Friday, October 03, 2008

Smoke and Mirrors: The Politics of Palin and the GOP

Last night the American public was treated to a preemptive strike on their intelligence. What millions viewed may be best described as the "Bush Policy" targeted at the common sense of the American citizen. The only truly scary thing aside from what we saw and heard from the running mate of Senator John McCain, is that a large segment of the American population actually agreed with the Alaska Governor.

I cannot begin to describe how infuriating, frustrating, and in some ways painful it was to watch Gov. Sarah Palin’s outright refusal to answer the questions posed to her. As the bloodletting of misguided and confusing talking points ducked and dodged Gwen Ifill's very straight forward questions, I was proud to see Senator Joe Biden masterfully and thoughtfully address the serious inquiries presented to him. He did not come off as a bully or offer the political "smack down" to Palin (as he very well could have at any moment in the debate). As I watched the debate with several colleagues, we shook our heads in disbelief to the answers, or responses of Palin. Her orations or conservative musings (more likely her reciting of their platform) should not be called "answers" as I do not think she actually addressed any particular question posed to her.

I awaited a feeding frenzy that would make the comments from the Katie Couric interview seem like a walk in the park. However, I was shocked to see that only two commentators really addressed what we saw last night...another demonstration of Palin’s unpreparedness and incompetence for the office of Vice-President (or President for that matter). Conservative leader Pat Buchanan had the audacity to say that Palin was great and did a wonderful job (I'm paraphrasing). That is really to be expected now that I think about it. What was eye-brow raising, however, was that he wasn't the only one with such a perspective.

As I flipped through CNBC, FOXNews, and even CNN, only two moderators actually presented an honest assessment of what they saw. This morning on the front page of the New York Times they have headlines that read, "In Debate GOP Ticket Survives Test" or "Palin Recaptures Her Image." CNN has a poll of viewers that actually think that Palin "defies expectations." How was the bar set? Was there a standard to measure her against, oh, right Biden. My question to my fellow Americans is "what the hell were you watching?" Now aside from those that will vote down strict party lines or perhaps, even racial ones, I cannot understand how no one is discussing how Palin’s reaffirmation of her problematic image—an image that was unveiled for all to see in two very scripted interviews, where the Alaskan governor was confusing at best.

This morning I thought maybe Gwen Ifill could have come at Palin harder, but her hands were tied due to her book coming out that allegedly mentions Obama in a favorable tone (according to Republicans). Last time I checked however, Ifill was not running for office. Moreover, from my understanding of the book, it is about the post Civil Rights generation of African American
politicians which would include Republicans such as J.C. Watts, for example, as well as Obama. Again, Biden could have just taken her out during the debate, but then the media (on both sides) would have said that Biden was "harsh" or "cold" to the neophyte politico Palin.

So at the moment I look and I see that maybe it is the case that the GOP has indeed pulled off a miracle, better yet pulled the wool over the nation's eyes. Maybe I did not see what I saw last night. Maybe Biden, in presenting actual examples of the platforms that he and Obama support, did not win the debate. For some strange reason I thought about an old Richard Pryor comedy
routine where he tells a joke about himself talking to his wife, "who you gonna believe me or your lying eyes?"

If the coverage of this debate is any indication of what is to come, the next thirty days or so are going to be long and stress filled for those of us who did not drink the elixir of untruth. I cannot shake the notion that so many people are falling for this political "Okie-doke," but then, maybe I can.

This is business as usual in American politics, particularly the politics of white nationalism. Palin's "authenticity" is rooted in a racist ideology that says "we [whites] would rather have an incompetent white woman than elect more qualified black man." Am I playing the race card? Yes I am. The "race card" as it is typically viewed has been in play since Obama decided to run for the office of President, and has been part of the explicit and implicit tactics of his adversaries. This isn't the first nor the last time that the Republican Party and Democrats too (a generation prior...look up "white primaries”) has employed the smoke and mirrors of race to convolute, complicate, and retard politics.

In historian George M. Fredickson's influential text, The Black Image in the White Mind, he examines the "development of intellectualized racist theory and ideology as it was applied to directly to the programmatically to the "problem" posed in the white mind by the presence of millions of blacks in the United States." He particularly looks at the decades following the Civil War through the first decade of the twentieth century. This time span is important because this was the era of emancipation where whites both in the North and the South had to deal with the reality of African American freedom. This “freedom” was never thought to be synonymous with the egalitarian form of governance that was espoused in the rhetoric of the founding fathers. Theirs was a herrenvolk democracy made for and by a landed, Protestant, male, white elite. As the nineteenth century came to a close there was an explosion of racist theory that sought to create a degenerate view of African Americans that went from the ivory towers of the Northeast to the dirt roads of Dixie. The maturation of Social Darwinist thought is a prime example of just how sophisticated racism became.

Frederickson argues that politicians, academicians, scientists and even writers were part of this scheme. One of the most important chapters of Frederickson’s text is “Negro as a Beast: Southern Negrophobia at the Turn of the Century.” Here he maintains that so called experts on racial theory provided a litany of studies and hypotheses that said that African Americans were not only unfit to live in a society of white men, but that they would eventually die out all together. For instance, Senator Wade Hampton of South Carolina wrote an article called the “Race Problem” where he proclaimed that offering African Americans the right to vote was “a crime against civilization, humanity, constitutional rights, and Christianity.” He later called for a complete separation of the races. He was not alone, however, other politicians consciously exaggerated figures on African American crime and sexuality (the stereotype of the Black Brute) during this time. The goal was to make a link that solidified the racist concept of “zero sum”, that argued that any rights given to African Americans would come as a direct disadvantage to their white counterparts.

This in mind, from Rev. Wright’s sermons, the speeches on race that Obama has given, and even looking at the muzzled moderator, Gwen Ifill, race is still a polarizing subject in this country. For those who saw Palin there can be no argument as to her lack of preparation for the job for which she is applying. The disillusioning affect for me is that Frederick Douglass’ words are more true now than they were when he soberly commented that there is not a “negro problem.” The problem is whether the American people can live up to their own constitution or will they give into the whimsical fantasy of the smoke and mirrors of ignorance, hate, and fear.


Anonymous said...

Cal, As you know, I very seldom respond in written word, but this time I must.Your comments about Sarah Palin and the issue of race are all on point and reflect a keen awareness of America's sick pass.Change will not come with Obama or McCain being elected,but when each individual educates and enlighten their mind.
Continue to speak the truth my brother!


Anonymous said...

Many whites would rather sulk in fear than enlighten their minds.

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Negrointellectual by Vernon C. Mitchell, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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