"The Nick Berg beheading and its Internet video compose what is known around KFI as a "Monster," meaning a story that has both high news value and tremendous emotional voltage. As is SOP in political talk radio, the emotions most readily accessed are anger, outrage, indignation, fear, despair, disgust, contempt, and a certain kind of apocalyptic glee, all of which the Nick Berg thing's got in spades. Mr. Ziegler, whose program is in only its fourth month at KFI, has been fortunate in that 2004 has already been chock-full of Monsters—Saddam's detention, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Scott Peterson murder trial, the Greg Haidl gang-rape trial, and preliminary hearings in the rape trial of Kobe Bryant. But tonight is the most angry, indignant, disgusted, and impassioned that Mr. Z.'s gotten on-air so far, and the consensus in Airmix is that it's resulting in some absolutely first-rate talk radio.".
So obviously I didn't finish The New Republicans I in that coffee shop in those fateful, dwindling hours before the Vice-Presidential debate much less in the two or three weeks following. But here we are with about eight (...seven, six ...) days to go before the actual election itself and if I want complete this entire series before the voting itself renders all my autumn contemplation on this subject irrelevant, if isn't already, so I best get a move on.
And so, dear reader, to begin this post - journey with me once again, back in time to that special week at the beginning of September - the first week of September, just after Labour Day when The Republican Party convened their convention, for it is in that convention can we begin to discern the kernel of their present spectacular flameout. For as someone much wiser than me (forget who) once wrote: "What is the present then, but basically a movie of the past" - something like that. I know it seems like a long, long time ago now, and if amidst our present cacophony of sound, fury and crisis you are experiencing some difficulty in this task let me assist you with the lame, frustrated poet's oldest trick in the book. Oh dear sweet reader, lets just summon the muse:
So there I was, watching The Republican National Convention, two days in and several days after John McCain had announced his decision to anoint The Governor of Alaska to be his running mate. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.
Now go ahead and call me an elitist but after spending far too many hours already watching this goon show I was sincerely coming to the conclusion that one needed to have had a lobotomy in order to be a functioning Republican delegate these days. (Full disclosure: I am usually of this opinion, but at this time it was much worse than usual, I was literally gobsmacked) As if it was some kind of prerequisite. Maybe they even get a package deal from one of those insurance companies who count amongst their largest donors. I was even growing sentimental for the day that may yet come when I will truly miss the intellectual George Bush, or the nuanced world view of Dick Cheney.
And I don't think I was alone.
It was already Wednesday night, in the hours before Sarah Palin was to speak and the present delegates of the Grand Old Party, this Party that has held the executive office of the POTUS for twenty-six of the last forty years had already been treated to Mitt Romney - former Governor of Massachusetts and present big time Boston based investment banker - rally as passionately and with as as much painfully fake conviction as he could muster against the diabolical workings of the dreaded "Eastern elites" - before Mitt then gave up the stage to our personal favourite here at GHN - Rudy Giuliani - the twice divorced, opera loving, abortion and gay rights supporting two term mayor of New York City - who really fired up the crowd when he suggested that Barack Obama may not fully appreciate the town of Wasilla, Alaska - the hometown of Sarah Pallin - because perhaps it wasn't "cosmopolitan enough" for him. In an arena adorned with the slogan "Country First" a night after previous evening's theme of "Service" everybody was having a good laugh at all the sneering jokes about "Community Activists" - Obama's one time post-undergrad profession on the South Side of Chicago, back in the day.
It was a bizzare and surreal disconnect captured perfectly by the following night's episode of The Daily Show (oh thank-you Jesus) and a strategy concisely explained in a subsequent op-ed by Paul Krugman appropriately titled The Resentment Strategy :
What the G.O.P. is selling, in other words, is the pure politics of resentment; you’re supposed to vote Republican to stick it to an elite that thinks it’s better than you. Or to put it another way, the G.O.P. is still the party of Nixon.
One of the key insights in “Nixonland,” the new book by the historian Rick Perlstein, is that Nixon’s political strategy throughout his career was inspired by his college experience, in which he got himself elected student body president by exploiting his classmates’ resentment against the Franklins, the school’s elite social club. There’s a direct line from that student election to Spiro Agnew’s attacks on the “nattering nabobs of negativism” as “an effete corps of impudent snobs,” and from there to the peculiar cult of personality that not long ago surrounded George W. Bush — a cult that celebrated his anti-intellectualism and made much of the supposed fact that the “misunderestimated” C-average student had proved himself smarter than all the fancy-pants experts.
And when Mr. Bush turned out not to be that smart after all, and his presidency crashed and burned, the angry right — the raging rajas of resentment? — became, if anything, even angrier. Humiliation will do that.
