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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 2, 2022
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Does Sarah Palin Matter?

A couple of weeks from now, it is likely that Sarah Palin will be on one of two paths, the path to her former obscurity, or the path to becoming seminal figure in American history. We will — we hope — know a lot more on Nov. 5, but until then it is worth pondering the question: What does the Palin phenomenon mean?
Someone once asked the film director Otto Preminger, "What is Marilyn Monroe really like?" To which he replied, "What makes you think she's like anything?" Especially among Democrats, there is a tendency to look at Palin in those terms. That would be a mistake. She did not get to this point by accident. She is like something.
Let's start with two indisputable facts: First, that the presidential nominee of one of the two major political parties picked Palin for the nomination for vice president, despite the fact that she was virtually unknown outside conservative Republican religious circles. And, second, that, whatever her mistakes and obvious deficiencies, Palin has a solid base of support among important groups of Americans.
As the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 1960, Richard Nixon chose Henry Cabot Lodge, a pillar of the Eastern Republican Establishment. It was the end of an era. Starting with the Goldwater revolution in 1964, the Republican candidates for vice president have been William Miller, an obscure upstate New York Congressman and a sleazeball; Spiro Agnew, an attack dog and crook driven from office in disgrace; George Herbert Walker Bush, a responsible choice; Dan Quayle, an obscure lightweight senator; Jack Kemp, another lightweight and free-market zealot; and Dick Cheney, a power-mad fanatic and unindicted war criminal.
So Palin is not that far outside the norm. But she does reflect the ongoing purification of the Republican Party as it has become a collection of fringe groups built around opposition to abortion, love of guns, hostility to "taxes," glorification of the military and hatred of immigrants and minorities. It has become the White People's Party, with corporations and the wealthy happy to remain behind the scenes rather than being seen with and embarrassed by this collection of lower-class types. When one looked at the delegates to the Republican convention, it was easy to see why they would fall in love with Sarah Palin. She could present herself as one of them to the women. The men could have sexual fantasies about her. And, in both cases, she shared their "values."
It is a dangerous situation for the country when it must choose between two parties, one of which is now totally dominated by extremist groups and the power of extraordinary wealth. That John McCain is considered suspect because he isn't far enough to the right is just one sign of this danger. That they plucked Sarah Palin, a hyper-ambitious non-entity, from obscurity and made her vice president nominee on a ticket with a 72-year-old with a history of serious illness and comprehension issues should be seen as a flashing red light.
Which brings us to next issue: her base of support among Americans. While Palin's levels of support have declined from her coming out days and will almost certainly continue to decline, she will probably end up with the support of something like 35 percent of American adults.
What does this mean? Thirty years ago, the sociologist Christopher Lasch wrote The Culture of Narcissism. In it he stated, "Every age develops its peculiar forms of pathology, which express in exaggerated form its underlying character structure." He went on to describe "the logic of individualism to the extreme … and the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of narcissistic preoccupation with the self."
In fundamental ways, Sarah Palin is the flag bearer for that part of the American population that represents a particular mutation of what Lasch was talking about. (None of this is limited to the right. As Christine Rosen has observed in The Overpraised American (2005), the left has plenty of baggage in the areas of therapeutic approaches to everything and the "good job" school of child rearing.)
Palin's persona, views and her "style" reflect the culture and norms of that big chunk of American society that would be willing to have her "one heartbeat away" from the most powerful position in the world. In this sense, it is not enough to say that there is something wrong with Palin or McCain or the Republican Party. There is also something seriously wrong within our culture. Here are a few examples of the ways in which Palin reflects the dangerous narcissistic trends and tendencies in American society and culture.
