fed stay that could last from 12 months to 20 years, this 62-year-old domesticity diva who turned Obsessive Compulsive fussiness into a billion dollar business leaves as her legacy a nation of higher aesthetics but lower moral standards. How should we think of Martha Stewart and what she reveals about our culture?
“Martha Stewart grew up the second of six children in a dysfunctional, tension-filled family of working class Polish-Americans,” wrote biographer Christopher Byron, author of Martha Inc.: The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. “Her entire childhood was spent teetering on poverty’s edge in a cramped row house in the Newark suburb of Nutley, N.J.
“Martha’s father, Eddie Kostyra, was a nasty-tempered and narcissistic boozer who couldn’t hold a job,” wrote Byron, “and who blamed the world for his own shortcomings. Martha’s mother, also named Martha, went through her days in a cloud of sullen resentment over what her husband had turned out to be, and spent a lot of her time in a house dress and curlers at the kitchen table, smoking, drinking beer and playing cards with her girlfriends.”
Not surprisingly, wrote Byron, “Martha yearned desperately for something better than this for herself. So in adulthood, she reinvented her past into an ‘I Remember Mama’ fantasy powerful enough that it mesmerized the world. This fantasy became the foundation of her entire business empire, repackaged as ‘truth’ in the pages of her books and magazines.”
But Martha’s inner fantasies became outward lies. “She lied to her family, and she lied to her friends and business partners,” wrote Byron. “She lied to the FBI and to the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission]. She lied to Congress, to the prosecution, to the judge, and even to her own lawyers. In time, she wound up lying to the whole of America and ultimately to the entire world.
“For more than 40 years, lying had been a way of life for Martha Stewart,” Byron continued. “But in the end, she lied to 12 people too many, and Friday, shortly after 3 p.m., a jury of her peers brought Martha Stewart’s lifetime of lying to an end.”
Most in the dominant media have noted that among the greedy giant corporate capitalists who deserve punishment, Martha Stewart is small-fry who, compared to entities like Enron, committed scarcely more than a misdemeanor. But while these liberal journalists ask why she was made a prime target for prosecution, few question her guilt. She has become yet another symbol of capitalist corruption and greed.
What the dominant media leaves unmentioned, of course, is that Martha Stewart is a Democrat. She has been a big-time contributor to the Democratic Party, its candidates and Leftist allies such as Voters for Choice/Friends of Family Planning. During the Clinton era and since, she has given nearly $170,000 to these gauche political forces. Among the beneficiaries of Stewart’s direct donation Leftist largesse were Bill Clinton and Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry. Check out her Federal Election Commission donations as a resident of Connecticut for yourself at opensecrets.org.
During the season of Clinton sex scandals, Martha Stewart went so far as to invite President Clinton to a June 1998 luncheon to benefit the Connecticut Democratic Party. In 2003, as scandal entangled Stewart, her good friend Hillary Clinton was there to give Martha advice and support. (Did they privately compare preferences in haut couture prison fashions?)
How ironic that U.S. Attorney James Comey – who decided not to pursue Senate candidate Hillary Clinton in the egregious “Pardongate” Presidential-pardons-for-votes scandal involving four New Square rabbis – is the prosecutor who decided to go full-bore after Martha Stewart for what seems a far smaller crime.
Stewart had saved roughly $51,000 by rushing in 1999 to sell her shares in the biotech company ImClone, apparently after learning that its President, a friend of hers, was dumping his shares. The Food and Drug Administration less than two days later disapproved the company’s application for a new anti-cancer drug – a drug, ironically, that the FDA weeks ago reconsidered and approved.
The government originally pursued whether Stewart had engaged in illegal “insider trading” based on company data that was supposed to remain confidential. ImClone President Sam Waksal was convicted of this crime after he dumped his shares. He is now in a low security “Club Fed” prison facility in Florida.
But the judge in Stewart’s case threw out this count for insufficient evidence. Stewart found herself instead becoming the new poster girl for that ancient adage: “It’s not the crime that gets you. It’s the cover-up.” She would be convicted of lying to Federal authorities, obstruction of justice, conspiring to conceal information and perjury, a total of four counts, each of which could bring a maximum prison sentence of five years.
Albert Camus’ brilliant novel The Stranger describes an odd aspect of human nature and justice. In this tale a man is convicted of murder, not because of what he did but because of what he is. He is unpopular, a nonconformist unwilling to make the social gestures expected by those around him. Therefore he is found guilty.
Martha Stewart likewise made herself a stranger, even as she became one of television’s most frequently-seen celebrities. Her life was devoted to projecting a surface, an exterior of do-it-all, know-it-all perfection that homemakers resented – even as they took inspiration from Martha’s willingness to glue together exotic party invitations or boldly whip up a chocolate raspberry souffle.
