I hope I never write another piece on Sarah Palin again.
The woman is a disease, and I choose my words carefully there. She is everything that is wrong with America, and indeed, that is the only reason I’m writing this at all. This essay is altogether far more a commentary on Governor Quit’s America than it is on the woman herself. Our national problem is Palinosis far more than it is Palin.
There have always been people like Sarah Palin, and presumably there always will be. The two real questions are why anyone cares about them and, most astonishingly, why anyone would seriously contemplate putting them in charge of a country of 300 million people.
Palin the person is back in the news again right now (and notice that she makes sure never to really be absent) for two reasons. First, because she’s launched this wild bus tour which reminds one of those nested Russian dolls where you open each one up and there’s another inside. This tour is a ‘family vacation’, inside of which is Palin’s public service mission of educating the rest of us about American history, inside of which is a faux flirtation with presidential politics, inside of which is a relentless, endless series of publicity stunts masquerading as a human being, inside of which is an utterly shameless money-grubbing cash cow, inside of which is a frightened little girl whose insecurities could make George W. Bush look like a paragon of self-confidence in comparison. At the end of the day, she has become essentially the Paris Hilton of politics. She is famous for being famous, and she’s masterful at that one thing and that one thing only.
“I’m publicizing Americana and our foundation and how important it is that we learn about our past and our challenges and victories throughout American history, so that we can successfully proceed forward”, Palin informed the ridiculously obsessed press following her everywhere on her national wild goose chase. “It’s not a campaign tour.” Right. That’s why it’s in a big, painted bus, and she has the media scurrying after her. Every family vacation’s that way, isn’t it? And, by the way, even if by some bizarre random quirk of stochastic physics she was actually being honest about her motivations, isn’t more ill-informed self-reverential adoration of our national wonderfulness just what America needs right now, as the country is imploding in every way imaginable? And who is more perfectly poised to provide that lesson than the esteemed Professor Palin, so erudite and multifarious is her skills that she can simultaneously use mangled syntax, by which to display her emotional neediness, in the form of distorted history lessons? How many of us can claim such abilities?
The half-term governor knew that if she loaded up a busload of family members and painted the bus with patriotic pictures and slogans a few microns deep, and that if she ran around at the same time (and even the same place) that other Republicans were announcing their campaigns, she could generate a boatload of media attention to come in her direction. This is a good time for it, too. Since she will not actually be running for president herself (the money’s no good, and it seems like an awful lot of work!), she no doubt realizes that her celebrity shelf-life is about to go south in a hurry. Once Republicans pick a nominee (likely Romney, and likely quickly), she will be of a lot less interest than she is now. Peripheral Palin’s remaining cards to play at that moment will essentially include criticizing the GOP nominee and criticizing the Democratic nominee. The former will not be welcome by regressives during a presidential campaign for obvious reasons, and the latter will actually not either, because Palin only cheapens any Republican candidate’s message to independents with her idiotic comments about Obama. She is the best thing that could happen to the president, even if she isn’t on the ticket.
I think she well understands that her relevancy meter is fast running down, and she is about to become some tawdry, laughable Dan Quayle-type thing, a creature that even (or especially) regressives wish in retrospect they could forget about. Indeed, I think Palin is probably secretly still in drop-jaw astonishment herself that she ever got any of the attention she’s managed to garner so far. So she is milking every remaining drop of it that she can grab before she’s sent to the remainders bin. When asked if she was leaning toward or against running, she replied as only she can, “Still right there in the middle”. Oh, god. I need to hurl. I don’t know who is worse, Palin uttering such dribble or the media for sucking it up like it remotely matters. Nor could she help turning the knife she had miraculously been able to slip into Mitt Romney – despite there being nothing there of substance to stab – by stomping all over his presidential candidacy announcement extravaganza. She then added a bit of her own special brand of catty mockery to the mix: “I apologize if I stepped on any, any of that PR that Mitt Romney needed or wanted that day. I do sincerely apologize. I didn’t mean to step on anybody’s toes.”
All of this would be truly ugly, except that it’s both entertaining and cosmically righteous to see regressives clobbering each other. Couldn’t happen to a nicer lot. And the other good news is that it seems many Americans have finally figured out most of what needs to be understood about this abomination in a skirt.
Which also explains another way in which Palin made the headlines last week, this time by making clear, yet again, how utterly and astonishingly vacuous she is. She proved it again by flunking American History 101, laughably flubbing a question most second-graders could readily handle. Knowing who Paul Revere was is like knowing who Santa is. Not for Savvy Sarah, though, who responded thusly: “He who warned the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms by ringing those bells, and makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.”
Okay, leave aside the rambling incoherence of her remarks. Sometimes spontaneous, on-the-spot answers to press questions can legitimately have that quality (which – hello, regressives! – might explain why Barack Obama (and lots of other politicians) use a teleprompter when they speak. She obviously wasn’t expecting the question, though she can just as obviously be seen in the above passage to be scrambling to think of an answer, and doing her ‘thinking’ out loud. And leave aside, as well, the mysterious “He who…” construction I’ve heard her use before. There’s definitely some twisted pathology loaded up in that phrasing, but I’m not psycho-linguistically astute enough to take it apart. All that aside, what remains is the breathtaking absence of basic historical knowledge on the part of this frequent public scold on matters of American patriotism (as she defines them).
So egregious was Palin’s boner that even Pox Snooze, which happens to be a relentless promoter of bother Palin and Palinism, not to mention her employer, was forced to come to grips with it. “Anchor” Chris Wallace asked her, “You realize that you messed up about Paul Revere, don’t you?” Well, no, actually, she doesn’t: “I didn’t mess up about Paul Revere. Part of his ride was to warn the British that were already there. That, hey, you’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms. You are not going to beat our own well-armed persons, individual, private militia that we have. He did warn the British. I know my American history.”