Loss of empathy: There was one of those infrequent revealing moments in the Biden-Palin debate when Senator Biden choked up in describing his family tragedy. What was revealing was that the hockey mom with the small-town values didn't connect to it at all, and immediately launched into a description of herself and McCain as "mavericks." The Republican Party is a party without empathy. It shows concern only for people that look like they do: white, well off, "Christian" and living in small towns. Everyone outside this circle is either irrelevant or increasingly an enemy and an object of derision, if not hatred. These "others" include poor people, minorities, immigrants (legal and illegal), "liberals," people living in cities, foreigners and especially, "Muslims."
This total inability to put yourself in the other person's shoes drives extreme and destructive views such as not talking to people who oppose you and — most tellingly — being willing to torture and deny human rights to the others. Palin actually criticized Obama for wanting to grant any rights to those captured by American troops or the CIA, all of whom are, in Republican parlance, "terrorists." They are willing to torture because it is always going to be someone else who is being tortured, and they don't care about these someone elses. The bell will never toll for them. There is nothing "indivisible" or "inalienable" about their view of human rights. If they don't look and think like us, screw 'em.
Indifference to the future: The narcissist is indifferent to what will come after they are gone. Therefore, no sacrifice in the present can ever be justified for a better future. And when the future catches up with you, just lie about the past. This becomes progressively easier in a culture in which memory is pretty much limited to events in which we — that is, our group — have been victimized. Thus, Sept. 11 becomes one of the most important turning points in history — actually, along with the birth of Christ, one of the only two important turning points in history. When you are indifferent to the future, you do a lot of things differently. You want more of everything now. You don't invest in things like infrastructure or education. You don't save or sacrifice. The Republican Party and its "base" have gone even further. They have linked narcissistic indifference to the future to narcissistic Christianity to produce a particularly toxic brew.
Narcissism as religion: The political/religious base that Palin both reflects and represents would be unrecognizable as "Christian" to Jesus or even to the earlier "millenials" in American history. It is not about service to God, or about peace, love, justice or inclusion. It is all about "me" and my personal relationships to God. It is the Jesus of the professional athlete who just won the big game, "All praise to Jesus." It is the Jesus who will show me the path to wealth, despite the message of the Gospels about accumulating worldly riches. It is the Jesus who justifies all of my prejudices. Don't like gays, let's see, here's a passage that will work. And God's other creatures and the natural world? Just subdue them or kill them
to meet our (American) desires. Jesus says it's okay. Within the lifetime of many older Americans, these forms of therapeutic feel-good religion would have been labeled blasphemy.
"Special-Needs Children": Now that Governor Palin has a Down Syndrome child, she has become a champion of "special-needs children." Had the child been born sooner, Governor Palin would probably not have slashed Alaska's budget for the Special Olympics. This pattern has been repeated over and over again. Nancy Reagan suddenly developed a concern for Alzheimer's Disease when her husband was stricken with it. Since the world of Sarah Palin and "The American People" of the Republican Party do not contain poor people, minorities, immigrants or people who are different, these groups are outside the circle of concern. It's only for people like us — or, more specifically, people like me. It is this kind of thought process and these narcissistic "values" that can produce a correlation between identification as a Christian and support for torturing other human beings.
Facts and opinions: In describing Princess Diana, a columnist once said that "She made up in low cunning for what she lacked in intellectual candle-power." The same could be said for Sarah Palin, and this is one reason why it is a mistake to underestimate her or the danger that she represents to the country. By any reasonable standard, Palin is a fool. She knows nothing and has no substance. In this regard, she is quite similar to George W. Bush. But to a significant portion of the voting population, possibly one third, none of this matters. This is because facts don't matter. All one needs is a "moral compass," one that is defined by some half-assed reading of selected passages from the Bible. Thus, proving that Palin is wrong or incoherent is irrelevant. As someone wrote to the liberal blogger David Sirota, "You had a bunch of research to prove your side because you have no moral compass to guide your answers; you don't need back up when you're acting morally." Anyone who has had a political discussion with a right-wing Republican will recognize this statement. If one wants to see the fruits of this kind of stupidity and willful ignorance when it is given access to the levers of power, examine the wreckage being left behind by the Bush Administration. Facts? We don't need no stinkin' facts.
