Why is the Left so full of hate towards Sarah Palin?

The anti Christ looking kind of normal

Sarah Palin eats babies. Sarah Palin slow-roasts poor people. Sarah Palin pretended that her daughter’s child was hers.

OK, only one of the above is common currency but the fact that it is no weirder than the two which aren’t true but are still believed by many on the left shows just what a pitch of hysteria Sarah Palin incites in her opponents: Palin Derangement Syndrome (PDS) as Charles Krauthammer might have diagnosed it.

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Misunderestimating the Tea Party

More than a storm in a tea cup

Just after the Presidential election of 1972 Pauline Kael, a critic for the New Yorker, is reputed to have said “I can’t believe that Richard Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him”. Given that Nixon had just won by a 23% margin and 18 million clear votes, the widest margin in the history of presidential elections, you have to wonder who Kael had been talking to.

The success of the Tea Party movement in a little over two years has been just as spectacular as Nixon’s. They have energised a Republican party which was moribund in 2008 and helped them take control of the House, bring the Senate near balance, and sweep up governors mansions and seats in state legislatures across the country. Incredibly, the Republicans now have a good shot at winning back the White House in 2012.

And this success has been just as baffling for some as Tricky Dicky’s. Take Max Blumenthal, author of 2009’s ‘Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party’, for example. On openDemocracy in September last year he set out “to unravel the mix of driven personalities, feverish rhetoric, toxic hatreds, and flirtation with violence that fuel [the Tea Party] sub-culture’s insurgent activism”. Not surprisingly, having set out to find extremist nuts, he found them.

Blumenthal attended what he called one of the Tea Party’s “days of rage” in 2009. “While covering the rally”, he wrote,

“I witnessed sign after sign declaring Obama a greater danger to America’s security than al-Qaida; demonstrators held images that juxtaposed Obama’s face with images of evildoers from Hitler to Pol Pot to Bin Laden; others carried signs questioning Obama’s status as a United States citizen. ‘We can fight al-Qaida, we can’t kill Obama’, said an aging demonstrator. Another told me, ‘Obama is the biggest Nazi in the world’, pointing to placards he had fashioned depicting Obama and House of Representatives’ majority leader Nancy Pelosi in SS outfits. According to another activist, Obama’s agenda was similar to Hitler’s: ‘Hitler took over the banking industry, did he not? And Hitler had his own personal secret service police. [The community-organising group] Acorn is an extension of that’”

The phrase “far right” appeared nine times in Blumenthal’s piece.

Blumenthal also found plenty of racism at the event claiming “The racial subtext was always transparent”. Indeed, to opponents it is an article of faith that the Tea Party is racist, 61% believing it motivates the movement according to the Washington Post.

The message of Blumenthal and others is clear; the Tea Party are a fringe bunch of psychotic, racist loons who want to turn America into a fascist state. The trouble for Blumenthal and other opponents is that this view isn’t actually true.

Let’s begin with race. The Tea Party lacks a central organisation, it is more an amorphous constellation of groups and individuals, some overlapping and some contradictory, and it is obvious that any collection of people that size will contain some weirdo’s. The Tea Party is no exception.

However, one poll found that views on race “are not significant predictors of support for the Tea Party movement”. Contrary to Blumenthal’s Nuremburg Rally like experiences the Washington Post analysed Tea Party placards in October 2010 and found that “the vast majority of activists expressed narrow concerns about the government’s economic and spending policies and steered clear of the racially charged anti-Obama messages that have helped define some media coverage of such events”. 50% of placards at the rally showed a “limited government ethos” while just 5% reflected anger with President Obama directly and a tiny 1% questioned his citizenship. Emily Elkins, the UCLA graduate student who conducted the research, commented that “media coverage of tea party rallies over the past year have focused so heavily on the more controversial signs that it has contributed to the perception that such content dominates the tea party movement more than it actually does”.

So what does drive the Tea Party? The BBC’s US correspondent, Mark Mardell, has “spoken to many supporters of the Tea Party and been to lots of rallies” and found, agreeing with Elkins far more than Blumenthal, that “talk to people for more than a few minutes and fury tends to dissolve into concern, worry about the economic direction of the country, worry about the size of the government and the level of taxation”. The ABC poll quoted earlier found

“Tea Party supporters broadly agree on motivations for backing the movement – economic concern (cited by 83 percent), distrust of government (79 percent) and opposition to President Obama and the Democrats (72 percent). Many fewer supporters, but still 39 percent, cite dissatisfaction with the Republican Party as a reason for favoring the Tea Party.

