Palin is not Obama’s biggest threat, she’s his greatest asset

According to recent polling, Sarah Palin is the only GOP front-runner who would not unseat the presi

For all of the the left leaning people who are panicking at the prospect of former half-term governor of Alaska and full-time Facebooker Sarah Palin being elected president of the United States in 2012, I have a simple message for you: relax.

Admittedly, Obama's poll numbers are not exactly stellar. One recent poll being touted by the American conservative media puts his job approval rating at 39 per cent, whereas the real number is probably closer to 45 per cent. There is, however, a small ray of hope. A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that, in Missouri at least, Palin is the one candidate Obama does not have to worry about.

Missouri was carried by John McCain in 2008 with a one per cent margin, after remaining undeclared for several days. (Interestingly, it was also the first time Missouri had voted for a losing Presidential candidate since 1956). As a result it is considered a swing state in Presidential elections. Although it appears to be leaning more towards the GOP recently, it is by no measure a forgone conclusion come election time.

The PPP poll had the sitting president trailing the former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee and the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The only Republican candidate Obama beat was Palin. Of course, this is only in one state, two years before the election and polls have never been a concrete predictor of results. Even with that in mind there are a few things that progressives need to consider.

Firstly, a Sarah Palin presidential candidacy would actually end up being a good thing. As was shown in the 2008 campaign and in the years following, the more the American public gets to know Sarah Palin, the less popular she becomes (her unfavourable ratings are now at 52 per cent, the highest they have been since she was announced as McCain's VP candidate). She does have some impassioned and very vocal supporters but those people comprise a tiny minority of the electorate. If Palin managed to win the Republican nomination in 2012 it would be a gift for Obama.

The second consideration is that, should this poll be indicative of the national opinion (and with the recent shift back towards the GOP at the 2010 midterm elections one could make that argument), there is a very real possibility that Obama will be a one-term president. Should that happen Republicans will trumpet their victory as a repudiation of liberal (or Marxist, if they're feeling particularly strident) policies in America.

This would be bad for all kinds of reasons: the principal reason being that it's frankly not true. When asked about individual issues, a large percentage of Americans are actually further left politically than most Republican politicians or European pundits will admit. The American public overwhelmingly supports openly gay people serving in the US military, more than half say that abortion is OK in certain circumstances, a large portion say that gun laws should be stricter, and the majority support stem-cell research. The Republican Party is on record as being against the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", against abortion, want gun control rules to be more lax, and a lot of them oppose stem cell research full stop, never mind federal funding for it. Despite all this, the GOP appears to have the political advantage. Why?

The Republican machine does an excellent job of getting their message to the American public, and right now, that message is one of anger. The American people cannot see things getting better instantly and are starting to become disenchanted with Obama. This is a crying shame due to the fact that literally hundreds of bills are stuck in the Senate where the Republican minority has a filibuster on just about every piece of Democratic legislation.

American anger is misdirected, and the Republicans are exploiting this to great advantage. It is for this reason that anyone who wishes for a more progressive America should be concerned about a Republican president being elected in 2012. If current polling is correct it is an increasingly likely scenario – unless the GOP nominate Palin.

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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage