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Kingston, NY, Friday, September 5, 2008

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Swinging on a Star
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

THE PENDULUM is swinging wildly, these days -- not just culturally but politically. We are becoming a more liberal nation, and we are seeking progressive answers to the governmental snafus that have become the flagship of our closing paradigm. Barack Obama, our disciplined, on-message candidate, actually wants functional government, and he has now reached the 50% mark in the polls; historically, that positions him to win.

The Republicans, meanwhile, are trying just about any gambit to turn the nation back toward the virtues of blind patriotism and American empirism, yet they've succeeded only in muddying the waters with cultural issues. They certainly can't run on their policies, which have not changed in eight years and would be further radicalized by a McCain win. Their only hope of stopping Obama's momentum is to snarl us up in the cultural war.
The Republican Convention, (pre-empted in a stroke of political opportunism on its first day as a public service event for victims of Hurricane Gustav) is presenting itself as a self-congratulatory beauty pageant, full of feel-good words like 'character' and 'values' and 'heroism.' Perhaps it's just me, but the flattery and speeches all ring hypocritical and hollow, as do the politicians that pronounce them. They obviously cannot see themselves through my eyes; and that makes me wonder what they see through their own.
In an effort to separate himself from the most unpopular president in recent memory and remake his maverick image, John has selected one as a Vice President; Sarah Palin out-mavericks her mentor. She is radical in her views, uber-Religious, pro-life and Big Oil, anti-Green and hostile to wolves and polar bears, and, not to be forgotten, an ex-beauty queen; or, as Rush Limbaugh put it, "a babe." We're confused by the selection, by the woman herself and now, by the string of distressing discoveries that seem not to have been vetted by the GOP prior to her nomination.

Befuddlement reigns in our overwhelmed brains. To say that we're confused is like saying that today is Friday; it's a given. The Neptune signature of this political race further obscures reality as it blows a layer of fog across our national elections, leaving us big-eyed and mind-boggled. It isn't enough to simply figure out who's lying and who isn't, these days -- it's also required to wrestle our own internal demons to determine what we think is valuable and productive; ultimately, what we can stomach and what we can't. We are, as the scriptures suggest, separating the wheat from the chaff. And it's giving us all heartburn.
Meanwhile, of course, the average Joe/Jane has to work, raise families and cope with the ever-present challenges of life and fall into bed at night, exhausted by the effort. If you're like me, you'll be working out all these mixed signals in your dreams, waking up less than rested and still pushing through the world's emotional detritus looking for truth (and some hint that your neighbor is also on such a quest.) We're overwhelmed, certainly, and confused by the disjointed bits of information that compete for our attention. All this has left us a nation of mood swings, political swings, reality swings and, apparently, closet swingers.
To complicate our challenge, history is racing ahead with a vengeance. It's become harder than ever to clear a path toward calm and clear-thinking when events pound us insistently, one after another, much as the series of hurricanes we're currently tracking -- Gustav, followed by Hanna; then Ike and brewing Josephine. Here in the Pea Patch we were issued flood alerts on Tuesday night, projected through Friday. And that's just the leftovers of Gustav. If this series of storms hit as they're reported to do, sequentially, we won't see sun for weeks. Life comes at us fast, these days, and circumstances change in an eye-blink.

I was reminded of the cultural pendulum by Maureen Dowd today, New York Times columnist and Queen of Snark. In her op/ed, Life of Her Party, Dowd weighed in on the pregnancy controversy the Republican Vice Presidential candidate’s unmarried teen daughter, Bristol, has prompted. She listed previous political attacks concerning children of the unwed: Dan Quayle's 1992 commentary on fictional sitcom character Murphy Brown's unwed mother status, calling it a "poverty of values;" and the Republican hit job and whisper campaign in 1999 that gave Bush the edge by intimating John McCain's adopted daughter from Bangladesh, Bridgett, was his black love-child. Yet here we are in 2008 and being pregnant and unwed is suddenly a "blessed event" from which cultural conservatives refuse to shrink; perhaps this is the first hint that reality has intruded on the Republican party.

Still, the conservatives can't really be straight with themselves; it's not in their nature or their tradition. A good number of them are less concerned about the future of the unborn than about the possibility of abortion. Reports from the small town in Alaska mayored by Mrs. Palin indicate that she ran for office on a pro-life platform. So now, satisfied that Bristol Palin's baby will be born into a sound Republican family (can you imagine what the fire-storm would have been like if one of Obama's daughters had been older and pregnant?) Republicans would like her condition to remain a private matter; here's where confusion comes in.
How can that happen when this is the very party that has made out-of-wedlock issues a deal breaker? How can we look the other way over Bristol's indiscretion when the Republicans have pilloried John Edwards for his, and turned their backs on Elizabeth's pleas for privacy? How can we look at this soon-to-be child bride and not see the result of too much religion, too little sexual education and an ideologically preoccupied and ambitious mother?
How can the Right shatter the dual mythologies of pristine candidates and Judeo-Christian sexual morality and pretend that they've not offered this situation as fresh meat for their anti-abortion Christian faithful, without suffering the blow-back? In what way, specifically, is this "none of our business," now that John McCain has made it so?
Confused? Fogged in? Don't be. It's just the dark ooze making its way up so we can get a good look at our national dysfunction; the ugly repressed legacy of Puritanism that needs some air and light. Let's peek through the mist to see the actual shape of this: expediency and opportunism defines politics -- and no one does it better than Republicans.
Mr. McCain willingly played this card, yet now he's hopping mad that the press wants a better look at the story. He cancelled an interview with Larry King because a CNN anchor, Campbell Brown, asked a GOP representative to name one single thing Mrs. Palin had accomplished in regard to foreign policy and all the respondent could do was attack the question. McCain has now issued a testy ad defending his pick from "shameless smears" at the hands of mainstream media. We will all play this game by the Republican candidate's rules, or he will not play at all. When you don't have substance to rely on, you turn to bluster.

