Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Space Cadet

It was a week before my sixth birthday. That Wednesday, I sat in my classroom (my school had a light through-summer schedule) with my classmates and watched as we always did in hushed silence as the black and white closed-circuit broadcast of the Apollo launch flickered before our anxious, upturned-at-the-monitor faces.

But this launch was different from the others. We—America was going to the moon. Not merely to land a craft or drop a probe, but to actually step upon its soil and walk the gritty floor of its Sea of Tranquility. It was Sunday afternoon. Regular broadcasting was pre-empted. Walter Cronkite helmed the broadcast of this almost surreal moment in history, tensely folding and unfolding his hands repeatedly, nervously removing and replacing his glasses on-air as the events unspooled before him and then us.

I remember the Apollo craft seemed to be coming in way too fast over the moon's craggy surface. I sat stiffly, unconsciously moving myself across the floor while gripping hunks of carpet as my jaw clenched tight, as if I could body-english the landing from my fifth floor Harlem walk-up. “They're-gonna-crash-they're-gonna-crash-they're-gonna-crash…” I kept droning in my head and then just as quickly shutting it off as to not conjure up that actual awfulness on-screen. The Lunar Module slowed its forward rush—with small jets mounted all around the vehicle I would later learn—and stabilize, coming to rest not as hard as I feared, but still suddenly bathed in mysterious shadow that unnerved me. The landing was complete and I remember Neil Armstrong proudly monikering the spot “Tranquility Base” and saying that “The Eagle has landed” Then I heard him say something about “folks turning blue ” and I panicked again until I grasped that he was talking about he and his Apollo crewmates nervously holding their breath until touchdown. I was disappointed going to bed that night, as I assumed the astronauts would immediately be leaving the craft to touch the moon's surface themselves, but that would happen not long after as I anxiously snuck out of bed around ten or so to witness Armstrong “One Small Step” his way into history.

I was jubilant. as any true space nut of that time would be. Later that week I would build a near perfect Apollo 11 replica from an old Reynolds Wrap cardboard tube, paint, glue and colored tape I begged, begged, begged my father to buy me from the hardware store. I remember the day's programming being interrupted for the ticker tape parade seven miles south of my house and wishing I was there in the heat with the million revelers happily sweating like pigs on Lower Broadway.

That is what I was doing then.

What was Sarah Palin doing then? Probably keenly watching the horrors of evil Communist rug-beating happening on Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev's back porch from her patio or something—but clearly she had no clue of what was happening way down in the contiguous 48 where the celebration of man's walking on the moon was all anyone else in America could think about. We can easily assume that based on her goofy 'misremembering' of history when she cited “that space race” during her Fox News-hosted re-ass-al rebuttal of President Obama's State Of The Union Address.

The choice, Einstein-ian bits:

Let's get something out of the way here, first and foremost—this piece is not picking on the mentally challenged. This is calling out the head-hammering idiocy of someone who as a former governor and vice-presidential candidate and supposedly college-educated American citizen of an age (a mere six months younger than I am) where this knowledge doesn't come second-hand, should be expected to know better. Okay?

Great. Now let's dive in to the stupid end of the pool.

To use the words her handlers coached her to allude to above, Um…what the fuck was that?I

Me, you, and everybody else on this continent who lived it / saw a beepy old film strip on it / read a 20th century history book / saw 'The Right Stuff” / fuck, even watched an episode of 'I Dream Of Jeannie” knows how the Space Race turned out. Yay! We won it. The Soviets took an early lead with the historic Sputnik 1 satellite launch which President Obama referenced as a turning point in history for America—a pivotal moment in which we could step up and be inspired to do greater things. It harkened back to JFK's original call to the arms of greatness with his bold cry of “We choose to go to the moon!” to rally American spirit after Sputnik. Much like a baseball game where one team gets a couple of runs in the very first inning, the Soviets scored first with Sputnik. This was NOT the end of the Space Race. It was the BEGINNING of it.

Who but a kid just learning it today or a dim-witted boomer who stared western ice floes into imaginary commie periscopes doesn't have a basic knowledge of the Space Race's historical chain of events? Man kisses the edge of space with super-high-altitude planes (Thank you, you magnificent badass, General Chuck Yeager), then monkeys and satellites go further still, men orbit earth next, spacewalk the inky void, orbit the moon and then came the final leg of the great space derby where man lands on the moon. He collects rocks, bounces around and 'Rat Patrols' about the lunar surface in a NASA-pimped ride. We tack on SkyLab and the Space Shuttle as insurance runs, but the race is done.

Ms. Palin however has a different memory of it all. One in which we apparently lost miserably to a shoe-wielding Khruschev, and drowned our sorrows in Bonanza episodes, Free Love, and...Herman's-fucking-Hermits or something.

She blathered that silliness to somehow point out the wrongness of President Obama's using the original “Sputnik Moment” as a metaphor.


That my friends, was the last sound irony made as it died…at the thought of Sarah Louise Palin calling someone else out—about the misuse of rhetoric and symbolism in political speechmaking.

From whence doth this stupid spring?

