Saturday, October 04, 2008

Um ... Question!

It's not the most important Palin issue out there, but on this last night of Banned Books Week, it's worth looking at, since it's full of -- to me -- unanswered questions.

Did Sarah Palin ever ban a book? No, never. Did Palin ever even target a book and try to ban it? Why no! Certainly not!

Wait though! Just one more question ...

Did Palin fully intend to override proper book-challenge procedure, to the extent of firing a librarian who openly stated that she would prove an obstacle to such an action?

I strongly believe that Palin, or anybody, must be held innocent until proven guilty. I feel almost as strongly that heroes should get credit where it's due, and it is clear to me that the Wasilla librarian deserves credit for a bold stand. And the people of Wasilla do too, for standing up for that librarian. Democracy rocks.

I won't pretend to have all the answers, but these questions won't lie down:

Palin claims that quizzing the librarian in a town council meeting about how books could be banned was "rhetorical," and a "professional question being asked in regards to library policy." Was it?

Palin had discussed book banning with Emmons before this. Palin had also sat in council meetings as a councilwoman the year before that, when a book was challenged. She was actually quite familiar with the procedure.

Next question: Did Palin had every intention of stepping outside ethical, if not legal, boundaries as mayor and bypassing that procedure?

As mentioned above, Palin knew the book challenge procedure already. That fact, taken alone, does not mean that Palin was issuing a challenge to Emmons in the meeting. Palin had been elected with the support of local conservatives including the very conservative Assembly of God, whose members were behind the challenges to Go Ask Alice and other books. She'd naturally want to go on record with attention to their issues, which is only politics, not a step out of bounds.

But as a former librarian, I was initially baffled by Emmons' somewhat belligerent reply. I was ... um ... not known for my diplomatic skills but even I know there's a script you follow. If the council meeting was merely an on-record demonstration for the public, Emmons would have been equally savvy about that, and would normally just take her own opportunity to demonstrate that she and her staff would be responsive to patrons' concerns.

She'd say, "Of course materials may be challenged, we have a procedure that ensures all the questions are addressed, we are always willing to hear and carefully consider the concerns of community." Describe what it entails. Go home and eat all the Frusen Glädjé.

A rookie might have gotten defensive, maybe, but Emmons had been Wasilla's Librarian for 7 years, had dealt with many a local elected official, had fielded book challenges before. She was president of the state library association. She knew the political game. Why, I wondered, was Emmons so undiplomatic as to bring the drama out into the open? It only makes her look like the aggressor, it only works against her, doesn't it?

Not necessarily.

If the much-interviewed citizen, Anne Kilkenny, can be trusted to report accurately (and I accept that this is not a given, but others' actions support her version), Palin asked how she could get books banned. Via personal fiat. Emmons answered the question Palin asked.

If actual mayoral book-ban efforts were on the way, Emmons would want that out in the open before the fact. She'd have no reason to talk tough, other than the knowledge that Palin was serious about banning books and wasn't just making an "I tried!" show for her conservative constituents.

See, if you get fired, and then you say, "It's because I opposed an injustice," people get skeptical. They think, "Yeah, everybody's a victim. We don't know the real story." But if the specific nature of the conflict was public before the firing, then the reasons you're giving look a lot less like Disgruntled Employee.

Is that why Palin fired Emmons?

Go ahead, tell me that Palin fired Emmons over Other Issues. Loyalty to the administration may have been the stated reason, and in Wasilla any department head might technically work at "the pleasure of the mayor."

But a librarian serves the public directly. Other government offices certainly deal directly with the public, but they are doing it to further the town's (county's, etc.) agenda: they process business licenses, gather taxes, enforce laws. Libraries are for the people's use and pleasure, with a direct mission that makes what the individual wants or needs the end product. There's not much a library does that either supports or opposes a mayoral agenda. Well, I mean, unless that mayor wants approval-rights over the books purchased. Emmons was duty bound to protect the Constitutional rights of her readers.

Emmons had also demonstrated that she understood those rights to include questioning the propriety of a book. She was, in fact, pushing for a review board to hear book-challenges, a method that would give the citizenry, including the Assembly of God congregants, more power in book challenges than the previous method gave them.

Palin saw Emmons' strong local support and never pulled any book-bannings, which is one reason I've thought all along -- despite her fumbles during early Q&A's in her VP race -- that she's a very smart woman.

But having Palin for a boss sure sounds like one Dilbertian nightmare to me.


Dann said...

I'm trying real hard not to draw any undue conclusions about anyone this year. There's way too much garbage flying about that makes it far too easy to jump to conclusions.

But I think you are right that this issue doesn't pass the smell test. At least, it doesn't pass mine.


southernyankee said...

I think that perhaps Sarah Palin should be required to hold up the sign you displayed in your previous wordless post and stand on the corner by the White House to show it to anyone who might care to look! And if she wants serious attentions, she can wink and lift the edge of her skirt to expose even more legs to, well, I digress but you get it, I'll betcha!