by Victor Davis Hanson
We Are Civil Now
In emulation of Jonathan Chait’s now infamous 2004 New Republic essay, “The Case for Bush Hatred” (“I hate George Bush — there, I said it”), Slate just published an op-ed, “Why I Loathe My Connecticut Senator” by one Emily Bazelon, with a detailed description of why she “despises” and “hates” Sen. Joe Lieberman (again, the same reason as Chait’s Bush hatred: too conservative and too in power).
So much for the new Obama age of civility.
Palin This, Palin That
In this context, since the moment of the Tucson shootings we have witnessed not just a campaign to smear Sarah Palin with the charge that she, or what she supposedly represents, is responsible for the mayhem, but that her rebuttals themselves are more proof that she is culpable.
Op-ed writers all the time employ the metaphor “crosshairs.” Democrats use targets to highlight their plans to unseat congressional Republicans. “Blood libel” long ago became a generic charge far more than a specific one reflecting its anti-Semitic roots. No matter — if Palin can be tied to any of that, then she alone is guilty of all that. So what is it that so bugs the media elite about Sarah Palin?
Didn’t She Say All That?
Is the problem with Palin that she uses inflammatory language far too loosely given her position of responsibility? Of course, evocation of “enemies, punishing, kicking ass, relegation to backseat, knives, guns, getting angry, getting in their face, hostage takers, trigger fingers, and tearing up” does not suit a national public figure and former vice presidential candidate. Oops, those allusions were Barack Obama’s, not Sarah Palin’s.
Well, then, confess it — Palin has a disturbing tendency to blurt out dumb, even wacky things — a sort of window into her Wasilla vacuity that daily reminds us why she simply is unfit for higher office. Remember when she claimed that the images of Berlin’s Victory Column were photo-shopped phallic symbols? Didn’t she muse about a radio talk show host being blown up “Mr. Big”-style with a CO2 pellet to the head? Sorry again, that was the New York Times’ esteemed columnist Bob Herbert and CNN’s Chris Matthews.
Fine, but she thought people in Austria speak some weird language called “Austrian” and she pronounces “corpsmen” “corpse-men” as if soldiers were some sort of walking dead, and she thinks there are 57 states, and she … sorry, all that and much more was Barack Obama’s, and they were slips after a weary day’s work, not “deep” reflections of reality.
The Great Divider
OK, I think what many people don’t like about Sarah Palin is her tendency to oh so subtly emphasize race — as in her celebration of a largely white anti-government Alaskan culture. That isolation makes her especially inept anytime she must deal with the multicultural, multiracial reality of the lower 48 states. Do we remember in the campaign when she said of Obama — “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man”? Excuse me, that gem was from Senate veteran, eastern-seaboarder, and now Vice President Joe Biden.
Well, what I meant to quote was Palin’s ridiculous description of Obama as a “light-skinned African American,” one “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” OK, sorry again, that was the work of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
But maybe the rub is Palin’s complete lack of bipartisanship. Did she not as an Alaskan politician have the most partisan voting record in her various offices, or duck issues by serially voting present? Got me again — that was Barack Obama in the state legislature and as a US senator.
But at least admit her political extremism is deleterious to the commonwealth, especially her tendency to go over the top in demonizing enemies with inappropriate and hurtful language. Don’t we remember how she tarred the incumbent administration with the loony charge of “Nazis” or “digital brownshirts”? I apologize again — that stuff came out of the mouths of former US Senators Robert Byrd, Al Gore, and John Glenn.
Well, then, there’s Todd and his strange Alaskan paranoia and his anti-government excess that almost sounds anti-American. Remember when he not long ago just lost it and shouted out that our America “was downright mean” and that America was always “raising the bar” on the Palins? And remember Todd’s unfortunate boast that his Sarah “is one of the smartest people you will ever encounter who will deign to enter this messy thing called politics.” Then, to top that braggadocio off, ol’ Todd blurted out: “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.” Scary, militia stuff no doubt.