It's a combination of things—a confluence if you will, of conservative clusterfuckery.

On The Chris Matthews Show last week, ol' Tweety led a discussion that—heaven forfend—actually unearthed a pretty keen insight about Sarah Palin and the poor fools who love her. (Courtesy Crooks & LIars)

(RICHARD) STENGEL:The thing that I find interesting about it and I don’t know if everybody agrees, its like, where’s her learning curve, right? I mean from the time she was nominated, the last couple of years you’d think she would become sort of more sophisticated about talking…

MATTHEWS: Do you think the curve is going the other way?

STENGEL: I don’t know. Maybe the people who like her don’t want her to have a learning curve. Maybe we are the only ones who do.

Palin's grasp and presentation of facts, of simple American history is no greater than that of a lazy middle-schooler's grasp of the plot of the unread book said student badly fakes an oral book report on—before a classroom of 320 million people. And she thinks she's getting away with it, because the like-minded goofuses at the back of the class will give her a rousing ovation every time, regardless of the abject stupidity on display. She is one of them. In the Matthews piece, it's noted that there seems to be no learning curve with Sarah Palin. Pundits assumed there would be one, as the exposure of the ringing echo from her head was what undid her last time around. But as it was ruefully pointed out above, “People who like her don’t want her to have a learning curve.”

She is revered for every idiocy she projects. Every malapropism, goofy face and stumble. She doesn't need The Learning Channel's series about her. Every day is a twisted-ass reality show with her where a segment of the American public laughs at her, with her and unabashedly loves her. Dare I say it…she is the frozen-tundra “sista-from-anotha-motha” to 'Jersey Shore's' Snooki.

Our hapless, stupid, but oh-so-lovable “Snow-ki”.

Her Fox News word salad had a bit more to it though. Yes, there was the brain-numbing stupid of screwing up the whole “Sputnik Moment/ Space Race” analogy, but there was something else we've seen many times before from conservatives trying to score points while also trying to sound all edu-ma-cated. As they almost never have the facts on their side when making an argument, there is a pathological tendency to simply make shit up to buttress a talking point. Facts of the moment are always prey to this, but what's crazier is the right's gleeful in brutally pistol-whipping history too. Well-known history. Unambiguous, totally settled, no-gray-area, plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face history. Her crowing about how in spite of their winning the Space Race, it eventually cost the Soviets dearly because it bankrupted them economically and caused their collapse has about has much basis in fact as pink thespian mountain lions who exclaim “Exit, stage left” ad nauseum. Both sides blew up rockets, had astronauts die tragically, screwed up royally and burned billions of dollars in the race for supremacy of the near cosmos. The Space Race effectively ended (with the U.S. the clear victor from the mid-sixties onward) in the mid-seventies when the U.S. and USSR combined for the joint Apollo / Soyuz Test Mission in 1975 where both superpowers launched ships within hours of each other, docked them, exchanged gifts, pleasantries and handshakes. Ironically, this coincided with the time our own country's economy melted down with rampant unemployment, gas lines, massive inflation and numerous states becoming financially insolvent. If one were a solely linear-thinking dummy, one conceivably could link that collapse to our own incredibly profligate Space Race spending, as that financial near-collapse followed so closely on the heels of our biggest and most expensive achievements there.

One would be as wrong as hell, too. Things were actually a lot more complicated than that. There was the exploding costs of the Vietnam War, the oil crisis and the infamous “Nixon Shock” with the U.S. going off the gold standard when other countries called us on our debt markers.

The Soviets had a massive population simply weary of living awfully under a ridiculously flawed system. They got involved in a messy, unwinnable war with Afghanistan that while draining the coffers (and nothing, but nothing sucks money like a long war), also tried the patience of the aforementioned disillusioned people. The world was becoming more and more connected and it was harder and harder to sequester the majority of Russian people away from the many pleasures others (including the Soviet elite) beyond them were enjoying. Throwing the Space Race up there as the reason for the end of the USSR as we knew it is just a craven bit of politically expedient historical revisionism to justify bankrupt policy. Politically expedient historical revisionism like the modern day GOP's denial of its well-documented racist “Southern Strategy” of the sixties being the basis for today's geographic GOP voting patterns and its still-strong polarization of Blacks from participation in the party. Like the attempts in recent years to rehabilitate the execrable specter of Senator “Tail Gunner” Joe McCarthy and his decidedly un-American misdeeds while heading up the House Un-American Activities Committee. Or merely consider the GOP's bizarre claims of credit for the economy's recent rebound being due to their hadn't-even-been-seated-yet House majority.

Add “the stupid” and the pistol-whipping of history together and what we have in Palin…is a charming idiot who has no compunctions about lying like a cheap-ass rug. Hmmm. It's as if we're dealing with the ramifications of George W. Bush's winning on RuPaul's Drag Race.

