Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On writing about Sarah Palin's Biggest Lie: The Whys of a philosophical and political Mama


Why bother? Why now? Why me?

Those are fair questions.

When then-governor Palin was picked for the VP slot in the summer of 2008, I remember turning on my television; I think it was tuned to CNBC. I clearly recall a breathless Maria Bartiromo chattering away about Palin that morning, falling all over herself about her fortuitously-timed interview with her just a few weeks ago, and saying that Palin was So young! and Such a down-to-earth mother of five, with a baby even, a baby with Down syndrome! A mother who, Bartiromo continued, was famous for being able to shoot and field dress a moose. She rambled on, about Palin cooking dinner for a crowd of Republican big-wigs who'd visited Alaska (e-mails released by MSNBC would later reveal she bought ready-made food at Costco and had her children serve it); Bartiromo then talked about how fabulous Palin looked so soon after giving birth, and oh yes, how wonderful her energy policies were because she was all for drilling in the ANWAR--but just a tiny part of it, quoth Bartiromo, not risky at all!--and once again, she spoke excitedly of Palin's common sense, down-to-earth style of governing: why Palin had even fired her security detail and chef! But, but, but...she got them other jobs, of course, I'm sure, don't worry, said Maria, winging it now and editorializing madly when she realized how bad what she'd just said might sound--that the ex-governor had simply marched into her new office and home and begun firing people.

And on it went. Sputtering, backpedaling, and most of all, rhapsodizing.

Every journalistic nerve in my body and brain began twitching. I grabbed my laptop and Googled around a bit, trying to find out whatever I could. I had never even heard of the woman. But a lot of things struck me as highly irregular. Why so many different colleges for a plain old bachelor's degree? What was all this about her connections to weird evangelical groups and Dominionist theology? Why, on the few video clips I found, did she sound so disjointed of thought, so inarticulate, and, well, so ditzy?

Dear God, I thought, was this woman chosen because she had an attractive face and a nice figure? Was McCain that much of a pathetic old horndog, and did he care so little for the Country he was purporting to put First that he would choose, for the position that would put someone a 72-year-old cancer survivor's heartbeat away from the presidency, the pretty but pretty obviously unqualified Sarah Palin?

Who the hell was she? I wrote a hasty post about the wrong-headedness of Palin's thoughtless shilling for Big Oil: Governor Palin, you remember Katrina, don't you? Then I began to dig deeper.

And the rest, as they say, is history. It wasn't long before I would read about the absolutely unbelievable "Wild Ride", as it has come to be known.

And it was then that I knew. I remember feeling kind of sick to my stomach when I read that story, actually, and not because I am squeamish about matters obstetric, having had three babies myself, the last one at age 38 (forget anesthesia, I labored all day long and gave birth with nary an aspirin to dull the pain).

No, I felt ill because I knew she was lying, and that she was covering something up, something grave and something dark. It was clear that McCain had chosen a dangerously unqualified (and possibly seriously unhinged) liar. But I did not yet know the full extent of her deceitfulness. The next day, that famous Kos story about Palin faking the pregnancy with the baby boy named Trig, who has Down syndrome, broke; it was followed by another, equally shocking post about Palin's teenage daughter Bristol being absent from school for at least five months, and how rumors had been swirling around the state--rumors to the effect that Palin's pretend-maternity and fantastical birth stories were merely a ruse to cover for her daughter being pregnant at age sixteen.

I wanted to hear someone in the media investigate it, and contest or confirm all of it; I wanted to see all the utterly jaw-dropping allegations addressed. But they weren't, not fully, and never conclusively. Markos ordered the blog posts yanked, in the name of Not Making Liberals Look Bad, and he even configured his site so that Google "robots" would never be able to index the cache files--in short, if you try to look them up on the Internet Wayback Machine, say, you will find those posts are, for all intents and purposes, scrubbed away forever. Fortunately, ArcXIX's articles were also posted here and here, and they remain there as of this writing, if you wish to read them.

Subsequently, all manner of journalistic inquiry would effectively be quashed when Barack Obama declared families "off limits". This was to his credit, both as a father and as a politician aiming to take the high road during the decidedly low-road period otherwise known as Campaign Season. I don't fault him for it. But, it must be said, Obama clearly fomented an ongoing backlash against any and all questioning or investigating of Palin's fabulism, period. (One has to wonder if he occasionally, privately, wishes the press would shine a brighter light on the ex-governor, particularly when she obsessively and vindictively slams him on her Twitter account, of all things, or has her Facebook ghostwriters come up with terms like Death Panels, the surreal discussion of which, at one point, threatened to derail Health Care Reform.)

And amazingly, throughout the campaign, Palin herself did not treat her family as off-limits; rather, she upstaged John and Cindy McCain at every turn as she paraded them into the lights, stroking their faces and inviting the audience's cheers; later, she hid behind them; always, she used them. She still does.

