Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Palin’

There’s a quote, attributed to Bob Dole, John McCain, or possibly the Bible (I doubt it!) which says, “Don’t get into a wrestling match with a pig.  You’ll get dirty, and the pig likes it.”  A friend of mine had another version she often used:  “Don’t get into an argument with an idiot.”

Whichever phrase you go with, the intention’s the same:  don’t start to do battle with someone who wants to get down and dirty or sling mud at you – no one will win.  I thought about this when, emerging from a few days of camping and news blackout on Cape Cod last week, I returned home to find that Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck had decided to hold a rally (the “Restoring Honor” rally) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  And that, in response, Rev. Al Sharpton and others then decided to have a counter-rally to combat the provocateurs’ move.

I believe Beck is despicable.  This is the man who likes to sow the seeds of hatred wherever he travels, who made a previous accusation that President Obama was a “racist” who has “a deep-seated hatred for white people.”  On Sunday, following the rally, he decided to pass judgment on Obama’s religious beliefs, saying, “”People aren’t recognizing his version of Christianity.”  This, from a Mormon who should know what religious discrimination feels like, and might do well to remember the process — as fellow Mormon Sen. Orrin Hatch does — which led to a steeple finally being placed on the Mormon Temple in Belmont, MA, despite community protests.

I, like so many of my generation, grew up being inspired and motivated by the words of Dr. King to build a country based on deed rather than creed, a country where justice would be served for the benefit of all – a country that we still have not achieved.  On the other hand, isn’t Sharpton’s response –on the surface, to try and rally King supporters and those who decry the hateful rhetoric and “lock and reload” language of Palin, and certainly, to try and capture the attention of the media — just playing into the hands of right wing hatemongers who want to bait liberals?  And who wins in such a battle, anyway?

Sharpton organized his “Reclaim the Dream” rally after he learned of Beck and Palin’s plans.  Depending on whose numbers you believe, Beck and Palin had around 87,000 attendees (if you believe Rep. Michelle Bachman, 1 million attended, but no one else counting heads gives a number close to that); Sharpton drew only about 3,000 to his gathering.  Who wins in this game?

I continue to be very, very worried by the amped-up rhetoric I hear thrown out over the air waves and through social media channels, and the acts of violence that are striking some communities — directed at one ethnic or cultural or religious group or another.  One pundit, speaking on MSNBC, suggested that this behavior is exactly what Al Qaeda wants to incite — to essentially have us eat one another alive and divide in disagreement and hate.  So far, we’re doing a pretty good job of it, and no one looks good.  In Murfreesboro, TN, a case of suspected arson occurred and gunshots were heard being fired near an Islamic center in the town.  This is hardly a lone report: cases of bias and violence against people perceived to be ‘other’ are rampant, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported over 900 hate groups active in the country.

Last I checked, this country still supported freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights, and by golly, that includes Muslims and the worship of Islam.  A number of religious groups understand the importance of this principle — certainly the Reform Jews do, for they have known what this kind of discrimination and attack feels like — and some groups have found ways to respond, with non-violence and without embrace of direct retaliatory language or behavior, to the rhetoric of Beck, Palin and others.  But not enough.

“We do not have to think alike to love alike,” said non-Trinitarian pioneer Ferenc David.  Unfortunately, we seem to be increasingly locked in a battle of who gets to claim moral and religious superiority over another group or individual.  The fight is based on hate, not love, and on who can scream the loudest, who can intimidate the best, and who can capture the coverage of the media with outrageous commentary.  We’re throwing gobs of mud at each other, and in this battle, everyone’s getting pretty dirty.

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I have felt growing dismay over the news coming from a Pew survey released in early August which shows that a growing number of Americans(18%)  believe Barack Obama to be Muslim, and (separate question and response) an increasing number also believe that Obama is not Christian.  Over 40% of those surveyed do not know what Obama’s faith tradition is, despite the fact that he regularly attended a United Church of Christ congregation prior to being elected president.

And a recent CNN survey revealed that more than 25% of those surveyed believed that Obama was either definitely or probably not born in this country (the so-called “birther” movement).  Meanwhile Sarah Palin, pundit and perhaps-candidate, has urged various political conservatives and talk show hosts to “lock and reload.”  When pressed, she’ll insist she’s just telling people to not back down, but the violent language sends a shiver down my spine.

Words are powerful.  In an information age where we’re all authorities, those who have mastered the media can promote their point of view and pass that perspective off as fact.  But it’s also true that people don’t generally invent the things they believe from whole cloth.  Those beliefs come from someone, from somewhere, and the question of where we get our news from, and what we accept on face value — rather than check out before making an informed decision — has everything to do with what we deem fact and what remains fiction.

But these recent statistics and news stories are deeply troubling to me.  In an age when we were proclaimed, with Obama’s election, to have moved past racism and segregation and discrimination, the ugly truth reveals that we have so far to go.  In a time when we like to give lip service to being “one country,” we are attacking Muslims who want to build a community center in New York, and Sikhs who wear turbans are verbally and sometimes physically harrassed, threatened, and subject to firing without cause.

