I’m sure you are probably ready with the easy answer: Nothing has changed. She has been giving half-cocked, barely coherent speeches for years, and this year, just a few days removed from the grand oratorical opus she delivered at the 2015 Iowa Freedom Summit, she’s still offering up the same rambling diatribes — with or without a teleprompter, it makes little difference — consisting of a strange mix of middle-America colloquialisms and a tinge of bitterness that comes from losing badly in 2008 and being relegated to the hinterlands of reality television ever since.
But Matt Lewis with The Daily Beast has touched on something that I don’t think most people have pointed out, at least not recently. After 2008, Palin actually had a chance to dust herself off and hit the reset button on her political career. He lays out the scenario thusly:
In fairness, Palin was once a reform-minded governor who enjoyed an 88 percent approval rating. But something happened on the way to Des Moines. I suspect the most vicious attacks (especially the “Trig Truther” stuff) radicalized her and embittered her, but I also suspect she also took the easy way out. Instead of going back to Alaska after the 2008 defeat, boning up on the issues, continuing her work as governor, and forging a national political comeback, she cashed in with reality-TV shows and paid speaking gigs.
This isn’t an original or new observation, In fact, back in July 2009, I wrote: “The tragedy of Sarah Palin’s recent press conference announcing her resignation as governor of Alaska flows from the sense that so much potential has been wasted.”
The trouble with taking the easy way out is that it doesn’t last forever. The people who truly last in this business don’t rely on shortcuts or good looks or gimmicks; they survive on work ethic, wit, and intellect. (That’s why, no matter how grandiose he gets, Newt Gingrich will always have a gig. Newt will always be interesting, because he will always have something to say—something to contribute.)
This is why — and it seems many conservative writers are now ready to concede this point — that Palin never really had any staying power or substance in the first place, without laboriously going back to Alaska to study up, and when she is left to her devices, especially without the teleprompter, this is what we get in raw form, which is a shell of someone like Gingrich or John McCain, who are, however much I might disagree with them on specific points, at least capable of manufacturing interesting ideas independent of anyone else.
At the same time that a slew of potential Republican presidential candidates, none of whom will likely be in contention for the presidency, were courting far-right voters this past week at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Gov. Bobby Jindal was off crusading in Baton Rouge, La., at The Response prayer meeting held by the American Family Association, as he joined about 3,000 fellow evangelicals — and I don’t think this language is an exaggeration — “to save America, through prayer and fasting, from the threats of Sharia, homosexuality, pornography, and abortion.” Indeed, according to Slate’s report:
Materials promoting the event described natural disasters including Hurricane Katrina, as well as the national debt, as the just result of America’s sins, punishments akin to the biblical wave of locusts.
Despite claims to the contrary, and despite federal tax law stipulating that preachers and religious organizations can’t take political positions or endorse candidates lest they run the risk of losing their tax-exempt status (Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS tax code), The Response gathering contained numerous political elements:
Jindal and other speakers prayed for the different branches of government and for President Obama. Louisiana state Sen. Jonathan Perry called for more “born-again Christians” to be elected to political office. Another speaker said, “When our government sanctions [abortion], it brings reproach upon our land.” She insisted that “the right to abort will be overturned,” but in the meantime, the “payment for bloodshed is blood.” Pastor Bob Phillips announced that a group of pastors was “rising up” against “America’s pestilence” and fighting against people who wanted to “silence the voice of those who would make biblical application” to politics. He said that pastors were ignoring requirements of their churches’ tax-exempt status that they not make political speeches from the pulpit, and they were sending the IRS videos of themselves endorsing political candidates in their sermons.
The event was so political that the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, despite participating in a pro-life march nearby, declined to take part. Rob Tasman, the LCCB director, said, “The event was viewed more as an evangelical event with a political tone to it, and the bishops don’t participate in such events.”
Kudos to the bishops. Needless to say, the nation apparently didn’t miss much, as a significant amount of attendees had already cleared out by the time Jindal got up to talk about his religious conversion:
The Response kept reminding me of high school. Jindal’s story of his conversion was couched entirely in his high school experience, including a pivotal moment in which he talks with a “pretty girl,” whom he had a crush on, about her dream of becoming a Supreme Court justice and overturning Roe v. Wade. Everything was superficial and black and white, in the way adolescents see the world. Jindal didn’t want to look deeper than this: “In the end, our God wins.”
Jindal might have been better served, politically, by casting lots with the sea of crazies up the road in Des Moines. At least then he couldn’t be accused of trying to conflate politics and religion. As a Slate commentator named Stafford opined:
Wasn’t Jindal the one who, only a few years back, called on the GOP to stop being so stupid? He should have stuck with that.
