• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Over and over

    Is it my imagination, or is a lot of the support Sarah Palin is getting kind of patronizing?

    What I mean by that is this: time was when conservatives loved you for your strengths and achievements. Conservatives said that every citizen should know our founding documents, not just love America in a general way. Conservatives said that whatever language you spoke at home, knowing clear, formal, standard American English was the key to advancement in the larger society. Conservatives said that there should be objective criteria for job performance that applied to every applicant. It was liberals who told you you were special just the way you were, that aspiration was a WASP-male construct designed to beat the self-esteem out of women and minorities, and that encouraging people to communicate in standard English was less important than honoring the multiplicity of “voices” in society. Liberals said that the “position” from which you “articulated” your identity within society was a factor in whether you deserved the job.

    And now? Well, I suspect that still holds true—for everyone except Sarah Palin.

    Palin doesn’t need eloquence or ideas—she’s got authenticity. Eloquence and ideas are for conservative women like Michelle Malkin and Kate O’Beirne. If Gertrude Himmelfarb had ever disgorged one of Palin’s unparseables on a history panel, listeners would quite properly have wondered what her BAL was. But coming from Sarah, while she’s trying to convince us she deserves the job of Vice-President of the United States, all this meandering sounds so very winningly earnest that it just adds to her charm. After Palin’s resignation, Roger Kimball—this would be the Roger Kimball who’s won many of us over as a scourge of mangled English and lack of familiarity with great thinkers—made a flippant comment about the “syntactical breakdown” of some liberal guy responding at The Daily Beast.* Interestingly, I don’t recall his taking one of the many opportunities to call on Palin herself to do better on that score last fall. Maybe he did and I missed it, but all I recollect is a curt “I acknowledge that she has performed poorly in some recent interviews.” And yes, I understand that it was important not to undermine the McCain-Palin ticket before the election, but on the other hand, perhaps Palin would have felt more of an impetus to start performing better if she’d gotten more reasoned criticism from avowed supporters. “I place myself firmly in the utterly besotted camp” does not signal a need for improvement. And while I’m picking specifically on Kimball here because of his track record, he was hardly alone.

    With the election over, things don’t seem to have improved a great deal. Cathy Young made the following observation at Real Clear Politics this week:

    Those who believe Palin held her own debating Joe Biden forget that the McCain camp had requested a less-challenging format for that debate, with follow-up questions limited.

    Some of Palin’s followers see her as the second coming of Reagan. But Reagan, despised as a “dunce” by his liberal detractors, had extensively read, written, and talked about the key issues of his day. While not an intellectual, he was a man of ideas. Palin is not known to harbor those. Her appeal is described in terms of “speaking from heart” and exemplifying the virtues of faith and family – which is ironic, given the usual conservative derision of emotion-based liberal politics.

    There are a lot of comments, but this one by Rick Garner (timestamped Jul 08, 05:29 PM) represents what a lot of others have said there and elsewhere:

    I have to disagree that Sarah Palin is not the leader that conservatives are seeking for this reason…stumbling, rambling and incoherent as many elitist, snobbish and boorish critics labeled her announcement to resign… the everyday common, hardworking, God and family centered, middle America conservative citizen understood clearly what she was saying and the reasons behind her decision. She is in everyway…conservative middle America. We know her, understand her, believe what she believes, we too many times speak in a rambling and sometimes stumbling voice, trying to express our hearts honestly and truthfully. To criticize her unpolished manner is to criticize most Americans.

    No, I’m sorry, it is not. Palin, unlike “most Americans,” is the governor of a state and accepted the VP nomination. She didn’t just find herself caught unawares in front of the camera. I’m not denying that the media are out to get her or that they’re doing what they have to to make her look stupid. I’m saying that she’s still to blame when she gives them good material to work with. Honestly, if the Democrats had nominated an unknown black woman politician who insisted on speaking in Ebonics and gave tortuous answers to straightforward questions about foreign policy, would there be a single conservative commentator or commenter who would be applauding her for speaking from the heart? Yeah, right. We’d be hearing all about how her evasive sentence structures demonstrated the bankruptcy of her ideas and how she wasn’t showing respect for the office for which she was campaigning.

    Young linked to her article at her blog, and one of her commenters there illustrated another aspect of Palin love that’s disturbing: the reflexive dismissal of all criticism of his idol as rooted in class resentment or leftist/feminist dogma.

    I think you need to come to terms with your own feelings about Sarah Palin. You don’t like her because she is a powerful woman who is a conservative. You can’t stand it. You feel it is a betrayal to women. You think she needs to be a pro-choice feminist.