Can Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin really ride Nixonian resentment into an upset election victory in what should be an overwhelmingly Democratic year? The answer is a definite maybe.
In short, in our time, in this time, with everything that is going on, in both the United States and all over the world, in the waning days of the Bush Administration and the early years of 21st century and next Millennium - The Republican Party were setting the stage to once again run against The Sixties. Because - as I believe Rick Perlstein points out (though I haven't read it) in the above Krugman-referenced book Nixonland the Republicans essentially won the Sixties. Despite all their protestations to the contrary the Sixties were good for them - politically:
America's enemies, he (Nixon) had learned to think of them. He grew yet more determined to destroy them, because of what he was convinced was their determination to destroy him.
Millions of Americans recognized the balance of forces in the exact same way — that America was engulfed in a pitched battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. The only thing was: Americans disagreed radically over which side was which. By 1972, defining that order of battle as one between "people who identified with what Richard Nixon stood for" and "people who despised what Richard Nixon stood for" was as good a description as any other.
This is an election strategy that they have engaged in my entire life, for as long as I can remember and I'm not really that young anymore. And they do it because its a strategy that wins. Or more to the point - it is a strategy that used to win. And what's that hoary old military chestnut about 'generals always fighting the last war'?
In a prescient, now classic article from way back in May - The Fall of Conservatism : Have Conservatives run out of ideas? - George Packer wrote all about this:
Yet the polarization of America, which we now call the “culture wars,” has been dissipating for a long time. Because we can’t anticipate what ideas and language will dominate the next cycle of American politics, the previous era’s key words—“élite,” “mainstream,” “real,” “values,” “patriotic,” “snob,” “liberal”—seem as potent as ever. Indeed, they have shown up in the current campaign: North Carolina and Mississippi Republicans have produced ads linking local Democrats to Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor. The right-wing group Citizens United has said that it will run ads portraying Obama as yet another “limousine liberal.” But these are the spasms of nerve endings in an organism that’s brain-dead. Among Republicans, there is no energy, no fresh thinking, no ability to capture the concerns and feelings of millions of people.
"(T)he spasms of nerve endings in an organism that's brain dead.".
Let's all remember that exquisite phrase.
The "strategy" - sometimes referred to as The Southern Strategy - is easily discerned and definable and comes complete and correct with the requisite strong 'emotional voltage' because it touches and plays upon, and some would even say exploits and manipulates, people's fears. It creates wedge issues and seeks to divide. And its chief and most successful practitioners of the last forty years have been people like Pat Buchanan, Lee Atwater, and of course Karl "MC" Rove:
Because, dear reader, if I may get simplistic for a moment, in this perennial struggle of The Freaks vs. The Squares, which takes place not only in our politics but in our very psyches it will always be advantage Square, I think; always easier for The Square to crush The Freak than the Freak to rule triumphant over the Square. I do believe it was Flaubert who once wrote that "in the heart of every barrister, lurks the tragedy of a failed poet." (something like that).
But these distinctions, however still deeply felt - but more to the point - identified with, are now, as I have been trying to emphasize, now completely spent and exhausted. And as cynical as I can be, I will cop to kind of belief that perhaps what we are witnessing really is some kind of transformation of a sorts in the United States, or paradigm shift. Because when this opera is played upon deeply at is here in this Election '08 what is becoming more clear all the time is -just how square the so called freaks, and just how so very freakish have become the squares. And how irrational. And how lost.
And in this psycho- melodrama, stakes as high as they are, Mitt and Rudy were just the warm up act for the really big show, the one everyone was waiting for - the headliner: the big prime time coming out speech of far right America's newest sweetheart - Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Pallin.
So. What to make of Sarah Palin. Oh sweet Jesus, please give me the words.
Well, for starters, in those early days I think she did her job and did it well - well enough that it was actually reflected in an early poll jump/bump for the Republicans. And that job - her job - was from the moment she was introduced to make it all about her, a task for which she seemed perfectly and without question - shamelessly up to the challenge. To flip the script, to change the national and international conversation from the Democrats, their convention and especially Obama's absolutely staggering speech of the night before - and to even change it, if she actually could, from the record of the last eight years of Bush/Cheney Administration. I do recall that I was actually joking with a friend of mine the previous night after Obama's speech about how lame the coming moment was going to be when John McCain walked on stage the next day with say ... Mitt Romney, or even Joe Lieberman as his running mate, hoping, praying for some of that action, some of that 'Joe-mentum'.
But how wrong I was. The Republicans needed a "Monster". And so they went for it.
Everybody in the end zone. Because we're gonna jack it.