Arrogance and hubris: In her increasingly obvious self-absorption, it becomes clearer that Sarah Palin does not want to be vice president. Every comment she makes on the subject indicates that her goal is to be president of the United States. She has no doubts about her ability to function as president. She also has no doubt that the United States is unique in the world, created by God to lead mankind into the sunshine of freedom. We have seen a version of this movie before in the rise of George W. Bush, but Bush was able to use his father's network to push him into power. Not having this platform, Palin will rely on the "base" of the Republican Party, the increasingly purified party of arrogant, ignorant, selfish, bigoted white religious phonies. America' isolation will become complete. Like the Bush Administration, Palin will remain blind to Herodotus' warning that "All arrogance will reap a harvest rich in tears."
Earlier this month, polls showed the chances of John McCain and Sarah Palin winning the election in a month were slightly less than 50-50. If they do win, the chances of Palin becoming president are probably also around 50-50, given McCain's health history and the efforts of his campaign to keep his health records from becoming public. As the evangelist Billy Graham once said about agnosticism, "If the pilot on your airplane announced that your flight had an 80-percent chance of reaching its destination without crashing, would you stay on the plane?"
Sarah Palin's presence on a national ticket and the possibility that she will someday sit in the Oval Office are signs of a nation in deep trouble. First, they are a sign that the Republican Party has become nothing more than a vehicle for extreme positions, bigotry, militarism and behind-the-scenes corporate control of American life. On a deeper national and cultural level, the fact that Palin has support from a substantial portion of the electorate and that her presence on the ticket continues to be treated with respect by the mass media is a symptom of something far worse. In his new book, The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich quotes Rheinhold Niebuhr:
"One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously … and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun."
Sarah Palin matters. And so do the people who support her. They have to be stopped.
Editor's note: Frank Schneiger is a regular business columnist for the Source.

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A couple of weeks from now, it is likely that Sarah Palin will be on one of two paths, the path to her former obscurity, or the path to becoming seminal figure in American history. We will -- we hope -- know a lot more on Nov. 5, but until then it is worth pondering the question: What does the Palin phenomenon mean?
Someone once asked the film director Otto Preminger, "What is Marilyn Monroe really like?" To which he replied, "What makes you think she's like anything?" Especially among Democrats, there is a tendency to look at Palin in those terms. That would be a mistake. She did not get to this point by accident. She is like something.
Let's start with two indisputable facts: First, that the presidential nominee of one of the two major political parties picked Palin for the nomination for vice president, despite the fact that she was virtually unknown outside conservative Republican religious circles. And, second, that, whatever her mistakes and obvious deficiencies, Palin has a solid base of support among important groups of Americans.
As the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 1960, Richard Nixon chose Henry Cabot Lodge, a pillar of the Eastern Republican Establishment. It was the end of an era. Starting with the Goldwater revolution in 1964, the Republican candidates for vice president have been William Miller, an obscure upstate New York Congressman and a sleazeball; Spiro Agnew, an attack dog and crook driven from office in disgrace; George Herbert Walker Bush, a responsible choice; Dan Quayle, an obscure lightweight senator; Jack Kemp, another lightweight and free-market zealot; and Dick Cheney, a power-mad fanatic and unindicted war criminal.
So Palin is not that far outside the norm. But she does reflect the ongoing purification of the Republican Party as it has become a collection of fringe groups built around opposition to abortion, love of guns, hostility to "taxes," glorification of the military and hatred of immigrants and minorities. It has become the White People's Party, with corporations and the wealthy happy to remain behind the scenes rather than being seen with and embarrassed by this collection of lower-class types. When one looked at the delegates to the Republican convention, it was easy to see why they would fall in love with Sarah Palin. She could present herself as one of them to the women. The men could have sexual fantasies about her. And, in both cases, she shared their "values."
