As I was watching Sarah Palin's most recent and perhaps most "special" news appearance yet, I reflected on her still disturbing national political presence, the reptilian Republican mind, and the energetic backwards motion that parts of my American South have shown in this momentous election. How on earth have we gotten to this bizarre state of affairs?
The video I'm referring to is, of course, the one with the perpetually running (for beauty-pageant queen more than political candidate, it seems to me) Governor Palin doing her usual smiley-face, rah-rah-America, Alaska-is-the-land-of-opportunity, wink-wink, Miss-Congeniality routine at a turkey farm as some poor schmuck whose job it is to kill the doomed turkeys we're all going to eat on Thanksgiving was tending to said business behind her. She had gone there to perform a hackneyed political stunt--giving a pre-Turkey Day governor's pardon--and, as usual, Miss Congeniality's actual stream-of-consciousness upbeat patriotic blather meant less than zero, except to animal activists and vegetarians. To that constituency, she accidentally made a strong case.
If there's anyone in the Universe who hasn't seen the video yet, go here. This is the part of Mrs. Palin's monologue that was particularly ironic as the turkey was dying behind her:
"This was neat. I was happy to get to be invited to participate in this. For one, you need a little bit of levity in this job--especially with so much that has gone on in the last couple of months that has been so political--obviously--that it's nice to get out and do something to promote a local business and just participate in something that isn't so heavy handed politics that it invites criticism. Certainly, we'll invite criticism for even doing this, too. But at least this was fun."
Even those of us who are going to eat the birds that are grown for our consumption don't want to see the death scene. It's not Quantum of Solace with Tom Turkey as James Bond--even though viewing the video was truly like watching a trailer for the latest Coen brothers film with Frances McDormand playing Sarah "You Betcha" Palin. Mrs. Palin is like a Fargo character that somehow came to life. Instead of the wood-chipper behind her, the turkey killing apparatus stole the show with the man stuffing the birds down into their gates of hell.
With this Palin-style Thanksgiving (smiley face with urge to kill) dancing across my laptop screen, I found myself thinking of home. Holidays always take me back, particularly Thanksgiving. I'm from the South--from Arkansas--where Sarah Palin and what's-his-name made a grand showing on Election Day. I was disappointed in their huge Arkansas turnout, which was no doubt helped by the electorate trying to keep unmarried and--oh no! God forbid! GAY--people from adopting sad homeless children, who would've benefited from becoming part of a family. Not to mention how such positive actions would send waves of good energy into every aspect of the community, and on and on. We Southerners are used to others marginalizing us--ever since the Civil War--but lately I've been sorry to see the South marginalize itself. This from a recent New York Times piece:
What may have ended on Election Day, though, is the centrality of the South to national politics. By voting so emphatically for Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama -- supporting him in some areas in even greater numbers than they did President Bush -- voters from Texas to South Carolina and Kentucky may have marginalized their region for some time to come, political experts say.
The region's absence from Mr. Obama's winning formula means it "is becoming distinctly less important," said Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University. "The South has moved from being the center of the political universe to being an outside player in presidential politics."
So, this is the future of the South? This is the backward direction Arkansas has taken since escorting her own William Jefferson Clinton to the doors of the White House 16 years ago? From the same New York Times article:
That could spell the end of the so-called Southern strategy, the doctrine that took shape under President Richard M. Nixon in which national elections were won by co-opting Southern whites on racial issues. And the Southernization of American politics -- which reached its apogee in the 1990s when many Congressional leaders and President Bill Clinton were from the South -- appears to have ended.
"I think that's absolutely over," said Thomas Schaller, a political scientist who argued prophetically that the Democrats could win national elections without the South.
The Republicans, meanwhile, have "become a Southernized party," said Mr. Schaller, who teaches at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "They have completely marginalized themselves to a mostly regional party," he said, pointing out that nearly half of the current Republican House delegation is now Southern.
All our hearts have been beating faster to the poetic justice of the GOP's disarray, which is most aptly demonstrated in these Southern states, stuck as they are in a glue of Republican propaganda and misinformation. As a native Southerner, I find this distressful. Speaking specifically as an Arkansan, I partially blame this on our past Baptist-preacher governor Mike Huckabee, the Mr. Congeniality of the Republican Party who sees it as his job to usurp our Founding Father's separation of church and state.
The South I used to know voted Democratic. Arkansas elected Bill Clinton its governor for six terms. And this was before and after the gross shotgun marriage (or is it a--gasp!--ménage a trois?) between the gullible evangelicals, the NASCAR set, and the country-club Republicans.
Everyone gives credit for this coalition to Ronald Reagan, "The Great Communicator." Waving his flag, talking of family values (of which he had none), he hooked up The Republican Party and the Southern electorate--but no one ever claimed Reagan was the brightest light. He instituted the Dull Wit as a Republican presidential virtue. He's the one who dumbed us all down. George W. Bush has been on this same folksy Republican quest of the devaluation of intelligence, and now it's apparently Sarah Palin's turn.
I'm all for politicians connecting to their voters--and Obama did exactly that--but I'm slightly horrified to see that 64% of Republicans say they want Sarah Palin as their next presidential candidate. Again, I fear for my increasingly marginalized South.
We've recently heard from two old friends in the Deep South who didn't vote for Obama. One recognized what was happening to him--this election "was the asteroid that finished off the dinosaurs," he said--adding, "Use my bones wisely." But the other was defiant in his determination not to be dragged into the light. He said that the future of his Republican Party was with Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann (now that's scary!) and that the country-club Republicans (of which this person is one) have to get over being embarrassed by their Wal-Mart cousins. He also talked about how (wealthy) Democrats vote against their own best interest. He doesn't seem to understand that these wealthy Democrats see their votes as being for the greater good of their country--and humanity. The Right-Wing Bible-beating racist fringe will always be the fringe, but this struck me as something else--the dumbing down of America by knowing intellectuals. And why would that be in their best interest? Hmmm.
But on this Thanksgiving week I'm still swooning with the positive change that's in the works. And I am so thankful for that--thankful that the specter of Bush Republicanism will start disappearing as Obama and his team plow ahead to exorcise the American consciousness of these last terrible years! We may be in deep trouble now, but there's a Tom Turkey of hope that we're carving into.
Governor Palin ends her interview by being thankful for the health and happiness of her family and for being a wink-wink Alaskan. "I'm always in charge of the turkey. I'm where I need to be today to prepare for that."
Could she have said it any better?
Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. She's having a big Thanksgiving dinner with friends, and she's making Southern Cornbread Dressing among other dishes for it. To check out more of her work, go to www.betharnold.com.
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