MoDo has created another one of her tiresome little fiction pieces. They become more and more cringe-worthy as time goes on. This one is called “Sweet, Tweet Revenge,” and purports to be a remarkable exchange between John McCain and Sarah Palin, the erstwhile mavericky twins, in bites of 140 characters or less. It’s horrendous. Mr. Egan, in “Michelle’s Next Mission,” says fewer people are visiting our national parks, but the first lady might have the star power to reverse the trend. Mr. Kristof writes about “Clean, Sexy Water,” and says a charity group to provide clean water has been stunningly successful, thanks to the marketing talents of its founder, a former nightclub promoter. Mr. Rich says “She Broke the G.O.P. and Now She Owns It,” and that as the Republicans’ lone charismatic performer, Sarah Palin has come to represent a dwindling white nonurban America that is aflame with grievances. Here, God help us, is MoDo:
It was only a matter of time, once John McCain joined the 21st century and got himself a Ford Fusion Hybrid, a Facebook page and a Twitter account, that he would reconnect with people out of his past he would rather forget.
But some people, including the conservative posing on the cover of this week’s Time wearing purple toenail polish, are unforgettable.
And so comes this remarkable exchange of tweets between the erstwhile mavericky twins.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — How the heck are ya, ya big hero?? Long time no hear, pardner. Y did u defriend me on Facebook?
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — I needed room for Kissinger.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — Funny! Up here slaying salmon & assisting orphaned moose calves w/ Todd & kids @ Bristol Bay. Need SUPERHUGE favr!!?? 😉
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — Another one?
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — LOL! My publisher, Harpercollins, wants u 2 blurb my book. It wld b rockin’! u + me + hot pix of me = $$$!
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — Busy watchdogging Obama, who’s acting naïve with kgb russians and spending like drunkn sailr. Apologies, drunkn sailrs.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — Obama is so uneconomic.
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — Warren Buffett says Wall St ripping off govt on stimulus. He says 1st stimulus bill like eating half-tab Viagra & candy.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — First Dude doesn’t need Viagra!!! So, anyhoo, the blurb?
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — Hanging with Joe & Lindsey. Was on CSPAN’s Wash Journal, in case you missed it go to my website to watch video.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — Like I have time to watch CSPAN when I’m all over NBC, ABC, CNN, and FOX, u goose!! And my cool Time “Renegade” cover!!!
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — Very busy tracking China unrest, Honduras coup, thugs running Burma, protests in Iran. Obama weak-kneed on Iran.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — Whatev. But seriously, I’m riding a really big story up in AK, in case you hadn’t noticed. Me and Jacko rule the news!
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — That’s exactly what’s wrong with my former base, the media.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — No need 2 get snippy. Life with u wasn’t so awesome. Vanity Fair says ur BFFs called me “Little Shop of Horrors.”
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — I see u still can’t control Levi, who says u quit 2 cash in on the book and TV offers. On Fox, you’d b just another fox.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — Just progressing my bank account. Couldn’t marry rich like some lucky cusses we know.
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — Leave Cindy out of this and I won’t tell you how I really felt about antics of “The Real World: Wasilla.”
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — I should’ve quit ur campaign when ur team was undermining me, just like Obama WH is doing 2 me now on ethics complaints.
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — That’s ridic. You’re more paranoid than Hillary. Quitting isn’t noble. That’s why I’m still fighting nasty earmarks.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — And I hear ur losing on those, old timer. Maybe u should think about quitting. 😦
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — Hey, Daffy. I’m running for reelection next yr. Some of us know u have 2 b in govt to “effect change” in govt.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — That’s the old-fashnd thinking that got ur butt kicked. I did all I could 2 get u crowds & drag u across the finish line.
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — Peggy Noonan’s right. U r “the most careless sower of discord since George W. Bush” Http://tinyurl.com/ll833p
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — I can’t stand her or your pal Mike Murphy, who says my only accomplishment is my “smirking enemies” in media elite.
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — U can’t hate the media and b so obsessed with it at the same time.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — The media can too be my frenemy.
