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.