Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Gloves are Off Because its My Fight [MEIN KAMPF] (you betcha)

Is it alarmist to view Sarah Palin's campaign activities as demagogic? We certainly do not seem to be encountering the language of demagoguery in the main stream media, let alone any attempt to draw historical parallels with, for example, the rise of the Third Reich. Nevertheless, we need to "look at the record" (as a failed Democratic Presidential candidate once said); and anyone who reads that record is free to draw his/her own conclusions.

One of the most recent contributions to that record came from Dana Milbank's "Washington Sketch" column in this morning's Washington Post. Consider his account of Palin's campaign activities (and audience response) in Clearwater, Florida:

Barack Obama, she told 8,000 fans at a rally here Monday afternoon, "launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist!" This followed her earlier accusation that the Democrat pals around with terrorists. "This is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America," she told the Clearwater crowd. "I'm afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country." The crowd replied with boos.

McCain had said that racially explosive attacks related to Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, are off limits. But Palin told New York Times columnist Bill Kristol in an interview published Monday: "I don't know why that association isn't discussed more."

Worse, Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

It may be alarmist to draw attention to such activities and try to frame them in a historical perspective, but calling such behavior alarmist does not negate the possibility that there may be cause for alarm! As Milbank's account continues, we see demagogic crowd manipulation as worthy of the history books as it is homage to Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd:

The reception had been better in Clearwater, where Palin, speaking to a sea of "Palin Power" and "Sarahcuda" T-shirts, tried to link Obama to the 1960s Weather Underground. "One of his earliest supporters is a man named Bill Ayers," she said. ("Boooo!" said the crowd.) "And, according to the New York Times, he was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol,' " she continued. ("Boooo!" the crowd repeated.)

"Kill him!" proposed one man in the audience.

Palin also told those gathered that Obama doesn't like American soldiers. "He said that our troops in Afghanistan are just, quote, 'air-raiding villages and killing civilians,' " she said, drawing boos from a crowd that had not been told Obama was actually appealing for more troops in Afghanistan.

"See, John McCain is a different kind of man: He believes in our troops," she said.

At times, Palin hinted at the GOP campaign's troubles. "It's going to be a hard-fought contest, especially in these swing states, some maybe we would not have expected," she admitted to donors. She allowed that "John McCain and I need to do a better job" of talking about the economy.

At other times, she had troubles of her own, as when she spoke over the weekend of "our neighboring country of Afghanistan" or when she got choked up at the Clearwater rally, saying, "Some of your signs just make me wanna cry," without explaining which ones or why.

But then the gloves came off, the heels came out, and Palin was once again talking about her opponent hanging out in a terrorist's living room.

As I pointed out on Sunday, the Bill Ayers gambit is right up there with the scurrilous techniques that had been applied with such relish by the late Senator Joseph McCarthy over fifty years ago. Perhaps that temporal distance is where the problem lies. It is bad enough that ours is a culture that has become oblivious to our origins, particularly when it comes to the efforts of our Founding Fathers to both draft and win ratification of our Constitution; it is worse that our historical ignorance now views the twentieth century as a past as distant and irrelevant as the eighteenth. I am reminded of the words of Marcy Kaptur's reaction to the passing of the bailout bill, which I cited on Friday:

Pray for our republic. She's being placed in very uncaring and greedy hands.

Those "uncaring and greedy hands" are pulling as many strings in this political campaign as they were in Congressional deliberations over the Treasury proposal. However, the problem with pulling strings to promote a demagogue is that, sooner or later, that demagogue starts pulling his/her own strings; and those who thought they had been controlling everything to their personal advantage discover that control has slipped out of their hands. Control now resides in the totalitarian authority of the demagogue him(her)self.

What will it take to get the mainstream media to start reading history? Do we need another burning (as opposed to just banning) of books? Will we need our own night of broken glass? Is this an alarmist way to read history? As I said, alarmist it may be; but the cause for alarm may still be there!

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