The Obamas are a warm vision for the White House -- but he should
strive toward full transparency. Plus: Yes, I still like Sarah Palin!
By Camille Paglia
Nov. 12, 2008 |
Dazed and confused. A week after the election of Barack Obama,
millions of American news junkies are in serious cold turkey, the big
bump of withdrawal from two years of addiction to the dizzying ups and
downs of a campaign that threatened never to end.
Eat dirt, you sour Clintons, who said Obama was "unelectable." Obama's
8 million vote margin over his Republican opponent -- miraculously
sparing us endless litigation and chad counting -- was an exhilarating
testimony to his personal gifts and power of persuasion. And the
formidable Michelle Obama, with her electric combo of brains and
style, is already rewriting first ladyhood. The warm partnership of
the Obamas (wonderfully caught by the camera as they disappeared
offstage after his victory) has set an inspiring standard for modern
Yes, it's true we know relatively little about Barack Obama, and his
triumph is a roll of the dice. But John McCain (like Bob Dole) was a
major Republican misfire -- a candidate of personal honor and heroic
sacrifice who was woefully inadequate for the times. McCain's lurching
grandstanding during the Wall Street crisis made him look like a ham
actor on a bender. In debate, McCain was always pugnacious but too
often bland or rambling, and he often missed glaring opportunities to
score off Obama's vagueness or contradictions.
McCain's brusque treatment of his long-suffering wife, Cindy, was also
off-putting -- nowhere more so than after his concession speech, when
he barely remembered to give her a perfunctory hug. Probably no one is
more relieved by McCain's defeat than Cindy, who seemed too frail and
tightly wound for the demanding role of first lady. Now she can slip
away once more into blessed privacy.
No one knows whether Obama will move to the center or veer hard left.
Perhaps even he doesn't know. But I have great optimism about his
political instincts and deftness. He wants to be president of all the
people -- if that is possible in so divided a nation. His natural
impulse seems to be toward reconciliation and concord. The big
question will be how patient the Democratic left wing is in demanding
drastic changes in social policy, particularly dicey with a teetering
As I've watched Obama gracefully step up to podiums or move through
crowds, I've been reminded not of basketball, with its feints and
pivots, but of surfing, that art form of his native Hawaii. A
photograph of Obama body surfing on vacation was widely publicized in
August. But I'm talking about big-time competitive surfing, as in this
stunning video tribute to the death-defying Laird Hamilton (who, like
Obama, was raised fatherless in Hawaii). Obama's ability to stay on
his feet and outrun the most menacing waves that threaten to engulf
him seems to embody the breezy, sunny spirit of the American surfer.
In the closing weeks of the election, however, I became increasingly
disturbed by the mainstream media's avoidance of forthright dealing
with several controversies that had been dogging Obama -- even as
every flimsy rumor about Sarah Palin was being trumpeted as if it were
engraved in stone on Mount Sinai. For example, I had thought for many
months that the flap over Obama's birth certificate was a tempest in a
teapot. But simple questions about the certificate were never resolved
to my satisfaction. Thanks to their own blathering, fanatical
overkill, of course, the right-wing challenges to the birth
certificate never gained traction.
But Obama could have ended the entire matter months ago by publicly
requesting Hawaii to issue a fresh, long-form, stamped certificate and
inviting a few high-profile reporters in to examine the document and
photograph it. (The campaign did make the "short-form" certificate
available to Factcheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy
Center at the University of Pennsylvania.) And why has Obama not made
his university records or thesis work widely available? The passivity
of the press toward Bush administration propaganda about weapons of
mass destruction led the nation into the costly blunder of the Iraq
war. We don't need another presidency that finds it all too easy to
rely on evasion or stonewalling. I deeply admire Obama, but as a voter
I don't like feeling gamed or played.
Another issue that I initially dismissed was the flap over William
Ayers, the Chicago-based former member of the violent Weather
Underground. Conservative radio host Sean Hannity began the drumbeat
about Ayers' association with Obama a year ago -- a theme that most of
the mainstream media refused to investigate or even report until this
summer. I had never heard of Ayers and couldn't have cared less. I was
irritated by Hillary Clinton's aggressive flagging of Ayers in a
debate, and I accepted Obama's curt dismissal of the issue.
Hence my concern about Ayers has been very slow in developing. The
mainstream media should have fully explored the subject early this
year and not allowed it to simmer and boil until it flared up
ferociously in the last month of the campaign. Obama may not in recent
years have been "pallin' around" with Ayers, in Sarah Palin's
memorable line, but his past connections with Ayers do seem to have
been more frequent and substantive than he has claimed. Blame for the
failure of this issue to take hold must also accrue to the
conservative talk shows, which use the scare term "radical" with
simplistic sensationalism, blanketing everyone under the sun from
scraggly ex-hippies to lipstick-chic Nancy Pelosi.
Pursuing the truth about Ayers, I recently rented the 2002 documentary
"The Weather Underground," from Netflix. It was riveting. Although the
film seems to waver between ominous exposé and blatant whitewash, the
full extent of the group's bombing campaign is dramatically
demonstrated. It's not for everyone: The film uses gratuitous cutaways
of horrifying carnage, from the Vietnam War to the Manson murders
(such as Sharon Tate's smiling corpse, bathed in blood). But the news
footage of the Greenwich Village townhouse destroyed in 1970 by
bomb-making gone wrong in the basement still has enormous impact.
Standing in the chaotic street, actor Dustin Hoffman, who lived next
door, seems like Everyman at the apocalypse.
Ayers comes off in the film as a vapid, slightly dopey, chronic
juvenile with stunted powers of ethical reasoning. The real revelation
is his wife, Bernardine Dohrn (who evidently worked at the same large
Chicago law firm as Michelle Obama in the mid-1990s). Of course I had
heard of Dohrn -- hers was one of the most notorious names of our
baby-boom generation -- and I knew her black-and-white police mug
shot. But I had never seen footage of her speaking or interacting with
others. Well, it's pretty obvious who wears the pants in that family!
The mystery of Bernardine Dohrn: How could such a personable,
attractive, well-educated young woman end up saying such things at a
1969 political rally as this (omitted in the film) about the Manson
murders: "Dig it. First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner
in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into a victim's
stomach. Wild!" And how could Dohrn have so ruthlessly pursued a
decade-long crusade of hatred and terrorism against innocent American
citizens and both private and public property?
"The Weather Underground" never searches for answers, but it does show
Dohrn, then and now, as a poised, articulate woman of extremely high
intelligence and surprising inwardness. The audio extra of her reading
the collective's first public communiqué ("Revolutionary violence is
the only way") is chilling. But the tumultuous footage of her 1980
surrender to federal authorities is a knockout. Mesmerized, I ran the
clip six or seven times of her seated at a lawyer's table while
reading her still defiant statement. The sober scene -- with Dohrn
hyper-alert in a handsome turtleneck and tweedy jacket -- was
tailor-made for Jane Fonda in her "Klute" period, androgynous shag.
Only illegalities by federal investigators prevented Dohrn from being
put away on ice for a long, long time.
Given that Obama had served on a Chicago board with Ayers and approved
funding of a leftist educational project sponsored by Ayers, one might
think that the unrepentant Ayers-Dohrn couple might be of some
interest to the national media. But no, reporters have been too busy
playing mini-badminton with every random spitball about Sarah Palin,
who has been subjected to an atrocious and at times delusional level
of defamation merely because she has the temerity to hold pro-life
How dare Palin not embrace abortion as the ultimate civilized ideal of
modern culture? How tacky that she speaks in a vivacious regional
accent indistinguishable from that of Western Canada! How risible that
she graduated from the State University of Idaho and not one of those
plush, pampered commodes of received opinion whose graduates, in their
rush to believe the worst about her, have demonstrated that, when it
comes to sifting evidence, they don't know their asses from their
Liberal Democrats are going to wake up from their sadomasochistic,
anti-Palin orgy with a very big hangover. The evil genie released
during this sorry episode will not so easily go back into its bottle.
A shocking level of irrational emotionalism and at times infantile
rage was exposed at the heart of current Democratic ideology --
contradicting Democratic core principles of compassion, tolerance and
independent thought. One would have to look back to the Eisenhower
1950s for parallels to this grotesque lock-step parade of bourgeois
provincialism, shallow groupthink and blind prejudice.
I like Sarah Palin, and I've heartily enjoyed her arrival on the
national stage. As a career classroom teacher, I can see how smart she
is -- and quite frankly, I think the people who don't see it are the
stupid ones, wrapped in the fuzzy mummy-gauze of their own worn-out
partisan dogma. So she doesn't speak the King's English -- big whoop!
