I can’t tell you how despondent I’ve grown in the last weeks.
Is there really no hope for this country, after all? It now appears so.
In January of 2003, John Le Carre wrote that, “America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: Worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.”
He was surely right then. Except that what once looked like a period now seems like an epoch.
Just as I was foolish enough to believe that we could dare to hope again, so it now seems that we are locked once more in what has become an eternal loop of Republican depredations, and Democratic responses of “Wha happened?” as the absurdly predictable freight train rolls over them, right on schedule.
Sarah Palin and everything associated with her pick is truly the barometer of the country’s degradation. We are now talking about making someone the potential leader of the Free World who is even more ill-informed, even more rigidly dogmatic, and even more ideologically regressive than was the hapless George W. Bush of 2000. Only this time, we’re talking about doing so as we are still in the midst of eating eight years worth of the consequences of that same prior idiocy. We are folding in half Santayana’s famous adage about being condemned to repeat history, so that we are already screwing up again by the time we get to the second half of the sentence. To understand our current level of stupidity, one might imagine if, on the day after Pearl Harbor – as the smoke was still billowing over the wreckage and the bodies and oil still floating about the water’s surface – Americans all got together and said, “We need to make even more of our military forces vulnerable to surprise attack!”
Three major data points have been added to the Palin story in the last week, all of them discouraging in the extreme. The first was the Charles Gibson interview. If history records that this was the moment in which the American experiment in democracy finally came crashing down to the floor in a cloud of dust, then history should also record Gibson as the Great Enabler of democracy’s demise. It’s not that he didn’t ask a tough question or two. It’s just that he didn’t ask very many, he didn’t follow up properly on the ones he did ask, and he didn’t probe her in any way to see if she’s capable of the slightest independent philosophical thought, or the merest understanding of the arc of history.
So, who cares, eh? Just another day at the shop in what calls itself the American media, right? No, actually, not. Here’s what’s going to happen. Palin’s handlers are furiously pumping her full of as much Cliff Notes quips about the world she’s completely ignored all her life as they can jam into her brain in a month. She does the Gibson interview, she does an even easier one on Fox, then she does the Biden debate (during which neither the media nor Biden push very hard, and she reels off a string of memorized platitudes and cheap zingers). After which she is then kept tightly under wraps until the election, while the McCain campaign claims that she’s been exposed to plenty of tough questioning and anyone calling for any more is an elitist who is piling on like the snobs they are. Oh, and don’t forget this part – piling on to a woman, no less, in ways they never would to a man, because they are not just elitist snobs, but also sexist, elitist snobs.
Thus, history will record the Gibson interview as the first, last and only chance to see what is really behind the crash course in rote memorization. It’s bad enough, in the pathetic state the country has come to occupy, that a complete cipher like Sarah Palin stands as close as she already does to power. So much worse is all the complicity. Gibson’s interview was a serious crime – felonious abdication in the first degree – and all the more so because he and his network and the rest of the media pretend like it was enough, either in terms of depth, or of the number of interviews to which she’ll be subjected. Where’s the shame? If the members of the American media hadn’t all had their embarrassment chips surgically removed, none of these pathetic milquetoast side-kicks to power would ever be able to leave the house.
The second major data point on Palin is the exception that proves the media rule. The New York Times is actually doing its job for once in the last eight years – unlike, say, in Election 2000, the run-up to the Iraq war, or when the Downing Street Memos were released. They did some real journalism two weeks ago and exposed the fact that McCain had hardly done any vetting on Palin before picking her, and had hardly even met her. Now they’ve done some more homework, and exposed what sort of person she’s been as mayor and governor. The first problem, of course, is that the regressive right has spent decades sowing the myth of a liberal-biased media, with the Times leading the way. This is precisely the tool they will use to dismiss these damning reports, and of course, they’ve already begun as soon as the first story was published. The second problem is that this is an America where many people will believe that absurd line, despite the real tendecy of the mainstream media to be little more than corporate genuflectors. And the third problem is that most Americans don’t even seem to care that much about the content of these exposés, regardless of the source.
They should, though, for what the latest article reveals is that Palin is grossly incompetent, grossly inattentive to her responsibilities, rigidly dogmatic, deeply uninformed, and a committed practitioner of cronyism, secrecy and the politics of destroying ‘enemies’, including by using the instruments of government to do so. She’s a sort of dumbed-down Richard Nixon. Or, well… a female George W. Bush. These are just some of the highlights from the Times’ thorough review of the public record and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic Alaskans at the state and local levels:
! Palin got famous in Alaska for exposing corruption on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, where a member was doing Republican Party work on the public’s nickel. But then she was later caught by a conservative journalist doing the exact same thing herself. She admitted to him that she was wrong, and even though he didn’t publish anything about what she had done (of course), she nevertheless preemptively attacked him in the media for “smearing” her.
! Palin’s cronyism is so rampant that the Times reports “The Wasilla High School yearbook archive now doubles as a veritable directory of state government”. She gave a childhood friend of hers, a former real estate agent, a $95,000-a-year directorship in the State Division of Agriculture. The old buddy “cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency”. Her attorney general is a former borough assemblyman that no one in the legal community had heard of prior to his appointment. He had never supervised people before, but now runs an office of five hundred staff.
! She and her staff use private email accounts to conduct state business, and purposely chose to do so in order to avoid future scrutiny, including potential subpoenas.
! Sarah Palin has now been in office for about 650 days. She has spent 312 of those at her home in Wasila, 600 miles away from the capital (and has billed the state per diem expenses for that), leading the Times to find that “Democrats and Republicans alike describe her as often missing in action”. So much so that members of the state legislature began wearing “Where’s Sarah?” pins.