Years ago, the Rogers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific” song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” offered us a scene in which Lieutenant Cable sings,

“You’ve got to be taught
to be afraid
Of people whose eyes
are oddly made
And people whose skin
is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught
before it’s too late
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8
To hate all the people
your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

“South Pacific” was produced in 1949, based on James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific,” and debuted in a United States recovering from World War II and approaching the dawn of McCarthyism.  Rogers and Hammerstein were attacked for putting this song in their show, but they steadfastly insisted that it remain.  Good thing, but how discouraging is it to find that, more than sixty years later, we haven’t changed all that much?   This country managed to elect an African American President of the United States less than two years ago, but the smears, the campaign of misinformation, the cheap shots and lies, have all remained and, I believe, grown.

How is it that so many in our country can continue to believe that the President is not an American citizen, despite clear evidence to the contrary?  And why would people repeatedly maintain that Obama, despite his multiple statements to the contrary, is a Muslim rather than the Christian he says he is?  “Don’t bother me with the facts, Son, I’ve already made up my mind,” was a saying coined by a cartoon character decades ago.  It seems that in the digital age where rumor now passes freely as fact, the saying remains true.  Words have power and authority, and more and more — in a time when fewer people read newspapers and more get their “news” from television or the web — the things people say can be taken for fact.

I troll social media regularly, reading Twitter feeds, posting sometimes, checking out newspaper headlines and conventional wisdom on social networking sites.  But I try hard to check out the facts before repeating them.  Otherwise I’d be subject to doing what we did as kids so long ago:  playing a game of ‘telephone’ where we stand in a line, repeat things, one to another, and then wonder how it is that the original message got so darned convoluted at the end of the line. Surely, as individuals and as a nation, we owe ourselves, and others, more consideration.

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A few days ago, while sitting in the waiting room outside a doctor’s office, I picked up a ‘women’s’ magazine (Good Housekeeping) and started leafing through.  The magazine was celebrating 125 years of publication, and in one feature, they were recognizing the 125 “women who changed our world.”

I grew up in a rather paradoxical environment where the role of women was concerned.  My mother, who wanted to encourage me to be whatever I wanted to be, was also very protective.  I was not, for instance, allowed to attend American University in Washington, DC, because my mother deemed it ‘unsafe’ for me to be there.  Instead, I went to a nice “girl’s school,” Russell Sage College, in Troy, New York (the college is fine, the city, however, is not).  My mother, who worked as a teacher, occupational therapist, and dietician (the latter two unlicensed positions) felt, truth be told, that women were inferior and not nearly so interesting as men.  She was far more focused on talking to men at parties and gatherings than women, and although she was a terrific cook and a good housekeeper, she was determined to do something that she deemed important with her life.

Her work with Planned Parenthood and later, her very successful career as a real estate agent, brought her fulfillment, but she never shook off the pervasive sense that women weren’t usually worth paying attention to.

I grew up wanting to achieve, partly to show my parents that I could, and partly because I grew up in a time when women were being encouraged to believe that most anything might be possible.  Further, I married a man who comes from a family full of impressive women.  Ben’s mother, Phoebe Taber Hamilton Soule, went to Vassar and taught french at a private school until she became a full-time homemaker.  She traveled all over the world and worked actively for Habitat for Humanity.  I have called her “my sainted mother-in-law,” and she is high on my list of admired women not only for her kindness and generous heart, but because she pursued her education, taught, and traveled, at a time when many women were not doing these things.

Phoebe’s cousins once removed were very well known.  Edith Hamilton was an educator, and later a writer and mythologist — the author of “The Greek Way” and “The Roman Way,”  books still recognized in schools and libraries for teaching classical legend.  Her sister, Margaret, was also an educator, and Edith and Margaret were honored by Connecticut College with a building named after them.  Another sister, Norah Hamilton, was a lithographer and printmaker. And another sister, Dr. Alice Hamilton, was recognized in the Good Housekeeping issue I was leafing through:  she was the first doctor of environmental medicine and taught at Harvard — even though Harvard would not allow her to robe and sit on the dais for the annual graduation ceremonies.  Two other cousins, Jessie and Agnes Hamilton, were painters of some reknown, and Agnes was also a child welfare advocate.

In other words, they were all uncommon women.  All this set me to thinking about the women I admire.  When I was small, I had a favorite book which I read, over and over.  It was about courageous individuals and it included profiles of Jane Addams, Clara Barton, and Marie Curie.  I loved those stories and sought out other biographies of women.  Like many other young women, I read “The Diary of a Young Girl” over and over, swept up by Anne Frank’s beautiful prose and her wisdom, so beyond her years.  I was captivated by the story of Annie Sullivan as she taught young Helen Keller against seemingly insurmountable odds.  And as a young adult, I admired the bravery of Jacqueline Kennedy, the guts of Gloria Steinem, the stentorian speaking and brilliance of Rep. Barbara Jordan.

I loved watching Hillary Rodham Clinton run for the presidential nomination, although I believed then – as I do now – that she would have polarized the electorate had she been nominated.  And I am thrilled with the way in which Michelle Obama — a very successful woman — has assumed her roles, both as First Lady and “Mom in Chief,” for our country.  My own mentor and inspiration  is Denny Davidoff, a woman who started her own public relations and advertising agency, became Moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association, a founder of the Interfaith Alliance and Interfaith Alliance Foundation, and is, simply put, a force of nature.  If I can be one-tenth of what she is, I will have done well.

OK, I still don’t like Sarah Palin, although I continue to be impressed by the numbers of women she’s marshalling to stand up for a cause they believe in.  But even Palin gets a tip of my virtual hat:  these women, past and present, continue to prove to all who might doubt it what a powerful force women are in influencing our culture, politics, history and lots of individual lives.

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