Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sarah Palin, Caligula, and the G.O.P.

I try to spare you my specific political opinions, and I try to avoid stating the obvious. Today I'm letting you down on both counts. But I need to get this off my chest.

The thing is, I thought the Republican Party had run out of ways to offend me. I'm not naive, and have never expected the G.O.P. to live up to the ideals of a frankly heroic Republican like Abraham Lincoln, or even of a decent, reasonably noble Republican like Dwight Eisenhower. I came of age listening daily to Ronald Reagan's unabashed contempt for truth and reason, and it did not teach me to expect good things from the organization that nominally represents conservative values in American politics. Indeed, I have been able to smile through the Keystone Kops ineptitude of the current administration only because, well, you get what you vote for. It's not like we as a nation had any right to expect better.

And even in the limited realm of Vice-Presidential candidates, it was hard to imagine that the Republicans could worst themselves. I'm not thinking of bloodless, creepy Dick Cheney here so much as Dan Quayle, a man whose name has become a sort of code for ineptitude, a ideologue who -- though I'm sure not really a fool -- was patently lacking the gifts of intellect and leadership that high office demands.

And yet, here we are.

Many, many, many people have already commented on Sarah Palin's radical unsuitability for high national office. That's obvious, but it's not my point. My point is that to suggest her as a candidate -- to say "here is a person you might want to cast your vote for to be Vice-President" -- the Republican Party has mightily insulted our intelligence. It is a stinging slap in the face.

The Emperor Caligula is said to have expressed his contempt for the Roman Senate by nominating his horse to be a Senator. I don't mean to compare Ms. Palin to an animal; doubtless she is a woman of ordinary competence, and given time perhaps she could grow into being an effective small-state governor. It is possible some day she would be in a position to consider national office. I would not vote for her ticket, but she might be a credible candidate.

But that would be years in the future. Many years in the future. To propose someone with the negligible credentials as she currently holds as a Vice President, the Republican Party is playing the part of Caligula. To nominate someone so radically unsuitable is to express contempt for the office, by extension to express contempt for the executive branch as a whole, and ultimately to express contempt for the citizenry, those governed by the executive branch.

The Republican Party feels that Ms. Palin offers adequate leadership for my needs. The Republican Party feels that Ms. Palin offers adequate leadership for your needs. It is an insult that will be tough to forgive.


...and, if you like this kind of thing, a reader response at no extra charge

This is a reader response -- apparently, a comment that got a bit out of control -- sent to me via Email. It resonated with me, so I asked for permission to tack it on here anonymously, thereby increasing blog content and value to you the gentle reader with a minimum of personal effort! Sweet.

The Palin nomination made me sad in a way I would not have thought possible. Why would McCain, who at one point had seemed to me admirably independent, thoughtful, and above all, responsible, put someone on his ticket who (politics aside, and I mean it) is so radically unqualified, both in experience and general temperament, to be president? Surely there are other people out there who could have appeased his base - people who, I don't know, have some interest in and curiosity about the world, who exhibit some capacity to have an intelligent discussion about a major issue, some basic understanding of how the world works and how it might work better. Someone. Dear god, someone. I'm looking at you, Orrin Hatch. Seriously. Orrin Hatch. I disagree with the man on virtually every issue, but he is thoughtful, competent, and, at his core, decent.

"Country First????" Those placards at McCain rallies ... it's like some kind of dystopia. Yes = no. Day = night. No one who truly puts his country first would have nominated Palin. Everything you say about her, M5k, is true, including her possible future competence (in theory). Comparisons to Obama's own relative lack of experience are laughable. How do I know? OK, imagine it's 3 a.m. and the phone rings ... I am half serious. Obama always seems to want to know more, to find things out, to learn (even when he clearly already knows a Ton). Palin knows what she knows. She has "that certainty." No blinking!

Again, this has gone beyond politics. Disagree with me on issues, fine. I've been in the minority on most issues my whole life (pro gay marriage, pro drug legalization, anti death penalty, etc.). I can handle losing. But if you're going to beat my guy, please please, have the basic knowledge, competence, and thoughtfulness to be President Of The United States of @#@$#ing America.

