Publick Occurrences 2.0

July 15, 2009

Putting the Hitler Channel in Perspective

Filed under: Education,Historians,Television — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 9:09 am

In the past week or so, Alexander Street Press has sent me several emails touting my free one-month “Scholar’s Pass” to an online resource called American History in Video, which they evidently want to sell to universities. Looking into this, I see that the product is chiefly old newsreels and History Channel videos, definitely more in the mild general interest category than anything with much academic educational value. For my favorite period, the Early Republic, AHIV seems to consist entirely of History Channel material and episodes of A&E’s Biography, almost all of it concerned with refighting the Revolutionary War or celebrating the Founders, basic cable-style. There are only three titles listed under “Early National Era,” and one of those is really a Revolution title (about Paul “The Midnight Rider” Revere).*

Now, I must admit at the outset that I have never been a huge fan of the History Channel. The somewhat higher-brow PBS stuff works just fine for college students and usually shaves off fewer IQ points. How much do costumed guys running across a field and the substitution of breathless Basic-Cable-Narrator Guy for the stentorian vocal stylings of Edward Herrmann or David McCullough really add? Anyway, the newer PBS documentaries have got the costumed guys now too, but at least the public TV docs have gone through grant processes that force the producers to seriously consult historians.

Alexander Street’s attempt to package History Channel material for libraries made me want to check if I had missed out on some increase in the channel’s educational ambitions. Back in the early days of cable, the History Channel seemed to be nothing but reruns of old World War II documentaries, and I have heard even non-historians laugh about it being the “Hitler Channel.” (Indeed, Urban Dictionary agrees that “Hitler Channel” is now official street argot.) But maybe things had changed? I do remember Newt Gingrich or someone touting the History Channel as one of the key reasons for the coming obsolescence of academic history books and courses and faculty, so perhaps one should check.

Things have indeed changed, as my screenshot from Monday’s History Channel home page attests. (Click it if you want to be able to read it.) There seems to be only one WWII series running now, “Patton 360,” which I can only hope places a CGI George C. Scott in some immersive 3-D environments where he can smack down Nazi vampires or his own loafing troops.

However, “Patton 360″ is pretty much it for history most nights on The History Channel and “” (they own us, friends) these days.  The rest of the offerings seem to indicate that the network’s programming niche is not infotainment about the past, but instead manly workplace-based reality shows for guys who like their basic cable as Big As All Outdoors. We noticed from the promos during the Cardinals broadcasts that the History Channel seemed to be very engrossed in the oh-so-historical doings of the Ice Road Truckers, from which we learn that it seems to take a big man to provide the friction that the big rigs need to stay on those ice roads. Then there was Ax Men, a competitive logging show, followed by Deep Sea Salvage and Tougher in Alaska. Clearly Sarah Palin should set up her forthcoming helicopter hunting and moose dressing show right here on THC. I hope that is an appellation THC will soon adopt, following in the focus-losing, initializing tradition of other basic cable outlets like AMC, TLC,  and TNN, none of which involve many classic movies, learning, or Nashville music anymore, respectively. For the pasty indoor but still manly set, I see they are premiering a new show set in a pawn shop, just in time for the recession.

Go deeper into the schedule and website, and you get to the pseudoscience shows, like a Bigfoot-hunting program called MonsterQuest. In fairness, I am sure they are hot on the trail of other cryptids as well.  MonsterQuest fans include bulletin board poster “Maldar34,” contributor of the following panegyric to the intelligence of History Channel viewers:

Dudewe know this already. Were not some dumb southern hicks that are drunk 98% of the time. We also can tell when somthing is fake or not. Look at the bigfoot reports thread both me and dontwatch have agreed on the fact that most of them are fake. There was one involving a bioligist biking through a forest in washington that seemed very credible if yuu want me to i can find it. But seriously were not some dumb rubes that have a meeting every night on how bigfoot impregnated my wife while i was being probed by aliens. Were just not idiots. We are people of science who belive the exsistence of somthing ou think doe not exsist. You dont have to be rude about it.