Martha was the woman who could do it all – maintain a perfect garden, sew her own drapes, or frost a seven-layer cake while running a self-made, billion-dollar business empire. Viewers seldom glimpsed the huge staff that did most of the work, so Martha could show up on camera in coveralls, hair perfectly coifed, like a politician at a ceremonial ribbon-cutting with scissors or tree-planting with golden shovel.
Viewers knew that something was surreal about this picture. On one episode of her TV show, Martha showed parents how to throw a party for the schoolmates of their child. She prepared a bag of gifts for each child who came – gifts that she acknowledged might add up to $500 for each child. (Doubtless Martha believed that nowadays the presenters at the Emmys and Oscars are given bags of gifts worth $13,000 or more….so what’s a mere $500 for each kid at a children’s party?)
This obsessive-compulsive woman, always eager to outdo herself, was detaching from the real world where her audience lived and was floating away like a gas-filled balloon. She had alienated a husband, her family, business associates and – by glutting their once-quiet wealthy suburban Connecticut neighborhood with noisy TV trucks – her neighbors.
And in her ego and insecurity, she refused to show a human, feeling, fallible and fragile side of herself to anyone. She became a living cartoon, a flat idealized robotic icon regularly parodied on “Saturday Night Live” and other comedy shows.
Stewart and her lawyers apparently believed that this image of perfection would win over a jury of 12 peers. She refused to testify, perhaps fearing that she could be tripped up or lured into error or self-incrimination. Experts on jury selection should have told her that jurors want to hear from celebrities before them, and that jurors tend to take it as a personal insult when a celebrity refuses to testify.
Even worse, Stewart’s lawyers then argued that she was “too intelligent,” too much better than ordinary people, to do the stupid things the prosecution charged. She threw away every opportunity to build empathy with those judging her, to bare her heart and win their mercy.
But who can blame her? Martha Stewart, like the rest of us, lives in the Clinton era. She watched Bill Clinton perjure himself before a jury and get away with it. She saw the Clintons lie, cheat, steal, break almost every law of man and God and get away with it through brazen arrogance.
She saw the Leftist media move heaven and Earth to cover up for them and persecute the Clintons’ pursuers for the “crime” of invoking moral standards in a relativistic, immoral age.
Surely, Martha Stewart must have thought, she too could cut corners and sneak around the letter of the law as her fellow Leftist friends the Clintons had done. The law is for little people, not for major Democratic Party contributors and supporters of the radical Left such as herself.
What Stewart forgot, of course, is that Bill and Hill have been replaced in the White House by George. Call him Dubya, like the W in Washington, as in America’s first President George Washington and his wife Martha. And unlike the Clintons, President George W. Bush honors old-style morality and the law.
The Clintons changed America. Even now, they stand daily before our children like a giant billboard on which is written the message: “Cheating Pays! Look at us. We lied, cheated, stole and much more you don’t even know about. And we are powerful, famous millionaires, the once and probably future rulers of America. Those of you who play by the rules, obey the law and follow the old morality – you are suckers and losers.”
Decades will pass before this poisonous denigration of values injected into America’s youth by the Clintons can be overcome. Until it is, our nation will continue to pay a terrible human price.
Several new studies, for example, indicate that sexually transmitted diseases are becoming so widespread that half of all young Americans who engage in sex will contract at least one by age 25. These many diseases, ranging from AIDS to genital warts (HPV, or Human Papilloma Virus), can cause a host of ills including infertility, cancer, senility and death. Some are incurable.
This plague of society-ravaging, life-wrecking diseases is one small part of the legacy of dishonesty, promiscuity and immorality that the Clintons taught to America’s young people.
How does the body politic heal itself from such sickness? It must restore the ancient immune factors known as morality and justice. Those who lie, cheat, and steal must lose their social status, be isolated, and suffer punishment. If they continue to succeed much longer, America will fail.
Thank heaven the Clinton Administration has been replaced by a leader who understands that moral rearmament is essential to our national security.
Martha Stewart may have been the victim of a sad childhood. But she is far from a one-time miscreant. Her life is pockmarked with lies and betrayals she has perpetrated upon others. Worse, she allied herself with and became a major financial supporter of the self-evident immorality and dishonesty of the Clintons and their sock-puppet political party, even though Martha must have known that they were doing bad things. Who, in a nation accused of greed, has been greedier or more self-seeking than Martha’s bosom buddies Bill and Hillary Clinton?
Does Martha Stewart deserve to spend at least some time in prison? Yes. Yes, so that young Americans can see that crime does not always pay for others as it continues to for the Clintons. Yes, so that Stewart’s brazen arrogance can be shown to have failed. Yes, so that the example of her punishment can restore a measure of integrity to those tempted to cut corners in business and the media.
For all these reasons and more, send Martha Stewart to prison. It’s a good thing.