Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Light in the Gloom

Just occasionally - so occasionally I'm moved to write this - The Australian's neocon gloom is pierced by a ray of light.

Let's start with the usual gloom: to whit, foreign editor Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan on Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (Command of foreign policy exposes candidate's critics, 15/9/08). Predictably, he has the hots for her:-

Her speech at the Republican convention was "brilliant." And, even in unscripted interview (with Charlie Gibson on the American ABC), "with perfect nuance, Palin reflected McCain's foreign policy, speaking knowledgeably about Iran, Russia, Georgia, NATO and the Cold War, and with passion of her support for US troops." Of course, huffed Sheridan, her 'please explain the Bush doctrine' gaffe was no reason to compare her with Pauline Hanson, as did the curmudgeonly "provincial, ill-informed, ignorant and prejudiced" editorial in The Age. Palin "is on top of her brief, has internalised the McCain foreign policy in detail and is more than a match for liberal partisans disgracing the profession of journalism by their inability to deal with reality."

All jokes aside about Sheridan taking The Age to task for "disgracing the profession of journalism" and having an "inability to deal with reality," let's now leave the gloom for the light. Here's Thomas Frank on Sarah Palin in the same issue (Palin's appeal masks a cruel lie*, 15/9/08):-

"It tells us something about Sarah Palin's homage to small-town America, delivered to an enthusiastic Republican Party convention last week, that she chose to fire it up with an unsourced quotation from the all-time champion of fake populism, the belligerent right-wing columnist Westbrook Pegler. 'We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity', the vice-presidential candidate said, quoting an anonymous 'writer', which is to say, Pegler. Small-town people, Palin went on, are 'the ones who do some of the hardest work in America, who grow our food and run our factories and fight our wars'. They are authentic; they are noble, and they are her own: 'I grew up with these people'.

"But what really defines them in Palin's telling is their enemies, the people who supposedly 'look down' on them. The opposite of the heartland is the loathsome array of snobs and fakers, 'reporters and commentators', lobbyists and others of 'the Washington elite'. Presumably the various elite Washington lobbyists who have guided John McCain's presidential campaign were exempt from Palin's criticism. As would be former house speaker Dennis Hastert, who hymned the 'Sarah Palin part of the party' thus: 'Their kids aren't going to go to Ivy League schools. Their sons leave high school and join the military to serve our country. Their husbands and wives work 2 jobs to make sure the family is sustained'.

"Generally speaking, though, when husbands and wives work 2 jobs each, it is because working one job doesn't earn them enough to get by. The 2-job workers in middle America aren't spurning the Ivy League and joining the military just because they're people of principle. It is because they can't afford to do otherwise. Leave the fantasy land of convention rhetoric, and you will find that small-town America, this legendary place of honesty and sincerity and dignity, is not doing very well. If you drive west from Kansas City, Missouri, you will find towns where Main Street is largely boarded up. You will see closed schools and hospitals. You will hear about depleted groundwater and depopulation. And eventually you will ask yourself how did this happen? Was it those 'reporters and commentators' with their fancy college degrees who wrecked Main Street, USA?

"No. For decades now we have been electing people like Sarah Palin, who claimed to love and respect the folksy conservatism of small towns, and yet who have unfailingly enacted laws to aid the small town's mortal enemies. Without raising an antitrust finger they have permitted fantastic concentration in the various industries that buy the farmers crops. They have undone the New Deal system of agricultural price supports in favour of schemes called 'Freedom to Farm' and loan deficiency payments - each reform apparently designed to secure just one thing out of small-town America: cheap commodities for the big food processors."

[*Originally written for The Wall Street Journal.]

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