Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Palin’

It is here. Bush has signed his last executive order, commuted his last sentence, embedded his last employee. People have swarmed into Washington; my television pans over colorful masses of cheering, shouting, crying people. Noses and cheeks are red, collars turned up, hats pulled down. As a nation, we are not at our sartorial best; we Americans have never really gotten the hang of cold-weather hats, it seems.

And still, we are beautiful. The joy in our faces makes us so. There are a few angry notes; part of the joy today is joy that at long last, Bush’s reign is over. The past two months have been a long exposure of a presidency’s-worth of shady business, good old boys, environmental rape, the politics of fear, the obscenity of a war for profit, and torture. More, they have been an exercise in cynicism—open acknowledgement of criminal acts followe by a shrug, and a “so what?”

Today, a handmade sign in the crowd reads, “BUSH: Get the Hell Out!” and when Cheney and Bush are announced during the ceremonies they are booed. Booed, by people who are here to celebrate their joy. But then, that’s part of their joy—that at long last Bush, Cheney and their vicious policies are behind us.

The swearing in is shorter than I expected; I have never watched one before. I understand that the true transfer of power happens behind closed doors, with the signing of documents, but this moment, the moment in which the President swears to honor the Constitution and lead our nation honorably is the heart of it, and somehow I expect it to last longer. It’s just a few words—words that I miss because a collection agency employee chooses that moment to call my telephone and ask me to go tell one of my neighbors—“Maxine,” she calls her (no last name) that she should call them (the Collection Agency) about a “very important matter.” I am no a fool; like everybody else, I know that’s code for “send us the damned money.”

I ask how she got my name.

“Your neighbor gave it as a reference,” she says.

“But I don’t even know the person you’re talking about,” I protest. (It later turns out that I do, it’s the nice old lady who lives across the street in the old farmhouse where she’s raised a family and from which she’s buried a husband. I do not know it’s her because I always call her “Mrs. –,” as I do all women older than I am unless invited to do otherwise. Good manners die hard.)

Good manners die hard, so I don’t just hang up on the vulture, even though I can see that the swearing-in is over and the speech has begun—a speech I very much want to hear. I take the time to explain that I am watching the Inauguration and do not wish to undertake collection agency duties on anyone’s behalf at this very moment.

“They’ll show clips tomorrow,” she insists.

I say maybe later and hang up as quickly as I can, but it is too late; I have missed the moment that may well be one of the most significant moments in American history—the moment that my teachers told me was impossible. We have elected a young, relatively inexperienced man of African-American descent to lead us. A man who a generation ago would have had to drink at a separate drinking fountain, who would have entered the movie theater through a different door, who would have gone to a separate school, who might well have had a hard time voting—and could well have been beaten for it afterward. A man who might well have been illiterate not because he could not learn, but because he had no opportunity. A man who, had he been alive when the White House was built, might well have been helped build it as part of a slave labor force.

The times, they are a-changing. The irony is that while that national history lies behind us, President Obama seems remarkably untouched by it. When race was raised, his response was that we live in a post-racial America. Our history was our history; this is now. I realize that while those of my generation still bear the scars of our racial divides, my son’s generation does not. Obama is my son’s President because they live in the same world, a world where everyone is polyglot—a little of this, a little of that, and what matters is what you do and how you act, rather than where you started out.

He is my President because I, like millions of others, chose that it should be so. I became involved. I donated to his campaign. I read the coverage. I haunted the fact-checkers. I started this blog. And I did it because then-Senator Obama reminded us all that we can be more than we have been, that we hold the power of change in our hands, and that our leaders rule by our will, and only by our consent. He reminded us all that we are necessary—every one of us—to the rebuilding of America, and that, with our help, America can be rebuilt stronger and better than it was before. But it will take all of us, working together. None of us can cede responsibility to another.

I change my mind about ignoring the collection call. I go to my neighbor’s house, knock on the door and tell her it. “I’ve got the number at my house,” I say. “If you’d like it, I’ll pass it on.”

