Sarah Palin delivered the high school pep rally speech of the year to the Conservative Political Action Committee over the weekend. All that was missing was a "na na na na.''
You can watch that full speech here, though it's really not necessary to watch much. Here is what she said, summed up in one sentence:
"We are red, white and blue, and President Obama, we are through with you!"
Or as everyone used to say in high school (or was it grade school?), "I don't shut up, I grow up; and when I look at you I throw up.''
What the hell has happened to the Republican party? This used to be the party of ideas. This is the party that traces its conservative roots back to John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt and William F. Buckley. What would John Adams think of Sarah Palin parading around her silliness and clichés as if they amounted to some sort of political philosophy?
"Well America, it is time we drain the jacuzzi and throw the bums out with the bath water,'' she said.
Yes, that sounds like a coherent policy. Let's attack everyone who owns a jacuzzi. That'll get us somewhere. Notice she didn't say "it's time we disable the tanning beds and throw out the bums with the permanent sun tans.'' Maybe it's because she's big on tanning beds. In her short stint as Alaska's governor, she had one installed in the Governor's Mansion in Juneau.
Some contend she spent more time soaking up its rays than studying up on policy. The CPAC speech tends to buttress that accusation. It is a speech with no real there there.
Some apparently loved it. That's part of this country's problem. There are too many with too little between their ears more interested in imagery -- preferably of the bad-guy others -- than substance, which stirs the dung heap of a public policy in which we all tend to share responsibility as a little part of the problem. As the New York Times reported Saturday, almost everyone in this country today is getting a government handout of some sort.
Now, let's pause here for just a second because by now there are those grabbing for one of the various bumper stickers of dismissiveness that seem to float around the conservative camp waiting to be grabbed and deployed should anyone speak unkindly of the former, half-term governor of Alaska. You know the slogans: "Palin hater!" "Conservative in Name Only!'' Or, God forbid, "Liberal!''
The accusations in this case may or may not be true, and I don't care. They aren't the issue. The issue is solving the problems facing this country today, and that isn't about deciding in what boxes which Americans belong. America doesn't need packaging. It needs ideas.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal rolled out a fair number of ideas over the weekend. He delivered what should have been the keynote speech at CPAC instead of the Sarah babble. Go listen to what he had to say. Jindal didn't need to quote himself, as Palin did at one point her speech, because apparently there isn't anyone smarter out there worth quoting.
"I said in a speech this summer," she said, "this isn't the capitalism of free men and free markets, of risk and sacrifice, of innovation and hard work. No, it's the capitalism of connections, and of government bailouts and handouts and waste, and corporate welfare and corruption. This is the capitalism of Barack Obama and the Permanent Political Class."
Actually, nearly all of that is just plain wrong. America today, thankfully, remains the capitalism of free men and free markets, of risk and sacrifice, and of innovation and hard work. If Palin left her hideaway in Wasilla more often, she might notice the small business people all over America risking and sacrificing every day to start new businesses. Many of the businesses happen to be full of innovative people who work their asses off.
I'm proud to say I'm in cahoots with one of those companies. Not only are the people who started Alaska Dispatch taking a risk, all of those associated with it are taking a risk. I know other journalists in this state who shied away because the risk is too great. The idea of a profit-making, online newspaper/magazine is very new and might very well fail. That, dear God, could leave a journalist looking for something else to do.
I understand the fear. A lot of people look at nothing but the connections because they have bought into Palin's assertion about America being the "capitalism of connections, and of government bailouts and handouts and waste, and corporate welfare and corruption." It isn't. At least not totally. At least not yet.
But it is moving too fast in that direction, and has been since President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" entered the scene. Johnson took predecessor President John F. Kennedy's admonition to "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" and flipped it on its head.
The 'Permanent Bureaucratic Class'
America has spent almost 40 years now engaged in the process of creating a system of what government can do for you, or to you. In that process, Americans have invited government into every corner of their lives. Americans apparently need government to tell them to buckle the seatbelts in their cars, and police to enforce that kind of nonsense, because without it the emergency medical technicians who respond to accidents might be traumatized.
