Monday, November 22, 2010

Imaginary Friends and Political Monsters

I haven't owned a television since 1989, and encounter it only rarely, such as at a bar or a friend's house. I read about media, entertainment and television on the Internet and in print far more than I watch it. I estimate I watch 8-10 hours of TV a year (broadcasting, not using a TV to view movies or DVDs) and am put off by most of what I see.

Which leads me to the reports of various head-explosions over Dancing with the Stars, where viewer voting is keeping Bristol Palin in the competition. Being without a TV and completely unwilling to even try to locate clips online of any contestant, I can say that I am unbiased about the relative dancing skills of anyone appearing on the show - don't know, don't care

What I do care about is that the show is adding to the media relevancy of the Palin name. McCain's choice should have been a sad selection of VP, on par with Gore's ill-advised selection of Joe Lieberman*, notable only for its bald-faced pandering to a certain obnoxious group internal to the party. But a funny thing happened on the way to the defeat, namely that the Left's reaction to Palin cemented her as a hero on the Right, while their beatification of Obama has led to increasing levels of political demonization of people with reasonable criticisms of his ineffectual center-right politics.

As I asked two years ago, "why did Obama end up running for the presidency not against John McCain but against Sarah Palin?" As the bloom is off the Obama rose, perhaps we can really look at what happened in 2008, when a segment of the left fell in love with an imaginary friend.

The self-proclaimed Progressives in the left media and intelligentsia, wanted a savior, a leader pure and clean and true who would magically get them to their happy place through the sheer force of awesome. Despite the fact that Obama consistently and persistently always made clear that he was a weak centrist at best and a full throated right-wing Progressive by temperament, they projected onto this candidate their idealized fantasy of what they imagined would make the world safe for Whole Foods Nation. He was the black guy who would be proof positive that there was something good about us, the people who voted him in, and that we weren't part of the awful underclass who are southern and dirty and icky to be around. They really, truly, profoundly believed in their deepest heart of hearts that if they nominated The Precious, they could forever drive those undeserving people out of the party, out of politics and back into the shadows, allowing Whole Foods Nation to take its rightful place at the head of the social order.

To do this, they demonized Hillary Clinton, understanding with complete clarity that she was the only thing standing between them and making Obama president. Unfortunately, they had nothing substantive to promote for their own candidate, and had only irrational tribalism to fall back on. They assaulted her personally, called her racist, a monster, and accused her of wanting to murder their beloved object. Above all, they unleashed their deep, passionate misogyny. And, when the dust cleared, they had their pathetic, compromised nomination, overshadowed by the intelligence, partisan loyalty and political acumen of Big Dog and Hillary. But, by God and little fishes, they had the nomination in hand and now nothing could keep them from the White House!

And then McCain chose Palin and all bets were off.

As I said at the time:
Choices like Palin are risky. This may yet all backfire on McCain. What I see, however, is an accidentally savvy ticket selection that is generating buzz and will redound to the Republican's advantage in the fall. It may not win the White House for them, but it revivifies an otherwise tired and disaffected Republican base.

The deliberate actions of the DNC and their selected candidate to antagonize and alienate the Democratic base only compounds the problem.
There are a lot of elements in 2008 that went into the creation of Sarah Palin as a political force, but the chief among them was the insistence of the Obamacan left to focus on her and make her the object of their fury. Her hair, her voice, her knowledge (or lack thereof), her family, her sexiness, her femaleness, her... monstrosity.

You know, kind of like that awful Hillary "monster" they were up against in the primaries?

Again, as I said at the time (All True, but Irrelevant - August 30, 2008):
The real elephant (ahem) in the middle of the room is the unacknowledged fact that the DNC and their selected candidate abused the intelligence and trust of the party base and subjected the base's preferred candidate to outrageous abuse month after month in the primaries. The blogosphere's hysterical overreaction to the Palin selection reveals the fear that their hate-filled, explicitly misogynist tactics will backfire on them and that a significant enough percentage of this disaffected base will do more than sit out the election in November, but will actively cast a protest vote.

