Sunday, April 11, 2010
Understanding the Sarah Palin effect
The last time anyone else checked, neither is Barack Obama. Chicago politics is no richer in seminars on the finer points of nuclear politics than those of Alaska. Nonetheless, adverting to Sarah Palin's presumed incompetence -- not just on nuclear issues, but on anything -- will garner automatic applause and smirks of condescending approval from vast swathes of American public opinion.
Sarah Palin irritates, agitates, angers and annoys some of the self-appointed finest minds of America to a point long past reason. She has been the target, since the night she walked on stage to speak at a Republican convention, of some of the most savage commentary that the great republic has seen since Richard Nixon.
The great difference, of course, is that Nixon earned some of his venom. He practised political hardball. He was a remorseless partisan with an appetite for political vengeance
And he received some he did not earn, by virtue of a personality -- secretive, bitter even in success, humourless, cold and anxious -- that made him, fairly or otherwise, a target for the cruellest and most unrelenting attacks. But in any event, he was the President. He had been in politics for a full generation. For those determined to hate him, there was a large field to till.
But Palin is not the president, nor has she been. She's been a presence in American national politics for only about two years. She is a cheerful human being, with a large family, an apparently easy-going and normal husband. She has a personality that would sell corn flakes -- if not grow them. What career she had in Alaska, she earned. She's at home indoors and out, radiates human warmth, seems to have some balance about herself, and has displayed over the last year or so a considerable fortitude under an avalanche of mockery and hatred. For the final stroke of this cameo I should note she is smart -- smarter than 90% of the people who make a point of how rock-stupid they know she is.
She, by rights, should be queen of the feminists. All that self-reliance, her takeover of Alaska politics, the rocket ride to a Vice-Presidential ticket, a public career she blends with her family life-- these seem gold-standard credentials for a real feminist. But official feminism derides herewith an unspeakable intensity. Her early critics were not beyond the inane claim that she was somehow not really a woman.
I side with those who venture that the nerves Palin hits have more to do with class -- where she's from, how she speaks, where she was educated, what she likes (the moose-hunting), than her politics or her gender. She's rural, she came into national politics from (ugh) Alaska. She and her husband have the unerasable stigmata of the modern working class. She would not be embarrassed to be seen walking into Wal-Mart. (Continues here)