The Palin choice-12: The strange appeal of Sarah Palin

(For previous posts in this series, see here.)

I want to end this longer-than-anticipated series of posts by returning to the original question of “Why?” but shifting it from why was she chosen to why so many people are enamored of her, given her obvious shortcomings.

There is no question that the selection of Sarah Palin has given a big boost to the McCain campaign. It has definitely enthused the party faithful. Whether this lasts and translates into changing actual voter preferences among the so-called independent or ‘swing’ voters is something that has to be awaited. There are already signs that her star is beginning to fade.

Conservative (and former Republican) John Cole explains his concern with what the Palin choice says about the direction in which the Republican Party is heading.

The depressing thing is that this has been the GOP platform for years now. Expertise is overrated. Gut instincts, being “tough,” and being “decisive,” and not “blinking” are all far more important than actually knowing things.
. . .
Look at the thorough disdain for science the GOP has displayed for the past few years. Amorphous morals trump reason and science, and then those morals are conveniently discarded or altered when it becomes inconvenient for the GOP (see: family values, David Vitter).

The funny thing about all this is that the new savior of the GOP, Sarah Palin, is the one who is finally waking everyone up to what the Republican party really is all about. They are not serious about foreign policy . . . They are not serious (or honest) about scientific policy. They are not serious about economic policy (other than cutting taxes). They are not serious about an energy policy (just drill, baby, drill).

They just are not serious about, well, anything.

And Sarah Palin is the distilled essence of wingnut. She has it all. She is dishonest. She is a religious nut. She is incurious. She is anti-science. She is inexperienced. She abuses her authority. She hides behind executive privilege. She is a big spender. She works from the gut and places a greater value on instinct than knowledge.

This disdain for knowledge and expertise is a troubling phenomenon. While the leaders of the country need not be scholars or policy wonks or experts in economic or military matters, that is a far cry from the absurd notion that common sense and gut instincts are sufficient for making major decisions. As another conservative Dan Drezner says: “Question to other GOP policy wonks: is it possible to support a candidate that campaigns on the notion that expertise is simply irrelevant?”

Even David Brooks, a reliable purveyor of conservative conventional wisdom, is having qualms about this tendency to view knowledge and expertise as somehow suspect and to praise ignorance as being a sign of being a ‘real’ person. .

This argument also is over what qualities the country needs in a leader and what are the ultimate sources of wisdom.

There was a time when conservatives did not argue about this. Conservatism was once a frankly elitist movement. Conservatives stood against radical egalitarianism and the destruction of rigorous standards. They stood up for classical education, hard-earned knowledge, experience and prudence. Wisdom was acquired through immersion in the best that has been thought and said.

People who call themselves conservatives in America have long ago abandoned those standards. So what exactly is Palin’s appeal to the present-day conservative faithful? It cannot be merely her views on the hot-button culture war issues. While she can glibly recite the standard right wing talking points on taxes and abortion and guns, so could any of the other people who competed against McCain in the primaries or whose names were floated as vice presidential possibilities. Clearly it is something about her as a person that seems to excite the imagination of the party faithful.

Cole points out a telling portion of her interview with Charles Gibson that I too found troubling, when he questioned her about the moment when she was asked to be the vice presidential nomineee.

Charles Gibson, the interviewer, asked her if she didn’t hesitate and question whether she was experienced enough.

“I didn’t hesitate, no,” she said.

He asked if that didn’t that take some hubris.

“I answered him yes,” Ms. Palin said, “because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink. So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.”

This is, of course, absolute drivel. Surely any reasonable person would want to think it over before taking on such a major responsibility as the vice presidency, especially since there is no indication that she was required to make an immediate decision. At the very least her responsibility to the people who elected her governor should have given her pause. Why is she spouting nonsense about ‘not blinking’ and being ‘committed to the mission’ when the question posed to her did not require either of those things?

Like Cole, I was disturbed by this pride in the lack of thoughtful decision-making in a situation that did not require urgency. Palin takes pride in making instantaneous decisions, without weighing the pros and cons. It seems like steely-eyed, clenched-jaw determination and an unquestioning and overweening confidence in the rightness of ones instincts are what passes for leadership these days. She is proud of being ‘wired’ in this way so she never has to ‘blink’ when faced with a decision because her gut tells her exactly what to do. She presumably reacts the same way when asked whether she wants tea or coffee.

Cole then put his finger on the reason that Palin appeals to the faithful: “She is supremely self-confident to the point of not recognizing how ill-equipped she is to lead the country . . . [She is] George Bush in a dress.” (my italics)

Cole remains cynical about the ability of his fellow conservatives to see through the phoniness. He thinks that they have been cheerleaders for George Bush for so long that they are unable to break from the addiction.

The Palin interview should be a gut-check for Republicans and conservatives who think the last eight years has been a perversion of conservative principles. I am betting most of them will not even put down their pom-poms, though.


Bil Maher is back with his New Rules where he comments on some of the issues raised in this series of posts.


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