Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Saturday Night Livid

Political satire started in prime time as Sarah Palin preempted SNL with a parody of herself at the Tea Party convention.

"How's that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?" she twinkled during a $100,000 standup (to be donated to "the cause," destination unclear) for hundreds who paid $349 to hear her pummel Obama with one-liners about everything from bailouts to the Christmas bomber (in the war on terror, "we need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.")

Her star turn on C-Span and the cable news networks, amplified by bloggers and Tweeters, brought a substantial audience to the movement of malcontent that had been marginalized by what she called "the lamestream media" until Scott Brown's capture of Ted Kennedy's seat brought Obama odium into the headlines.

Before Palin took the stage, its kooky roots showed in a rant about the President's citizenship, but the perky personification of 21st century "Conservatism" tamped down the anger with her trademark cheerfulness in anointing the Tea Party as "the future of politics in America."

As always, Palin's upbeat string of non-sequiturs tapped into angers and resentments too deep and ugly to be openly aired directly even in today's anything-goes culture, a strain of American animus memorialized half a century ago as the "paranoid style in American politics."

The subject came up in 1964 when historian Richard Hofstadter gave it a name during Barry Goldwater's run for the presidency against Lyndon Johnson:

"American politics has often been an arena for angry minds...who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority...a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy."

Half a century ago, Goldwater lost decisively when he claimed that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And...moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!"

But one of his pitchmen, the actor Ronald Reagan who started out in sports-casting like Sarah Palin, later found a way to convert that zeal into a "Morning in America" campaign all the way to the White House.

Last night, Palin invoked Reagan on his 99th birthday, without mentioning any other Republican from Eisenhower to the Bushes, in proclaiming that "America is ready for another revolution."

The goals of that revolution, of course, are cloudy, but its target, as Hofstadter showed, is very clear: "a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman--sinister, ubiquitous, powerful...Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters."

Barack Obama's moderation does not easily fit that description but, to the fevered Tea Party mind, as a demographic outsider (like JFK before him) to what Sarah Palin and other practitioners of the paranoid style feel is real Americanism, that doesn't matter much. He will do as an outlet for their discontents.


Serious Implications said...

Palin: "we need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern."

Republicans remind me of the crazy, pissed-off passenger who, after losing a heated argument with the driver, grabs the steering wheel to force the car off the road.

The commander in chief needs to have his team in place, yet Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) has a hold on seventy appointments until he gets his multi-billion dollar ransom in the form of Alabama projects.

If the car crashes, Shelby's fingerprints will be all over the steering wheel, and his teeth will be stuck in the shattered windshield.

Anonymous said...

Obama is a moderate? Yeah, right. Obama is George Bush's third term. Was HE a moderate in your view?
We do not need any more "moderation" just so a bunch of mindless voters do not get their collective feelings hurt. What we actually need is a radical. Just not a fascist like Barack Obama. Perhaps someone more in the mold of Thomas Jefferson. Or was his greatest quality his "moderation"?

Keith Snyder