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Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Palin’


wiseasserpentsAnybody who visits my Facebook page knows that I tend to lean toward progressive ideals. For those who ask me why (as opposed to those who just tell me I’m unrealistic and walk away), here’s the reason: I tend to lean progressive because, as Stephen Colbert once put it, “…reality has a well-known liberal bias.

For a long time I subscribed to the easy, common canard that “all politicians are dirty,” and that “you can’t get into high office without having made too many compromises to be able to do anything good.” I couched my apathy as a principled stand. Really it was laziness. It took 9/11 to shock me out of that.

Like everybody, I was terrified. But as the days went on I started listening to what people were saying–the anger, the hatred, the racism, and the religious bigotry being expressed in the name of patriotism. And inside me, something woke up. “This is as dangerous as those hijacked planes,” it said. I watched liberties being eroded in the name of national security. I watched politicians posturing about protecting America when what they were actually advocating seemed to be something that would not keep us safer. And that little part of me got a shot of espresso and started yelling.

And then came the 2008 election, and everybody was talking about “narratives.” Which candidate had the better story? John McCain was a war hero and a prisoner of war who had undergone torture for principles he held dear. Sarah Palin was a no-nonsense soccer mom/governer from a part of America that seems remote and unknowable to many of us. She had a special needs son. She had “stood up to Big Oil.” There was talk of her knowing how to shoot and field dress a deer. There was Joe Biden, who had lost his young family years before, who came from a working-class family, and who was prone to speaking his mind at inconvenient moments. And then there was Barack Obama.

Suddenly stories were everywhere. He was born in Hawaii. He was born in Kenya. He was a Muslim. He went to a Christian church. He was a secret addict. He disrespected the flag. He was talking not about the ugliness of politics, but about hope, and about how, if we all worked together, we could change the things that plagued us.

I don’t remember how I first happened across his campaign website. What I do remember is seeing the “fact-checker” tab. I clicked, and a scan of a Hawaiian birth certificate opened up. I think that was the moment I first considered registering to vote. I had found a candidate who not only trusted me with a narrative as his team presented them, but with the documents from which I could write his narrative for myself.

Of course, I realized that a “fact-checker” associated with a campaign website was far from an unbiased source–if nothing else, “facts” obtained that way needed to be verified. So I started digging, and I discovered a whole world of information-verification sites. The ones I returned to time and again were the sites that not only discussed facts and “proved” or “disproved” them, but the sites that showed their work–the ones that linked back to original documents and clips. I started clicking. And clicking. And clicking.

I started listening to political events, news, and commentary with my critic’s ear. I learned to evaluate what I was hearing based on the information I had gleaned. What I found was that, while all politicians occasionally gave out false information, some tended to hew far more closely to facts than others. I could look at the source documents, discover the truth. I could even chart it if I wanted.  It was–and is–possible to distinguish fact from spin.

I ended up voting not for a party, but for the candidate who had changed the way I saw politics–who had challenged me to not just dismiss the whole process, but to do the hard, important work of digging for facts. I voted for him because through following his campaign I had become a better, more informed person.

What I learned in that election was discernment–the skill of listening with an open mind, then seeking out information from a wide variety of sources–and then evaluating that information based on original information. I listened. I researched. And then I wrote my own narrative. I became a more discerning, active citizen. I also became someone with whom many in my family felt acutely uncomfortable.

For reasons that will be obvious to anyone who knows us, Sarah Palin’s “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “commonsense,” rhetoric was very attractive to many of them. “She’s the real deal,” one sister told me excitedly. I had just finished reading a piece about the time she had spent in Wasilla city government. The piece raised some serious questions about her qualifications for me. “Are you sure?” I asked. My sister was sure. Gun-toting, smart-mouth, “my common sense is as good as your education,” boot-strapping Sarah Palin was “the real deal.”

And then came the interviews, and the news stories, and the revelation that no matter how “real” Ms. Palin might be, and how no matter how good she might be at dog-whistle politics, she was woefully unprepared to run a nation. Perhaps naively, I expected my family’s opinion about her to shift a bit. I was wrong.