“I’ve been getting these calls for a while now,” she tells me. “I’ve never heard of the company they say I owe. I don’t even know whom they’re trying to reach. They just keep calling me, and they won’t stop.”

“That’s odd,” I say. “They told me you’d given my name as a reference.”

“I don’t even know your name,” she says indignantly. “And it’s not my bill.” It’s true, she doesn’t know my name. We have been waving-across-the-street-and-shouting-hello and occasionally dragging-her-trashcan-to-the-curb neighbors. I know her last name because it’s on her mailbox. My name is not on my mailbox. How would she know it?

The light dawns. The agency has called me not because my neighbor lady gave them my name, but because they have obtained my address, my name, and my telephone number by some means, quite possibly illegal, and decided to turn me into their local branch collection office. And if they’ve done it to me, quite possibly they’ve done it to everybody else on the street. The thought of this woman being shamed—and it is shaming to get collection agency calls—throughout the neighborhood for a debt she has not even had the pleasure of incurring makes me angry.

I am also concerned. The collection agency has enough information about me to quite likely obtain credit card and bank information. They are clearly not hampered by rights to privacy. It is hardly surprising, I think, in a nation where President Bush and his minions set the bar so very, very low in that regard.

As I walk back across the street I realize that I am deeply angry. This stops now, I decide. At home I call the collection agency back at the number they asked me to pass on to my neighbor lady. I ask to speak to the manager. I tell him that one of his agents has been harassing an old lady for a debt she knows nothing about, and that they have now begun calling her neighbors and enlisting their aid in applying local pressure.

“This is wrong,” I tell him. “This lady is old. She’s in poor health. She did not incur the debt. She has little money. And your agent has not only been dunning her for a debt that’s not hers, she’s shaming her throughout the neighborhood. The only reason I was called is that I live close to her. I suspect several other people on our street got similar calls. This has to stop. Now.”

The clarity of it astounds me. There are some things in life about which there are no gray areas, and this is one of them for me.

“Let me check the file,” he says hastily.

And he does, and sure enough, several other numbers from our area code pop up as “contact numbers.” “I’m taking them out of the file now,” he assures me. “I’m taking yours out, too.”

Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. The company called expecting apathy, or cowed compliance. Instead they ended up sticking their hand into a buzz saw. I have not shouted, but I come from a long line of German people who can be very, very direct and very, very firm and still speak in well-modulated tones. There is a knack to saying, “You will…” and having people understand that they will indeed. I have that knack.

He asks respectfully that I have the neighbor lady call him on his direct line so he can straighten out the mess. He gives me his number and his extension. I offer the information to the neighbor lady. Then I call the agent who called in the first place.

I tell her what I have discovered, that it’s wrong, and that it must stop—no more calls. She tells me that I am “spying” on my neighbor lady. “You just had to know what was going on, so you called back. It’s none of your business.”

“You made it my business when you called me,” I tell her.

But she isn’t listening. She’s still talking about nosy people who can’t mind their own business and snoop into their neighbors’ private affairs.

When I try to speak she says, “So now you’re going to talk over me? Now you’re talking over me? “ And then she goes back to her remarks about my nosiness, and how I’ve inserted myself into a situation where I had no business being.

When I hang up I realize that I have done something that I never do—I have raised my voice.

I am not a shouter, and I never hang up on someone while they are speaking. I have been rude, and for a moment I am embarrassed. But then I look across the street at my neighbor lady’s house. It sags slightly to the right, and the paint is flaking off. I think of her inside, afraid to answer her telephone because she can’t know when it will be the impossible woman from the collection agency insisting that she pay money she does not have for a debt she did not incur, and I realize that there are some things worth shouting about, and that sometimes those of us can shout have to raise our voices for those of us who can’t.

The manager has been apologetic, but I have serious doubts about his efforts to “resolve” the situation. He may have meant them; he may have been saying what he felt would best suit his needs; he has, after all, simply made the same request that his obnoxious, pushy agent made: that my neighbor lady call him “about a very important matter.” While he has said that the “contact” numbers were obviously bad (I can almost hear him thinking that mine, in particular, had been very, very bad) the fact remains that his agency seems to routinely use numbers that result from invasions of privacy.  I call the district attorney. They refer me to the police department. Before I call the cops I figure I’d better talk to the neighbor lady, whose business this was before the collection agency called me.