And so as is so obvious by now, Sarah Palin is just such a "Monster". She is a "Monster" in the above quoted David Foster Wallace sense of the word: "high news value and tremendous emotional voltage" - accessing emotions of "anger, outrage, indignation, fear, despair, disgust, contempt, and a certain kind of apocalyptic glee", not to mention, and most importantly, amongst some - i.e. The blessed Republican Base - blind love, and total devotion. Its almost as if they had concocted her in a petrie dish some where in some secret right wing laboratory, or were raising her from a pup in a special Republican boot camp, deep in the wilds of Alaska, waiting ... and waiting for just the right moment when they were really desperate, and really, really needed her. And it was time to throw the Hail Mary. The Hail Sarah.
Yeah yeah, I know. Perhaps Of course I am taking it too far. But she has that effect on people. And thats the point.
(Note: Read all the past of Sarah Palin's witch doctor/preacher featured in the above video - Thomas Muthee - here and > here and then ask yourself, dear reader, as Bill Maher does, what would have happened if such a video of Barack Obama had turned up anywhere at anytime during this election and what the implications of such an event would have been for his electability, and what does that tell you about race and politics in America. Or you can just let Keith Olberman break it down for you: )
And the sense of desperation, panic and vertigo around the pick of Sarah Palin only seemed to increase when it was revealed just how the choice had been made:
Mr. McCain was getting advice that if he did not do something to shake up the race, his campaign would be stuck on a potentially losing trajectory.
With time running out — and as Mr. McCain discarded two safer choices, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, as too predictable — he turned to Ms. Palin. He had his first face-to-face interview with her on Thursday and offered her the job moments later. Advisers to Mr. Pawlenty and another of the finalists on Mr. McCain’s list described an intensive vetting process for those candidates that lasted one to two months.
“They didn’t seriously consider her until four or five days from the time she was picked, before she was asked, maybe the Thursday or Friday before,” said a Republican close to the campaign. “This was really kind of rushed at the end, because John didn’t get what he wanted. He wanted to do Joe or Ridge.”
In the final stages, two Republicans familiar with the process said, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, emerged as a key advocate for Ms. Palin.
John McCain is a well known impulsive gambler/craps player after all, whose ties to the gambling industry are legendary. Russell Baker recently recently compared him to an "amateur chess player" with "a weakness for making an impulsive move just to see what would happen".
And all this was just too much from my prospective. Sitting there on the couch, with my laptop open, parked in front of the teevee dumbstruck like some frozen, outraged gargoyle, and yet unable to turn away.
From the moment the nomination was announced the blogosphere basically erupted in a firestorm of revelations and reinvigorated investigations into the past and the ideology of this previously relatively unknown Alaska Governor which was surely something to behold in its passionate intensity. And as I sat there often watching TV and surfing the Internet at the same time (!) I dearly succumbed to it all and kept waiting for the moments when the activity of the one (internet - Ideology) would ultimately overflow into the news and commentary of the other (TV - Myth). And as the internet facts continued to pile up I became convinced that there was no way Sarah Palin was going to last the week. I just assumed she was done for. That in obviously not "vetting" her in the way they should have, the Republicans had made a grievous and fatal error. I figured she would be forced to bow out, blaming the "liberal media" for their insidious contempt and callous disrespect for her and the unfair pressure they were placing on her family. I figured her subsequent martyrdom in this regard would be enough to animate the base for the remainder of the election as John McCain then went to on to nominate Mitt Romney or even Joe Lieberman, like he apparently wanted to in the first place. I honestly figured this was the plan. I thought there was some angle the campaign was working. This - angle. Something else going on. This can't be happening, literally, like this, something else is up.
But here we are about two months later and Sarah Palin is still around, so obviously I was wrong again, I guess - which apparently happens all the time. But that isn't going to stop me from luxuriating in sweet nector of nostalgia about some of my favourite Palin hits that I came to cherish during that oh so special time:
*Last year, Palin requested more earmarks per person than any other state -- including some that were criticized by McCain himself.
*Even as mayor of Wasilla, Palin's pursuit of earmarks was aggressive. She oversaw the hiring of a Washington lobbyist -- who, as we reported yesterday, had ties to Jack Abramoff -- to go after federal pork.
*And though Palin touted her opposition to the "Bridge to Nowhere" just last week in her debut speech, she initially supported the project during her run for governor. It was only after the bridge became notorious as an example of pork barrel spending that she changed her position.
*In her run for governor, Palin was endorsed by then-indicted, now-convicted Sen. Ted Stevens. Video of the endorsement has been removed from her government website, but the two appeared together just two months ago at a press conference on energy. The friendly relationship between the embattled senator, who is accused of lying about gifts he recieved from an oil contractor, and the supposedly maverick governor is at odds with Palin's claim to dismantling the "old boys club" of Alaska government.
*As Wasilla mayor, Palin reportedly fired the police chief and attempted to fire the librarian, because she did not feel that she had their "full support in [her] efforts to govern the city of Wasilla." Former city officials allege that the attempts to remove the librarian were a result of her her refusal to censor books at Palin's request.
*Palin has been at the center of the Trooper-Gate scandal that alleges misuse of her gubernatorial power. The affair erupted in July when Palin fired the Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. Monegan later claimed his firing was a result of his refusal to fire Palin's former brother-in-law and trooper Mike Wooten. Palin denied that she, her husband or her staff ever pressured Monegan, a statement she later had to retract when recorded phone calls revealed one of her aides, Frank Bailey, had called a troopers office pushing for Wooten's removal.
*The Washington Post published emails from Palin to Monegan in which she appeared to complain that Wooten was still employed, apparently undercutting her claim that she discussed Wooten with Monegan only in the context of the security of her family.
*As a result of the Trooper-Gate allegations, an independent investigator has been appointed by the state legislature. In recent days, Palin has appeared to stonewall the probe. Her lawyer argued in a complaint filed last night that she wold not be made available for her deposition unless the probe were handed over to the state personnel board, whose members are appointed by the governor. Bailey, who had been suspended by Palin with pay for his actions, today backed out of his deposition.
To be fair TPM does point out that Palin "went after the state GOP chair, Randy Ruedrich, for doing work for the party on public time and working closely with a company he was supposed to be regulating. She also filed a formal complaint against Attorney General Gregg Renkes for having investments in an energy company that stood to benefit from a state trade deal. Both Ruedrich and Renkes ultimately resigned their posts, and Ruedrich paid a $12,000 fine." - and these two actions apparently account for her reputation as someone who was willing to "shake up the old boys network" in Alaska. But as Anne "the bravest housewife in Wasilla Alaska" Kilkenny points out in her much circulated e-mail there was a lot more to it:
When then-Governor Murkowski was handing out political plums, Sarah got the best, Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission: one of the few jobs not in Juneau and one of the best paid. She had no background in oil & gas issues. Within months of scoring this great job which paid $122,400/yr, she was complaining in the press about the high salary. I was told that she hated that job: the commute, the structured hours, the work. Sarah became aware that a member of this Commission (who was also the State Chair of the Republican Party) engaged in unethical behavior on the job. In a gutsy move which some undoubtedly cautioned her could be political suicide, Sarah solved all her problems in one fell swoop: got out of the job she hated and garnered gobs of media attention as the patron saint of ethics and as a gutsy fighter against the "old boys' club" when she dramatically quit, exposing this man's ethics violations (for which he was fined).
So while Palin did expose ethics violations in the Alaskan 'old boys network' it was an action performed in the context of a major advancement in her own profile and career, the kind of thing very ambitious politicians do all the time. They see openings and they leap. No risk, no reward. But I think the Republicans really over-represent this episode as evidence of her dedication to reform and its certainly pretty thin gruel upon which to then in turn trumpet her record as some kind of maverick.
Kilkenny's e-mail is quite amazing and includes other gems like:
During her mayoral administration most of the actual work of running this small city was turned over to an administrator. She had been pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had given rise to a recall campaign.
Sarah campaigned in Wasilla as a "fiscal conservative". During her 6 years as Mayor, she increased general government expenditures by over 33%. During those same 6 years the amount of taxes collected by the City increased by 38%. This was during a period of low inflation (1996-2002). She reduced progressive property taxes and increased a regressive sales tax which taxed even food. The tax cuts that she promoted benefited large corporate property owners way more than they benefited residents.
The huge increases in tax revenues during her mayoral administration weren't enough to fund everything on her wish list though, borrowed money was needed, too. She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it with indebtedness of over $22 million. What did Mayor Palin encourage the voters to borrow money for? Was it the infrastructure that she said she supported? The sewage treatment plant that the city lacked? or a new library? No. $1m for a park. $15m-plus for construction of a multi-use sports complex which she rushed through to build on a piece of property that the City didn't even have clear title to, that was still in litigation 7 yrs later--to the delight of the lawyers involved! The sports complex itself is a nice addition to the community but a huge money pit, not the profit-generator she claimed it would be. She also supported bonds for $5.5m for road projects that could have been done in 5-7 yrs without any borrowing.
While Mayor, City Hall was extensively remodeled and her office redecorated more than once.
These are small numbers, but Wasilla is a very small city.
She has bitten the hand of every person who extended theirs to her in help. The City Council person who personally escorted her around town introducing her to voters when she first ran for Wasilla City Council became one of her first targets when she was later elected Mayor. She abruptly fired her loyal City Administrator; even people who didn't like the guy were stunned by this ruthlessness.
Fear of retribution has kept all of these people from saying anything publicly about her.
She is savvy. She doesn't take positions; she just "puts things out there" and if they prove to be popular, then she takes credit.
Then there was also the no small matter of Palin's connection(s) to the Alaskan Independence Party - a party whose motto is "Alaska First - Alaska Always" and have as their "primary goal - a vote on Alaskan succession". The AIP first stated that Palin and her husband Todd were members in 1994 and even attended the '94 statewide convention held Wasilla before being forced to recant after it was shown that Palin has been a registered Republican since '82. (See the Jake Tapper post - here.) Either way, according to the director of Division of Elections in Alaska Palin's husband Todd was certainly a registered member from October 1995 until July 2002 except for a few months in 2000. And it was in 2000 that Palin recorded the following video for the opening of the party's convention:
This is certainly profoundly ironic, as the Republicans are only the party of Lincoln and all. I figured this last one especially was the piece de resistance - the body blow for which she had no answer and could never possibly recover, but again, here it is almost two months later and I don't recall her ever being asked; not that there's been many opportunities.
And then there was the religious stuff - all that freakish square religious stuff. Not only the above witchdoctor Thomas Muthee video but stuff like this now famous video of Palin giving a speech to her home church - the Wasilla Bible Church - where she says things like how the war Iraq is 'a task from God - part of God's plan' before her pastor returns during part two and talks about how Alaska is one of the 'last refuge' states where people will go when the time comes for the end of days (not to be confused with the old Scwarzeneger movie) and 'the church has to be ready to minister to them.'. Its the same church that Palin attended on August 17th, two weeks before she was nominated when her Pastor introduced a man named David Brickner executive director of Jews for Jesus who gave a sermon where he talked about the price Jews were paying for their "unbelief":
"But what we see in Israel, the conflict that is spilled out throughout the Middle East, really which is all about Jerusalem, is an ongoing reflection of the fact that there is judgment. There is judgment that is going on in the land, and that's the other part of this Jerusalem Dilemma. When Jesus was standing in that temple, He spoke that that judgment was coming, that there's a reality to the judgment of unbelief. He said "I long to gather you, but..." what? "You were unwilling."
... when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment--you can't miss it.".
There was collection afterwards, and no word if Palin actually contributed but we do know that the Tuesday before her speech she was meeting with members of AIPAC as well as Sen. Joseph Lieberman - so maybe that helped clear things up.
And then there is her absolutley atrocious record with regards to Alaska's blessed wildlife. As John Dolan wrote in Sarah Palin's Big, Sleazy Safari:
Most people had never heard of Sarah Palin when she was named the Republican VP nominee. But I'd been hearing her name all too often, because I belong to a group called Defenders of Wildlife -- and in her time as governor of Alaska, Palin has used her position as governor of Alaska to ruin the Alaskan wilderness in every way she could.
Her most recent "victory" came on Aug. 26, when Alaska's voters defeated Measure 2, an initiative that would have banned hunting wolves from airplanes for sport.
Palin organized a campaign against Measure 2 and funded it with $400,000 of state money. For most of us, the idea of zooming around in a private airplane over snowbound wilderness just for the chance to spot a terrified wild dog and blow it apart with a high-powered rifle is insane. But there's a whole culture out there in love with the idea. Palin did her part by playing the tired old Alaskan pioneer card, saying that lower-48 naysayers who dared to object to the idea of dive-bombing wildlife didn't "understand rural Alaska."
Alaska isn't really very hard to understand. It consists of a minority that loves the wilderness and an overwhelmingly Republican majority that wants to squeeze all the cash it can get out of the state before the oil dries up, the fish die out and the wildlife disappears. Nowhere else does the Republican formula of manipulating the suckers by playing on their silly hatreds and even sillier vanities play out more clearly than in Alaska.
(I'm sorry, but as everyone knows we're big fans of wolves here at GHN, so this last one really pissed us off.)
But remember this was just at the time of the Convention, before she had even given her speech. We've now had Sarah Palin on the campaign trail for two months, which has produced, amongst man things, such TV gems as these beauties nicely collected in the following TPMtv video:
And then there was this absolutely atrocious, extremely serious revelation that Sarah Palin while mayor of Wasilla actually billed rape victims for the costs of their tests. A position beyond despicable to which she has yet to respond - which prompted this editorial from the NYT:
Even in tough budget times, there are lines that cannot be crossed. So I was startled by this tidbit reported recently by The Associated Press: When Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, the small town began billing sexual-assault victims for the cost of rape kits and forensic exams.
