September 10, 2008

Camille Paglia -- a big Obama supporter -- rips his performace at Saddleback.

She writes:
What in the world possessed the Obama campaign to let their guy wander like a dazed lamb into a snake pit of religious inquisition like Rick Warren's public forum last month at his Saddleback Church in California? That shambles of a performance -- where a surprisingly unprepared Obama met the inevitable question about abortion with shockingly curt glibness -- began his alarming slide.
Well, I'm glad to see an Obama supporter openly criticize him over this. It's been embarrassingly common for Obama supporters to deal with the problem by saying I didn't see it. Maybe you didn't see it, but it's not as though you just forgot to watch TV one night. It's on the internet. You can still see it. And the people who are going to decide the election will see it -- especially the worst parts of Obama's performance.

And those worst parts -- with their "shockingly curt glibness" -- show a worrisome side of Obama. He's relying on an easygoing demeanor and likeability. He's gotten very far in life being not just "likeable enough" but extremely likeable, which, alone, isn't going to be enough.

But let's talk about Camille's animal imagery (on this day where we've already discussed pigs and fish). Do lambs ever have the occasion to wander into snake pits? And what's the deal with snake pits anyway?

So a snake pit is just a big snake orgy, not a trap for you or me or the little lambikins. The snakes in the pit are interested in the other snakes. So a better image would be of an innocent young snake entering the snake pit.

But many of us, surely including Paglia, think of snake pits in terms of that Olivia de Havilland movie "The Snake Pit":
She is sent to an overcrowded state hospital for treatment... she is sorely abused by resentful matrons and profoundly disturbed patients. Throughout the film, she is threatened with being clapped into "the snake pit" -- an open room where the most severe cases are permitted to roam about and jabber incoherently -- if she doesn't realign her thinking.
Is that the way we think ought to think of Rick Warren's outfit? I thought Warren's questioning was impressively fair and sane. He certainly jabbering incoherently, and -- I must go off on Paglia's rhetoric -- incoherent jabbering wouldn't be much of an "inquisition."

But snakes seem biblical -- there's that snake in the Garden of Eden -- and the Inquisition is religious, so why not toss them together. If that's the rhetoric -- everything's religious. Then why portray Obama as a lamb?



k said...

The snake reference is to snake handling in certain fundamentalist sects. Not sure about snakes and lambs, but it does bring to mind The Little Prince and the drawing of the boa constrictor who's eaten an elephant. "C'est un chapeau!"

PatCA said...

I think Paglia is brilliant on politics and culture. Hers is the best explanation yet of the hysteria, self-defeating hysteria, shown by the Democrats against Palin.

Too bad they can't or won't listen. They're too caught up in the dogma.

Triangle Man said...

Isn't the "snake pit" a reference to Raiders of the Lost Ark? You know, where Indiana Jones says, "why did it have to be snakes".

Paddy O. said...

"The snake reference is to snake handling in certain fundamentalist sects"

What?! Where's that from? I know these exist, but they're so obscure and limited I can't imagine hardly anyone would get that as the reference. Indeed, that would go counter to what has been said, because the goal of snake handling is not to get bit.

Anyhow, it needs to be said again that Obama just didn't have an abysmal performance. When I turned it on about 5 minutes into it I was impressed. He did pretty well. Only McCain did a lot better.

Rick Warren asked absolutely predictable questions without follow-up.

If it was a religious inquisition then Warren's chief method of torture was the comfy chair.

Jeremy said...

I thought of John the Baptist's condemnation of the religious elite as "a brood of vipers".

Sy said...

I think Obama wants a second take on SaddleBack Mountain.

George said...

It is not a snake in the Garden of Eden, but a serpent.

There is a difference.

A search at reveals no snake pits in the Bible. Probably the best known reference appears when Moses throws down his staff in front of the Pharoah, and it turns into a snake.

Here is a great passage:

"There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden."

Proverbs 30: 18-20

Pretty much every Bob Dylan lyric comes from Proverbs.

MadisonMan said...

Snakes on a plane.

I also really enjoyed the salon piece. It should be required reading for the Obama campaign.

Simon Kenton said...

Snakes in some parts of the country den up for the winter in caves - hundreds and even thousands. If there's a pop-culture referent here (you are never far from one with Paglia) it could well be to the snake pit scene in True Grit.

The Drill SGT said...

What in the world possessed the Obama campaign to let their guy wander like a dazed lamb into a snake pit of religious inquisition like Rick Warren's public forum last month at his Saddleback Church in California?


