Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sarah Palin: No Laughing Matter

Of the Obama administration, she says, “They talk down to us. Especially here in the heartland. Oh, man. They think that, if we were just smart enough, we’d be able to understand their policies. And I so want to tell ’em, and I do tell ’em, Oh, we’re plenty smart, oh yeah—we know what’s goin’ on. And we don’t like what’s goin’ on. And we’re not gonna let them tell us to sit down and shut up.” The crowd’s ample applause at these lines swells to something vastly bigger when Palin vows defiantly that “come November, we’re taking our country back!”
The above lines are from an article by author Michael Joseph Gross for Vanity Fair. Gross followed Sarah Palin "...through through four midwestern states, speaking with whomever I could induce to talk under whatever conditions of anonymity they imposed—political strategists, longtime Palin friends and political associates, hotel staff, shopkeepers and hairstylists, and high-school friends of the Palin children. There’s a long and detailed version of what they had to say, but there’s also a short and simple one: anywhere you peel back the skin of Sarah Palin’s life, a sad and moldering strangeness lies beneath."

I just read Gross' article. It's long, but well worth taking the time to read.

A lot of us, myself included, have been guilty of dismissing Sarah Palin. We laugh at her gaffes, marvel at the way that she mangles the English language, and deride her for her lack of knowledge on most topics of substance. But here's the deal, Sarah Palin is a very dangerous woman and if we are to neutralize her, the first thing that we have to do is take her seriously.

While we're making fun of Palin, she's methodically increasing her base, travelling through middle America, trash talking the Obama administration, and regularly invoking the name of Jesus. Her base doesn't think that she's stupid; they think that she's one of them, and when you insult her, you insult them.

I'm guilty of it, as are most progressives. The provincial and narrow view of the world expressed by Palin's followers offends me and I express my distaste by asserting that they are devoid of intellectual curiosity, which is just another way for stating that they're stupid. Once you tell people that they're dumb, they just aren't interested in hearing anything else that you have to say.

However, Palin has successfully tapped into the psyche of a lot of Americans, people who identify with her because they buy her assertions that she is one of them. She makes them feel that their view of the world is valid, that their prejudices and narrow belief systems are superior to those of the heathen liberals. Early on she recognized that Obama represents everything that they fear and dislike. When he speaks, they don't always easily follow what he is talking about so they presume that he's speaking some anti-American, anti-Christian code. Palin feeds their fire; she's their leader.

Perhaps Palin's most clever move is the focus on generating the tent revival atmosphere demonstrated at Beck's Restoring Honor rally. Palin has two texts that she regularly cites at her appearances, the Constitution of the United States and the Christian Bible, sometimes interchangeably. Her audiences eat the mishmash of secular law and religious belief as if it were the mythical manna from heaven, secure in their desire to get their country back and the belief that God wants them to have it. 

I don't believe Christianity is inherently evil but I do believe that humankind  has repeatedly demonstrated our ability to twist the precepts of any belief system to justify the worst aspects of our nature. Misdirected religious fervor soon swells into fanaticism, and history is littered with the horrors perpetrated in the name of religious fanaticism. These people believe that they're on a mission from God and that Palin is their angel of light guiding them to salvation, not just for themselves, but for the entire country. If they have to trample on the Constitution, run undocumented immigrants out of the country by any means necessary, and kill off the liberals in order to enact their vision and get their country back, then so be it.

The saving grace of this country has been that most people who consider themselves to be Christians have never been overly involved in organized proselytizing. There have always been exceptions, but not any significant numbers involved in forcing the word of God on all, just a few souls wandering through neighborhoods and knocking on doors on occasion. However, the Palin/Beck base are a different and dangerous breed, and they have found their prophets in Palin and her acolyte, Glenn Beck.

They are fueled by their fear and discontent; Palin and Beck provide them with answers that fit their view that they have been wronged and that their entire way of life is danger of being destroyed. Every time they hear someone speaking Spanish they fear that the conversation is about them.  They deeply resent being unable to understand the conversation, after all, this is their country. So they angrily question, "Why can't these people learn English?" They also provide the answer, "They don't want to learn English!"

The black man in the oval office further confuses and upsets them. He must be up to something nefarious; he can't really be working for the good of all Americans. At the core of the obsession with so-called reverse racism is a subconscious belief that black people must have some desire for retribution. That belief fuels the vitriolic dislike expressed for President Obama and the obsessive beliefs that he is on the side of the terrorists, has plans to destroy the United States, and plans to chuck the Constitution and replace it with a socialist manifesto.

I vehemently disliked most of the policies of the George W. Bush's administration but I can't recall there ever being any assessment by progressives that GWB was intentionally and with malice aforethought attempting to destroy the country. Certainly, there have been accusations that certain actions on the part of past presidents would result in the destruction of the foundational beliefs of this country but never the assertion that the president in question ran for office for the express purpose of destroying America.

At the top of the progressive agenda must be plans to reframe our message to re-engage liberals and progressives prior to the November 2010 elections and to begin to lay the foundation for the 2012 elections. I'm not confident that there is any framing that will sway those who are enraptured of Palin and Beck, and I fear that the Palin/Beck base will continue to grow.

There is a great deal of apathy among progressives and liberals; declarations that Obama has betrayed us abound. Like a petulant child who didn't get everything on his or her Christmas list, far too many of us focus on what remains undone and look past all that has been accomplished. We threaten not to vote in order to teach the Democrats not to take us for granted.

It's time that we start taking Sarah Palin seriously; her base certainly does. If we don't, there may lessons learned in November 2010 and 2012 but we may the ones who are schooled.


Shanna Riley (aka skatoolaki) said...

Excellent post, Sheria!

