Saga of the White Princess: Babies and preachers and kooks, oh my!
James Fallows at his Atlantic blog has a couple of good posts about the White Princess' speech Wednesday evening. His impression was that she was giving red meat to the base but using a sneering, being-nasty-with-a-smile attitude that is typically for Republican pundits and radio talkers but doesn't play so well with everyone else: Sarah Palin 09/04/08 and A word more on Palin and the riskiness of mockery 09/04/08.
Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby in his post of 09/04/08 takes the national press and liberal opinion writers to task for failing to understand or tell people how blatantly Palin was lying about her reform history. Especially on the fabled "bridge to nowhere".
He doesn't phrase it exactly this way. But he's making the point that the Dems could learn a lot from the Republicans' willingness to fight attacks on their candidates. They could especially learn something from the Republicans' willingness to fight the press explicitly. Bill and Hillary Clinton are the only two leading Democrats that have done that effectively over a long term.
Anyone who watches TV journalism with a minimum of critical thought can see that it's really bad, very often. The Democratic Party has largely allowed criticism of "the media" to be framed by the Republicans' endless campaign against the so-called "liberal media", which is really not much more than a paranoid conspiracy theory. There is a developed and coherent liberal criticism of the media having to do with corporate ownership, lack of basic accuracy, poor analysis and obsession with gossip and trivia. But the Dems are letting the Republicans frame the problem as Liberal Press "elitism".
One issue on which I disagree with Somberby is whether Bristol Palin's pregnancy is important politically in some way. It is. It gets to both the rigid, completely unrealistic ideology that the James Dobsons and Sarah Palins of the world want to impose on everyone else. And also at the screaming double-standard so many of them practice when it comes to themselves and their families. The rules are for the hoi polloi, not for important Republican white folks, in their way of thinking.
Though the religious right promotes abstinence-only sex education, vows of chastity, and dances at which prepubescent girls pledge their virginity to dad, conservatives do live in 21st-century America, just like the rest of us. They know teen sex happens. They just also happen to believe, against all common sense, that it can be eradicated.
The truth is, conservatives are more familiar with teen parenthood than are secular liberals. On the whole, red states have higher teen pregnancy and birth rates than blue states. In Texas, the state with the highest teen birth rate, 63 out of every 1,000 young women aged 15 to 19 has had a baby. California has the lowest teen birth rate; only 39 of every 1,000 15- to 19-year-old girls there have carried a pregnancy to term. Alaska, where Bristol Palin grew up, has a typical teen birth rate of about 42.
Even though the Bristol pregnancy story has more tabloid appeal, the more serious questions have to do with the White Princess' conduct in office and abuse of power. And with just how deep they are with the most hardline Christianists and white supremacist crackpots grouped with the Alaskan Independence Party and the Constitution Party and with some of the more disturbing and cultlike elements in their Pentecostal churches. See Dobson and the Religious Right Rally for McCain/Palin by Frederick Clarkson TalktoAction blog 09/04/08 and Palin's Church May Have Shaped Controversial Worldview by Nico Pitney and Sam Stein Huffington Post 09/02/08.
This is an area where liberals need to be careful about falling into the double-reverse game the rightwingers like to play. The American liberal position is that people should be free to worship God - or not - in the way they please without getting arrested for it or discriminated against in employment or civil rights because of it. Liberals also believe in the basic democratic concept of separation of church and state.
But all that is very different than saying religion doesn't matter. Liberals as a matter of public policy aren't concerned about what theory of angels people hold. But in politics, if a candidate is involved with a cult that is taking orders from angels to impose drastic measures on the public, liberals would be out of our minds not to be concerned about it. So would conservatives for that matter, but I'm not going to go there for now.
Clarkson warns us that, once again, the endless talk about how the Christian Right is going to fade away into the sunset inside the Republican Party is, as Joe Conason predicted in his book It Can Happen Here, still alive and kicking and may even have more clout than ever:
It was not so long ago that pundits were busy telling us that the Religious Right is dead, dying or irrelevant. The selection of Sarah Palin is proof, in case anyone actually needed any, that the Religious Right remains at the center and at the top of American public life.
Palin is the most ostentatiously and authentically Religious Right major party candidate for national office in American history (with the possible exception of Jack Kemp.) Reagan was good, but he did not attend church (and it later turned out that he and Nancy consulted and astrologer on his daily schedule); Dan Quayle was good, but well, he was Quayle; George W. Bush seemed good (and from their point of view in some ways he was) but he is viewed as having betrayed the conservative movement and they are not shy about saying so. Richard Viguerie has a whole book about it titled "Betrayed." (And David Kuo's book could have very nearly had that title.) We also now know that much (but not all) of Bush's religious history was manufactured by his political inner circle.
Sarah Palin is, in the view of the Religious Right, the real deal. [my emphasis]
If I had to pick a must-read about the White Princess from the last couple of days, it would be The FundamentaList by Sarah Posner American Prospect Online 09/03/08. Posner gives us a glimpse of how crackpot a worldview people have in that corner of the political world:
The AIP -- whose founder, Joseph Vogler, once said, "The problem with you John Birchers is that you are too damn liberal!" -- is to the right of the Council on National Policy, itself founded by a group of Birchers. According to the watchdog group Political Research Associates, the John Birch Society's founder, Robert Welch, believed that "both the U.S. and Soviet governments are controlled by the same furtive conspiratorial cabal of internationalists, greedy bankers, and corrupt politicians. If left unexposed, the traitors inside the U.S. government would betray the country's sovereignty to the United Nations for a collectivist new world order managed by a "'one-world socialist government.'"
The press is largely clueless, and many Democrats are apparently in denial, about how extremist today's Republican Party has become. We already have a President who claims the power to disregard any law or even Constitutional provision that he alone decides gets in the way of his "national security" prerogatives. McCain is at least as extreme. And Palin, from the available evidence, is considerably more extreme.
As Posner puts it, "The ardor of the Christian-right leadership says everything you need to know about Palin: She is an extremist who makes them confident of their access to and influence over a McCain administration."
The Religious Right has built an extensive infrastructure of media, political organizations, institutions of higher learning including law schools -- and raised-up several generations of leaders who have found their way into their roles in public life.
Whatever else one may think of Sarah Palin: first as governor of Alaska and now the GOP nominee for Vice President -- she epitomizes this reality.