Simon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

Simon, I've got a separate post on Camille on Palin and plan a third one just about abortion. This post shouldn't be read as what I thought was most important about the essay. It's just the first thing I read and wanted to write about.

Ron said...

Obama and Olivia DeHavilland in the same post? Oh, if only the nominee had been Rhett Butler instead of Ashley Wilkes! hmmm...Is Palin Scarlett? Maybe she's one who doesn't give a damn.

Meade said...

Are you washed in the blood of O 'bam?

The Drill SGT said...


How about one on the Leadership glass ceiling or how Westerners have a different take on Feminism. hint: look at the Women's voting rights by state. Westerne states were granting women the right to vot starting in 1869, Congress fought it till 1920

In the U.S., the ultimate glass ceiling has been fiendishly complicated for women by the unique peculiarity that our president must also serve as commander in chief of the armed forces. Women have risen to the top in other countries by securing the leadership of their parties and then being routinely promoted to prime minister when that party won at the polls. But a woman candidate for president of the U.S. must show a potential capacity for military affairs and decision-making. Our president also symbolically represents the entire history of the nation -- a half-mystical role often filled elsewhere by a revered if politically powerless monarch.

As a dissident feminist, I have been arguing since my arrival on the scene nearly 20 years ago that young American women aspiring to political power should be studying military history rather than taking women's studies courses, with their rote agenda of never-ending grievances. I have repeatedly said that the politician who came closest in my view to the persona of the first woman president was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose steady nerves in crisis were demonstrated when she came to national attention after the mayor and a gay supervisor were murdered in their City Hall offices in San Francisco. Hillary Clinton, with her schizophrenic alteration of personae, has never seemed presidential to me -- and certainly not in her bland and overpraised farewell speech at the Democratic convention (which skittered from slow, pompous condescension to trademark stridency to unseemly haste).

Feinstein, with her deep knowledge of military matters, has true gravitas and knows how to shrewdly thrust and parry with pesky TV interviewers. But her style is reserved, discreet, mandarin. The gun-toting Sarah Palin is like Annie Oakley, a brash ambassador from America's pioneer past. She immediately reminded me of the frontier women of the Western states, which first granted women the right to vote after the Civil War -- long before the federal amendment guaranteeing universal woman suffrage was passed in 1919. Frontier women faced the same harsh challenges and had to tackle the same chores as men did -- which is why men could regard them as equals, unlike the genteel, corseted ladies of the Eastern seaboard, which fought granting women the vote right to the bitter end.

Paddy O. said...

Speaking of de Havilland--my favorite actress of that era--it's interesting to note how she too was a very strong woman who stood up to the very powerful and entrenched studio system, taking a stand not even men were willing to take.

From wikipedia:

When her Warner Bros. contract expired, the studio informed her that six months had been added to it for times she had been on suspension; the law allowed for studios to suspend contract players for rejecting a role and the period of suspension to be added to the contract period. In theory, this allowed a studio to maintain indefinite control over an uncooperative contractee.

Most accepted this situation, while a few tried to change the system. Bette Davis had mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit against Warner Bros. in the 1930s. de Havilland mounted a lawsuit in the 1940s, supported by the Screen Actors Guild and was successful, thereby reducing the power of the studios and extending greater creative freedom to the performers.

The decision was one of the most significant and far-reaching legal rulings in Hollywood. Her courage in mounting such a challenge, and her subsequent victory, won her the respect and admiration of her peers, among them her sister Joan Fontaine who later commented, "Hollywood owes Olivia a great deal". The studio, however, vowed never to hire her again. The court's ruling came to be known, and is still known to this day, as the "de Havilland law".

Chip Ahoy said...

And so the lamb stumbled into the snake pit by the souvenir shop outside Albuquerque whereupon it forced its head into the sand to shield itself from seeing the danger so close by and so did not notice the circus elephant stomping upon the runaway donkey that annoyed it which was all carefully observed far above by the soaring eagle with a smelly fish in its talons possessed of swollen fish lips as if coated with lipstick that was dug up by and stolen from the hapless chained-up pitbull. Or sumething.

And everybody had a jolly good time with all these crazy animals suddenly gone rampant and mostly imagined.

Simon said...

Ann, agreed - I deleted my comment and reposted it in your other thread when I saw that you'd written seperately about it.

Balfegor said...

It's been embarrassingly common for Obama supporters to deal with the problem by saying I didn't see it.

