Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Palin into omnipotence

Asia Times February 10, 2010
By Ian Williams

WASHINGTON - "We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron," declaimed American journalist H L Mencken (1880-1956) many years ago: former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's speech to the National Tea Party movement in Tennessee last weekend calls the famous curmudgeon's lofty aspiration to mind.

Certainly, the "plain folks" assembled there fitted Mencken's bill, and they enthusiastically assume that Palin is one of them. The convention included "birthers" who think that President Barack Obama is a Muslim alien, many who think the United Nations is a sinister internationalist plot, and platform speakers who think that

the president is not just a socialist, but an "international socialist", which does not betoken an esoteric appreciation of the detritus of the fourth international, but is simply two conservative swear words compounding each other.

Palin might on occasion be an ignoramus, but she is no moron, and what is more, she is making money hand over fist, which is more than they are. In fact, they paid over their hard-earned dollars to attend the convention, which a for-profit company arranged, and which paid Palin a US$100,000 speaker's fee.

Her rhetoric avoids endorsement of the wilder excesses of her supporters, yet her folksy delivery and anarchic syntax is close enough in spirit for them to identify with her. If she did articulate her policies in a clear and intellectually compelling way, she would lose their support, as in fact former presidential candidate John McCain has done with occasional, albeit infrequent, public displays of cerebral activity. Horrified at his temerity in letting reality intrude on the smooth flow of their venomous prejudices, some in the Tea Party are against him in the next primary.

Insofar as is there is a movement, it is fueled by a rage that depends for its strength and cohesion on its inarticulacy. Yes, there is also a deep racist undercurrent - in fact often quite explicit. There are a lot of whites who still can't cope with a black president - which is why some of them can't believe he is a citizen. It is progress of sorts that they don't come out and say clearly why he cannot be president, but it is noticeable that the conventions and demonstrations are whiter than a supermarket sliced loaf.

However, there are more rational premises for their anger, even if the conclusions they draw from them are far-fetched, indeed far-stretched. Working-class (or in US parlance middle-class) incomes have been stagnant for decades, since president Ronald Reagan in fact, while health and higher education costs have soared.

It is a year since Obama picked up the poisoned chalice from George W Bush and was left to pick up the ruins of the neo-liberal enterprise. There is little doubt that his efforts have stopped it being even worse, but after a year in which he has, in effect, pandered to the perpetrators in the name of bipartisanship, it almost presents his back with a large target.

But Obama has not shown the leadership he should have done, whether on oversight of banks or reform of healthcare, and his main fault is that he has left it to the congressional Democrats, many of whom have been as subservient to the business lobbyists as their Republican opponents.

Palin's flip comment on Obama strikes memorably home at his failure, which is no less a real political failure, even though neither she nor the Republicans have any alternative plans at all, "So, how's that hopey, changey stuff working out for you?"

Obama has gone technocratic on his erstwhile supporters, and backpedaled on charismatic clear leadership while not putting a clear enough line between him and his predecessor. Certainly, the direction and tone of government has changed, immeasurably for the better under Obama, although you would never guess that from listening to the leftist mirror images of the teabaggers who accuse the president of betraying principles that he never espoused. But even if he did not promise the revolutionary changes that some of them imagined, he did, both explicitly and implicitly, promise change in how business would be conducted in Washington.

One lesson that some have drawn from the surprise Republican victory in Massachusetts is that the teabaggers rule and that conservative rage is triumphant. But polls show that no less than 82% of those who deserted Obama and voted for the Republican candidate wanted a public option in the healthcare bill. Similarly, large majorities of voters in all parties disagree strongly with the Supreme Court decision that now allows corporations unlimited spending in elections.

We cynics, looking at how much influence business already has in Washington, are not sure that it could get any worse. But the entirely rational fear of big business and big government is the basis of disaffection from left to right. The genius of Palin and the Republican right is to tie these in a package with "Big Labor" and present it as creeping socialism, along with undercover anti-minority and anti-black sentiment, in a way that attracts such dedicated and vociferous support. It has been done before. Think of the brownshirts, until they had served their purpose.

On the one hand, the teabaggers might make the Republicans unelectable nationally - soon, for example, the minorities will be a majority! And the electorate as a whole still shows signs of awareness of the real world. But Obama and the Democrats need some more therapeutic and constructive anger to retain traditional supporters and win new ones.

Ironically, the Supreme Court decision, even if does not inaugurate the cataclysmic consequences that some fear, could be the fulcrum for a major campaign to change how Washington does business, to question what most countries see as a system of overt corruption and bribery. But the president has to be indignant with his own side as well: he cannot allow the congressional leaders of his party to frame legislation, whether on health, financial oversight or Pentagon procurement, shaped by the campaign donations the most self-interested corporations and industries have given them.

Ian Williams is the author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.

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1 comment:

Rupa Shah said...