Obviously Sarah Palin is a right-wing maniac. She opposes sex education and favors abstinence instruction only; she opposes abortion, even in cases of rape; she supports everything the oil companies want, and thinks that global warming may not even exist, and if it does, it is not the result of human actions; etc. etc. ad nauseam. All that is good enough reason not to want her anywhere near the White House.

But I’m stunned by the vituperation that seems to be overcoming the “liberal” portion of the blogosphere, denouncing her on the basis of her lack of experience, her teenage daughter’s pregnancy, etc.

For one thing, “experience” simply does not matter. At all. It is a completely bogus idea. The lack of experience didn’t stop Ronald Reagan from being the most effective political leader of the last half century (and therefore the one who did the most harm, and caused the most human suffering, of any President in American history). Neither does Der Arnold seem the least bit hindered in his machinations by having less “experience,” and less knowledge of anything outside Hollywood, than the average joker driving down the street. The fact is, “experience” can be easily borrowed or bought. Reagan didn’t need experience or understanding, because he had the right-wing policy wonks from the Heritage Foundation backing him. And Arnold has handlers inherited from his GOP predecessor Pete Wilson. A politician doesn’t need actual “experience,” as long as he or she has the right advisors. With the right advisors, a chimpanzee could be an effective US President (and the chimp would probably pull in higher approval ratings than Bush now does).

As for “personal” or “family” issues, who cares? The story about Palin allegedly being Trig’s grandmother rather than mother has all the usual flavor of paranoid conspiracy-mongering. It has exactly the same affective logic, and makes about as much sense, as 9/11 conspiracy theories, or David Icke’s allegations about our reptilian overlords, or JFK assassination conspiracy theories. I’d go so far as to say that, even in the unlikely event that the “grandmother” theory should prove to be true, I would still say that its underlying logic disqualifies it from being given any importance whatsoever.

With regard to the news of Palin’s 17-year-old daughter actually being pregnant now, all I can say — rather crassly — is that the chickens have come home to roost. This is what happens when you indoctrinate your post-puberty children with the doctrine of “abstinence”, and deny them any knowledge of contraception. (See the movie Teeth for the best account of this dynamic). Of course fundamentalist “family values” are a nightmare. But the moralizing criticism of Palin on these grounds, that I have seen in so much “liberal” commentary of the past day, itself buys into these same odious “family values”. Enough said.

There are two things that especially trouble me about the “liberal” blogosphere’s attacks on Palin. One is good old-fashoned misogyny. I just don’t believe that a white male candidate would ever be subject to the sort of treatment that Palin has gotten: the smirks, the knowing winks, the ridicule of her prowess as a hunter, the doubts as to whether she can be an effective public servant at the same time that she is a parent to children under 18 (and especially one with Down’s Syndrome), and so on. I am in no way opposed to the basic need for partisanship, for taking off the gloves and attacking the other party. But I wish I could see a bit more thought going into the premises of all these “liberal” attacks on Palin, the sorts of values that they are appealing to. We are not going to win if we base our attacks against the Republicans on the Republicans’ own odious prejudices and presuppositions.

The other thing that disturbs me is the air of self-congratulatory triumphalism that surrounds all these attacks on Palin. Nearly everything I have read from the “liberal” blogs and media takes the gleeful line that McCain has just blown the election, that his choice of Palin is an egregious blunder, that at best it bespeaks panic and desperation. I’m sorry, but this sort of evaluation is sheer idiocy. Of course the selection of Palin is a gamble — the selection of someone relatively unknown, and therefore untested in the heat of policy discussions and electoral battles always is. But that doesn’t mean that Palin is automatically a public-relations disaster. Just watching five minutes of YouTube clips is enough to show that Palin is one of the most charismatic and telegenic politicians in the US today. She radiates a combination of spunky energy, cool authority, and down-home reassurance. There is no question that she will be powerfully appealing to mainstream voters. She is yet another example of the right wing’s brilliance, over the last thirty years, in manipulating affect — in getting voters to feel good about candidates, and therefore to vote for them even against their own actual conscious interests.