! In Palin World, opponents of Sarah aren’t just opponents. They are enemies of her, and of the state of Alaska, and they are labeled “haters”.
It goes on from there. What emerges pretty clearly is Sarah Barracuda, alright. But not in a good way. Not some sort of tough fighter on behalf of her constitutents. More like Sarah’s Barracuda than Sarah Barracuda. This is a person who appears to be wholly without principle, wholly without competence in good governance, who knew as early as 1996 that she wanted to be president, was willing to do whatever was necessary to get there, and now is frighteningly close to achieving her goal.
The third and most frightening Palin episode of all is the reaction she has produced in the regressive ranks, including amongst most so-called intellectuals. Any pretense of dispassionate analysis, any patina of real patriotic concern for the country, any half-hearted reference to fair political play, have all been definitively obliterated by this latest volley of right-wing insanity. It is scary to see the robots in action, frightening to realize the utter resemblance they bear to the shock troops of any garden variety authoritarian or totalitarian movement, and disheartening in the extreme to realize how utterly opposite would have been their reaction had Palin been put on the Democratic ticket. I long for some sort of time-warp experiment one could conduct, where regressives would go crazy in reaction to some Democratic individual or action, only to have it then correctly labeled as Republican. Watch what happens, for example, should Barack Obama win the Electoral College vote (and thus the presidency), but not the popular vote. I’d bet regressives would go to the Supreme Court arguing that the constitutional system is unfair, even though exactly that system and those circumstances produced Lil’ Bush eight years ago.
Of course, we actually have these scenarios all the time, with just the latest being the newfound ‘concern’ of those on the right for Hillary Clinton, after decades of destroying her. In fact, the entirety of the Bush administration is precisely the same sort of experiment, from front to back. Could you even begin to imagine what they’d say about this goon’s incredible incompetence and monstrous failings if he were a Democrat? But they never cop to any of this, and they never make even the most feeble attempt at dispassionate analysis based on facts. These are Borg. They are frightening precisely in proportion to how massively, existentially frightened they themselves must be in order to so blindly follow scum-peddlers like Limbaugh, Rove and Bush, not to mention just about any religious huckster anywhere out there on the horizon – and there are lots of them.
What is perhaps especially discouraging is the regressive punditocracy, who have shown themselves in the last two decades to be completely biased and living unashamedly in a principle-free zone. Cheering on Bill Clinton being impeached for lying about adultery by a gaggle of Republican pukes whose crimes on that very same front were far more egregious was a sickening sight. Even worse was their complicity in the stealing of Election 2000, a massive affront to American democracy (and no, Mr. Justice Scalia, you little fascist thug, I will not “just get over it”). I can say with full honesty that I was fully invested in that case in the necessity for a fair election process, that year and every year, without regard to the winner. Democracy comes first, even – yes – if that means sticking George W. Bush in the Oval Office. But I saw little of that dispassionate commitment to democratic process from the blowhards on the right, or on the Supreme Court. These same people have since excused every failure and depredation of the absolute worst president in American history, ever, often finding ways to somehow still blame his calamities on the Clinton administration. And now they fawn over Sarah Palin, who gives every indication of being Dan Quayle with a vagina. And an even more massive ambition-to-competence-ratio score. Does anyone seriously doubt, even for a moment, how widely and deeply these same folks would mortally eviscerate her, if she had been Obama’s pick?
The Palin nod was a masterful display of Rovian-style cynical calculation, in all its full destructive glory. They figured, so far correctly, that they could get at least a triple, if not a home-run, out of a foul ball, as long as they gamed the system in that special way for which only amoral, sociopathic right-wing political operatives are so gifted.
First, they bring out Palin, who ignites a level of passion amongst the religious right shock troops that John McCain could never get anywhere near. A clean and robust single! But then they move the runner to second base by taking advantage of what they know will be the reaction to the pick by those outside the programmed posse. Since she’s “Sarah Who?” to the whole world (including, five minutes ago, to those regressives who now are utterly gaga about their new hero), they know there will investigations and allegations which will immediately arise in response to the choice. So they cleverly and cynically feign great umbrage at all of these because some of them were possibly over the top. Now she becomes this great victim of the liberal press, and independent women voters are supposed to flock to her in support of what they think is a kindred soul suffering the products of sexism, as they have during their lives. She’s meant to pick off Hillary Democrats. It’s a smash double.
Which is then advanced to a triple, when this so-called unfair treatment by the media can now be used as an excuse to keep her away from any situation in which she might be revealed as knowing nothing about the world, let alone where her corruption, cronyism or incompetence as governor or mayor might be called into question. And then, finally, if you can also position her so that any shots by Joe Biden in their 90-minute debate can be instantly deemed male bullying of a helpless woman victim (hey, what happened to Sarah Barracuda?), bang!, you’ve smacked the balled out of the park.
Amazing, eh? Think what you can do if you haven’t had a scruple since 1968 (and even then, it was only by accident)! Think what can be accomplished by (alleged) people who care only about winning! Think about how much you can pillage from American politics today if you don’t give a damn about the destructive costs your actions will have on the system tomorrow! You can take a foul ball and turn it into a home run. You can take a corrupt and vicious policy know-nothing and make her president of the United States and leader of the Free World.
Just think if these guys were running Wall Street, instead of American politics. You’d have CEOs bringing home tens of millions of dollars in compensation for making stupid and insanely greedy decisions that not only crashed their firms, but the entire world economic system as well. Hard to imagine, eh?
Hey, wait a minute…!
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.