Ms. Palin owes voters an explanation. What was the thinking behind cutting the measly few thousand dollars needed to cover the yearly cost of swabs, specimen containers and medical tests? Whose dumb idea was it to make assault victims and their insurance companies pay instead? Unfortunately, her campaign is shielding the candidate from the press, so Americans may still be waiting for answers on Election Day.
The rape-kit controversy is a troubling matter. The insult to rape victims is obvious. So is the sexism inherent in singling them out to foot the bill for investigating their own case. And the main result of billing rape victims is to protect their attackers by discouraging women from reporting sexual assaults.
But as Dick Cheney likes to say - at the end of the day - the question with all of these Sarah Palin fun facts still remains - do they really matter at all?
As I mentioned earlier at the time I was reading up on them I think I was labouring under the notion that one or several of these stories would be enough to force her from the race. Considering that her Vice Presidential opponent once had to drop out of his own initial Presidential run in 1988 because of accusations of speech plagiarism it was a notion that was not all that far-fetched I don't think.
I could say that the fact that Sarah Palin is still in the race is evidence once again that Republicans are graded on a curve. And everybody knows it. For despite all their howlings of "liberal bias" in the media, or about how the "Eastern media elites" have it in for them, the fact of the matter is that such accusations are just part of a larger public relations strategy on the part of the Republicans to essentially game the system and fix the field of battle, and it is part and parcel of this same election strategy that they have been employing for the last forty years. A system of "pre-emption" really. By constantly harping on "liberal bias" in the media they effectively neuter the established media to a very profound extent, causing them to constantly second guess themselves at the best of times, and out right self censor themselves at the worst. I have read it in many sources from journalists who work at these levels about how they spend half their time actually doing their job and the other half fretting over whether or not to run such and such a story would open themselves up to the charge of "liberal bias".
We all know its true dear reader. What if Joe Biden had at some point in his career had actually brought forth legislation that charged rape victims for their rape kits? And that is just the most minor example. What if the Democrats had run a vice-Presidential candidate as obviously slight and ignorant and in over her head as Sarah Palin? What would the Republicans be saying about her?
And really - dear reader. I implore you. Has not the reign of the Bush/Cheney Administration really been the apotheosis of this whole phenomenon? I mean just go ahead and play the game - "Imagine if a Democrat?" In just these few examples:
- Imagine if a Democrat had launched a full scale invasion into a major country in one of the most dangerous parts of the world under false pretenses and without a plan for what was going to come next?
- Imagine if a Democrat had gone from running a budget surplus to running the largest debt since the Second World War?
- Imagine if a Democratic President had requested a 750 billion dollar financial bailout package that essentially 'nationalizes' a good chunk of the American banking sector? Especially in the original form as requested by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson?
- What if a Democratic President had legalized warrantless domestic surveillance?
- Or perhaps my personal favourite, what if a Democratic President upon hearing the news that "America was under attack" continued to sit for seven minutes in front of a classroom of public school kids, even partaking in their reading lesson, clearly existentially paralyzed with no clear idea as to how to proceed?
I know it seems so long ago now, but go ahead and watch the whole thing unedited if you want, its pretty surreal and its only ten minutes long:
The examples are endless and you can take your pick - but I ask you dear reader what do you suppose the Republicans would be saying about any of these counterfactual hyptheticals if they had actually taken place? And how about their minion stooges in the media? If any of this had actually taken place under a Democratic Administration there wouldn't be enough buckets in the land to contain the oceans of vitriolic saliva that would still be pouring forth from all the ditto head right wing yakkers in the United States. So please, tell me more about "liberal bias". Explain it to me. Please. With a straight face.
"Heck of a job Brownie.". And the day that George W. Bush actually steps on to that airplane and then turns and waves good-bye to President and Mrs. Obama for good will be a glorious one indeed, even though at that point the Special Forces may still have to be called in order to dislodge Cheney from his bunker. I don't believe that motherfucker is going quietly until I actually see it happen.
So yes, the fact the Sarah Palin is still around may be due to the typical established media fear of right wing belligerence, agenda defining and name calling. But as we've all witnessed Sarah Palin hasn't really had all that easy a go of it and at this point she is obviously positively terrified of the media. Has any Vice Presidential candidate ever run for the second highest office in the land and never held a press conference?
No - I think the reason that Sarah Palin is still around is two-fold.