In short, anyone who sees the selection of Palin as a self-inflicted wound for the McCain campaign simply doesn’t get it — doesn’t have a clue about how politics works in America today. If Obama has a chance of winning the election despite ingrained American racism, this has nothing to do with the state of the economy, or the war. It is because Obama arouses confidence and enthusiasm — in a manner that Kerry, Gore, Dukakis, Mondale, etc. were totally incapable of. (Whether this enthusiasm and excitement are able to travel, whether they can break through the glass ceiling and affect other people besides Obama’s core constituency, is still open to question. The campaign will very much turn on it — it is by no means a done deal). It troubles me how so many Obama supporters and enthusiasts are so smug in their certainty of victory, and I should say also in their sense of moral superiority and self-righteousness, that they cannot see what is right in front of their faces. In this case, the fact that Palin is a media figure of potentially huge appeal. You can’t fight or counteract something of which you are totally oblivious. There may be skeletons in anybody’s closet that ruin their chances in public life when they emerge; but at this point, Sarah Palin is more a Sarah Connor than she is a Harriet Miers or Tom Eagleton. We need to be worried about her effectiveness — and about McCain’s sharpness in picking her, in contrast to Obama’s going for Biden as a safe, conservative choice that signals politics-as-usual — instead of prematurely celebrating the demise of the Republican ticket.

[ADDENDUM: I should also mention class prejudice: bourgie white “liberals” looking down their noses, with their usual parochialism and bigotry, at a woman and family they consider to be “rednecks” or “white trash” — as was pointed out in Gawker, of all places.]

65 thoughts on “Palin”

  1. It would be best if demonization and romanticization weren’t practiced so strenuously, right, Matt? Both parties seem to do this.

    This is part of what Shaviro is saying in his post, I think, even though he has to throw red meat to his base in his initial sentence so that he can have standing to speak to the snarky snarks who want one-party rule in this country, and want to demonize anyone who isn’t to the far left of the Democratic base.

    I sure don’t want one-party rule. I’d rather have at least two national parties that could get candidates into office. It’s much better to have a variety of debaters, and a variety of paradigms, so that something besides group-think could surface.

    I don’t write on right wing sites so I wouldn’t know how averse they are to contrary opinions. I’m a kind of old-fashioned liberal (Madison & Locke). I think it’s suicide for the left to take up Marxist paradigms at this end of the 20th century. Any kind of one-party rule invariably ends up with fascism, whether you call it that or not. what happened at Duke was absolutely fascism, whether the left accepts that term for themselves or not. Almost no one there stood up for the students, for fear of the steamroller effect that might flatten them and ruin their careers. One provost held out for due process, and wrote an open letter to that effect.

    Thank goodness American universities are not yet North Korea.

    There are no dissidents in North Korea.

  2. Kirby, that’s a really depressing article, the Salon one. Not because I was accosted with pop-ups when I clicked on it, but because I think there’s a dangerous presupposition that everybody makes with this “new feminist” type. The liberal blawgers envisaged their own demise on this one; our self-perpetuating surprise-fetish was truly seen when everybody predictably gushed about her VP acceptance speech. Dehumanizing her for her own sychophantic becoming. She’ll cling as long as she can to being “nascent”, because that’s the only way to really adhere herself to feminist, even if it’s really just a penumbra. The second she gets bitten on foreign policy (like she did last night), it’ll be the same “inadvertent” card.

    But the Salon article worries me because we’re actually EXCITED about these things. Like it’s some giant revelation, because she really seems quite idiotic. And not just in the typical sense; she’s got a horrible media-image, perhaps the same twisted eidolon that the British saw (or Ballard saw) when Reagan first came over there with high-strung Rightish platforms in ’68. Always on the verge of pereptual smile, she’s impossible to take seriously. McCain might be monotonous as fuck, but Palin’s worse: she’s staccato. There’s this frightening disconnect between her words and her poise, which is entirely conceit.

    “To automatically assume that she is a religious fanatic who has embraced the most extreme ideas of her local church is exactly the kind of careless reasoning that has been unjustly applied to Barack Obama, whom the right wing is still trying to tar with the fulminating anti-American sermons of his longtime preacher, Jeremiah Wright. ”

    Yes, but we’ve got tapes of her doing this, and continually choosing to not simply evade this truth, but rather assert that it’s still there. Her answer to Charlie whether the Iraq War was one of “from God” was so full of shit, that his incessant followups were simply nose-growing corollaries. Sure, Obama’s capable of pandering, but Palin denigrates, compulsively assuring Charlie of his own name, like a snappy soccer mom reaching behind the driver’s seat because one of her kids won’t shut the hell up.