I wish that were a satire, but I’m fairly sure that it isn’t, because there were a lot more guys like that where he came from. They were arranging to go on hunts through the site.

It all kind of makes you long for the old Hitler Channel just a little bit. People were learning some history there, even if it was somewhat limited and possibly led to a few viewers getting just a little too interested in the Nazis, if you know what I mean.

It would be easy to dismiss the present pseudo-History Channel as popular nonsense that does not concern us “real” historians. Yet some academic commenting on Stan Katz’s recent Chronicle piece, which answered an alarmist NYT story about the decline of traditional history courses, seemed to regard the History Channel as a kind of saving grace for the world of boring academic knowledge, if not the whole culture. This seems to be what a frightening number of educated people think our discipline should be about:

As for history – it is the only interesting field I have found now that every other discipline is mired in identity politics, and entertainment is nothing but explosions and chick flicks. Hooray for the History Channel with its 360 degree battles! and other excellent programming. Kids do need to learn what history has to offer, and I tell you, when the kids get into the personalities that accompany world events, they like it.

Get the kids into personalities, that’s how we will get them to understand their world. Why didn’t we think of that?

*In fairness, one of the Early Republic shows that was available concerned Andrew Jackson’s conquest of Florida and seems to heavily feature incoming SHEAR president-elect Harry Watson. That one I may have to watch all the way through (even though it was part of a series called The Conquerors that seems to date back to early Iraq times and perhaps celebrates conquering stuff just a little bit).
Now playing: Nick Lowe – Little Hitler
via FoxyTunes


July 10, 2009

Things I learned from the Internet this week

Filed under: Colonial Period,Conservatives,GOP,Humor,Media,Popular culture — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 1:21 am

. . . when I probably should have been doing something else.

  • The Tea Party protesters do not even like the Republicans any more, if they ever did. They are also the number one source of “comment spam” on this blog, or at least of the stuff that gets through the filters. That is just how revolutionary they are. Teabaggers go where online slot machine and Canadian payday loan purveyors fear to tread. [Actually, I think the spammers must think the teabaggers are a little bit confused and thus a good target market for people who sell things by getting other people to click on links accidentally.]
  • Sarah Palin is in it for the money. Some conservative pundits do not approve, but Rush is all for it. Making money is the highest social good in their philosophy, right? So I guess they have to take the greedy with the bad.
  • People who comment on the American political scene for national publications should be forced to read a pile of several hundred student papers. Then they would not find Palin’s habit of speaking/writing “in half-expressed thoughts and internal contradictions” so singular. It’s more or less the norm as far as I can tell, here in the mid-ranges of higher education that Sarah could not quite hack. It’s also pretty common to just disappear from classes or change schools in mid-semester, with or without explanation. Of course, it takes a truly special person to take that approach to being governor of a state. That said, making fun of a populist leader’s syntax, as the MSM and liberal blogs like to do with Palin, just plays into their hands. Ask the Federalists how well the supercilious grammar criticism tactic worked against various upstart northern Democratic-Republicans.
  • Racist humor (and, one might add, racism) is fairly common, and often tolerated, in some conservative circles. Actually, I already knew that from personal experience, but it is quite revealing that some young white conservatives thought nothing of slapping that kind of thing up on Facebook.
  • You can learn colonial history on Hulu. I learned that  Captain John Smith worked out a lot and liked to hang around in Jamestown with his shirt off. It was surprisingly hot, dry, and dusty there in the Virginia Tidewater hills. Also, John Rolfe was his sidekick. And Pocahontas looked good in her miniskirt. Ahead of the curve fashion-wise, as well. To be honest, there’s something to be said for the 50s he-man version of John Smith over Colin Farrell’s big-eyed nature lover in Terence Malick’s The New World. Smith is a rather sensitive fellow for a globe-trotting mercenary in both versions, which probably says something about how Americans like to remember their conquering forebears: a little sentimental, with just a hint of tears as they regretfully wipe off the blood.

