Harry Potter Banned in Wasilla, Alaska?!

What a wonderful week of Daily Prophet watching we have had courtesy of the nomination by Sen. McCain of Gov. Palin as the Republican Party candidate for Vice President! Because of the compression of time post-Olympics and pre-election for the party conventions to play out the last two weeks, it has been a veritable feeding ground for Rita Skeeters, Cornelius Fudges, and Dolores Umbridges on both sides of the aisle to attack and smear political candidates, especially Gov. Palin and her family, and, in this madness, to bring the American political process out into the open for what it is. I waver between seeing it as “hilarious,” “glorious,” “shameful,” and Jefferson’s figurative fertilizer, the “blood of liberty,” but it never comes quite into focus so I keep looking.

If nothing else, the white heat of Presidential politics in Denver and St. Paul has filled my inbox with e-owl inquiries about what I’m up to these days and if I knew that Gov. Palin had tried to have Harry Potter banned from the Wasilla library when she was mayor of this small town in Alaska — and that she fired the librarian when her request was refused.

I think that Snopes.com is going to have to create a separate category for the remarkable number of the Gov. Palin “true facts” in circulation. What has been funny is that the usually staid newspapers and magazines have been jumping in. The most respected Daily Prophet organs in the Muggle world (the NYT, WSJ, and Atlantic magazine come immediately to mind) have all run stories pretty much “off the cuff,” not even vetting stories and editorials about non-vetting. Until Scopes.com gets their Palin section together, then, we need the competent if not complete collections (hardly unbiased) of the various rumors, true and false, that can be found at this site and at this one, too. I suspect even the Amish have heard most of these rumors in the last ten days and it’s good to see them all at once with pertinent links.

FYI for newcomers here: I am not a Republican, a Democrat, or Independent. Politics to me is a spectator sport and something in which I don’t get involved except vicariously. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT write a comment here about how much you hate or love Keith Olbermann, or that Gov. Palin deserves all she’s getting because her only qualifications to be, egadone heartbeat away from the Presidency” are her fecundity and NRA membership, or that the liberal media elites have revealed at last their anti-life, atheistic, and misogynist inner-Voldemort. I won’t post them. We don’t do those kind of exchanges here; you know at least ten weBlogs where you can express your thoughts on Senators Obama, Biden, and McCain and Gov. Palin, about the media, and concerning the apocalypse on 5 November should either slate of candidates be elected. HogPro is a serious reader Harry Potter blog and I only bring up the media coverage of Gov. Palin’s nomination because, as it had to eventually, this essentially being a Culture War battle, the Harry Potter books have surfaced as the touchstone they are in that war.

To keep this brief, no, Gov. Palin as a newly elected mayor of her hometown did not ask that the Harry Potter books be pulled from the library shelves and did not fire the librarian for refusing to get rid of Ms. Rowling’s books. (In case you think I’m making this rumor up, you can read those people who posted stories about Gov. Palin having submitted a very long list of books to the librarian as a loyalty test here and here.) Mayor-elect Palin took office in 1996. Those of you with long memories will recall there were no Harry Potter books to pull from the shelves in 1996.

[Aside: If I’m getting my sequence of Daily Prophet distortion and extrapolation correctly here, this rumor started as a telephone exercise on internet sites after Time magazine reported that Gov. Palin had tried to fire the librarian because she wouldn’t agree to pull certain books. Lev Grossman did not write the article; I am looking forward to his interview with Gov. Palin or with Ms. Rowling about Gov. Palin (not).]

Did the Governor, then Mayor, fire the librarian and then back down? Yes. Was said librarian’s willingness to censor library offerings an issue? Yes, there seems to be something to that charge, at least according to the librarian. The Governor denies this. As the lexicographer of Palin rumors, true and false, explains (#28):

Yes, she did ask the librarian if some books could be withdrawn because of being offensive; no, they couldn’t; yes she did threaten to fire the librarian a month later; no, that wasn’t over the books thing but instead over administrative issues; no, the librarian wasn’t fired either; yes, the librarian was a big supporter of one of her political opponents; yes, the librarian was also the girlfriend of the Chief of police mentioned above (#23); no, this is not the first time in the history of civilization that someone has been threatened with being fired over a political dispute.

