Posts Tagged ‘Frank Bailey’

It’s morning. It’s cold. It’s fall. And tonight I teach my first classes for the college term. As I reflect on my last post (the musical number), I find myself a bit embarrassed at what wicked pleasure I took in that song. Why did I find it so very funny?

It reminds me of my last year in college, when I had a similar reaction to a young man whose path regularly crossed mine. We were both readers for one of the College Writing teachers. We were both tutors in the Writing Center. We both contributed regularly to the creative writing outlets around campus. And every time I dealt with him I came away feeling like a porcupine that’s been petted the wrong way.

I wasn’t alone in this. One night after the writing center closed several of the tutors were sitting around (the young man was not one of our party) and we started talking about him. The question that perplexed us was why we all responded to him exactly the same way. We started sharing the awful things we had said to him. As the list grew I started writing them down. By the time we finished the list was very long indeed. We sat and looked at each other.

“Why do we do this?” someone asked. “We’re not mean people.”

“Yeah. It’s like I can’t help myself,” someone else said. “I see him and the awful stuff just slips out.”

“But it’s like he’s teflon–nothing seems to stick,” somebody else offered. “He’s just so convinced that he’s superior to everybody in the school that nothing dents him.”

And then we went on to talk about some of the awful–and foolish–things he had done. He was savage when marking freshman essays. Classes where we English majors critiqued each others’ papers with him became exercises in both humiliation and frustration. “Comments” might include questions like, “What is this crap?” from him. Comments made on his papers, no matter how thoughtful or well-intended, were dismissed as the maunderings of puerile minds. The worst of it was, he could not write. He spent so much time trying to be a great writer that he couldn’t be bother to be a clear or logical one.

A teacher heard us and offered an opinion. “He invites abuse,” she said. “When somebody sets himself up as superior, as above criticism or the necessity of kindness to others, people line up to prove that he’s not perfect.” She left. “Sometimes people do that because they’re really afraid they’re not as good as everybody else, but they can never, ever, admit it.”

We looked at each other. We looked at our list. “Wouldn’t it be awful if he actually turned out to be a great writer?” somebody finally asked. We looked at each other again. And then we stood up said our “good-nights,” and closed the Writing Center for the night. I took that awful list home with me so I could be sure he’d never find it.

I stuck it deep in a box. I thought about other people in my life who had provoked me to cruelty. I don’t know about the others who were there that night, but while I didn’t like this young man any better, and while he continued to behave in exactly the same fashion as he had, I never again succumbed to the need to take him down a few pegs. Also, he lost his job reading student papers, and we who took classes with him quickly learned to find other critique partners. We minimized the damage he might cause–and for me, at least, the need put him down faded to a weary tolerance. I learned to let his arrogance roll off me, rather than goad me to cruelty.

Why? I’m not certain. I know that the pleasure I took in the belittling, clever remarks fed a part of myself I didn’t much like. I also know that before that night in the Writing Center I was able to tell myself that it was just me, that he had other friends, that some people didn’t find him as grating as I did. After that night, I had to acknowledge that I was being a bully–and so were my friends. And we were good, normally kind, people.

Maybe that’s why, when I read Frank Bailey’s book, I saw something of myself in it. I, too, have felt the dirty pleasure of hurting someone who I have convinced myself deserves it. I, too, have looked in a mirror and not liked what I saw. There’s an old saying, that what we despise in others is what we despise in ourselves.

In a very real sense, Bailey’s book is about a culture of bullying–of an elected official who uses her position not to serve but to settle scores, to intimidate, and to feed a need for which no amount of adulation will ever be enough. It’s about a man who becomes part of that culture. It’s about how far people will go to not just get even, but to destroy the opposition.

It’s a book about my old college mate. It’s a book about me. How do I know? Because when I watched that musical video during the election, when Sarah Palin was riding high and spin was fast and furious, and I was terrified that someone who I saw as seriously wrong for elected office might actually achieve it, this video seemed like just what the doctor ordered. I watched it. I laughed. I showed it to my son. He laughed, too.

Time has passed. Sarah Palin has, if anything, become shriller than ever. But in her constant quest for what she sees as her due she has become largely irrelevant, except to the ever-shrinking Tea Party, and to her die-hard fans. She has chosen fame, reality TV, and fortune over the life of service she claimed she wanted. She has chosen a world in which spin and rigged polls are reality.

And I find myself looking at her another way. I still think she’s seriously unqualified. I still think we had a lucky escape. But when I watched the song last night that had amused me so very much two years ago I didn’t feel amused. I felt like a bully. I was participating in something that seemed uncomfortably like what I read about in Bailey’s book.

So here’s the question. Is Sarah Palin like my college mate? Does she invite abuse by demanding nothing short of adulation? Is her drive for worship compensation for a broken inner landscape? While she stood to possibly attain a position that would put the nation and possibly the world at risk there was, I believe, a need for correcting the spin, for balancing the orbit. But now that she has essentially removed herself from serious consideration for public office, perhaps it is time to say, “Go in peace,” smile indulgently at her tantrums, and keep a weather eye out for anything she might break. I think it is, for me. In the end, maybe the true question is not what Sarah Palin deserves, but who I choose to be. Karma is powerful. We all face it in the end. Sarah will face hers. But I don’t have to be the one to see that it happens–or even decide what her karmic reward will be. The world is full of people who “deserve” all kinds of things. And that doesn’t change for one second my own responsibility to choose who I will be.

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Well, I’ve finished the Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin, by Frank Bailey. The latter part of the book is perhaps less focused than the earlier parts–I found myself getting misplaced on the timeline, and stumbling across the occasional goober, but those things became largely irrelevant in the larger messages this book carries.

While opinions about the Palins’ morality or lack thereof will undoubtedly differ wildly for a long time to come, Bailey’s book provides a bizarre, troubling picture of a government that, in the end, seems to exist more to settle scores than to actually serve the public.

A Palin spokesperson characterized Mr. Bailey as “the quintessential disgruntled employee,” but to dismiss this book as nothing more than sour grapes is to miss the book’s true value. It’s actually a pretty good book to consider discussing with your children, for the very fact that it brings up so many important questions, and addresses so many issues that we all face.

1. Charisma. Bailey repeatedly refers to Sarah Palin’s charm and charisma, and to her ability to draw disaffected followers back into the fold after being treated shabbily. I found myself thinking of my own school days, and the power a charming person wields–and how very difficult it can be to act counter to their wishes. Bailey recounts participating in actions as part of the “Palin-bots” (his word) that he found repugnant upon consideration. He speaks of character assassination, rigging polls, and exacting terrible vengeance on those who had crossed Sarah Palin, or who he felt threatened her in some way. The very matter-of-factness with which he discusses such things is chilling–and when he ultimately takes a good look at where his blind allegiance has taken him he is as horrified as anyone. In a world increasingly ruled by extremists, the lesson Mr. Bailey has to teach about thinking for one’s self, and remaining true to one’s own ideals in the face of incredible pressure, are vital.

2. Setting priorities. Frank Bailey describes a workplace in which time which should have been used for governing the State of Alaska is largely squandered in settling personal scores, in “spinning” the news, and in a constant quest for media attention.

As someone who has worked in the marketing industry in various capacities, I have perhaps a greater appreciation for the value of positive publicity than many, but here’s the thing: you can have the greatest publicity in the world, but if you don’t back it up with a quality product it’s actually counter-productive. In this case, the ‘quality product’ in question was the financial, social, cultural, and environmental health of Alaska–and if Mr. Bailey’s picture is accurate there wasn’t a lot of time devoted to product development. Bailey makes the very good point that while in some instances time was spent in ethically questionable or outright harmful activities, in many other instances the issue was a matter of priorities. Was it really necessary to expend staff time and energy on issues that were, in reality, not that important? In many instances, the question seems to have been less a decision between “good” and “evil” than a decision between “valuable,” “less valuable,” and “not valuable at all.”

The question of priorities is perhaps the least sensational of the questions this book raises, but I find myself thinking that it might have been the single greatest contributing factor to the failure of the Palin administration–priorities got lost, or skewed, or distorted. It makes me think of William Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming:”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

It’s tempting to see Sarah Palin’s failures as manifold, each scandal a separate universe. Mr. Bailey’s book reminds readers that the true failure was not in the multitude of little scandals, but a failure of the center.

