Going Rouge: Sarah Palin – American Nightmare
Edited by Richard Kim and Betsy Reed
New York, 2009
Editors Note: Rather than attempt to translate the verve, variety, virtuosity and vibrancy of this collection, I allow it to speak for itself below. – ljt / to
I am having Sarah Palin nightmares.(1) Few things draw in readers and garner clicks more reliably than articles (or, even better, pictures) of Sarah Palin. We can’t look away.(2) Like everyone else, I can barely take the waves of embarrassment that come from watching someone do something so badly.(3) My cringe reflex is exhausted.(4)
It was not my intention to be writing about Sarah Palin, since everyone with a laptop, a No. 2 pencil, or a red crayon seems to be covering that beat.(5) We can’t stop talking about her even when we desperately want to.(6) Pundits … rushing to place the gleaming crown of populism atop the head of this shameless corporate servant … are the ones who have driven me to write about Palin. Someone has to nail the media establishment for its willing perversion of language, American history, and the substance of today’s genuine populism.(7)
Right-wingers of the Bush/Rove ilk have had a tough time finding a human face to put on their failed, inhuman, mean-as-hell policies. But it was not hard to recognize the genius of wedding that faltering brand of institutionalized greed to the image of suburban-American supermom. It’s the perfect cover.(8) Huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates have actual policy positions; they simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality show contestants or sitcom characters.(9) There is indeed something mesmerizing about Palin, with her manic beaming and fulsome confidence in her own charm.(10)
The story of Sarah Palin is far from over. Her abrupt announcement over the July 4 weekend that she was quitting the governorship of Alaska may have removed her from public office, but it did little to diminish her presence in the public eye.(11) McCain himself recently acknowledged that Palin is a “formidable force in the Republican Party.”(12) Palin is a bona fide celebrity. She transcends politics.(13) She is not just the party’s biggest star and most charismatic television performer; she is its only star and charismatic performer.(14) She is reinventing herself and her career in the national political sphere is just beginning. Outfitted with handlers, writers and editors, she’s ready to take on the world.(15) In the aftermath of her decision to drop out and cash in, Palin’s standing actually rose in the “USA Today”/Gallup poll.(16)
In the future the Internet will consist entirely of Sarah Palin slide shows.(17) What explains her enduring allure? Her gender? Good looks? Her small town Alaskan roots?(18)
She got the nomination because she had a great story. Here she was, a relatively inexperienced politician from Alaska’s Bible Belt, fresh-faced and full of family values, gun-toting and adventurous, spunky and energetic, a wife, a mother, and a no-nonsense politician who took on the oil companies and the good ol’ boys, with some energy credentials to boot.(19) She was Everywoman. She was proof that a regular person could take on the system and win. She was Joan of Arc, Political Barbie and “Mrs. Smith Goes to Juneau” all wrapped in one, with a dash of “Charlie’s Angels” thrown in for good measure.(20) Most important, she stands for a genuine movement: a dwindling white, non-urban America that is aflame with grievances and awash with self-pity as the country hurtles into the twenty-first century and leaves it behind.(21)
The essence of Palinism is emotional, not ideological.(22) Palinism works by draping hard-right policy in a winning personal story and just-folks rhetoric, delicately masking the extremism of her true positions and broadening the audience for them. Its genius rests in its ability to magically absorb inconvenient facts and mutually contradictory realities into an unassailable personal narrative.(23)
Palin’s “death panel” crusade has already provided a chilling lesson: that a minority armed with conspiracy theories is capable of occupying the national discourse as long as they have conviction and a mouthpiece.(24) Palin is a woman who can’t even tell the truth about the most quotidian and public details of her own life, never mind about matters of major public import.(25) On her Facebook page … Palin cast healthcare reform as an assault on the country, put a face on its supposed victims (her baby Trig), coined the expression “death panel” (linking it directly to Obama), raised the specter of euthanasia in the service of a state-run economy, and rallied the troops around a fight against “evil.” In short, she personalized, popularized and polarized the debate.(26)
