I don't post with the aim of being contrarian, but lately I've found myself swimming against the tide of Democratic/progressive conventional wisdom. I questioned the strategy of elevating Rush Limbaugh's profile and engaging him from the White House podium; I criticized President Obama's Cairo speech for being tepid on women's rights; and I argued that two decades of unmitigated attacks against Hillary Clinton -- some clearly sexist -- should compel us to treat Sarah Palin like a human being, not a human piñata. Not surprisingly, I've encountered resistance to those posts in some quarters, ranging from well-reasoned arguments to the typical quota of mindless insults from online trolls. But the reaction to my Clinton/Palin piece was the most heated I've seen since early 2008, when I represented Hillary Clinton online and defended her on pro-Obama sites.
The main complaints about my Clinton/Palin post were: a) there is no equivalence between Clinton and Palin and I shouldn't draw one; and b) Palin deserves the harshest of criticism for her actions and I shouldn't defend her. Others rejected the sexism angle and said it was wrong to focus on women and ignore the treatment of male public figures.
The first two complaints are straw men. I drew no equivalence between Clinton's and Palin's accomplishments, ideals, character, etc. Nor did I argue that Palin should in any way be exempted from forceful criticism. In fact, I stated that Palin is "totally wrong on the issues" and that she lacked Clinton's character. Her attacks on Obama during the presidential campaign were deplorable. More recently, she had the audacity to allow her camp to take on a teenage boy while decrying attacks against her own family. Most importantly, Palin's political ideology is the polar opposite of mine. She stands for almost everything I fight against. As an unwavering Clinton advocate (and former advisor), I hardly need to be told that she is a far more disciplined, more thoughtful, and more accomplished person than Sarah Palin. I've known few people in my life with the intelligence, inner fortitude, humor and compassion of Hillary Clinton.
I did, however, compare Palin's humanity with Clinton's and implored my cohorts on the left to "avoid outright viciousness and mockery on a level that few of us could handle." I stand firmly by that point. We shouldn't forget our political opponents' humanity, nor should we stoop to cheap attacks, innuendo and ridicule when we have ample disagreements on substance. If I'm not mistaken, that's the Obama spirit. And it's smarter politically. Let's criticize Palin and debate her, let's point out her hypocrisy and bad ideas and muddled policies, but let's also maintain some sense of balance and proportion. It's one thing to direct the full force of our vitriol at Bush and Cheney when they ran America into the ground -- some political leaders deserve universal condemnation. But the massive outpouring of disdain directed at Palin seems disproportionate to her real power. If anything, it's empowering her.
Which brings me to the gender factor, the last point about Clinton/Palin before I address the other theme of this post. Here's my contention: what distinguishes Clinton/Palin attacks from coverage of male political figures is not just the obvious stuff like allusion to their looks, their family life, etc., but precisely the disproportionality I reference above, the facility and intensity of attacks, the lack of restraint. The coverage becomes a continuous frenzy, almost gleeful. That's the Clinton analogy. Slamming Hillary Clinton became a sport, people made careers out of it, cashed in with books about it. The impetus for my original post was that I'm seeing something similar develop with Palin, the same dehumanization, the same unfettered hatred, the same infinite appetite for anti-Palin commentary on both sides of the political divide. Is there a sexist component to all this? I believe so. Hence, the comparison between their treatment.
Now to my second point: the tsunami of negative Palin coverage would be better directed at the legions of evil people around the world, child molesters, killers and human rights abusers who are destroying lives as we speak. I'm not saying we shouldn't talk about Palin, I'm doing it here, but some of the oxygen sucked up by Palin-mania could go toward egregious human rights violations and violence around the globe, a topic desperately in need of more attention. I've written numerous posts making the case that there is a mystifying and distressing dearth of focus on the horrors committed against women and children every minute of every day in every corner of the planet: HERE, HERE, HERE & HERE.
Or how about spending more time discussing the brazen theft going on under our noses, the robbing of the poor to enrich the richest? How on earth is Palin a bigger topic of discussion than this, courtesy of Les Leopold:
I'm starting to wonder about the mental health of our nation when I read stuff like, "Analysts estimate that [Goldman Sachs] will set aside enough money to pay a total of $18 billion in compensation and benefits this year to its 28,000 employees, or more than $600,000 an employee. Top producers stand to earn millions." (Update from Reuters: "That puts the average Goldman employee on pace to earn more than $900,000 this year. Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, senior officers and star traders will likely receive tens of millions of dollars.") Are we out of our minds? How can we sit by and let this happen?
In sum, after paying off TARP, Goldman Sachs is still in hock to us for $52.6 billion. No wonder they can pay $18 billion in compensation. Correct that: We're actually paying the $18 billion. Which brings us back to the problem of holding on to reality. When we bail out an entire sector to the tune of trillions of dollars, eliminate many of the competitors, make money available at near-zero percent interest rates, change accounting rules to make toxic assets appear less toxic for profit and loss purposes, and guarantee everyone's remaining assets -- after we've done all that, what does it mean to book a profit? What did Goldman Sachs actually do that was useful for society, after having helped to drive our economy off a cliff? And why aren't our elected leaders doing something about it?
And this, from Robert Reich:
Goldman's resurgence should send shivers down the backs of every hardworking American who has lost a large chunk of retirement savings in this economic debacle, as well as the millions who have lost their jobs. Why? Because Goldman's high-risk business model hasn't changed one bit from what it was before the implosion of Wall Street. Goldman is still wagering its capital and fueling giant bets with lots of borrowed money. While its rivals have pared back risks, Goldman has increased them. And its renewed success at this old game will only encourage other big banks to go back into it.
Goldman's greed is being rewarded at our expense while the media, punditocracy, and online commentariat rail against a soon to be ex-Governor of Alaska. Next time Palin writes an op-ed or makes an announcement, hopefully we put her in perspective, keep the reaction appropriately muted and stay focused on more significant things.
UPDATE: Watch this: