Hyperbole continues to soar in the aftermath of Sarah Palin's bold and spirited, but sadly divisive, sarcastic, Rove-recycled speech at Wednesday's Republican National Convention. The darling of Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchannan is now being proclaimed a "star," a "game-changer," the answer to a dying party.
Yet putting political views aside, I saw very little to admire in Palin's speech. Perhaps MSNBC's Keith Olbermann's analysis (paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln) put it best: "People who like this sort of thing will find this ... the sort of thing they like." Along with the cynical screeds of failed presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rudy Giulianni, Palin re-ignited the old slash and burn politics that have come to characterize our politics -- and in the process, turned off millions of voters.
I am one of those voters. In 2000, I was one who mistakenly voted for Bush, a vote I made at the age of 19 and still regret to this day. I have since realized that most conservative rhetoric about compassion, work, and family values has become just that: empty rhetoric that has been actualized instead in the form of preemptive war, torture, a failed economy, wiretapping, corruption, and failed policies on health care, energy, education, and social security. It is a party that has consistently used wedge issues to divide America. It has taught us to distrust each other and label all those with differing views as unpatriotic. Once upon a time, John McCain seemed to offer an alternative to these far-right, Rovian tactics permeating his party. Yet sadly, his pick of Palin is only the latest in a string of concessions to the "agents of intolerance" he once condemned.
What I saw on Wednesday was eerily similar to a hate rally: words become weapons of mass distortion, truth is what you can persuade the masses to believe, everything is black and white, us versus them, rural versus urban, white collar versus blue collar, red versus blue, liberal versus conservative. It is an old and pathetic fight that a young senator from Illinois gave us hope we might transcend. He spoke of a forward-looking politics, a practical politics, a politics that empowered and united ordinary citizens in common purpose. His message has since been characterized as Utopian and naive. How dare he ask us to strive for a more perfect union, an America that attempts to live up to its ideals!
The Palins, Roves and Hannitys of the world remind us the politics of the past -- of cynicism, manipulation, and fear -- still have many devoted disciples and even more drones.
That was more than apparent as a rapturous Republican crowd devoured the "red meat" offered in Sarah Palin's condescending, sometimes Coulteresque diatribe. Yet for people like me, a one-time Republican watching at home, it only reminded me of the smallness and pettiness our politics has become -- and how difficult it is to believe it can be different, to have hope America can be better and actually solve some of the huge challenges we face. As Barack Obama put it in his own nomination speech:
"[These petty politics have] worked before, because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping and settle for what you already know.
"I know there are those who dismiss [the ideas of change and hope] as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer, and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values.
"And that's to be expected, because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters.
"If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things."
A big election about small things.
For all the breathless post game coverage Wednesday about Palin's "grand slam," that is really all she and the Republicans managed to accomplish.
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