Clinton Democrats know exactly how revolting the Republican ticket is. That's why we voted for Hillary. That's why we rejected the Obama message of bipartisanship and content-free hopey-changey. Obamacans were the ones happy to play patty-cake with these bastards and throw our economic and legal concerns into the toilet. Hillary is still out there fighting for UHC, btw, while Obama's good buddy John Kerry declares that a Democratic Congress isn't even going to try to get it in front of a Democratic president.
And with the mid-terms, we see how this continues to play out. Somerby, week after week, has documented the atrocities on the left, the persistent, stupid tribalism that reduces political opposition to racists and refuses to accept that ridicule and demonization have a way of coming back to bite you in the ass.

The fatal mistake, though probably unavoidable, was clinging to their imaginary liberal champion to justify voting for someone disdainful of working class interests and the cultural markers that are assumed to accompany that class. It’s not that they disagreed with the biases and prejudices Obama voiced; to the contrary, he consistently articulated the Stevensonian’s vision of the Democratic Party finally able to lop off the diseased members, the Bunkers and Bubbas, and have a purified community of the well-educated, the urbane, and the properly thankful minorities and women who somehow are always seen in their particularity and never in their universal condition as people who work for a living.

The monster that Obama named in his far-too-revealing remarks was not so much white as working class. The Tribe keeps eroding the distinction between being a racist, being white and being working class, diligently constructing the monster that they want to fight instead of dealing with the utterly pedestrian calamities befalling what used to be the Democratic base – falling real wages, reduced employment, transfer of their wealth upwards, and devaluation of their education and skills. As I said:
The Stevensonian elite predicated its run this year on deliberate abandonment of the poor and working class, who they see as cultural traitors, and playing to the winners of great economic transformation since the 60s. As this is both the media's class and the fantasy it holds of itself, they loved the story - we are the ones we've been waiting for. Unlike the Clintons (“He came in here and he trashed the place, and it’s not his place.”), Obama is seen as a proper member of The Village, unconnected to the (white) trash that both parties have sullied themselves appealing to.
Obama was the perfect temptation for the Tribe.

The right has benefited from the combination of half-hearted measures to do something about the downward drift of the economy (even as they celebrate the bend-over-backwards generosity shown to Wall Street) and the tone-deaf scorn from the talking heads. In particular, the continued demonization of Palin is the gift that keeps on giving. The left blogosphere shrieks in outrage every time Palin gets a slot on TV or is quoted somewhere, yet can't stop making her a feature in their own discourse, such as making her into a monster female destroying the suburbs.

The responses to Obama and Palin are flip-sides of the same political impulse - to replace interests, transactions and compromises with ideals, assertions and absolutes. In both cases, the arguments are about cultural markers more than about actual political positions. The mere fact that Palin exists at all is enough to drive certain members of the left blogosphere into paroxysms of rage, to the point where they will be foaming at the mouth over the minor D-List celebrity status of Sarah Palin's daughter due to a variety show. So what if Bristol wins a dance contest? It's an entertainment program! She wouldn't even have been invited if there wasn't such continued controversy around her mother, and that is fed by the same band having kittens over Bristol.

Let's distinguish carefully here between the desires of the Obamacan left - a weird mix of independents, disaffected Republicans, nominal Democrats, Clinton haters and Obama adulators who are mostly bound together by their identification with a certain kind of urbane lifestyle and imagined intellectual superiority – and the candidate himself. Obama himself, as I will continue to discuss, is also a part of this social class, but whose political beliefs run to the right, though he's happy to let others think he's liberal if it gets him votes. The Tribe projected onto him their fantasies of salvation just as they projected onto HRC and then Palin their fantasies of revenge. It is their obsession with their own political demonology that adds more power to Plain’s rise.

Every tribal reaction to the presence of Sarah Palin and her family in the news strengthens Palin within her own party and in the political realm more generally. In responding to Palin in a personal way, instead of shutting her down early on by focusing solely on her political failings, the Obamacan left has contributed to the creation of a powerful, effective representative for the worst, most revanchist elements on the Right. The personal attacks are exaggerated versions of the same disdain and rejection that the increasingly disaffected Democratic base was subjected to in the 2008 primaries, and which is launched day after day against those who are assumed to support Palin. The arguments used to attack her feel pretty damn personal to the people she is wooing.