    That particular commenter, it must be noted, has been willing to read more about Young—the idea that she’s a feminist party-liner is risible—and is now having an interesting discussion with her. I’m hoping that when things calm down a bit, that will happen more. But right now, his initial reaction is more the norm. Conservatives may reject the leftist attacks on Palin, but they’ve been all too happy to accept the false dilemma on which they’re predicated: that you must either think she’s a genius or think she’s a moron. Victor Davis Hanson, whose blog is at PJM in central Palin-groupie territory, posted the other day about her critics:

    But if, a big if, she decides to become a national political figure, Palin should use these next few years (in addition to making some money to support her family) to travel and read widely in the manner that a Reagan did in his wilderness period. She has natural intelligence and is curious. I think most would like to see her do another Couric interview five years from now after she had time to size up DC insiders, meet more politicians, lecture in front of hostile audiences-and just read and reflect.

    Okay, that’s very reasonable, and it’s a relief to see that Hanson doesn’t think one of Palin’s chief charms is that she’s unsullied by too much book-learnin’. But I’m still not sure that I buy the “curious” part. I mean, look, if the complaints about her intelligence consisted of nothing but grousing that she said “disinterested” when she meant “uninterested,” or that she stressed the second syllable in patina and despicable, her defenders would be perfectly justified in countering that they were elitist. But Palin’s grasp of foreign policy never struck me as matching that which I’d expect from an everyday informed citizen of her age, let alone a politician who could make over Washington. It’s possible to love America and still not have a strong, systematic understanding of how to put its ideals into practice in a complex world, just as it’s possible to be a knee-jerk leftist.

    If Palin were the only issue here, this might not matter much. She’s resigned, after all, and if she does decide to run for office again, we’ll see whether she can take the heat. If she can’t she’ll drop out, and stronger candidates will prevail, as Ann Althouse says. My big worry is that she may not bring it, because there will be too many people telling her that all those naysayers who think she needs to improve are just jealous of how pretty and happy she is.** And even if Palin only stays in politics from behind the scenes as a rainmaker or inspirational speaker, the signal has now been sent that conservatism not only knows how to play identity politics as well as liberalism when an election’s at stake but also knows how to follow through on it afterward. Like Hollywood, politics has a way of latching onto what works and trying to replicate it. I hope the Palin phenomenon doesn’t mean we can look forward to more politicians who score points simply by being on the just-folks side of the culture wars. Persons of ability excel when challenged, not coddled; and America deserves public servants who meet the most demanding standards. Conservatives used to know those things, and I hope they still do.

    * Seriously, how is it possible for someone of Kimball’s redoubtable intelligence not to see the folly of playing the “syntactical breakdown” card in the process of defending Sarah Palin?

    ** That’s not to minimize the drubbing Palin took. Erin O’Connor at Critical Mass was right to call it a witch hunt—like all the abuse the Clintons took over two terms in the White House compressed into ten months. And Eric is right that the snobbery about Palin’s schooling was shockingly low and bald-faced.

    Added after grabbing a long-sleeved shirt (it is July, isn’t it?): Wow. I wish I’d gone to Unreligious Right before posting this, because he links to this column by Peggy Noonan about Palin. I think Noonan goes too far in the cruelty toward Palin, but she gets at something important that I tried to convey above:

    She was hungry, loved politics, had charm and energy, loved walking onto the stage, waving and doing the stump speech. All good. But she was not thoughtful. She was a gifted retail politician who displayed the disadvantages of being born into a point of view (in her case a form of conservatism; elsewhere and in other circumstances, it could have been a form of liberalism) and swallowing it whole: She never learned how the other sides think, or why.

    In television interviews she was out of her depth in a shallow pool. She was limited in her ability to explain and defend her positions, and sometimes in knowing them. She couldn’t say what she read because she didn’t read anything. She was utterly unconcerned by all this and seemed in fact rather proud of it: It was evidence of her authenticity. She experienced criticism as both partisan and cruel because she could see no truth in any of it. She wasn’t thoughtful enough to know she wasn’t thoughtful enough.

    As I say, I think this goes too far. Palin can sound lucid on issues—energy policy is the big one—that she’s had to confront on a day-to-day basis while governing Alaska, so I think the contention that she can learn on the job still has potential merit. But she needs supporters who will hold her to the highest standards, not deflect all criticism as some kind of anti-American plot. Unreligious Right says, “[B]y attacking Palin and those who support her, Noonan is doing exactly what she attributes to Palin: sowing discord within the GOP ranks.” Yes, probably. She’s also wrong that the defenses she lists are mostly coming from right-wing intellectuals; Middle-American supporters of Palin seem to be embracing them, too. But I suspect that what’s really getting Noonan going (and maybe I’m just projecting here) is the 180 so many of her fellow travelers seem to have done since Palin arrived on the scene.

    Added still later: Heather Mac Donald has (again) posted about Palin at Secular Right and is (again) getting a good beating-up for floating the gingerly suggestion that a contender for national office should be able to connect ideas dependably.

    Leave a Reply