Let them be traumatized. If people choose to drive without a seatbelt, so be it. We're all going to die anyway, and the quicker people die the more we save on spending on what has become an out-of-control, government-run program to treat the aged. The supposedly conservative Palin, crazy as it sounds, has in the past defended this.
"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents...will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care," she posted on her Facebook page back in 2009 and set off the whole "death panel" firestorm.
Yeah, that's right. The government should pay to keep Palin's parents alive forever. Let's hook them up to life support and keep their bodies functioning until scientists finally come up with the technology to create the infinite lifespan. We can call this new program Palincare in honor of conservative values sacrificed in a heartbeat at the shrine of political pandering.
The reality here is simple. Government in this country cannot afford to provide every old person the most expensive medical care that old person -- or more especially that old person's family -- might want. Somebody, somewhere is going to have to make a decision on what gets funded and what doesn't. Maybe we should give the health care system for the aged back to the private sector. Private insurance companies are brutally efficient. They decide who they will or will not insure based on the risks of those people getting sick, and then they issue policies with substantial premiums which you better damn well pay, because if you don't you're getting no sympathy from the insurance company.
"Too bad," they'll say. "We don't care if you die tomorrow. You didn't pay your premium this month."
Palin, who loves to rail against Obamacare, apparently thinks the huge and expensive public health-care system for the old folks is just fine. As one near eligibility, the self-serving side of me tends to agree with with her. My brain, however, notes the system needs to be fixed before the country drowns in debt. I'm not a big fan of a broader public health care system to spread the costs, either. I've spent too much time in Canada. Canada's government-funded system is as flawed as our privately funded system on its way to becoming a publicly funded system which is sure to be worse. Why?
Well, I'd suggest you go listen to or read Jindal's speech to CPAC. He got to the heart of the problem. He ran up against it when a BP oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and began spewing what would eventually come to be more than 200 million gallons of oil into the water off his coast.
Jindal found state efforts to battle oil headed for Louisana beaches stifled at many a turn by federal rules. Louisiana found itself tangled in the redtape that is the lifeblood of what has become this country's "Permanent Bureaucratic Class.''
Palin, of course, likes to rail against a "Permanent Political Class'' in America, which is pretty funny given that she is part of that class. From the time she failed as a local sportscaster in Anchorage until Fox News paid her to be a talking head, she never had a real job. She was either an elected official, a candidate for office, a political appointee, or an elected official. Sarah has met her enemy, and it is her.
This is not, however, America's problem. America's problem is the aforementioned "Permanent Bureaucratic Class'' that now runs the country. You know the class. They hide behind the metal detectors and security at a federal building near you. They stick shotguns in the faces of old men who refuse to immediately follow their orders.
They even, surprisingly at times, pursue the "Permanent Political Class'' -- and the laws be damned -- if they think the pursuit will move them a few rungs up the career ladder.
The Permanent Bureaucratic Class, not the Permanent Political Class, rules this country. President Barack Obama, love him or hate him, wasn't born to the throne. He maneuvered his way up through the middle class to get there and after four years, maybe eight, he will be gone. Not so the Permanent Bureaucratic Class. They will do 20 years or more to get their retirement, and there will be always more of them, or so it seems.
Part of the problem
Despite much talk about limiting government, it continues to grow. It grew in Alaska under Palin. Why wouldn't it? America circa 2000 is full of risk-averse people seeking job security. Government is secure. The pay is reasonable, or better than in the private sector; the benefits are good. There's none of the angst associated with those "free markets, of risk and sacrifice, and of innovation and hard work" about which Palin spoke. Why do you think Palin has spent so much time in the employ of government or government-associated entities?
You'll notice she didn't resign as Alaska governor to start a business. No, she resigned to join the Permanent Chattering Class which just happens to be bound at the hip to the Permanent Political Class which empowers the Permanent Bureaucratic Class. Palin can from this new position get paid, handsomely so, to yammer on and on and on about nothing. Listen to her at CPAC:
"Nothing says America louder or prouder than chopped Harley hogs!''
