Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sarah Palin and The GOP's Charly Baltimore Plan

by Barry Michael Cooper

(Failed Alaskan governor, best selling author, hockey mom, gun enthusiast, provocateur of potential political violence; Sarah Palin is a multi-tasking polymorph whose limited worldview in no way shape or form upends her bottomless reserves of unnerving ambition. The lady with the telegenic smile and the eyes of a sociopath owes her overexposed-exposure to Sen. John McClain, and his desperate bid to shift attention away from the Barack Obama Express during the 2008 Presidential Campaign. This was an essay I wrote about the Palin phenomenon, that was published online at the Huffington Post on 22 October 2008.

When Politics Became The New Hip Hop, Vol. 2.

We found out two things the night of October 18th, 2008:
1. Republican V.P. nominee Sarah Palin is a good sport.
2. She is down with the GOP (the Gangsta Opportunist Party).

Last weekend, a record seventeen million viewers watched as Gov. Paliin played along with the SNL Weekend News. Amy Poehler spat a catchy gangsta rap -- a song that Palin "refused" to perform, wink-wink -- which included references to: John McCain, Barack Obama, a moose caught in the Northern Lights of an Alaskan drive-by, and the view from her front porch to Red Square. As the yuk-yuks rained down on her pretty head, Palin stayed true to the endgame, raising her hands in the air and waving them like she just didn't care.

But, Sen. McCain, Gov. Palin and the GOP actually do care. Their campaign is losing altitude, and the bloom of Palin's rosy "you-betcha" is beginning to fade. Although her face-to-face with doppleganger Tina Fey was designed to create some positive spin for a few days, the buzz saw of reality is beginning to cut into the drive train of the Straight Talk Express.

Watching Palin sit through the SNL skit, it amazed me how politics and Hip Hop have established some sort of weird intertextuality, to borrow the phrase from post-constructuralist Julia Kristeva. It's everywhere: Barack Obama's Jay-Z-like brush-off of an opponent's mudslinging from his shoulders. Countdown's Keith Olbermann presenting a nightly segment on the foibles' of Sen. McCain, "McCain In The Membrane," a nod to the 1993 classic by Cypress Hill, "Insane In The Membrane." Rachel Maddow's (another rising star on MSNBC) subtle "99 Problems" allusion to McCain's woes during her show last week (another Shawn Carter reference). How 'bout Gov. Palin's own "shoutouts" to her Wasilla crew before her debate with Sen. Joe Biden, a futuristic-throwback to New York's first Hip Hop radio jock, Mr. Magic, who coined the phrase over a quarter of a century ago on WBAI-FM.
And then there was Karl "MC-Rove-The-Practicing-Philatelist" Rove and his 16-bars-of-weird at the 2007 Annual Radio and Television Correspondent's dinner. With a recent survey voting white lyricist Eminem the greatest rapper alive, one would think Rove would've stepped-up his game from the dated Steve Martin/King Tut-strut, clumsy delivery, and goofy lyrics. Rove's performance wasn't just surreal; it was a jovial but vitriolic dismissal of Hip Hop and it's practitioners. Not unlike his mentor, the late Lee Atwater, the notorious Ronald Reagan-George H.W. Bush-whisperer of Republican advisers. In a compelling N.Y. Times piece dated October 6, 2005, columnist Bob Herbert unearthed an 1981 interview Atwater gave to political scientist Alexander P. Lamis, which decodes the GOP's gang signs:
"You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' -- that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

''And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me -- because obviously sitting around saying, 'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than 'Nigger, nigger.'"
Atwater loved delta blues, even played guitar with Percy Sledge and B.B. King, but his love for the melody did not extend itself to Lil' Willie Horton. Atwater was a sensei in the Washington beltway jiu-jitsu of benign contempt.

The same benign contempt that twisted the pretzel logic coming out of the McCain-Palin camp last week, masked as a charm offensive. Kill em' with a Colgate smile and flash 'dem pearly-whites through clenched jaws. Hall and Oates once crooned, "Sarah/smile/won't you smile/a while for me?" and she did; with her Diane Keaton cheekbones, Geena Davis lips and lethal assassin eyes, Palin held it down for the Gangsta Opportunist Party. Smiling Sarah endured the punch-line lampoon attacks from Fey, Poehler, and Alec Baldwin, who actually called Palin "that horrible woman", as he stood next to her and Lorne Michaels offstage (of course, Baldwin "thought" Palin was Tina Fey in Palin-drag, wink, wink).