Suggestion and innuendo are her game, and, in the swirl of resentments and phobias that fuel the American right, she is never far from the center,(27) unconstrained by any sense of obligation to be truthful and decent when confronting one’s ideological foes.(28) She boldly tries to pass off incuriosity and lassitude as regular-people qualities, thereby doing a disservice to all those Americans who also work two jobs and do not come from families that hand out passports and backpacking trips, yet still manage to pick up a paper and read about their government and seek out experience and knowledge.(29) The politics of resentment are impervious to facts. Palinists regard their star as an icon of working class America even though the Palins’ combined reported income ($211,000) puts them in the top 3.6% of American households.(30)
Palin and her family are exemplars of the new Christian sexual politics. Married, fertile, god-fearing and hot: Palin’s sex appeal was a major factor in her bolt to stardom.(31)
In this book [the editors] have assembled highlights from the reporting and commentary on her rise. Chapter One focuses on her selection by John McCain – both the symbolic and the political reasons for the pick. Chapter Two examines her record in Alaska, as small-town mayor and governor, with special attention to her links to the far right and her anti-environment policies. Chapter Three, “Palintology,” features an assortment of vintage Selected Palinisms and a cross section of her lies and misrepresentation. In Chapters Four and Five – “Lipstick on a Faux Feminist: Palin and Women” and “The Palin Pageant: Sex, God, and Country First” – the cultural implications of her ascension are explored. Chapter Six takes stock of the ideology of Palinism; Chapter Seven chronicles her missteps and ultimate electoral defeat; and Chapter Eight illuminates her legacy and future in the Republican Party.(32)
The GOP’s Gift to America
For the party’s cynical power elite, who simply want to make gobs of money and have fun doing it, and never tire of a little culture war that helps them achieve both, Palin is the sex symbol they’ve been waiting for, better looking and more real than the ghastly gasbags Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham.(33) Never before in a major political figure has the image of Mother been merged so readily with fantasies from porno.(34)
This isn’t the first time a boss has picked an unqualified woman just because she agrees with him and opposes everything most other women want and need.(35) To vote in protest for McCain/Palin would be like saying, “Somebody stole my shoes, so I’ll amputate my legs.”(36) Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from being the leader of the free world … was like watching a political horror movie.(37) Rarely is anyone in Washington, from politicians to operative to journalists, held accountable for the damage they inflict on the body politic.(38)
From the start of her political career, Palin has positioned herself as an insurgent intent on dislodging entrenched interests.(39) Her rise to prominence, however, owes more to members of Washington’s elite than her rhetoric has suggested.(40) Throughout the campaign, Palin has mocked what she calls, “the mainstream media.” Yet her administration made a concerted effort to attract the attention of East Coast publications.(41)
Half-Baked Alaska, Palin’s Real Record
Henceforth, [Alaska] should be known as the State of Irony, thanks to Sarah Palin’s sashay down the catwalk of national politics(42). Palin … believes that creationism should be taught in public schools, but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women’s wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves “abstinence only” programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions; she tried to use taxpayers’ millions for a program to shoot wolves from the air but didn’t spend enough money to fix a state school system with the lowest high-school graduation rate in the nation; she runs with a candidate who opposes the Fair Pay Act but supports $500 million in subsidies for a natural gas pipeline across Alaska; she supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.(43)
Palin is simply unqualified to deal with the demanding economic realities of any nation that is not a petrostate.(44)
In 2007, Alaska Independence Party Vice Chairman Dexter Clark announced that his party would seek to “infiltrate” the Democratic and Republican parties with candidates sympathetic to its hard-right secessionist agenda.(45). In 1994, Sarah Palin attended the AIP’s statewide convention.(46). Just months before Palin burst onto the national stage as McCain’s vice presidential nominee, she delivered a videotaped address to the AIP’s annual convention.(47). “I share your party’s vision ….(48)