At that point, the pro-life and fundamentalist Christian accolades started pouring in. McCain's poll numbers soared. In choosing Palin and announcing her the day after the Democratic convention wrapped, he'd obviously aimed to piss all over Barack Obama's post-nomination bounce. Mission Accomplished.

But not all conservative women were sold. Upon hearing her speak, Peggy Noonan famously said, into an open mic, We are so screwed. Funnily enough, I had said the same thing not too long before that, but for a different reason.

To better understand my concerns as to why we were screwed, I'd refer people to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which is fiction, yes, but it is, nonetheless, prescient, chilling, and deeply cautionary fiction. It is a story that simultaneously terrifies you and shakes sense into you, much the way that Orwell's 1984 did. Atwood's dystopian tale is set in the near future, during which a totalitarian theocracy takes hold in America; she explores the causal factors leading to the stripping away of women's rights, women's agency, and women's very identites, as well as the effects on the society and the subjugated women themselves, and the myriad levels of hypocrisy and dysfunction that remain, as ever, in play. The Handmaid's Tale examines the same kind of totalitarian government about which Frank Zappa warned Crossfire viewers in the mid-80's, when he decried the religious right's attempt to dominate our national discourse and control our politics in every way, from reproductive rights to freedom of speech and artistic expression to enforced fealty to a single religious dogma. We are headed toward becoming a fascist theocracy, he said.

We are so screwed, I kept thinking. If Palin is permitted to rise to power, we are screwed in ways people cannot begin to imagine. That much I knew. That much I continue to know, with absolute certainty.

So. That answers Why bother?

Why me? Why now? Well, as I've written--to friends, and to readers who've sent supportive e-mails, and in a few comment threads--I simply grew weary of waiting for someone in the mainstream media to join Andrew Sullivan and a handful of bloggers and demand some truth. Demand that a politican who makes enormous claims that are, on their face, fraught with the possibility (probability?) of being opportunistic lies in the disgusting extreme--claims on which she has built a political base and, in large part, a career, but which are full of holes that are glaringly evident to even the most casual observer--be held accountable.

I grew disillusioned with just about everyone pretending to the title of journalist, in fact, and I came to realize that if I was ever going to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, Well, I did my best, with what I had to work with, and I tried, I would have to stick my neck out too. If I didn't, I would forfeit the right to ever again criticize the media for their laziness and bought-and-paid-for behavior. So I jumped in. Others have been carrying this alone for too long.

I like to think my humble efforts have, at the very least, convinced a few people who were previously on the fence to take a second look and go, Hmmmm..... I've certainly received letters to that effect. Lots of them. And, as you no doubt saw in previous posts, some incredible self-lightened photographs along with the amazed words of their senders: Damn you, litbrit.

(To be sure, that line was meant ironically, but even if it only carried the suggestion that I'm being perceived as adversarial, well, good.)

Babygate, as it is called, is indeed a huge scandal, and it's one that could have a number of attendant sub-scandals attached to it. Addressing it isn't simple; in fact, as Patrick has said, It's exhausting. It all makes my head hurt, said Audrey. And then there is the backlash: people don't like having their comfortable assumptions about what is normal behavior for a politician, or a woman, pulled out from under them like The Dude's rug in The Big Lebowski--the rug that "tied the whole room together". It throws everything they know and believe into flux.

Flux can be terrifying.

That said, I'm making a promise this evening. For what it's worth--speaking as someone who to most of you reading, I realize, is just an Internet voice whom you do not know personally, but who does hold certain core beliefs about things like the importance of a strong, independent press with the requisite integrity and backbone to pursue the truth and expose the lies, particularly when those lies comprise a powerful politician's entire raison d'etre and fuel her rise to power--I promise you, readers, I will absolutely, positively not back down from the story known as Babygate until it is satisfactorily resolved.

I further promise this to Andrew Sullivan, to Patrick, to Audrey, to Bree, to Floyd, and to Gryphen. Because, as my college roommate Mori used to say, Enough already. Dangerous Shining Puppets, embodied to slick perfection by one Sarah Palin, must never be allowed to get anywhere near the levers of power, much as the pushback may distress her corporate and religious sponsors; much as the truth may annoy, or even horrify, her flock of believers. History offers many cautionary tales about troubled, impoverished, or disaffected people falling prey to charismatic charlatans, replete with varying degrees of disastrous consequences, and anyone with even a mild interest in the preservation of democracy would be well-advised to pay attention to the intertwined stories of Sarah Palin, the infant Trig, and the role that powerful, monied, religious extremist groups play in our nation's politics.

Now that we have the Internet, which permits a level and scope of communication and information-disseminating unheard of in other times--and in other nations which, faced with such threats, simply could not fully and reliably inform enough people in time to head off those disastrous consequences--there is simply no excuse for permitting it to happen ever again.

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