Sorry again, that was First Lady Michelle Obama.
We could go on, but you get the uncivil picture. The popular hatred of a self-described elite culture toward Sarah Palin is almost inexplicable — whether expressed in Andrew Sullivan’s unhinged efforts to suggest Palin faked her fifth pregnancy, or David Letterman’s slur that she seemed a “slutty flight attendant” and her 14-year-old daughter “was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez,” or CNN guest host Kathy Griffin’s crudity that her next target was the teenaged Palin daughter: “But I think it’s Willow’s year to go down.”
Who Does this Woman Think She Is?
So why the war against Palin, when Palinisms are not demonstrably different from Bidenisms, Obamaisms, or Goreisms? Uppity-ness I suppose is the short answer. In the binary world of a Sullivan, Letterman, or Griffin, or in the larger culture of network news, NPR, PBS, the New York Times and Washington Post and their columnists, and the weekly magazines like Time and Newsweek, Sarah Palin is apparently all that they are not.
In such a metro, hip, in-with-it culture, one is supposed to have a thinking-man’s or artiste’s billet of some sort in Washington or New York (that it often comes from nepotism, insider networking, or marriage matters little). Being a mom of five children flies in the face of the demography of yuppie careerism, abortion, and the gay world. Cross-country skiing is okay; snowmobiles polluting the atmosphere and gashing the Earth are not. Credentials matter much: University of Idaho and sports journalism are not polar, but planetary, opposites of Yale and law. Wasilla is to the Upper West Side or Chevy Chase as Uranus is to planet Earth. And how can it be fair that Sarah Palin seems stunning after five children when so many in the DC-NY corridor after millennia on the exercise machine and gallons of Botox are, well, “interesting looking”?
If one is going to drop one’s “g’” and talk to the folks, then do that with Barack Obama’s “Negro dialect” when he “wants to,” not her 24/7 authentic NASCAR/Fargo patois. The former is fake and ephemeral and for liberal purposes and so okay, the latter is real and permanent and often Tea-Partyish — and so scary.
Around Too Long?
But Palin represents more than superficial antitheses. Most polls, and the November election, suggest that the public has had it with deficits, big government, more stimulus and takeovers, and ObamaCare, whether delivered by Democrats or Republicans.
The problem with such an unfocused Tea Party anger is said to be the lack of leadership, which to many is itself somewhat at odds with the grassroots, prairie-fire imprimatur of the movement. But for now, Palin, almost alone, has the star power, the ability to draw enormous crowds, garner attention, raise controversy, to be emblematic of that “don’t tread on me” unease — largely in her mysterious ability to connect with millions in the middle class.
Her liability is that as a mother of five, happily married, and former city-council member, small town mayor, Alaskan regulator, and governor, she has not had a lot of internships at The New Republic, or Gore-like graduate experiences, or tenure among the writers and thinkers in New York. To these few she seems as grotesque as she appears authentic to millions. And to be fair, in Obama-like fashion, she has not had the financial experience of a Romney, the executive experience of a Daniels, or the legislative experience of a Gingrich.
But could she ever win a presidency? The conventional wisdom is no. I say conventional wisdom in the sense of sober and judicious conservative thinkers who raise eyebrows at her exuberance and suspect in an hour meeting they could stump her, in Couric-like fashion, on everything from Balkan fault lines to the work of Edmund Burke.
Someone like a President Palin could really blow it with a hickish bow to a Saudi Arabian autocrat or a rambling apology about American sins in Turkey of all places, or nominate some nut who would have a Truther past or resort to racism or a yokel who would brag about her hero Mao.
But more germanely, Palin need not run for the presidency in 2012 in the manner commentator and newly elected governor Reagan did not until 1968, and did not successfully until 1980 — all the while establishing a populist conservative persona as hated — and successful — during his near two-decade pre-presidential career as a younger Palin might be in the two decades ahead.
Palin is scary not so much in 2012, but that she could be around — and be around in an evolving way — for a long time to come.
©2011 Victor Davis Hanson