Palin Enragement Syndrome

There are other, legitimate reasons for the more level-headed liberals and independents who dislike Sarah Palin and were distressed at the thought that she could be “a heartbeat from the Presidency.” But there are also a great number of liberals for whom Palin is a religious-fanatic white-trash woman who escaped the trailer park and somehow found herself on a Presidential ticket with a national platform and a delirious following.

And this is enough to illustrate the point: much of the opposition to Palin is not political. It is deeply and thoroughly cultural. Sarah Palin is Miss Jesusland, the living emblem and foremost representative of an America that progressive elites had hoped had been swept into the dustbin of history. One definition of culture is “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.” Palin represents the values, tastes, and institutions, the attitudes and behaviors, that are shared by one American sub-culture and despised by another. Hugh Hewitt had it right over a year ago, when he said that Palin is “the opposite of every choice that lefty elites have ever made . . . the antithesis of everything that liberal urban elites are.”

In a very peculiar sort of way, then, Sarah Palin herself has become the latest contested territory in America’s ongoing culture war. The fight over Sarah Palin is a proxy battle over cultural issues and over the meaning of America: not only Democrats and Republicans but low culture versus high culture, conservative Christianity versus progressive religion, pro-life versus pro-choice, traditional family versus modern family, rural versus urban, the wisdom and goodness of the people versus the technocracy of the elite. It’s a proxy battle over which culture -- which set of values, attitudes, and behaviors -- ought to pervade and guide our nation and its government.

There are cautionary notes here both for the Left and for the Right. The Left should understand that their scorn for Sarah Palin is of the same stream as their scorn for a wide swath of fellow Americans. It does not show their good side. Progressives of good will can recognize, I think, that they dislike Palin in part because they dislike the kind of people who support Palin, the kind of people she represents. The stereotypes and prejudices made manifest in their hatred for Palin are deeply unbecoming, and only serve to fuel the devotion to Palin for many on the Right.

For the Right, the cautionary note is this. It is partly because so much of the opposition to her is cultural that we also find high-culture conservatives who dislike her, from Peggy Noonan and Barbara Bush to Michael Gerson and Karl Rove. But Palin supporters would be mistaken if they assumed that this was the only reason why Republican elites are wary. There are legitimate concerns about her experience in national and international matters, her electability, and her political judgment. These are not the insults of enemies, but the concerns of friends. Is Sarah Palin the best electable candidate from the conservative ranks? And even if she were electable, would she, amongst all the electable candidates, make the best President? Even if we like her, and even if we could get her elected, should we? Is she ready for what is arguably the toughest and most consequential job in the world, the performance of which could lead to prosperity or to calamity for our country?

Much though I appreciate what Palin has accomplished, much though I agree with her on many issues, and much though I resent the anti-religious and anti-conservative prejudices that have fanned the flames of Palin Enragement Syndrome, to this point I do not believe that she would, of the electable conservative options available to us now, make the best President. And that, to me, is the fundamental question.

12/6/2010 5:00:00 AM
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    Timothy Dalrymple is the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Polymath Innovations, a strategic storytelling agency that advances the good with visionary organizations and brands. He leads a unique team of communicators from around North America and across the creative spectrum, serving mission-driven businesses and nonprofits who need a partner to amplify their voice and good works. Once a world-class gymnast whose career ended with a broken neck, Tim channeled his passions for faith and storytelling into his role as VP of Business Development for Patheos, helping to launch and grow the network into the world's largest religion website. He holds a Ph.D. in Religion from Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Tim blogs at Philosophical Fragments.