In conclusion [HA ha, not really]: I have this theory about Reagan. People talk about my generation (X) being all ironic and sneering and detached. And it's true. And that's one of the great lasting effects and triumphs of the Reagan era. He made empty sloganeering an art form. Everything he said was about being strong and certain and essentially unthoughtful (no blinking!) - and he had a lot of followers, obviously, but for those of us who were just coming into political consciousness at the time of his early presidency ... to see such hucksterism work, such irresponsibility reign (re: living beyond our means, having whatever we want when we want it, saying we support democracy while arming strongmen, undermining democracies we don't like, etc.) ... to look around you and watch people adore this man and think to yourself "Are you @#$#! kidding me? People are buying this @#$#?" It was devastating, in a way. Couple that with the quick onset of the MTV and then digital age, and you get a generation of people who are, happily or not-so-happily, tuned out, who find it very difficult to be "patriotic" when every self-styled patriot they've ever seen has been in the service of a fundamentally dishonest regime; people who retreat into isolated, technologically enabled enclaves, which only strengthen that already strong sense of detachment and isolation from the greater community. When a generation of kids opts out of concern for country due to a deep cynicism fostered by manifestly dishonest political role models, that provides fertile ground for manipulative, anti-intellectual, hateful culture-war-mongers to thrive and thus control the terms of public debate (and the meaning of American symbolism, i.e. the flag).

And now we're grown up and we all watch TDS and Colbert and laff as Rome burns and burns and burns.

Carter was prescient about so many things, but he was a terrible leader. So maybe I should blame him for Reagan. Or maybe I should blame Nixon for Carter, who was like the anti-Nixon. I don't know. But the mess we're in now - Carter didn't create it. Nixon, though his resignation plus our failure in Vietnam did cause massive disillusionment, didn't create it . Reagan, arguably, did. Reagan / Bush's cynical manipulation of the symbols of America / patriotism, their celebration of mindless consumption, their exploitation of "values voters" (screw them financially while doing Nothing about their alleged "moral" concerns), and their Orwellian disregard for truth all made me and many like me retreat into Academia, where we could sneer at the idiocy of the country from the comfort of our sinecures, as if the plight of our country were just a bad movie. "Why is everyone so stupid!?" cries the disgusted, befuddled, over-educated liberal. The answer is, at least in part, because academics hate "people" and 20 years ago almost completely gave up on the idea of addressing the public in terms it could relate to / comprehend. We're now in the odd position of seeing the "people" as oppressed and deluded. I.e. we're many of us tacit-to-explicit Marxists. Except we hate workers and the stuff they like (God, NASCAR, American beer...). Much as I hate conservative critiques of "The Ivory Tower," there is a hint of truth there. And so here we are.

This ironic sense of detachment - It's an affliction (at least in part self-induced) that I'm still getting over. Ironically (!), getting over it means starting to see Republicans and conservatives as (occasionally) decent and principled people. You sort of have to opt out of the culture wars at some point if you want them to stop. Right now, I just want this comment to stop. And I want very much for Obama to be my next president. Not because Democrats are better than Republicans, or because magical "Hope" will make everything better - just because, in addition to his basic intelligence and charisma, Obama seems genuinely committed to a post-Reagan, post culture wars world. A genuinely conservative world, where what's being conserved are what I like to think are basic American values (honesty, decency, financial prudence, a respect for difference, a strength that has peace as its ultimate goal). A dream world, maybe, but if I'm going to put my Faith in anything but God, that's where I'm going to put it.

22 comments:

Gunner Sykes said...

Never vote for anyone who doesn't believe that it is a natural function of hydrogen to turn into human beings. I see.

Michael5000 said...

@gunner: Welcome to the show, and thanks for commenting. I gather your remark refers to evolution, which is not something I addressed in the original post. But since you've brought it up, sure: a person whose faith can not accomodate evolutionary biology is in much the same position as a person whose faith can not accomodate the sky being blue. Would I ever vote for someone who was that wedded to an archaic dogma? Youbetcha not. And you shouldn't either.

Rebel said...

But wait, M5K... aren't you just being sexist because she's a *woman* and you just can't handle a woman being in office? How dare you criticize her lack experience and intelligence!

I, and I'm sure all American women are just pleased there's a woman on the ticket, and clearly that is the only factor in my decision of who to vote for. You really should try to be more enlightened.

Tina said...

Well said, M5K!

Yankee in England said...

