Le Monde: The GOP’s ‘Scheherazade Strategy’

“And Now, the Hidden Son of Sarah Palina,” a cartoon from the Belgian newspaper Le Soir: “I told you.,” Palin says to what looks like a moose in drag, “to stay in your room.” [text translated by Daniel B. Suits]

The nomination of Sarah Palin as the Republican candidate for vice president launched a thousand ballistic missives on the faculty discussion list at my university. I have enough distractions of my own devising, so I avoided all of this until I saw an email from my friend and web mentor, Robin Suits. She quoted an insightful editorial in Le Monde. It immediately outclassed anything anyone else could bring to the debate. I didn’t think it was an automated Google translation. It turned out to be the work of Robins uncle Dan, a retired economics professor at Michigan State. He kindly added me to his Le Monde distribution list. So if I seem distracted by politics here — I can’t avoid it until sometime after November 4 — I’ll try to give it a “morally confused” Francophile spin.

The Return of Karl Rove, Scenarist
by Christian Salmon, Le Monde, September 5, 2008

Let them say “Sarah Palin is real.” That’s what the Republican leader of
New Hampshire said. Yes, she belongs to the real world. She has real
experiences like everybody else. “They are trying to persuade us that
she is a hypocrite,” says James Dobson, evangelist and founder of Focus
on the Family, an organization devoted to the defense of traditional
family life, “but all that fuss signifies only one thing: she and her
family are human.”

“She is real and she is from here,” says Rachel Paulding, one of her
fellow citizens from Alaska, the state of which she has been governor
for two years. “She has five children and some of them have problems.
That’s just normal life.” Here is the new Republican mantra, says
Maureen Dowd ironically in the /New York Times/, “Life happens.” But
why doubt it?

According to Ira Chernus, Professor at the University of Colorado, Karl
Rove, political adviser to George W. Bush, had, during the two Bush
terms, applied a strategy that he called the “Scheherazade strategy”:
“When politics condemns you to death, begin to tell stories – stories so
fabulous, so captivating, so bewitching that the king (or, in this case,
the American citizens who, in theory, govern our country) entirely
forget their capital sentence.”

Rove never stopped devising stories of good and evil for the use of
Republican candidates for Congress. He did his best to transform every
election into moral theatre, as a conflict between the rigorous morality
of the Republicans and the moral confusion of the Democrats.

“Karl Rove,” Chernus explains, “made a bet that the voters would be
hypnotized by stories in the John Wayne style with ‘real men’ fighting
the devil on the frontier – in any case enough Americans to evade the
death sentence that the voters could pronounce against a party that has
led us unto the disaster of Iraq… Rove wants that each vote in favor of
the Republicans be the assumption of a symbolic position.”

That’s why the irruption of Sarah Palin into the campaign, wearing go-go
boots and sitting on a sofa covered with the skin of a grizzly bear
killed by her hunter father, was nothing surprising. In a few hours,
she put the credulity of the blogers to a harsh test as they piled up
the extravagant episodes of her biography, in which her native Alaska
seemed more like the territory of the Second Life, than the Great North
of Jack London.

Karl Rove, who never misses an opportunity to be amusing, had the nerve
to find her “refreshing” and announced it. We were not slow in learning
that the great manipulator of the two Bush terms was the scenarist of
the adventures of Sarah Barracuda, the new Cinderella of conservative
politics, ex-Miss Amiability, member of the NRA, and married to a
vaguely Eskimo fisherman… We learn that this militant anti-abortionist,
mother of five children, had a 17 year old daughter five months
pregnant. Sarah is an extremist, capable of mobilizing the conservative
right, but she is a funny kind of extremist, with an ill-fitting look.

A challenge to the psychology and to the concept of “the usual.” Where
Obama can make his mixed identity a metaphor for global man in an era of
globalization, she is, rather, the symbol of synthetic identities,
interchangeable and provisional, a personality of multiple faces that
offer fine possibilities of commentary and identification. Sarah
occupies the news, and that is what Karl Rove, the magician of the White
House, wants.

In a /New York Times/ article, published a few days before the 2004
presidential election, Ron Suskind, from 1993 to 2000 editorial writer
for the /Wall Street Journal/ and author of several inquiries on
communication of the White House since 2000, revealed the terms of a
conversation he had had with Rove during the summer of 2002: “He told
me that people like me are part of the types ‘belonging to what we call
the reality community: You believe that solutions emerge from your
careful analysis of observable reality.’ I agreed and murmured something
about the principles of the Enlightenment and empiricism. He cut me
off: ‘That’s not how the world really proceeds. We are an empire, now,’
he went on, ‘and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you
are studying this reality as carefully as you please, we act again and
create other new realities, that you can also study, and that’s the way
things happen. We are the actors of history… And you, all of you, have
nothing to do but study what we are doing.’”

The ultimate stage of political communication is no longer that of
persuasion, of propaganda or of publicity, but that of simulation. All
the events that the political machine is doing its best to arouse are
now simulated events in the sense that they are written in advance in
codes and ciphers. They operate like a collection of signs devoted to
their own propagation.

Hurricane Gustav, that disturbed the first days of the Republican
convention, can thus be read as a metaphor of the quite different storm
that, all alone, destroys the territory it passes over: the space of
politics itself.

translation by Daniel B. Suits

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