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — Ur sounding a little cockamamie.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — “Most newspapermen by definition have to be liberal; if they’re not … they can hardly be good newspapermen” W. Cronkite.
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — U might want to make up with Letterman. I did. He’s not a bad guy.
PALIN: @SenJohnMcCain — Y in heaven’s name wld I follow ur example? I’m the pt guard fast breaking for an easy lay up. How bout that blurb, Pops?
MCCAIN: @AKGovSarahPalin — OK, here’s ur blurb: “The Keating Five was nothing compared to the Alaska One. America, I’m sorry.”
Here’s Mr. Egan:
You would not know, just as egg-yoke-colored glacier lilies are pushing through ground newly unburdened of its snow, that there is so much trouble around these lands that form America’s Best Idea.
You could not fathom, among the babble of languages bouncing off granite walls in Yosemite, that these places may one day be unloved.
Our shared outdoor spaces, our attics of history and graveyards of sacrifice — from Devils Tower to Death Valley, from Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home to the Pennsylvania ground where Flight 93 crashed on 9/11 — are being overlooked. The physical embodiments of the American story are being ignored by too many.
Last year, there were 274 million visits to all areas run by the National Park Service. These places still draw more people than Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Nascar combined. This is a crisis?
Well, yes. The problem is that 10 years ago, the parks attracted about 12 million more visitors than they do today. Attendance has been in gradual decline for more than a decade.
And, worse, visitors all look sort of the same: generally white, fairly prosperous, sensible-shoe-wearing adults.
This is where Ken Burns is supposed to come to the rescue. The film that he and the writer Dayton Duncan have produced — “The National Parks, America’s Best Idea” — which is scheduled to be shown over six nights on PBS in the fall, is stunning and restorative, like the parks themselves. There will most likely be a Ken Burns Effect — just as there was after his films on the Civil War and baseball. But it will not be enough.
For that, we need something else. A superstar. A style-shaper. A person who could get whiny city kids not only to eat their vegetables, but to grow them.
We need Michelle Obama to save the national parks.
She was blunt, while looking ever so stylish, in leading a renaissance for kitchen gardens. “It’s plain and simple,” said the first lady, in explaining how one-third of American children came to be overweight or obese. “They’re not eating right, and they’re not moving their bodies at all.”
A Nature Conservancy report a few years ago linked the decline in children’s interest in the outdoors to their being under “virtual house arrest” to electronic media, spending 6.5 hours a day face-planted in Facebook, Xbox, television, a text-tablet or some other device.
It’s not that this generation of young people is different from previous ones. Human beings need nature to live full lives — always have, always will. Thus, when rangers at Rainier started an experiment this summer to bring families from Seattle’s poorest neighborhoods on their first-time camping excursions in the park, “we had far more people who wanted to try it than we were able to accommodate,” said Kevin Bacher, a park ranger.
The idea that every citizen holds title to these lands, the Burns film notes, is “as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence, and just as radical.”
Black soldiers in Yosemite and Yellowstone were among the first park rangers. During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt put the urban unemployed, people who had never slept under the stars, to work in places like Glacier Park and Death Valley. They left lasting improvements in the parks, while the land had a similar effect on the workers.
Ten years ago, President Bill Clinton’s African-American park superintendent, Robert Stanton, introduced a plan to make the uniformed work force look more like America and to reach out to urban areas.
But it was not enough. The parks need Obama-era branding. So, the first family should go ahead and spend that week at Martha’s Vineyard in August, playing scrabble with Hillary and Bill, clamming with Spike Lee. But it would not take much for Michelle and her brood to visit the people’s land.
Maybe an overnight in Acadia, the first national park east of the Mississippi. Or a trip to the California home of Eugene O’Neill, America’s only Nobel Prize-winning playwright. Alas, the O’Neill national historic site had a mere 2,440 visitors last year — a lonely home for the creation of “A Moon for the Misbegotten.”
Or how about a stopover at Gettysburg’s new visitor center, where one of the first things that now greets a visitor is an image of slaves. “People used to tour the battlefield and come away still wondering what we were fighting about,” said Alan Spears of the National Parks Conservation Association.