Sometimes I meet people who are so opposed to my view points or strongly belive in something I think is wrong and I have the lack of ability to be polite to them. I usually walk away in the least rude way possible. This is very rare and it has to be so horrible like beating small children for fun is okay. When I saw Sarah Palin on TV I got this feeling. I have a hard time believing in this day and age that goverment should be able to make laws regarding whom I marry and my choice to end a pregnancy for any reason I want. I personally don't believe in abortion for very personal reasons but can not imagine not giving anyone the choice for themselves. Or looking down on anyone I know as being a 'sinner' for choosing abortion as their best option. Sarah Palin wants to take that choice away. As far as it being sexist to ask her questions or question her qualifications bollocks, feminism was not about get a woman the job to say the woman had a job it was about fairness if you were qualified and the best canidate and you just happened to be a woman so what. If you were unqualified and not the best canidate for the job and just happened to be a woman too bad for you. I can hardly imagine the press would go easy if instead of Sarah for a first name it was Sam or Seth.

The Calico Cat said...

Anyone who thinks Sarah palin is a feminist - may need to think again. Nothing about her can be construed as feminist.

MR.5K - But you can "see" Russia from an Island in Alaska... You can see it! (I guess that huge border with Canada skipped her mind...)

One final thought - maybe if she were to look in on her kids, she would know that teaching abstinance only doesn't work...

Oh wait a minute - she is using Trig & his disability for all that it is worth!

d said...

looking at her track record and her apparent willingness to abuse the power of her office to get what she wants, leaves me feeling horrified at the thought of her in office. she's just all around a scary, scary lady. and it's frightening to me that people will vote for her just because she's a woman.

four more years of republicans in office will be disastrous for this country. i'm not sure we will ever be able to recover from it. i firmly believe that we are witnessing the beginning of the downfall of the american 'empire' and if we don't do something to correct it soon, we will see the end in our lifetimes.

Yankee in England said...

I told my husband we were not moving back to America until a Democrat was in office. I told him if Palin was VP there would probably be madatory moose hunting every Saturday morning.

Melissa said...

You know what? After the 2004 elections, I wouldn't be surprised if the American people DID elect a horse for national office. I guess I have lost my faith in the intelligence of our citizenry as a whole. Or maybe I'm just preparing myself for disappointment, since I don't recall a candidate that I've voted for in my 10 years of voting has ever won.

fingerstothebone said...

How about making the addendum regular and not italic? It's horribly hard to read so much text on the computer screen when it's all in italics. Easier reading, please, for these bi-focal eyes.

fingerstothebone said...

And I'm surprised that no one has picked on the fact that Ms. Palin said that she was proud that Bristol "made the choice" to keep the baby. Yeah, "choice", that's what she's about...

Melissa said...

Your commenter's rant is very well put. Food for thought.

Michael5000 said...

How about making the addendum regular and not italic?

Anything for you, Fingers

DrSchnell said...

Between M5K and M5K's correspondent, there's not much more to say here. I don't know that I've ever been more insulted than when Palin pulled out the "I can see Russia from the end of the Aleutians, if I ever went there, which, by the way, I haven't" bit. Actually, yes I have. When John McCain repeated the same argument multiple times. I can see saying something that stupid once, if asked a question (like Palin was) that you are ill-prepared to answer and you blurt out the first dumbass thing that comes to mind. But to continually repeat such twaddle as if it had any merit.... that alone should disqualify both McCain and Palin from ever holding public office again. I think the saddest of many sad things about this whole sad fucking affair that is the GOP ticket this year is John McCain's rapid loss of every principle that ever seems to have guided him at any point in his career. He's certainly not perfect (Keating 5, anyone?). And I often disagreed with him, but he had long been on my (very short) list of Republicans in recent years who were generally thoughtful, and who actually seemed capable of something other than blinkered ideology, and for whom the thought of them being President didn't send cold shivers down my spine. If John McCain of, say 2000 or so (JM2K, we'll call him) could meet the John McCain of today, would he feel anything but shame

boo said...

I wonder if the real people she was meant to swing into voting feel at all insulted. The evangelicals now have their candidate to tell all their litters of children about, but she's not a very good example of their beliefs either.

I had not realized that because of my general anger that her selection made the whole deal a tragic comedy. But then I heard from one friend and another who do come from Jesusland and they were wondering about something I'd not considered: why wasn't she at home taking care of her family?

