Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Don't Know That I Agree With This:

What the people who are flipping out about the treatment of Palin should be asking themselves is what it means when it’s not just jerks like us but everybody piling on against Palin. For those of you who can’t connect the dots, I’ll tell you what it means. It means she’s been cut loose. It means that all five of the families have given the okay to this hit job, including even the mainstream Republican leaders. You teabaggers are in the process of being marginalized by your own ostensible party leaders in exactly the same way the anti-war crowd was abandoned by the Democratic party elders in the earlier part of this decade. Like the antiwar left, you have been deemed a threat to your own party’s “winnability.”

And do you know what that means? That means that just as the antiwar crowd spent years being painted by the national press as weepy, unpatriotic pussies whose enthusiastic support is toxic to any serious presidential aspirant, so too will all of you afternoon-radio ignoramuses who seem bent on spending the next three years kicking and screaming your way up the eternal asshole of white resentment now find yourself and your political champions painted as knee-jerk loonies whose rabid irrationality is undeserving of the political center. And yes, that’s me saying that, but I’ve always been saying that, not just about Palin but about George Bush and all your other moron-heroes.

What’s different now is who else is saying it. You had these people eating out of the palms of your hands (remember what it was like in the Dixie Chicks days?). Now they’re all drawing horns and Groucho mustaches on your heroes, and rapidly transitioning you from your previous political kingmaking role in the real world to a new role as a giant captive entertainment demographic that exists solely to be manipulated for ratings and ad revenue. What you should be asking yourself is why this is happening to you. Even I don’t know the answer to that question, but honestly, I don’t really care. All I know is that I find it extremely funny.

Its the great Matt Taibbi, and I agree that, in a sense Palin has been "cut loose" and the hit is on. But I don't agree that the "Five Families" aka the Republican elites are going to be able to marginalize the Palinites and the teabaggers for whom she has become a symbol. One problem is the confusion in the three paragraphs, which may be due to my misreading, between the political leadership and the media moguls. It is the media guys who are "drawing horns and Groucho mustaches..." and who are "transitioning" the rebels into a "new role as a giant captive entertainment demographic..." But of course none of the viewing audience has ever been anything other than such an entertainment graphic--have they?

Just look at Digby's clip from Hardball in which all the political crises facing the country are reduced to the notion that there's a "30-40 year old demographic" that "wants to make a buck..." and a real, serious, senior voter "55 and older" who want to decrease the deficit. Matthews et al not only assume a certain demographic in their viewers, but project totally bizarre notions of these limited demographics onto voters. Oddly enough lots of people are still "interested in making a buck" (also known as surviving) from age 20 right up until retirement, and increasingly no one is retiring. But demo speak only knows little bitty ten year slices apparently. Because the entertainment/news industry explicitly models its political coverage on the idea of the voter as consumer, buying some cheap, knock off policies that politicians are selling. Also, demo speak only addresses individuals qua individuals--they are never in family units, or experiencing the demands of family and friends. So grandparents never worry about the economic realities faced by their children and grandchildren. And none of those "30-40 year olds" are trying to pay for both their children and their parents when they "make a buck."

At any rate I agree with Taibbi that, for a lot of reasons, Palin is going to rapidly descend from "America's next potential leader" to "America's next public pratfaller." That's the celebrity cycle in a nutshell generally speaking. It is all the more the celebrity cycle for a mass, pop cultural phenomenon. And that is what Palin is--because that is who she has chosen to be. Palin marketed herself aggressively to McCain's base as an outsider for outsiders, as a holy roller for religious fringe types, as a working mom for the disaffected. In the heat of the campaign the Republican party and the mass media were happy to accept that this was authentic and meaningful and delightful and that such people (being authentic americans with real votes to spend) should have their icons stamped and sent directly to the White House. When McCain's populist gambit failed to put him over the top during the last election cycle Palin was supposed to go back into her box, or prepare to be used again in four years by some other kingmaker who needed some populist cred. But she refused to go back and went out on the hustings again marketing herself--mistaking the populist base of the GOP for a real, potential national power base.

Palin is selling herself to the fringiest, most unhappy, most aggressive, most detached segment of America's right wing. She is demanding that they see her as one of them, and they do. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, doesn't it? And the equal and opposite reaction that Palin is having with the mass media is that the more she aligns herself with our crazy aunt in the national attic the more she loses the kind of class status and social distance that enabled them to swallow her in the first place because John McCain gave her his imprimatur. This is the same phenomenon you see in any caste society, btw, when a lower caste tries to come to power, or when an upper caste person associates with a lower caste person. Look at Howard Dean, who Taibbi discusses elsewhere in the post, he was assigned the class status (and by class status I mean really a kind of political status) of the anti-war movement and therefore seen as impossible as a legitimate candidate. For purposes of democratic mythology the press are willing to pretend, every four years, that everyone in the country is entitled to dream of getting representation in the White House. But as Taibbi argues in the post they inevitably determine which candidates will be taken seriously and which won't.

Palin, like her voters, may have been determined to be beyond the pale right now (and she and they may not). But this minor, aesthetic repudiation will only continue until the Republican party has need of them again and then a new figurehead will be put forward to take the torch from Palin's faltering hands. This has to happen because although the Press doesn't need one Palin, or another, to fill the 24 hour maw the Republican party does just as soon as it needs votes. Which is by way of saying that I don't think for one minute that the Republican party is going to be able to dethrone its own new heroes, or assuage the grassroots anger of the teabaggers. However much they may want to "draw mustaches" on anyone's picture they are going to do it quietly, in the back of the bus. Because the lunatics are driving and they want to go where Palin, or someone like her, is taking them.

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