Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Palin and the Politics of Catastrophe

(This diary began as a comment to the Weekend Open Thread, which I haven’t had time to read through.  But it got too unwieldy.  Hope it doesn’t derail anything else or appear redundant.  Apologies if so.)

Have you read McCain’s comments after the President’s speech?  You should.…

Had Palin published that, or read it to youtube, it would have been one of the best pre-announcement announcements in contemporary presidential politics.  Of course, if Palin had written this, or been able to employ and guide her writers to do so, she wouldn’t be Palin, and the danger wouldn’t be so severe.

I see both sides on the question of a Palin nomination.  I think she’d receive an extremely enthusiastic 30% of the vote.  It would be the most triumphalist defeat since Goldwater, perhaps even more so (Barry was scary, but nowhere near the apocalyptic moron Palin is).  I think the chances are extremely good that a Palin nomination would position Obama for a landslide re-election.  That is, unless the “Dump Obama” folks on “the left” manage to nominate Hamsher;)!!!  But on the other hand, winning the nomination gets Palin closer to the oval office than losing it does.  It definitely increases her chances from nil to remote.  Is that something to be wished for?  

I have written here many times that I think the politics of catastrophe are irresponsible.  The roots of this approach, can be found in marxian texts that posit pushing things to the brink to generate a revolutionary slingshot toward the new age.  It has its roots in observations of the French Revolution and the later fall of The Commune, which led to the writing of “The Internationale.”  Its most poetic articulations can be found, arguably, in works by Walter Benjamin (see his “Theses on the Philosophy of History” and his “Theological-Political Fragment”).  

Ultimately, however, it goes back to messianic thought in late antiquity.  In Tractate Sanhedrin 98a of the Babylonian Talmud, the Sages reconcile conflicting depictions of the Messiah’s advent in prophetic texts: Daniel 7:13 portrays him “in clouds of heaven”; Zechariah 9:9 portrays him “lowly [impoverished] and riding on a donkey.”  They solve this acute conflict by suggesting two possibilities.  The “Son of David” will only come to a generation that is wholly innocent, or wholly culpable.  

The surrounding discussion emphasizes material circumstances.  For instance, the former situation is exemplified by imagining that all the rates of exchange are equal, i.e. that plenitude and distribution is so complete and just that economics conflict and disparity disappear.  The latter situation is exemplified by imagining a man who is sick, but for whom even a fish cannot be found to nourish him.  As such, if we achieve total justice, the Messiah will appear “in clouds of heaven” as the emblem of our achievement.  If we reach a point where we cannot function at all, a time so dark that we cannot continue, the Messiah will arrive “lowly and riding on a donkey” as the emblem of our degradation.  Ultimately, what we have is a choice: a Messiah of obsolescence who comes when he is no longer needed; or a Messiah of absolute necessity, who comes when we cannot continue without him.  

As I read these depictions allegorically, as Utopian images to guide social, ethical, and thus political impulses, I’d rather work for the former than the latter.  It seems insane and irresponsible to work toward the brink in the hopes of a radical awakening and energetic response.  I don’t think we’ve exhausted our potential.  Humanity is in its infancy, or at least literate and technological humanity is.  I pray that a few centuries from now our descendants  will look back on us as romantic savages who created inklings and possibilities of a more sane and just and civilized mode of living.  It’s that future that I think we need to grope blindly toward, guided by our most adventurous and compassionate imaginings, and the daily work of caring for one another.

This diary clearly took a turn I didn’t plan.  Chalk its sentimentality up to a birthday reflection.  Such days always nudge me toward considerations of purpose and place in family, history, and (gulp) the universe.

So, whaddya think of a Palin nomination?  A boon or a threat?  And even if the former, could you handle the anxiety?


  1. Kysen

    and as a higherpowerdamned crying shame.

    Politically speaking…from the Democratic Party’s point of view…it would be a boon (at least in the short term). It would guarantee a second term for Obama. GUARANTEE it. It would force the ‘Middle’ of the Nation to look at just how off the rails the Right really has veered. It would provide as clear a distinction between the two Parties as is realistically possible (barring the Right nominating Zombie Reagan, nothing could more clearly show how detached from reality they have become). It not only would provide a yellow brick road to Obama’s second term…it very likely would pave an equally well-tended path to Democratic wins in 2016 and 2020 as well. In short, a Palin nomination would be ChrismaHanuKwanzakah for Democrats.

    As a Nation ‘United’, though, it would be a threat. Her nomination would set in stone a rift that will take generations to mend. Will have our nation, more than perhaps any point in the past century and a half, dividing along very very contentious lines. While Democrats look at Palin and see a joke…a poseur…a woman so far out of her depths as to be laughable (picture her in political waterwings)— MANY on the Right see her as the best thing since St. Ronnie (who, himself, is bested only by sliced bread and caller id). They see her as the embodiment of all their ‘REAL AMERICAN’ values…and, as such, see those who oppose her as anything BUT Real Americans. Those opposed to her see her supporters as ignorant, hateful, racist, homophobic, sexist (Palin gets a pass cuz she has a strong First Dude at her side), backwards, and small minded. Those who support her see her detractors as elitist, un-American, Socialist, Fascist, Communist, Jesus hating, and anti-Constitution. The divide is so deep…so heartfelt…that it cannot help but breed hate and distrust. Hate and distrust that would fester and grow when Sister Palin is soundly defeated by the NOT EVEN BORN IN AMERICA, elitist, black, and Social-Fasc-CommunIST Obama. Would prove to ‘them’ that the nation has truly been overtaken by what they see as ‘evil’ and ‘un-American’ and that they must FIGHT to restore THEIR country to its past glory. That it is time not to Retreat, but to Reload. A recipe for disaster if ever there were one.

