Did Sarah Palin eat the moose?

Adultery. The Tasering of a child. A disputed moose carcass. A family feud that may have led to the inappropriate firing of a government official. John McCain’s new running mate Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, comes with a vivid and colorful back-story, well worth the attention of America’s journalistic community.

It seems that before Palin became governor, her sister Molly McCann’s marriage to Alaska state trooper Mike Wooten disintegrated. The divorce and the custody battle appear to have been bitter. In 2005, Palin and her husband pushed the state troopers to investigate Wooten for driving while drunk, for using a Taser on his stepson, and for shooting a moose without a permit. They even hired a private investigator to speed the process along. Wooten was eventually suspended for ten days, a sentence reduced to five days after his union protested. But after Palin became governor, she continued to push the Troopers to punish Wooten further, and she may have stepped over the line by firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan when he failed to respond to her pressure.

The alleged violation of government integrity by a personal agenda—that’s business as usual. What makes this fun and new is how messy it is. There’s lots here that isn’t very vice presidential. Take the moose, for example. Apparently it was shot in 2003, and Wooten indeed lacked the permit necessary for shooting it. But his wife did have the permit, and she was standing beside him at the time, and once they had killed the moose, they dropped the carcass off at the house of her father, Chuck Heath—who’s also Sarah Palin’s father. Wooten later told blogger Andrew Halcro that Palin did not object to the moose-killing at the time. Not only that, Wooten claims that Palin helped to eat the moose.

It’s hard to know whether the claim is true. “CHUCK [Heath] did most of the butchering,” Mike Wooten told an investigator for the Alaska Department of Public Safety in September 2005. “Boning and stuff like that he did most of that.” Wooten said that he took the rest to Shop Right and had it made into burgers and sausage. Wooten also claimed that during the hunt itself, when he and his wife spotted the moose, he asked her if she wanted to shoot it, and she told him to. On this topic and that of the moose carcass’s fate, however, Governor Palin told a different story when the Department of Public Safety interviewed her in August 2005.

[Palin]: . . . He went hunting with MOLLY and with WPD Officer CHRIS WATCHUS. He shot a moose. It was a . . . it was a drawing permit system. So he was . . . MOLLY had the tag MIKE shot it anyway. Didn’t give MOLLY a chance even to shoot it. CHRIS WATCHUS my understanding is didn’t . . . it’s never it didn’t register with him that, that “Oh MIKE you just illegally shot this. He doesn’t have the tag.” Cause he wouldn’t have known. But MIKE shot it. Umm . . . didn’t know how to or didn’t want to. I don’t think he even knew how to. Didn’t, didn’t want to process the meat umm . . . dropped it off at my dad’s house knowing that my dad was home and my dad would take care of it if it needed to be taken care of rather then [sic] go to waste. . . .

My dad process[ed] it. MIKE never did come back to gg-pick up the moose or anything else so my dad brought the meat over to MIKE’s house even. He probably even put it in his freezer for him because MIKE didn’t ah appear to have any intention at all of . . . using the moose or eating the moose.

This seems to be a touchy point in Alaska, not eating a moose after killing it. Wooten claims he paid $500 for the processing at Shop Right, and that it fed his family for a year. But check it out for yourselves. A number of the transcripts and emails in the Great Moose Carcass Controversy are available at the blog Celtic Diva’s Blue Oasis and in the sidebar to an Anchorage Daily News story about whether Wooten is as bad an egg as Palin makes him out to be. Whatever the verdict on Wooten, Palin emerges rather clearly as petty, vindictive, and lacking in judgment.

The teal-and-mustard candidate

“I thought this might be a hoax,” an email now circulating on the internet begins. “Actually hoped it was, but snopes.com verifies the following info. . . . Obama The Patriot – Removes American Flag From His Plane.” And thousands of indignant Americans are now emailing this news widely, including to my relatives. “Please forward this if you’re not ashamed of our country and our flag,” the email suggests. And also: “If you do not forward this to everyone you know nothing will happen.”

To someone like me, the charge seems silly. Is it too silly to answer? Well, in the last election, people like me often thought themselves above responding to such charges, and it didn’t end well. And this particular accusation is awfully easy to answer, so . . .

Obama has indeed lowered the number of American flags on his campaign airplane, by trading in the flag-heavy corporate logos of North American Airlines for a design by his own campaign. But if you’re going to judge a candidate by his colors, it’s only fair to take a look at McCain’s plane for comparison. Have you seen it? Obama’s plane is red, white, and blue. What color is McCain’s? Teal and mustard.

There is an American flag on McCain’s plane, but it’s small, low to the ground, and hidden behind the jets. You can’t see it in most of the photos of the plane online. And if you take a second look at Obama’s campaign symbol, what do you really see? Red stripes, white stripes, blue. His symbol is the American flag, in a lot of ways. His symbol is saying that he’s so close to the flag that he’s at one with it.

For the record, of course I don’t seriously think that McCain’s choice of teal and mustard signals a lack of patriotism on his part. My point is that he’s just as vulnerable as Obama to such an attack—and maybe a little more so.