And that was when I learned a new and terrifying thing–far too many people had adopted Sarah Palin’s attitude toward basing opinions on verifiable fact. Part of it, of course, was that Sarah Palin was very, very good at whipping up a crowd with a grievance–or who might, after listening to her for a bit, discover that they had a grievance. A whole new party sprang up–the Tea Party, who all too often regarded facts as not just unnecessary, but positively anti-American.

My family and I never really bounced back from that. The lure of believing that we all get what we deserve if we work hard enough for it was too powerful. For me, believing that was impossible not because I was somehow immune to the lure of that belief, but because I had bitten by the research bug. I simply could no longer take political spin at face value. There was simply too much evidence showing that the playing field in America was slanted in favor of the wealthy, white, and male–and had been for a very long time.

My family and I weren’t the only people who faced that conflict. Watching the Kavanaugh hearings and the GOP position on the impeachment provided proof, if any more was needed, that an entire political party seems to have decided that facts are indeed a liberal plot, and that the fewer of them we have to deal with the better off we will all be. Listening to President Trump declare himself “exonerated” when the Mueller report said no such thing was like Sarah Palin declaring herself “exonerated” when the investigation in Alaska regarding her improper use of influence resulted in no such finding.

Both Palin and Trump have had the distinction–if we can call it that–of being credited with Politifact’s “Lie of the Year.” In the past eleven years (2009-2019), the honor has gone to the conservative, often-GOP end of the spectrum nine of eleven times, and to Donald Trump himself three times. We live in a world where demanding facts to back up assertions has come to be seen as a tool of the “liberal elite.” Being wrong about something–even disastrously wrong–has become irrelevant, if not an actual badge of honor. How did we get here? It’s not really hard to see.

There is a faction of America that, when faced with difficult questions, seeks not to dig for answers, but brushes those questions off with, “Well, I guess that’s just where faith comes in.” It’s a belief system that relies heavily on avoiding the responsibility of taking action by talking about “forgiving,” and “not judging,” and “turning the other cheek.”

Those are all real quotes. What’s missing from that philosophy, though, is a whole other set of quotes about the importance of discernment–the responsibility we have to do the hard work of equipping ourselves to make responsible, ethical, informed decisions. In the spirit of finding a starting point, I googled, “What does the Bible say about discernment?” and went to the open-source online Bible for a list of quotes.  Full disclosure here–I don’t believe that reading the Bible literally is always a great guide to behavior, but many people do. If you do, I’m speaking your language here.

The sheer number of quotes is impressive, but this is just a starting point. If you believe in the Bible as a guide to right action, it might be interesting to search out these references as well as those from other indexing sources,  look at each situation’s historical and social contexts, and then devote a little time to examining how discernment factors into your own life.

A bit back I referenced verses about forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and accepting things on faith. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of such things. I would only suggest that those things only really have value in the light of discernment. Forgiveness only has meaning if we understand that a wrong has been done. Accepting things on faith only has meaning if we have taken the time to use our big, beautiful brains to push the boundaries of our knowledge to their limits. Discernment means that we never, ever, use forgiveness and love and faith as a substitute for doing the hard, necessary work of seeking out good information from reputable sources–and that we require the people making decisions on our behalf to provide us with the facts and information we need to do that.

We can’t fool Mother Nature. Reality doesn’t care what you believe. The only real question for each of us is, “How can I write the truest narrative?” In the end, the truth is what sets us free.

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“Some Dreams Take Work”–because America might be beautiful, but it isn’t always easy. Available at my CafePress Store: http://www.cafepress.com/magicdogpress

I’ve been thinking a lot about patriotism lately. In the 2008 elections Sarah Palin talked a lot about “Ril Amuricans”-who they are, where they live, where they go to church, to whom they pray. She praised the screaming, rage-fulled crowds at her rallies for their american-ness. She spent a lot of time insinuating that then-Candidate Obama wasn’t  a “Ril Amurican,” that “he doesn’t see America like you and I see America.”

Many on the right side of the political spectrum have followed her lead. Patriotism has come to be associated with tight-jawed people in three-cornered hats, carrying guns to political and presidential events, with a set of values that disenfranchises millions, that seeks to impose a narrow set of religious beliefs in the name of “American values.”