There is one other factor involved. And that is her supposed “handlers”. She does not have a professional style sculptor like Michael Deaver was for Ronald Reagan, nor does she have a hyper-dedicated mega-machiavellian ratfucker like Bush the lesser had in Karl Rove. What she does have is a group of similarly limited-intelligenced young Republican image-makers and message managers who never paid a single due in the political trenches and got their party patronage hook-ups during the great, post-boomer mass-seeding of the George W. Bush administration, where know-nothing button-men / women like Bradley Schlotzman, Monica Goodling and the latest rube du jour J.Christian Adams have plied their trade unsubtly ever since. It is this sort, with no grasp of history (recent or otherwise) or pop culture beyond simple bromides, and having participated in so much surreal awfulness in the last ten years—no grasp of irony whatsoever—who write the oddly-syntaxed tweets and Facebook status updates for Palin (and her daughter Bristol). Our Snow-ki is the beloved materfamilia of this new generation of “GOP-pies”—dedicated lever-pullers but terrible machine builders with lightweight evangelical college or wingnut campus activist backgrounds. Oh, they spell the talking point blasts right for the most part, but they end up with the definite feel of rough writer's room ideas that nobody took the time to run past a head writer—a.k.a. a professional message manager. Unless, and I have the sinking feeling I'm right here, Ms. Palin herself is her own end-product media manager, and suffers such hubris that she feels she doesn't need a real one to help her or deludedly feels that she is somehow a good one herself.

How else can you explain the weird faux-populist “Spudnut” tangent she went off on as if it was some sort of pitch-perfect “There you go again” or “Ask not what your country can do for you…” kill shot that was going to take the steam out of the preceding address itself. We know she couldn't very well go all the way with the “WTF” shpiel and still maintain an image of family-friendliness, but if she couldn't remember something as important as what America's “Sputnik Moment” was all about, what made her think anyone would give a tinker's damn about some coffee shop she's sooooo not plugging just to score complimentary Mooseburger Deluxes when she's in the area?

The hell with letters, I'll say it again. What The Fuck?

No one knows. Not even her. But I do know WTF will not happen. Sarah Louise Palin will not be our president. Not in 2012, 2016 or if we froze her 'Demolition Man'-style and reanimated her in 2096. Even without a learning curve, she's getting smart enough to sort of know this. Polling bears this out, with fewer and fewer people seeing her as presidentially qualified as oddly enough, she makes herself ever more ubiquitous. Which is cool for her as there's way too much actual work involved in…you know…presidentin' and stuff, and America is pretty much tired of the George W. Bush (a.k.a. Reagan-Lite) know-nothing style in the oval office. And being the “I-know-I'm-not,but-wouldn't-it-just-be-a-pisser-if-I-was-the” president allows her a lot more freedom and offers more money than holding the actual office itself ever could. She is free to Face-ter and Tweet-book her way through deep political matters without dealing with all of that annoying policy briefing, weighing geopolitical considerations, thoughtful, pointy-headed wonkery. And with her “base”—that 40% or so (the “Spookies”) of the country's hard-core, wingnutty dead-enders in her pocket, she wields far more power as a GOP kingmaker than she would ever have were she Pennsylvania Avenue royalty herself.

In the end, it is easier and more lucrative to wink…than it is to think.

She knows her limitations as a statesperson as they are many, but the fame and fortune gravy train is five-hundred tanker cars of bullshit long and she's going to take it nice and slow going by us as we watch…and wait. Watch…and wait. All the while praying enough of us are lulled into such a stupor that we don't see the overpass of common sense down the tracks a piece as she delivers all that bullshit—that at even one cent a pound is enough to make her a millionaire many times over.

Do you ever wonder what the GOP hierarchy that we know despises her but can not ever really say so must think about the predicament they're in? How they are now effectively held hostage to an idiot they can't ever elect to whom if fealty is not paid could possibly wreck the party for a generation were she to totally “go rogue” with her followers toddling behind her? And whither Senator John McCain, the glue-factory bound, one-time alleged “maverick” who gifted us all with Palin when he played queen-maker to her and inadvertently slapped a jangle-ing fool's cap on himself? Going all “conspiracy theory” for a minute, was his choice of Snowki a final, bitter, poison-pill “fuck you” to the party whose bigwigs spent years savaging him and when they finally did have to choose him as a standard bearer, never truly loved him? That would be some serious “End-of-the-movie-“Predator”, laughing-as-you-blow-everything-up-shit', but ol' Johnny I fear just isn't that savvy. Nope. He just has rotten-ass luck. As—in spite of coming into great wealth, and (speciously) garnering massive respect and considerable power—he has always had. And we're talking after being shot down and tortured horribly in Vietnam. When he fields late night phone calls from or finds himself in quiet, stolen moments with GOP movers and shakers, how many times do they “WTF?” him?

Does he shake his head sadly and quote Sir Alec Guinness in “Bridge On The River Kwai”, muttering. “What have I done?”

Or does he flashback-flush with the heat of the hundred slow-burns over the ninety-odd days when things fell apart in that fateful fall of 2008? Every day a fresh revelation of “She did what? awfulness. The tension on the campaign trail thick enough to cut with a knife. A howl of frustration…

Only now to realize like the rest of us...that the space cadet was already a million light years beyond it.