Their Name Is Legion

Pace the plausible deniers, there exists a blog devoted to exploring, in a spirit that is a ghastly echo of secular openmindedness, the idea that Obama is the Antichrist, and its readers take McCain’s recent web ad “The One” very much in earnest. In the comments section of this blog, a woman reports describing her enthusiasm over the news about the Antichrist to her psychiatrist, who then “gave me more meds.” Perhaps the McCain campaign would like to reimburse her health insurer? And then there’s the commenter “Assasinforfather” [sic], who is angry because the world is controlled by Satan and because, in what seems to have been a special revelation, he discovered that at the end of the world there will be no rapture, only universal tribulation. He writes that of “all the men in my lifetime who have been accused of being THE antichrist, Obama is the only one that the Spirit of Father has warned me of,” and warns that “I know who will give the beast the deadly wound.” Perhaps the McCain campaign would like to reimburse the Secret Service for the cost of paying this fellow a visit?

Under the cover of unacknowledged messages, a contribution can be made to the pool of irrationality in a culture. I’m not blaming the internet, by the way. Nixon was able to summon the silent majority from the vasty deep long before the internet existed. It is thanks to the internet, in fact, that one may see the process of summoning at work. One may watch an advertisement preying on superstition and fear one day, and then read the words of the mentally unstable, as they take courage from it, the next. The mentally unstable cannot be held to account, but the suits who stir them up may be.

PS: There’s a comprehensive round-up of Obama-as-Antichrist-alia here.

The Rove style

In his recent ads, John McCain has forfeited any claim he may once have had to a high-minded, statesman-like character. I am persuaded by Bob Herbert’s argument, in a New York Times op-ed published on August 2, that the McCain campaign was playing on the lowest racial stereotypes when it featured Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in its recent anti-Obama ad, “Celeb.”

McCain campaign, The One, 2008 (still from TV ad)

But evidently the gratuitous coupling of an ambitious black man with two highly sexed white women was not low enough for the McCain campaign. Now, as Scott McLemee, Maud Newton, and a number of others have been quick to perceive, the McCain campaign is toying with nothing less than armageddon. The new McCain ad, titled “The One,” suggests, in its imagery and language, that Obama is the Anti-Christ. The ploy is either blasphemy, an attempt to prey on religious fears, or both, depending on your convictions.

Left Behind, 2001 (still from movie trailer)

Some people will no doubt claim that those who see apocalypse-mongering in the ad are seeing things, and that it’s just a bit of humor. But humor and apocalypse-mongering aren’t irreconcilable; jokes often have unseemly subtexts. Just to call out one detail, I don’t think it’s an accident when, toward the end of the ad, the words “But Is He Ready” remain on the screen by themselves for a few moments. Eventually they are followed by “. . . To Lead?” but until then, they’re bound to raise a different possible ending in the minds of some viewers. I wish I could also claim that the style of the ad, as seen in the screen shot above—the stentorian mixture of caps and small caps, superimposed on an ominous cloud pattern—was unique, but alas, portentousness is widespread, and the resemblance to the screen shot to the left, from the trailer to Left Behind, may be no more than coincidental.

Obama examines the constitutionality of anti-gay legislation

This afternoon, the New York Times released an article by Jodi Kantor on Obama’s career as a law professor. In a sidebar, the Times posts a syllabus of his and quite a few of his exam questions, along with the corresponding answer memos.

Not that there was any doubt, but the new evidence suggests Obama has a formidably sharp mind. I didn’t expect, however, that the academic documents would cause me to tear up. In 2003, the first question on the final exam in Prof. Obama’s Constitutional law class asked for a brief on behalf of a monogamous gay couple in a relationship of ten years’ standing who want to challenge their state’s defense-of-marriage act and its legal restrictions on gay adoption. Of course the question, like most legal questions, could be answered merely as an intellectual exercise, but after the way that gays have been hung out to dry in recent elections, it moved me to discover that Obama, who supports the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, knows the legal terrain in such fine detail.

To wit: According to the answer memo for the exam (I at first thought that this answer memo had to have been written by Obama himself, but a commenter on the NYT‘s Caucus blog points out that law professors often distribute the best student answer in lieu of writing an answer memo themselves, so its authorship is uncertain), the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment will likely prove a stronger basis for the hypothetical couple’s case than the same amendment’s due protection clause. Because homosexuals are not considered a protected class under current interpretations of the amendment, the rationale for a law that singles them out need not be narrowly tailored to a legitimate state interest, but it does have to be “rationally related” to such an interest. “However, antagonism or a bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest (Romer).” The answer memo concludes that “if the [Supreme Court] finds that denying homosexuals marriage demeans their existence, it is likely that this statute, as written, will fail rational basis review.”

UPDATE, 11:50pm: The New York Times has deleted its link to the answer memo that I quoted above (though the link above still seems to be working) and has added a note reading, “In a previous version of this post, student answer memos were posted in addition to Mr. Obama’s memos.” So it seems that the answer memo was not written by Obama personally, though it remains true that he chose it as the best answer any of his students were able to provide.