Posts Tagged ‘nyt


treating palinism seriously

Though I wonder whether it’s appropriate to credit Sarah Palin with a sufficiently coherent worldview (and I mean this with stress on world, since it’s clear that she lacks the life experience, self-reflexivity, and intellectual sophistication to understand either the structure of globalization, any foreign cultures, or the way non-Americans perceive this country) to qualify as “Palinism,” Roger Cohen’s Op-Ed in today’s NYT productively analyzes her assertion of American exceptionalism. For Cohen, the defining characteristic of Palinism is anger, which comes from a building sense of American decline in the popular viscera. This anger is manifest in the widespread and willful ignorance evident in debates over issues from climate change to military strategy; as the left attempts to produce a discourse grounded in fact, the conservative movement continuously adheres to a love of truthiness that exposes its ignorance of the gravity of the matters at hand

The article is particularly interesting when placed into dialogue with Empire as a Way of Life, by William Appleman Williams, which I just read for Race, Empire, and Modernity. While it’s difficult to claim today that any one particular event or discourse is the strongest evidence for Williams’ thesis (since so much points to the imperial character of American political/social/economic ideology), Palinism is certainly a contender. Assertions of American exceptionalism increasingly ring hollow in the Internet age, when your ability means more than the color of your passport.

In his preface, Williams argues that a characteristic of the “imperial way of life” is an inability “to say no to our desires.”¬† He quotes another historian’s description of “our ‘growing national disillusionment when it appears that the desires must be limited'”, which is a surprisingly prescient evocation of Palinism more than thirty years before anyone outside of Anchorage knew who Sarah Baracuda was. If we take this discussion of desire seriously, it’s possible to read Palinism (and the related desparation of rust belt whites ‘clinging to their guns and religion’) as a truly fetishistic construction. The unreasonable importance Palinists give to trivial social policy is the fetish obscuring their (dis)avowel of American decline. Only an enforced ignorance of the rapidly morphing world order could make denying gay marriage seem worth the effort.

With the financial system collapsing around us and the real vacuity of American wealth no longer ignorable, a truly international awareness is essential. Even Adam Smith’s own analysis supports the need for a global approach (it’s good to fight on their turf):

Riches do not consist in having more Gold and Silver, but in having more in proportion than the rest of the World… whereby we are enabled to procure to ourselves a greater Plenty of the Conveniences of Life than comes within the reach of Neighbouring Kingdoms and States

Instead of colonial plunder, today’s riches are virtual: information, skill, education, creativity, etc. It’s not enough for a Palinist to “know” that we’re in a bad spot because imported stuff costs more, jobs are being “outsourced” in inreasingly creative ways, and people are asking to be paid in Euros. In this century, leaders need to understand education, productivity, energy policy, foreign affairs, cultural production and everything else of importance in relative terms. Thinking America is Exceptional laughs in the face of a global approach because it raises painful truths about our own value. We need our leaders to interrogate this fetishism before we wake up an irrelevancy.


Fairness or a failure of responsibility?

It could be that I’ve started to perceive the world solely in the bold, red headlines of HuffPo, but I certainly didn’t think the story from Sarah Palin’s ABC interview was that she thinks she’s “ready.” But apparently, The Times’ Jim Rutenberg felt that was pretty crucial, since he spends his first four paragraphs recounting Sarah’s declaration of fitness. Though we hear a bit about her Bush Doctrine “stumble” 200 words in, it’s not until nearly two-thirds of the way through the piece that Rutenberg shares the embarrassing play-by-play.

When I learned about the notorious buried lede, it seemed like a style mistake. But after reading about what the Internet is doing to our brains, this seems like an egregious abdication of responsibility by Rutenberg to orient the story around such a trite part of the interview. The Bush Doctrine is not an obscure piece of foreign policy jargon. Our dear leader’s vacuous statement of purpose has caused untold damage to the world; this is from the new york post, not the journal of foreign affairs. In my reading, Palin’s lack of awareness is bigger than her saber rattling towards Russia, her full-throated support for israel right-or-wrong, and her belief that the Iraq war is a mission from god.

So how do we evaluate The Times’ coverage? I frequently find that The Times’ efforts to balance their coverage devolve into fruitless attempts to lose the designation as a liberal rag. Instead of ideologically evening the ship, Times coverage and news judgement often go too far. Short of a Murdoch purchase, there is little The Times can do to win Bill O’Reilly’s heart. More than ever, the recent spate of outright lies from the McCain camp demand an active, responsible, vigorous fourth estate. The abdication of responsibility from the mainstream media allows this to continue with coverage bland enough to earn headlines like “Campaigns Trade Barbs Over Obama Lipstick Comment.” This isn’t fact checking, it’s score keeping.

MSNBC is in the midst of another struggle for “balance” and ethics in a changing media landscape. No one is sure how to maintain both standards and audiences, how to keep pressure on discourse without facing a boycott, how to serve the public interest while remembering the state of media ownership. I can’t throw my full support behind Olbermann – because a distinction between editorial commentary and news is still important at any news organization – but I can’t help but be grabbed by the audacity of his Special Comments. After years of seething anger belonging to the conservatives in a time when the right has been exposed as thoroughly wrong, Olbermann’s commentary is a televised moment of poitical jouissance. Palin’s stage-managed poise reflects her experience as the second runner-up at the 1984 Miss Alaska Pageant and is a strong, spectacular defense against Charlie Gibson’s energetic examination. The performance makes it difficult to remember that she’s shanking the responses to entry-level foreign policy questions. For the television viewer, this recital of authenticity was a powerful simulacrum that thoroughly veiled her thin biographical experience; proximity to Russia and one intercontinental voyage (in 2007). Youtube and cable news will concentrate¬† the Nixon/Kennedy debate effect, except this time no one’s listening on the radio.

This is why it so important for The Times to shape up. It’s fortunate that McCain played the Nixon to Palin’s Kennedy on The View today. But without a strong, candid voice in print, our only hope might be for the Matthews-Olbermann team to get mad as hell. If they don’t, people are just going to keep taking it.

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