Now playing:
Beulah – Queen of the Populists
via FoxyTunes


July 1, 2009

Department of Not Giving John Adams Too Much Credit

Filed under: Journalism history,Newspapers — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 9:18 am

I followed a link from TPM to a Vanity Fair article on Sarah Palin that did not turn out to be quite as awesome as promised. To me, everything one needs to know about the reasons that woman should be kept out of high office is conveyed by any given 10-minute film clip of her, including the convention speech that set off her initial media stardom. The particulars may be more Alaskan and trashier than your typical right-wing suburban beauty queen, but Sarah Barracuda’s basic approach seems pretty familiar if you come from the sort of background that breeds lots of Republicans. I do! But more Palin-tology was not my reason for writing tonight.

In a passing remark at the end of the piece, VF reporter Todd Purdum tosses off a bit of faux-erudition in the course of trashing the mental powers of Palin’s GOP fanbase. I bolded the key sentence:

Palin has disappointed many of those who once had the highest hopes for her. She has stumbled over innumerable details. But as she said to Andrew Halcro years ago, “Does any of this really matter?” Palin has shown herself to have remarkable gut instincts about raw politics, and she has seen openings where others did not. And she has the good fortune to have traction within a political party that is bereft of strong leadership, and whose rank and file often demands qualities other than knowledge, experience, and an understanding that facts are, as John Adams said, stubborn things. It is, at the moment, a party in which the loudest and most singular voices, not burdened by responsibility, wield disproportionate power.

John Adams did use that proverb, apparently, and perhaps David McCullough or the HBO series put it in his mouth, but he did not originate it. [See Ben's explanation in the comments.] The fact is, “facts are stubborn things” was one of the most common catch-phrases in the newspapers of the Early Republic. Readex/Newsbank’s “America’s Historical Newspapers” database reports 1,403 occurrences, and that is probably low. I feel as though I have seen about 1,000 instances of it personally in the course of my research. The phrase was often used as a headline or recurring motif in essays exposing official malfeasance or contradicting another writer’s position based on everyday experience and the “common understanding of mankind.” The quoted line comes from, you guessed it, “Facts are Stubborn Things,” Number VII of Boston politician and merchant Benjamin Austin, Jr.’s 1786 essay series condemning the legal profession, written over the pen name “Honestus” in the Boston Independent Chronicle and published in book form as Observations on the Pernicious Practice of the Law.  Austin’s book probably popularized the phrase among early American printers, quite a few of whom harbored the feeling that the facts were probably against the existence of lawyers.

For me, “facts are stubborn things” encapsulates a certain Enlightenment attitude that was especially common on the political left of that time (and possibly all times), assuming that incontrovertible empirical data could be found on any question and that such facts would irresistibly lead public opinion in an enlightened direction by dispelling the mystifications and superstitions of earlier, barbarous ages. What’s interesting to me is that the phrase seemed to resonate just as much on the right of the Early Republic, where it would be directed against the allegedly dangerous speculations and innovations of Jacobin-Jeffersonian “philosophy.”  Hence around 1803 you could find itinerant Democratic-Republican editor John B. Colvin singing the Jefferson administration’s praises with the stubborn facts and Connecticut Federalist satirist David Daggett campaigning against Jefferson’s local supporters under the same title.

According to Bartlett’s Quotations and other sources on Google Books, supplemented by my actually looking up the originals (or trying), the proverb’s earliest publications occurred in the late 1740s, separately and in rather opposite meanings. The “liberal” usage of the phrase as an appeal to reason and information began with Connecticut clergyman and agricultural reformer Jared Eliot‘s 1749 Continuation of the essay upon field-husbandry, as it is or may be ordered in New England. “Facts are stubborn Things, which will not bow nor break,” the Rev. Mr. Eliot writes, appropriately enough in a footnote:

Right around the same time, English poet and translator Tobias Smollett satirized the phrase by giving it as dialogue to a character called Dr. Sangrado, a benighted Spanish physician who decries new-fangled medical theories such as the idea that blood was necessary for life. (Possibly he was one of those global warming skeptics we hear about, as well.) In Smollett’s formulation, the stubborn “facts” were the ones that the ignorant and inflexible refused to give up despite counterevidence. Here comes a Google Books science experiment, presenting the actual passage that Bartlett and the others seem to be referencing:

Ah, the “dangerous allurements of chemistry”! So we come back to to the modern conservative political mind after all, which may be breaking a little bit but certainly won’t bow. And the very stones also may have a few things to cry aloud about Sarah if her political career goes any further.
Now playing: Barracudas – His Last Summer
via FoxyTunes


February 17, 2009

Breaking the Vice Grip?

Filed under: 2008 elections,Jeff Pasley's Writings,Media — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 12:17 am

Possibly it is obnoxious to say I told you so, but I was very pleased to see Obama campaign manager David Plouffe quoted making the same point I made last August about the electoral insignificance of vice-presidential picks. He also notes the real impact of the great Mooseslayer on the race: she helped the Democrats, big time.

Here is Plouffe on Gov. Sarah Palin: “Vice presidential picks rarely but sometimes make an electoral difference. Our view was it probably wasn’t going to matter that much. It’s the most over-covered story in politics. This was the one exception to that. It did have an effect.”

“She was our best fundraiser and organizer in the fall.”

Long may she run as the GOP’s shining star.


November 13, 2008

God Bless That Sarah Palin There, or The Summers of Our Discontent

Filed under: 2008 elections,Media,Obama Administration,Presidency — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 1:42 am

Presidential transitions are always rough for the political news media, and their consumers, especially in the age of 24-hour basic cable news channels. They have to talk about something even if there is nothing to talk about. So we get endless parsing of rumors about who might be appointed to what position and what that might say about the incoming administration. For instance, the liberal end of the blogosphere has been freaking out for a couple of days over rumors that former Harvard President and Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers was being considered for the Obama Administration. (I intend to use that last phrase as often as possible for a while).

The freak-out has produced some useful reminders that the roots of the recent free-market excesses date back to Clinton-era deregulation that Summers championed. (His enablement of Enron seems especially embarrassing.)  And yet, the freakout is occurring based no new real information except the names of the transition team members, and given the unusual-for-Democrats tightness of the ship Obama runs, I doubt we will get anything new until the President-elect is ready to tell us for real.  It was only natural and appropriate for a new Democratic president to turn to members of the previous Dem administration for advice. Indeed, it would be insulting not to — Clinton made one of his many early mistakes by snubbing the Carter Administration (repeating Carter’s own mistake). So, yes, the immediate previous Democratic Treasury Secretary was brought in, along with Robert Rubin and many others.  Not exactly the fulcrum of modern American history, death of a dream, or any of that. If it makes some of the freaked feel better, my reading is that Summers’s presence on the transition advisory board would more strongly suggest that he is NOT in line to be T-Sec again rather than the reverse. Clintonomics has duly been acknowledged, and now Obama will make his own choice. I would go with Paul Krugman myself, but that sort of provocative grandstand play is exactly why Barack Obama is getting ready to move into the White House, rather than John McCain or myself.

So, I say, God bless you Sarah Palin and your clueless post-election media blitz there [read in North Country dialect], apparently designed to remind voters of everything they did not vote for last week by continuing to babble your failed campaign talking points. Matt, Wolf, Greta, and the rest love an empty political celebrity story to flog and you are just the empty political celebrity to give it to them. Sarah, you distract the bloggers for a while, and give Barack Obama a few days catch a breath, organize his adminstration, find a school and dog for the girls, and then you can give back the spotlght you enjoy so much.


October 26, 2008

Erin Burr, Rogue Veep

Filed under: 2008 elections — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 11:55 pm

The story is careful to cite campaign tensions between other running mates, but I can’t say I remember reading anything like this before. If the election ends up going to the House — which I am not predicting — McCain should be glad the 12th Amendment is in place, because he might have an Aaron Burr problem on his hands. I don’t see our Sarah voluntarily refusing the presidency.

Palin’s ‘going rogue,’ McCain aide says –
“She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone,” said this McCain adviser. “She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.

“Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom.”

I certainly hope these nonplussed McCain aides are the same ones who thought that picking a vice-presidential candidate the way you might choose an actor for a TV commercial would be an awesome “maverick type of move” back in August.  Said one of them in the NYT Magazine story today: “’The sense you immediately get is how tough-minded and self-assured she is,’ [McCain speechwriter Mark Salter] recalled three weeks after meeting her. ‘She makes that impression in like 30 seconds.’ ” Possibly they are thinking now they should have thought 30 seconds longer.


October 2, 2008

The “New York Times” Catches Up with “Publick Occurrences”

Filed under: 2008 elections,GOP — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 11:50 pm

I would be lying if I said that I have consistently maintained full confidence in my Palin Day One judgment that vice-presidential picks never matter, but after the Delmar Donnybrook tonight (St. Louis reference), I am feeling fairly good about it. Sarah Palin did fine if you enjoy spirited note-card readings and chirpy North Country accents, but I suspect this was the last night of her run as national obsession, barring a nasty turn in John McCain’s health or the televised vice-royal shotgun wedding some have feared might be among possible future McCain stunts.

At any rate, I would like to welcome the New York Times aboard my analytical bandwagon. From Adam Nagourney’s post-Veep debate analysis:

Election Day is now just a month away, and if this presidential race follows typical patterns, people are now making decisions — and, again if this election is true to form, they will be making their choice between the two people at the top of the ticket. Matthew Dowd, who was chief strategist for President Bush in 2004, recalled when he was working for Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 1988, when he — by every account — beat Dan Quayle in that vice-presidential debate.

“We were sitting in the audience, I was sitting between Al Gore and Dick Gephardt, and everyone was like ‘Oh that’s, great, great,’ ” Mr. Dowd said. “But it didn’t matter anymore. You’re 30 days or so out and people are stating to look at the presidential candidates. The race had formed.”

“You’re in a race right now that is beginning to solidify into a five- or six-point Barack Obama lead,” he said. “And each day forward with lead holding is not a good day for McCain. It doesn’t contribute to what they really need to do. They have just a little over 30 days to start to make up some serious ground, at a time when people are already starting to vote.”

That, Mr. Dowd said, was why an adequate performance from Ms. Palin Thursday night fell short of what Mr. McCain needed and will probably be forgotten before the presidential candidates meet for their second debate next Tuesday in Nashville.


September 28, 2008

St. Louis not good enough for Palin “debate camp”

Filed under: 2008 elections,Missouri — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 11:21 pm

Be insulted, my fellow Missourians and swing-state voters, be very insulted.


Gov. Sarah Palin will now spend two and a half days near Sedona, Arizona, to prepare for Thursday’s debate, instead of prepping in St Louis, as originally planned.

Sarah Palin will be at John McCain’s rustic creek side home outside Sedona [a.k.a. his 5-building "Sedona compound"] for what a top aide calls “debate camp.”

Gee, I went to debate camp in Emporia, Kansas and I survived. That’s where I learned that you could eat anything an institutional kitchen produced if you just added enough steak sauce. Call me a liberal elitist, but that’s how I saw it.

Actually, I suspect this has more to do with keeping Sarah away from reporters and voters, and near at hand for Daddy Mac, where she won’t be able to say anything he has to retract.


September 17, 2008

Sarah Palin, Natural Aristocrat?

