Political InQueery: The Week in Offensive Comments

I don't mean to get stuck on Sarah Palin, honestly. She pops up on the media's radar, however, for a whole host of reasons:

  • She gives meatier, off-the-cuff remarks than most anyone, including Joe Biden
  • She is something other than a white guy in a stuffed suit
  • She looks like she's gunning to run for President in 2012
  • She has sex appeal

Sarah and Todd Palin at the Belmont StakesThis last point isn't my own assessment—I'm just saying I think mainstream media thinks she has sex appeal. Either from what she radiates in the way of sinewy forearm muscles (see Wednesday's blog post), or because the media is premised at least a little bit on a sexist framework, when there are articles about Ms. Palin, there often is a focus on something other than her policy stances. So I wasn't exactly shocked to read this headline on Thursday morning—Sarah Palin (DD-Alaska)?—from the Boston Herald. To gild the lily, the lead-in was even more to the point [sic]: Hey, Sarah Palin, I can see your cleavage from my house!

Are you freaking kidding me? That shirt is high cut! I don't care if they think her choice of outfit to the Belmont Stakes races "lit up" the blogosphere, it's not fit to print this, is it? Wondering out loud if she's had work done? Aren't there cameras following this woman like she's the stand-in for Princess Di? I think we'd all know in a Boston Herald heartbeat if she'd shown up at a strip mall plastic surgeon's office (wait, that was me, my bad)! The Baltimore Sun was able to cover their attendance without resorting to snickering over lady body parts, and even mentioned something interesting; they were watching a horse in the race, Best Dude, who is named for Todd Palin and who was born by a horse named Run Sarah Run. I think it's cute when conservatives get clever.

Sarah's not my only talking point; one day before the Herald story, Carly Fiorina got a little attention in the media for my favorite politician's gaffe: she snarked into a hot mic. Calling Barbara Boxer's hair "so yesterday," the press is having a field day for how she dissed California's senator one mere day after winning the GOP primary for the senate. I'd be giggling like a happy child if I were Boxer's campaign manager. "Barbara, paying attention to the needs of California voters. Not fashion." Or something. But why would Fiorina spend any energy talking about hairstyles, anyway? Has she not seen men's hairstyles among male politicians?

rod blagojevich's hair do

 former senator john edwards

jesse helms has bad hair

 Oh, Jesse. Jesse, Jesse, Jesse. That hair is so pre-civil rights era, man.

My final case in point this week is Helen Thomas. In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that I am a distant relative of hers, though I don't know how exactly; we're something like second cousins twice removed or whatever. I've never actually met her. She basically ruined her entire 50-year career with an awful quote to a rabbi who asked her what she thought about Israel. This came the week after Israeli troops boarded a ship and shot several people on board, even though the crew said it was a relief vessel. Israel disputes that claim. But her response to the rabbi, who was a tourist walking through the White House, was disastrous and awful:

Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland.

Asked where they should go, she answered, "They should go home." She also added that they could go to the U.S. Clearly, she's missed the whole anti-immigrant sentiment thing brewing up here this year.

Well, truth be told, they've previously tried to go home, specifically after World War II, and they were massacred in their old villages and towns, in Poland and Germany. But beyond that oversight, her remarks are pretty abysmal. That said, she's had a 50-year career as a very liberal journalist, so I was frustrated to see that instead of critiquing her comments on Israel, people instead said the following:

Helen Thomas back in the dayJoe Klein in Time magazine's blog—She is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. This explains her statement? Because she's from Kentucky and Detroit? Hah? Let's remember, too, that Joe Klein is the author of Primary Colors, which he initially published anonymously so he could keep his day job being a journalist, away from the media storm. So Joe should get a cloak of invisibility for himself, but he'll call other people names when the spotlight is on them. I get it.

Josh Malina via his Twitter account—Helen Thomas has covered every President since Eisenhower -- ironic, since she looks like an overlay of every President since Eisenhower. Dude, you used to work for Toby Ziegler; I expect better from you!

John A. Farrel, writing for US News & World Report—Old age deteriorates mental powers. In Western culture, since long before Shakespeare, old folks are portrayed as daffy for good reason, and for no fault of their own. The vessels bringing oxygen to the brain shrivel. Brain cells die. Codgers blurt out crazy things. And Helen Thomas did. Let me just add that this column is titled, "Helen Thomas Should Have Retired Sooner." It's going to suck for him when he hits 75.