    So, yes, a crying shame. A shame that we have come to this. A shame that even in the wake of the Tucson horror a week ago…a prime opportunity for both sides to stand together and make a full faith effort to tamp down the vitriol…Palin (and others) opted instead to feed the flames of division. If “look at me! look at me! BLOOD LIBEL!!!!” is what we got during a time of national sorrow…can you imagine what we will get on the Campaign Trail? Can you imagine the discontent and anger that will be stirred coast to coast? A crying shame.

    The next couple of years are going to be VERY interesting.

    Brings to mind that blessing/curse….”May you live in interesting times.”

    I believe we find ourselves in interesting times.

    Sorry for the ramble.

    Carry on…

  2. Kysen

    but made me chuckle (more like guffaw)

    From Bill Maher this weekend:

    And finally, New Rule, now that they’ve finished reading the Constitution out loud, the teabaggers must call out that group of elitist liberals whose values are so antithetical to theirs.  I’m talking, of course, about the Founding Fathers, who the teabaggers believe are just like them, but aren’t. One is a group of exclusively white men who live in a bygone century, have bad teeth, and think of blacks as 3/5s of a person.  And the other are the Founding Fathers!

    Now I want you teabaggers out there to understand one thing.  While you idolize the Founding Fathers and dress up like them and smell like them, I think it’s pretty clear that the Founding Fathers would’ve hated your guts.  And what’s more, you would’ve hated them!  They were everything you despise.  They studied science, read Plato, hung out in Paris, and thought the Bible was mostly bullshit.


    The Founders disagreed amongst themselves about that, and most issues.  But the one thing they never argued about was that political power must stay in the hands of the smartest people, and out of the hands of the dumbest loudmouths slowing down the checkout line at Home Depot.

    And yet, Sarah Palin once said of Obama, “we need a Commander-in-Chief, not a professor of law standing at a lectern”.  How gay is that!  Well, I hate to break it to you, but:

           Thomas Jefferson – Lawyer

           Alexander Hamilton – Constitutional Lawyer

           James Madison – Lawyer

           John Adams – Constitutional Lawyer

    They were not the common man of their day.  Ben Franklin studied scientific phenomena like lightning and the aurora borealis, and were he alive today, he could probably explain to Bill O’Reilly why the tides go in and out.

    James Madison was fluent in Greek and Latin, and could translate Virgil and Cicero.  John Boehner can’t translate Fareed Zakaria.  And Thomas Jefferson was an astronomer and a physicist who founded the University of Virginia, played the violin, and spoke six languages.  Or as Palin would say, “all of them”.

  3. IL JimP

    from the “West Wing” where they find out the Republican nominee and they are happy.  I think Toby says “be careful what you wish for”  that’s the way I feel about Palin.  There’s something scary there.

  4. HappyinVT

    (of course, I have a bet that Pawlenty wins the nomination so what do I know?).  I believe she’ll hem and haw for awhile to milk the media and the speculation then she’ll throw her weight (metaphorically speaking) behind whomever.  Then she’ll endorse other candidates in order to be the Republican kingmaker.

    Her popularity has consistently gone down while her negatives have shot up.  I truly do not believe she can overcome that; most of her home state doesn’t want her to run.  She’s not stupid; vacuous, intellectually incurious?  Yes, but stupid?  No.  Losing a presidential bid moves you to near irrelevance but following in her “quitter” path of helping the whole country by speaking out as a citizen and not as an elected official gives her a lot more freedom.

    That said, I’d love to see her run in the Republican primaries for the entertainment factor.  The closest, though, I want to see her on the GE ballot is as a write-in.

    cough George W. Bush cough

  5. Apologies, strum. Poetics aside, I realise I haven’t formulated any kind of response to the chiliastic ideology embedded in Palin’s rapturous destructions. More on that anon, when I’ve hit some deadlines.

  6. Rashaverak

    is a positive statement in many respects, but I am tempted to say that he lets the hate-mongers and rhetorical bomb-throwers off a bit too easy.  I think that President Obama chose his words carefully when he said,

    let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.

    with emphasis on the word simple.  In other words, it was not only a lack of civility, but also the shooter’s state of mind.

    Of course, the right has jumped on this statement approvingly, because it gives them a pass, in a way, if one does not read it carefully.  (I don’t think that the President intended to give them a pass, and I don’t think that he gave them a pass, but in the sound-bite world of the news media, it can be readily passed off — and accepted — that way.

    For clarity, I do think that this paragraph of Senator McCain’s piece should have been broken up into shorter sentences…

    It does not ask too much of human nature to have the empathy to understand how wrong an injury that is or appreciate how strong a need someone would feel to defend him or herself against such a slur. Even to perceive it in the context of its supposed political effect and not as the claim of the human heart to the dignity we are enjoined by God and our founding ideals to respect in one another is unworthy of us, and our understanding of America’s meaning.

    I felt as if I was wandering around a bit as I read that paragraph.

    Finally, I find it hard to square this sentence:

    We are Americans and fellow human beings, and that shared distinction is so much more important than the disputes that invigorate our noisy, rough-and-tumble political culture.

    with this sentiment of his former running mate:

    “We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.


Comments are closed.