It would certainly be erroneous of us to ignore Palin or her pull. We think she could never be elected, but remember that someone as obviously deranged and delusional as Michele Bachmann was voted into office in this country and we, somehow, managed to give Bush a second try even after he'd all but ripped the Constitution and rights to privacy and protection from warrant-less, merit-less investigation and/or arrest in half. Anything is possible, especially in a time of such economic unrest. We would be wise to keep a close eye on Palin, indeed.

The idea that President Obama is a closet Kenyan-born Muslim who sought the presidency only to destroy America and be the figurehead of the secret cabal he is helping to create a New World Order sounds like something right out of a movie, or a sci-fi-loving, geeky teenager's imagination. Yet there are many (mostly) sane and (fairly to moderately) intelligent individuals that believe that very thing. It would be comical if it weren't so frightening.

And, even if we keep level heads and (no matter how tempting or true it may be) refrain from calling those who believe such nonsense and follow the likes of Beck, Palin, Limbaugh, Bachmann, etc., I fear it won't stem the tide of ignorance that seems to be sweeping, and blanketing, this country. It's as if no matter what President Obama does, it is either blatantly wrong and/or inherently insidious. For example, shortly after he was elected, the media was running stories about how ammunition manufacturers were suddenly unable to keep up with demand. People were buying bullets at unprecedented rates; obviously stock-piling them. So prevalent was this down here in southern Louisiana, local news stations were reporting that even Wal-Mart could not keep its shelves stocked - almost as soon as a shipment arrived, they were sold out. In addition, within our President's first year in office, the number underground militia groups. These groups of paranoid citizens armed to the teeth believe in a need to prepare to defend themselves from a federal government that is going to suddenly seize all of their weapons and declare a police state. They are, to that effect, constantly in training for such an event, which they believe to not only be inevitable, but something that will occur sooner rather than later. In November 2009, the Southern Poverty Law Center put out a report stating there were "some 100 new armed militia groups" that had formed since President Obama's election. All of this - mind you - despite the fact that President Obama is on record (during his campaign run and reiterating his stance after his election) that he *supports the 2nd Amendment". Needless to say, many Tea Partiers also belong to such militias.

(The scariest part about that particular example is that Timothy McVeigh was a gun-toting, card-carrying member of one such armed militia when he helped bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City).

In light of such, it's hard to remain civil and patient with these types of people - who don't let little things such as facts and the truth deter them from paranoid delusions and unwarranted fears of losing "their" country.

I'm not quite sure what the sane and level-headed among us can or even should do to combat this menace that is taking over our country (especially when the flames are fanned and fueled by politicians and celebrities for their own self-aggrandizement and desire for fame/fortune).

Whatever the answer/solution is, we need to come up with it soon because the atmosphere all of this is taking place in is only growing worse and it's only a matter of time before something erupts into violence.

Ms. Moon said...

Season of the Witch?
Yeah. It's too scary. When McCain tapped her, he opened up a Pandora's Box of fright. The scariest thing, to me, is how people accept her and her blah-blah-God-blah as valid.

Nance said...

The Koch connection has been documented through Palin's FOX affiliation, but it's sections of the Vanity Fair article like this one that make me know it's time to sit up and take notice:

"PAL-PAC’s third disclosure report, filed on July 14, reveals large payments to Wayne Graves, a Kansas City physician, whose wife, Karladine, also a doctor, is the president of PAL-PAC. Wayne Graves performed a key service for Winning America Back: he personally paid the speakers’ fees and travel expenses. On June 23, according to the report, he was reimbursed for these outlays: $15,134.83 for 'Reimburse Speak[er],' and $126,000, also for 'Reimburse Speak[er].' By fronting the money for these expenses, Graves made it possible for PAL-PAC to keep details such as Palin’s precise fee under wraps. But the lion’s share of that $126,000, it seems safe to assume, went to Palin—that would tally with verified reports of what Palin has been paid elsewhere. When reached by phone, Karladine Graves refused to answer any questions about PAL-PAC: “I’m—we’re just a tiny little group, and we’re not really anything, I just, oh, no, I can’t talk about this.'"

Pants. On. Fire.

Good one, Sheria. I lost sleep last night reading Vanity Fair online. I've got a spasm in my neck and a sour feeling in my gut.

Lisa :-] said...

Appalling evil can grow and flourish when those who could defeat it at the outset fail to take it seriously. I've seen it happen.

Mark said...

My favorite quote from the article is this: "She exploits the same populist impulse that fueled the career of William Jennings Bryan—an impulse described by one Bryan biographer as “the yearning for a society run by and for ordinary people who lead virtuous lives.”
This is not uniquely American--most societies have this nativist yearnings that idealize the salt-of-the-earth "common-sense" of the little guy.
These people feel inadequate--to modern life, to the demands of family, to understanding the world. So they just decided to pretend their ignorance is a some kind of badge of honor. And they have found their brain-deadened avatars, Beck and Palin.
I used to work with Michael Joseph Gross, btw. Great journalist.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Calling out in the name of Jesus has certainly been working for the conservatives. I hope that there are enough that do not want our government to be run by fundamentalist to thwart these efforts.

Beth said...

I read the Vanity Fair piece right away, too. Interesting stuff, and not surprising at all.

Although I share your leeriness about Palin, I think we shouldn't make too much of her. Yes, she has her rabid fans, but compared to the population of the country, it's not that high of a percentage. She has more who view her unfavorably than favorably, and even among Republicans, the majority admit that she is not qualified or capable of being President.

I say we keep our eye on her, but if she really does run in 2012, remember that she will have to face tough questions that she insulates herself from now. She would have to debate Obama. She won't stand a chance.