Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sarah Palin: Pit Bull?

Yesterday, I asked "Who Is Sarah Palin?" Well, last night, the American electorate got their first real chance to see and hear from the candidate. My impressions? Well, she does an excellent job reading well-written speeches off teleprompters in front of a hugely supportive, partisan crowd (but we know, from statements that the McCain campaign gave to the press that Gov. Palin didn't actually write the speech; she was just the actor delivering the lines). I'm still waiting to listen to her talk extemporaneously, especially if she is answering hard questions (sorry, I just don't think that the People interview counts...) from journalists. It is also interesting to compare her well-rehearsed speech last night to the more impromptu speech that she recently gave at her old church.

To me, there are a few important things to take away from Gov. Palin's speech. First, it has long been a political cliche that the role of a Vice Presidential candidate is to be the party's attack dog. In other words, it is up to the Vice Presidential candidate to attack the other party's candidate, thus allowing the candidate for President to "rise above" the petty squabbles. Not only did Gov. Palin demonstrate that she is willing to and will be an effective attack dog, she practically acknowledged as much in her speech: "You know what they say about the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick." Well, it appears that Gov. Palin is the Republican party's pit bull in lipstick. She devoted much of the last 2/3 or so of her speech to attacking Sen. Obama and the Democrats.

It is also worth noting that we never heard her say that opposes abortion, even in the case of rape or incest or that she isn't sure that global warming is a man-made problem or that she opposes medically accurate, comprehensive sex education, or that she thinks the War in Iraq is a "task from God". Nope. She spent plenty of time attacking the Democrats, but very little time telling us much about what she believes (and here I'll distinguish Gov. Palin's beliefs from those of Sen. McCain). I can't wait to here what she thinks about stem cell research...

Another thing that I learned about Gov. Palin is that while she may let the Republican party cry foul over the media having made her family a part of the campaign, she wasn't shy about focusing the spotlight on them herself. She seemed perfectly happy to parade her family (and soon-to-be family) in front of the cameras. OK, fine. That's her decision to make. But if she is going to make her family a part of the campaign, then she can't very well cry foul when others question her about her family. She can't talk about part of the family (the son heading to Iraq) but declare the pregnant daughter off limits.

And was it just me, or did her appeal to families of special needs children ring hollow to anyone else, too? Somehow, that one moment of her speech just jumped out at me as political pandering of an almost unimaginable level.

Perhaps the most important thing that I learned above Gov. Palin last night is that she isn't afraid to repeat a lie to millions of Americans; even when that lie has already been demonstrated to be a just that: a lie. Pardon the expression, but that takes balls. When Sen. McCain introduced Gov. Palin last week, she claimed that she had killed the Bridge to Nowhere and told Congress "thanks, but no thanks". She repeated that claim last night. What she failed to mention in her speech is that Congress actually killed funding for the bridge before Gov. Palin was elected governor of Alaska! And, while running for governor, she supported building the Bridge to Nowhere. For the first 10 months of her term in office, she apparently planned to go ahead and use Alaskan money (much of it received from Congress for infrastructure improvements) to build the Bridge to Nowhere anyway. When she finally decided to kill the program, she said:

Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer. Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island. Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.

(Emphasis added.) In other words, she didn't tell Congress anything; rather, Congress told Alaska. What frightens me is that she is willing to look straight into the camera and keep telling this same lie over and over. And what frightens me even more is that Republicans cheer her on.

I don't want to continue the comparison of Gov. Palin's experience and qualifications to Sen. Obama's and Sen. Biden's. But I do want to ask why Gov. Palin (and Rudy Guiliani, for that matter) felt that it was worth ridiculing the work of community organizing? As this election is shaping up, it looks like blue collar, working Americans may be a swing voting block. To paraphrase Roland Martin, it is community organizers who are helping people at risk of losing their homes in the sub-prime mortgage crisis, it is community organizers who help people pay their bills, it is community organizers who are trying to help people save their jobs or get retrained and find new jobs when theirs are sent overseas, it is community organizers who help feed the poor, house the homeless, and care for those who can't care for themselves. Years ago, it was community organizers who marched for civil rights and women's rights. Community organizers are all about service to their fellow citizens. You'd think that Republicans would understand service, not ridicule it. Sen. Obama could have stayed at a big Chicago law firm and made a lot of money; instead he choose to spend his time helping people who had lost their jobs when steel mills closed. I think when some of those swing voters think a bit more about community organizers, Gov. Palin's attacks may begin to ring a bit hollow, if not downright mean spirited.

And not to belabor the point, but I couldn't help but feel as if part of the explanation for the repeated attacks on community organizing was that it was meant to appeal to white voters concerned about a black candidate. I don't know; maybe I'm off base here. But in a conversation with a friend (the same friend who expressed concerns that I discussed back in June) last weekend, she equated Sen. Obama's community organizing to working solely within and for the African-American community and not for the working poor or middle class generally. I can't help but feel as if it is that sentiment of racist fear (and I don't know what else to call it but racist and fear) that the repeated ridicule of community organizing was meant to tap in to.