I cross the street again that afternoon. “Come in,” says my neighbor lady. I go in, and sit at her kitchen table, and I tell her about the manager, and how he’s asked her to call him directly so he can resolve the matter. I also tell her that I have called the district attorney, who recommends the police, that identity theft and fraud may be involved. She agrees, and seems happy for the help. Talk turns to other things: my son, her children, her health, my work, her lovely, dilapidated old house. The collection agency has turned us into sitting-at-the-kitchen-table-and-nattering neighbors. I leave her my number when she mentions that she sometimes has trouble catching her breath.

Back home, a news clip of the Inauguration is running.  I sit down to watch. A choir from San Francisco is singing “America, the Beautiful.” The young faces and red hats are vivid in the icy air. A flock of white birds wheels around the Capitol Dome. President Obama slips his arm around his wife, smiles, and leans over to murmur in her ear. She cocks her head, smiles at her lap. The young voices of the choir soar with the white birds.

The pure, sweet voices pierce me, and suddenly I find myself crying.  This is nothing new. I always get a lump in my throat when I hear the “Star-Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful,” and “This Land is Your Land”—songs that talk about the dream of America, the America we learned about in first grade.

I’ve always been that way—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.

I see her smile back, and I think of words she spoke at the beginning of the campaign—words that were used to smear her, to paint her as an “angry black woman,” and to discredit her husband. When he was nominated she said, “Today for the first time I am proud to be an American.”

I know exactly how she felt. Today, for the first time I am not only proud to be an American—I have always been that—but I am proud to be proud. I can sing our songs and know that they are not a lost past or an impossible dream. They can be real. They can be us. We can choose our better history, be our better selves. And today, we have made a good start.

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I saw Rachel Maddow interview Nicolle Wallace a few days ago. They talked about It’s Classified, Wallace’s latest book which was, according to her, partially inspired by the events of the last presidential campaign. “Hey,” I thought. “I watched that campaign.” And so I picked up the book, expecting, I think, that I would see a thinly-veiled rehash of the campaign with a twist–McCain/Palin won.

I got more than I was bargaining for. Wallace’s book may have been inspired by the spectre of a Palin vice-presidency, but if so inspiration quickly gave way to invention. Vice-President Tara Meyers is a tragic figure, a woman who has survived not by brilliance but by outworking everyone else–and by allowing her husband to build a world around her that both conceals and compensates for her debilitating mental/emotional condition. Exactly what this is readers are left to guess, but what is crystal clear is that it’s triggered by stress–and that the stresses of Tara’s new role as Vice-President have triggered it, big time.

It’s Classified posits–somewhat improbably–a Washington in which a woman occupies the Oval Office, another is Secretary of Defense, a third–from the rival party–is Vice-President, and the President’s estranged husband’s mistress is the Vice-President’s communications director. In this story, men tend to be domineering brutes, absent, or gay. With such an overtly female leadership team I expected at least a little sexism among the “silver-back” congressmen, maybe a little bitterness, and certainly some gender-based spin contributing to Tara’s downfall–and it would have been so easy, given that her condition seems to turn her into a caricature of a Welfare Queen–lolling around eating junk food, reading romances, watching daytime TV, and throwing tantrums.

But the end, when it comes, is ironically triggered by a failed interview Tara gives, followed by what would seem to be an entirely appropriate response to a national threat she must give in the President’s absence. While the pretext for the investigation that seeks to determine if the national threat level was raised to deflect attention from the disastrous interview seems a bit thin, particularly in light of the fact that Tara seems to perform well under stress this time, things quickly spiral out of control.