    Pagilia, simply, reminds me of the dangers that plagued second-wave feminism. And she’s choosing Palin as her hero — no, martyr. Yeah, die.

  3. Halldor are you Icelandic or something. If so, good.

    I think you are right to abhor excitement, and to see in it the essence of evil.

    Be realistic: demand boredom!

    That’s my motto.

    I like good boring McCain (as long he’s on beta blockers) because I don’t think he’ll do much of anything at all, much less try to change everything.

    Goodness gracious. We have a functioning country with a functioning constitution, and this guy wants change. This Obama guy.

    What scares me most about him is the enthusiasm he generates among the young. Enthusiasm is always already wrong.

    Boredom is what counts.

    Be realistic: demand nothing!

    I think it’s the Lutheran in me. I just can’t stand enthusiasm, and when I see it on leftwing blogs like this, I go after it, perhaps like the trolls of old, killing it.

    Enthusiasm kills.

    Boredom is love.

    Boredom is beautiful.

    Long live John McCain.

    I wouldn’t mind Joe Biden as prez. He’s at least incredibly boring. If he just wouldn’t smile so much. It’s an attempt to show excitement. I can’t stand that kind of thing.

    You’re right that Paglia is too enthusiastic about Palin, but I think a counter-enthusiasm is sometimes appropriate, wouldn’t you agree?

    The worst thing is watching a group work itself into a frenzy in which crazy thoughts are fostered, and with it, terroristic actions are contemplated.

    Goodness me.

    For me it’s all I can take to watch a cucumber plant grow. That’s excitement enough, for heaven’s sake. What do we want to faint from all the noisy change some people want to make?

    Down with enthusiasm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Icelandic, yes. I rather like Biden’s Cheshire grin. Aside from Cindy McCain, I find him to be one of only the two attractive people involved within these campaigns.

    While, I can’t say I think boredom is the answer to everything, Obama could learn that Palin represents the faux-feminist ghost of Hilary’s primary malady. And with that he could learn that he’s in the position of not being as amorphous as he once realized, that his latent racist card actually LOSES this time out to Palin’s sexist card. If I were Obama I’d recover those town-hall debate invitations, get Biden to send Alice back through the looking glass, and stay the hell away from secretion that isn’t his own.

    I think Obama takes Ohio, loses Virginia, (or, you could flip those) but wins Colorado to get the ticket. You heard it here. 😉

  5. I think McCain is wrong to jump on the Change bandwagon. I think his supporters should put up signs instead that read, Stasis!

    As the oldest democracy, and one in which nothing much ever happens, I consider you lucky, Halldor!

    I think Obama’s going to lose Pennsylvania. When he ridiculed the poor whites of Pennsylvania for clinging to God and guns, he lost. Biden’s appeal won’t bring them back, I think.

    People cling to stasis. No one really wants change except bums.

    Vertu saell, forvittin snillingur! Okkar samtal got spilla kommunisti gamanleikur.

  6. Paglia sees Palin as an important new kind of feminist, muscular, and not whiny — like the kind of tough immigrant she knew when she grew up outside Binghamton, NY. It’s worth a read.

    This is what C.Paglia always looked for since I can remember her becoming a public intellectual. I wonder if any woman who has certain character features is an import role model of “new feminism” according to her, independent of any political message.

    Call me a Shaviroist in this case by which I mean Stevens criticism of Zizeks attempts to reconfigure the subject to achieve political impact whereas politics exists on a quite different scale: the fabric of collective identity, economy, law, education, the rights of minorities, the role of military, of state etc.

    In a sense there will always be people who have to have the skills to run the system and there will also be actors who express attitudes and feelings, attract and repell the masses… As if the people themselves just want to be voters in the “Big Brother” show and are rather uninterested in the fact that their choice has impact on their own life.

  7. There are only two parties, so it’s important not to get too excited, I think. It’s not as if either of these two parties will cough up someone who really represents you. The only person who can really represent you is yourself, and even then, only on a good day.

    I’m glad there are still two legal parties. I realize that for Shaviro and many others the idea that the Democratic party is the good party and the Republican party is the Nazi party in disguise is almost a truism at this point (as for me the Democratic party is the communist party — in disguise). It’s a question of which of two Big Brothers or Big Sisters you want to look in your mouth this morning and tell us what they think.