Ever since the Christian Coalition was formed using the infrastructure of Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential run, the movement has focused on building power from the ground up, turning conservative churches into little political machines.(49) Palin, who got her start in a local church-backed political struggle, is very much the product of Reed’s strategy.(50) “To understand Sarah Palin, you have to understand she’s a religious fundamentalist. The structure of her understanding of life is no different from a Muslim fundamentalist.”(51) Is Sarah Palin America’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? There are uncanny parallels in their biographies, their domestic politics and the way they present themselves – even in their rocky relationships with party elders.(52)
On August 4, 2008, Alaska sued the government for listing the polar bear as a “threatened” species, an action, the lawsuit asserted, that would harm “oil and gas … development” in the state.(53) Palin … views Alaska as an unlimited source of raw materials to be exploited for maximum economic benefit.(54)
There’s no reason to doubt Sarah Palin’s sincerity when she talks about her commitment to family – and more specifically – special needs kids.(55) Unfortunately, as governor of a state with a birth-defect rate that’s twice the national average, and which has the gloomy status as repository of toxic chemicals from around the world, Palin has pursued environmental policies that seem perfectly crafted to swell the ranks of special-needs kids.(56)
It was the Troopergate scandal that really had the McCain camp spooked.(57) She did the vigilante thing – she apparently took the law into her own hands, using her role as governor to pressure and ultimately fire the head of her state public safety commission.(58) The Branchflower report found Palin guilty of abusing her power as governor under the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.(59) As Troopergate and its fallout reveal, Sarah Palin is more than a hockey mom. She is a fiercely ambitions politician with a penchant for secrecy and a history of using positions of public trust to advance her personal and ideological agendas.(60)
The Alaska that Palin inherited as governor had a rape rate 2.5 times the national average. Its rates of sexual assaults against children are six times the national average. And its per-capita rate of women killed by men is the highest in the nation.(61) What did Palin do as mayor, as governor to remedy these problems?(62) Under Palin’s mayoralty, women in Wasilla, Alaska, were forced to pay for their own rape kits to the tune of up to $1,200.(63) As governor, Palin stood in the way of efforts to expand legal-services resources to victims of sexual assault, and fired Walt Monegan, one man who had almost unanimous respect from police, urban Alaskans and Native Alaskans alike for his dedication to this issue.(64)
Sarah Palin stole Alaska’s voice. During the campaign, “She Doesn’t Speak for Me!” bumper stickers were seen more often than McCain/Palin stickers.(65)
The media helped refine and define her Dada statements and arguments into something that briefly sounded like a coherent worldview.(66) And so she proceeded, with an almost surreal disregard for the subjects she was supposed to be discussing, to unleash fusillades of scripted attack lines, platitudes, lies, gibberish, and grating references to her own pseudo-folksy authenticity:(67)
Our Constitution protects us all – not just those who agree with the far left.
From Palin’s Facebook page, posted May 13, 2009.(68)
The Hills Are Alive
Riding 2 Kenai; writing last Govs speech on way; country music streaming and countryside screaming 4 pro-development + pro-enviro msg
12:52 PM Jul 21st(69)
Those Republicans who have not drunk the Palin Kool-Aid are apocalyptic:(70)
Palin is mediocre again, regurgitating talking points mechanically, not thinking. She makes George W. Bush sound like Cicero.
Rod Dreher, conservative columnist(71)
If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.
Kathleen Parker, writing in National Review(72)
She is a ponder-free zone.
Befoulers of the Verbiage
It was an unfair attack on the verbiage
That Senator McCain chose to use,
Because the fundamentals,
As he was having to explain afterwards,
He means our workforce.
He means the ingenuity of the American.
And of course that is strong,
And that is the foundation of our economy.
So that was an unfair attack there,
Again based on verbiage.