It is a dangerous situation for the country when it must choose between two parties, one of which is now totally dominated by extremist groups and the power of extraordinary wealth. That John McCain is considered suspect because he isn't far enough to the right is just one sign of this danger. That they plucked Sarah Palin, a hyper-ambitious non-entity, from obscurity and made her vice president nominee on a ticket with a 72-year-old with a history of serious illness and comprehension issues should be seen as a flashing red light.
Which brings us to next issue: her base of support among Americans. While Palin's levels of support have declined from her coming out days and will almost certainly continue to decline, she will probably end up with the support of something like 35 percent of American adults.
What does this mean? Thirty years ago, the sociologist Christopher Lasch wrote The Culture of Narcissism. In it he stated, "Every age develops its peculiar forms of pathology, which express in exaggerated form its underlying character structure." He went on to describe "the logic of individualism to the extreme ... and the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of narcissistic preoccupation with the self."
In fundamental ways, Sarah Palin is the flag bearer for that part of the American population that represents a particular mutation of what Lasch was talking about. (None of this is limited to the right. As Christine Rosen has observed in The Overpraised American (2005), the left has plenty of baggage in the areas of therapeutic approaches to everything and the "good job" school of child rearing.)
Palin's persona, views and her "style" reflect the culture and norms of that big chunk of American society that would be willing to have her "one heartbeat away" from the most powerful position in the world. In this sense, it is not enough to say that there is something wrong with Palin or McCain or the Republican Party. There is also something seriously wrong within our culture. Here are a few examples of the ways in which Palin reflects the dangerous narcissistic trends and tendencies in American society and culture.
Loss of empathy: There was one of those infrequent revealing moments in the Biden-Palin debate when Senator Biden choked up in describing his family tragedy. What was revealing was that the hockey mom with the small-town values didn't connect to it at all, and immediately launched into a description of herself and McCain as "mavericks." The Republican Party is a party without empathy. It shows concern only for people that look like they do: white, well off, "Christian" and living in small towns. Everyone outside this circle is either irrelevant or increasingly an enemy and an object of derision, if not hatred. These "others" include poor people, minorities, immigrants (legal and illegal), "liberals," people living in cities, foreigners and especially, "Muslims."
This total inability to put yourself in the other person's shoes drives extreme and destructive views such as not talking to people who oppose you and -- most tellingly -- being willing to torture and deny human rights to the others. Palin actually criticized Obama for wanting to grant any rights to those captured by American troops or the CIA, all of whom are, in Republican parlance, "terrorists." They are willing to torture because it is always going to be someone else who is being tortured, and they don't care about these someone elses. The bell will never toll for them. There is nothing "indivisible" or "inalienable" about their view of human rights. If they don't look and think like us, screw 'em.
Indifference to the future: The narcissist is indifferent to what will come after they are gone. Therefore, no sacrifice in the present can ever be justified for a better future. And when the future catches up with you, just lie about the past. This becomes progressively easier in a culture in which memory is pretty much limited to events in which we -- that is, our group -- have been victimized. Thus, Sept. 11 becomes one of the most important turning points in history -- actually, along with the birth of Christ, one of the only two important turning points in history. When you are indifferent to the future, you do a lot of things differently. You want more of everything now. You don't invest in things like infrastructure or education. You don't save or sacrifice. The Republican Party and its "base" have gone even further. They have linked narcissistic indifference to the future to narcissistic Christianity to produce a particularly toxic brew.
Narcissism as religion: The political/religious base that Palin both reflects and represents would be unrecognizable as "Christian" to Jesus or even to the earlier "millenials" in American history. It is not about service to God, or about peace, love, justice or inclusion. It is all about "me" and my personal relationships to God. It is the Jesus of the professional athlete who just won the big game, "All praise to Jesus." It is the Jesus who will show me the path to wealth, despite the message of the Gospels about accumulating worldly riches. It is the Jesus who justifies all of my prejudices. Don't like gays, let's see, here's a passage that will work. And God's other creatures and the natural world? Just subdue them or kill them to meet our (American) desires. Jesus says it's okay. Within the lifetime of many older Americans, these forms of therapeutic feel-good religion would have been labeled blasphemy.
