Tag Archives: Sarah Palin

The Tinderbox Theory of the Republic

Glenn Beck favored radio listeners today with excerpts from his email correspondence with Sarah Palin over the shootings in Tucson.

Both correspondents were naturally eager to distance themselves from Jared Loughner’s murderous rampage at the Safeway on Saturday, and say that they abhor violence. They come in peace. “Sarah, as you know, peace is always the answer,” Beck writes:

I know you are feeling the same heat, if not much more on this. I want you to know you have my support. But please look into protection for your family. An attempt on you could bring the republic down.[emphasis mine]

What’s most striking here is not the patently absurd notion that “an attempt” on Sarah Palin’s life would or “could bring the republic down”; it’s the very idea of the republic underlying it.

That is the idea of the republic as a tinderbox. Apparently the place is ready to explode at the slightest provocation. In Beck’s view, or self-serving conceit, most Americans are locked and loaded, ready for civil war. We are teetering on the brink of revolution. Don’t tread on us. In our distressed republic, good people have been pushed to the limit. We are ready to resist tyranny at every turn, or at least before every commercial break, and with every self-aggrandizing tweet.

And all it would take to ignite the tinderbox would be the assassination of… Sarah Palin?

Is this our Helen?

It’s unclear whether Palin thinks her face or her Facebook page could launch a thousand ships, but she shares with Beck the view that her obnoxious behavior and his are of historic importance: “Thanks to all you do,” she replies, sounding vaguely apostolic, “to send the message of truth and love and God as the answer.”

And yet even with good men like Beck out there our future is not secure: “our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence”. So peace is always the answer, or at least truth and love and God are the answer, unless, of course, the “politicos” keep picking on Sarah Palin.

And if they don’t stop? Then all bets are off, I suppose; and all patriots should fear for the republic.

The "Anarchist" and the Literary Agent: Julian Assange’s Book Deal

Sarah Palin may find common ground with Julian Assange after all. The founder of WikiLeaks is now officially trading on his celebrity: he has landed a 1.5 million dollar book deal.

The trouble is, now Assange will have to go from disrupting history to revising it. The man widely reviled as an “anarchist”, a terrorist, an enemy of the state, will have to enter the world of Palin and W., where messy lives merge into books and phony interviews and reality television programs, where serious flaws are glossed over, peccadilloes forgiven, legal expenses met by admirers and detractors alike. In this world, being a governor, a president, or a leaker of state secrets amounts to nothing more than a protracted publicity stunt, the ramp up to a non-stop book tour, the dues you have to pay to trade on your celebrity in the marketplace.

Whether Julian Assange will make this transition successfully remains to be seen, and that is already one part of his story playing into the pre-launch of his book. Everything is grist for the publicity mill. So, we are told, Assange is a reluctant author: as has been widely reported, he told the Sunday Times, “I don’t want to write this book, but I have to. I have already spent £200,000 for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat.”

Unlike Sarah Palin, Assange is not comfortable turning himself into a commodity — at least that is what we are to believe. And unlike Palin, he is probably capable of writing a book all by himself, but with the delivery of a manuscript rumored to be scheduled for March, there is no reason to expect anything very polished or any great new insights.

But it sure will sell.

Who can blame him for striking a deal? With mounting legal expenses and a book about WikiLeaks by Daniel Domscheit-Berg due out at the end of January (Inside WikiLeaks: My Time at the World’s Most Dangerous Website), “a memoir from Assange is a logical step,” says Sarah Weinman. Pardon me, however, if I react with less than unbridled enthusiasm. Really, what is there to tell? Why is Assange’s short-lived publishing venture worthy of a memoir? Yes, there is the matter of setting the record straight, but given his present legal circumstances Assange will have to be very circumspect about how he or WikiLeaks worked with sources and how they received leaks. He will have to be on message, and everything he says will have to be vetted and cleared by his legal team.

This isn’t going to be a candid, tell-all account (or even a polished celebrity memoir, like the books put out this year by Patti Smith or Keith Richards). But why quibble over the truth when truthiness sells best? There will no doubt be a WikiLeaks movie coming very soon to a theater near you, right after The Social Network finishes its run.

It remains to be seen whether this book deal will rescue Julian Assange or WikiLeaks, whether the publicity machine behind it (Knopf in the U.S., Canongate in the UK) will help Assange win more of the world to his side, and whether it will magically put him beyond the reach of the law, as it seems to have done with Sarah Palin and George W. Bush.

Who Are the Real Anarchists Here?

