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Talking Politics–Sarah Palin


Talking Politics Yahoo! News UK




Why Sarah Palin was right

Thu Jan 13 01:33PM By Ian Dunt

Sarah Palin has a lot to answer for, but her comments on the behaviour of the American left were justified.


Watching Sarah Palin’s video message yesterday made me want to break my face. Something about her tone, the Oprah Winfrey-style set up, the fake smile and the stilted, second-hand-car-advert delivery annoyed me intensely. I quickly gave up and read it instead.

If you want to feel good about the direction of the world, contrast it with Barack Obama’s response to the Arizona tragedy in his speech last night, which was responsible, thoughtful and non-political. Her contribution saw her focus exclusively on how badly she’d been treated. It takes a special kind of person to react that way to an atrocity. If someone asked her to be a bridesmaid she’d probably demand to be the husband.

The use of the term ‘blood libel’ – a reference, although presumably she didn’t know it, to medieval accusations of Jews sacrificing Christian children – was deeply unwise. Her team, swung into action by the blasting she’s taken over the last few days, evidently values soundbites over research.

But Palin was right. The superficiality of the associations which the American left has highlighted in the wake of the Arizona killings is depressing and even offensive. The sentence which mentions blood libel also contains an argument which the left should take note of. "Within hours of a tragedy unfolding," Palin said, "journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

Well actually, she’s right. Palin had used crosshairs over targeted Democratic districts in the US midterm elections. Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a victim of the shooting over the weekend, had taken her up on it at the time, saying: "When people do that, you’ve got to realise there’s consequences to that action." The resonance of that is too much for any journalist to ignore. The same goes for pundits. And eventually, Democratic politicians jumped on as well.

They lost a vital trick by doing so. There was a chance to undertake a genuine critique of the dangerous and irresponsible game the right plays in America during this period, but the left dropped the ball. They saw a vulnerability in the most famous right winger in the world and they took a shot. It’s pure nonsense. I doubt a single person believes the shooting would have been averted if it wasn’t for Sarah Palin putting some targets on a map.

Politics and war metaphors are like fish and chips. They go together so well that all war metaphors in politics are basically dead metaphors, like talking about the face of a clock. Here is Martin Tod, genial Liberal Democrat candidate for Winchester at the last British general election, talking to me in the charming rural bed of Hampshire. "In a seat like Winchester, you’ve got two large, well organised parties head-to-head, and it can get like trench warfare. It’s quite intense. Every yard is heavily fought for." The election before that, his party ran a strategy against the Tory front bench team (seems a century ago), taking them on where they were weakest. It was called a ‘decapitation strategy’. These are not particularly impressive examples, just the first two that popped into my head.

To critique Palin and her fellow right wing activists/journalists/pundits (the line is increasingly blurred in America) on this basis is profoundly superficial and disingenuous. But Palin does have a lot to answer for and that’s what makes the cheapness of the attack on her so frustrating. One of the first things British visitors to America will note is the strength of the rhetoric used in political debate, especially on talk radio and Fox News, sister channel of the better-behaved Sky News. There is a safety reflex which blames this phenomenon on right and left. That’s wrong. It’s the right, in America at least. In the UK, as it happens, the left are more likely to demonise, although to a much lesser extent than across the Atlantic.

The real crime of this rhetoric is not that it is overblown. It’s that it constitutes scaremongering. Palin used the Obama healthcare battle to describe end-of-life planning provisions as the creation of ‘death panels’. This isn’t about graphics of gunsights. This is about misleading people, turning a debate about the funding of healthcare into a mad story about the government killing people’s parents. That’s beyond irresponsible. It’s cynical, misleading gutter politics. It’s undemocratic, because it robs the people mad enough to trust you of their ability to evaluate a debate. It’s political commentary as reprehensible intellectual assault.

Palin’s mirror image, the incomprehensibly popular Glenn Beck, plays the same tricks. I’ll be honest about Beck. I watched him once and wanted to hide under the bed. I wanted to buy tickets to a Caribbean country and forget all about politics and the world, if it had gone so mad. But regardless of my views, his tactics should be unacceptable to everyone.

Last November the Senate voted on the Food Safety Modernization Act, which gave the Food and Drug Administration new responsibilities to combat contamination in the food chain. Perhaps there’s a debate to be had about that. If so, this was Beck’s contribution: "They control your food, they control you. This is about control and in the end – starvation."

The troubling part of this sort of rhetoric, to people like me, is that it plays on the distrust of government which I want to promote in all schoolchildren from the youngest possible age. The image of dastardly government fascists constantly trying to break into people’s living rooms is promoted endlessly by right wing US pundits. But those of us who fight against real government intrusion – ID cards, extended pre-charge detention, overzealous council surveillance – should feel aggrieved that these social Darwinists have utilised liberal arguments to fight against the very concept of government and, in tandem, social responsibility.

For a country that likes to grumble, Britain never quite knows what to do when presented with a news story like the one unfolding in America. It makes us look good, because we don’t have similar problems. Britain is generally averse to recognising the fact that some things about it really are rather good. But we might do well to note some of our advantages while we’re in the mood.

Firstly, we got the TV/print – subject/objective balance right. The Americans ended up with objective newspapers and wildly subjective TV networks. As the most prevalent form of news, it’s best to keep the TV news objective and let print turn into a free-for-all. Buying a paper is more of a proactive choice than leaving the news on and because they also provide lifestyle content they are a more appropriate home for people’s prejudices. British papers are also entirely open about their perspective – they even have the gall tell us who to vote for on election day, if anyone still listens. US TV news channels are far more secretive. Fox News, for instance, laughably describes itself as ‘fair and balanced’.

Secondly, the courts still uphold a basic standard of accuracy. Phil Woolas’ Oldham leaflets are the closest we get to the Beck school of scaremongering. In a worrying example of simpleminded thinking, some figures on the British political scene saw fit to donate to his legal fight out of a misjudged sense of courts’ role in British political life. More fool them. The special court reflected that British political debate must maintain a minimum benchmark of accuracy for it to flourish. I make this argument with some trepidation, by the way, given that I’m vulnerable on two grounds – the impotence of the Press Complaints Commission and the draconian nature of Britain’s libel laws.

Absence of religious sentiment might also play a role. That British tendency to veer away from absolutism, from those who take themselves too seriously, protects us against some of the quasi-religious, fire and brimstone rhetoric we hear across the Atlantic. Our right wingers are no more or less right wing than theirs, they’re just missing the moral certainty which religion inflicts on people. John Redwood or Norman Tebbit aren’t to the left of Glenn Beck, they’re just more reasonable human beings. They operate in a political culture that places basic cultural standards on political debate and reacts badly to missionary zeal.

Brits should feel good about that. Sarah Palin and her ilk should feel deeply ashamed at the depths they have taken US politics to. And the American left should feel some pretty crushing self-doubt when it faces up to how it acted this week.

Talking Politics – Yahoo! News UK


January 14, 2011 - Posted by | Blog, Blogroll, CELEBRITY, Computers, Death, Disgusting, Entertainement, Funny, Internet, nature, People, Politics, religion, Weird |

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