I realized the other day that I had conceded patriotism to a political and social group that quite frankly frightens me–that seems to be trying to strip away the very parts of America that I find most important.

It’s the Fourth of July. I went out and sat on my lawn and watched The Boy and his buddy set off our legal fireworks. In between our beautiful, jewel-like little fire fountains I listened to the huge cannons, and oohed and ahhed at the gigantic golden chrysanthemums, the umbrellas of flickering fire, and the shooting stars the scofflaws on both sides of me were setting off. I don’t know where they get the fireworks, but it happens every July Fourth–the skies light up, and I sit out on my thoroughly-watered lawn, swat mosquitoes, and enjoy the show.

Tonight I thought about our town. I don’t know how much truth there is to it, but local legend holds that our skies full of fireworks happen because of our large migrant population–they bring their enormous fireworks, and come Fourth of July it’s like the battle of Fort Sumpter all over again, but with fewer blown-up buildings and burning boats.

The irony of this, of course, is that our most American of holidays is made more American because of the non-citizens in our midst. We have our problems–yesterday I noticed that somebody’s tagging around town, and that makes me sad. We are not perfect. But citizens or not, and despite our differences, we are all real Americans, and we all inhabit real America.

That means that I have to understand that America is big enough to hold the Tea Party and the Progressives, the GOP and the Democrats, ethnic and racial groups of all descriptions, lovers of all or no genders. America isn’t an apple pie–it’s a fruit salad, and some of us are fruitier than others.

And so today, I am a patriot. I love the symbolism of the flag. I choke up at the “National Anthem.” I believe Katherine Lee Bates had my part of America in mind when she wrote the lines,

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

I believe that everyone deserves the tools from which to build success–what you do with them is up to you. I believe that no child should go to bed hungry. I believe that we all deserve healthcare, housing, and education at a fair price. I believe that while success is American, success achieved by harming others isn’t. I believe in good neighbors, vegetable gardens, and keeping religion out of politics. I believe kids need to learn how to think clearly, to play fair, and to put themselves in others’ shoes.

I believe that we don’t have to have the same values, cultures, or traditions to like and respect each other. I believe we all make potato salad and fried chicken a little differently, and it’s okay. I believe we don’t all have to agree, but we do have to listen to each other, and differ respectfully.

And I believe I’ll go outside and watch a few more fireworks, and maybe sing “America the Beautiful,” until my throat tightens. Because America is beautiful, and I am lucky to be here.

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When I was a little girl, my dad used to talk about a poem he loved. It was called “The First Settler’s Story,” and it was written by Will Carleton, an American poet who often took the plight of the disadvantaged as his subjects. Much of his poetry was time-specific–his poem “Over the Hill to the Poorhouse,” for example, has largely faded from public knowledge. Likewise his poem about divorce, “Betsy and I Are Out.” Even “The First Settler’s Story,” has largely become a casualty of changing times, values, and worlds.

Will Carleton wasn’t one of our finer poets, but he did manage to produce four lines of text that have been quoted over and over–even if few remember where they came from. Here are the lines:

Boys flying kites haul in their white-winged birds.
You can’t do that when you’re flying words.
Once spoken, though you wish them left unsaid,
God Himself can’t kill them, make them dead.

Words have consequences. Sometimes those consequences are  unintended. In  “The First Settler’s Story” the husband offers them to us as the lesson he learns in the wake of his wife’s tragic death–that his cruel, angry words to her drove her to dangerous behavior that ultimately cost her life.

Words matter. That’s why we have laws against verbal abuse. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

Verbal abuse includes the following: countering, withholding, discounting, verbal abuse disguised as a joke, blocking & diverting, accusing & blaming, judging & criticizing, trivializing, undermining, threatening, name calling, chronic forgetting, ordering, denial of anger or abuse, and abusive anger.”[1]

What prompted all this? The onset of our political season. I watched a clip in which a woman at a GOP Town Hall meeting asserted that President Obama should be tried for treason. It doesn’t take a genius to track this back to the overheated rhetoric during the last political campaign, where various spokespeople asserted all sorts of untrue things–and, even when those things were proven false, continued to assert them.