WSPA, which is a local TV news station about an hour north of where I grew up in Spartanburg, S.C., is apparently intent on making its reporters pitch all of their news stories and write all of their stories for a cardboard cutout of what appears to be an on-the-go middle class soccer mom with kids.
Here is the internal memo News Director Karen Kelly apparently sent to her staff (as posted by ftvlive.com):
Subject: MEET Michelle
Michelle is who you want watching your newscasts, your stories.
She will be in every editorial meeting with us and in the newsroom during the day. She will likely make occasional trips to Greenville and Anderson.
When you pitch, pitch to her. When you write, write to her.
This is who we need watching in February.
Women 25-54 is her demo.
She has children and she cares about:
Recalls that have impact on her family
Even if you think a story doesn’t directly impact Michelle find a way to write it to her.
Give her additional information that is relevant to her.
Post stories and send alerts on stories she cares about.
The problem, as I see it, is that the demographics in Spartanburg aren’t exactly whitewashed with soccer moms, which belies the notion that the WSPA newsroom should be writing exclusively for Michelle here. According to the most recent census estimates, the city of Spartanburg is 50.7 percent black (!) and 44.3 percent white, while Spartanburg County is 74.7 percent white and 20.9 percent black.
Media blogger Jim Romenesko wonders if this was a recommendation from a TV consultant. If so, that person should be fired. Or, this could just be the handywork of a newsroom “leader” who feels the need to justify her job, so she whittles away at some silly ideas to try to keep the product relevant. First, she might want to work on not scaring off her staff. But then again, for an enterprising young reporter being mandated to write for Michelle, rather than for the real people walking the fair streets of Spartanburg city and county, might be a pretty disturbing experience in and of itself.
Zack Beauchamp writes that the Clint Eastwood-directed movie “American Sniper,” which seems to have garnered gushing reviews from many of the right-of-center folks on my Facebook feed, not only gets history wrong, but it does a “disservice” to viewers, and much worse, Iraq War veterans and their families. As Beauchamp notes, the movie falsely gives the impression that the Iraq War was fought as a direct result of Sept. 11, 2001:
From the get-go, Chris Kyle’s military career is all about responding to terrorism. Kyle joins up after al-Qaeda bombs the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. We see him and his wife Taya’s stunned reactions to 9/11.
And then, bam. Kyle’s at war in Iraq. The film does not contain, as best I can tell, a single reference to George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, or weapons of mass destruction. There’s no Dick Cheney, no Colin Powell at the UN, no anti-war protests. The film implies that the Iraq War was a deliberate response to 9/11.
In fact, the Bush administration premised its 2003 Iraq invasion primarily on the alleged threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. As National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice memorably put it, “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” The Bush administration repeatedly asserted that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was actively developing nuclear weapons and other programs it might use against the United States. Bush and some his top advisers had come into office, before 9/11 even occurred, believing that Saddam was a threat and discussing possible ways to remove him.
The war, in other words, was not actually about 9/11. And, crucially, the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that were the basis of the war turned out not to exist.
It’s not just that American Sniper weirdly excises all of this history; it’s that the film replaces it with the implication that 9/11 gave America little choice but to invade Iraq, that the 2003 US invasion was something that happened to us, not something we chose to do. Chris Kyle repeatedly explains that he’s fighting to protect his family, again suggesting that the invasion was a necessary preemptive defense against Iraqi terrorists, when no such threat actually existed.
Nationalism. Portraying most Iraqis as “savages.” An overly simplistic, black and white worldview in which the hero must defeat the terrorists at all costs with no time or need to fret about gray areas in combat and diplomacy. Revisionist history. Sounds like a perfect Clint Eastwood joint. By all means, we should honor the service of the real man on which the movie is based, but mucking up history that wasn’t all that long ago isn’t the way to do it or honor other soldiers who sacrificed equally for the nation.
But I can’t say that I expected much more from Eastwood, an NRA nut who, just 2 1/2 years ago, was having an extended conversation with an empty chair. In a bit of last-minute double irony, the war hero who was “untouchable” in Iraq, as The New York Times described Chris Kyle, was killed at a shooting range in Texas on a trip trying to help his friend recover from PTSD.
Samantha Allen, with The Daily Beast, has seemingly been bemused by the unholy stew of proselytizing, racism, end-times rhetoric and religious symbols that vie for drivers’ attention on billboards across the South, from South Carolina to Texas. For what’s it’s worth, some atheist groups have purchased billboards in the South too — arguably a waste of time and money — but traveling through parts of the American Bible belt, one gets the real sense that the people who at one time commanded influence among the unlearned and easily led masses, peddling inequality and what little empowerment comes from being at the top of the white trash heap, no longer have any real way to affect life in modern America, such that they are only left to resort to gaudy billboards that threaten us with hellfire and brimstone, attempt to raise our spiritual conscience with giant crosses and religious messages and then tries to prick at our conscience with misleading one-liners about the supposed ethics of the pro-life position.