For her part, Ms. Thomas wrote an apology on her Web site. "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

May a lot of days come soon, Helen. Like the day we all give up being unprincipled assclowns whenever we think we have the opportunity or whenever we think women are vulnerable to it.

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Comments

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Let The Lampooning Begin!

It's kind of hard not to get stuck on Sarah Palin jokes. As much as i can't stand her politics and do not find her attractive in any way at all, i am aware that many other people do, and the jokes about her get me rolling on the floor with laughter sometimes. For instance there is this relatively recent YouTube video on Sarah Palin and her attractiveness by Margaret Cho. i was sorry to see that Helen Thomas really stepped in it because i think she has been an excellent journalist, but i'm looking forward to seeing Carly Fiorina getting skewered. I really liked Barbara Boxer's feistiness and bravery, and Carly is just a little too snooty and too much in favor obscene levels of executive compensation and corporate world rule for my liking. i'm a big fan of having more women at the top levels of government, but not at the expense of individual liberty and compassion. Let the lampooning begin!

Oh, I'm right there rooting

Oh, I'm right there rooting for candidates I like and crossing my fingers that the ones I think will destroy the country and the people in it lose by a landslide. Democracy in action, I suppose, and sometimes it's really frustrating counting on this representative government shit to work. But I have to put my foot down and say that female candidates get mocked differently than male ones do, and it throws the system out of whack--for the voters, the candidates, and the eventual victors, not to mention the people these legislators effect with their careers, which is basically everybody.

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

Very True - Need For Lampooning More Male Politicians Noted

i agree that women have been disproportionately the butt of jokes, and particularly sexually oriented ones, and will try to make a point of lampooning the males more often. If there had been a mention of John McCain in this post i might have brought up how John McCain sang bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran or that he acted oblivious to Carly Fiorina's having gotten a $45,000,000 golden parachute while 20,000 of her employees were laid off, or how McCain thought the president of Spain was from Central or South America. Of course this is all outdated. Why didn't we get more jokes about Massachusetts Governor Scott Brown's former nude Cosmo photos when he was running for Congress? Just think of the field day the press could have bringing up my YouTube videos if i ran for office! There are and have been plenty of really, really, really bad hairstyles and hairpieces amongst the male officeholders and candidates for congress. You are right. Women have gotten disproportionately lampooned - but Sarah Palin is such an easy target, isn't she? Jut off hand with respect to the bad hairstyles James Traficant and Trent Lott and Donald Trump immediately come to mind but there are many, many more weird hairstyles in Congress. Bottom line? You are right.

Lebanon

Considering Isreal and Lebanon have been through several nasty conflicts over the last 30 years and Isreal was never punished for its role in the Sabra and Shátila massacre in 1982, and Helen is a Lebanese Christian, I can see why her background might possibly have something to do with her opinions on Isreal.

Helen is the daughter of

Helen is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. Presumably she has relatives in Lebanon. I have relatives in Lebanon. Also, half of my siblings are Jewish of Polish descent. So do I get to play peacemaker over at Camp David this summer (actually, I'm not far from it as I write this)? Hell no. I'm also of English descent on my mother's side, but I was totally neutral on the whole Falklands thing in '82. It may affect her feelings of intimacy with Israel and Palestine and their continued conflict, but it's not fair to presume they're there, or how she feels about them, and it's especially presumptive to assert that her feelings belie her abilities as a reporter. There's of course much room to critique what she said; it's shaky to assume why she said it.

Saying her ethnic background founds her political opinions is also shaky logic, in my opinion, since it tends to be only the non-pale-skinned ethnicities that people ever notice in this regard.

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

LOLZ

I'm really enjoying this blog! Thank you for bringing some humor to political coverage while retaining some very valuable take-home messages. I'm glad to catch up with both Palin and Helen Thomas on the Bitch blogs. (And by LOLZ, I meant the Sarah Palin post, there's less to laugh about with Thomas.)

I'm very glad you're

I'm very glad you're enjoying them, thanks for writing that. I'm also grateful to have a space where the thoughts that get crammed up in my brain have a place they can live, and that others can engage with that. And I look forward to more discussions on all of this stuff.

Palin does generate a lot of guffaws. But mostly when she's asked to name a single, solitary periodical she's ever read. I still can't believe she avoided that question. Twice.

