Here's a pop quiz for Sarah Palin:
1. What is America's national pastime?
2. Who is Israel Baline?
3. What does the answer to #2 have to do with the answer to #1?
4. Why would Westbrook Pegler care?
Don't feel bad if you don't know all the answers. As a lifelong Cubs fan married to a man who's already envisioning an El tracks series between the Cubbies and the Sox, I know that baseball is the national pastime [watching the Cubs fall apart after July 4 used to be the national pastime, but we seem to have entered a new era]. We watched a bit of the final game in the old Yankee Stadium, last night, including the part where Ronan Tynan sang "God Bless America" to a stadium full of people whose parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents, weren't born here. For that matter, some of the people in the stands and on the field weren't born here - which brings us to the composer of that beloved song, and question #2.
Israel Baline is known to most of us as Irving Berlin, and he wrote "God Bless America" in 1918. He wrote it after he got to New York from Russia; his family fled the pogroms in 1893 and came to the land of the free, the home of the brave. He was so happy with his new home that he wrote his anthem, which always struck me as a nice addition to the patriotic repertoire - no bombs bursting in air, just mountains and prairies and oceans white with foam. And no stratospheric high notes that always make the listener nervous - will he make it? will her voice crack? - and make singing along almost impossible. This was people's patriotism, easy to memorize, easy to sing. It's a unifying song.
Which brings us to Berlin's contemporary, Westbrook Pegler, the anonymous guy Sarah Palin quoted so approvingly in her acceptance speech, because he once wrote a column about the good people we grow in small towns. He was a famous conservative newspaper columnist (think Rush Limbaugh in the newsprint age), who wrote lots of other things, too, things so offensive that I cannot bring myself to type them out on this keyboard, including evil caricatures of the Israel Balines of this country. He didn't much care for Jews, but they were in good company: He didn't much care for Democrats, either, and he publicly hoped for the assassination of Robert Kennedy. One can only wonder - if Pegler were alive today, would he join in when we sing "God Bless America" in a ballpark, or would he mutter nasty asides about the religious beliefs of its esteemed composer?
We have a vice-presidential candidate who quoted an anti-Semite in her nomination acceptance speech. Question #5: Was she aware, in which case we can all stay up nights worrying about the scope of her personal intolerance? Or was she oblivious, in which case, there are all sorts of other reasons not to get a good night's sleep.