Palin may be a joke, but she is a joke with a serious undertone. On one sense, Palin’s choice represents the last desperate gasp of a discredited politics, a politics that draws phony distinctions and plays to perceived grievance, all the while trying to distract from the issues. She is the ultimate embodiment of the know-nothing culture warrior. Of course, the problem with being a “know nothing” is not actually knowing nothing, but rather the lack of any desire to actually learn something, to increase one’s readiness for an office that embodies great responsibility. She seems content instead to stay within the bubble and stoke the fires of resentment. Like many who came before her, she will use the abortion issue in pursuit of her political goals. It is no accident that she stepped up the abortion rhetoric only when she was deemed to have abused power as Alaska governor, having made no mention of it at all in her convention speech. It is also no accident that for her, truth seems to be relative. Resentment invents its own reality.
When I say “ultimate embodiment”, I mean that she encapsulates all the worst elements of the modern pseudo-conservative movement in a single person. That’s pretty impressive, when you think about it. She has the arrogance and disdain for intellectual curiosity of George Bush, the secrecy and vindictiveness of Dick Cheney, the class resentment of Richard Nixon, the penchant for exploiting culture of life issues for political ends of Tom Delay, and the tendency to demonize opponents with an us-versus-them rhetoric that flows directly from a movement that gave us the Limbaughs, the Coulters, and the Fox News crew.
For when the Democrats nominated a mixed race highly educated man with an international background for president, Palin is held to embody a phony white working-class culture, with all its resentment of “elites” and foreign influences, its strident militarism, and its false theology of American exceptionalism underpinned by a blasphemous melding of Christianity with the nation state. The contrast is deliberate and stark, which is really the twisted genius of McCain’s choice. But while people with Obama’s background represent the future of this country, Palin hails from a culture on the wrong side of demographics, and that is — as much as it tries to ignore the wider world– a net loser from globalization. And it remains convinced of its moral superiority, which is the kernal of the problem. One thing that became crystal clear to me when I saw the outpouring of admiration for Palin from among the “base” (and I include some Catholic bloggers here) was that it was all about the culture, and the perceived virtues of this culture. Abortion definitely took a back seat.And look what’s happening. It is no accident that her ultra-crude language and message (“palling around with terrorists”, only visiting the “pro-American” parts of the country) are bringing out the very worst in people, stoking racial fires that many had thought (hoped) had long faded. It is grossly irresponsible, but she seems totally oblivious to the effects. Even as McCain tones it down, she dials it up. I’m pretty sure she is not doing this deliberately, but I’m also sure that she has no idea what she is unleashing. Resentment creates blindness. The bubble feeds on itself. For when Palin invoked Westbrook Pegler’s homage to the virtues of small towns, she seemed unaware that Pegler was a notorious opponent of the civil rights movement who dabbled in violent rhetroric, once expressing the hope that “some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter [Bobby Kennedy’s] spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies.” I’m not trying to tie to Palin to people like Pegler, but merely noting that she is playing with very dangerous fire here, and she doesn’t seem to realize it.
It I were optimistic, I would say that the Palin pick represents the “last throes” of a discredited agenda, and that the conservative movement will be reborn with nobler instincts in its aftermath. Let’s hope.