Another list compiler noted:

[Assertion:] As Mayor of Wasilla, she tried to get this list of books banned, and then attempted to fire the librarian for not doing so. FALSE. It’s TRUE that she did ask the librarian about censoring some books, and I admit that’s not one of Palin’s better moments, but it’s not the list shown, as some of those weren’t even published at the time. I’m unable to find a real list. Some time later she did ask the librarian to resign, along with other holdovers from the previous administration, so it’s hard to [see] the “censorship question” as the cause here. She later relented and no books were ever banned.

So, Gov. Palin joins the Pope in the collection of celebrities that right or left have tried to tar with the “doesn’t like Harry” brush. Is Gov. Palin “okay,” a “victim,” or “redeemed” because the rumors of her being a Harry Hater are untrue, or, at least, unconfirmed? I don’t think so. She is what she is — and I’m confident you have all come to some idea of who she is on your own without any help from the Hogwarts Professor or Miss Manners. I doubt the library scandal was more than small-town politics, in which, as Dr. Kissinger said about university faculty disagreements, “the fighting is so bitter and violent because the spoils are so small.”

I certainly respect those with other opinions, so long as they are as lightly held as my own. The only things, I think, we can be sure of and which we should keep in mind at all times for the next few months are:

(1) that the pronounced partisanship we will see playing on the politics of identification as we approach November will reveal the great Gryffindor/Slytherin metanarrative divide in the US as never before;

(2) that there aren’t any Harry Potters or Lord Voldemorts running for office, as much as their supporters and detractors may want to lionize or demonize them;

(3) that distortion of reality and positions by candidates, their spokesmen and women, and by media covering events and professional pundits will be the real world that is stranger and more lamentable than the fictional Daily Prophet‘s coverage of VoldeWar II; and

(4) we won’t know anything for sure of what is happening in these campaigns, the lives of the candidates and their families, or about the long term outcome of whichever slate secures the necessary 270 electoral college votes for at least a decade, probably two, when the principals will have written their memoirs and the historians have cataloged the relevant facts and opinions.

Let’s do our best, consequently, to be profoundly skeptical about news reports about anything in September, October, and November. On to other things!

A big thank you to all of you who have written me about this subject and to ask what I’ve been doing this past month. “Writing, writing, writing” is the short answer to the latter question. (I made some Potter comments on this site last week.) I’ll have a longer answer on Monday. Stay tuned.

Post-post: Again, please don’t write out your partisan insights about Gov. Palin and whether the press is defaming her or “just doing its job.” Go to The New Republic or The National Review or to Ms. Oprah Winfrey’s cite for those discussions. For a laugh, though, try PalinFacts.com. We’re going to need some laughs in the months to come.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the link. Two little points:

    First, Palin did terminate the librarian, then rescinded the termination. Palin did not try to fire the librarian over the books thing. There were a lot of other things going on in Wasilla which I hope to have an article up about soon. As you note, the list being passed around of the books she tried to ban is in fact a generic list of “banned” books — or at least books reportedly banned by someone, somewhere — from another site.

    Second, I am indeed becoming a fan of Sarah Palin. However, you will note that when something is true, I report it as true.

  2. Thank you for the correction which I have made in the text above.

  3. I absolutely love this site and all of you incredibly deep thinkers. I was a little taken aback to read this headline about the banning of books after just coming from the http://michellemalkin.com/2008/09/06/the-bogus-sarah-palin-banned-books-list/ page which sheds more light on it. I was pleased to read the corrections above.

    Thank you to everyone who makes this site a breath of fresh air away from all the hurricanes (experiencing Hanna right now) and politics.

  4. Red Rocker says:

    John,

    1) Please say more about the great Gryffindor/Slytherin metanarrative divide in the US.

    2) I’m pretty sure that there are no Potters running for office (the quest for power being anti-Potter), but how can you be sure there are no Voldemorts? People careless of how many lives are destroyed in the quest for personal power?

    3) Goes without saying that reality will be made to stand on its head, but it helps to know the shorthand that the candidates and media use.

    4) We may not know the truth for sure, but if we keep our eyes and ears open, we can know a lot. One gem which I treasure: Most of Gov. Palin’s convention speech was written even before she was selected by a former Bush speech-writer who is a vegetarian and is against hunting and guns.

