Thursday, September 18, 2008

Is this a warranted case of guilt by association?

On old-timey J-fave Counterpunch, defense attorney Tiphaine Dickson talks about the anti-semitic, red-baiting, racist, absolutist author who came up with a passage Palin has been quoting repeatedly, about how "we grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity," came from one Westbrook Pelger, who doesn't seem to have been a very nice or good person. (Bigotry was, according to him, a duty of Americans, and political correctness shouldn't keep Americans from loudly and proudly being bigots, despite the wrong-headed New York pinheads who associated it with Nazism.) He originally wrote the quoted passage about Truman -- a bit of time after he apparently said of the same man: "This Truman is thin-lipped, a hater, and not above offering you his hand to yank you off balance, and work you over with a chair leg, a pool cue, or something out of his pocket." (Flip flop? Nuance? Changing your mind with new information?)

The significance, of course, is that, as Dickson points out, campaign speeches are meticulously planned and (usually?) well-researched. The McCain camp has tried to re-habilitate Pelger in order to use his quote endorsing good, small-town folks. Maybe it doesn't mean anything in the larger scheme, but it certainly seems impolitic to use such a hateful person's words to try and proclaim the goodness and wisdom of small-town US; one could go back farther to Will Rogers perhaps -- except he ended up a Democrat and Roosevelt supporter; one could appropriate the words of seemingly gentle humorist, womanizer, creepy-ish old guy and oddly polarizing (and at times oddly vitriolic) radio personality Garrison Keillor, except for -- well, except for all that stuff I just wrote about him, AND the fact that he's a Democrat; one could go for Jim Hightower or the late and dearly lamented Molly Ivins, but daggum it, doesn't it just figure -- they are/were Democrats as well.

Of course, it'd be silly to maintain small-town people are all Democrats, or that folksy wisdom is a Democratic monopoly -- sort of like how it'd be silly to maintain that Republicans are all cigar-smoking, wine and brandy drinking, rich self-centered people who pretended to be folksy in order to convince people that, despite Ivy League educations or great wealth, they're all down-homey, too. No, that's just all the leaders of their party. (One good stereotype deserves another).

Anyway, Counterpunch is an online magazine more like Newsweek than Slate or a scholarly journal, where things tend to be better sourced, so I always approach their articles with a sort of eagerness with a thin slice of dubiousness on top -- so go check it out for yourself.


Daktari said...

I've been thinking quite a bit about the media over the past day or two and have read some interesting background material that I'm going to tackle, so this seemed to be right up my alley.

While I will grant that there are certain people that it can be political suicide to quote: Stalin and Hitler spring to mind, I wonder how well served anyone is by allowing the philosophy of the speaker to villify someone for all eternity. Is it necessary that we research the personal beliefs of everyone before we give any credence to their ideas? Some people with great ideas were serious crackpots. We are each the product of our time. That goes for you and me and our particular biases and pet theories. Who the hell knows how history will paint us, blogging along about our outrageous opinions?

What I'm saying is, there can be a limit to how PC we need to be while still maintaining our own integrity. Case in point: Palin didn't attribute that quote, she just used it. Therefore, I don't think her intent (or should I say her speech writer's intent) was to honor the speaker, but to honor the sentiment expressed. I'm fine with that. It was actually a moving moment in her speech.

After all, both my grandfather's were racists but they were still men I loved. Is every idea they had tainted by this fact? Am I not allowed to speak of them highly because they firmly believed in the separation of the races, the superiority of the white race, or that they had nary a word to say about the inequality in the world?

Fuck no.

People are more than their socio-political views. And some ideas are bigger than the person that came up with it.

Palin's choice of quote, however, was not one of those ideas. But to me, the better question is: knowing that this person was a racist asshole, was it a prudent decision to include his quote in such an important speech?

Palin is an idiot as are her speech writers. But this is what happens when you are just reading the news.

J said...

I see your point, and you're quite right. However, I think you're giving them an easy out by calling them "idiots." The author of the CP article pointed out, correctly, that speeches these days are meticulously written and researched to hit all the rights points, and it's not so much that Pelger can never be used or quoted ever again just because he was a racist dickweed. It's that those views aren't entirely immaterial to the quote at hand. I mean, if she talked about the physics ideas of a racist asshole, totally fair -- there's no real relationship. But it's not just that Pelger was racist, but that, as Tiphaine says in the article, the only other recent time he's been quoted was by Pat Buchanan, using the same quote to show how two-faced the guy was. Being that another major element of Palin's speech was how "we in small town America" don't believe in saying one thing to our faces, and another thing behind our backs, using someone who essentially did the same thing to Truman (only in reverse) is a bit... off.

In retrospect, I perhaps should've left out the racist anti-semitic stuff, which doesn't have any necessary direct relationship with the content of his words. Rather, the express quote that Palin used came from a rather politically motivated two-faced move... and when you're portraying the steadfastness and honesty of smalltown folk, you have to admit, the twisted irony of quoting Pelger gets a bit thick, no?

And of course, there's the double standard at play, or at least I think so -- can you imagine the grief Obama would get from quoting a Black Panther? Even if it was a quote that didn't directly have to do with Black Power?

But you're quite right in your overall point. I stand properly schooled. =]

Daktari said...

Well, you have a point there, but, honestly, I get dizzy trying to do the he-said she-said shit. When it takes that much explanation and that much effort to explain why someone is wrong, I'm wondering if we are stretching the limits of the PC envelope.

Palin is wrong for the country, but not because she quoted a racist, two-faced dickweed. And, by God, I haven't heard the term dickweed in ages.


J said...

I don't know that has anything to do with being PC. It's not that he shouldn't be quoted per se, as much as the fact that speechwriters really do thoroughly research these things, and I suppose it is perhaps just confirmation bias -- I don't like her or their cynical speechwriters, so the fact that they're quoting rather distasteful person is only significant because it reinforces my preexisting beliefs.

It is, of course, only a minor point in the scheme of things. But I don't find it that complicated: she made a point about being two-faced; she quoted a guy in a quote where he himself was being two-faced. Ironical, at least, and to me therefore, worthy of note. I can't remember who said it, but there's a quote to the effect that the two most common elements in the universe were hydrogen and irony =]

I think perhaps I came off as being more serious than I meant to be; I simply agreed with the article writer that, from the point of view of speechwriting, it's a bit off. I guess I was thinking it more in terms of I find the provenance of words and expressions incredibly interesting, and the irony here was thick and confirming, and apparently people had avoided quoting him for quite a while for this reason perhaps and... yeah. I think that was the whole point, not really PCism or not being able to ever quote fuckwit dickweeds who may nonetheless say something good. Goodness forfend that I imply that's out of bounds -- is seems like there are a lot dickweeds around, especially among our "Great Men of History." I would've found it equally interesting if she was quoting some savior of the working class, though then in a positive light that would be equally meaningless.

And I think I've said everything possible for me to say of any vague note at all on this topic. =]