Firstly, its not that I've changed my mind about the political efficacy of what I originally thought about her being bounced from the ticket - its just that I do believe that the people who are running the campaign have come to believe that it would be a disaster to give her the boot. An 'insurmountable show of weakness' and all that. Once they made the choice, rolled the dice, threw the pass, they were pretty much stuck with her. In for a penny, in for a pound. All in.
And secondly, but most primarily, its just that all these above facts, this evidence of actual practice - the Roelofsian Ideology of the situation - don't matter a lick in the face of the hard core, far-right Republican Party supporters who not only want to believe in Sarah Palin, but need to believe in Sarah Palin. The Myth, in this case, is just too strong and outweighs any and all evidence to the contrary.
We are in the depths of a quadrennial phase that I am going to call the time of democratic fear and loathing. The fear is that the election will bring to power people who are saying things about the issues that are demonstrably untrue, and the loathing very often is directed at the rest of the country when one asks the question how can people be fooled by this. I think we live at a time when there is amongst other things a disagreement about facts and politics. Facts, politics, symbols and politics. And I want to begin by reading a quotation that I think is the best quotation of the Bush Era. It comes from Karl Rove and it was in a piece a few years ago by Ron Suskind, a wonderful piece that ran in the NYT magazine during the run up to the 2004 election. It was about religion and Bush and the Bush Administration. The quote reads as follows:
The aide, this is Rove, the aide said that guys like me - Suskind the reporter - were in what we called the reality-based community, which he defined as people who, and I'm quoting, "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That's the reality based community". I nodded and murmured something about Enlightenment Principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world works anymore. We're an Empire now. And when we act we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality, judiciously, as you will, we'll act again creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out, we're history's actors and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do.".
He was talking about among other things Iraq and and foreign policy and I would submit to you that Iraq is a demonstration that this division doesn't always work. That is, at the end of the day, that it may take a while reality will - out.
But when it comes to politics we are living again, it seems to me, in this stage of the reality based community where there are those who believe that there are facts, that there are demonstrable things, like whether or not Sarah Palin was against the Bridge to Nowhere or was against entitlements, are set on a side against people who actually believe that they can use these issues as in effect - symbols. As ways of signaling certain attitudes And that the facts at the end of the day don't really matter because although reporters start tearing their hair out and start going crazy most of the people whom these issues are directed at are not readers of the New York Times and are not in facts members of the reality based community. And one of the remarkable things about the Republican Party is its ability to ignore those it doesn't care about and focus on the voters that it wants to grab.
So wedge issues we are going to see them played on more and more. They are about nostalgia. They are about resentment. You heard in Sarah Palin's Convention speech, her introductory speech, as well as the stump speech she's making around the country - an appeal to small-town America: "the people who raise our food" which is I always think a fascinating point because the people who raise our food are Archer-Daniels Midland. Small town America no longer raises our food. Its an appeal to an America that no longer exists but the Republican Party has used it repeatedly and extremely effectively. So you will see ads about Sex, about Honour and Patriotism, and about small-towns. And again, these things are wrong on the facts very often and it does not matter.
Nostalgia, resentment, appeals to small-town America, sex - or more accurately the fear of sex, honour, patriotism. And even in our present age when we have finger tip access to all the information we could ever possibly want - the facts do not matter. Myth. Myth stronger than facts. The need to believe stronger than verifiable truth, often right before your eyes. The kind of yearning for myth whereby Sarah Palin can constantly campaign on the message that she is coming to clean up all the wasteful spending in Washington, and yet, in reality, Alaska receives more earmarks per person than any other state, and Alaska receives more overall federal spending per capita than any other state. Yes, they are #1, even though they have no state income tax and are bleeding rich right now in oil revenues. Yet how many people of that state - like those who are members of the Alaskan Independence Party - see themselves as rugged individualists, whose biggest hinderance, most frustrating annoyance in life is at once and always an overly bureaucratic, intrusive American government. Sarah Palin keeps saying that what Washington D.C. needs is a little more "Wasilla Main Street", and yet Wasilla is the crystal meth capital of the state, with 42 labs discovered last year alone according to local police. And those are just the ones they found. I think that Washington D.C. might have enough problems of its own in this regard. She still insists that abstinence-only sex education is the only way to teach the subject, even though her own seventeen year old daughter became pregnant practically right in front of her.
The conservative columnist David Brooks wrote the other day about the coming of Behavioural Economics in a column titled - The Behavioral Revolution:
Roughly speaking, there are four steps to every decision. First, you perceive a situation. Then you think of possible courses of action. Then you calculate which course is in your best interest. Then you take the action.
