The Palin Zone

Why are we listening to Sarah Palin when we should be fixing unemployment?

“…he who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t goin’ to be takin’ our arms by ringin’ those bells and, um, making sure as he’s ridin’ his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free.”

Welcome to “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” as told by Sarah Palin, darling of the religious right.

Now imagine a Republican presidential candidates’ debate, when the moderator reads Palin’s remarks and asks the candidates: “Is Sarah Palin qualified to hold the highest office in the land?” The correct answer is, “No, not qualified, let alone capable.” But would any of the candidates dare say that? Not a chance. Instead they all would sing praises — Palin is charismatic, a strong candidate, and should she be nominated, the party will, of course, rally around her. If elected, they’d say, she would make a great president.

And in addition, if pressed, all would add, “… and she is a good Christian woman.” I know of more than a few well-educated people who accept that she might not be the brightest bulb in the room and that she may have some rough edges, but, they say, God will show her the way.

In between her mindless yammerings, the public dialogue and debate continues to be held hostage by a media waiting for her next eruption.

As a result, the real needs of the nation languish for lack of serious attention. The list is long — from debt to Afghanistan to climate change to immigration.

But let’s consider just one issue, the most critical one that is being lost in this political cacophony.

I refer to unemployment and underemployment, especially in the under-30 and over-50 demographics.

The former can’t find work, while the latter face mid-life without much hope of finding comparable employment. Unless something is done, and soon, the country risks losing an entire generation at the young end, while leaving an older, working-age generation with dismal prospects. This pending disaster is unfolding during the same time that the stock market has risen some 40 percent since the spring of 2009. It’s one of few times since 1929 that the market and jobs have headed in different directions.

I say it’s a disaster. Gallup’s recent study concludes that after factoring in the underemployed, the real unemployment rate hits nearly 20 percent. Yet, does anyone in Washington or Wall Street care? Not noticeably.

Republicans campaigned on jobs but have yet to produce even one, having managed only to worsen the revenue outlook in the process of attacking every remedy the administration has tried. Obama’s underfunded stimulus package hasn’t done the job hoped for; but, then, the same thing can be said about the Republicans’ tax cuts, which were supposed to create all those jobs and revenue. Of the two less-than-successful initiatives, the tax cuts cost more and have produced less.

Paul Krugman argues that the cause of this growing gap between the market and jobs can be traced to rentiers — those who “rent” money for one thing or another. Mostly, they own bonds, and these people, Krugman argues, oppose increased spending — even if needed for the economy to take off — because it might result in some inflation, leading to a lower valued dollar and higher interest rates that would be bad for their bond portfolios. So if unemployment and underemployment stay at 20 percent (or worse, if the House has its way with Ryan’s budget), well, in the words of John Boehner, “So be it.”

Others look to the global market for an explanation. America’s manufacturing base has continued to drop, by some 20 percent in just the last decade. This means that more and more of what we consume is produced abroad. Jobs lost. And today, more of what is produced abroad can be sold abroad, reducing the unemployed American worker to just another consumer. Or, as my IRA manager put it, “Corporate America today is looking at 200 million young Chinese, all of whom want Nikes.”

Perhaps we are seeing the perfect storm of special-interest synergy. Both globalists and bondholders want Wall Street to do well, and, because of the growing international market, care little about unemployment at home. Shortsighted, yes, but what else is new?

Meanwhile, the president seems to have gone to ground, and his party struggles to be bigger than the sum of its parts. But it’s the anti-intellectual Republican religious right base that is the real enemy of deliberation and progress. Ignorance is good, Orwell might have written.

John Adams, in 1817, wrote of the evangelicals of his time, who were inspired by the movement now known as the Second Great Awakening: “Instead of the most enlightened people, I fear we Americans shall soon have the character of the silliest people under Heaven.” Adams spoke for the many Founders who did not have much good to say about organized religion in general, let alone frontier revivalism.

Which brings us back to Sarah Palin and her most recent display of incoherence. To the religious right, none of this matters. And for Republicans, alas, the only thing that seems to matter is that none of this matters. And that’s terrible news for a country facing a list of daunting problems that will yield only if all of this matters.