Friday, September 5, 2008

Palin's true colors

Well, Sarah Palin's true nature has become quite clear with almost embarrassing speed. Despite coming off as window dressing from the beginning, she's proven one thing -- she's a skilled propagandist, and a rather obnoxiously autocratic one at that. Trying to get the Wasilla head librarian fired for not bending on a censorship issue? Trying to get someone fired because he wouldn't fire her sister's ex-husband? This is a woman who has little concept of separation of powers. In that regard, she actually reminds me a lot of ex-gov Mitt Romney, who also had a nasty habit of trying to do things that he wasn't constitutionally allowed to do. So I already don't like her. (The fact that I happen to personally know someone who is a Wasilla resident who outright hates her doesn't really have much bearing on that.) You don't have to be a sexist pig to find things to criticize her for.

And now, the "community organizer" smear. Mike the Mad Biologist over at scienceblogs.com points out that her sneering use of the term "community organizers" is really a pitch-perfect example of dogwhistle politics -- to a liberal, a part of the political spectrum where community activism is integral to the process of policymaking, this is a somewhat incomprehensible sneer -- after all, community activists are the people on the ground in poor neighborhoods, making sure people can show up to vote, can afford the high costs of energy and housing, have a venue to tell their stories, and even just put food on the table. Community activists are like the neighborhood equivalent of trade unions, providing bargaining power to the disenfranchised at city hall and the state capitol the same way that unions are supposed to with corporate management.

But that's not the image Palin is trying to invoke in the minds of prospective GOP voters. The Right has long been enamored of the narrative of rugged individualism, and has cultivated the model of a class society where if you're not on top, you probably don't deserve to be; after all, we can all achieve any station in life we want, right? In addition -- a point that underlies Mike's post -- the ugly fact is that the GOP was known early on to be trying to find ways to sneak veiled racism past voters in case of an Obama primary victory. They've already done it at least once by accusing Obama of racism by making a preemptive strike a few weeks ago against that very tactic ("You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills.") and Mike makes a pretty good case that this, likewise, is a racist swipe at a class of people that the Right generally associates with such exemplars of self-parody as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Now it may not be inherently racist (though I doubt it), but it is definitely classist. This speaks straight to American Right's mantra of self-reliance and, racist or not, plays off the image of lower-class communities as crime-ridden cesspools of stupidity and laziness and of community activists as willing enablers of such squalor. Palin's "community organizers" aren't building houses, negotiating cheaper oil, or subsidizing rent checks; they're enabling freeloaders and retards to get something for nothing. To the very richest Republicans, this message goes even deeper: it says that rather than trying to bring the downtrodden up out of need, they're trying to tear down the successful out of jealousy.

I have to be honest. I'm not too optimistic about Obama's chances this fall; though Andy Tanenbaum at electoral-vote.com currently has Obama leading in the tracking polls with just over 300 electoral votes, we live in a time where, thanks to the shamelessness and propaganda expertise of people such as Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, and Grover Norquist, our national political conversation has combined the fear-mongering of early 20th century politics with Richard Hofstadter's Paranoid Style to create a situation where, for the time being, progressive politics can make only minor gains and has to fight on a daily basis to keep what it has gained in the last 40 years. But I'm still voting Obama, because I have no other viable choice. With any luck, the swipe against "community organizers" will backfire the way Bob Dole's attacks on teachers' unions in 1996 did. Maybe it will too.

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