"Special-Needs Children": Now that Governor Palin has a Down Syndrome child, she has become a champion of "special-needs children." Had the child been born sooner, Governor Palin would probably not have slashed Alaska's budget for the Special Olympics. This pattern has been repeated over and over again. Nancy Reagan suddenly developed a concern for Alzheimer's Disease when her husband was stricken with it. Since the world of Sarah Palin and "The American People" of the Republican Party do not contain poor people, minorities, immigrants or people who are different, these groups are outside the circle of concern. It's only for people like us -- or, more specifically, people like me. It is this kind of thought process and these narcissistic "values" that can produce a correlation between identification as a Christian and support for torturing other human beings.
Facts and opinions: In describing Princess Diana, a columnist once said that "She made up in low cunning for what she lacked in intellectual candle-power." The same could be said for Sarah Palin, and this is one reason why it is a mistake to underestimate her or the danger that she represents to the country. By any reasonable standard, Palin is a fool. She knows nothing and has no substance. In this regard, she is quite similar to George W. Bush. But to a significant portion of the voting population, possibly one third, none of this matters. This is because facts don't matter. All one needs is a "moral compass," one that is defined by some half-assed reading of selected passages from the Bible. Thus, proving that Palin is wrong or incoherent is irrelevant. As someone wrote to the liberal blogger David Sirota, "You had a bunch of research to prove your side because you have no moral compass to guide your answers; you don't need back up when you're acting morally." Anyone who has had a political discussion with a right-wing Republican will recognize this statement. If one wants to see the fruits of this kind of stupidity and willful ignorance when it is given access to the levers of power, examine the wreckage being left behind by the Bush Administration. Facts? We don't need no stinkin' facts.
Arrogance and hubris: In her increasingly obvious self-absorption, it becomes clearer that Sarah Palin does not want to be vice president. Every comment she makes on the subject indicates that her goal is to be president of the United States. She has no doubts about her ability to function as president. She also has no doubt that the United States is unique in the world, created by God to lead mankind into the sunshine of freedom. We have seen a version of this movie before in the rise of George W. Bush, but Bush was able to use his father's network to push him into power. Not having this platform, Palin will rely on the "base" of the Republican Party, the increasingly purified party of arrogant, ignorant, selfish, bigoted white religious phonies. America' isolation will become complete. Like the Bush Administration, Palin will remain blind to Herodotus' warning that "All arrogance will reap a harvest rich in tears."
Earlier this month, polls showed the chances of John McCain and Sarah Palin winning the election in a month were slightly less than 50-50. If they do win, the chances of Palin becoming president are probably also around 50-50, given McCain's health history and the efforts of his campaign to keep his health records from becoming public. As the evangelist Billy Graham once said about agnosticism, "If the pilot on your airplane announced that your flight had an 80-percent chance of reaching its destination without crashing, would you stay on the plane?"
Sarah Palin's presence on a national ticket and the possibility that she will someday sit in the Oval Office are signs of a nation in deep trouble. First, they are a sign that the Republican Party has become nothing more than a vehicle for extreme positions, bigotry, militarism and behind-the-scenes corporate control of American life. On a deeper national and cultural level, the fact that Palin has support from a substantial portion of the electorate and that her presence on the ticket continues to be treated with respect by the mass media is a symptom of something far worse. In his new book, The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich quotes Rheinhold Niebuhr:
"One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously ... and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun."
Sarah Palin matters. And so do the people who support her. They have to be stopped.
Editor's note: Frank Schneiger is a regular business columnist for the Source.