Saturday, September 13, 2008

Shock and Awe

I've seen some bloggers and/or commentators refer to the McCain campaign's rollout of its choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as having the effect of "shock and awe" on the Obama campaign and Democrats in general. That's a pretty good description.

In his column for September 12, 2008, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert states: "While watching the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson Thursday night, and the coverage of the Palin phenomenon in general, I’ve gotten the scary feeling, for the first time in my life, that dimwittedness is not just on the march in the U.S., but that it might actually prevail. How is it that this woman could have been selected to be the vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket? How is it that so much of the mainstream media has dropped all pretense of seriousness to hop aboard the bandwagon and go along for the giddy ride? For those who haven't noticed, we’re electing a president and vice president, not selecting a winner on 'American Idol.'" Indeed.

When the Palin nomination was first announced, my reaction was identical to that of my wife and all my friends--McCain just threw away any chance of winning that he might have had. How could the American public possibly accept the nomination of an obviously unqualified, inexperienced outsider, whom no one has ever heard of, and who came from a sparsely populated state cut off and far away from the rest of the union? Particularly when up to that point McCain had based his entire campaign on the alleged superiority of his "experience" to Obama's, and the youthful inexperience of the latter. Surely, McCain was depriving himself of his central argument, right?

What I and my friends didn't take account of at that moment were two undeniable facts. First, Palin was not totally unknown. She was in fact quite well known to the hard right-wing and its sycophants--particularly the right-wing commentariat most prominently represented by Rush Limbaugh, who had himself been pushing for McCain to choose Palin for quite some time.

Second, the relatively small sliver of the electorate located almost precisely in the middle of the political spectrum--which will decide the fate of the nation in any close election--is poorly informed, poorly educated, and frankly not very bright.

How else can one explain the fact that these people are still been making up their minds about how to vote at this late stage of the presidential campaign? I mean, really, how long has this thing been going on already? And these people are only NOW making up their minds? That in itself proves that they haven't been paying any attention to what has undeniably been one of the most exciting and transformational political campaigns in modern American history. And if they haven't been paying attention to that, it's a good bet they haven't been paying any attention at all to what the Bush Administration has been doing to the country for the past eight years. Unlike the presidential campaign, the machinations of the Bush Administration have not been advertised and trumpeted to the public at large; to the contrary, they have been blanketed in deep secrecy and masked by constant propaganda unlike anything this country has ever seen.

From these observations, it is but a small deductive step to conclude that the coming election will be decided by the lest informed, least educated, and least involved portion of the electorate, which also happens to be that segment of the voting public most lacking in the capacity for critical thinking. These people--in whose hands all of our fates rests--have apparently only just now "tuned in" to the presidential election. And what's the first thing to come onto the "television screens" of their awareness? None other than the cute, smiling, incredibly perky, amazingly spunky hockey-mom face of former Miss Alaska-runnerup Sarah Palin.

In that context, pace Bob Herbert, the next election really is becoming an episode of American Idol. And in such a contest, Sarah Palin actually stands a better than even chance of sweeping the field. God help us all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I just forced myself to watch the second night of the truncated Republican National Convention, mainly so I could see the mysterious Sarah Palin speak. Ms. Palin--I guess that, in order to avoid the charge of sexism, I really should refer to her by her title as Governor Palin--has been thrust upon us so suddenly and unexpectedly by the Republican spin machine, and subsequently so hidden away to avoid having to answer all those pesky questions from the press about who she is, that at this point she has become something of a complete mystery. She has been plucked from almost complete obscurity to become the most controversial and talked-about candidate for high office in recent memory. Tonight was her night on the national--and international--stage. I had to see her perform.

What I saw was not encouraging. Gov. Palin described herself as a pit bull with lipstick. I think that's a pretty accurate description. Maybe George W. Bush in stiletto heels would be more accurate. The entire tone of her presentation could most accurately be summed up by the word "snide." That word is defined by the online dictionary I use as "derogatory in a nasty and insinuating manner." Other descriptions of her speech (and the others I forced myself to sit through tonight) would be "cynical," "deceptive," "sarcastic," and "dishonest."

Gov. Palin actually reminds me of a horrid girlfriend I had in my late 20's who stole some of my family heirlooms (two violins that had belonged to my grandfather). She managed to get away with it through skillfully evasive fast talking and implied threats of a lawsuit for slander. She was very sexy, very smart, and very sneaky. I couldn't pin anything on her, because she claimed I had "given" them to her when I had actually committed them to her safekeeping upon her promise to have them repaired. When I asked for them back, she claimed either that they had been lost, or that she believed I had intended to give them to her. In fact, she had sold them. This charmer was the spitting image of Gov. Palin in looks, voice type, manner, and even political views. (Yes, I confess to having had a torrid affair with a Republican. In my defense, it only lasted 3 months. Anyway, it served me right. Live and learn.) From what I've heard about Gov. Palin's style of governing Alaska, she might as well be the same person as my former girlfriend.

And in order even to get to Gov. Palin's snide little spee
ch, I had to sit through Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani, listening to them vie with each other on who could out-pander to the most extremist right-wing authoritarian wing of what in the past 8 years had already become an extremely right-wing authoritarian political party. I mean, what is it with Mitt Romney attacking the last 8 years of George W. Bush as having been too "liberal"?? And attacking Democrats as the Party of "Big Brother," as if it wasn't his own Republican Party which has brought this country warrantless domestic wiretapping, extradition, torture, suspension of the Great Writ of Habeas Corpus, politicization of the Justice Department, and grotesquely expanded presidential prerogative? As I watched the roaring approval given by the overwhelmingly white male Republican delegates to these hyperventilated appeals to the extreme right, it occurred to me that Gov. Palin has given the Republican Party just what it most needs in this election: a smiling, unthreatening, "small town," superficially attractive "happy face" to mask its frighteningly hard-edged authoritarianism.

The Republican Party has painted itself into the most extreme right-wing corner it has ever occupied in our history. If, as Romney, Huckabee and Giuliani seemed to claim, the last 8 years have been too "liberal," and the Supreme Court as presently constituted has been too lenient on civil liberties, I shudder to think of the fate of our country if these thugs get into office. In order to prevent that disaster from occurring, those of us who still cherish democracy and, yes, true republicanism, must fight for the election of Barack Obama and Joe Biden as President and Vice-President, and contribute as much as we can in time, toil and treasure to their campaign. The fate of our country demands nothing less.