Reading Rogue: Knives out

>> Saturday, November 28, 2009

Well, the good news (if you want to call it that) is that I seem to have finally reached the part of the book I expected to be reading from the start--the dull, dry recap of Mrs. Palin's supposed political accomplishments in a community smaller than most universities, the repetition of the same tired conservative mantras ("cut taxes," "small government," blah blah blah), the responses to some of her critics who, during the 2008 presidential elections, dredged up some of the less savory bits and pieces of her tenure as Wasilla's mayor.

It's a bit cattier than I expected, if you'll pardon what's sometimes taken as a sexist impression. Mrs. Palin takes lots of snarky shots at her small-town rivals--e.g. one critic is described as a "Birkenstock-and-granola Berkley grad," which is clearly supposed to be an insult in Palin's world though to this bleeding heart it makes her sound sexier than Frau Palin. Then there are the stray misfires that I am sure will have Palinistas rolling in the aisles: "We [in Wasilla] are extremely independent," she writes, "no community organizers necessary," displaying the same incomprehension of what a community organizer actually is, and indeed demonstrating a lack of any sense of irony insofar as much of her early volunteerism suggests Mrs. Palin herself may have been a sort of amateur you-know-what.

I have frequently been reduced, in the margins, to one word phrases like, "Irony!" and I may get tired of writing even that; my margins are also being filled with a sarcastic "WAR!" which is not a call-to-battle but an acronym for "What A Rogue!" Mrs. Palin, you see, seems very intent on proving her roguish credentials through self-contradiction and illustrations of how she butted heads with people she was supposed to be working with. (Some people would think that makes her more of a jerk than a rogue, but they're probably not Palinistas.) The most ironic acronym I've resorted to, however, derives it's irony from it's source: reading a passage in which Mrs. Palin simultaneously boasts of lowering taxes while complaining that the police chief wouldn't slash services while also talking about her pledge to pave local roads, I found myself scribbling, "TANSTAAFL" in the margin, the rallying cry from an SF novel by a real conservative writer, Robert Heinlein. (As some regulars know, I'm not a big RAH fan although I have enjoyed quite a lot of his work over the years; but bless his polished, shiny dome, he would have neither time nor tolerance for Mrs. Palin and her ilk if he were still around.) For someone who tries to polish her (nonexistent) business credentials by misleadingly claiming a mayor in a town like Wasilla is like a CEO, Palin seems, like many so-called conservatives, to be a bit clueless about the fact that you have to raise money before you have any to spend--in government's case, taxes are the price the public pays for things like roads and law enforcement, and you can't rationally bitch about the former unless you're willing to forego the latter.

Palin also seems clueless about human nature. She writes as though she's surprised that her political mentor, Nick Carney (aptly named, if he started the Palin circus), turned against her after he recruited her as a "progressive" and she chose to redefine the word to remove the liberalism it's conveyed since the late 19th Century (no, Sarah, "progressive" was indeed associated with liberalism when you entered politics, thank you for playing). She's equally surprised that, upon being elected mayor of Wasilla, town officials balked when she asked them all to provide resignations for her files--something she lamely describes as a loyalty test but that most of the ordinary, common sense people she usually extols would see as a naked threat to their jobs. And she's seemingly surprised when she asks the town librarian about how books are banned--curiosity, she calls it, and trying to get to know the librarian better--and the town librarian reasonably concludes Mrs. Palin is floating the issue. So much for "conservative common sense."

I think I'm going to head down to the corner for brunch and to try to get some writing done. I may take Rogue with me, though I expect some quizzical stares and dirty looks in my liberalish section of town. Whatever--I have the excuse that I'm being paid for this.

But I'm also reasonably wondering how much more I can say about this awful book before it becomes redundant. I expect to continue, yes, but I also find that I'm not writing as much in the margins because, of course, it's all the same, tired crap. I'm not leaving the project yet (blogging the book, I mean--the book itself, I'm honor-bound to finish or die trying), just thinking aloud, here.

Well. Hope you're having a better Saturday than I am.


Carol Elaine Saturday, November 28, 2009 at 1:39:00 PM EST  

On behalf of those of us who do not have the stomach for such a hazardous task, I salute you.

Jeff Hentosz Saturday, November 28, 2009 at 1:51:00 PM EST  

Re, reading in public: You realize the dust jacket comes off, don't you?

