A lot of my progressive friends convey feelings of confusion to me when the subject of Sarah Palin arises. Why are so many infatuated with a woman whose speech is without substance? Who hints at running for POTUS but can't even finish one term as Governor, or chair of the Alaska oil and gas commission, for that matter? Why are people so willing to fawn over and fork over their money to a woman who clearly lacks leadership and communication abilities?
But I think these progressives are missing the mark in their analysis of both Sarah Palin and her followers. One has to put themselves in the shoes of a Palinite teabagger to really understand her appeal. It is crucial to understand why she appeals to the wingnuts, because the left went through the same questioning phase about why a president who seemed so "stupid" thought he could win another election. What followed was this president's re-election, subsequent wrecking of the economy at the benefit of the top 1%, and a democratic identity crisis that lasted until Obama convinced Hillary supporters to cast their vote for him.
So, understanding Palin is critical. Not because I perceive her as a threat in 2012 (I'll get to that at the end), but so we can understand in the future when people like this present themselves, and frame the debate to the progressive advantage. What people must first understand is that Palin's contrived image is fraudulent at its core.
The Palin Fraud
Palin's book is called "Going Rogue" which implies she is a maverick dedicated to doing things her own way instead of swallowing the party line. And perhaps if you pay attention solely to her talking points and don't look past the veneer, this might work. However, Sarah Palin was actually a huge proponent of Socialism in Alaska before she emerged as a national A-list political celebrity and was forced to swallow McCain's party line.
Alaska is fiercely dependent on federal money, arguably even moreso than Mississippi. She had been lobbying for the "Bridge to Nowhere" project until the media decried it as a national symbol of wasteful pork spending. Representative Don Young and Senator Ted Stevens were notorious for supporting pork projects that brought federal money specifically to Alaska.
But even more than that, Sarah Palin was a huge backer of taxing windfall profits on oil companies operating in her state. By hefting huge tax increases against Big Oil, Palin generated billions in revenue. It was a wonderful symbol of what real bipartisan reform can achieve, and a perfect example of progressive taxation; if you have more than most people, then you better be prepared to pay more than most people. She used the money made from that decision to give to the people of Alaska. According to the story linked above, that amounted to a $3200 check for every person in Alaska, just from surplus dollars. That's the essence of productive government regulation on big business.
However, this didn't mesh well with what McCain was all about, so he and his aides went about telling her to tell the rest of us that she was an anti-Socialism, anti-pork barrel spending crusader.
The Palin Appeal- Framing 101
Palin's followers, mainly neoconservatives, love Palin because she represents one of them. Like Palin, they rally against the "elites."
Neoconservatives believe our country is ran by a cabal of powerful and wealthy liberal "elitists" who use their influence to give opportunity and free stuff to lazy, good-for-nothing moochers. Mainly poor people and foreigners. These neoconservatives believe themselves to be "hard-working" and "normal," but are not reaping what they sowed because the government elite gave those rewards to people who didn't deserve them.
This is why they love Sarah Palin so much. This is why when she stumbles over her words or makes a rhetorical error in a debate with Joe Biden, she is applauded. They see this not as "stupid," but as "normal." Like them.
So when Sarah Palin is mocked in the "liberal media," her cause is actually strengthened; her followers see themselves reflected in a working-class hockey mom who is being harassed by the "liberal elite." When Palin complains about such treatment by the media, what progressives see as complaining is interpreted by her followers as what they believe their experiences to be; a normal blue-collar conservative being sold short on her accomplishments by powerful liberals.
A Walk in the Shoes of a Palinite
Those who support Sarah Palin do not admire or respect politicians with prestigious education or those who have a way with words. Most of these folks see education and glib speech as tools used to victimize and deceive people. Thus, the educated and well-spoken are resented among the far right.
The extreme right is not against intelligence, but simply against education. In their mind, they don't see that attitude as maintaining stupidity, but as rejecting an institution that forces information on children that they know to be wrong. This is why you see the most righteous neocons and libertarians being proponents of home school, so they can shelter their children from the evil "facts" of the liberal "elite," and also so they can inject education with their authoritarian worldview and religious beliefs which are "under attack" by Science. Because critical thinking is demonized by the right, they see those who rely on "facts" as simply catering to an elite power. Environmentalists worship Al Gore, Evolutionists worship Darwin, etc.
When a Palinite sees Barack Obama giving an address, they don't see a well-traveled statesman with decades of diverse education, but rather a foreigner with an unfamiliar name, using his gift of gab with clear intent to manipulate and deceive. He, along with all other well-spoken people, is seen as a trickster, and hearing him speak makes the far right feel judged, rather than informed. It angers them instead of calming them.
When Sarah Palin speaks, these folks feel right at home. Her down-home folksiness gives them a sense of acceptance and assurance that those who speak with authority on issues are frauds. Those who idolize Sarah Palin do not understand nor care for domestic or foreign policy issues, and do not follow nor perceive their complexity. What is important to the Palinite is that the politician doesn't act like they know more or are more worthy than the average Joe. To a Palinite, someone who sounds complicated when explaining complicated issues isn't revealing truths, but hiding them.
Palin's Power Over People
Sarah Palin gives her supporters the impression that she would make decisions for the country the way a mother or father makes decisions for the family--like they do. For wingnuts, Sarah Palin symbolizes the person who overcame the intellectualized, complicated political infrastructure of the "liberal elite." She is often characterized as "truthful," much like those same people refer to Glenn Beck as "truthful."
The truth to this radical fringe group is that the liberal elite is against them, the normal, hard-working Joes and Janes--and are for helping the undeserving do-nothings--foreigners, lazy people, and poor people. Palin often uses the term "common sense" in describing her politics. For Palin's followers, "common sense" is that the hardworking are constantly under attack by the elite establishment.
As I mentioned in the first part of this blog, Bush used this same narrative (perfected by Reagan) to win over the people of Texas, and then to win over the USA. While most every crisis our nation faces today can be traced back to the Bush or Reagan years, those two are still celebrated universally by the right. These people may be full of talking points and no solutions, but they still hold influence over lots of people.
Palin's Political Potential
However, progressives in America can rest assured that Sarah Palin will not be a viable contender for the GOP nomination in 2012. Her record shows overwhelmingly that she is not fit to handle an executive position, whether it's over the oil and gas commission or one of the union's smallest populations. Even Republican mouthpiece Haley Barbour refused to acknowledge her as a political contender in the next presidential race. I personally believe she is currently peaking, and too much media coverage this early will hurt her chances three years down the road.
Besides, just take a look at how quickly fans who waited in the rain all day to meet her turned on her when they learned she wouldn't be signing all of their books. One guy even called her out by saying "She's quittin' on the job right there!"
America is a fickle nation. Sarah Palin will be ultimately forgotten.
Friday Thoughts and Links
8 years ago