At the same time, the movement’s supporters broadly reject the suggestion of racial prejudice against Obama. Eighty-seven percent of Tea Party backers say this is not a reason people support it. (One in 10 say it is)”

And far from being the extremist psychotics of Blumenthal’s fevered imagination the Tea Party are in tune with most Americans here. A recent Gallup poll found that 71% of Americans worry about the economy “a great deal”. A CNBC poll found just 14% of Americans believed that the economic policies of the Democratic Congress and Obama administration had helped them. Rasmussen found that 52% of Americans said their own views were closer to those of Tea Party heroine Sarah Palin than President Obama and that 61% supported repeal of Obamacare. And on the size of government a CNN poll showed that 56% of Americans thought that the government is “so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens”.

Despite what people like Mr Blumenthal might like to believe the Tea Party articulate views much more commonly held than he thinks, views which are much more commonly held than his. This is why the Tea Party has been so successful. And as long as people like Mr Blumenthal continue to mischaracterise it the Tea Party will continue to be successful.

Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine went on CNN in September to predict “I think it’s become very clear now…that the control of the Republican Party is in tea party candidates who do not speak for independent or moderate voters at all…We have a feeling that we’re going to do very, very well in closing that gap with independent voters between now and the second of November, because independents do not like what they see from this ascendant tea party and the Republican Party”. He said this two months before the Republicans best result since 1938.

It’s obvious why Kaine couldn’t see the train hurtling down the tracks towards him. He persisted with the same comfortable view many Tea Party opponents have, namely that people who hold views opposite to theirs must be a mere handful of extremists. Even though all the polling evidence was there Kaine, like, Pauline Kael back in 1972, wasn’t speaking to the right people. This led him to make his stupid prediction about “closing that gap with independent voters”. In fact independent voters chose Republican candidates over Democrats by a margin of 56% to 38% in November’s mid terms.

That is because, as we’ve seen, independent and moderate voters do share the Tea Party’s concern about the spiralling national debt, stagnant employment and collapsing currency. Furthermore, it’s a concern that is shared by rating agencies, the Chinese Central Bank and now President Obama himself.

“Its the economy stupid” is one of the most famous aphorisms in politics. But until they ditch the slurs and engage with these issues the Tea Party’s opponents, to their detriment, will continue to “misunderestimate” them.

This article originally appeared at openDemocracy

A tragedy is not an opportunity to score political points

The woman who blamed Sarah Palin for inciting violence

On January 8th a 9 year old girl who had just been elected to the student council at her local elementary school was taken to see Representative Gabrielle Giffords at a mall in Tucson Arizona as a treat. Shortly after 10 am Christina Taylor Green was shot dead along with five other people. Representative Giffords, shot in the head at point blank range, remains in a coma.

A 22 year old man named Jared Lee Loughner has been charged with the shooting. Like Arthur Bremer, who shot Alabama governor George Wallace in 1972, Loughner may simply have wanted “to do SOMETHING BOLD AND DRAMATIC, FORCEFUL & DYNAMIC, A STATEMENT of my manhood for the world to see”. On his YouTube account Loughner lists his favourite books as ‘The Communist Manifesto’, ‘Mein Kampf’, ‘We the Living’ by the libertarian Ayn Rand and Plato’s ‘Republic’. On the morning of the shooting he posted on MySpace “Goodbye friends. Please don’t be mad at me. The literacy rate is below 5%. I haven’t talked to one person who is literate. I want to make it out alive. The longest war in the history of the United States. Goodbye. I’m saddened with the current currency and job employment. I had a bully at school. Thank you. P.S. –plead the fifth!”

Quite simply we do not know what prompted a deranged lunatic to carry out these awful acts.But where most saw tragedy some saw opportunity. The horrible death of Christina Taylor Green quickly became simply the latest stick with which beat Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

It started with the reaction of Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnick, a Democrat, who said in the immediate aftermath of the shooting “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry”

This is quite a jump. Already the motives of the gunman are seen as political despite the fact that Dupnick had not yet spoken to him. Dupnick can be forgiven for his this lapse. A local Sherriff thrust into the media spotlight and also dealing with the death of his friend, John Roll, a local judge.

But from there a gaggle of left wingers were ready to hijack the tragedy.

