Palinoia December 6, 2010

This morning my new column was published, “Palin Enragement Syndrome.”  The response to Palin, when she first came to the attention of the public, was so overwhelming and so extraordinarily negative that it requires explanation, and has to be explained by more than mere political opposition.  I begin the column thus:

The fight over Sarah Palin is about a lot more than Sarah Palin. It’s about what America means. It’s about what things are truly good and trustworthy. It’s about the worldview and the values that will guide our government and society.

The gist is this.  The Left’s loathing and the Right’s love for Palin (or at least the populist Right) — at least in large part — does not have to do with her past or her policies, but with all that she personifies.  She personifies a culture that the Right sees as truly, classically, and morally American — and that the Left sees as unsophisticated, religiously fanatical, and bigoted.  She personifies the culture that the populist Right wants to revive, and that the elitist Left wants to leave behind.

Does Sarah Palin represent what America should be?  What values should guide us?  Or does she represent the old America, unevolved and backward?  Some on the Left (and not on the Left) despise Palin for good reasons.  But many despise her for what she represents, and because they despise the people who support her.  Read the rest of the column for more.

As David French argues, it’s important to stand against the extreme slander that Palin has suffered.  But this does not mean that we should support Palin for President.  It seems as though the Right is making this distinction.  Many conservatives bristle at all the bile poured out on Palin.  But they are hesitant to support her for President.  I think that’s right.  She is still young, and in my opinion she needs more experience in national politics before she’ll be ready for such a role.

Right now, Palin is oscillating between political and media roles.  Is she the white conservative Oprah?  Or is she the anti-Obama?  It seems to me that if she were absolutely convinced that she wanted to run for President, she would be edging toward the Obama side, and taking fewer popular media roles.  So I’m hoping that she will not run.  One would like to think that a person like Palin would consider not only whether she could win, but whether she is truly ready to be a successful President.  (One wonders whether Obama ever wondered this, or was capable of doubting his own readiness and capability.)  If she ran, she could wreak a lot of havoc.  She would gain a great deal of respect in my mind if she decided not to run, and instead to use her influence to support a more experienced and immaculately qualified conservative candidate.

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  • SCSoxFan

    Mr. Dalrymple:

    I am curious as to why you consider Sarah Palin unsuitable for the Presidency. You state, or at least indicate, that she is, but do not explain why.

    You do, I think, pinpoint the central driver of public attitudes towards her, which is culture. She is often compared to Ronald Reagan, but I think a more apt comparison is to Harry Truman. Both had non-elite educations (Palin attended several land grant state colleges while Truman never finished college), what can be called common mannerisms, and relied more on their personal backgrounds, experiences, and instincts to form policy rather than exposure to the grand thoughts of the day. Truman’s political experience prior to assuming the Presidency was also very limited, as is Palin’s. He was a 1-1/2 term Senator with limited exposure to policy making. As for his Vice Presidency, he was isolated and ignored by the Roosevelt team (so, you cannot say that this prepared him for the Presidency). And Truman, like Palin, was despised by the elites in both parties.

    Truman is (now) considered to be at least a moderately successful president. Why Would Palin not be?

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  • Randy Gabrielse

    My opinion on Palin is simply that she needs to hold and not quit a lower public office before she even thinks about running for President.
    Randy G.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I think that’s completely reasonable, Randy. She was mayor for a while, of course. I would have preferred to see her complete her term as governor, or I would like to see her as a Rep or Senator before running for President.

  • Noel

    Obama went from college to community organiser, to senator to President. Palin went to Governer and did not finish her term, gets on reality shows, promotes GOP candidates who say wierd things, and makes a bundle writing and selling books.Meanwhile Obama takes us through a Global Financial Crisis, has 2 wars to fight, and has a whole news network on his back (Faux).

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      You’re not exactly being fair here, Noel. If you begin Obama’s narrative in college, you should do the same with Palin. Palin went from college to reporter (etc) to mayor to governor to Vice Presidential candidate, and now she is a media figure and political power broker. Personally, I think the Bush administration largely pulled us back from the brink of the economic cliff, and Obama has done some things to heal and some things to deepen the financial crisis. He has done reasonably well, I think, on Iraq and Afghanistan. But if you think Obama has more of the media against him than Palin — well, I’ll be kind and just say that I think you’re wrong.

      All of this is rather beside the point, however. The point was not to compare Obama and Palin, but just to say that much of the opposition to Palin has gone well beyond the fair and rational.

  • I am an evangelical and I find it annoying you keep pushing or commenting on conservative politics, assuming the conservative side is the only one one should follow. I think Luther said better to be ruled by a wise infidel than a christian fool.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Noel, I’m sorry I missed this comment earlier.

      I do not assume that the conservative side is the only one evangelicals show follow. I know many very faithful progressive evangelicals. In fact, most of my evangelical friends are progressives (living, as I have, in Palo Alto, Princeton, and Boston/Cambridge for about 16 years before moving, last May, to Atlanta).

      I just happen to be conservative. I find that my own deeper convictions and values align me, generally speaking, with conservative positions on social/political issues. I know many who disagree with me. That’s fine. But I’m going to explain why I feel the way I do. That’s my job. There is no assumption, implicit or otherwise, that all faithful evangelicals (or Christians, or human beings in general) will agree.

  • Noel

    It’s a pity Patheos did not have some spokespersons like Jim Wallis contributing. It’s interesting the Mormons have their own portal here. They are considerably smaller than the total of evangelicals. And interestingly enough Palin and Glenn Beck (a Mormon) get together. Beck’s church believes that the Garden of Eden was in America, Palin I imagine believes it was in the Middle East. Beck’s theology teaches that man can become a God, and that God was once a man. God dwells on a planet. Wow strange bedfellows

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Hi Noel. Thanks for coming back and continuing the conversation. I’ve interviewed Wallis for the Evangelical Portal before, and staged several conversations (one series called Cross Examinations, and another called American Evangelicalism and National Idolatry) that invited evangelicals and Christians on both sides of the political spectrum to converse on matters of common interest. Our bloggers tend to be more centrist or progressive than our columnists right now.

      Patheos as a whole is a non-partisan, multi-faith website. We have portals ranging from Evangelical and Catholic to Pagan and Muslim and Jewish and, yes, Mormon. While I am relatively conservative on political matters, that is not the norm amongst Patheos staff. Also, I would note that the Mainline Protestant Portal tends to have more progressive voices.

      I’m not sure to what extent Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are actually friends. While they share many political convictions, I don’t believe they know each other well. It’s also never been clear to me how much Beck knows and believes in the more out-there aspects of Mormon theology. Beck’s life was falling apart and he found redemption in the gospel as the Mormon church teaches it. But he’s never really explained what he thinks of Mormon theology, and he often sounds an awful lot like a born-again evangelical. I don’t know him personally, of course, but from what I hear he has a pretty open mind, is still figuring out where he stands on a lot of these things, and has a pretty evangelical spin on Mormonism.

  • Though Sarah Palin rubs many people the wrong way, she certainly talks about sensible solutions to the considerable difficulties our country is confronting. I don’t agree with all the things she says, but it will be interesting to see how well she performs should she run for President in 2012.