I also want to one more point to the "Who Is Sarah Palin?" semi-rhetorical query that I posed yesterday.

We all remember the flap about Sen. Obama's pastor and the calls for Sen. Obama to reject some of the claims made by his pastor (and, recall, that Sen. Obama did, indeed, reject the pastor's statements). I'm sure, though, that we haven't heard the last of that issue. But, I wonder whether those who criticized Sen. Obama for the statements of his pastor will be equally critical of Gov. Palin. Why, you ask? Well, just a few weeks ago (August 17, 2008, to be precise), Gov. Palin's church welcomed David Brickner, the executive director of "Jews for Jesus". I don't need to tell my Jewish readers much about this shameful, deceitful group of evangelical Christians, but for those who aren't aware, they are a bunch of Christian evangelicals who claim to be "Jews" who have "found" Jesus. If they stopped there, we could put them off to the side as merely another fringe religious element. But they go further and try to actively convert Jews, often engaging in fraud, subterfuge, or lies to accomplish their nefarious purposes (including targeting teens). In introducing Brickner, Gov. Palin's pastor Larry Kroon said: "He’s a leader of Jews for Jesus, a ministry that is out on the leading edge in a pressing, demanding area of witnessing and evangelism". Following that introduction, Brickner apparently discussed the mission of his group and then explained to the congregation (that included Gov. Palin) that terrorist attacks on Israelis are God's "judgment of unbelief" of Jews who haven't embraced Christianity. After the discussion, Pastor Kroon took up a collection plate for Jews for Jesus. (A transcript of Brickner's and Pastor Kroon's comments is available thanks to Daily Kos.) If Sen. Obama should have walked out on Pastor Wright, then Gov. Palin should have walked out on Pastor Kroon and Mr. Brickner. Or, perhaps Gov. Palin believes that terrorist attacks on Jews are justified...

Finally, when reading today's roundup of coverage on Gov. Palin's speech, I came across one article that was too good not to pass on (and, in the interests of making it easier to read, I've reproduced the entire article below):

Why the Media Should Apologize
by Roger Simon (reprinted from Politico; originally published September 4, 2008)

On behalf of the media, I would like to say we are sorry.

On behalf of the elite media, I would like to say we are very sorry.

We have asked questions this week that we should never have asked.

We have asked pathetic questions like: Who is Sarah Palin? What is her record? Where does she stand on the issues? And is she is qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?

We have asked mean questions like: How well did John McCain know her before he selected her? How well did his campaign vet her? And was she his first choice?

Bad questions. Bad media. Bad.

It is not our job to ask questions. Or it shouldn’t be. To hear from the pols at the Republican National Convention this week, our job is to endorse and support the decisions of the pols.

Sarah Palin hit the nail on the head Wednesday night (and several in the audience wish she had hit some reporters on the head instead) when she said: “I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment. And I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone.”

But where did we go wrong with Sarah Palin? Let me count the ways:

First, we should have stuck to the warm, human interest stuff like how she likes mooseburgers and hit an important free throw at her high school basketball tournament even though she had a stress fracture.

Second, we should have stuck to the press release stuff like how she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere (after she supported it).

Third, we should never have strayed into the other stuff. Like when The Washington Post recently wrote: “Palin is under investigation by a bipartisan state legislative body. … Palin had promised to cooperate with the legislative inquiry, but this week she hired a lawyer to fight to move the case to the jurisdiction of the state personnel board, which Palin appoints.”

Why go there? What trees does that plant?

Fourth, we should stop making with all the questions already. She gave a really good speech. And why go beyond that? As we all know, speeches cannot be written by others and rehearsed for days. They are true windows to the soul.

Unless they are delivered by Barack Obama, that is. In which case, as Palin said Wednesday, speeches are just a “cloud of rhetoric.”

Fifth, we should stop reporting on the families of the candidates. Unless the candidates want us to.

Sarah Palin wanted the media to report on her teenage son, Track, who enlisted in the Army on Sept. 11, 2007, and soon will deploy to Iraq.

Sarah Palin did not want the media to report on her teenage daughter, Bristol, who is pregnant and unmarried.

Sarah Palin thinks that one is good for her campaign and one is not, and that the media should report only on what is good for her campaign. That is our job, and that is our duty. If that is not actually in the Constitution, it should be. (And someday may be.)

The official theme of the convention’s third day was “prosperity,” but the unofficial theme was “the media are really, really awful.”

Even Mike Huckabee, who campaigned for president this year by saying “I am a conservative, but I am not mad at anybody,” discovered Wednesday night that he is mad at somebody.

“I’d like to thank the elite media for doing something,” Huckabee said, “that, quite frankly, I didn’t think could be done: unify the Republican party and all of America in support of John McCain and Sarah Palin."

And could that be the real point of the attacks on the media? To unify the Republican Party? No, that is simply the cynical, media view.

Though as Lily Tomlin says, “No matter how cynical I get, it’s just never enough to keep up.”

I couldn’t resist that. For which I am sorry.


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