To Sean Hannity, Fox News, September 18, 2008(74)
Lipstick on a Faux Feminist, Palin and Women
The “New York Post” calls her “a feminist dream.” National Public Radio asks if she’s the “new face of feminism.” And “The Wall Street Journal,” ever subtle, calls it “Sarah Palin feminism.” I call it well-spun garbage.(75) Sarah Palin has done for meritocracy what she’s done for those other conservative obsessions: working mothers (you go, girl!), teen pregnancy(a challenge!), masculine authority (the first dude?) – to say nothing of gravitas, statesmanship, wisdom, and all those other weighty abstract nouns George Will likes to talk about.(76) Feminist triumph or feminist nightmare? Maybe both!(77) But let’s be real: There is just no way Sarah Palin is equipped to be vice president, much less president. She doesn’t know enough; she lacks the natural grasp of, and curiosity about, our complex world; her political philosophy could fit on a bumper sticker:(78) It’s us against them, and they suck.(79) In politics, as in business, an unqualified woman … serves to fortify the stereotypes that the next woman will have to surmount.(80)
The Palin Pageant, Sex, God and Country First
Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States … a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the surrender of our political power. Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she’s the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, twenty floors below the lowest common denominator; a character too dumb even for daytime TV – and the country is going to eat her up, cheering every step of the way. All because Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow themselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.(81)
The idea that the Christian right would have judged Sarah Palin a failure in imparting proper values to her sexually active daughter is silly, a typical liberal misreading of contemporary conservative ideology.(82) In the pantheon of family values, avoiding abortion sits at the top, above marriage or staying home to raise your children.(83)
Bristol’s pregnancy can be spun as just another one of the Palins’ impeccable working class credentials – salmon fisherman, union member, DWI, hockey mom, soldier son, pregnant teenage daughter.(84) Too many Obama supporters have been quick to prove Palin right when she spoke of snobs who look down on people like her … There’s nothing wrong with being a moose hunter, or a snow-machine racer, or a redneck, or a holy roller.(85)
Caribou hunting aside, Sarah Palin represents the state-of-the-art version of a particular type of woman … that’s become a familiar and potent figure in the culture war in recent years.(86) To be seen as anti-sex – and especially to be seen as unsexy – is a losing proposition in contemporary America, even among evangelical Christians most troubled by the fallout from the sexual revolution … If you don’t believe me, you should take a look at the Web site Christian Nymphos, whose authors cheerfully proclaim, “We are women with excessive desire for our husbands!” and offer candid how-to advice on anal sex, fisting, and “masturbating for your husband.”(87)
While Palin may not be the One, she is certainly one of them. Her social policy views, from her rejection of scientific evidence on global warming to her opposition to publicly funding emergency contraception for rape victims, are explicitly influenced by the sectarian theology she has subscribed to since she was a teenager.(88)
Unpacking Palinism, the World According to Sarah
The core of her message was this: Those environmentalists, those liberals, those do-gooders are all wrong. You don’t have to change anything. You don’t have to rethink anything. Keep driving your gas-guzzling car, keep going to Wal-Mart, and shop all you want. The reason for this is a magical place called Alaska. Just come up here and take all you want …
And the crowd at the convention responded by chanting: “Drill, baby, drill.”
Watching that scene on television, with that weird creepy mixture of sex and oil and jingoism, I remember thinking: “Wow, the RNC has turned into a rally in favor of screwing Planet Earth.” Literally.(89) Sarah Palin does not believe in evolution. I take this as a metaphor. In her world and the world of the fundamentalists nothing changes or gets better or evolves. The earth, in Palin’s view, is here to be taken and plundered.(90)
The truly disgusting thing about Sarah Palin isn’t that she’s unqualified, or a religious zealot, or married to a secessionist, or unable to educate her own daughter about sex, or a fake conservative who raised taxes and horked up earmark millions every chance she got. No, the most disgusting thing is what she says about us: that you can ram us in the ass for eight solid years, and we’ll not only thank you for your trouble, we’ll sign you up for eight more years, if only you promise to stroke us in the right spot around election time.(91) Right wing populism is centered on a theory of media conspiracy, a “my country right or wrong” chauvinism, a fascination with an armed citizenry, an intolerance of dissent, and a willingness to declare political opponents mere terrorists. It is cavalier in its disregard of elementary facts and arrogant about the self-evident rightness of its religious and political doctrines. It therefore holds dangers both for the country in which it grows up and the international community.(92)
[Palin] really is what she appears to be: an ambitious woman with a flair for melodrama who thinks it’s the obligation of every governor to resign before the job’s over. And moreover, gosh darn it, she’s the only one with the courage, the fortitude, and the moral fiber to do it.(93) I feel sorry for … Americans who invested in a hopeful, progressive vision of female leadership, but who are now stuck watching, verbatim, a Saturday Night Live skit. Palin is as tough as nails. She will bite off the head of a moose and move on.(94)
All quotations are from “Going Rouge”:
1. “Drill, Drill, Drill,” Eve Ensler, p. 255.