Wallace’s book is clearly written by someone who has spent a lot of time in Washington. And, while the plot is intriguing, it rather steps on its own lines. Tara Meyers is given a free pass for behavior that arises from her mental condition, and is put under investigation for the one time she actually performs admirably in a non-media-related capacity. I have to bow to Wallace’s expertise in this area, but I would have found it more credible had she been given accolades for her performance, particularly in today’s “better-safe-than-sorry” environment.

All in all I found the characters a bit flat, when it would have taken very little to create a bit more complexity. For example, the President is an idealized figure of the “dress for success” woman, wise, strong, analytical, able to put aside all personal emotions for the good of the country, generous enough to wish her husband and his mistress well. Meyers, on the other hand, is a caricature of a “womanly” woman–driven by her emotions, not terribly bright, and dependent on her man to keep the big bad world at bay. In contrast to the President’s tall, lean body she is short, curvy, and prone to fat. Indeed, at more than one point Wallace has her characters refer to the President as the “head” of the administration, and Meyers as its “heart.” The third central figure, Dale, seems curiously ambiguous. Her inner landscape is virtually non-existent. She seems to feel no shame or guilt or even unease for having had an affair with the President’s husband, and indeed seems to take it for granted that the President will harbor no ill will against her for it. Wallace does a nice job of contrasting her inner view of herself with Meyers’ view of her–Dale sees herself as somewhat plain, and notes at one point that she needs to have her hair attended to, while Meyers sees her as everything she herself is not–tall, elegant, and perfectly groomed.

For a Washington insider, Dale seems curiously willing to accept people at face value–she becomes friends with a man she hardly knows, and immediately begins to spill the beans about her work worries. Likewise, while she says that she doesn’t trust Ralph, the President’s chief of staff, she meekly follows his directives without taking any real steps to protect herself. One of the most telling scenes in the book occurs when she is complaining to her new friend about the circumstances of her life. He notes that she refuses to accept responsibility for the results of her own actions, and tells her that though she portrays herself as a victim, in reality many of her problems arise as a natural result of her own actions. The scene is powerful, and it seems to hold an important key to understanding Dale’s character. Regrettably, Wallace doesn’t follow it up with any indication of growth. Dale cuts off contact with her friend, who later apologizes for having spoken out of line to her.

It’s Classified is an interesting book, partially because of its context, partially because it was written by a woman who, like the best writers do, writes what she knows. But I find myself wishing that there had been just a little growth, that the events of the book hadn’t fallen  on such very barren soil. You can find It’s Classified on Amazon in hardcover, kindle, and audio versions.

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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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Tonight The Boy and I were watching “Which Die Is That Again?” on YouTube and laughing like hyenas and visiting their webstore and plotting future purchases (a t-shirt that says “Game Master: Because My Shirt Says so”) when suddenly, out of the clear blue sky, he said, “Play that Sarah Palin song, Mom.”

“Which one?” I asked, after a brief scan of the memory banks.

“You know, the one with the man and the lady just staring into the camera,” he said.

And it all came back to me.

And so for today, join me, if you will, in the Wayback Machine, which we’ll set for late summer, 2008.

But before we go, a brief word about some of the unsung heroes of our modern society, the nameless, faceless, drones who sit in windowless cubicles in some featureless gray tower from which there is no ingress or egress except at shift changes, view the misspelled and often erroneous word strings we type into the “search” bars, dive into a massive vault of old electronic files (I picture it sort of like Scrooge McDuck’s money vault, but with thumb drives) and emerge clutching a clean, shining byte of information in their trembling, pasty hand. Often it’s not the right byte, which is how we happened upon the Sarah Palin song in the first place, but this time, armed only with the information that I wanted a song about SP, sung by a man and woman sitting in front of unfortunate orange wallpaper, staring into the camera my search bar minion came up with the right answer in under a minute. We listened to it again, and loved it as much as we did the first time and so, for your viewing pleasure, and because I remembered to copy the “share” code before I closed the window, without further ado, I present, “The Sarah Palin Song Sung By A Man And A Lady Staring Into The Camera.” It’s not what YouTube calls it, but hey, that’ll get you there. Enjoy. Thank you, Search Bar Minion.

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