Friday, October 3, 2008

In the den of Republicanistan, Palin rules

Last night, I joined a team of bleeding-heart liberals to cross into "Republicanistan" and crash a watching party for the New York Young Republican Club at the Houndstooth Pub in Midtown. I had pretty low expectations for the Vice-Presidential debate after reading Jack Shafer's primer and I expected to lose composure at some point and blow our cover. In the end, the experience was not nearly as infuriating as it was surreal and depressing.

The debate began shortly after our team downed some Jagger shots and briefly chatted up the well-dressed, 30-something technocrats sipping cocktails in the bar's dimly lit basement space. Watching the debate on FOX News, I whooped and hollered on cue for the first half, simultaneously trying to keep up the act and focus on the actual words of the candidates. I got the impression, though, that us city-dwellers weren't the intended audience. With Palin's cornpone talk and Biden's invitations to visit his working class home town, they clearly were trying to court the small-town "Main Streeters" of America's battleground states.

Both of them put up a pretty good fight, but I don't think either of them came out particularly victorious. But Palin's getting a lot of credit for not doing anything extremely stupid. As the NY Times notes, “She succeeded by not failing in any obvious way.” For me, Palin proved to have the most memorable comments.

Early on, with total lack of irony, she parroted Barack Obama's platform of change: "I do respect [Biden's] years in the U.S. Senate, but I think that Americans are craving something new and different and that new energy and that new commitment that’s going to come with reform,” she said. “I think that’s why we need to send the maverick from the Senate and put him in the White House, and I’m happy to join him there.”

Later, she repeated McCain's economic policy: a key to economic stability is cutting excessive government spending. Clearly, the Republican ticket wants it both ways, since they simultaneously plan to continue the War in Iraq, which is estimated to cost $2 billion a week.

She proceeded to lambaste Barack Obama for not supporting the so-called surge that, she said, "has proven to work." McCain did the same thing in last Friday's Presidential debate. The weird thing is that, in fact, the surge has proven not to work. Let's not forget that America started the surge in 2007 to make "breathing space" to build a viable Iraqi government. When he unveiled the plan, President Bush said that, "over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas."

But has the Iraqi government made any progress? No. Iraq's parliament is just as fractious, corrupt and unreliable as it was over a year ago. Recently, an Iraqi journalist for McClatchy newspapers named Laith wrote that, over a year into the surge, most Iraqis still have no faith in their government: "All the Iraqis realized that our political parties don't care about us and that money and power are their only concern. We just wait for the last day of the age of this failure government and parliament. Until that day; those people means nothing to us but a thorn in the heart of Iraq that casues pain and bleeding."

Experts credit the "Sons of Iraq," who turned against Al Qaida in Iraq and joined forces with the US military, for bringing down the violence. They also note that Muqtada al-Sadr brought down the violence when he enacted the Mahdi Army cease-fire. But according to this transcript, Palin never even mentioned the words "Anbar" or "Mahdi" (although she did say the word "maverick" 15 times) during the debate. At any rate, there are signs that the peace is about to crumble again into sectarian conflict and political infighting. [Lunch break is almost over: I'll have to post a blizzard of hyperlinks later.]

My carefree whooping came to a halt when Palin declared, "Now, Barack Obama had said that all we're doing in Afghanistan is air-raiding villages and killing civilians. And such a reckless, reckless comment and untrue comment, again, hurts our cause. That's not what we're doing there. We're fighting terrorists, and we're securing democracy, and we're building schools for children there so that there is opportunity in that country, also. There will be a big difference there, and we will win in -- in Afghanistan, also." I could no longer cheer for such inaccurate and preposterous acts of rhetorical gymnastics.

This marked a turning point in the debate, after which everything got progressively more disturbing. At one point, Palin made a crack about Biden's late wife, once a schoolteacher. "You mentioned education and I'm glad you did," she told Biden. "I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right?" To that, the Young Republicans cheered.

I dwell on Sarah Palin here because she is a dangerous campaign tool who has trivialized the election. Lately, I've wondered if there is a medieval demon-impostor I can compare her to. Over e-mail today, I brought the question to my mom, an expert on Rennaissance literature. She had a fascinating and insightful response:

I’m more familiar with early modern imagery . . . But in both periods, you have two strands: either religious imagery of anti-Christ figures/ female monsters or secular imagery of folksy, secular Robin Hood heroes. Most of the folksy lore pits “haughty and wealthy elites” against “the folk,” “the many-headed monster” of the peasantry. Robin Hood lore is rich in the early modern period, but what you see is either 1) that the aristocrats were right all along to fear the vulgar, rough peasants who would wheedle their way into high places of authority or 2) that the rough peasant is a hero, by overthrowing an always corrupt or inept aristocracy.