2. “Forum: What Is Sarah Palin’s Future in American Politics?” Christopher Hayes, p. 318.
3. “The Sarah Palin Pity Party,” Rebecca Traister, p. 271.
4. “The Un-Hillary,” Emily Bazelon, p. 277.
5. “Sarah Palin’s Faux Populism,” Jim Hightower, p. 237.
6. “Forum: What Is Sarah Palin’s Future in American Politics?” Christopher Hayes, p. 318.
7. “Sarah Palin’s Faux Populism,” Jim Hightower, p. 237.
8. “Mad Dog Palin,” Matt Taibbi, p. 229.
9. “Mad Dog Palin,” Matt Taibbi, p. 230.
10. “Flirting her way to Victory,” Michelle Goldberg, p. 282.
11. From the Introduction by the editors, p. 13.
12. From the Introduction by the editors, p. 14.
13. From the Introduction by the editors, p. 15.
14. “She Broke the GOP and Now She Owns It,” Frank Rich, p. 293.
15. “The Ugly Irony of Going Rogue, Jeanne Devon, p. 117.
16. “She Broke the GOP and Now She Owns It,” Frank Rich, p. 294.
17. “What is Sarah Palin’s Future in American Politics?” Christopher Hayes, p. 318.
18. From the Introduction by the editors, p. 15.
19. “The Ugly Irony of Going Rogue, Jeanne Devon, p. 110.
20. “The Ugly Irony of Going Rogue, Jeanne Devon, p. 110.
21. “She Broke the GOP and Now She Owns It,” Frank Rich, p. 294.
22. “She Broke the GOP and Now She Owns It,” Frank Rich, p. 294.
23. From the Introduction by the editors, p. 15.
24. From the Introduction by the editors, p. 17.
25. “Flirting Her Way to Victory,” Michelle Goldberg, p. 283.
26. From the Introduction by the editors, p. 16.
27. From the Introduction by the editors, p. 17.
28. From the Introduction by the editors, p. 17.
29. “The Sarah Palin Pity Party,” Rebecca Traister, p. 275.
30. “She Broke the GOP and Now She Owns It,” Frank Rich, p. 294.
31. From the Introduction by the editors, p. 20.
32. From the Introduction by the editors, p. 21.
33. “Beauty and the Beast,” JoAnn Wypijewski p. 28.
34. “Beauty and the Beast,” JoAnn Wypijewski p. 28.
35. “Palin: Wrong Woman, Wrong Message,” Gloria Steinem, p. 45.
36. “Palin: Wrong Woman, Wrong Message,” Gloria Steinem, p. 45.
37. “The Ugly Irony of Going Rogue, Jeanne Devon, p. 113.
38. “The Losers Who Gave Us Sarah Palin,” Joe Conason, p. 301.
39. “The Insiders,” Jane Mayer, p. 32.
40. “The Insiders,” Jane Mayer, p. 30.
41. “The Insiders,” Jane Mayer, p. 31.
42. “Palin Enthusiastically Embraces Socialism, Alaska-Style,” Elstun Lauesen, p. 100.
43. “Palin: Wrong Woman, Wrong Message,” Gloria Steinem, p. 45.
44. “Palin’s Petropolitics,” Michael T. Klare, p. 78.
45. “Meet Sarah Palin’s Rightwing Pals,” Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert, p. 62.
46. “Meet Sarah Palin’s Rightwing Pals,” Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert, p. 57.
47. “Meet Sarah Palin’s Rightwing Pals,” Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert, p. 61.
48. “Meet Sarah Palin’s Rightwing Pals,” Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert, p. 61.
