What Is Wisdom?: Sarah Palin and Her Critics

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

They Say/We Say

The debate over Palin is sort of ossified.

The Left continues to ridicule her accent, family, and middling roots. The Right enjoys such authenticity — but enjoys even more the hysteria it incurs in liberals.

Will It Be Politics or Money?

But lost in all of this is whether she is up to national politics, or simply wishes to capitalize (an Oprah-like talk show?) on her sizable financial potential. On the one hand, Palin is obviously bright. Few could raise a family without capital in Wasilla, and within a decade end up as Governor of a large state — whose protocols hinged on an old-boy network where politicians accommodated oil and mineral interests.

On the other hand, a mother of five, knee-deep in local politics, without money and leisure, is not going to be reading Gibbon for perspective, or spending the afternoon perusing Foreign Affairs. Nor is she going to remember a quip that her Prof at the Kennedy school once offered years ago. Nor is she going to recall clever repartee at a Georgetown dinner party from one grandee to another.

She has natural gifts — stamina, earthy grit, sensitivity to what most Americans go through raising a family on a limited budget, practicality from working with her hands in a natural world. All that is no small beer. Look at Truman’s various experiences in Missouri.

No Way 2012 — Maybe 2016, 2020?

But if, a big if, she decides to become a national political figure, Palin should use these next few years (in addition to making some money to support her family) to travel and read widely in the manner that a Reagan did in his wilderness period. She has natural intelligence and is curious. I think most would like to see her do another Couric interview five years from now after she had time to size up DC insiders, meet more politicians, lecture in front of hostile audiences — and just read and reflect. At fifty-five she could become a formidable candidate, given her natural charisma and authentic middle-class persona.

They All Resign — One Way or Another

As far as her resignation, it will be forgotten in two years. Politicians like William Weld, Bob Dole, Fred Thompson, and Bill Bradley have done it (to no real advantage). John McCain and Barack Obama essentially resigned from the Senate by campaigning nonstop for two years (but while getting paid). In Obama’s case, it is hard to believe whether he was ever really working as a Senator, but instead almost began prepping for the Presidency (after swearing that he would not) as soon as he was elected.

So Why the Hatred?

A Huffington Post satirist offers jokes about her son Trig’s disability, and mental impairment in general.

David Letterman laughs at the notion of her 14-year-old daughter having sex in a dugout with a baseball player.

Andrew Sullivan offered up conspiracy theories about how her daughter, not Palin herself, “really” delivered Trig.

Maureen Dowd declares that “Caribou Barbie is one nutty puppy,” and laughs at the names of her children, some geese-honking in the background during her interview, even the Piper Cub tiny plane near the Palin house.

Vanity Fair author swears that on his trip to Alaska, people came up to him and, quite independently of one another, proclaimed that Palin was a narcissist. According to Todd Purdum, mirabile dictu, many have consulted the ol’ handy Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (which we all carry in our backpockets) and, presto, discovered that Palin has a ” pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy’ — and thought it fit her perfectly.”

In short, if Palin is a “nutty puppy,” these Washington and New York insiders are a deranged pack of rabid dogs. Why, though, the venom?

Let us count the ways in which Palin enrages:

False Consciousness

1) The sophisticated elite “sees” the real world behind the middle-American façade — how the mob is led, fooled, mesmerized — exploited and manipulated through addiction to idiotic things like Wal-Mart, wall-to-wall carpeting, tract houses, Yukons, etc. Can’t smart people see that Palin’s naugahyde family is a reification of all this middle-class, mindless consumerism, without style, erudition, nuance and skepticism? How infuriating to sit here in New York and think that a winking tart could ever be elected, when seasoned sophisticates like Joe Biden and cosmopolitan metrosexuals like Barack Obama, who see it all, might not have been.

Powermen — Not Powerful Men

2) Twenty-first century power women do not marry men like Todd Palin. Looks, physicality, practicality, courage even — all these are nineteenth-century virtues that now mean nothing in a post-modern, post-industrial society. The fixer in finance, law, academia, politics, or the media — geek, nerd, wimp, who cares? — is the new Alpha male. He has three things that we are all supposed to crave — power, capital, and influence. If one were simply to draw up a list of the fiercest female critics of Palin and trace their own lineages, one would discover that they either are married to powerful insiders, dated powerful insiders, or are the daughters of powerful insiders. (some feminists these!) Who do this Wasilla PTA mom and her broken-arm, snow-mobiling wannabe think they are?

