Sister Sarah and the Celebration of Ignorance

It does not surprise me when I read that Sarah Palin has helped to tilt the election towards John McCain. She is a major force to contend with, and contend we must. Let me cut to the chase. I believe that the election of McCain and Sarah Palin would be a political tsunami that can bring down the house that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson built; a house that George W. Bush systematically attempted to tear down, brick by brick, lie by lie, but at this date is still standing, a little worse for wear. And I fear that McCain and Palin will come to power by their lies, and through the cult of celebrity, the very celebrity that McCain demeaned in Obama.

I admit that this woman scares me mostly because I can see her great attraction. She's a fine orator despite the hard "r" that reminds me of Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, the lady famous for her warning Dorothy, "I'll get you and your little dog too" only with Palin I hear the subtext of "I'll get you and your environment too." Palin is quick in delivering a snappy line; she is a mistress of insult, a rabble rouser, and perhaps, just perhaps, a true believer which makes her all the more dangerous. She certainly believes in herself, but then all candidates must, but her belief in self is based on a set of prejudices and a celebration of ignorance, rather than a lifetime of achievement. Most of all she's a good actress, attractive enough with a winning smile, all helpful as a fine manipulator of people and ideas. All these qualities make her a power to contend with, and the Democrats better recognize that now. The fact that she is the enemy of every woman who will vote for her with the exception of Cindy McCain makes her rise more dangerous for Americans, particularly for working women; more dangerous than any other candidate who has ever vied for public office. This is the woman who could, and probably will succeed John McCain if health and age prevent him from remaining in office. This woman may well be our not so far off President Palin. Drop the l from her name and we know what's ahead for America.

The closest we have seen to Sarah Palin in America is not Hillary Clinton or those stand-up, speak-out women who have fought for Women's Rights and Civil Rights but Amie Semple McPherson, the great woman Evangelist of the nineteen twenties. This was the woman upon whom Sinclair Lewis, the novelist, based the character of Sister Sarah in Elmer Gantry. The real life Amie could bring the crowds to their feet, pick their pockets, and make them believe that she was doing God's work and theirs, as she became rich from fleecing the poor who revered her. Lewis, a prescient novelist, once wrote that fascism won't come to America wearing jackboots as in Nazi Germany, but acting like a good ole boy. He meant Huey Long, but it applies as much to Sarah Palin. Perhaps fascism will finally come to America wearing lipstick and high heels, smiling warmly while raining insults down on her enemies.

We now have a woman who is a living sound bite, perfect for an electorate with a short attention span. She is our very own Republican MTV, appealing to an America that is starving for authenticity but which swallows whole the fake candidate who churns their resentments by demeaning the opposition with a sassy manner. She, like McCain, is a member of the party of elites of this country, those who have profited most from it financially, yet she and her fellows use the term "elitism" as a pejorative, almost a curse. They want to stir up resentments, turn the audience against those who have the nerve to rise from poverty and write for the Harvard Law Review. It is government by resentment, something perfected by fascism, and later by Carl Rove in our time, and Ms. Palin is a master practitioner of it. Trust me I do not throw the word fascist around loosely.

It's taken a long lifetime for me to spot a con man or a con woman. In the course of my early life I have been charmed by and taken in by several tricksters, and I have in my later years developed a special sense when faced by the political and emotional crook, and I see one in Sarah Palin. The debates with Joe Biden may not reveal the fake beneath the homespun rhetoric. She will be well rehearsed. If Biden listens to the sexists who think that women cannot be held accountable for what they do or say, and chooses to treat her gently for fear of appearing as a bully, she will demolish him. It's time for gloves off, truth on politics. This lady understands rough, not gentle. And we can expect very little help from the press who prize celebrity above authenticity. Who cares if the woman is a danger to our democracy? She's great copy.

I am not looking for some rumored sexual scandal in The Enquirer to bring her down the way it brought down Edwards, or the way a sex scandal brought down Sister Amie in the twenties, but I am hoping for what the Evangelicals called a Great Awakening. My awakening would mean that Americans open their eyes and ears and look and listen carefully at what the candidates are actually saying and what they have done in the past. Here is a woman who attempted to censor a local library as a Mayor, and tried to fire her ex brother-in-law, a state trooper, because of some Palin family dispute. For one who speaks forcefully against the intrusion of government into our lives she has no sense of the proper limits of power. And she will undoubtedly attempt to impose her own political and religious views on others if and when the opportunity arises.

This is a Governor who ransacks the US treasury for support of her oil rich but otherwise poor state, yet will slap the same government in the face when it appears expedient to do so. She is running a campaign that is allegedly pro women while attacking the very government that has done so much to advance the rights of women. Sure, she has a fine gift for making and naming babies and husbands, Truck, Track, Trick, all of it MGM Tab and Rock cute -- but I can smell a con a mile away and this woman is in the great tradition of the American trickster. This is not a female Huck Finn, but a descendant of the con men Huck meets while traveling on his raft down the Mississippi. Palin would no doubt have named one of her children Huck, if she wasn't so suspicious of that great book.

There are two opposing traditions in America regarding the life of the mind. On one hand we revere expertise, honor intelligence, and desperately want our kids to go to college in order to develop their skills, which means developing their minds so that they can have good lives. On the other hand we honor frontier American virtues; self-sufficiency, simplicity, and authenticity. Sometimes we respect down-home sense over book learning; the cracker barrel philosophy over the carefully reasoned argument. Occasionally, they come together in an Abe Lincoln or a Harry Truman, but mostly one or the other prevails. Sarah Palin can only succeed by exploiting the American affection for that frontier past, and making intelligence and achievement appear to be the enemy of the down-to-earth voter. Anti-intellectualism can be as vicious as racism, and in Obama's case they have a perfect target. In case you've missed my partisanship so far, I find Barack Obama closer to Abe Lincoln than any other candidate of my lifetime. But it is Lincoln the log splitter and not Lincoln the thoughtful reader and intellect that Palin's Republican party reveres. We can't expect a recession economy or a costly war to save us from a Republican victory, not if Palin's charges go unanswered, or ineffectively anwered. We need truth squads ready to speak out at all times and answer the tricksters and the con men who control the Republican party. Yes, I have a deep personal interest in this election. I have three young granddaughters, a three year old who just began kindergarten this week, and twin girls celebrating their first month on this endangered planet. I care deeply about their future and the opportunities this country will offer them in life, and I see it threatened by this woman. If she comes to power she won't be splitting logs; she will be busy cleaving our democracy.