A virtue was made of knowing nothing. Sophomoric behavior became what passed for public discourse. And, as verbal abuse does, the rhetoric and claims became more and more vile and less and less veiled as time when on.

And now we are starting all over again–but we’re starting at a point higher on the abuse curve than we did last time. We are starting with phrases like “Don’t retreat, reload” an established (and hotly defended, even in the wake of shootings that cost lives) part of our political lexicon. We are starting with GOP operatives considering allowing rally participants to attend political events–with loaded guns. We are starting with a mass of swirling falsehoods, all of which have been “flown” not inadvertently, but as part of a concerted plan to defeat a President who “is not like us” by destroying the nation and laying the blame at his feet.

That’s not to say that the Democratic Party has been blameless–there are falsehoods there, too. But a simple look at any of the reputable, non-partisan fact check sites (and I’m defining those as sites funded by non-partisan organizations and not affiliated with any candidate’s election or defeat)–heck, even a look at the email smears reported on Snopes.com–reveals that there is a serious credibility problem in the Republican party and its conservative base today. Count the smears. Do the math.

But it’s not just the number of smears in question–it’s the violent rhetoric at issue here. The right to keep and bear arms has been translated into the right to carry loaded guns into highly charged, heavily-frequented areas. The right to “political imagery” has been cited in defense of the crosshairs marketing congressional districts that are “targeted” for takedowns. Town halls as a means of conveying information have been compromised by concerted plans to shout down speakers–to prevent the exchange of information.

I teach writing. I’m a writer by trade. It breaks my heart to see words, a unique human invention that has allowed us to develop a sense of history, a concept of past and future, a body of literature unmatched in the animal kingdom, and  even a system of jurisprudence and ethics, misused to circumvent their intended purpose.

Words have become the weapons of those who take pride in their ignorance, who maintain that those who value studying the issues and weighing their merits are somehow the enemy. Words have become the servants of rage, the tools of racism, and the weapons of a group of businessmen who use them to turn the rage of the less successful against the very systems and ideas that might better their lot.

Words matter. The kites are flying again, and many of them are dark and drenched with blood. It is time that we took back our words, that we drew clear lines between spirited debate and verbal abuse, between legitimate discussion and incitements to riot, between the sorts of words that provoke us to think, and the sorts of words that can provoke some of us to pick up weapons and start shooting, or stabbing.

And so, to those most guilting (and we and you all know who they–and we–are) I would say, “We’re starting a new campaign. Let’s not make it an escalation of the last campaign. Let’s not turn what should be a uniquely American system of transferring power into a mockery of itself, and an excuse for encouraging the ugliest parts of our national heritage. Let’s not make this election be about how close we can come to actually advocating that someone kill the President.

Before we send up our kites, let’s think about who all is looking at them, and what they are seeing. Above all, let’s remember that while we might not bear physical responsibility for the actions that grow out of our words, we absolutely bear responsibility for the atmosphere our words help to create.

Will Carleton had it right. Words said cannot be unsaid, and like stones, they send out ripples. The time to recognize that–and to change the ripples we are creating–is now.

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I just paid a visit to Gryphen at The Immoral Minority, one of my favorite blogs. He’s one of the Alaskan bloggers I stumbled upon back during the 2008 presidential campaign, and though my faithfulness has waned a bit in the years since the election the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself curious to see what’s up by him. He’s an unabashed liberal, and I lean that way, so I often find him entertaining, even if sometimes he does make me wince a bit.

Anyhow, today’s post was a response a response someone made to a post earlier today (Gryphen is clearly more devoted to his blog than I am to this one; as far as I can remember, this is the first time ever I’ve posted twice in one day). It was a little confusing, but basically here’s what I’ve pieced together. Gryphen came across a picture of President Obama with a crowd. In the foreground is a little African American girl. Her face bears tribal paint. She is saluting.

It’s a lovely picture, and Gryphen says so under the heading, “Leaders Should Inspire. Clearly This One Does.” He speaks of pride, and inspiration, and how this picture expresses those feelings for him, and invites readers to comment on their own response to the photo. Go read his post; you really should.

