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Sarah Palin and the political spotlight

Sarah Palin - Going Rogue Back in 2008, during the presidential campaign, I wrote (in my personal blog) about Sarah Palin in a post titled “Folksy” doesn’t belong in the White House. By that point, I’d gotten enough information about Palin to make up my mind about the election and her poor qualifications, anti-intellectualism, and “folksiness” disqualified her for my consideration, costing McCain my vote.

Since that time, Palin has turned into a Republican darling for reasons that only reinforce the new Republican image; an image that emphasizes (and practically glorifies) lack of education, dogmatic dismissal of science, hate-fueled misinformation, and general ignorance. Republicans used to be the party of fiscal responsibility… the party of smaller government and lower taxes… the party that wanted to keep government as unobtrusive as possible. I liked that. Now, it’s the party of “no,” the party of science denialism, the party of right-wing, fundamentalist religion, the party of self-righteous moral proselytizing and intrusion into private, personal matters, the party of selective free speech (free speech as long as it’s speech of which they approve), and the party of unwavering faith in misinformed, spiteful “leaders” like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity.

I digress.

Palin has worked hard to maintain her position in the Republican spotlight and recent polls show she has fairly strong support among Republicans when it comes to presidential contention. That indicates the lamentable state of the American voting public.

Christopher Hitchens wrote a piece for Newsweek about Palin’s appeal to “populism” and her constant denigration of the “Washington elite.” Says Hitchens…

Sarah Palin herself can apparently never tire of contrasting her folksy provincialism with the pointy-headed intellectuals, and with those in the despised city of “Washington,” where her supporters want—it would seem against her own better instincts—to move her.

It’s an interesting point. Palin rails against Washington and the “elite” but seems to have a strong desire to become a Washington insider herself… as if her poor qualifications actually make her more qualified. She is (again from Hitchens)…

[…] anti-Washington except that she thirsts for it, and close enough (and also far enough away to be “deniable”) to the paranoid fringe elements who darkly suspect that our president is a Kenyan communist.

Palin, by any rational standard, is “out there” in her views on a number of issues… not the least of which are creationism and the exorcism of witches. Her statement that she hopes our soldiers are being sent to Iraq on a “task that is from God” is also disturbing on a number of levels. Someone with her purported beliefs should not be in charge of this country if we are to be successful… and free.

Hitchens concludes (and I agree)…

Sarah Palin appears to have no testable core conviction except the belief (which none of her defenders denies that she holds, or at least has held and not yet repudiated) that the end of days and the Second Coming will occur in her lifetime. This completes the already strong case for allowing her to pass the rest of her natural life span as a private citizen.

Here’s hoping for that.

Bill O’Reilly revs up his war engine

Bill O’Reilly is playing his "War on Christmas" game again. It seems the Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky decided that the seasonal tree this year would be called a "holiday tree" instead of a "Christmas tree" (he’s since revoked that decision and it’s back to being a "Christmas tree"). This, of course, drew outrage from offended Christians and the ever so fair-and-balanced Bill O’Reilly.

Here’s the video. My take on it follows.

I’ll start off with my opinion that calling the tree a "holiday tree" is stupid. It is a Christmas tree. Let’s just call it that. However, saying "happy holidays" is not stupid. It’s inclusive. Not only is it inclusive of other religious beliefs (Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Al Hijra, etc), but it’s also inclusive of other secular holidays (Thanksgiving and New Years Day, for instance).

Christmas has been secularized to the point where there are very few people who get offended over a Christmas tree, Christmas lights, snowmen, candles, elves, Santa, and the myriad of other secular Christmas displays. Similarly, I don’t know anyone who gets offended over religious displays when they are displayed in an appropriate place… like a church or on private property. The problem comes when the religious aspects of Christmas are displayed, promoted, paid for, or endorsed by any government (or taxpayer supported) organization.

That said… on to O’Reilly’s buffoonery.

He starts off announcing the story, and then says "Kentucky is a traditional place, as you know." By "traditional," what he means is "right-wing religious," but he uses the term "traditional" to make it sound warm and inviting… all apple pie and warm cookies. He also says "that kind of nonsense usually doesn’t play down there," planting his cleated feet firmly in the camp of religious intolerance (as if he needed to plant them deeper than they already are).

Gretchen Carlson states that she thinks that Beshear’s change of heart is "emblematic of what was goin’ on this summer at the tea parties. I think that now Americans have the "fight within them and they’re gonna stand up and they’re gonna be heard." O’Reilly thinks she may be right, of course… but I take offense at being lumped in with her version of what "Americans" are. I sincerely doubt that the tea parties had any real effect on rational, thinking Americans. The right-wing Fox News minions? Yes, perhaps.

O’Reilly turns his attention to Margaret Hoover and says that "we" (his show? Fox News?) had to hammer Washington state last Christmas because the governor there put up an atheist sign (OMG HORROR!) next to the Christmas tree and nativity scene. He charges right past the whole "nativity scene" bit. Perhaps he didn’t want to draw attention to the overt religious displays in government buildings. I don’t know.

Hoover says that we’re a multi-ethnic country (true) and that "atheists can’t impose their atheism on the rest of us… and vice versa" (also true).

O’Reilly, however, comes back with "But that’s not really true" and Carlson, in a flash of brilliance (not), says, "We call it Christmas because Christmas falls on December 25th. It’s Christmas!" Ummm… somebody needs to go back to remedial Sunday school, it seems.