Really? The Hells Angels say America louder and prouder than all the men and women struggling every day to build small businesses all across this country? The Hells Angels say America louder and prouder than Bill Gates, who started a business out of almost nothing and built one of the economy dynasties of the modern age? The Hells Angels say America louder and prouder than Obama, a black man who rose from meager means to become President?
Look, you might not like the way Obama has done the job, but the guy has one hell of a backstory, a story that could only be written in America. The same can be said for Palin. The big difference is Obama's story is built around ideas. Granted, many of them might be bad ideas. He seems to be of that generation that truly believes "we are the government, and we are here to help you." But at least he has ideas.
Palin's story is built around the opposition to ideas. Her story is built around some bizarre notion that all anyone needs to succeed in life is a little "common sense." Her "common sense'' now tells her that the path to political success is not to build things up, but to tear things down and play to fear. Nobody notices the kid who studies hard in school. Everyone notices the cute and perky mean girl who talks tough.
"We are going to put our confidence in the strength of our Armed Forces, not in the hollow promises of our adversaries, and not the cleverness of our diplomats, and bureaucrats,'' Palin told CPAC. "As generations before us, they, like we now, will gladly, proudly fight to defend this land of the free. We must be home of the brave."
President Dwight D. Eisenhower -- leader of Allied troops in Europe as Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II -- was one of the brave, and here's what he said about those same Armed Forces just before leaving office:
"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
We do, in fact, need clever diplomats. We need them because we can't afford -- economical or socially -- a military big enough to fight wars everywhere all the time. Meanwhile, the country could use some clever, budget-minded politicians, too, because one of the big things that have changed in government since Eisenhower's day is that the military-industrial complex has been joined to other complexes built around milking money out of government: the AARP-health care complex, the NEA-education complex, the EPA-environmental complex. Big parts of the economy have in this way allied themselves with the Permanent Bureaucratic Classic, and the political class, which is not all that permanent, has proven itself powerless to do anything about it.
Too big to succeed?
Palin, one of the new faces in the political class, could have tried to change things. She could have stayed on as Alaska's governor and began a radical restructuring of the Alaska bureaucracy as a model for the other 49 states. She didn't. Why? Because it would be a nasty fight. The "Permanent Bureaucratic Class'' is incredibly good at building constituencies and rallying them to its many causes.
Palin does appear to at least understand this. Nowhere in her speech to CPAC, which was heavy on the doom of American debt, did she suggest any actual government programs that should be axed.
"This government is not too big to fail, it's too big to succeed,'' she said.
"We know to deal with our debt. You cut it, gut it, get rid of it,'' she said.
Great! But How? Where? Palin's political instinct warned her not to go there. Going there helped kill Texas Gov. Rick Perry's bid for president. It's safer to sit back far from the battle zone and lob bombs. There are risks involved in moving in close, getting out the sniper rifle, nestling into the stock, and starting to pick off the programs that need to die. But then again Palin doesn't seem to be into fixing the problems so much as making money off the problems. It's her own little form of crony capitalism.
It made her speech a sad thing to watch for an Alaskan. This state was once known for the late Gov. Wally Hickel, who lost his cushy Washington, D.C. job as Secretary of the Interior after he told his boss, President Richard M. Nixon, it would be a good idea to listen to the legion of Americans saying it was time to put an end to the war in Vietnam. And now Alaska is known as the home of queen of the mean-girl cheerleading squad.
About the only thing worse than witnessing this strange turn of events was watching some of those in the crowd at CPAC eat up Palin's speech as if it actually held real meat. This was a little scary. She made conservatives look to have become the party of God, slobber and nonsense. Let's hope that's only the fringe. The party still has thinkers out there in the likes of Newt Gingrich, love him or hate him but recognizes he feasts on ideas; Charles Krauthammer, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, Ann Coulter, even Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. These and others are people who traffic in ideas.
Palin has never met an idea for which she had time. She traffics in jingles. She's the Muhammad Ali of the Republican Party. She can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. This makes her every bit as entertaining to watch as Ali in his prime. She's a heavyweight in that sense. But nobody watched Ali with the idea he might solve the nation's problems. We watched Ali as a distraction from the nation's problems. Lord help us now that there are people who actually think Palin has a clue as how to fix this country.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com.