From that graveyard to the glaciers of Rainier, this land, this history, is a shared birthright. But we are absentee owners, at best, if we don’t create a new generation of stewardship.
Here’s Mr. Kristof:
People always ask: What can I do to make a difference?
So many people in poor countries desperately need assistance. So many people in rich countries would like to help but fear their donations would line the pocket of a corrupt official or be lost in an aid bureaucracy. The result is a short circuit, leaving both sides unfulfilled.
That’s where Scott Harrison comes in.
Five years ago, Mr. Harrison was a nightclub promoter in Manhattan who spent his nights surrounded by friends in a blur of alcohol, cocaine and marijuana. He lived in a luxurious apartment and drove a BMW — but then on a vacation in South America he underwent a spiritual crisis.
“I realized I was the most selfish, sycophantic and miserable human being,” he recalled. “I was the worst person I knew.”
Mr. Harrison, now 33, found an aid organization that would accept him as a volunteer photographer — if he paid $500 a month to cover expenses. And so he did. The organization was Mercy Ships, a Christian aid group that performs surgeries in poor countries with volunteer doctors.
“The first person I photographed was a 14-year-old boy named Alfred, choking on a four-pound benign tumor in his mouth, filling up his whole mouth,” Mr. Harrison recalled. “He was suffocating on his own face. I just went into the corner and sobbed.”
A few weeks later, Mr. Harrison took Alfred — with the tumor now removed — back to his village in the West African country of Benin. “I saw everybody celebrating, because a few doctors had given up their vacation time,” he said.
Mercy Ships transformed Mr. Harrison as much as it did Alfred. Mr. Harrison returned to New York two years later with a plan: he would form a charity to provide clean water to save lives in poor countries. But by then, he was broke and sleeping on a friend’s couch.
Armed with nothing but a natural gift for promotion, and for wheedling donations from people, Mr. Harrison started his group, called charity: water — and it has been stunningly successful. In three years, he says, his group has raised $10 million (most of that last year alone) from 50,000 individual donors, providing clean water to nearly one million people in Africa and Asia.
The organization now has 11 full-time employees, almost twice as many unpaid interns, and more than half a million followers on Twitter (the United Nations has 3,000). New York City buses were plastered with free banners promoting his message, and Saks Fifth Avenue gave up its store windows to spread Mr. Harrison’s gospel about the need for clean water in Africa. American schools are signing up to raise money to build wells for schools in poor countries.
“Scott is an important marketing machine, lifting one of the most critical issues of our time in a way that is sexy and incredibly compelling — that’s his gift,” said Jacqueline Novogratz, head of the Acumen Fund, which invests in poor countries to overcome poverty.
Mr. Harrison doesn’t actually do the tough aid work in the field. He partners with humanitarian organizations and pays them to dig wells. In effect, he’s a fund-raiser and marketer — but that’s often the most difficult piece of the aid puzzle.
So what’s his secret? Mr. Harrison’s success seems to depend on three precepts:
First, ensure that every penny from new donors will go to projects in the field. He accomplishes this by cajoling his 500 most committed donors to cover all administrative costs.
Second, show donors the specific impact of their contributions. Mr. Harrison grants naming rights to wells. He posts photos and G.P.S. coordinates so donors can look up their wells on Google Earth. And in September, Mr. Harrison is going to roll out a new Web site that will match even the smallest donation to a particular project that can be tracked online.
Third, leap into new media and social networks. This spring, charity: water raised $250,000 through a “Twestival” — a series of meetings among followers on Twitter. Last year, it raised $965,000 by asking people with September birthdays to forgo presents and instead solicit cash to build wells in Ethiopia. The campaign went viral on the Web, partly because Mr. Harrison invests in clever, often sassy videos.
One popular video shows well-heeled Manhattanites stepping out of their luxury buildings and lining up to fill jerrycans with dirty water from a lake in Central Park. We watch a mother offer the murky water to her small children — and the upbeat message is: you can help ensure that other people don’t have do that, either.
Mr. Harrison’s underlying idea is that giving should be joyous, an infectious pleasure at the capacity to bring about change.