There is a powerful clarity of consciousness in her eyes. She uses
language with the jumps, breaks and rippling momentum of a be-bop
saxophonist. I stand on what I said (as a staunch pro-choice advocate)
in my last two columns -- that Palin as a pro-life wife, mother and
ambitious professional represents the next big shift in feminism.
Pro-life women will save feminism by expanding it, particularly into
the more traditional Third World.
As for the Democrats who sneered and howled that Palin was unprepared
to be a vice-presidential nominee -- what navel-gazing hypocrisy! What
protests were raised in the party or mainstream media when John
Edwards, with vastly less political experience than Palin, got John
Kerry's nod for veep four years ago? And Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of
Kansas, for whom I lobbied to be Obama's pick and who was on
everyone's short list for months, has a record indistinguishable from
Palin's. Whatever knowledge deficit Palin has about the federal
bureaucracy or international affairs (outside the normal purview of
governors) will hopefully be remedied during the next eight years of
the Obama presidencies.
The U.S. Senate as a career option? What a claustrophobic, nitpicking
comedown for an energetic Alaskan -- nothing but droning committees
and incestuous back-scratching. No, Sarah Palin should stick to her
governorship and just hit the rubber-chicken circuit, as Richard Nixon
did in his long haul back from political limbo following his
California gubernatorial defeat in 1962. Step by step, the mainstream
media will come around, wipe its own mud out of its eyes, and see
Palin for the populist phenomenon that she is.
On the culture front, I was startled to read of the death last week of
Yma Sumac, the virtuoso five-octave Peruvian singer who seems like a
legendary figure of the misty past. Sumac's 1950 debut album, "Voice
of the Xtabay," made a tremendous impact on me as a child. My family
attended her performance (with her company of 20 artists) at the
Binghamton Theatre in what was probably 1951. I still have the
yellowed clippings and program, which lists songs eerily mimicking the
sound of the Andean winds and earthquakes. The cover image of "Voice
of the Xtabay" with a glamorous Sumac in the pose of a prophesying
priestess against a background of fierce sculptures and an erupting
volcano, contains the entire pagan worldview and nature cult of what
would become my first book, "Sexual Personae," published 40 years
later. Thank you, Yma!
News items: My article "Final Cut: The Selection Process for Break,
Blow, Burn" has just been published in the Fall 2008 issue of Arion at
Boston University. It is available online at Arion or via that
invaluable international site, Arts & Letters Daily. No more Mr. Nice
Guy: I've taken the gloves off against John Ashbery, Jorie Graham and
the rest of that insufferably pretentious crowd. For real English used
in a vital, vigorous contemporary way, see the new book of poems by my
colleague Jack DeWitt, "Almost Grown," which deals with cars, gals and
brawls -- American culture at its finest!
My keynote lecture for the Theodore Roethke Centenary Conference, held
at the University of Michigan last month, has gone to press for the
forthcoming issue of the Michigan Quarterly Review. The lecture is
called "Dance of the Senses: Natural Vision and Psychotic Mysticism in
Theodore Roethke." One of my main points: I'm sick of the insipid
bourgeois neuroticism in current, careerist American poetry. Bring
back the psychotics!
Camille Paglia's column appears on the second Wednesday of each month.
Every third column is devoted to reader letters. Please send questions
for her next letters column to this mailbox. Your name and town will
be published unless you request anonymity.
-- By Camille Paglia
This is a great article by Michele Obama.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and co-founder of private equity firm Bain Capital, is often mentioned as a GOP contender for 2012. He spoke with Fortune's Jia Lynn Yang.
Any management advice for the next president? How does he rally a depressed nation to meet the challenges we face?
He should forget entirely about reelection and focus solely on helping the nation at a critical time. He should dismiss the people who helped him win the election and bring in people who are above politics and above party. He should surround himself with statesmen and economists, businesspeople and leaders. In some ways it would be beneficial if our presidency consisted of only one term. That way the President would think about his legacy and the future of the country rather than reelection and partisanship.
How likely do you think that's going to happen?
In his second term, President Clinton made an effort to govern more from the center than from the extreme wing of his party, and by doing so, found greater support and greater political success. Perhaps it's a paradox, the less political the agenda, the more political success one enjoys. But now is not the time for partisanship opportunism.