49. “Palin’s Party: Her Religious Right Roots,” Michelle Goldberg, p. 65.
50. “Palin’s Party: Her Religious Right Roots,” Michelle Goldberg, p. 65.
51. “Palin’s Party: Her Religious Right Roots,” Michelle Goldberg, p. 65.
52. “Sarah Palin, Meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” Juan Cole, p. 258.
53. “Our Polar Bears, Ourselves,” Mark Hertsgaard, p. 73.
54. “Palin’s Petropolitics,” Michael T. Klare, p. 79.
55. “Northern Exposure,” Sheila Kaplan and Marilyn Berlin Snell, p. 81.
56. “Northern Exposure,” Sheila Kaplan and Marilyn Berlin Snell, p. 81.
57. “Why Troopergate Matters,” John Nichols, p. 86.
58. “Sarah Palin’s Frontier Justice,” Patricia J. Williams, p. 211.
59. “The Ugly Irony of Going Rogue, Jeanne Devon, p. 110.
60. “Why Troopergate Matters,” John Nichols, p. 95.
61. “Examining Palin’s Record on Violence against Women,” Brentin Mock, p. 97.
62. “Examining Palin’s Record on Violence against Women,” Brentin Mock, p. 96.
63. “The F-Card Won’t Wash: Sarah Palin is Disastrous for Women’s Rights,” Jessica Valenti, p. 177.
64. “Examining Palin’s Record on Violence against Women,” Brentin Mock, p. 96.
65. “Letter from the Other Alaska, Shannyn Moore, p. 104.
66. “Lost in Translation,” Dahlia Lithwick, p. 289
67. “Flirting Her Way to Victory,” Michelle Goldberg, p. 281.
68. From Palin’s Facebook page, posted May 13, 2009, included in “Selected Palinisms,” compiled by Sebastian Jones, p. 138.
69. Included in “Palin’s Top 25 Tweets, compiled by Sebastian Jones, p. 160.
70. “She Broke the GOP and Now She Owns It,” Frank Rich, p. 296.
71. Included in “Buyer’s Remorse,” compiled by Sebastian Jones, p. 164.
72. Included in “Buyer’s Remorse,” compiled by Sebastian Jones, p. 164.
73. Included in “Buyer’s Remorse,” compiled by Sebastian Jones, p. 165.
74. Included in “The Poetry of Sarah Palin” compiled by Sebastian Jones, p. 168.
75. “The F-Card Won’t Wash: Sarah Palin is Disastrous for Women’s Rights,” Jessica Valenti, p. 177.
76. “Sarah Palin, Affirmative Action Babe,” Katha Pollit, p. 173.
77. “Sarah Palin, Affirmative Action Babe,” Katha Pollit, p. 173.
78. “Sarah Palin, Affirmative Action Babe,” Katha Pollit, p. 173.
79. “Forum: What is Sarah Palin’s Future in American Politics?” Jane Hamsher, p. 318.
80. “The ‘Bitch’ and the ‘Ditz’,” Amanda Forini, p. 192.
81. “Mad Dog Palin,” Matt Taibbi, p. 228.
82. “The Elephant in the Room,” Dana Goldstein, p. 195.
83. “What Scarlet Letter?” Hanna Rosin, p. 201.
84. “What Scarlet Letter?” Hanna Rosin, p. 203.
85. “Sarah Palin, American,” Jeff Sharlet, p. 224.
86. “The Sexy Puritan,” Tom Perrotta, p. 215.
87. “The Sexy Puritan,” Tom Perrotta, p. 216.
88. “The Witch Hunter Anoints Sarah Palin,” Max Blumenthal, p. 219.
89. “Capitalism, Palin-Style,” Naomi Klein, p. 250.
90. “Drill, Drill, Drill,” Eve Ensler, p. 255.
91. “Mad Dog Palin,” Matt Taibbi, p. 236.
92. “Sarah Palin, Meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” p. 261.
93. “Forum: What is Sarah Palin’s Future in American Politics?” Jane Hamsher, p. 317.
94. “The Sarah Palin Pity Party,” Rebecca Traister, p. 276.