On MSNBC Keith Olbermann blamed, not the gunman who shot Christina Taylor Green, but a list of well known conservatives such as TV hosts Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, former Senate candidate Sharron Angle, former Congressional candidate Jesse Kelly, Congressman Allen West, the Tea Party as a whole and bete noir of the left, Sarah Palin. Olbermann, a Democrat, made the nonsensical statement that

“If all of these are not responsible for what happened in Tucson, they must now be responsible for doing everything they can to make sure Tucson doesn’t happen again”

The argument seemed to be that the rhetoric of those on the right is ‘extreme’ and had pushed the Arizona gunman to act. That there was no evidence for this is one thing, but it is also grosly hypocritical. Olbermann, after all, routinely claims that the “Worst man in the world” is not Osama Bin Laden or Josef Fritzl, but Bill O’Reilly, a man who’s political opinions he happens to disagree with. When Republican Scott Brown was surprisingly elected to the Senate for Massachusetts, Olbermann called Brown “an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, Tea Bagging supporter of violence against women, and against politicians with whom he disagrees”

Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, revealed a hitherto unsuspected gift for clairvoyance when he wrote on his blog for the New York Times “We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was”.

The left quickly bumped Palin to the top of its suspect list for those ‘really’ guilty of the shootings. Jane Fonda who, during the Vietnam War, posed for photographs at the controls of a North Vietnamese anti aircraft gun which was used to shoot down American pilots, accused Sarah Palin of “Inciting to violence” (she also threw in Glenn Beck and the Tea Party).

The reason for blaming Palin seemed to boil down to a map on her website which highlighted Congressional districts she wanted the Republicans to win in October. She marked them with cross hairs which, in the minds of some, equated to an incitement to violence.

These people have probably never been involved in a political campaign before. You have ‘target seats’ and the people stuffing envelopes through doors are routinely called ‘foot soldiers’. Indeed, the very word ‘campaign’ was also used to describe the German invasion of Soviet Russia. If Sarah Palin is guilty then everyone is. Even President Obama who said, back in June 2008, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun. Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans”

Obama is no more or less guilty than Palin. The truth is that the guilt lies with the psychotic who murdered six people.

The deaths of these six people at the hands of a maniac are heartbreaking. As human beings our first reaction should be to empathise with those who are wounded or bereaved. That the reactions of some on the left has simply been to try and pin a political rosette to the coffin of Christina Taylor Green ought to make them ashamed of themselves.

Palin’s Popularity

Sarah Palin is the most divisive figure in American politics. 46% of Americans view her favourably while 46% view her unfavourably. 80% of Republicans have a positive view of her while 70% of Democrats have a negative one. Only 8% don’t care either way.

It is difficult to see where these feelings come from. An October 2007 Newsweek profile of Palin and Janet Napolitano, the Democrat governor of Arizona, said “(G)overnors like Napolitano, 49, and Palin, 43, are making their mark with a pragmatic, postpartisan approach to solving problems, a style that works especially well with the large numbers of independent voters in their respective states”. It continued “In Alaska Palin is challenging the dominant, sometimes corrupting, role of oil companies in the state’s political culture…Although she has been in office less than a year, Palin, too, earns high marks from lawmakers on the other side of the aisle”.

Palin’s popularity stems from the fact that she is like a lot of Americans. Like 76% Americans Palin is a Christian. Like 43% Palin supports the right to bear arms. Like 12.5 million Americans Palin goes hunting. Like 51% Palin opposes same sex marriage. Like 82.5 million American women Palin is a mother. Like 40% of children born in US, Palin’s grandson was born to an unmarried mother.

Palin resonates in other ways. In a recent speech to the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party movement she claimed “America is ready for another revolution”. This might sound odd considering Americans voted for ‘change’ in 2008 but they have seen very little of it.

Americans seeking change are now looking elsewhere. In November the Democrat governors of Virginia and New Jersey were ousted by Republicans. January saw a Republican elected to the Senate by solidly Democratic Massachusetts. Obama’s approval rating has slumped from 68% to 49%. A recent poll put Obama on 44% against a hypothetical Republican candidate on 42% in 2012. At 11%, just three percent behind the Republican favourite for the 2012 nomination, Mitt Romney, the Pitbull may yet have a run at the White House.

(Printed in London Student, vol 30 issue 10, 01/03/10)

Must feminism be left wing?

Sisters are doing it for themselves

When Sarah Palin received the nomination as vice presidential candidate in August she became the first woman in 26 years and only the second woman ever to run for the office. Surely this was a triumph for women’s equality? To listen to the reactions of some feminists you’d never have guessed.

