Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fear & Loathing On Sarah Palin's Trail

Bill O’Reilly: At this point, it’s almost funny…that these people feel you’re such a threat to them…It’s almost amusing.
Sarah Palin: Well, I’m grinning today, and I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to get to work with you and the other team members here at Fox News to provide the fair and balanced reporting and analysis that voters in this country deserve.
O’Reilly: But it’s the threat I don’t get. You’re the…former governor of Alaska, the former vice presidential candidate. You’re a politician. You’re a mom. You’re an American. What’s the threat?...I’m not feeling it here…Tell me what the threat is.
Pailin: Well, see, Obviously, it’s not about me…personally, who I am from up there in Alaska…
O’Reilly: Yeah, but they’re going after you personally.
Palin: They don’t like the message. They don’t like the common sense conservative solutions that I think I represent and I articulate as I explain what I believe are some of the solutions to the great challenges facing America.
O’Reilly: That’s true. But there are a lot of conservative politicians giving that message, and none of them are as attacked personally and vehemently as you are. And that’s just a fact.

The gravitas of today's subject demands more than the usually cheesy snaps Samsara Samizdat is known for. Hence, we're featuring photographs of both Ms. Cyd Charisse--
And that’s just a fact, indeed. Of all the things happening seen and unseen in this universe, why devote so much time and energy on Private Citizen Palin? Now that she is no longer Governor of the smallest state in the union--or even mayor of a town so small, that outside of Alaska, it couldn’t even afford to fund a full time mayor—she is not in a position to goof up anyone’s lives (other than her own and the members of her extended family). Still, could Sarah Palin somehow stitch together enough of her run on, non-responsive, empty platitudes together, and build a political movement?
No, she could not.
Then why write about her?
After much thought, I’ve come to the following conclusion: because it’s fun and easy.

I mean, if I were really civic minded and cared about the Republic, I’d be writing about Senator Mitch “The Grift” McConnell, who routinely shovels huge barrels of pork to his old Kentucky home at the expense of the nation’s general welfare. Instead, it’s more fun to write about Alaska’s Ted Stevens, and how shocked SHOCKED he was to discover that the improvements to his mountain cabin were worth $410,000—as opposed to the $160,000 his oil industry executive/lobbyist cum general contractor billed him for.

--and renowned actresses being spanked. 
Here, Ms. Larraine Day 
(aka Mrs. Leo 

Durocher) demonstrates 
what "having 

one of those days" 
meant, back in 

the day.
But I’m not alone in my preference towards the cheap and easy. Why was the country so wholly focused on the timing of sex acts between consenting adults—one of whom happened to be President at the time—when anyone even vaguely paying attention could see the Dot.Com revolution and the NASDAQ were on the edge of tanking? By any measure, the collapse of the internet stock bubble did much more harm to America, than anything Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky did. But stock markets just aren’t as much fun.

But some people and stuff are just magnets for negative attention—which is a piss poor transition to what I’ve discovered while reading Hunter S. Thompson’s immortal classic Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72.

Mr. Thompson may be Raul Duke, the sometime sports columnist for Rolling Stone, but he is no Theodore H. White—and that’s a good thing, I suppose:

This is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in politics. Every hack in the business has used it in times of trouble, and it has even been elevated to the level of political mythology in a story about one of Lyndon Johnson’s early campaigns in Texas. The race was close and Johnson was getting worried. Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumour campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.
“Christ, we can’t get away calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested. “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.”
“I know,” Johnson replied. “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”

--Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72

Spankee: Ms. Janet Blair. The Spanker

appears to be Mr. Red Skelton. If for
a minute, I believed such things were
part of the job for Fuller Brush men,
my whole life would have been
The Making of the President 1960 contains no such stories—which is probably while Mr. Thompson’s books are still in print. Though not for long, I imagine. How many hip hop happening groovy cats from Nowsville have even heard of Edmund Muskie or Henry “Scoop” Jackson, let alone John Lindsay or Sam Yorty? It’s fortunate for the memory of the former L.A. Mayor that Yorty’s name has slipped from our collective unconsciousness, where his malicious idiocy and aggressive incompetence entertained generations. But there is no escaping the fact that for most everyone you meet, the struggles of Kennedy, Nixon, Humphrey, and McGovern are about as meaningful and relevant as the battle in The Illiad.

[The new series of TV spots for Senator Ed Muskie (D-Me.)] were definitely a bit queer. They depicted Muskie as an extremely slow-spoken man who had probably spent half his life over-coming some kind of dreadful speech impediment, only to find himself totally hooked on a bad Downer habit or maybe even smack. The first time I heard a Muskie radio spot I was zipping along on the Rickenbacker Causeway, coming in from Key Biscayne, and I thought it was a new Cheech & Chong record. It was the voice of a man who had done about twelve Reds on the way to the studio—a very funny ad.

Nobody I know of talks like that anymore. Not even Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Maybe Michael Savage, when he addresses his troops of would be fascisti known as the Savage Nation, but I don’t listen to that program. But I’m pretty sure that Mr. Savage wouldn’t use dated references, like Cheech & Chong, Reds, smack, Downers—or even Senator Muskie.

Still, I’m going to argue there are lessons to be learned from the Godfather of Gonzo.

