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.]