The same benign contempt was on display in St. Paul, Minnesota's Xcel Arena during September's Republican National Convention. A RNCC that at times looked like a hall full of Les Miserables, as they listened to Rudy Guiliani's wild-eyed, Jean-Valjean-in-Brioni routine ("Drill, Baby, Drill! You guys are ready to break out!"), and D.A. Arthur Branch's--in an amazing Sen. Fred Thompson impersonation--condemnation of Barack Obama and his astute choice for vice president, Joe Biden.
And then Sarah Palin took the stage and shut it down. She spun her irresistible yarn about life as a hard working wife, mother, and Governor of Alaska. She was the around-the-way-girl from the 'hood of Wasilla, who shook the good ol' boys network on their shaky bridge to nowhere. The hockey mom who had mad love for her home-girls: she called them pitbulls with lipstick. When Palin said the word "pitbull", I immediately thought of the rapper Eve and her self-appointed, "pitbull in a skirt"-title and her hit track, "What Y'all Really Want".

As Palin tore a page out of Atwater's crooked-fingers-sideways-talk-claim-yo'-set-handbook (reducing Obama to a "community organizer"), I watched her gaze. It was steely, cold, and almost clinical, like Geena Davis's "Charly Baltimore" character in Renny Harlin's 1997 action-thriller, The Long Kiss Good Night. Davis portrayed a New Jersey "skating rink" mom haunted by memories of life as a CIA assassin, and then while cooking dinner one night, gets ambushed right back into that world. Sarah Palin is Sen. McCain and the GOP's Charly Baltimore: Gov. Hockey Mom activated as "black ops" to thwart the first serious black presidential candidate. A serious candidate and a real contender--regardless of Obama's race--whose new ideas and soaring oratorio in Denver the week before, along with the country's growing hunger for change, potentially steered Obama's Epic Cycle-ride right into the Oval Office. 

However, Palin's convention performance had wooed both the Republicans and the media into a Reagan-esque euphoria. Her successful appearance not only seemed to knock Sen. Obama's historic night right out of the headlines, but it gave John McCain a major bounce in the polls. There was also an assumption that with Gov. Palin on the ticket, some of Hillary Clinton's disappointed and angry supporters would cross over and give McCain the edge in the voting booth.

But then came the other Charlie, as in Gibson. And then Katie Couric. And then George F. Will. And then Walt Monegan. And then the debate, with a calm, collected, and very human Sen. Joe Biden. Next, Peggy Noonan and David Brooks. Finally, worst of all, a fractured Wall Street and a broken economy. By the time Gen. Colin Powell (the other American war hero), a staunch--but not stagnant--Republican, endorsed Senator Barack Obama on NBC's Meet The Press on Sunday, October 19th, 2008, Gov. Palin's wowerful was beginning to seem dull-and-gone.

Many of Sen. McCain's closest friends and associates--including Gen. Powell--were puzzled about his judgment, and just who and what McCain was morphing into. Why would this honorable man hire the same Atwater/Rove-ian element that had so viciously "tar-babied" his last presidential bid? What about the promise to run a clean campaign, which was now soiled by innuendo and fraudulent accusations? How could he pick someone so frighteningly sketchy on the Constitutional powers of the vice-presidency? Does Sen. John McCain regret choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate? Did his Charly Baltimore pump-fake backfire? With less than two weeks left in the most important presidential campaign in modern history, it begs the question: will Palin's lip-shtick be the political kiss-off for McCain's long good night?

Be sure to order Barry Michael Cooper's debut anthology of street journalism from the 1980s (and more current essays), titled "Hooked On The American Dream-Vol.1: New Jack City Eats Its Young," which is available on Kindle/Amazon. Don't have a Kindle? No problem; Amazon has a free app available for download, to read "Hooked On The American Dream-Vol.1: New Jack City Eats Its Young," on your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Android devices. Click here to go to the Amazon site. 


Sean said...

Dope! I remember reading this before and it's a great post-urban analysis of the new mainstream. And you nailed SP right where she lives.

Bmc said...

@Sean: C-Solo, thank you my Brother, and a belated and Blessed Happy Birthday to you. GOD Bless you.