“Guilt has never been part of it,” he said. “It’s excitement instead, presenting people with an opportunity — ‘you have an amazing chance to build a well!’ ”
And now here’s Mr. Rich:
Sarah Palin and Al Sharpton don’t ordinarily have much in common, but they achieved a rare harmonic convergence at Michael Jackson’s memorial service. When Sharpton told the singer’s children it was their daddy’s adversaries, not their daddy, who were “strange,” he was channeling the pugnacious argument the Alaska governor had made the week before. There was nothing strange about her decision to quit in midterm, Palin told America. What’s strange — or “insane,” in her lingo — are the critics who dare question her erratic behavior on the national stage.
Sharpton’s bashing of Jackson’s naysayers received the biggest ovation of the entire show. Palin’s combative resignation soliloquy, though much mocked by prognosticators of all political persuasions, has an equally vociferous and more powerful constituency. In the aftermath of her decision to drop out and cash in, Palin’s standing in the G.O.P. actually rose in the USA Today/Gallup poll. No less than 71 percent of Republicans said they would vote for her for president. That overwhelming majority isn’t just the “base” of the Republican Party that liberals and conservatives alike tend to ghettoize as a rump backwater minority. It is the party, or pretty much what remains of it in the Barack Obama era.
That’s why Palin won’t go gently into the good night, much as some Republicans in Washington might wish. She is not just the party’s biggest star and most charismatic television performer; she is its only star and charismatic performer. Most important, she stands for a genuine movement: a dwindling white nonurban America that is aflame with grievances and awash in self-pity as the country hurtles into the 21st century and leaves it behind. Palin gives this movement a major party brand and political plausibility that its open-throated media auxiliary, exemplified by Glenn Beck, cannot. She loves the spotlight, can raise millions of dollars and has no discernible reason to go fishing now except for self-promotional photo ops.
The essence of Palinism is emotional, not ideological. Yes, she is of the religious right, even if she winks literally and figuratively at her own daughter’s flagrant disregard of abstinence and marriage. But family-values politics, now more devalued than the dollar by the philandering of ostentatiously Christian Republican politicians, can only take her so far. The real wave she’s riding is a loud, resonant surge of resentment and victimization that’s larger than issues like abortion and gay civil rights.
That resentment is in part about race, of course. When Palin referred to Alaska as “a microcosm of America” during the 2008 campaign, it was in defiance of the statistical reality that her state’s tiny black and Hispanic populations are unrepresentative of her nation. She stood for the “real America,” she insisted, and the identity of the unreal America didn’t have to be stated explicitly for audiences to catch her drift. Her convention speech’s signature line was a deftly coded putdown of her presumably shiftless big-city opponent: “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” (Funny how this wisdom has been forgotten by her supporters now that she has abandoned her own actual responsibilities in public office.)
The latest flashpoint for this kind of animus is the near-certain elevation to the Supreme Court of Sonia Sotomayor, whose Senate confirmation hearings arrive this week. Prominent Palinists were fast to demean Sotomayor as a dim-witted affirmative-action baby. Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, the Palinist hymnal, labeled Sotomayor “not the smartest” and suggested that Princeton awards academic honors on a curve. Karl Rove said, “I’m not really certain how intellectually strong she would be.” Those maligning the long and accomplished career of an Ivy League-educated judge do believe in affirmative-action — but only for white people like Palin, whom they boosted for vice president despite her minimal achievements and knowledge of policy, the written word or even geography.
The politics of resentment are impervious to facts. Palinists regard their star as an icon of working-class America even though the Palins’ combined reported income ($211,000) puts them in the top 3.6 percent of American households. They see her as a champion of conservative fiscal principles even though she said yes to the Bridge to Nowhere and presided over a state that ranks No.1 in federal pork.
Nowhere is the power of resentment to trump reason more flagrantly illustrated than in the incessant complaint by Palin and her troops that she is victimized by a double standard in the “mainstream media.” In truth, the commentators at ABC, NBC and CNN — often the same ones who judged Michelle Obama a drag on her husband — all tried to outdo each other in praise for Palin when she emerged at the Republican convention 10 months ago. Even now, the so-called mainstream media can grade Palin on a curve: at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week, Palin’s self-proclaimed representation of the “real America” was accepted as a given, as if white rural America actually still was the nation’s baseline.