3. Owning up. As I said yesterday, Mr. Bailey and I differ on many things, but in reading his book I found myself respecting him immensely for his willingness to accept responsibility for his part in the less savory aspects of the Palin Administration–and most of all, for finally, at long last, taking a hard look at himself and changing his course. That’s not easy to do, and it speaks volumes for his personal integrity that he manages to do so–and that once he acknowledges that his blind allegiance has led him far from where he wants to be, he stops, looks around, and changes directions.

In the end, Blind Allegiance is about personal integrity, and finding the strength to face down not one’s enemies nor even one’s friends, but one’s heroes.

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This morning, as I pulled out of the driveway to take The Boy to school, I swung by the mailbox to see what, if anything, my friendly neighborhood mailman had left for me. Turns out he left me a Mike Sinatra CD (no, that’s not a typo–I just discovered the guy on YouTube. He does wonderful re-purposings of old favorites; they’re too nice to be called “covers.” I bought a CD. So. Mike Sinatra was sitting in my mailbox.) But there was also a big yellow envelope. The Boy tore off the wrapping, apparently believing it might be something for him, but it turned out to be a book I had ordered for me.

It’s about Sarah Palin.

I certainly didn’t think I’d be writing those words any time soon. While she was running for VP I wrote about her a lot–I had a lot to say, most of it worried. But then she and Mr. McCain (I almost wrote “Magoo”–sorry, Senator) lost the election and I breathed a sigh of relief. As I watched subsequent events the possibility that la Palin might actually play a significant role in politics came to see increasingly remote, and continuing coverage increasingly irrelevant.

I wouldn’t have purchased this book at all, if it hadn’t been for Joe McGinnis. The authors of the book I bought, Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin, by former inner circle member Frank Bailey, with Ken Morris and Jeanne Devon (creator of The Mudflats, an amazing blog that was daily reading for me back in the day, and still an excellent insiders’ view of Alaskan politics), were writing at the same time as Mr. McGinnis was lurking next door to the Family Palin, and working on his own book. I don’t want to open myself up to charges of slander, but skullduggery happened, and Mr. Bailey & Co.’s book saw the light of day prematurely, and the midwife was Mr. McGinnis. The upshot of this was that Mr. Bailey’s book, having been released for free, saw its potential sales value tank before it had even found a publisher.

Had Mr. Bailey’s book failed because it was badly written, that would have been one thing, but to have been torpedoed before it had even seen the light of day by another author’s self-serving actions made me angry. And so I bought a book. I bought Mr. Bailey’s book, even though it’s about Sarah Palin, and even though I take serious issue with some of Mr. Bailey’s political views. Furthermore, I will not be buying Mr. McGinnis’ book, a position I am happy to announce I had taken even before I read the reviews indicating that, not to put too fine a point on it, Mr. McGinnis has written a stinker.

So anyhow, against all odds, I found myself sitting down to breakfast this morning with the unlikeliest of companions, Sarah Palin, and her campaign staff. By the time I had finished my omelette (cheese, with sourdough toast and Diet Pepsi) I had dug a pen out of my purse and started underlining, and making notes to myself in the margin. And I found myself composing blog posts.

Mr. Bailey’s book is written by an unlikely team–it includes the politically conservative and the politically liberal, as well as Mr. Bailey himself, who was, for quite some time, a Palin True Believer, but who apparently loses his faith at some point in the book I have yet to reach.

Here’s the thing: had this been a hatchet job, I would not be writing this. Had this been a hymn to Sarah Palin I would not be writing this. But this book is something else entirely–I found myself understanding Sarah Palin better as a  person. I found myself thinking about the person Bailey portrays in the beginning of her campaign for governor, the source of her appeal for Alaskans, her commitment to serving the people. I felt sad as he chronicles how that person, and that team of volunteers, lost their vision, and got caught up in the very things they swore to oppose in the beginning.

This is a book worth reading, not only because Mr. Bailey has a unique perspective, but because his observations beg discussion not only for what they say about Sarah Palin and her team of core supporters, but because of what they say about the rest of us. I’m going to be blogging about this for a few days–I hope you enjoy it; and I do suggest you buy the book. You can get it here.

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