Filed under: 2008 elections,Conservatives,Founders — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 1:11 am

In a rare non-worthless column today, David Brooks took issue with a typically insincere Weekly Standard piece that professed to find in former local sportscaster and present tanning enthusiast Sarah Palin the fulfillment of the Founders’ fondest dreams. (It’s funny how everything conservatives favor seems to bring smiles to the statues’ faces.) In one of those faux-populist jags conservatroids like to go on only when discussing Democrats, Europeans, academics, or the media, writer Stephen F. Hayward ends up bringing both Harry Truman and Thomas Jefferson on board the Palin dogsled, busting out Jefferson’s famous dialogue with John Adams on the “natural aristocracy” in the process:

The issue is not whether the establishment would let such a person as Palin cross the bar into the certified political class, but whether regular citizens of this republic have the skill and ability to control the levers of government without having first joined the certified political class. But this begs an even more troublesome question: If we implicitly think uncertified citizens are unfit for the highest offices, why do we trust those same citizens to select our highest officers through free elections?

In his reply to Adams, Jefferson expressed more confidence that political virtue and capacity for government were not the special province of a recognized aristocratic class, but that aristoi (natural aristocrats) could be found among citizens of all kinds: “It would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society.” Jefferson, moreover, trusted ordinary citizens to recognize political virtue in their fellow citizens: “Leave to the citizens the free election and separation of the aristoi from the pseudo-aristoi, of the wheat from the chaff. In general they will elect the really good and wise.”

Today’s establishment doubts this. The establishment is affronted by the idea that an ordinary hockey mom–a mere citizen–might be just as capable of running the country as a long-time member of the Council on Foreign Relations. This closed-shop attitude is exactly what both Jefferson and Adams set themselves against; they wanted a republic where talent and public spirit would find easy access to the establishment.

OK, down with that “closed-shop attitude,” though neither Jefferson nor Adams dreamed of opening the shop to non-white males, and they weren’t too sure about shopkeepers, either. But even if we don’t take Hayward’s argument too literally, did Jefferson’s willingness to allow the voters to separate the wheat from the chaff mean that he discounted the importance of education and experience in candidates for public office? Well, not so much. Later in the same letter, Jefferson explained his elaborate plan for a steeply graduated public education system that would provide basic skills to all while selecting out only the very best students in each area to move on to the higher levels of the system and possibly qualify for leadership roles. Outlining his program for eliminating the “artificial” aristocracy of birth and wealth in Virginia during the Revolution, Jefferson regretted that one key piece of legislation never passed:

It was a Bill for the more general diffusion of learning. This proposed to divide every county into wards of 5. or 6. miles square, like your townships; to establish in each ward a free school for reading, writing and common arithmetic; to provide for the annual selection of the best subjects from these schools who might receive at the public expense a higher degree of education at a district school; and from these district schools to select a certain number of the most promising subjects to be compleated at an University, where all the useful sciences should be taught. Worth and genius would thus have been sought out from every condition of life, and compleatly prepared by education for defeating the competition of wealth and birth for public trusts.

In appointing officials to his own administration,  Jefferson applied even more stringent educational standards, giving most of the jobs to men with college educations at a time when only a tiny handful of men even had the opportunity to go. Would Jefferson be celebrating over the idea of elevating nearly to the presidency a book-banning small-town mayor (and religious fanatic, by his lights) who cobbled together her education from five different miscellaneous institutions and acquired not an ounce of intellectual or cultural sophistication in the process?” Not hardly, as John Wayne used to say. For Jefferson, the value of a governance system could be measured by whether “worth and genius” tended to find their way to power under it: “May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?”

I will leave to the reader what the Sarah Palin pick says about the health of our current form of government.


September 10, 2008

The Deference Strategy

Filed under: 2008 elections,Conservatives,GOP,Media — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 5:10 pm

I linked to one of my recent deference posts on the blog for my “Age of Jefferson” course, and the comment below was submitted. I thought I would answer it here, in a somewhat more comfortable environment for overt politics. At any rate, “cheese” had this to say:

I think in this situation she wants to have a fair interview. His choice of words probably could have been better but all in all everybody on both sides reads way too much into these small comments. I think he is just trying to talk about the media being respectful and courteous.

As far as her not wanting to talk about her political record, this is simply not true. She is a candidate with an executive record who is intelligent enough to know that everything she has done is going to be called into question. The simple fact is that people like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are not going to give her a fair interview. She won’t do an interview with word twisting NBC commentators. I can guarantee that she will do Meet the Press with a real reporter of the news. No matter how liberal Tom Brokaw is he will still give a fair interview to Palin. I think we should let her pack her bags in Alaska and get out on the campaign trail full force before we start saying she is afraid of the media.

The gloves have come off in this election and the interesting thing is that Senator Obama has to fight it out with the VP nominee of the GOP. The top of the Dem ticket is fighting it out with the VP of the Rep ticket and the press but not so much with McCain. Palin does not feel the need to fight it out with the press like Obama is doing with Hannity. She is going after the Democrats and not after whatever commentator wants to take the gloves off and battle it out with her. It is more child-like to have this Obama-Hannity type of banter with the top of a ticket going after a political commentator rather then talking about actual policy. I believe this comment of “respect and deference” is more directed at commentators with outside agendas rather than true reporters.

For the record Palin has talked to the media and very intelligently about energy I might ad. As you can see from the interview she knows her information and has no problem answering the questions of a true reporter. It is very recent she mentions Obama and Biden.

I suspect “cheese” is right that Palin can handle herself quite well with the press. She is obviously an adept and feisty public speaker. (As far as energy issues go, that’s pretty much what Alaska’s political economy revolves around, so I should hope she is strong in that area.) Indeed, Palin’s obvious talent for public speaking, far outstripping that of the top name on the GOP ticket, makes the McCain campaign’s protective attitude a little mysterious.

The best explanation is that most of the recent McCain campaign’s “defenses” of Palin, including the demand for “deference” to her from the media and the howls of “sexism” over minor Obama comments that weren’t aimed at her personally — are all rooted in conscious political strategy. However capable Palin may actually be, the McCain people chose her as a symbol, of small-town motherhood, in an effort to pump up the GOP’s conservative Christian base and perhaps bring in some of the older female and Catholic voters who went for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. As a symbol, Palin’s family decisions are her qualifications more than anything she has or has not done or could or could not do in government. (Almost any other criteria for the veep pick would have generated a different result, especially if they were really looking for a qualified female Republican.)

As a symbol aimed at groups of voters who often perceive themselves as slighted and/or persecuted by the culture at large (especially small-town and exurban Christian women), Palin is actually better for McCain if she too is perceived as beset by sneering elitists and haters. Hence the rush to “protect” her, even if she doesn’t need it, from personal attacks that are largely not even being made, at least by the Democrats. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen saw what was happening even before Palin made her now-famous convention speech last week:

John McCain’s convention gambit [the Palin pick] is a culture war strategy. It depends for its execution on conflict with journalists, and with bloggers (the “angry left,” Bush called them) along with confusion between and among the press, the blogosphere, and the Democratic party. . . . It dispenses with issues and seeks a trial of personalities. It bets big time on backlash.

Readers may remember the GOP self-pity party that went on all the day before Palin’s speech last Wednesday, with the McCain people moaning about their former buddies in the D.C. media being “on a mission to destroy” the Alaska governor. They screamed about the “smears” against Palin’s pregnant daughter, many of which the McCain campaign itself was the first to publicize. McCain campaign officials also went out of their way to tell the world about their threats to sue the National Enquirer for an upcoming story alleging that Sarah Palin had had an affair with one of her husband’s business partners. Last Wednesday may also have been the day many conservative Republicans first discovered the formerly liberal concept of sexism, as their vice-presidential nominee’s many quasi-scandals came out and her remarkably thin credentials were parsed. In retrospect it all looks like a set-up to bring the Christian Right’s blood to a boil at seeing one of their own pitched into the proverbial den of lions.

This game of strategically stoking up white Middle America’s sense of moral superiority and victimization by sinister elites has a long history, which I will blog about soon. In recent times, it has worked out a lot better for the Republicans politically than it has for small-town America in reality. Read Kansas City native Thomas Frank’s Wall Street Journal essay, “The GOP Loves the Heartland to Death,” for an eloquent explanation of what I mean.

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