    As long as there are still two legal parties and they are more or less at odds I feel more or less safe.

    What I would hate to see is the situation in most humanities departments where everyone belongs to the same groupthink party, and dissidents had better watch out — if that were to become a national norm — or — as it has in communist countries — become the legal norm — then we may as well give up any pretense at thought, and turn in our brains at birth in exchange for the module that the Party has prescribed.

    I personally can’t understand Zizek’s nostalgia for Lenin, and the one-party system, since it invariably leads to Stalin, or to Pol Pot, or what have you. As soon as you have a one-party system, the toughest jerk around kills all the rivals with icepicks and poison and other devious devices, and then, you have a Cyclops speaking in the hall of justice.

    So for me, I’m glad we still have two parties, and I’m glad we are still allowed to have arguments. As long as everybody is angry as hell, and there is no uniformity, I think it’s charming, and I feel quite thoroughly relaxed.

  8. Let’s not forget, however, that the bourgie white Republicans were the ones trashing the Clintons as “white trash” from the moment Bill appeared on the national stage, and were doing so much more explicitly and vocally than anyone is doing now. I think the right wing “liberal elitist” narrative is largely invented, but in so far as it is true it’s a reflection of class and race far more than it is political affiliation. There’s no definitive preference among suburbanites between right and left, and yet I feel like there is more likely to be the location of the sort of class-based snobbery that the Republicans have decided to limit to “cosmopolitan” “San Francisco” “liberal elites” (i.e. young, urban, gay, non-white, Jewish or at least non-Christian, etc.). Furthermore, it’s clear that Palin and her family are financially comfortable and relatively well off – the mix of “fucking redneck” values and wealth is something that’s pretty unique to rural America and small towns, where some people are there because they have to be and others are there because it’s cheaper and easier to build gigantic houses in the country than it is in a city.

  9. Check out Palin’s family tree.
    I don’t think she’s your typical “redneck” Pentecostal. Her mother and father moved to Alaska around the time that she was born, shortly after statehood, but her parents were a pretty solid part of the Hanford nuclear reservation establishment in Tri-Cities. Her mother’s brother was a trial lawyer there and a leader in an organization that assisted Texas lawyers with substance abuse problems. Her mother’s family is half German, half Irish. One of her great grandfathers was an engineer who built railroad bridges in western Wisconsin. Her father is descended from a major general for the colonial cause in the American Revolution. A bunch of her ancestors were on the Mayflower. She’s got a Baptist minister in her tree. She’s a “redneck” the same way that George Bush is a cowboy.

  10. Good post and good points on “experience.” Why Bristol’s pregnancy matters: Palin doesn’t realize, or doesn’t care that not every pregnant teen has family money, etc. What is her actual plan: teenagers giving birth alone in the snow or something? Sorry to be so graphic, but really, there has to be massive public funding if we’re going to have social policy that leads to the creation of many more people in Bristol’s situation than we already have. Otherwise we’ll get more starving mothers, prison bound kids, etc., so – we had better fund those schools, scholarships, hospitals, health plans, transition homes, etc. to the hilt!

  11. If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you’re “exotic, different.”

    Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers — a quintessential American story.

    If your name is Barack you’re a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.

    Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track — you’re a maverick.

    Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.

    Attend five different small colleges before graduating, you’re well grounded.

    If you spend three years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a constitutional law professor, spend eight years as a state senator representing a district with more than 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate’s Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran’s Affairs committees, you don’t have any real leadership experience.

    If your total resume is: local weather girl, four years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with fewer than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you’re qualified to become the country’s second highest ranking executive.

    If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising two beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you’re not a real Christian.

    If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you’re a Christian.

    If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society

    If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state’s school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant, you’re very responsible.

    If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner-city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family’s values don’t represent America’s.

    If your husband is nicknamed “First Dude,” with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn’t register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

    OK, much clearer now………………

  12. I have to wonder if those who termed Palin “telegenic” have any revised views subsequent to her howlingly embarassingly performance with Katie Couric on television recently…

    I am afraid the chickens are coming home to roost. One can only wonder just what the campaign is planning to do about her scheduled debate with Biden. If she founders this badly with Katie, Ol’ Joe is going to hand her head to her.

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