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

Israel is a neo-colonial exercise

I hate how even in progressive circles there is a fear to criticize Israel because there is the false equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semiticism. Israel is a neocolonial, racist, religiously intolerant state run by white people who just happen to be Jewish. Thomas was right, and progressive are too filled with guilt from fifty years ago to stand up to Israel and demand accountability.

http://macktivist.wordpress.com/

I agree!

I agree!

I just wrote up a careful

I just wrote up a careful reply and the Web ate my comment. I really hate that. In short, I agree that there is a narrow band of acceptable dialogue on Israel, and that is why I prioritize being nuanced, principled, and rigorous when attempting a critique of the situation. Both sides have their zealots, misinformation campaigns, racists, and propagandists. There is a power inequity, yes. But I'm not going to make generalizations about what Israel is; I know that in any country, organization, community, etc., there are people working actively against the reactionary tendencies of the group. And I'm sad that the ire around Helen distracted from the deaths of those Turkish citizens last week.

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

Lovely...

I have a shirt that looks just like the one Palin is wearing. I'd be kind of afraid people would make that connection when I wore it now, but luckily the media has the attention span of a flea and no one will remember this picture in a month.

Jokes aside, I think you've done well, EvMaroon, in covering SP's toxicity while also not giving the sexism from liberal men a pass. It's not an easy feat, as Sady from Tiger Beatdown has discussed; sexism hurts us all, but we also don't want to help her seem credible or paint herself as a victim. Oy.

It's a common shirt, so

It's a common shirt, so you're in the same boat with an awful lot of other people! As for talking about Ms. Palin, no kidding -- it's thinner than the eye of a small needle.

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

Sarah

I get that Sarah Palin deserves to catch a lot of flack for not only her politics but also her some of her lifestyle choices, that are to say the least very hypocritical (women should work in the home, really?) but to cut her down because of appearance and dress is just furthering Palin's very own agenda. I mean to judge her based on how low cut her tops are, or because of her hair and makeup is reinforcing the idea that women should be taken at face value and not for what the represent. The constant focus on Sarah's sexy appearance and the critique of her as mother/politician only draws attention away from her flawed arguments and misguided beliefs. Whether or not women choose to embrace her as a symbol of strength or oppression, she should be judged by her actions and words rather than her appearance.
I think what sucks the most is that its not just conservatives making these remarks, heck, a lot of democrats are saying the same things!
I don't agree with Palin but I do think she looks damn good, not that it matters anyway. Plus critiques like this don't just hurt women with good looks and bad idea, think: Hilary's pantsuits and Michelle Obama's arms, they hurt all women!
Love the post!

I like Palin's aesthetic,

I like Palin's aesthetic, too! Shh. And after Fiorina's evil sheep campaign ad, I can't say that anything that spills out of her mouth shocks me. But that doesn't mean she gets a pass on being an ass. Plus, there's nothing really wrong with Boxer's hair!

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

I am jewish, and i also

I am jewish, and i also think israel should get the hell out of palestine! (so, no, background doesn't have anything to do with what she said)
also, i think "the whole anti-immigrant sentiment thing brewing up here this year" is directed basically at latinos (which i also am, by the way) and not to israeli jews, so it's a bit disingenuous to bring it up in order to refute thomas' claim.

I disagree that I was being

I disagree that I was being disingenuous, which I suppose isn't surprising, but I will clarify: while the media attention and the tea party messaging has been focused on Latinos (most specifically, undocumented workers from Mexico), the legislation they're attempting to pass, and the legislation they did pass in Arizona doesn't single out Latinos, so anyone who appears to be from another country is subject to those laws, and eventually, the attitudes those laws engender. We may not be in a row about Eastern Europeans right now, but that's not because we couldn't, it's because it hasn't swept our consciousness. Most preceding groups of immigrants faced similar waves of xenophobic sentiment, and I don't think that the folks harping about "illegals" in Arizona would really put aside their anger for Israeli Jews--and another of that state's laws says that one cannot be a teacher if one has an accent. Which basically rules out every single person from teaching in the state.
Also, I wasn't bringing it up to refute Thomas' claim, I brought it up to add a bit of context.

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

Helen Thomas' comment was

Helen Thomas' comment was indefensible, I'm glad she recanted and apologized. It's equally unfortunate to see sexist and ageist responses. Who cares what a White House press correspondent looks like? Helen Thomas has been a blunt firebrand for a long time. This last comment was really due to her "shriveling" brain?