The Palinists’ bogus beefs about double standards reached farcical proportions at Fox News on the sleepy pre-Fourth Friday afternoon when word of her abdication hit the East. The fill-in anchor demanded that his token Democratic stooge name another female politician who had suffered such “disgraceful attacks” as Palin. When the obvious answer arrived — Hillary Clinton — the Fox host angrily protested that Clinton had never been attacked in “a sexual way” or “about her children.”
Americans have short memories, but it’s hardly ancient history that conservative magazines portrayed Hillary Clinton as both a dominatrix cracking a whip and a broomstick-riding witch. Or that Rush Limbaugh held up a picture of Chelsea Clinton on television to identify the “White House dog.” Or that Palin’s running mate, John McCain, told a sexual joke linking Hillary and Chelsea and Janet Reno. Yet the same conservative commentariat that vilified both Clintons 24/7 now whines that Palin is receiving “the kind of mauling” that the media “always reserve for conservative Republicans.” So said The Wall Street Journal editorial page last week. You’d never guess that The Journal had published six innuendo-laden books on real and imagined Clinton scandals, or that the Clintons had been a leading target of both Letterman and Leno monologues, not to mention many liberal editorial pages (including that of The Times), for much of a decade.
Those Republicans who have not drunk the Palin Kool-Aid are apocalyptic for good reason. She could well be their last presidential candidate standing. Such would-be competitors as Mark Sanford, John Ensign and Newt Gingrich are too carnally compromised for the un-Clinton party. Mike Huckabee is Palin-lite. Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal — really? That leaves the charisma-challenged Mitt Romney, precisely the kind of card-carrying Ivy League elitist Palinists loathe, no matter how hard he tries to cosmetically alter his history as a socially liberal fat-cat banker. Palin would crush him like a bug. She has the Teflon-coated stature among Republicans that Romney can only fantasize about.
Were Palin actually to secure the 2012 nomination, the result would be a fiasco for the G.O.P. akin to Goldwater 1964, as the most relentless conservative Palin critic, David Frum, has predicted. Or would it? No one thought Richard Nixon — a far less personable commodity than Palin — would come back either after his sour-grapes “last press conference” of 1962. But Democratic divisions and failures gave him his opportunity in 1968. With unemployment approaching 10 percent and a seemingly bottomless war in Afghanistan, you never know, as Palin likes to say, what doors might open.
It’s more likely that she will never get anywhere near the White House, and not just because of her own limitations. The Palinist “real America” is demographically doomed to keep shrinking. But the emotion it represents is disproportionately powerful for its numbers. It’s an anger that Palin enjoyed stoking during her “palling around with terrorists” crusade against Obama on the campaign trail. It’s an anger that’s curdled into self-martyrdom since Inauguration Day.
Its voice can be found in the postings at a Web site maintained by the fans of Mark Levin, the Obama hater who is, at this writing, the No.2 best-selling hardcover nonfiction writer in America. (Glenn Beck is No.1 in paperback nonfiction.) Politico surveyed them last week. “Bottomline, do you know of any way we can remove these idiots before this country goes down the crapper?” wrote one Levin fan. “I WILL HELP!!! Should I buy a gun?” Another called for a new American revolution, promising “there will be blood.”
These are the cries of a constituency that feels disenfranchised — by the powerful and the well-educated who gamed the housing bubble, by a news media it keeps being told is hateful, by the immigrants who have taken some of their jobs, by the African-American who has ended a white monopoly on the White House. Palin is their born avatar. She puts a happy, sexy face on ugly emotions, and she can solidify her followers’ hold on a G.O.P. that has no leaders with the guts or alternative vision to stand up to them or to her.
For a week now, critics in both parties have had a blast railing at Palin. It’s good sport. But just as the media muttering about those unseemly “controversies” rallied the fans of the King of Pop, so are Palin’s political obituaries likely to jump-start her lucrative afterlife.