Too Many Rug Rats

3) Smart women do not get pregnant when it is inconvenient, especially when it interferes with one’s cursus honorum. Palin foolishly had a baby as governor, and waddled around with it the entire time — with other snotty kids in tow (just like those trashy folk at the mall who pile out of the Tahoe, in the way just as you are parking your Volvo)! And worse, in the age of sonograms and abortion, she delivered a mentally-challenged child. And worse still, the mom of five encouraged her daughter to deliver an out-of-wedlock child. (Is it in Oklahoma or Arkansas where moms and daughters have children about the same time?) And which is worse, to have a kid at 17 or one after 40? And worse, worse yet, she does not support abortion! Here is Hell in Sarah Palin’s world: I am up for a promotion at CNN, foolishly become pregnant at 42, and discover “it” has chromosomal “issues.” Am I supposed to deliver this thing? I don’t think so (nor would my daughter, should she become pregnant by her boyfriend the summer before starting off at Vassar [all that SAT camp for nothing?]).

The Alaskan Clampetts

4) Taste, taste, taste. Sara gushes and talks like she works at Supercuts (cannot someone teach Sarah to drone through her nose?). She shops like she walked out of Wal-Mart. She winks, and gestures as if she’s running a raffle stand at a PTA carnival and flirting with the local State Farm insurance agent. These Palins and their extended family, are, well, like the Clampetts who descend on Beverly Hills. (cf. “Trig”, “Piper” and “Bristol” — the Alaskan equivalents of “Jethro Bodine”, “Jed”, and “Granny”). And if you are to have scandals in your trailer-park family, let them be elegant ones — cf. Ted Kennedy, Ted, Kennedy, Jr., Michael Kennedy, William Kennedy Smith, David Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Jr. and their assorted sins such as drug convictions, drug overdoses, serial sexual predations, loss of life, etc. — At least sin and quote Niebuhr, or discuss alleviation of the sin in Palm Beach or Hyannis Port.

Elly May, Not Jackie

5) There are looks and then there are looks. Brainless men without taste think Palin is “hot.” And she is in a sort of unsophisticated Carny way. But looks are really defined by an Audrey Hepburn/Jackie O understated grace, a slightly emaciated look with a grimace now and then. Or through race and gender prisms — a Michelle Obama or a model that is half-Asian, a quarter-Native American, three-quarters African-American. But a pink woman with curves that delivers kids about every two years? Come on! — in the old days, who would have preferred an Ann Margaret to a Candice Bergen? A Raquel Welch to a Mia Farrow? In our postmodern DC-NY nexus, women who are highly educated, with Ivy-League degrees, with some sort of exoticism — a French name, a trace of Indonesian ancestry, a first husband who was Nigerian — a good title such as Senior Editor at Knopf, or Executive Producer at CNN — are, by definition, sexy. And then along comes “It Came From Wasilla”, who excited these Neanderthal males at NASCAR who know nothing of classical understated, real beauty, of real pillow talk.

In the End, What is Wisdom?

6) Euripides asked that in the Bacchae? So who is the better one to sit down across from Putin? What training is critical to size up a Chavez, or say ‘no thanks, bud’ to Iran?

Does it require brains to manage a family with five kids, live on a limited budget, get elected to local office, fish, hunt, go to sea, cook your own food, navigate in politics with no money, without an influential dad and powerbroker husband — or is real wisdom finishing prep school, doing B+ work at Yale, and writing a novel, column or short story? (A little of both, you say? That’s why I started this piece off with my suggestion she take her new time to read and digest.)

In all seriousness at last, I’ve found it was harder to calibrate an old spray rig (without getting Parquat [‘liquid death’ we used to call it] up your nose and Simazine down your pants), with a shot roller pump and worn nozzles. It took some skill to put one pound (and only one pound) of Parquat and Simazine per acre on a two-foot-wide vineyard berm, correcting for tractor speed, wind, leaks, pump idiosyncrasies, soil conditions — knowing that too much preemergent herbicide gives you sick vines, and too little, weeds — than it was to do an apparatus criticus of 200 lines of the Greek text of Aeschylus’sSuppliants — all things, of course, being considered.

Sorry for the ‘either/or’ reductive binary: but I saw more stupid people in graduate school and three decades in academia than I ever did who ran 100 acres without going broke — and more of the latter whom I’d trust not to bankrupt the country and let down our defenses than of the former.

While we rightly argue that the Sarahs of the world, if they are to be taken seriously as leaders, must read and study more, why do we not also suggest that the Baracks of the world could do a little more chain-sawing, run a coffee shop for a summer, or drive a Winnebago cross-country? (Who knows, he might meet a fellow woodcutter who knew there were 50 states or that it was dumb to make fun of the Special Olympics.)

After all, a lot of geniuses are now calling for a “second stimulus” to borrow another trillion or so still, but I don’t think they come from Wasilla.

So I am afraid right now, but not of Sarah Palin.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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