Palin’s Plan: Demean and Divide

A guest post by Cristina White, who has smartened up this site on a couple of other occasions. Thank you again, Cristina!

It was probably hatched by Karl Rove and then transmitted to Sarah Palin via McCain’s speech writers, but wherever it was conceived, the plan was clearly to trivialize Barack Obama, and Palin executed it superbly. In her debut speech to the American public, the Governor of Alaska took the art of sarcasm to new heights. With one turn of her head, one inflection of her voice, she utterly dismissed Obama’s service as a community organizer. In doing so, she effectively demeaned the millions of Americans in small towns and urban communities who work each day to make conditions better for others. She swept aside as unimportant those who have fought for our civil rights, health care, voting, and labor rights. In her derision of community organizers, she also mocked those who organize and serve whenever needed to deliver relief from hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.

Palin and the rest of the Republican strategists conveniently forgot the sea of signs on their convention floor lauding SERVICE as they asked Republicans to organize for the distressed population facing the oncoming hurricane Gustav. But hey, that was Republican community service. Apparently it counts. Obama’s service — not so much.

Consider for a moment the choices made by Sarah Palin and Barack Obama when they were younger. After college, Obama went to work in the impoverished South Side neighborhoods of Chicago, helping displaced steel workers find jobs and setting up after school programs. At about the same time, Palin was entering beauty contests, and then went on to work as a sports reporter. To each their own, but I ask you to hold those two images side by side, and weigh them accordingly. And before I leave this matter of service to the community, a reminder: Jesus Christ was a community organizer. Pontius Pilate was a governor. (All credit to Air America’s Thom Hartmann for this irresistible bit of Biblical irony.)

In her speech, Sarah Palin stressed that John McCain is the only person in this election who has fought for us. I will grant that of the four candidates, he’s the only one who has worn our country’s uniform and fought in a war. All credit to him for that; it counts, and dearly. But does military service necessarily discount all other service? Have you ever had a teacher fight for you or someone you know? Ever known a nurse who made the difference in that critical moment that decides between life and death? Or a public defender who fought to give fair legal representation to an innocent person wrongly accused? It was people like this who came to mind when I heard Sarah Palin hold up McCain’s military service as the only service that really counts. In the America I grew up in, and still believe in, fighting for others, making a difference in their lives, doesn’t only happen while wearing our country’s uniform, and isn’t limited to war zones.

It is this tone in Sarah Palin’s speech that stayed with me long after she walked off the stage. A certain smugness as she mocked Obama and, by implication, all the people who respect and admire him, who believe in his vision of our future. The McCain campaign has derided Obama’s celebrity. Now the Christian conservatives have a star of their own — one who elevates herself by diminishing the accomplishments and service of others.

From the beginning, in his 2004 keynote speech, Barack Obama inspired me to believe that this is still a country where those with separate viewpoints can agree to meet in the middle, that together we can face our common problems and find solutions. His consistent message has been that each one of us can and do make a difference, that red states and blue states are bound by a common history and a common destiny, and that our common destiny calls on us to unite and create a better and more enlightened future. Palin is Obama’s polar opposite. She is a fundamentalist delivered by John McCain to the Republican religious right, and her mission is to secure and deepen the divide that Bush and Cheney have established. She promises an America where millions of us are unimportant, and in which I would feel unwelcome. Obama promises an America where all of us, including Sarah Palin, would be welcome to the table.

Sarah Palin and I disagree on many issues, and there are many ways in which I differ from those on the right. But like them, I also pray. I pray for an America in which we all count, and where mutual respect moves us together toward 21st century solutions. I pray for an America where Barack Obama is the president.

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