The same could be said for Sarah Palin. Her status as a credible political figure is equally indefensible. Yet the sexist backlash, displayed here in tabloid-level "journalism" is disgraceful.

I think it says a lot about our superficial media and partisan political culture. In a perfect world, we'd know more about the intricacies of their policy positions than their fashion choices. These things get focus because we need villains to latch onto. Sarah Palin has been too perfect for that. People get carried away, and their sexism comes out.''

Also, Barbara Boxer is an unreproachable badass. That Carly Fiorina doesn't have a prayer.

Time will tell, I suppose,

Time will tell, I suppose, regarding the election. And I've been wondering how all of the tea partiers who won primaries this month will fare in the general election....

An alarming mix of humor, politics, pop culture, and queeritude. Author of Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of an Accident-Prone Transsexual.

What was so indefensible?

I listed to the entire audio of what was asked of Helen Thomas and what her reply was. It was one of the most mildest comments I've ever heard. I'll give you that her wording left much to be desired, but there was nothing anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli, or racist about what she said, and considering who she is, I'm very appalled at the reaction it got. A thousand times worse is spewed from the likes of Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin et. al. every day, and people still shove microphones in front of them as if they had anything to say worth consideration. So I will defend Helen Thomas and what she said. She's been the ONLY White House Press Corps journalist asking the really tough questions that needed to be asked, and this non-debacle was just an opportunity for right-wingers and spineless corporate Democrats to get rid of her and her muckraking.

Helen Thomas should not have been fired, and the Israeli government is not immune to criticism of their racist apartheid policies. I see more Israeli Jews rightfully criticizing their government over this issue than you see American progressives doing so. It's time to woman up and speak out against oppression everywhere.

Indefensible

I found this video which I believe shows her remarks in the full context. How does this make them any better?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc4OeRu7cfs&feature=player_embedded

How can you say that her remark that Israel should "get the hell out of Palestine" wasn't anti-Israel? She is suggesting the disestablishment of the Israeli state; that everyone in the state of Israel should pack up their lives and leave, and go to Poland, Germany. As EvMaroon points out, they tried that before and it ended pretty badly. The answer that they should "go home" is so impractical and was said with such a hateful tone. She wasn't offering any serious critique of Israel or even Israeli policy. She was basically just saying "Israel, fuck off."

Whether Israel should have been set up in Palestine was a relevant question 60 years ago, and may be an interesting academic discussion, but it's completely irrelevant now. The state of Israel exists, it is as legitimate as any other state, and its citizens deserve to live in peace. Blaming the citizens of Israel for the violence they've suffered, by telling them to "go home" and that they're occupying their land is offensive.

That said, I feel somewhat uncomfortable since I'm fairly used to being on the other side of this debate. I think Israel needs to stop settlements, tear down the illegal wall, withdraw from the occupied territories ASAP, establish an independent Palestinian state, and relieve the humanitarian crisis they've created.

But comments like Helen Thomas' aren't helpful, nor are they really critiquing oppression. They're simply an example of the same bombastic rhetoric both sides have been fire breathing on each other for decades. It's not constructive, it just exacerbates the problem.

Not to derail

Not to derail the discussion from the post entirely, which covered much more than Helen Thomas (and was one of the highlights of my regular Bitch blog trolling this week!) but I found Ms. Thomas's comments hasty, off-the cuff, and certainly lacking the nuance and depth that has marked her journalism career. True. However, I agree with the earlier post though, that Ms. Thomas has DEFINED the role of a true reporter in the White House Press Corp, actually asking tough questions, daring to go past the superficial, and giving every president a run for his (for now) money regardless of their popularity, politics or party. The nation and news as a whole ought to be more wary of the loss of her voice and candor.
I digress- I suppose what I find myself asking myself over and over as I read these comments is, yes, Jews were historically persecuted to a degree unimaginable and reprehensible by any standards, and to propose that they "get the hell out" is clearly not a serious or rational solution. But if Jews "deserve" Israel and the Western world isn't allowed to criticize them, but is instead expected to in fact supply them with weapons even... well, where were/are the Palestinians supposed to go to make this all better?
Thank you for your excellent post and to all the thoughtful, informed, respectful commentators on an issue which is, in many ways, one of the thorniest, most divisive issues of our time.

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