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The basics of the would-be congressman's resumé were clear enough.
Former Goldman-Sachs guy joins the Marines after 9/11, eventually ends up in Iraq as a second lieutenant.
His men stop a car seen leaving a house they were searching. Found some garden-variety weapons in the house, find nothing in the car or on the driver and passenger.
Marines search the car again, search the occupants again. Still nothing.
The would-be congressman smashes up the car. He sends the rest of his men off, has the unarmed Iraqi civilians search their own vehicle again. For some reason, he empties two clips of M-16 ammo into their backs at close range. They slump into the car.
The one which contained no weapons.
Afterward, the lieutenant slashes the tires on a car full of Iraqi house painters. After that, he places a handmade sign on the car with the two bodies inside: "No better friend, no worse enemy."
MONTHS LATER, the Marines investigate. Prosecutors charge him with murder, which could have meant the death penalty. A hearing determines there's not enough evidence to court-martial him.
The presiding officer, however, recommended a non-judicial punishment for "extremely poor judgment." He said the lieutenant, by desecrating the Iraqis' corpses with the sign, had disgraced the Marine Corps.
Then he sheds his uniform, finds Jesus, paints himself as a red-white-and-blue hero of the Iraq War, writes a book to that effect . . . then puts himself forth as a Republican candidate for Congress in North Carolina.
And that, friends, is how Ilario Pantano became a Tea Party darling and got 46 percent of the vote against a conservative, pro-life Democrat who voted against ObamaCare.
That's how he went from staring a murder rap and the death penalty in the face . . . to almost getting elected to Congress. With the backing of a whole, big bunch of Republicans, including Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani.
That such a character as Pantano has gotten so far in politics is no testimony to the civic heath of North Carolina. You have to wonder what the hell is wrong with those people, frankly.
In Pantano's native New York, however, old friends and acquaintances wonder what's become of the man they once knew. These deep misgivings about the would-be congressman reverberate through the pages of New York magazine:
But to some of his old New York friends, the new Pantano is not the one they thought they knew. “Is this obviously a new and different phase in Ilario’s life? Yes. Has he made major changes in his life? Yes. Is this the guy I’ve known before? No,” said Noah Shachtman, a contributing editor to Wired magazine and a non-resident fellow of the Brookings Institution. He met Pantano at Horace Mann. “As a politico turned musician turned reporter,” Schactman added, ”I don’t begrudge anyone the right to reinvent themselves.”
Though Pantano moved to North Carolina about ten years ago, Schactman, like other New York friends who’ve kept in touch, believed Pantano a New Yorker through and through. His mother was a New York literary agent, though she now raises horses in North Carolina; his wife was a Jewish New Yorker and onetime model who posed for photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Pantano never did drugs, but he loved to dance and loved the hot nightclubs of the nineties. “He went to Mars, the Palladium, Disco 2000. “He couldn’t have gone there and possibly have had any issue with gay people,” said Alex Roy, who runs Europe by Car, a family business, and who held a fund-raiser for Pantano when he was accused of murder. “He’s changed a lot. I am pretty surprised to hear that he’s against gay marriage, considering that we have gay friends in common. He’s 180 degrees away from the person I grew up with. Maybe it’s a function of where he lives, or having served in the military. If you’re running for office it sure pays to agree with people in your district.”
Vlad Edelman, who was Pantano’s partner in a digital media business for half a dozen years, called Pantano after his New York speech against the proposed mosque. “What’s going on with your politics? I don’t recognize them,” Edelman asked. Shachtman also worried about Pantano’s fearmongering — the candidate fears a Chinese attack via Cuba, as he told Schachtman in an interview for Wired.
THERE YOU GO. Being against gay marriage is a big, big concern. Alleged war crimes? Not so much.
Likewise, giving a speech against the "Ground Zero mosque" is some kind of major faux pas, but gunning down actual Iraqi Muslims in cold blood . . . not so much.
"What's going on with your politics?" As if there were no red flags in 2004, in some God-forsaken corner of Iraq?
Screw it. You want to know what America stands for today? Nothing. Not a damn thing apart from self-righteousness, nada apart from talking a good -- albeit hypocritical -- game. That's who we are, what we're all about.
Left or right, Bohemian or Bubba, there's only one unforgivable sin in contemporary American society today -- being politically incorrect. I guess what they say is true . . . you are what you invade.