The Tribe may have picked the wrong person to demonize. Palin is someone who is unafraid of a political fight and who knows how to capitalize on the mistakes of others. She mostly avoids the main stream media that reviles her and relies on the social media, namely Facebook and Twitter, to get her message out to her tribe. She has not disbanded the online communities that supported her in 2008, probably because their objectives overlap with her own and she feels no need to disavow them in order to appear “serious”. This is someone who can get an interview with Barbara Walters and get votes by proxy on a mass media entertainment show, all the while keeping up a Twitter persona (it is truly irrelevant if those tweets are from Palin or from “Palin”) that delights her base. The difference between the Palin’s political objectives and the desires of her base are not as far as the chasm between Obama's performance and his giddy supporters of 2008.

The ultimate response to Palin and thus to Beck, Gingrich, Boehner, Rove, and the rest of the Right, should have been "It's the economy, stupid," but the Tribe elected their imaginary friend "Obama", not a Democrat.

Sadly for them, their imaginary friend has turned into something of a monster, someone who has governed exactly by the beliefs he espoused from the start of his candidacy.


*For shits and giggles, without looking it up, who was Michael Dukakis' VP choice? And how long did it take you to remember that?


portia.vz said...

Lloyd Bensen of "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" fame was Dukakis' VP running mate.
He was also Bill Clinton's Secretary of Treasury in the first two years of Clinton's first term:

"Bentsen resigned from the Senate in January 1993 to serve as the 69th Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton from 1993 to 1994. Clinton's selection of Bentsen for his Cabinet was criticized by some Democrats, when a Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison, won the special election in June 1993, for the year and a half left in Bentsen's term. As Secretary of the Treasury, Bentsen helped to shepherd Clinton's first budget through Congress.
After resignation of Les Aspin in early 1994, Bentsen was seriously considered to be moved from position of Secretary of the Treasury to Secretary of Defense.[6] These plans, however, did not materialize and William Perry, then Defense Deputy Secretary, was chosen to replace Aspin instead.
In early December 1994, Bentsen announced his resignation from his position as Secretary of the Treasury. Before election day he had discussed with President Clinton that he was not prepared to stay in office until 1996. He was succeeded in the position by Robert Rubin.[7]"

I think the fact that some of us have forgotten who Dukakis' running mate was is less important than we have forgotten that running mate was around when Clinton raised taxes on the rich.

Unknown said...

I know the answer to your trivia question without having to think about it...but then again, I'm from Texas. Lloyd Bentsen was Dukakis' running mate.

I also turned 18 just before the 1988 election and may have been the only person in the entire country (including the candidates) who was actually excited about the election that year.

Voter Mom said...

Very insightful post. I know I will quote it when I post about SP's Alaska show later.

The Fabulous Kitty Glendower said...

I thought of the same thing, ---the head exploding analogy. I was trying to connect it to that David Chappelle skit about the black-white-supremacist but could not muster up enough energy to lay out the irony and explain why it would be ironic while also avoiding how it is not an opposite example of what Chappelle did. Nevertheless, the head exploding part is on point. When/If Palin wins DWTS heads will explode. It is as if the Left cannot comprehend, or refuse to take charge of the monster they have created. Well, if not created, fueled. Although misguided and even juvenile, there is something admirable in how the people for Palin stick together. If not admirable, noteworthy. It reveals what the Left is lacking. Community binding.

Anonymous said...

Somerby is making the same point today, but I doubt the Smart Progressive Boys will get their brains around the simple logic of what you're saying. The right has been feeding on the resentment of elites for the last 50-60 years and counting. Laughing at Palin and ganging up on her kids (who cares?) just adds fuel to the fire. Show, don't tell. Engage her on the issues directly but without acrimony, show how threadbare her answers are, and let people draw their own conclusions about how empty it all is without browbeating them with ad hominem stuff about how awful and low-rent she is. But since cultural and status signifiers are all that really matter to the Boyz, rather than delivering tangible economic benefits to a large cross-section of the population, it's going to be Sarah Palin straw-man or straw-woman stuff for the next two years. Good luck with that!

Anna said...

Sure, the right loves to love the people the left hates but you are giving Palin too little credit for what she does well -- she has a phenomenal grasp for the emotional overtones of communication. I first saw her when she was discussing the difficulties that Hillary was facing dealing with the attacks while trying to avoid the stereotype of the whining woman. Palin was dead on. Palin plays brilliantly with the emotions of her followers but the content she feeds them is crazed. You have to wonder what would have happened if Palin had been forced to attend a really good school so that she learned to separate fact from fiction. The difference between the brilliant performances and the content is continually stunning. And since she appears unconstrained by facts -- death panels, anyone? --- terrifying.

Anglachel said...

Hi Anna,

No, I don't underestimate Plain as an opponent. The minute she was announced as VP, I said she was a game changer because I had actually read up on her prior to that time.

She has one of the most savvy online political operations around, making the Obama stuff look like child's play. She is a money machine for the Right. Her supporters love her because they can identify so closely with her.

The problem here is that the cultural elite (and not just on the Left) simultaneously dismisses her as low-brow trash and also allows itself to be played, overreacting to her performances, and giving her far too much fuel for her fires.

One of my consistent arguments over the years has been that the left is not going to win the culture wars because that *is* the political terrain of the right. Look for and read my post "Violated Symbols" on why Palin is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this.

I also warn you against statements like if only she'd gone to a good school, she'd know fact from fiction. Uh, no. I know too many morons from the Ivy League, and I have too many little-educated and very sharp relatives to buy that. She went to school the way many Americans do - catch as catch-can. When you want to draw a connection between right thinking and attending a really good school, you're engaging in exactly the kind of off-hand elitism that gives her and her side strength.


Anonymous said...

There is an old saying that applies to Sarah Palin:

"Dumb like a fox."

Bob Harrison said...

I wish everyone would stop pissing on Palin's education. Of the 20 or so Ivy League phds I've known and worked with, 17 were very good to excellent. Three were complete and utter morons. Both Skippy the Bush Pus and O'Precious were products of "good schools"-- so are we going to condemn schools to the "bad" category based on the performance of those two? Don't blame "bad schools" for a graduate's sloppy critical thinking skills-- blame an intellect devoid of academic curiosity. Blame a moral center calcified by religion.

You get out of school what you put in. The key part of education is always "me."

Anna said...

Hi Anglachel:

Point taken about the comment about a 'good' school triggering off elitism alarm bells. What I had in mind is that Palin come off as a person who has never had to seriously defend her own ideas. Autodidacts have this problem. People who are more talkative than those around them may have this problem -- people do not contest their ideas because not worth the trouble to keep up with what the faster talker is saying. She comes across as offended, wounded and helpless when she is challenged. Apparently by the time Katie Couric got around to asking her what she read Palin was too offended to answer. Couric says that they used the portion of the interview that was most favorable to Palin. Palin seems to lack the most elementary of self-defense skills when confronted. She is very skilled at making things sound good but she does not seem to be accustomed to having to tie things back to reality. At the point that she was chosen as McCain's VP nominee she had something like an 80% popularity rating in AK (IIRC) but as AK listened to her distortions on the campaign trail and saw more of how she governed this plummeted.
For most people, Palin's appeal fades when they realize how prone she is to distortion. And once you see the distortions it is hard to keep in mind how appealing her apparent positions are to those who have not cottoned on. Who could be for 'death panels?' And who could listen to politician who turned an option for patients to ask for help sorting their options when dying into such a thing. Who could be for "a bridge to nowhere." And who could support a politician who claimed to have opposed that bridge when they had in fact supported it. Her political strategy goes for short term popularity at the expense of long term trust. It may be a character defect or choice, or it could be simply never having been required to defend her own ideas and connect them to reality except when she was under personal attack. There is an impersonal quality to intellectual debate that helps most people become less defensive over time. Though of course, ass holes are found in every setting.

Some of the hostility towards 'elitism' is rejection of the idea that facts count. And to the extent that this is true, our country has lost something precious.