Yet, isn't this story at the heart of the social and ethical issues we're decoding? Isn't Mrs. Palin and her family the epitome of all the Left abhors and pities, as is the cynical use of them by a political movement? Lack of education that leaves our children clueless to consequences? Repressive attitudes and restrictive rules that beg to be broken, and, therefore, often are? Exploitation of even this very private circumstance to manipulate voters and further power? Is not the promoting of this obviously sheltered teen into world view an illustration of blindness to true compassion? And worse, doesn't this nail the Right's inability to simply tell the truth?
Frankly, as attractive as the Palin family appeared on the night of her speech, there seems an almost naive sense of self-promotion there that I find disturbing. And reading about that small town in Alaska that was so charmed by Mrs. Palin, with its quirks and independent streak, its characters and bootleggers, I'm reminded of the Pea Patch. I know these people, and I'm not comforted by the possibility of small pond leadership.
I am, however, newly heartened that Joe Biden will not have to pull many punches; Palin's speech was well-practiced and almost too clever, but is she up to an actual political debate on issues? Under these circumstances, I'd have to say, there's no crying in baseball.
Planet Waves
Sarah Palin speaks at the RNC in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday. AP Photo by Ron Edmonds.
As for her daughter, I would love to allow Bristol Palin her privacy. More, I'd like to have given her a choice about her pregnancy, both its conception and its continuance. I'd like to offer her alternatives to her pending marriage. I'd be interested in the future she might have had if she hadn't been plunked down into this time and space to serve as poster child for our continuing war against our own sexuality and inability to come to grips with our human nature.
But such a future is, as yet, not in her stars -- or ours. We haven't done the real work that would allow such a happening; yet, as this topic has taken front and center (much as has feminism and racism,) it appears we will be required to plumb its depths. And that is a great thing, no matter how contentious. Unless we get a larger understanding of these primary issues, we will be unable to move ahead to claim a renewed future. The Star Spangled Banner will continue to wave over the land of the undereducated and the home of the shame-based.
The pendulum is swinging. The word "bastard" is no longer a viable concept in our society. The powerful institution of marriage was long ago diluted to a legalistic formality by divorce and women's ability to earn a decent living. The rigors of a relationship is defined by 86 million people living singly in this nation.

Yet even as individuals discover their power, the whole of society asks for a communal mind. The notion that we can, each one, take care of ourselves has fallen out of fashion, as it's been revealed pretty dramatically that we can't; the double-whammy of deregulation and predatory capitalism has made that all but impossible. We must take care of one another, while honoring and respecting the individual.
We have real grown-up conversations ahead, in this century: environmental responsibility, energy crisis, nuclear proliferation, poverty and militarism. It's time to have an honest sexual discussion as well. The last time I saw a real sexual revolution was when the hippies came out to play -- and in our cultural hotpot, that is the movement that the conservatives are STILL at war with; much as John McCain's entire candidacy is about whether victory in Vietnam was given away or legitimately lost.
AIDS complicated by drug use threw an e-brake on sexual experimentation in later generations, but perhaps that was a cosmic hint that it was lacking the critical component of responsibility. Just because we were doing it, didn't mean we knew much about it.
It's time to learn. We don't know much about it because nobody is willing to hear the truth. It's stunning that in the 21st century, truth is still as scarce as the Dodo. A recent article on Obama made much ado of his willingness to promote science; we've made science the enemy, as well as psychology and sociology, in this nation. The rest of the world looks on in amazement at our denial of what actually works as opposed to what we'd rather believe.

Stunningly, we're even hostile to intelligence and logic, preferring not brilliant minds but average ones to lead us. The conservatives have done an excellent job with mind control these last thirty years; time for the pendulum to swing them into tomorrow!
In such a climate, is it any wonder sexuality remains enigmatic? But the pendulum is swinging left, and these vital questions are on the table. Don't hesitate to talk about them, to keep them front and center. If we cannot shake off this cultural mud to see what lies beneath and begin to behave like sentient creatures of a new century, we will be forced to loop in this pattern of un-enlightenment and ignorance; to deny ourselves, and the child Bristol Palin is destined to bring into the world, a star ride into a self-aware and liberated future.

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