First and foremost, Sarah Palin today is the George Wallace of 1972:

Ms. Jean Arthur. I can't be sure there
isn't a line forming at the left.
The root of the Wallace magic was a cynical, showbiz instinct for knowing exactly which issues would whip a hall full of beer-drinking factory workers into a frenzy—and then doing exactly that, by howling down from the podium that he had an instant, overnight cure for all their worst afflictions: Taxes? Nigras? Army worms killing the turnip crop? Whatever it was, Wallace assured his supporters that the solution was actually real simple, and that the only reason they had any hassle with the government at all was because those greedy bloodsuckers in Washington didn’t want the problems solved, so they wouldn’t be put out of work.
The ugly truth is that Wallace had never even bothered to understand the problems—much less come up with any honest solutions—but “the Fighting Little Judge” has never lost much sleep from guilt feelings about his personal credibility gap.

But there is a big difference between the Governors of Alabama and Alaska:

The main problem in any democracy is that crowd pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office and sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.

Okay—so opportunism is not one of the differences, as Private Citizen Palin shows when her “common sense conservative solutions” to the Tea Bagger Nation’s ills include more capital gains tax cuts, elimination of inheritance taxes, and increased defense spending.

What is different, though, is what made George Wallace such a potent force. Unlike Sarah Palin, George Wallace was not afraid to work hard. Even if you’ve never even heard the name George Wallace before reading it here, trust me when I say that this Alabaman would have gnawed off both his legs above the knee, before he’d resign the governor’s chair. And then to claim you HAD to resign because a few (and damn few) supposed dingbats had filed too many ethical complaints and freedom of information requests? Fuck that (to coin a phrase). Say what you want about the wild and colorful career of Governor Wallace, he never aspired to lie back on the couch, sipping a diet Dr. Pepper while admiring his Republican National Committee purchased Manolo Blahniks, under the shade of a rolling rack filled with Neiman Marcus garments, all the while soaking up royalties from a ghost written “memoirs”—like someone else I could name.

So, while Sarah Palin is many things—not the least of which is wildly amusing—she has achieved her Peter’s Principle level of incompetence as a low hanging piece of fruit, nothing more. And that won’t change, unless and until she’s ready to get (and keep) a real job. NOTE: Appearing opposite Bill O’Reilly on occasion to bob your head up and down does not count.

Spanker: Ms. Ida Lupino. I'm not sure who the Spankee is, but he looks 
like he belongs on the "naughty" list.
As The Daily Show has clearly demonstrated, idiocy makes for good television—mainly, because the alternative just cannot hold your attention:

The nut of the problem is that covering this presidential campaign is so fucking dull that it’s just barely tolerable…and the only thing worse than going out on the campaign trail and getting hauled around in a booze-frenzy from one speech to another is having to come back to Washington and write about it.

And that was Hunter S. Thompson writing about a race with Humphrey, McGovern, Nixon, Muskie, McCarthy, and Sam Yorty. Imagine a race with the likes of Mitt Romney, where the Parties’ candidates are decided by the late January Florida primary (or the first Tuesday in February, at the latest).

So, real politics is boring—but that’s only half the problem:

[Y]ou tend to forget now and then that about half the people you meet live from one day to the next in a state of such fear and uncertainty that about half the time they honestly doubt their own sanity.
These are not the kind of people who really need to get hung up in depressing political trips. They are not ready for it. Their boats are rocking so badly that all they want to do is get level long enough to think straight and avoid the next nightmare.

Ms. Angie Dickinson and Mr. Dean

Martin, in a scene that did not
appear in Rio Bravo. But if you
want to get technical: nylon pany
hose, stilettos, and cat suits weren't
part of the Olde West either.
Which really is a bummer, as Hunter S. Thompson circa 1973 would mean, but put much better.

Nevertheless, here’s a quote I’ve heard attributed to Nelson Mandela: Everything you do each day is meaningless; and yet, it is vitally important that you do it. I am sorry that so many people doubt their own sanity, but the stakes are too high not to overcome the dullness of what is important. In T.R. Reid’s The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, he cites statistics that more than 20,000 Americans die each year, in otherwise the prime of life, from medical problems that could have been treated—if they had insurance. That’s roughly three times the number of people who died in the September 11 attacks. Why have we spent hundreds of billions on “anti-terrorism,” when our bullshit healthcare system kills many more people?

If we don’t stand up to be counted, our futures will not be decided by opportunists (like George Wallace), idiots (like Sarah Palin), and people who think Bill Ayers really is a big deal (pick your own adjective)—but WILL be decided by lying pukes [NOTE: a value-neutral, non-judgmental term] like the Mitch McConnells, John Ensigns, John Boehners and Eric Cantors of the world.

And that’s just another fact.
Ms. Cyd Charisse. I don't think "Sweetheart of the Navy" carried the same cachet back then that it does now. Or maybe it's just me.


Harry said...

You forgot the photo of Sarah Palin getting spanked by the voters in November 2008. ;)

Philip Munger said...


I quoted extensively from this great essay this evening, in a response to a comment at my blog.

F & L on the Campaign Trail '72 is HST's masterpiece. It is more fun to read F & L Vegas aloud with a few friends, though. Especially after knocking back a few shots of tequila.