    5) Missed you. Hope the writing-time was productive.

  5. For a “Sarah Palin = Dolores Umbridge” post and photo-shop cross (from the same folks that brought us the “Republicans for Voldemort” bumper sticker?), click here.

    I’m not sure if this achieves the effect the writer desires; even seeming to paint Gov. Palin in unflattering colors may cause further erosion of Sen. Obama’s standing with women voters. But it is a funny picture…

    I recorded a pod cast with Mr. Prinzi last night for Hog’s Head. More on that and my speaking tour this month in a post tomorrow!

  6. Coppinger Bailey says:

    Thought I’d offer a Mom’s observation on this thread…

    This weekend (one full week after the fervor over the GOP VP pick hit its stride), my 10 year old announced that he wanted to watch Order of the Phoenix as his Movie Night pick. Now, he saw that movie in the theater twice, we’ve had the DVD since last December, & this weekend was the first time he’s asked to watch it again.

    It was really fascinating to watch him process & think about what he was watching and later talk about what he was observing on real political TV media (his parents keep it on too much…). Fear, denial, exaggeration, distrust, and character assasination (“Dumbledore, Daft or Dangerous?” “Potter = Plotter” “He’s NOT back. He CAN’T be”).

    I was reminded just how grateful I am that we can share Harry’s story as a mirror for reflecting on so many very real and complex issues! In this particular case – power — why do political parties seek it? what’s it worth to them? what will they do with it? how can voters provide a check on abusing it? or can we? And… How do we interpret what the media in its various forms is churning out for our consumption?

    Great stories matter!

  7. Love the pic, John!….

    (The “Republicans for Voldemort” thing, however, comes from the online comic strip “Goats” — and it references specifically the insanity here in California a few years ago (hey, why should a few years ago be any different?!) when we got rid of our old governor by petition and put Arnold in office. For a while, hundreds of people were running for office. And that’s the context for the comic strip you can read here.)

    We first saw it not as a bumper sticker, but as a t-shirt worn by an exec in David Heyman’s company (the producer of the HP movies) — I think I was more covetous of that shirt than of any of the HP “stuff” clogging the offices…

  8. I saw the “Republicans for Voldemort” sticker once. I thought it quite humorous.

  9. Incredible. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times just posted an editorial flaming Palinsanity with a list of questions for her ABC interview that included:

    “Does she want a federal ban on trans fat in restaurants as well on abortion and Harry Potter? And which books exactly would have landed on the literature bonfire if she had had her way with that Wasilla librarian?”

    That there were no Harry Potter books in 1996 means we know the answer to the Potter part of that question. I hope the ABC reporter can do better than the Wasilla “literature bonfire” or pigs and pitbulls with make-up.

  10. NYT sent an automated response to my email about this saying they got it.

    9-10-08

    “Fact checking is a good idea even for idealogues, Ms Dowd. Accuracy used to be journalist’s trait, even for editorials. Perhaps you could try harder next rant?

    A Harry potter fan and Independent,”

    INKED

  11. Sorry but I cannot resist! The REAL Dolores Umbridge(s) has (have) spoken:

    http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/wendy_doniger/2008/09/all_beliefs_welcome_unless_the.html

    and worse (John you may wish to delete this one as the language is atrocious)
    http://jammiewearingfool.blogspot.com/2008/09/salon-palin-christian-stepford-wife-in.html

    but absolutely the best candidate for Voldemort and another programmatic Lebensunwertes Leben campaign against “muggles”…

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080909.wxldown09/BNStory/International/

    “But others fear Ms. Palin’s emergence as a parental role model sends a different message. As a vocal opponent of abortion, Ms. Palin’s widely discussed decision to keep her baby, knowing he would be born with [Down Syndrome], may inadvertently influence other women who may lack the necessary emotional and financial support to do the same, according to André Lalonde, executive vice-president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.

    Dr. Lalonde said that above all else, women must be free to choose, and that popular messages to the contrary could have detrimental effects on women and their families.

    “The worry is that this will have an implication for abortion issues in Canada,” he said. ”

    It is sad that literature IMITATES life, is it not? Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.

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