Governor Sarah Palin is speaking in Florida. She is getting better and better at this. Her charisma is growing, and so is her following. I find her frightening. Her rallies are filled with scarred and hate-filled people whom she manipulates effortlessly. Their chants of “Drill, baby, drill” have the cadence of “Kill, baby, kill,” and I worry that it is becoming easier and easier to get them make that shift. We have seen how the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, with Ms. Palin as their standard bearer, has co-opted John McCain and turned the “maverick” into a puppet.
But she said something in that speech that was so hypocritical I just had to comment on it. Surrounded by her “Country First” banners and with crowds chanting “USA, USA, USA,” Governor Palin said, “You shouldn’t be asking what you can do for your government, you should be asking what your government should be doing for you.” The crowd went wild, and cheered so loudly that none among them heard the death knell of American democracy and the very country they claim to love.
Governor Palin rhetoric was an inverse paraphrase of JFK’s famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That is authentic “Country First.” What Governor Palin is espousing is not “country first,” but “Me First.” Her posters ought to read “aMErica FIRST.”
I find this very troubling. I want a just and moral government that makes real and meaningful demands of us and our children. I want the government to demand (and provide incentives for) 100-mpg automobiles. I want the government to demand (and provide incentives for) the greening of our homes, businesses, and office towers. I want the government to demand public service, with all high school graduates obligated to two years of public/military service in exchange for four years of public university tuition (or the equivalent of other educational training). I want the government to challenge us to be better than we are, more moral than we are, more environmentally sound than we are, more compassionate than we are. I want a government that helps us understand what it is to be an American; a government that doesn’t fight sex education but promotes civic education; a government that doesn’t deny science but promotes authentic science and scientific education; a government that stops pretending God is on its side, and is humble enough to worry whether it is on God’s side.
Sarah Palin wants the government in our bedrooms and out of our boardrooms. I think she has it exactly backwards. Sarah Palin wants the government to tell who we can marry, and when we can die; a government that scoffs as women’s health and that mandates that the life of a fetus is more important that the life of its mother. I want the government out of all these decisions. Let religion mandate these things and let people choose to be religious or not. Morality is not a tool of the government.
I love my country. I volunteered and served three years in the US Air Force. I even tried to reenlist during Desert Storm (too old, too fat, too bad). I vote with pride and trepidation, knowing that voting is a sacred act and fearing that there are many people in power who are trying to rob us of it. Like Governor Palin I now believer there are two Americas: the Real America and the Surreal. The Real America stands for freedom, opportunity, and enfranchisement of all her citizens. The Surreal America stands for theocracy, greed, fear, and Big Brother, and it does so in the name of the very values it hopes to suppress.
Vote your conscience this Tuesday. It is the only way we’ll know which America is winning.