Sarah Palin and the Good Book

Being well schooled in scripture, Sarah Palin is certainly familiar with the Book of Kings, Chapter 1, verses 1-4 and I’m sure they have crossed her mind in recent days:

Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat.

Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.

So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.

And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.

On Thursday night John McCain certainly looked stricken in years, tottering through his interminable speech, and whatever heat now nourishes him in political terms comes from Sarah, not Cindy whose inner thoughts may perhaps be more directed towards the yoga instructor in San Diego reckoned by some in the yoga community in that city to be a source of consolation to the Hensley beer heiress.

McCain’s speech seemed to be me to be pretty much of a dud. It may have been watched by 40 million, but how many were  awake by the time McCain reached his surprise ending, namely that in the service of his country he had experienced a terrible ordeal in a prison camp in what was once, in a long forgotten war, known as North Vietnam.
Since his speech was billed as “reaching out to the undecideds”, McCain did not pledge nuclear Armageddon, a prospect the biblethumpers await with equanimity, even enthusiasm. His references to Georgia were cursory and he even dared to insist that he prefers peace to war, which is exactly the sort of outrageous sentiment one would expect to hear from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Particularly hallucinating was McCain’s invective against the corruptions of Washington and Big Government – one of the two big enemies identified by Republican speechwriters in St Paul – the other being the national press which has spent twenty fawning years helping McCain cultivate the myth of his senate career as a maverick.

The very morning of McCain’s speech Bloomberg News was featuring the remarks on his firm’s website  of Bill Gross, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund. Gross is co-chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Co (Pimco) based in Newport Beach, Greater Los Angeles.

Gross wrote that unless Big Government steps in, pronto, the whole show could go over the cliff. As Bloomberg reported him: “The U.S. government needs to start using more of its money to support markets. ‘ Unchecked, it can turn a campfire into a forest fire, a mild asset bear market into a destructive financial tsunami. If we are to prevent a continuing asset and debt liquidation of near historic proportions, we will require policies that open up the balance sheet of the U.S. Treasury.’”

The very next day  the government stepped in to bail out Fannie and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants. And on that same Friday Nevada regulators shut down Silver State Bank, crushed by bad loans in the South Nevada real estate market. McCain’s son Andrew had sat on the boards of Silver State Bank and of its parent, Silver State Bancorp, starting in February. He resigned in July citing “personal reasons.” Andrew was also a member of the bank’s audit committee. He’s the chief financial officer of Hensley & Co., the beer distributorship of which Cindy McCain is chairwoman.

Memo to depositors. Avoid banks on whose boards sit the sons of Republican presidential contenders. Recall Neil Bush, one of George and Barbara’s hellspawn. Neil was a member of the board of directors of Silverado Savings and Loan ,based in Denver. Silverado went belly-up in the S&L collapse in the 1980s, and the  collapse cost taxpayers $1 billion. Mismanagement was charged and Neil one of those in the firing line. He was fined $50,000 – a cost of doing business swiftly defrayed by a fundraiser. If Andrew runs into similar problems, no doubt  Cindy will step up to the plate.

Amid all the talk about parental responsibility in St Paul, no one including Cindy and John took on the burdensome responsibility of mentioning that John had a first wife, Carol, and three children before he decamped with Cindy. It was Carol who waited for him and raised those children while he was in the POW camp. Someone should have held up a “Remember Carol” sign in the convention hall. Incidentally, congrats to those courageous demonstrators from Code Pink and Iraq Veterans Against the War who undoubtedly threw McCain off his stride with their interventions inside the hall.

Though the servile network commentators said she hit it out of the park on Wednesday night, Palin gave what one could politely call a passable speech. It’s a measure of how desperate both the delegates and the press were for excitement that they hailed it as 45 minutes worth of consummate rhetorical savagery establishing Palin as a star and leaving the Democratic ticket bloodied by her quips and insults.

Listening to the speeches preceding Palin’s one could see the depths of the Republican dilemma and why John McCain made his long-odds gambler’s pick of Palin in the immediate aftermath of Obama’s triumphant final evening in Denver. Up to the microphone stepped McCain’s erstwhile rivals – Romney, Huckabee and Giuliani – and aside from ritual homage to the heroism of John McCain, found nothing better to do with their time than flail away at Big Government and the liberals in the national press corps.

There’s a problem here of course, which is that Big Government in Washington has been run by the Bush White House for the last eight years, and by a Republican Congress for six of these eight, and by the US Supreme Court, of whom all but two justices were appointed by Republican presidents. Attacks on the  elite pinko press always go down well with the rubes but don’t really furnish the high octane fuel necessary to send McCain surging past Obama.

A week ago McCain made the assessment that the Republican Party’s Christian base didn’t trust him and the Undecideds saw him as just the sort of Washington insider Romney and others were scheduled to deride in St Paul. On the spur of the moment he bet on Palin and tossed a new soap opera into the fall schedule.

Sarah Palin is part of a frontier myth that goes back to the earliest years of the Republic: the beautiful, intrepid frontierswoman, shoulder to shoulder with her man, firing at the redskins circling the wagon and dispatching the roaring grizzly with a steady aim as it towers over her infant’s cradle.

Tie this to the equally potent myth of the ordinary PTA mom taking on the corrupt good old boys running City Hall and the allure becomes irresistible. Throw in her manly husband Todd, equally at home on his snowmobile, in his fishing boat or dandling Trig the baby with Down syndrome, top off with Palin’s Pentecostal faith and 100 per cent No to abortion for any reason and you can see why McCain thought Palin worth the throw.  Her task: to  energize the Republican base and – as a working class woman –  to capture some crucial undecided votes in such battlegrounds as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Europeans awed that a woman wedded to creationism and a big fan of shooting wolves and polar bears from helicopters might be one step away from the Oval Office should remember that the very popular Ronald Reagan – another western governor inexperienced in international affairs —  sat inside the Oval Office for eight years, having publicly affirmed on more than one occasion that he believed the Final Judgement would occur in his life time, probably in Megiddo.