You would think the bombings at the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome last Thursday would have a sobering effect on some of Julian Assange’s most vocal American critics, especially those who have styled him a “terrorist” or “anarchist.”

The bombers in Rome identified themselves — in a note vowing to “destroy the system of domination” — as belonging to the Lambros Fountas cell of the FAI, the Federazione Anarchica Informale (not to be confused with the Federazione Anarchica Italiana). The parcel bomb they mailed to the Swiss embassy seriously injured a mailroom worker’s hand. A member of the Chilean embassy staff lost two fingers and may not regain vision in one eye.

We are told that the anarchists were striking back after a recent joint Italian-Swiss anti-terror operation led to the arrest of their Swiss and Italian cohorts. The group also aimed to avenge the death of Chilean anarchist Mauricio Morales, who died, in 2009, when a bomb in a backpack he was carrying exploded in downtown Santiago. At least that is the story “according to the bourgeois press”; some of Morales’ supporters counter with the explanation that “the device exploded unexpectedly, and our comrade died in combat” and they point to widespread arrests after Morales’ death to suggest some conspiracy of the authorities against them.

There is no doubt such a conspiracy, but most likely not the one the anarchists imagine. Be that as it may, we are being asked to entertain the idea that these embassy bombings are acts of vengeance, rough justice meted out for perceived injustices, and that these are as it were symbolic or at least significant acts, the Federazione Anarchica Informale having decided “to make our voice heard with words and with deeds.” The allusion here to the “propaganda of the deed” is supposed to dignify or elevate these acts, and accord them some historic significance.

Of course it would be absurd to compare Julian Assange to these anarchists and Wikileaks to the Federazione Anarchica Informale. Anarchists do not always or even usually advocate violent overthrow of government; not all anarchists are terrorists, and most terrorists are not anarchists. These distinctions matter, and it’s not sufficient to use terms like “anarchist” or “terrorist” loosely.

Julian Assange and his supporters have gone to great lengths to distance Assange from the charge that he is an anarchist and to emphasize that no one has been physically harmed by the leaking of diplomatic cables. And — as I noted in a previous post — Assange himself is right to point out that what he is doing is “civil” if not obedient, and certainly not anarchic or violent or a form of terror.

He has also rightly understood the agenda of those who play the terror card when talking about Wikileaks. So when Cenk Uygur recently asked Assange to respond to this loose talk – which we’ve heard from Pete King, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Joe Biden, and a host of other fear mongers and demagogues – Assange didn’t hestitate to call them the real anarchists:

Uygur: Now, I want to give you a chance to respond personally, though, because here Mike Huckabee is making it very personal. You saw that quote we had up. He says, I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty for you. Sarah Palin is saying that you are like al Qaeda and the Taliban and he — you should be pursued with the same urgency.
So how would you respond to Mike Huckabee, who is a top Republican leader, who’s likely to run for president again?
How do you respond to Sarah Palin, a top Republican leader who might run for president again?
Assange: Oh, it’s just another idiot trying to make a name for himself. But it’s a — it’s a serious business. I mean if we are to have a civil society, you cannot have senior people making calls on national TV to go around the judiciary and illegally murder people.
That is incitement to commit murder. That is an offense. You cannot have senior people on national TV asking people to commit an offense.
That is not a country that obeys the rule of law.
Does the United States obey the rule of law?
Because Europeans are starting to wonder whether it is still obeying the rule of law?
And it needs to be very careful.
Is it going to descend into an anarchy where we don’t have due process, where those great Bill of Rights traditions about due process are just thrown to the wind, when — whenever some shock jock politician thinks that they can use it to make a name for themselves?

There may be anarchists among us, but they may not be who we think they are.

What’s Eating American Intellectuals?

I had dinner the other night with a friend who has been worrying about the sorry plight of the liberal elite in the year of the Tea Party. Ivy Leaguers see themselves outflanked by Astroturfers, unsure of their prospects and unable to connect. My friend wondered aloud what liberal intellectuals now ought to do.

The conversation would not really have made much of an impression on me – it’s one of those conversations one is bound to have after an election like the last one — were it not for the curious way it began to resonate in subsequent days.

Walter Russell Mead echoed many of the themes of our dinner conversation in a post about the delusions of the “liberal intelligentsia,” who were misled by the Obama victory in 2008. People really just wanted things to get a little better after the disappointments and troubles of the Bush years, Mead argues; they didn’t want a liberal political agenda forced on them and watched over by the guardians of the liberal elite.

Delusional, disconnected, defeated.