If you still worried about displaying the spine, cut up a grocery bag and rewrap it like a school book (scrawl a Weezer symbol on it in ballpoint for authenticity).

Jim Wright Saturday, November 28, 2009 at 1:52:00 PM EST  

You knew the job was dangerous when you took the bet, you big sissy.

Besides, I hear the ending is terrific - McCain and Palin win, then Palin pulls out McCain's "Loyalty Test Resignation Letter" and forces him to commit Hari kari, then she's crowned King of America.

What? It is a Palin Fantasy, after all, you didn't think it was non-fiction, did you? Did you?

Eric Saturday, November 28, 2009 at 3:21:00 PM EST  

I did read the book over brunch, with the spine pressed to the table. Hey, it made it easier to scrawl annotations and rude comments in the copious margins!

Nathan: But that shirt would have helped.

Jeff: When I was in high school, it was a "Pf" logo from A Momentary Lapse Of Reason that dominated my bookcover scrawlings. (Hey, mediocre album, but some brilliant graphic design from Storm and his crew.) Still, good idea.

Jim: does the monkey dressed as Hitler make an appearance? Wait--nevermind, don't spoil it for me!

Janiece Saturday, November 28, 2009 at 3:29:00 PM EST  

...bless his polished, shiny dome, he would have neither time nor tolerance for Mrs. Palin and her ilk if he were still around.

Speaking as a tax-and-spend liberal and a Heinlein fan, you sure nailed that one. RAH had little tolerance for those who so personified the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Leanright,  Saturday, November 28, 2009 at 11:15:00 PM EST  

It's interesting to find Tax-and-Spend liberals throwing support behind Obama and his Keynesian Economic Team; a theory which believe in lowering-taxes and putting money into the hand of the people, as opposed to the government. Keynes DID support some government intervention, but also was an advocate for tax breaks.

It will be Politics vs. Economics for the many, many years.

Eric Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 12:39:00 AM EST  

Dave, two quick points (it's after midnight and I'm tired):

1) One thing many of y'all on the right seem to be having a hard time with is that many of us who support Obama to whatever degree also disagree with him to varying degrees. Whereas the Bush Administration was typified by Republicans falling into lockstep with the Administration even if they had reservations about his policies, the Obama Administration has strong critics on the left--not that that helps your team any. Those of us who think Obama could have moved faster on closing Gitmo (c.f. Glenn Greenwald at Salon) or who are concerned that many of Obama's economic policies are mere continuations of Bush-era policies (c.f. Matt Taibbi at True/Slant) are hardly going to vote for a Republican of nearly any stripe in 2012 or after, nor are those of us who expressed our discontent with the Democrats in 2000 by voting for an outsider like Nader likely to flirt with that again after what we got for it. The real point being that this "rallying" you folks seem to perceive is both real and illusory--it's real in the sense that we'll take a rational, thoughtful center-left candidate over an irrational reactionary like Sarah Palin any day of any year, illusory in the sense that few of us are still operating under any delusion that President Obama is a true liberal or that we'll get everything he may have promised, much less everything we may have hoped for. It should also be noted that rational counts for a lot after the Bush era hostility to the reality-based community; even if Obama were center-right, we'd still rally to him before we'd let somebody like Sarah Palin get closer to the Oval Office than the concrete barricades on Pennsylvania Avenue.

2) As it happens, many of us on the left are quite happy with Keynesian economics as part of a rational compromise between the benefits of a free-market economy and the need to put substantial checks on a free market, both to prevent abuses (the free market is good at setting the value of toilet paper, but it's also good at setting the value of child labor) and encouraging stability (the recent collapse of the deregulated economy has certainly gone a long way towards vindicating Keynes after the recent twenty-year fiscal orgy). It should also be noted that tax-and-spend liberals don't mind tax breaks--if services necessary for the common weal are being provided for. But TANSTAAFL, Dave: you can't have public services for free, and those of us on the left tend to think those services are an obligation and purpose for government--it's how we define what the Constitution calls "the general Welfare."

Leanright,  Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 1:49:00 AM EST  

Tax breaks if for the common weal? I get that, but I'd like to add, would corporate tax breaks in your belief benefit the "General Welfare" by providing jobs? Creating more constructive members of the workforce in turn buying goods and services, in turn paying sales taxes, income taxes, and perhaps building their own retirement nest egg as to not cause a reliance on Social Security or other government programs?