The unions have helped Barack Obama. They will hope to be paid back. I'm particularly concerned that organized labor would call on Barack Obama to pass the card check program. This removes from American workers the right to the secret ballot in deciding whether or not to accept a union. This legislation would do more to harm America's long-term competitiveness than almost anything I can imagine. It would be a partisan payback for organized labor but it would come with devastating consequences for the nation.
Do you have any concerns that the massive government intervention on Wall Street will have unintended consequences?
"The bailout of Wall Street" was a terrible choice of words. No one wants to bail out anything, especially Wall Street. The objective of the legislation, however, had a much broader purpose: to stabilize our financial system, to keep it from complete collapse. Sometimes that broad purpose may require saving individual companies, as with AIG (AIG,Fortune 500). But we just can't have government running around the nation looking to bail out companies in trouble.
Given your Michigan roots and what your father accomplished turning around the American Motors Corporation in the 1950s, what do you think is the future of the auto industry?
Right now, the auto industry is on life support, and its prospects look extremely dim. But they don't need to be. The industry could be turned around. There is no inherent reason why America can't build and sell cars to Americans at least as well as the transplants are doing. Any effort to help the auto industry has to be made as part of a comprehensive strategy. Before the government issues loans to the auto industry, as has been authorized by Congress, it should insist on seeing credible and independent strategies that will return the companies to long-term sustainability. Government should not finance ongoing losses and declining market shares.
What concerns you the most about the economy right now? Any dangers lurking in the global economy that we didn't hear much about during the campaigns?
Far too little attention was paid to America's long-term competitive position during the campaign. I see four major economic strategies at play in the world today: the first is ours. It combines freedom and free enterprise.
The second is China's. It combines free enterprise with authoritarianism.
The third is Russia's. No longer is Russia's plan for dominance based upon industrial capacity but rather upon controlling energy throughout the world. Hence Russia's cozy relationship with Iran and Venezuela as well as its belligerent entry into Georgia. Russia's strategy is based on energy and authoritarianism.
The fourth strategy is represented by radical violent jihad. The intent of the jihadists is to cause the collapse of the other three, such that the "hidden Imam" or the Caliphate remains the last man standing.
The real challenge for America is how to strengthen our competitive position so that our economy outperforms those of the other three. If we're successful, freedom will be preserved for the world. If we're unsuccessful, the results are unthinkable.
When you talk about making America more competitive, what do you have in mind?
First, America must substantially improve our education system. We've fallen behind, particularly in areas of math and science.
Second, we're going to have to remedy our disproportionate health care cost disadvantage. America spends far more than any other nation as a percent of GDP on health care. This effectively is an enormous tax on the economy and on our businesses.
Third, our national debt is excessive and our entitlement obligations pass a massive burden onto the next generation.
Fourth, tax and regulatory policies weigh down our ability to compete. Specifically, our products carry an embedded tax which makes American goods less competitive abroad and at home.
Fifth, America's apparent retrenchment from the concept of open, free and fair trade could put us further behind other nations that are aggressively seeking trade relations around the world.
Sixth, our lack of an effective energy policy drains our economy by approximately half a trillion dollars a year.
And, finally, the blow that Wall Street has taken may make us less competitive in financing entrepreneurship.
There's strong populist sentiment against free trade deals. Given that, how does an American president move forward on this?
I can only hope the President abandons the populist current, which seems to be growing in our country. An effort to block foreign trade will only hurt America. Ultimately products in this country would become uncompetitive. Look what happened to the Soviet Union. Its cars, its watches, its goods became a joke.
The only way to remain the leading economy in the world is to be successful on a level playing field around the world. Some individuals, at the behest of special interests, seek to prevent trade with other nations by imposing America's labor requirements and other peculiarities. That is a disguised form of protectionism.
Do Americans need to save more and adjust to a lower standard of living? In other words, should be buying houses we can actually afford?
I think a President has to be an educator- in-chief as well as a commander-in-chief. The American people need to understand the challenges we face. And the American people need to understand that they, like the nation, need to live within their means. Both have been spending more than they have been taking in. It puts the nation at risk. And it puts families at risk.
There's a period of adjustment that's occurring right now as American families deleverage and employers deleverage. It's time for the government to finally address our severe debt burden, before it leads to even more severe consequences. I'm referring not only to our annual deficit and national debt but also to our obligations under entitlement programs like Social Security.