As I noted, Gryphen is an unabashed liberal blogger from Alaska who achieved a certain level of name recognition in the last election. Along with that recognition he also acquired a number of followers who are clearly Not Admirers of President Obama or his good pal Gryphen, but of Sarah Palin. And one of those followers was apparently up and angry at 3am this morning. Gryphen’s post went up at 3. By five minutes after three there was an scorching response informing Gryphen that if he were more open-minded it would remind him of Ms. Palin–I believe the word “adore” was thrown around. Apparently there was a picture attached, because in his follow-up post Gryphen posts a response to the angry blogger, along with the picture he or she provided. Here it is:

To me, both pictures show a politician interacting with a crowd. The Obama crowd seems happy. The girl who is saluting sums up something important for many of us.

To me, the Palin photo also shows a happy, perhaps somewhat raucous, crowd. The little girl seems a bit shy, but overall the subject matter seems more similar than different.

So while I don’t necessarily see the same thing in this photo that the folks at The Immoral Minority seem to see, I am left with Gryphen’s headline: “Leaders Should Inspire…”

And I find myself thinking of the post I wrote on Inauguration Day in 2009, on my now-pretty-much-defunct political blog. I posted it just before I wrote this one, so it’s right here. It’s sort of long, mostly about how I spent the day fighting with an abusive collection agency on behalf of my neighbor lady, but here’s the guts of it:

… there is something incredibly beautiful and moving about a nation devoted to equality, to respect, to dreams. There is something powerful about the sweep and bounty of it, the scope of a vision that spans a continent, and a hodgepodge of peoples who when it comes down to it all want the same things: to realize their dreams, to feed their families, and to live with some degree of dignity and freedom.  There is something about the phrase, “…amber waves of grain…”

That lump in my throat has been an embarrassment to me not because I thought the idea of America was foolish, but because I came of age in an era marred by a series of unjust wars, corrupt governance, and cynical, avaricious, money-grubbing politics. I was embarrassed because the gap between what we could be, and what we were as a nation was so great. We had lost our vision. The man I see smiling down at his wife has given it back.

Gryphen’s headline, and the reader’s angry response, brings something into focus for me. Leaders inspire. Like Candidate Obama, Vice-Presidential Candidate Palin also inspired. The difference lies in what they inspire. President Obama inspired hope, inclusivity, civility, and a dream of a better America. Sarah Palin inspired angry mobs.

Three battered years later, President Obama still inspires me to believe that an America where everyone has a fighting chance to succeed is still possible, where the prosperous among us understand that prosperity is a gift to be both accepted with gratitude and shared, where we can express our differences respectfully, where we are all necessary, all valued–and all responsible for each other. He inspires me to believe that the American Dream is for all of us, for me, for you, and for the strangers within our gates. He inspires me to believe that America’s best self is still worth fighting for.  President Obama inspires me to be my best self–and to share that best self with the people in my home and community.

But the issue is broader than that. After all, President Obama is, well, the President. Sarah Palin has chosen not to run for office. A fairer comparison these days might be between what the two parties seem to be offering at the moment. Who inspires conversation? Who inspires their followers to listen? Who inspires compromise? Who reminds America that we truly do succeed or fail as a nation, and that as Americans we have taken pride in the fact that we are all created equal, and that every child born in America is entitled to tools to carve out his or her own success? And who is dedicated to dividing us, into perpetuating their power by rendering us powerless? At their most fundamental level, they are pursuing a policy of division–Democrats vs. Republicans, union vs. non-union, rich vs. poor, men vs. women, conservatives vs. liberals, Wall Street vs. Main Street, country vs. city, Christian vs. everyone else, those who “belong” vs. immigrants.

Who is willing to compromise? And who is holding the nation hostage, hoping for national failure to improve their chances of seizing power? And who is not even taking the trouble to conceal their basic priority? Does that inspire you? If so, how?

What it comes down to for me is simple. It’s not just a matter of which leader inspires me–what’s more important is what a leader inspires me to do. I will vote for President Obama again not because I have profited financially from his administration–hamstrung as Congress has been by Republican intransigence I have come to believe that simply limiting the harm they have been able to inflict is a worthy achievement. It’s not even because I think he believes like I do on policy. I will vote for him because he inspires me to be a better person.

 

 

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