Allen is right to point out that these tactics come to us, more or less, in stillborn form, as their proponents now sit at the fringe of society watching a world influx pass them by, having long since lost the message:
The rural Southern political billboard is truly the dick pic of the Interstate, a surefire way to force others to witness your own self-satisfaction but an ineffective way to accomplish anything other than that. These billboards and roadside displays aren’t a form of rhetoric so much as they are what Walt Whitman might call “barbaric yawps,” inchoate assertions of presence in the wilderness. They are bumper stickers for people who don’t feel like bumper stickers are big enough. But as futile as these roadside displays may be, they do have cultural consequences. For non-white Alabamans, white supremacist billboards are a reminder that they live among people who perceive them as a threat. For black travelers on the Interstate, a Confederate flag evokes an all-too-recent history that many white Southerners still wish was their present. And when I drove past South of the Border with a Latina friend, her discomfort was much more palpable than my own.
But the fact that the dying gasp of fundamentalists, secessionists, and supremacists is taking place along the Interstate, of all places, is perhaps a heartening sign. These groups are much more adept at buying useless physical ad space then they are at, say, influencing public opinion on a platform like Twitter, although the most recent Alabama billboard tried to start the hashtag #WhiteGenocide. With social conservatism on a downward trend across every generation of Americans and faith in God plummeting among those born after 1981, these roadside displays come across more like death throes than they do as declarations of faith or confident warnings of the apocalypse. You can put a fundamentalist Jesus on a big poster with guns and tanks and claim that he’s still in control but that doesn’t make it true. And sure, you can paint a message about the impending white genocide on an Alabama billboard, but you’d only be hanging your own cultural irrelevance out to dry.
You mean Fox News invited a guest to go on national TV and let him spill some unchallenged, baseless claims about how Muslims are supposedly taking over a fair city in merry old England? Say it ain’t so?
A commentator named Steven Emerson apparently went on the air and said that Birmingham, England, was a “totally Muslim city,” and anchor Jeanine Pirro, apparently not one to be one-upped in the conspiracy theory category, said, “It sounds like a caliphate within a particular country.” Sort of like a mini-caliphate corroding free British society from within, I guess:
Notice how Pirro disingenuously just breezes through reading the lines like a spoiler child having to admit failure. Bad acting can’t mask insincerity.
Religion poisons everything, not the least of which is humanity itself:
These are obscene images. They depict two men thrown from the roof of a building as a crowd watches them fall to their deaths, and they purport to show the Islamic State (or ISIS) carrying out public executions before an audience in Iraq’s Nineveh province.
The two victims’ alleged crimes? They are believed to be gay. In another photo, woman accused of being an adulterer is stoned to death, and two men charged with thievery are bound to crucifixes. Victims are commonly crucified, sometimes after they have been killed, in ISIS public executions.
In these photos, ISIS members in black facemasks appear to shoot the crucified men from behind at point blank range as an audience of who appear to be local Iraqis looks on.
ISIS-affiliated social media feeds began spreading the images Thursday. Those accounts linked to a justpasteit.com file attributed to the “Information Office of the mandate of Nineveh,” an apparent propaganda arm tied to Islamic state press releases. The public executions appear to have taken place in Mosul, the capital of the Islamic State and Iraq’s second largest city sits in Nineveh province.
In areas of Iraq and Syria where ISIS has taken over, public executions are common. They have been a staple of the group’s puritanical interpretation of Islamic law since before it took control of Mosul and declared itself the Calpihate, or Islamic State.
In “Profiling the Islamic State” Charles Lister of the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center writes about ISIS’ version of Islamic governance:
“The implementation of a strict form of sharia law is clearly central to IS’s governance,” he writes. “This includes imposing the hudud (fixed Islamic punishments for serious crimes); enforcing attendance of the five daily prayers; banning drugs, alcohol, and tobacco; controlling personal appearance, including clothing; forbidding gambling, non-Islamic music, and gender mixing; and ordering the destruction of religious shrines, among other rules.”
Public executions in ISIS controlled areas enforce the group’s version of Sharia Law and serve to terrorize locals into strict obedience. Elsewhere, ISIS has used the tactic to intimidate its rivals.
Death is shown in high resolution—the killing carefully composed inside the frame. These images belong to a deliberate social media and information strategy. Like all good Internet propaganda the images are made to be readily “shareable” and appear to have been released with the intent that they travel to a broader audience. It worked. Obscene and merciless, it’s a reflection of the state of life under ISIS rule.