O’Reilly’s argument is that "polls say" that 70% of Americans are "fed up with this nonsense" and want "Christmas to be Christmas." He doesn’t mention which polls or what "this nonsense" is specifically. He just gives a vague, unsupported statement as his means of "destroying" Hoover. He also says that the Christmas tree came from Germany and it’s a "tradition that America has embraced." He changes his tune slightly and says that (emphasis mine) "70% of Americans want traditional Christmas to be kept that way." Again, vague. I’m an atheist and, other than a Christmas Eve church service, my family’s Christmas is as "traditional" as it was growing up. O’Reilly’s statements are vague to the point of being… pointless.

But here’s where he really gets going. He says, "Don’t tell me about pluralistic nonsense. This is the tyranny of the minority." O’Reilly is a master of absurdism. Tyranny? Seriously? Calling a Christmas tree a "holiday" tree is tyranny?

Hoover says it’s up to the states to decide how to handle the issue and they have to answer to their citizenry. O’Reilly’s counter? "That dopey governor out there… and she is a giant pinhead… imposed her ridiculous view of life on Washingtonians." Wow. Because she allowed equal access for various religious displays (since the Constitution requires neutrality), she’s a dopey, giant pinhead? That’s classic O’Reilly, right there.

Carlson is no better and interjects that "they put up a Festivus pole" when, in actuality, they did not. They requested one, but the whole situation got shut down before getting too out of hand. Carlson goes on to make some remark implying that the American people would like to see their tax dollars being spent to stop all religious displays that are non-Christian.

O’Reilly finishes up by stating that the "Supreme Court has already ruled that you can have these displays. You don’t have to make these insane changes." What constitutes "these displays?" Christmas trees? Okay. Manger scenes? No. The Supreme Court has ruled no such thing.

O’Reilly is a master of delivering blustering, absolutist rhetoric while remaining pointless and vague. He spouts off with intolerant, bigoted tirades on a regular basis… but has a devout following of like-minded acolytes that hang on his every word, nodding their heads with a hypnotically zealous agreement. There was very little mention of Christianity in this video, but the undertone was there. From "traditional" Christmas to the tea partiers (who were, on the whole, overtly and fundamentally religious), the implication is that O’Reilly’s version of Christmas is the only acceptable way for Americans to spend the holiday season and, indeed, it’s the only acceptable holiday.

And remember, we call it Christmas because Christmas falls on December 25th.

Tea Party Rally a Scattershot Rage-fest

So Obama is like Hitler? From Bay of Fundie comes a slideshow of some of the signs from this past weekend’s “tea party” protest in Washington, DC. I’ve seen a lot of pictures from the event and have even seen a number of signs I do agree with (mostly related to bailouts and government spending), but the number of signs that portray true ignorance is just too great to ignore.

As I posted on my personal blog, protests are more about signs with clever slogans than addressing issues in any detail, but when those signs comprise an incoherent, inconsistent, scattershot collection of complaints with an underlying ignorance of the associated issues, there’s nothing productive about it.

In this slideshow, there are accusations of death panels, mandated abortions, liberal fascism, and communism. There are comparisons of Obama to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and Castro. There are complaints about Planned Parenthood, health care, ACORN, child trafficking in prostitation [sic], smallpox vaccinations (!!!), and the word “czar.” Even the tired old “Where’s the birth certificate?” nonsense is rolled out for show and tell.

Glenn Beck 2012? Please, no. There was even a sign with the words “Glenn Beck 2012.”

In other pictures, I’ve seen signs stating that the US is a Christian nation, that we’re “One Nation Under God,” that we need to pray more, and that Obama is a liar. There are plenty of other signs, but along with those signs come some interviews of some of the folks carrying them.

I will grant that the interviews are a small sample and may not be indicative of the ignorance level of the crowd in general, but based on the crazy signs I’ve seen, the interviews may not be too far off base.

What’s the common thread that runs through all the carriers of the more outrageous signs? Is it racism? Fundamentalist religion? Lack of education? Partisan hatred? I don’t really know, but I can make an educated guess at some of the causes. All of the above, perhaps?

Is this anti-Jesus or anti-liberty? The candle flames of racism, ignorance, and religious fundamentalism get fanned and fed by outrageous, hate-filled talk by the likes of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and other right-wing talking heads. These commentators help create and instill irrational fear in these protestors with spin, exaggerations, lies, and incendiary rhetoric. What’s worse is that the right-wing politicians do the same… assisted by fundamentalist preachers… assisted by conspiracy-theory proponents.

While some of the protesters had serious signs that indicated rational policy disagreements, a huge number (perhaps a majority) of the signs were simply banners of ignorance… spiteful displays of unfocused rage. In some of the interviews, protesters couldn’t explain what their signs meant or why they held the positions they did. They were just there to vent their nebulous, right-wing, Glenn-Beck-inspired rage to the Washington, DC mall and to be surrounded by others who were just as rage-filled.

We can do that in the United States. Our Constitutional First Amendment guarantees us that right, which is a beautiful thing. It’s one of the things that’s great about our country. When I see people like this taking advantage of that right, especially in a relatively well-mannered and orderly way, it makes me proud of our Constitution.

…but it makes embarrassed about our citizens.