But it’s not just liberals. Soon I found out that even more people were having virtually the same conversation we’d had. For instance, I came across these themes in a lament on Stephen Bainbridge’s blog, about the plight of the intellectual elite on the right. Bainbridge was responding to a post by Nils August Andresen, who has been publishing a series on FrumForum about the role of intellectuals – specifically academics, and even more specifically, Ivy League academics — in the GOP.

Bainbridge, Andresen and others are rightly worried that the GOP is turning over the reins of power to boobs on the tube and anti-intellectual demagogues. The Palin and Beck crowd can easily out-shout the Smart Guys. Populism threatens to make the GOP not just the party of no, but the party of no ideas.

It would be easy to multiply the examples. Intellectuals on both sides feel as if they are under siege, or desperately out of touch, as if they are being pushed out of public life, or – worse – that nobody’s listening.

It’s hard to decide what’s really going on here. Are these just post-election blues, or have intellectuals begun to grasp some greater truth, not just about the intellectual death of the GOP or what’s really the matter with Kansas, but about their own diminished, marginal social position?

This much seems tolerably clear. A society that does not accord a place of prestige to intellectuals hasn’t simply stopped believing in the wisdom of tenured faculty at Ivy League institutions. Professors can earn or lose public face — and the social status and access to power — that comes with it. But a society that excludes, marginalizes or mocks intellectual elites has lost a certain faith.

It has stopped believing in the idea that educated people have any special insight into human affairs, and maybe even that such insight is possible. And so it has stopped believing in the value of education – or at least a certain kind of education: the liberal arts, the study of history, language and society – and the power of ideas to help people make sense of history, the problems of the day, or the future. If this is where we are, or where things are heading, then I’m worried, too.

My own theory about Sarah Palin

Like many people I know, I’m heading out of town for the holiday weekend, and, like many people I know, I have my own pet theory about the Palin resignation.

I am skeptical about the idea that this resignation is the first shot across Tim Pawlenty’s bow in the race for the 2012 nomination. Could Palin be misguided enough to think that resigning midway through her first term as governor will somehow enhance her credentials for the Presidency? Or even for the Senate? John McCain was widely mocked when he suspended his campaign. What about somebody who suspends her sworn duty to serve and govern midway through her first term?

There may be a lucrative TV contract waiting for Sarah Palin (many have speculated that she’s heading to Fox), or a bad reality TV series (picture a cross between The Osbournes and The Anna Nicole Show). This is a little easier to buy than the suggestion that she’s resigning because she just doesn’t like politics and the national spotlight. More cartoons about Trig? More jokes about her daughter? How could anyone be expected to govern under such conditions? Sarah Palin revels in celebrity and her own folksy megalomania, and her remark about the “full court press” coming her way may be just more evidence of the paranoia which megalomaniacs and other sociopaths often exhibit.

It seems obvious that another shoe is ready to drop, as many bloggers and even a few in the mainstream media have speculated. Max Blumenthal over at the Daily Beast sees an “iceberg scandal” coming, involving a company called Spenard Building Supplies and an indictment of the Governor herself for embezzlement.

This is the most credible theory of all, in my view. Look at the structure of Palin’s resignation. She will officially hand over the reigns of power to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell at the Governor’s picnic in Fairbanks, Alaska later this month. The picnic is scheduled for July 26th. The delay in the official transfer of power seems to suggest a plea bargain, or some kind of arrangement with prosecutors, so that the transition to Parnell’s tenure as governor can be made as smoothly as possible. What the people of Alaska can expect in the way of governance from now until then is anybody’s guess.

If there is an indictment in the works, no one should be surprised. Palin has a shady history, rife with charges of ethics violations. What surprises me, and what continues to surprise me from one scandal to the next, are the expressions of shock and dismay when we learn that the powerful are corrupt, or that political power is itself a form of corruption. If you want to think about this over the holiday weekend – and it seems only appropriate to do so on July 4th – you might want to consider this passage from Karl Popper’s Open Society and its Enemies.

There is no history of mankind, there is only an indefinite number of histories of all kinds of aspects of human life. And one of these is the history of political power. This is elevated into the history of the world. But this, I hold, is an offence against every decent conception of mankind. It is hardly better than to treat the history of embezzlement or of robbery or of poisoning as the history of mankind. For the history of power politics is nothing but the history of international crime and mass murder (including it is true, some of the attempts to suppress them). This history is taught in schools, and some of the greatest criminals are extolled as heroes.

After July 26th, we may have to amend that last sentence to read that some of the greatest criminals are sometimes extolled as heroines, too.