Would-be book banners abound; one's on GOP ticket

The Baltimore Sun

We all have questions for Sarah Palin: Does she actually think living across the Bering Strait from Russia constitutes foreign policy expertise? Does she really take the parable of Adam and Eve as truth? How, exactly, does one field dress a moose?

My first question, though, would not be which books she wants to ban - and why.

Our would-be vice president has tried to pull books off library shelves. The New York Times reports that as a member of the City Council of Wasilla, Alaska, Mrs. Palin complained to colleagues about a book called Daddy's Roommate, described in promotional material as being "for and about the children of lesbian and gay parents."

Laura Chase, who ran Mrs. Palin's campaign for mayor, said the book was harmless and suggested Mrs. Palin read it. Ms. Chase told The New York Times that Mrs. Palin replied she "didn't need to read that stuff. It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library, and she didn't even read it."

Later, as mayor, Mrs. Palin reportedly asked the town's librarian three times whether she would agree to remove controversial books from the shelves, and three times, the librarian refused. Mrs. Palin fired her but eventually bowed to public pressure and gave the woman her job back.

And on that note: Happy Banned Books Week. As you doubtless know, that's the week set aside each year by the American Library Association to bring attention to attempts by some of us to regulate what others of us may read. The ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom reports that it has seen 9,700 "challenges" - a challenge is defined as a formal written request to remove a book from a library because the content offends or is deemed inappropriate - since 1990. The office suggests that's probably an undercount. It estimates that for every challenge reported, four or five are not.

So Mrs. Palin has company, to say the least. Count among that number the woman from a Cuban exile group who bragged to a reporter how she checked out and kept an elementary school library book she felt painted too rosy a picture of life on that communist island. She thought she had good reason. Would-be book banners always do.

I'm reminded of how someone challenged me the other day on my contention that anti-intellectualism has overtaken this land. I mentioned Mrs. Palin's Bible literalism, but there's so much more. There's this notion that "elite" is a four-letter word. There's the White House's politicization of science. There's the recent survey that found that more people can name all five Simpsons than all five freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment.

And there's this: As many as 50,000 incidents since 1990 in which a book was forced to justify its existence. We're talking books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Color Purple, the Harry Potter series and, yes, Daddy's Roommate - books that offended because they expressed ideas that made someone uncomfortable. As if any other kind of idea was worth expressing.

We are becoming the stupid giant of planet Earth: richer than Midas, mightier than Thor, dumber than rocks. Which makes us a danger to the planet - and to ourselves. This country cannot continue to prosper and to embrace stupidity. The two are fundamentally incompatible.

So do us all a favor: Annoy Sarah Palin. Read.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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