Over the past few centuries, public policy analysts have assumed that step three is the most important. Economic models and entire social science disciplines are premised on the assumption that people are mostly engaged in rationally calculating and maximizing their self-interest.
But during this financial crisis, that way of thinking has failed spectacularly. As Alan Greenspan noted in his Congressional testimony last week, he was “shocked” that markets did not work as anticipated. “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.”
So perhaps this will be the moment when we alter our view of decision-making. Perhaps this will be the moment when we shift our focus from step three, rational calculation, to step one, perception.
Perceiving a situation seems, at first glimpse, like a remarkably simple operation. You just look and see what’s around. But the operation that seems most simple is actually the most complex, it’s just that most of the action takes place below the level of awareness. Looking at and perceiving the world is an active process of meaning-making that shapes and biases the rest of the decision-making chain.
Taleb (behavioural economist) believes that our brains evolved to suit a world much simpler than the one we now face. His writing is idiosyncratic, but he does touch on many of the perceptual biases that distort our thinking: our tendency to see data that confirm our prejudices more vividly than data that contradict them; our tendency to overvalue recent events when anticipating future possibilities; our tendency to spin concurring facts into a single causal narrative; our tendency to applaud our own supposed skill in circumstances when we’ve actually benefited from dumb luck.
This meltdown is not just a financial event, but also a cultural one. It’s a big, whopping reminder that the human mind is continually trying to perceive things that aren’t true, and not perceiving them takes enormous effort.
(Note: I plan to hopefully blog a lot more about what I am learning about "the financial crisis" in the near future. And just FYI one of the most noted 'behavioural economists' is the University of Chicago Professor Austan Goolsbee and he is an advisor to Barack Obama.)
Bu there is another word for all this. There is another word for playing upon people's fear and ignorance and in turn devising an entire election strategy around it. Another word for deliberately not telling them what they need to hear, but what you think they want to hear. Another word for deliberately, to their face, not telling people the truth - for in fact, out right, lying to them, and not only do you know you're lying to them but they know you're lying to them. And dear reader, that blessed word is - condescension.
People know it when they feel it and they really don't like it.
Actually, maybe the word is - contempt.
Essentially doesn't this strategy represent an attitude of contempt - precisely the attitude of which they accuse the so-called 'eastern (liberal) media elites'? Maybe this is just a grand episode of projection?
Are you not just outright talking down to people? Not only capitalizing but encouraging their ignorance. I have often felt that these Republicans run but also govern on strategies that are intentionally predicated upon people's ignorance and apathy. And maybe this really is just wishful thinking on my part, and a "desire for change" that requires a leap of faith (the triumph of hope over experience) but maybe, just maybe the United States has reached a tipping point with regards to these Republican tactics and they have peaked and just cannot work this time. Not this time - as the man himself keeps saying in one of his most impeccable lines. The tragic irony is that it has taken all the corruption, incompetence and the accompanying exhaustion from the Bush/Cheney years to finally achieve this moment and swing enough of the people in another direction. It is an exhaustion that I think is perfectly captured in the following video from those lovable "Wassup" guys:
(for those of you who don't know - this a play on a famous beer commercial from eight years ago and I guess the reference isn't as effective if you're not familiar with the original)
Its all pretty sentimental I know but what can I tell you - I've been feeling sentimental lately, and I don't think I'm alone. I can be as much a sucker for this shit as the next person. And the Democrats with all their own problems, failures and shortcomings say it all the time of course, but maybe this time it really is time to "put Barney Smith, before Smith Barney."
Here's hoping. Let's bring on some new Myths, and move beyond these tired old culture wars.
I guess that's maybe one of the elements of hope - when you really run out of options and don't really have much choice in the matter. What choice does America have right now - really? Its pretty obvious. And the selection of Sarah Palin just certified it.
As Frank Rich wrote in his last op-ed - In Defense of White Americans:
The dirty little secret of such divisive politicians has always been that their rage toward the Others is exceeded only by their cynical conviction that Real Americans are a benighted bunch of easily manipulated bigots. This seems to be the election year when voters in most of our myriad Americas are figuring that out.
This - this was the moment when John McCain lost the election. The more the American electorate saw of Sara Palin the worse it became for the Republican ticket. That's the truth about gambling: you usually lose. And the Hail Mary hardly ever works.
Anyways, dear reader, this what was going through my head by the time I had finished watching Sarah Palin give her speech at the Republican Convention almost two months ago. That and the one question that lodged in my brain like some kind of cerebral tape worm:
Just who the hell does this woman think she is?
But meanwhile, outside the Convention hall:
(Read Glenn Greenwald on the FBI treatment of the protestors at the Republican Convention)