I thought the typical response was that (1) he meant to do that, (2) it was a move of staggering genius/refreshing honesty, and (3) you just don't understand, you lackwit dullard! Maybe I don't read enough, but I didn't think people were trying to brush it off by saying they hadn't seen it.

George said...

The Wall St. J. profiled de Havilland a few years ago...It turns out that she was an early supporter of Ronald Reagan back when he was trying to get the Reds out of Hollywood.

She's still alive. She 92, and I think lives in Paris.

Ron said...

Yes, George she is...and still feuding with sister Joan Fontaine (Best Actress, '41) after all these years...

The Hollywood equivalent of Edmund Teller vs. Hans Bethe.

chickenlittle said...

Ann said: Then why portray Obama as a lamb?

I give up, because he's to be sacrificed?

chuck b. said...

For me, a "spider pit" would be much scarier.

chickenlittle said...

Saddleback was perhaps the beginning of Obama's public decline. But don't forget that immediately prior to Saddleback, he was being coached and counseled by his closest advisor, one of handful of people beyond scrutiny in the campaign.

George said...

Re: the lamb analogy....

During the Eid festival in Islam, it is traditional that the head of the household slaughter a lamb (or goat or camel or cow). This commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice a ram (or Isaac, in the Judeo-Christian tradition).

Dads pretty much go shopping for goats or lambs at the Eid the way folks here go shopping for Christmas trees. And there's a huge market for critters in some Muslim countries at that time of the year, just as there is for evergreens in the US. This also goes on in the US, but it's kinda not a public thing.

A lot of times the wife has a real big mess to clean up in the bathtub.

Here is a good article about ethnic goat slaughtering from Rodale's New Farm.

William said...

Garter snakes, especially male garter snakes, have truly terrible sex lives.

gophermomeh said...

I didn’t see it either – and I shall burn at the gates of Hell, after I cast my vote, I guess…
I agree that the glibness in the particular exchange was worrisome. It's an important subject that needed to be answered seriously, which later he did, but a day late and a dollar short.

What’s interesting, is your paragraph on Obama’s extreme likability not being enough. Enough for what? I’m not sure. As I recall, the same thing was said of Bush – and it was gall-dang alright.

Peter V. Bella said...

I think that Paglia is going after the professional feminists and telling them to drop the victim card. Show the world what you have done versus how you were victimized.

Show the world your accomplishments. Palin does that.

Drew W said...

For a whole mess of wild, sick snakepit fun, I recommend A Feast Of Snakes by Harry Crews.

Balfegor said...

Then why portray Obama as a lamb?

Because he is the Lamb of God, i.e. Christ come again, no?

Agnus Dei
Qui tollis peccata mundi
Miserere nobis
Dona nobis pacem.

or something like that.

Balfegor said...

Oh, I saw the hint. Haha. I just saw people bringing out Eid usw., and thought there's no need to bring up the Obama-Muslim thing again.

Bob said...


Agnus Dei
Qui tollis peccata mundi
Miserere nobis
Dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God
Who takes away the sins of the world
Grant us peace.

As for the snake pit, in early English history, when Vikings ruled the north of Britain, one of the viking lords was captured by enemies and dropped into a pit full of adders, which were stirred up into a rage, biting the man over and over again. He laughed as the venom began working, crying out to his enemies, You have trapped the old boar, but his piglets still roam free! The piglets, his sons, eventually took vengeance on the slayers of their father.

AJ Lynch said...

Paglia said:

"That shambles of a performance -- where a surprisingly unprepared Obama "

This is exactly what I thought. Why was Obama so unprepared? I suspect he has never before had to work really hard. Stuff usually comes easy to him. So he sluffs off the drills and the rote memorization and flash card prep that the best candidates work hard at.

Larry J said...

Months ago, Democrats refused to go on Fox News because they claimed it was biased. Now, Paglia is saying Obama shouldn't go into a religious setting.

If they're afraid to face tough questions from Fox or from someone with religious convictions, how will they have the courage to face down dictators and the like? Obama may be so full of himself that be believes he can charm anyone. Reality suggests otherwise.

Republican said...

Michelle Obama refused to participate on "The View" until they agreed to avoid certain questions and topics.

This is a central theme for the Obama campaign.

Shaken, not stirred.

blake said...

The problem with likability is that nobody's that likable for eight years.

Not even teflon Reagan or slick Willie. You get tired of 'em.

It's probably a good thing.