Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Scarier than you think

Sarah Palin, asked what she thought about the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance: "If it was good enough for the Founding Fathers it's good enough for me..."

As the house pessimist, or realist depending on your point of view, I see this observation as yet one more indicator of how we could very easily lose this election.

Put simply, the Republicans have mastered the black political art of validating ignorance. Tie this in with the insidious and pervasive Orwellian re-writing of American history going on in home and public schools across the land, and you have a political weapon that would make Josefs Goebbels and Stalin green with envy.

Remember, we inhabit a political universe in which truth and fact no longer matter. History is what the Republicans say it is, and the pervasive, unspoken subtext is that America is, was, and always will be a Christian nation.

What concerns me about this is that we progressives actually, if not naively, believe that through the simple expedient of truth-telling we can re-educate the True Believers and shame the Rs' campaign into sticking with the facts (got yer deed t'th' Brooklyn Bridge right heah if you buy that one).

But what's truly scary about all this is how the Rs' political jujitsu can turn a progressive response into a backlash in a New York minute. The moment we correctly tag Sarah Palin, or anyone else of importance in the campaign, as the profound ignoramus she is - or they are - the Rs fire back with the latest variation of the egghead smear that's been their weapon of choice since Stevenson.

Works every time, neighbors. No one likes to be shown up, especially by some elitist lefty (which is to say anyone who knows the score who's telling you you're wrong), and the Rs know it. Consider how many people we all know who can't won't or don't make the distinction between ignorance and intelligence. Mention the fact that someone might be ignorant of the situation at hand and what do you hear? "You calling me stupid?" Nuff said.

So I'd be careful with how we, and the Obama campaign, deal with this. Joe Biden could easily shred Palin and her credibility in their debate, but watch out for the Rs' response. I can hear it now. Biden's just another glib pointy-headed liberal. Do we really want someone that articulate, that smart, talking over our heads all the time? Bad enough we have to deal with this uppity colored guy, but two eggheads in the same administration? Why that's un-American.

Republicans love ignorance and fact-bending. They thrive on it, and have co-opted it as a political stratagem, which means we should attack it not frontally but obliquely. To go after Palin directly springs the Rovian trap, so we nibble at the edges.

Put some quick references into ads and stump speeches, maybe give Joe Biden a zinger or two like "Y'know I've recited the Pledge of Allegiance all my life, and I believe in it with all my heart. But I also paid attention in history class, so I know that the Pledge wasn't written until 1892, which means that if Sarah Palin is right about the Founding Fathers endorsing it they would have had to live another hundred years. Now for someone running for vice-president, maybe to be off by a few years wouldn't matter all that much, but to be off by that much makes me wonder what other serious misconceptions Gov. Palin might be laboring under."

And under no circumstances do we go directly after Palin's pregnant daughter. Instead, let Obama, or the right group of surrogates, offer up something like this: "Now we've heard a lot from the Republicans, and will hear a lot more I'm sure, about good old fashioned family values. So I suggest you now to take a good long, hard look at the respective tickets, Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin. You've heard our stories, read all about us, so now ask yourselves which of these sets of candidates really represents the kind of values you'd want to see in your own families."

And don't belabor the point. Get in and get out. Journalist George Seldes, whose remarkable career spanned nearly the entire 20th century, and of whom too many progressives are, yes, ignorant, lived by a very simple mantra: "Tell the truth and run." He didn't mean it in a cowardly way. Instead he was all about get in, get the facts, tell the story and move on to the next one before anyone can draw a bead on the messenger.

So it's all about guerrilla tactics. Hit and run, in and out. Strike quick, strike hard, and then get back on message. Will it work? Who knows. This election hinges on whether or not we the people actually think we've hit bottom. Problem is that the Republicans are the bottom-feeders in this race, and know how to stir up the muck to obscure the truth. Our job is to keep blupping up bubbles of truth and reason through the primordial ooze of ignorance and fear that has pandemically infected the American electoral mindset, in the hope of some of that message actually getting through.

And I wish us all luck, because as we all know the fate of the American experiment hangs in the balance. If we don't find a bigger choir to preach to we've had it...

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