We've all heard by now that Social Security was not designed originally for people to use as a retirement income for 20 to 30 years, but to supplement a self provided retirement income. When it was designed, people didn't spend almost as much time in retirement as they had worked. That is becoming more and more the case.

You see, I don't disagree with Keynes. I do believe there needs to be a watch-dog like the government, but at the same time, I don't believe that watch-dog should be a participant in the game, competing with private enterprise. Smoothing the path to pure capitalism within a context of ethics and legality is the greatest service the government can provide it's people. Let the free market dictate, just ensure that the process is managed fairly. It's not about "deregulation", it's about boundaries set and enforced by the government. Let free enterprise work, and this economy will flourish again. Instead of the government spending $200k to $300k to create job, why not put that money in the hands of businesses with the caveat that such funds are to be used to hire more people, produce more products, sell more products, make more money, hire more people.....and so on?

Eric Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 11:10:00 AM EST  

I didn't say nor did I mean "tax breaks for the common weal." I said "tax breaks if services are provided for." There are two reasons for taxes: (1) to raise revenue and (2) to encourage/deter behavior. The second one is problematic, but I'm not inclined to rule it out as a tool for social engineering (e.g. to the extent carbon offsets might be considered a sort of "tax break" in a roundabout way, I'm willing to entertain them as an option, though there's mounting evidence they don't really work). It was the first, however, I was more concerned with--if necessary services are provided for, there's no need to overcharge the public for them (although pure Keynesian theory might suggest doing so anyway to avoid economic instability).

But in neither case--taxation for revenue or taxation for social engineering--are we talking about taxation for taxation's sake, which is somehow what most American conservatives seem to think is the issue. They seem to believe that liberals "tax and spend" because we just like taxes oh-so-much, and conversely that tax breaks are an inherent good even if the government can't offer basic services--even services that conservatives like to rally around, like law enforcement (c.f. the weird inconsistencies over this in Going Rogue, in which Frau Palin doesn't see any contradiction in complaining about a lack of law enforcement, insisting she provided adequate LE services as mayor of Wasilla, boasts of across-the-board slashes to government revenue, and explains that her fight with the local chief-of-police was over his insistence that he couldn't cut jobs and services--TANSTAAFL, if you want cops, you have to pay for them, Sarah, and if you want to pay for them, it has to come out of somebody's pockets).

As for government participation: surely any rational mind agrees there are services government provides more efficiently--education, national defense, highways, law enforcement--even if one quibbles over other services (e.g. healthcare, though evidence abroad leads one to wonder why we're among the last industrialized nations to deny government coverage)? And surely any rational mind agrees there are services government is morally obligated to provide, such as courts of law? And, again, these things cost money. Courthouses don't build themselves and you don't see corporations volunteering to buy new ones, nor do I think anyone would be happy with private individuals paying judges' salaries.


Eric Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 11:11:00 AM EST  


And as for the free market doing fine by itself? Well, we tried it your way, didn't we Dave? And look where it got us? No, thanks.

And even if it worked, it's a morally naive view of the world. Corporations don't exist to provide jobs, they explicitly exist to serve the interests of the shareholders. If they can do so by hiring people, they hire. And if they can do so by firing people, well, there it is. Corporations are not inherently immoral, I'll give you that, but they are inherently amoral. It is hypothetically possible for a corporation to charter itself with a moral compass--e.g. Google and Ben & Jerry's are noted for explicit moral compasses, though I'm not sure the extent to which they're legally bound to that by their respective incorporating documents. But it's rare, and certainly workers (especially in the anti-union Southeast) are familiar with corporations maintaining regular high/fire cycles or even exporting their jobs abroad, even in "vibrant" economies. The notion that the private sector "makes jobs" is a half-myth, Dave: it does, but only when it suits it to. When it doesn't, it won't, and a cornerstone of liberal thought for centuries, now, is that those jobs aren't statistics on a page but human lives--not just "workers" but people who need to eat and have children to feed, people with families to be sheltered, clothed and shod.

From which evolves ideas like government existing to provide a safety net, or the related idea that if corporations are firing for their bottom line perhaps making work for the people affected by this is a government good.

Pure capitalism is as evil and impractical as pure communism appears to be.

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