Thursday, October 02, 2008
Palin's Perils: A Literary Analysis
"Has the country sunk so low that the likes of Sarah Palin would come within a heart's beat of the presidency?"
You've heard this talk in recent weeks, even if you're on the conservative side of the aisle.
the scribe's mother is mortified "this woman" has risen to the undeserved station she has in the blink of an eye.
And to be sure, there has been no shortage of articles in recent days laying out the depth of Palin's Perils, the Republicans' great Palin panic, and other devastating judgments as to Lady Alaska's suitability to govern at the highest level of the nation, indeed, the planet.
Has the talent pool sunk so low, the American public so numbed by political advertisements, the Republic so frayed that only intellectual maladroits of the Bushian ilk can deign to lead us?
If "Democracy," a classic from Henry Adams, is any indication, we're rising to our natural level and being true to our bluest nature in election season.
highwayscribery picked up "Democracy" after George Will mentioned it in a great tete a tete with Stephen Colbert about six weeks ago.
Will's plug was not the first to which the scribe has been exposed, but he was late in getting around to it thanks to a vague confusion regarding the James and Adams clans: the very same Adams(es) that brought you a great HBO miniseries and John Quincy.
But you don't care about that. What you care about is the way in which this depiction of post-Civil War Washington D.C. informs our present-day reality.
So here's the set-up: A prairie statesman, a senator from Illinois by the name of Ratcliffe, is robbed of his rightful place at the top of the party ticket by some convention machinations that elevate an unknown from Indiana in his stead.
Ratcliffe's enemies, Adams writes, "had laid aside their principles and set up for their candidate a plain Indiana farmer, whose political experience was limited to stump-speaking in his native state, and to one term as governor. They had pitched upon him, not because they thought him competent, but because they hoped by doing so to detach Indiana from Ratcliffe's following, and they were so successful that within fifteen minutes Ratcliffe's friends were routed, and the presidency had fallen upon this new political Buddha."
Today, of course, conventions are done-deals so that, McCain, upon arriving in Minnesota, was already playing for the general election. He pulled the Palin card in an effort to "detach" Hillary Clinton's female supporters from a surging Obama, while reaping the added benefit of "changing the conversation" and denying this contemporary Illinois senator his moment in the news cycle sun.
The move seems to have garnered short-term benefits at the expense of McCain's long-term chances at the presidency.
But Back to "Democracy."
The Indiana governor, prior to engaging politics, had worked as a stone-cutter in a quarry. And this fact is trumpeted as virtue; a vocation separate and distinct from the lowly crafts practiced in the nation's capital, much in the way Palin's commitment to moose murder was sold as a mark of distinction between herself and your run-of-the-mill vote-chasing lawmaker.
Among the press-ready monikers lavished upon the newcomer were "The Stone-cutter of Wabash," "the Hoosier Quarryman," and "Old Granite."
The other party, and what passed in those days for the "liberal media elite," attacked Old Granite's resume as insufficient to the high-stakes game of national politics, "But these violations of decency and good sense were universally reproved by the virtuous; and it was remarked with satisfaction that the purest and most highly cultivated newspaper editors on his side, without excepting those of Boston itself, agreed with one voice that the Stone-cutter was a noble type of man, perhaps the very noblest that appeared to adorn this country since the incomparable Washington."
That's nineteenth century straight talk for the coded marketing-speak associated with Palin's ability to "connect" with the regular, good, and"hard-working" people of our morally infallible country.
And like Palin, the Hoosier Quarryman was willing to buy the campaign swill put forth on his behalf.
"Owing nothing, as he conceived, to politicians, but sympathizing through every fiber of his unselfish nature with impulses and aspiration of the people, he affirmed it to be his first duty to protect the people from those vultures, as he called them, those wolves in sheep's clothing, those harpies, those hyenas the politicians; epithets which, as generally interpreted, meant Ratcliffe and Ratcliffe's friends."
But what happens next is that the Stone-cutter of Wabash finds himself in over his head.
"No maid-of-all-work in a cheap boardinghouse was ever more harassed. Everyone conspired against him. His enemies gave him no peace. All Washington was laughing at his blunders, and ribald sheets, published on a Sunday, took delight in printing the new Chief Magistrate's sayings and doings, chronicled with outrageous humor, and placed by malicious hands where the President could not see them."
Overwhelmed with public business he turns to...
...Ratcliffe and "breathed more freely than for a past week."
The prairie statesman relieves his burden to an extent that surprises the erstwhile reformer who had come, ostensibly, to shake-up Washington:
"[Ratcliffe] knew everybody and everything. He took most of the President's visitors at once into his own hands and dismissed them with great rapidity. He knew what they wanted; he knew what recommendations were strong and what were weak; who was to be treated with deference and who was to be sent away abruptly; where a blunt refusal was safe, and where a pledge was allowable."
Sound familiar? If not, here's a hint: (Dick Cheney).
In 10 days Ratcliffe has taken control of a government, with the title of Treasury Secretary, that was elected to tame him.
highwayscribery has yet to finish "Democracy" and would not normally issue one of its famed "Book Reports" prior to completing a self-appointed duty. But tonight is the debate between vice presidential candidates and the piece seemed timely.
And while Henry Adams may yet have a surprise in store, the scribe felt the tale told in "Democracy," seemed exceedingly, well, familiar.
It's not easy to get "experience" at leading companies, newspapers, and countries. But as "Democracy" makes clear, the stories of our world and the things we think so new in it, are to be found in the great books, and perusing them is the next best thing to a hands-on schooling.
That's why making a blessing of Dame Palin's intellectual shortcomings represents something of a double-whammy, because she is doubly inexperienced in the ways of the world: first of action, and then of contemplation.