On Palin; No Animus, No Condescension

In my piece yesterday at Pajamas Media I wrote:

. . .thrust-and-parry between a candidate and the media can both sharpen a candidate’s edge and enliven his footwork to his benefit; one smooth slice, well-timed, can topple both press and opponent, and linger in a voter’s memory as a satisfying match they want to see replayed . . . This is something Sarah Palin (and for that matter, the Tea Partiers) may wish to keep in mind for 2012. Palin is perfectly capable of deft bladework, but too often chooses to attack when a parry-and-feint will do. Her methods may please her press-hating base but — as we see with Angle and O’Donnell — one needs more than principles and an echo-chamber-emboldened base in order to win an election. One needs to be able to demonstrate skill with a keen-edged sword, so that when one lifts it above the noise and the babble, a majority will want to follow it to victory.

Well, the hate mail has been pouring in:

“I don’t understand this unattractive animus you display toward Palin…”

“You have no right to criticize our Sarah until you’ve put yourself out there, as she has.”

“You stuck-up, elitist, GOP establishment toady…”

“How dare you!”

I expect that in the writer’s mind, that last line sounded like “how daaaaaaare you” replete with a lightening bolt zapping me to hell.

Sissy Willis, who (bless her) does not seem to want to consign me to flames of woe just yet, suggests that in the above excerpt I have been “flirting with condescension” toward Palin.

I am a little surprised to read this. I thought I had pretty clearly complimented Palin in admitting that she is capable of “deft” bladework, and had merely cautioned that she often chooses not to use that skill. For instance, she went all-out-grizzly at the Family Guy for the Down syndrome “date” episode, when she really didn’t need to, and in fact could have done more harm to Family Guy with wit than with anger.

I have already said that I think the Tea Party had a good outing this election, especially for a very new movement that has no “official” leadership. What so many are taking as “establishment condescension” in my piece was nothing of the sort. I am not a Tea Partier (I am not a joiner, period) but that doesn’t mean I do not respect what is being done. Because I’m not in the thick of it, I have no emotional investment in the movement or in Palin, or for that matter, Christine O’ Donnell. I have defended both of them (Palin, many, many, many times) when I thought it right to, and have constructively critiqued her when I thought it was warranted.

Just because I am not starry-eyed in adulation of Palin does not make me a “hater” or “condescending.” It just means that I am willing to process her without emotion, and speak as I find, which–to my way of thinking–is more useful than being too-much-in-love to see a weakness or too-much-in-hate to see a strength.

Sissy makes a very good point about how Palin is going around media to get to the people:

[Sarah’s] energetic embrace of the full panoply of media, old and new–from Twitter and Facebook to Fox News, Entertainment TV, her forthcoming TLC “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” series and even her daughter Bristol’s appearances on Dancing with the Stars–allows her to disintermediate the gateway media and reach the hearts and minds of the Country Class on her own terms.

Yes, Palin is doing that, and rather well. However, if Palin is going to run for president–and I believe yesterday’s well-done SarahPAC video was a hint that she will–she will need more than her base. She has a steep uphill battle before her as she tries to win back the centrists and indies who were initially attracted to her in ’08 (thus helping McCain’s numbers rise), before they fell for the unforgettably savage media attack launched against Palin.

Some would like to believe that Palin “will not need to engage the mainstream media to do that,” but the truth is, she will. Their influence is waning, and they don’t quite control the narrative as firmly as they used to, but for now the “gateway” media still controls the national conversation, itself. Those centrists and independents who turned away from Palin mostly took their cues from the mainstream, upon whom they depend for their headlines-and-soundbites. Part of her ability to win them back will depend upon how deftly (there is that word again) she engages that mainstream, who–if I may revisit the fencing analogy–will grudgingly acknowledge a touche. Recall that when Walter Mondale tried to make Reagan’s age an issue in the ’84 campaign, Reagan disarmed him (and the press) completely by genially responding that no one should hold his opponent’s youth against him. The Osric-press announced, “a hit; a very palpable hit!”

The press would never be on Reagan’s side, but all the rest of the country needed was that grudging admission that Mondale had been neatly flayed.

The US mainstream press–for all its deplorable excess–is still comprised of US citizens. A president who intends to be president of all the nation, and not just his base, will need to remember that; he cannot treat some like enemies. Reagan never did. Whatever his private feelings, he treated the press like fellow-citizens who simply held another view. Right now, Palin is getting a great deal of mileage out of hating-on the mainstream media (and let’s face it, hating-on the media is fun and kind of righteous at the moment) but eventually–if she means to be president–she is going to have to see them as her citizens, too.

Finally, for those taking offense at my “echo-chamber” remark, I have repeatedly warned of the disorienting danger of excessive insularity; if one is only listening to voices that are in unstinting agreement with one’s own views, one begins to believe that the whole world thinks as one does. That leads to nasty surprises in elections. The echo-chambers are fun, but they do occasionally need to be exited for a bit of fresh air or they become dull, stagnant places.

I have written about Sarah Palin and about the Tea Party in general, without much passion or prejudice, never dismissing either of them thoughtlessly or out of hand; I have simply applied what I know of politics, people, bullies and survival to my observations. We have become such an infuriated left-right nation that for some (on both sides) anything less than full-throated approval is received as hate, and that is not helpful to any of us, if we want to restore common sense to the public square.

No one has to agree with me; reasoned disagreement is always welcome. But Palin supporters do not make her more attractive to the centrists and indies by striking out in fury at the mildest of critiques of her. I more than understand why her supporters are overprotective of her, but reservation does not equal hate. It actually indicates a place where true common ground may be pursued, if emotions can be tamped down.

UPDATED: Now this is more like animus.

I think Richard Fernandez is on to something.

Related:
Jonah Goldberg predicts infighting in the GOP. Good thing I’m not a Republican!

Evangelicals and what they can learn from the election

Melissa Clouthier: Palin and Rubio?

Breaking: Nancy Pelosi running for leadership. It’s just too delicious. She’s going to leave her fingernail marks on the wallpaper of congress, before they get rid of her.

Looking back: There is an art to good politics

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About Elizabeth Scalia