I thought that would get a pass because I don't think it's a big deal. But they do. It bugs them quite a bit. I don't know if it bothers them as much as it bothers the feminist in me that she is touted as an example of feminism. But I am very glad that it does bother them.

I think the woman is so dangerous to the any confidence Americans do have left in this country, that any vote other than to Obama could aid in the financial destruction of our young nation.

It might not be so scary of McCain seemed like he was going to live out the term. He doesn't seem healthy and he has on more than one occasion mentioned his own ignorance about various things. The "one heartbeat away" part of it all is really very scary.

Chance said...

Very well phrased indeed, M.

Elizabeth said...

It's time to start carrying around stacks of voter registration forms, I think. I have a friend who says that the number of unregistered qualified voters in Oregon is quite high, and many of them may be the disenfranchised college-aged (or at least found on campus) such as the eloquent commenter. My friend also said that she's going to be making phonebank calls etc. on behalf of the Obama/Biden campaign because she doesn't want to have to say that she didn't do everything she could to help them win, in the horribly possible event that McCain/Palin do, whether by true votes (Democrats don't turn out as they say they will, or "America" really is as stupid as the world said we were four years ago) or by cheating (vote caging, miscounts, etc., all of which is currently being documented).

Me? My five-year plan is to move to Europe. I'm just worried about what the world will be like for my niece and nephews. And I'm realizing that bitching about things but not actively trying to change them is probably not the best way to ensure things change. I'm speaking for myself here, btw, not directing that at any of my co-commenters.

Hope, backed by action. And possibly a take-to-the-streets revolution, if the worst happens. But what would we call it? The Blue Revolution? Too bad "velvet" was already used, because that was a fun name.

gl. said...

the hypocrisy this election season has been horrifying. everything has been twisted back on itself: what the republicans say is bad for democrats is good and right for themselves. i feel like i'm on animal farm, where the rules keep changing. the transparent intentions behind sarah palin's nomination made me sick. but... didn't you... but... she... you said... WHAT?!

i'm spending extra time volunteering right now because i want to be able to say i tried.

fingers: choice: ha! shotgun weddings are not a "choice." though i wish planned parenthood could use "life happens" as a slogan like the republicans are doing even while lambasting every other teen mother in america.

Karin said...

As an American woman I think it would be cool to see a woman in the White House, sure, but first I'd like her to be qualified and stand for the things I stand for. That's what I want in any candidate. To me, that's a given, not to vote for a woman, any woman. Responsible voting involves more critical thinking than that.

d said...

i read today that palin is a young earth creationist. this means that in her warped brain she honestly believes that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time.

it's baffling.

karmaSartre said...

I'm probably the only one I know, if that term can be used self-referentially, who supports the idea of a bridge to nowhere. I think the traffic problems would be nearly nonexistent, suicidal jumpers could go without interference, and "nowhere", in my lexicon, means "destination resort". So, I'm against Palin for claiming to have squashed the idea. Plus she is lying about it, having been a big supporter.

Moreover, I think that for McCain to choose Palin as a running mate shows stupidity, short-sightedness, cynicism, political non-savvy (in spite of the short term "Yugo, girl" crap) , and disrespect for the nation and its people. For Ms. Palin to accept such an offer shows an absurd degree of power-lust, complete self-delusion, and a horrific misunderstanding of the ways of the world and her place in it. Between the two of them, the constant stream of lies, deceit, ignorance, and changing positions is breathtaking...and barely reported on by mainstream non-news. The simple answer "I don't know" has been replaced with the rote "The real issue here is whether Barak is fit to xxxxx". Nearly every question is avoided!

Ben said...

My, what a bunch of "haters" you all are! Or so Sarah would say...

What scares me the most is the way the Republicans have so effectively implemented the strategy of saying one thing but meaning something completely different. "Country First", indeed. Does anyone honestly believe that having Sarah Palin in the White House would be putting our country first? It's such an obvious ploy by McCain to get himself elected--at the expense of promoting unity and sound policy. It's scary that if you say something enough times, people will start believing it. Like those Qwest ads. Qwest, the telecomm company best known for the worst possible levels of service now advertises with the slogan "Spirit of Service". If you buy that I've got a VP candidate to sell you...

Maybe one of the planks of the Democratic Party should be "more dollars for education in critical thinking"...