Maybe she does, and maybe I’m the Queen of England. But it seems more likely that she doesn’t (and I’m definitely not). In the same way she didn’t quite seem to know what journals she reads, when the question was innocuously asked by Katie Couric. Or that she seemed to think that she was an experienced hand at foreign policy because the state she governed (until she quit, to accept the much better paying Paris Hilton gig) was sorta close to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. And you know how threatening those Ruskies are, always rattling their sabers in our direction… Well, back in the Fifties, anyhow…. You know, when the Founders were fighting the Revolutionary War… Against the French… Hence, the need to warn the British… Er, sumptin’ like that.
Like I said, there will always be Sarah Palins in this world. The real questions are why they gather the attention they do, and why we would ever dream of making them our national leaders. There is a related flip-side to that question, as well, which goes to why Barack Obama – who is the personal, but definitely not political, antithesis of a Sarah Palin – is so reviled in these same quarters, and why so much effort is made to diminish him, by questioning his citizenship authenticity, his college grades, his religion, his intelligence and his use of teleprompters in making speeches.
As it happens, I loathe Barack Obama as well. But differently, and definitely for different reasons. I despise him because he in fact actually has nearly the same politics of the folks on the right who hate him so viscerally. You could never possibly convince them of that, of course, but it is a simple fact. If you just look dispassionately at his policies – ranging from wars with Muslim countries, to global warming, to taxes, to civil liberties, and even to civil rights and health care – the real truth is that there’s hardly any difference between Obama and, say, Bush/Cheney. Indeed, in many respects – Afghanistan, civil liberties, immigration roundups, Guantánamo – Obama is even worse than Bush/Cheney.
Which makes it so remarkable that folks on the right hate him so. They’re far too scared-stupid to realize it, of course, but this guy is not even a liberal, let alone a socialist. His politics are largely their politics. So what gives? Why the hatred toward Obama by the same people who adore Palin?
Fundamentally, I suspect it has to do with the implicit condemnation his character puts on their recklessness and greed. When the Bush/Cheney Cowboy Show was in town, all your worst tendencies could be expressed and not only was it not frowned upon, hell, it was national policy. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Oil, money, food, money, war, money, booze, money, tax cuts, money, debt, money, environmental destruction, money, Humvees, money, bigotry, money, Wall Street, money, civil liberties slashing, money, Abu Ghraib, money, and so on. Did I mention money? The funny thing (hah-freakin’-hah) is that Obama’s policies are nearly identical in all these respects, however, he doesn’t say so (in order to keep his stupid base on his side), and he carries himself in a much more adult, rational, responsible and confident manner. And that really flames people who are none of those things.
I think they especially hate Obama not so much because he’s black or he’s a Northerner or a Democrat or young. It’s all those things, to be sure. But I think what really drives the Palinista right crazy when it comes to Obama is ultimately the air of responsibility he projects. And unlike Bush or Palin, Obama is not afraid of getting caught being intelligent in public. I think that alone incenses people on the right, but mostly it’s that they want to live recklessly and greedily, and therefore they despise anyone, or anything, or any action or words, that remotely remind them of their recklessness and greed. Say whatever you want about Obama – and I have, and will continue to – he is clearly very intelligent, very thoughtful, highly disciplined and ridiculously measured. I think that alone drives people on the lazy, greedy right absolutely ape-shit in response, because it sorta shoves in their faces their own gross irresponsibility, and nobody likes being reminded of the harm they’ve caused to others (not to mention that such avoidance is, itself, a powerful form of laziness and greed).
Put it all together and ours is the strangest political moment, perhaps in human history. I say that not only because the tropes in our public discourse are so bizarre, but because, above all, the stakes are now so high. We live at a time when those who are the most angry and agitated in their politics are the very ones who have driven the country (and, in many respects, the world) off the cliff. And yet they endlessly preach to us about responsibility and morality.
There are no depths to the levels of duplicity and hypocrisy plumbed here, and there is no limit to the destruction being contemplated. Think about the damage that already litters the landscape, and the lies necessary to wipe away the fingerprints upon it.
What’s worse than dictating to everyone else what their sexual practices must be, while simultaneously engaging in every manner of debauchery themselves?
Perhaps it would be ranting endlessly about the virtues of the “free market” while constantly shilling for all forms of corporate welfare and bleeding the country dry.
Or perhaps it is selling massive tax cuts for the wealthy on the premise that such giveaways would provide us a great economy, and then delivering the Great Recession instead.
Or maybe it’s exploding the national debt to pay for wars and tax cuts and corporate welfare and a giant ‘defense’ establishment against no real enemy, and then demanding that seniors and the poor and the middle class be kicked to the gutter because there is no money left to pay for social programs.
Or perhaps instead it would be plunging the country into a war that claimed as many as a million lives, all on the basis of lies.
Or maybe lying about and ignoring global warming, the planet’s greatest threat ever, in order to protect the short-term profits of a handful of oil and coal tycoons.
These are among the worst gifts of regressivism, whose greatest exemplar in our time is Sarah Palin. She is the ultimate nothingburger, herself. History will regard her as a cheap and rather harmless latter day Joe McCarthy.
But her politics are our national disease – Palinosis – and we have a lethal dose.
It is the politics of insecurity.
It’s the politics of hate.
It’s the politics of deceit.
It’s the politics of hypocrisy.
It’s the politics of laziness.
It’s the politics of irresponsibility.
It’s the politics of ignorance.
It’s the politics of destruction.
But, most of all, it is the politics of greed.
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN teaches pol sci at Hofstra University.
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