Sarah Palin, Savior of the Two-Party System
They want you stupid. They want you trivial. They want you numbed with a counterpoint of apathy, denial and transient, unsustainable enthusiasm and/or resentment. That’s the only way the bipartisan imperium that controls us-“governs” is too honorable a word-can keep the racket going.
It has been said, correctly, that Sarah Palin’s nomination was tactically brilliant. It was. We haven’t had a candidate like this since 1968, when Richard Nixon sucked in Maryland Governor Spiro T. Agnew as his running mate. Agnew, a man of modest attainments perhaps best known for his apparently unconsummated infatuation with Blaze Starr, a stripper of significant accomplishment in her own profession, was perfect for his assigned role. Nixon loved to intone that “We can’t start talking to each other until we stop shouting at each other.” He didn’t mean it, of course, but his “bums who’re burning the books” tirades would come later. To win election and deflect subsequent attention, he needed an attack dog. Agnew was perfect.
Indeed, Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “pusillanimous pussyfooters” screeds against the liberals have gone in lore as plenipotent paradigms of political pugnacity. Perhaps Governor Palin might borrow them, along with “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history” and “an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals”. It was Agnew’s job to appeal to the bigots and unreconstructed segregationists the Republican Party of the 60s and 70s openly courted, as well as the stupid of all persuasions. Back then, they were called the “Silent Majority,” a phrase apparently originated by Edmund Burke to decribe the dead. And ever since, the Silent Majority has been anything but.
So now, once again, it is a Republican vice presidential nominee’s job to appeal (read here “motivate”) the lesser lights of the Republican Party: the crabbed fundamentalists, warmongering ideologues, financial wastrels, and those who regard an all-purpose hatred of modernity as fun. These are the people who want a “regular person” in whom they can see themselves, the people who claim to hate elitism. As New York Times blogger Judith Warner quotes Republican businessman Scott Maclean on the Democratic Party, “Their attitude is: you don’t get it and they don’t expect you to get it because they’re smarter than you – and I hate that.”
So let us all pretend that the last eight years didn’t happen, and that Senator McCain doesn’t offer more of the same, and vote Republican because the Democrats offend the national penchant for mediocrity.
Would that it were so simple.
Much has been made of Governor Palin’s qualifications, or lack thereof. An important issue, given Senator McCain’s age and the fact that whomever is elected, is likely to be a one-termer.
But the concept of “opportunity cost” applies to political discourse as well. As the economists remind us, the true cost of anything is all the alternatives foregone. This campaign season will end soon enough. Until then, every hour, every word, every electron wasted discussing Governor Palin’s absurd lack of qualification-would a man of her attainments have been nominated?-or her foibles or granny glasses, represents opportunity lost. Opportunity lost to look long and hard at the ideas of both candidates.
And that’s exactly how both parties want it. From the Republican perspective, the more people focus on Governor Palin, the less chance they have to remember which party got us into this mess. From the Democrat perspective, the more people focus on Governor Palin, the less chance they have to realize just how brain-dead liberalism has become.
Now, a campaign is not a place for long, detailed policy explanations, although well-written, coherent policy explanations should be readily available on the candidates’ websites. Currently, they are not. Republican and Democrat sites contain long, wonkish wish lists, mostly written by people looking for jobs, that have about as much relationship to Beltway (much less American) reality as polar bear scat.
But a campaign is and should be treated as, a place for candidates to talk seriously-no thirty second sound bites, no treacle, no drivel-to Americans about the larger issues that shape all our lives. Here’s how I intend to finance this. Here is what I think military force structure should look like and why. This is how I think America should live in the world. This is how I think Americans should live and how our economic policy would support that goal.
And most importantly, Here’s how I intend to get all this great stuff through a Congress that, no matter who wins this election, will remain as self-interested, venal, hypocritical and systemically corrupt as the last two.
We live now in an enormously grave situation for which both parties share real responsibility.
America is approximately 9.5 trillion dollars in debt; we spend approximately half a trillion dollars in interest on that debt every year. At the same time, we run a trade deficit of approximately half a trillion dollars a year and rising, having destroyed our manufacturing base in the search for corporate profits, while importing aliens, not only illegal but also legal, by the tens of millions, again in the search for corporate profits. Income inequality in this nation is greater than at any time in the Republic’s history, except the Gilded Age, which gave rise to the Progressive era reform movement. We spend two trillion dollars-16% of GDP-on health care and 16% of us are uninsured, while millions more lack adequate coverage. The number of Americans who have lost their shirts in the bust of the housing market is probably in the hundreds of thousands, and the wave of foreclosures has brought down large financial institutions, such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke estimate the cost of bailing out the markets may be as much as $1 trillion, and only the Chinese and Arabs have that kind of liquidity. (Would we could borrow it from the Russians, who are making it clear to anyone with a single functioning brain cell that they have interests in common with us and Western Europe that they would like to pursue.) In short, our economy has been revealed to be nothing but a house of cards.
At the same time, we are engaged in an unnecessary and extraordinarily stupid war in Iraq that has utterly wrecked the US military, particularly the Army and Marine Corps, but that also has no end in sight. A close observer will note that although we fought for oil in Iraq, the Chinese got the contracts.
And we are also losing a necessary war in Afghanistan because we have steadfastly refused to commit adequate money and forces, and to take social development seriously. Now the war in Afghanistan is spreading into Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons, sells nuclear technology to rogue states, and has fought some very hot wars with its nuclear armed neighbor, India. We have very serious interests in common with Russia, which had a real and vexatious border problem with Georgia-almost entirely of Georgian doing-which it solved with absolutely minimal violence. And yet we responded to Russia’s assertion that it will be master of its own home by demanding the Russians leave Georgia when we say so and give us back the US-made Humvees and machine guns they seized from the Georgians. When diplomatic demarches about those issues brought no response-because the only leverage we have over the Russians is for Secretary of State Rice to stamp her feet and hold her breath until her face turns blue-General Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, threatened to…send the Russians a bill.
How refreshing it would be for the candidates to admit that America’s real weakness and imminent danger is economic, not military. How refreshing to would be for us to acknowledge that, from the jihadi perspective, they’re winning by draining and impoverishing us…while the Arabs and the Chinese look on with delight. How refreshing it would be to us to demand that the candidates speak to us like we were men and women with more than two active brain cells to rub together.
But we’d rather natter about Sarah Palin and how we feel about her. We’d rather permit both parties and the media to encourage the nattering.
The Republicans chose a stupid and unqualified woman for Vice President as a diversion because they believed the diversion would work. They think we are too stupid to know the issues facing this country and too passive to demand serious answers. The Democrats are delighted we are sidetracked into babbling about Palin’s qualifications and resemblance to us because if Palin (and McCain) were serious about dealing with this country’s problems, the Democrats would have to get serious, too.
And neither party has any interest in that. After all, they got us into this mess. And whatever happens in November, they win.