September 29, 2010

Mama Grizzlies: An Attack on Sanity

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When Sarah Palin first came to center stage of American politics as the vice-presidential nominee for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, I was terrified. Her national debut coincided with speculations over her running mate’s health, who happened to be 71 years old with a prior incident of cancer. Cynics argued, what if … something happened … and Sarah Palin — a woman who claimed she could see Russia from her house in Alaska — became President of the United States of America. As a feminist and a semi-rational human being, the mere possibility of Sarah Palin running my country gave me nightmares.After Obama’s historic election in 2008, my fear of Palin settled. Yet this tranquil period — in which starry-eyed idealists like myself believed that unprecedented change would transpire in America and sanity would be restored in Washington — was, much to my dismay, very short-lived. Despite McCain’s defeat and months of media mockery, Sarah Palin was far from ready to resign from politics; she was just getting started. When I first heard rumors that Palin might run in the 2012 presidential campaign, I laughed. Such audacity was not worthy of fear; I thought, ‘Sarah Palin For President’ was the best thing that could ever happen to the Democratic Party. Though it was certainly alarming that there were Americans out there who supported a self-described “mama grizzly” completely unqualified for the job, I found comfort in my belief that most Americans were reasonable and therefore could not possibly support such a nut. Run for president; I thought, be my guest.Yet, the wild success of the Tea Party in the recent Republican primaries suggests that I’ve been far too confident in Americans’ ability to apply reason to politics. Christine O’Donnell — an evangelical activist opposed to AIDS education and “sex that does not require a partner,” who thinks mice have human brains and infamously “dabbled into witchcraft” — defeated nine-term U.S. Representative Michael Castle in Delaware’s Republican senatorial primary. In Nevada, Sharron Angle, who is in favor of dismantling the Department of Education and thinks autism is a “socialist conspiracy,” won in a landslide victory. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Though I respect the Republican Party — or rather, the underlying principles of old-school conservatism — I find it difficult to respect the Tea Party and their strategic fear-mongering and manipulation of facts. In a column I wrote in Dec. 2008, exactly one month after Obama’s historic election, I described the Obama administration as “an end to the wishful ideological thinking and the dismissal of scientific evidence associated with the Bush administration.” Yet, the rise of the Tea Party threatens this dynamic shift; if elected, this anti-government, anti-intellectual movement could have serious consequences for our nation’s progress. In the words of Maureen Dowd, “Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, John Boehner, Jim DeMint and some Tea Party types don’t merely yearn for the country they idealize from the 1950s. They want to go back to the 1750s.”Despite my mockery, the Tea Party’s success from a strategic perspective is certainly commendable. Obama was elected in large part because of an unprecedented grassroots movement in which ordinary Americans were empowered to use their voice and vote for change. Yet, with the end of Obamania came a decline of democratic zeal altogether. Since then, the Tea Partiers have swooped in and hijacked the grassroots ideals that were not-so-long-ago monopolized by the Democrats. In this regard, the Tea Party has excelled in every area in which the Democrats have failed. Sarah Palin and her fellow mama grizzlies are popular because they connect with Americans on a personal level — they feel their pain, empathize with their struggles and propose solutions that redirect the blame of their own shortcomings onto others (i.e. the Democrats). Though candidate Obama made similar connections and inspired Americans on an individual level, President Obama has struggled to do so, resulting in a mass incomprehensibility of his presidential agenda. To be fair, Americans have legitimate reason to be skeptical of the current administration and look elsewhere for change. Though the recession is technically over, the economy is far from booming. Unemployment remains on the rise in 21 states and homes continue to be repossessed by banks. Unable to make ends meet, Americans don’t know what else to do but hope that the alternative — the G.O.P./Tea Party — can do more for them. As Obama supporter Velma Hart told Obama in a televised town hall meeting last week, “I’m exhausted of defending you … defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now. I have been told that I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I’m one of those people. And I’m waiting, sir. I’m waiting.”Unfortunately for the Democrats, Americans are impatient (understandably so) and are prone to short-term memory loss. We tend to forget that Obama came into office at one of the worst times in history, inheriting domestic and foreign policy problems nearly unparalleled in scale. At the recent Stephen Walt talk on campus entitled, “Doomed to Fail: the Foreign Policy of Barack Obama,” Walt —though certainly critical of Obama — pointed to Obama’s swift action in response to the financial meltdown in the immediate months following his election. Though certainly not perfect, Obama’s economic measures averted a potentially much more drastic global economic depression that could have led to socio-political consequences reminiscent of the 1930s (think the rise of fascism and World War II).  Unfortunately though, Walt acknowledges that politicians don’t get credit for what did not happen, only for what did. Frankly, if Americans continue to be unemployed, people don’t really care if it could be worse — if Obama, did in fact, avoid disaster. In my view, this unfortunate predicament is representative of Obama and the Democrats’ biggest challenge. For such a fantastic orator, Obama has fundamentally failed to adequately communicate with Americans and articulate what he has accomplished and what he realistically plans to accomplish in the next two years.  Americans need to be reassured that though mass change has not transformed America, little by little, change is happening and things will get better. At a recent fundraising dinner for the Democratic National Party, Obama responded to criticism from Democrats who complained that he had not yet fulfilled all his campaign promises. Recognizing that he’s been far from perfect, Obama proclaimed: “Folks wake up! This is not some academic exercise … Don’t compare us to the Almighty, compare us to the alternative.” Though it’s quite sad that American politics have hit such a low point — voting on the lesser of two evils, or as cynic would say, the least incompetent candidate — it’s a harsh reality that we are currently forced to face. However bad you think things are now, a McCain-Palin White House would have been a whole lot worse, not to mention a Tea Party victory in November. If the idea of various “Christine O’Donnells” running our country isn’t motivation enough to get you to the polls Nov. 2nd, I don’t know what is. Vote Republican, vote Democrat, but please, I am begging you, vote for sanity. Carolyn Witte is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at cwitte@cornellsun.com. Wit’s End appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Carolyn Witte