The Australian author Kathy Lette said “There’s something wrong with her … She’s a post-feminist – she’s kept her Wonderbra and burnt her brain”. The scholar Wendy Doniger, author of the much ignored ‘Tales of Sex and Violence: Folklore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa’, said “Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman”

But they were surpassed in a rant posted on YouTube where American ‘comedienne’ Sandra Bernhard said Palin was a “turncoat bitch [and] Uncle Woman …who jumps out of the shed and points her fingers at other women…You whore in your cheap fucking…cheap-ass plastic glasses and your hair all up” before warning that if the Governor of Alaska visited Manhattan she would be “gang-raped by my big black brothers”. In fairness to Bernhard, she justified the racist ‘gang rape’ comment by saying “it is part of a much larger, nuanced, and yes, provocative (that’s what I do) piece from my show about racism, freedom, women’s rights…”

Palin hails from the political right so left wing opposition should be no surprise. What is shocking, as the above examples show, is the hateful, bilious abuse that takes the place of a reasoned discourse or critique. Some on the left who often champion gender issues can come out with abuse that is, quite simply, sexist. Where does this dissonance come from?

The answer lies in the nature of identity politics. Ever since Karl Marx wrote of the “contending classes” the left has seen society as competing groups; Bourgeois and Proletarians, workers and bosses, labourer and capitalist etc, rather than as the self interested individuals of classical liberal philosophy.

But in the second half of the 20th century socialism tended to give to way to postmodernism which JF Lyotard defined as “incredulity towards metanarratives” which have been defined as “attempts to make sense of the world as an interconnected whole or totality”. Thus, postmodernism meant the rejection by the left of Marx’s grand, over arching conception of history.

As a result, by the late 1960s, the left’s belief in society as an arena of struggle between socio economic classes had been splintered into a myriad of smaller interest groups based on race, gender, sexuality, disability or a variety of other potential identities. Instead of being the vehicle for the interests of the working class, the left and its affiliated parties, in varying degrees, became vehicles of these special interest groups and identity politics was born. And where previously the left had subordinated the interest of the individual to the interest of class, it now subordinated them to the special interest group.

This is what Jonah Goldberg has called “the iron cage of immutable identity”. Members of these special interest groups, who deviate from the proscribed ‘Weltanschauung’ of their designated interest group, like Palin, are seen as having betrayed it. Referring to a female Republican senator the feminist writer Gloria Steinem wrote “Having someone who looks like us, but thinks like them is worse than having no one.”

Dividing society into competing groups playing a zero sum game generates these intense emotions. It makes politics, ‘the art of compromise’, almost impossible as demonstrated by America’s bitter culture wars. The solution is to see the unique qualities of each individual. Just because someone may share a race, gender or disability with someone doesn’t mean they can be lumped together in a monolithic group with a self appointed leader. Steinem and fellow feminist writer Betty Friedan, among many others, have identified feminism with a kind of socialist economics. Figures like Palin and Margaret Thatcher do not fit this paradigm and invite the charge of heresy.

When we can end the crude, debasing tyranny of identity politics and look beyond characteristics and see character we may be closer to realising the advice of Barry Goldwater; “To disagree, one doesn’t have to be disagreeable”.

Sarah Palin

John McCain’s main charge against Barack Obama has been inexperience. So it was a shock when, in August, he named Sarah Palin as his running mate. The governor of the sparse state of Alaska for less than two years and mayor of Wasilla (population 5,469) for six, she seemed a risky choice as deputy to a man in his 70s who has suffered recurrent bouts of cancer.

McCain chose Palin for three reasons. The first was to get someone youthful and good looking on the ticket to balance Obama. The second was to reach out to blue collar voters who might have tended towards Hillary Clinton in the primaries and hesitated over voting for the exotic Obama. As a moose hunter and “hockey mom”, Palin certainly ticks these blue collar boxes. The third, and most important, was to cement his support on the Christian right.

McCain has always had a tense relationship with the religious vote. As a western, as opposed to a southern, Republican, McCain is heir to the small government libertarian tradition of the last Arizona Republican to run for president, Barry Goldwater. Back in 2000 McCain branded evangelical leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell “agents of intolerance”.

With her strong pro life views and belief that creationism should be “discussed” in schools, Palin does much to energise the ‘values voters’ who have been the bedrock of Republican support since Richard Nixon’s time.

The concern, apart from her lack of foreign policy experience given questions over McCain’s health, is that this is not a values election but an economic one. No matter how strongly American voters may feel about abortion, gun rights or religion in schools, with the economy heading into recession they are likely to go for the candidate who best addresses their concerns over jobs and mortgages.

Written for London Student, October 2008