Tuesday, June 07, 2011

You Have To Be 'On' All The Time

I remember running for Secretary of State in 2005 when this thought first occurred to me. I remember the scene well, if not the precise location. I was driving up to LaPorte, wearing the monkey suit, and I needed to stop for gas. It was a small town on 421, and I stood out like a sore thumb. It was 95 degrees outside, on a Saturday, with everybody else wearing shorts and casuals, and I'm wearing a business suit and tie, with the wingtips. I was so used to wearing it that I thought nothing of it. A man came up to me and said, "You running for President or something?" I'm sure I had the deer-in-the-headlights look for a moment until I could tell him that I was running for Secretary of State.

President? That threw me. Anything can throw you, if you aren't 100% prepared. I knew at that moment that I would have to be 'on' every minute of the remainder of the campaign.

So, Sarah Palin weighed in on Paul Revere's ride. The partisan Democrats are having a laff-fest. The Palin supporters are going crazy trying to defend, and going so far as to revising the Paul Revere page on wikipedia.

I have a degree in history. I focused on the Revolutionary War period. Here's my take:

  1. Paul Revere never would have said, "The British are coming". Revere was British.
  2. Revere was arrested by the British authorities and questioned. He apparently did tell them that the colonists were ready to use and protect their store of arms. Is that a warning? I think it could be construed either way.
  3. Revere probably didn't ring any bells or fire any shots. The accounts tell of one church ringing its bell.

So, I think Palin was factually correct on warning the British about the intent of the colonists, 'Warned the British that they weren't going to be taking our guns'. Wrong about 'Ringing those bells' and firing shots. For either side to say she was entirely wrong or entirely right is off-base, and probably just reveals the bias of the claimant.

She certainly had the deer-in-the-headlights look about her, though. I still don't get what Palin's appeal is to the Right. I first wrote about not getting her allure back in Nov 2009, and I still don't get it.

Anybody can screw up. Obama's '57 states, with one to go- Alaska & Hawaii', ranks high up there. I know as well as anyone that you have to be 'on' all the time, and that it is draining hard. But the frequency of Palin's gaffes, and the almost constant deer-in-the-headlights look? Wow.

Update: A very great article on this subject appeared in CNN. It is written by Kenneth Davis, author of the book, 'Don't Know Much About History'. Per Davis:

The truth of Revere's ride, the long road to American independence and the real people behind that extraordinary moment is a far more compelling narrative of intrigue, courage and a life-and-death battle for power than the "bedtime story" version most of us recall from half-remembered third grade poetry.

But we prefer holding onto a tidy scenario of pride and patriotism that is neither accurate nor memorable, if we remember at all. Instead, we settle for ignorance, as periodic surveys of American knowledge of history routinely prove. Or we cobble together a sketchy narrative combining fact and fiction to comfortably fit our political agendas.

That is sad. And dangerous. It is sad because history is compelling, fascinating and instructive -- if we tell the real story.

But it is also dangerous when people "cherry pick" pieces of the story to suit their purposes, when the foot is cut to fit the shoe. A sanitized but incomplete, or worse, wildly inaccurate, version of history can be cited to support just about any political stand. Like scripture, the words and deeds of the Founders, mixed with bits and pieces of American mythology, are trumpeted to support positions on every issue from individual rights, states' rights, gun rights or gun control, to taxes, immigration, public prayer and, most dangerously, taking the nation to war.

When American history is gutted, innocently, ignorantly or deliberately, the outcome can be deadly.
That's what I was going on about- the 'gotcha' politics, the hyperbolic response, and the mugging of history by both left and right.


Doug said...

The problem with Palin is that she has a history. It's a history of not knowing anything about anything; and being vaguely proud of that fact - what with her disdain for "the elite" and whatnot. Couple anti-intellectualism with an apparent lack of intellect, throw in a dose of "Paul Revere was warning the British," and you get mockery.

I think the proper course is to largely ignore her. Not parse her latest serving of word salad to see if it has any cogent meaning, then give her the benefit of the doubt.

Mike Kole said...

'Word salad'. I like that.

Ignore her? That's hardly the course anyone politically interested is taking. I mean, I got the wikipedia hack link from your blog after all, Doug. :-)

My interest isn't in defending her or assailing her, but to assail the not helpful and very, very common partisan 'My side right, your side wrong' kind of takes that get it about half right, as ever. Also to empathize with anyone who runs for office. It ain't easy being sharp all the time- even if you are really sharp most of the time. Palin? Well, bless her heart...