The female monster tradition is probably the tradition that best characterizes the current situation, but it is viciously misogynistic. It draws upon the “lipstick on a pig” metaphor—you may see a beautiful appearance, and you may be captivated and charmed, but this woman is really the whore of Babylon, and will lead you to Hell. Or worse, she is a pig.

The problem --for thoughtful people-- with this literary tradition is that there’s no position to occupy to critique the folksy hero—except to take the side of the haughty elites. You are either folksy, vulgar and peasant OR you are an aristocrat who holds yourself high above the lowly, little people. There’s no way to critique the false posturing of the peasants who would rise to power without validating the aristocrats.

Basically, Sarah Palin is drawing upon this whole tradition—and the polarization works in her favor— as have the Republicans and the red state/blue state distinction for the past 8 years. This distinction serves a figure like Sarah Palin very well—because it distracts both red state and blue state believers from the contradictions within these categories. Red Staters will not critique Sarah Palin, because she “stands for” their resentment of the elite, Washington insiders, and everything you want to associate with them. Whether she is qualified for the position is irrelevant—her genuine, authenticity as a folksy outsider is all the qualification she needs.

Check out these lyrics by Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Red, White and Blue” from their Vicious Cycle CD, produced in –you guessed it—the big year for political music, 2003. And a performance-- Here’s the Sarah Palin anthem if there ever was one.

But where would Lynyrd Skynyd be without plastic LA friends and music producers?????? Indeed, this positioning is pretty dishonest.



"Red White And Blue"

We don't have no plastic L.A. Frynds,
ain't on the edge of no popular trend.
Ain't never seen the inside of that magazine GQ.
We don't care if you 're a lawyer, or a texas oil man,
or some waitress busting ass in some liquor stand.
If you got Soul
We hang out with people just like you

My hair's turning white,
my neck's always been red,
my collar's still blue,
we've always been here just trying to sing the truth to you.
Yes you could say we've always been, Red, White, and Blue

Ride our own bikes To Sturgis
we pay our own dues,
smoking camels, drinking domestic BREWS
You want to know where I have been
just look at my hands
Yeah, I've driven by the White House,
Spent some time in jail.
Momma cried but she still wouldn't pay my bail.
I ain't been no angel,
But even God, he understands.

My hair's turning white,
my neck's always been red,
my collar's still blue,
we've always been here
just trying to sing the truth to you.
Yes you could say
we've always been, Red, White, and Blue

Yeah that's right!

My Daddy worked hard, and so have I,
paid our taxes and gave our lives
to serve this great country
so what are they complaining about

Yeah we love our families, we love our kids
you know it is love that makes us all so rich
That's where were at,
If they don't like it they can justget the HELL out!


My hair's turning white,
my neck's always been red,
my collar's still blue,
we've always been here
just trying to sing the truth to you.
Yes you could say
we've always been,
Red, White, and Blue

oh..oh..Red, White, and Blue....
Red, White, and Blue
oh..oh....Red, White, and Blue

Palin portrait courtesy the Alaskan government.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Glowdown - Shit Hits Fan

In the Glow this week: a review of "Shit Hits The Fan" by Brooklyn quartet Bad Credit No Credit, a Q&A with Saint Louis noise-monger Joe Raglani, and a review (goes up Friday) of Guitars From Agadez by Group Inerane, players of Nigerien Tishoumaren, otherwise known as "guitar music," which originated in Lybian refugee camps during the second uprising of the '90s.

"Shit Hits The Fan" by Bad Credit No Credit - John Le Carré recently wrote an article in The New Yorker about the A Scanner Darkly-esque working conditions of British intelligence agents during the Cold War. These days, Carré writes, the job is just as shrouded in blind faith and paranoia, with Islamic terrorism the only invisible threat. “Shit Hits The Fan,” full of intrigue and suspense, is an able theme song: the drums and bass work in a tight groove as rain-stick and screams accent the seductive sax and tense croon of Carrie-Ann Murphy, who affirms, “All signs point to apocalypse.” Keep reading...

Interview with Raglani - Joe Raglani, founder of the experimental label Pegasus Farms Records, is a mainstay of the cozy music scene in Saint Louis, Missouri. Though he has been playing music for nearly two decades, Raglani’s latest record, the ominous and atmospheric Of Sirens Born, is his first major step out of his post-industrial home base and towards a wider audience. Over e-mail, he talks about Of Sirens Born, sources of inspiration, Saint Louis’ decayed art scene, and continuing to live “the dream.” Continued...