Like Reagan, Palin has a very good sense of political timing. She outmaneuvered the most powerful politicians in Alaska in four short years and has won the esteem of Alaskans by hitting the oil companies with a higher profits tax and distributing some of the take to the citizenry.

Like most soap operas, albeit a good deal faster, the story line  developed several complexities. There’s the custody feud with Palin’s former brother-in-law cop which prompted governor Palin  to try to get the man bounced from his job. Getting cops bounced from their jobs is usually  fine in my book. There’s the pregnant elder daughter Bristol and her boyfriend Levi Johnson, a lad who looked, at the Convention, like a deer caught in the headlights of Todd and Sarah’s Ford 350 Pick-up.

Just like Obama, Sarah has a pastor problem. In her case it’s Larry Kroon, pastor of the Wasilla Bible Church, which is where the Palin family heads on Sunday. Three weeks ago Kroon made his pulpit available to David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus and a man who has said terrorist attacks on Israelis are God’s “judgment of unbelief” on Jews who haven’t embraced Christianity. Kroon says that Sarah Palin was in church that day. Palin is pressed to distance herself from Kroon, same way though far less urgently, as Obama was forced to toss his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, over the side. It’s one thing to say, as Palin has publicly, that both the Iraq war and the natural gas pipeline she’s pressing for (as is Obama) are both God’s will, another to urge all Jews to become Christians or court damnation. AIPAC and kindred outfits still, despite all his efforts,  don’t  really trust Obama which is partly why he picked Joe Biden. They similarly don’t really trust the woman who might be a heartbeat away from the presidency, since she once sported a Buchanan button, and worships chez Kroon. In St Paul the usual ceremonial  innoculation  took place: an agreeble session with representatives of AIPAC and Senator Joe Lieberman, where Paln presumably made all the usual protestations, whereupon  AIPAC  tied a “Inspected and Passed as Fit for Public Consumption” label to her wrist.

This Boadicea of the Backwoods will probably finesse such problems, since she’s shown she can be politically flexible. As governor of Alaska she’s already avoided opportunities to press for anti-gay legislation and for promotion of creationism in schools.

As a political performer Palin’s  best act so far on the national stage was her more impromptu speech in Ohio when McCain first announced his choice. At St Paul on Wednesday her Minnie Mouse-like nasal timbre soon became irksome and she blew the timing on many of the lines in the rambling address she’d been handed. But if Palin can woo and win voters along the Ohio valley and north of Pittsburgh – exactly where Hillary Clinton did well – she could help McCain pull out a win on November 4.

In that event she will have a 40 per cent  chance to take over as President, according to the statistical index  established by Prof John F. Banzaff of George Washington University Law School. According to Banzaff, McCain would have only 80 per cent  odds of living out his presidency and a much higher risk of becoming disabled from a variety of conditions, including a stroke or Alzheimer’s. Of course Reagan was so gaga as he neared the end of his term that his aides apparently considered invoking the 25th Amendment, to have him wheeled out of the Oval Office.

I’m sure we’d survive a Palin presidency, perhaps more surely than a McCain one, given his uncontrollable temper. Here at CounterPunch we’ve had plenty of emails from progressive types worrying that Palin represents the footfall of fascism, as though the fascist instinct thrives with especial vigor on a diet of mooseburger and faith in the verities of the Holy Bible. This seems to me to stem from snobbery and class prejudice. Mencken would have had a high old time lampooning Palin as a linthead and a creationist treading in the spoor of William Jennings Bryan. Give me Bryan over McKinley any day. Bryan was the one who opposed eugenics, the secular scientific fantasy of its era, espoused by the rationalist academic Woodrow Wilson and the cream of the liberal intellectual establishment at that time.

The Frenzy Over Palin

Liberals and progressives flood our inbox with vitriol about the comely Alaskan, but they sure like looking at her photo, most particularly the photoshopped one of her in a patriotic bikini toting a long gun.

Is Palin a consummation of Rick Perlstein’s analysis in his book  Nixonland, that Nixonland “has not ended yet”, that Americans are as ready to kill each other in cold blood as they were forty years ago”. Is Palin is the new Spiro Agnew, (whose speeches  were written in part by Palin’s  admirer, Pat Buchanan? )

Of course the American landscape is rent by the vast fissures of race and class. Politicians exploited them long before Nixon was born and they exploit them still. Hillary Clinton addressed the same constituencies and the same fears as the Alabama populist demagogue George Wallace did, back in the late 1960s . A major card in John McCain’s hand features the color of Obama’s skin, and it’s not  at all inconceivable that this card could put him into the White House.

These burning questions are addressed in two pieces by your CounterPunch editors in the latest issue of our newsletter and I strongly recommend you subscribe. You’ll be able to read a piece on Palin by Jeffrey St Clair and myself, looking at  some of the hypocrisies on display in the torrents of  abuse  for the Alaskan governor. Take the example of sex education. Remember Jocelyn Elders, Clinton’s surgeon general. When she spoke publicly about the merits of masturbation and condoms, she was immediately fired. I also review Perlstein’s book, now being invoked as a prophesy of the Great Beast Re-Awakened.

Also in this exciting newsletter, a wonderful piece on ongoing fascism in America as prosecuted by every US president, namely the theft of the lands of the Western Shoshone. The story is told wuth extraordinary eloquence by Carrie Dann, herself a Shoshone. And we wrap up the newsletter with a sharp post mortem by Serge Halimi on Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia, which redounded so greatly to Russia’s advantage.

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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.