Sunday, October 05, 2008


Behold a Palin Horse

Newsweek's cover story by Jon Meacham is entitled "The Palin Problem" and it exemplifies what Elitist Bastardry is all about. Some highlights:

Palin is on the ticket because she connects with everyday Americans. It is not shocking to learn that politics played a big role in the making of a presidential team ... But that honest explanation of the rationale for her candidacy—not her preparedness for office, but her personality and nascent maverickism in Alaska—raises an important question, not only about this election but about democratic leadership. Do we want leaders who are everyday folks, or do we want leaders who understand everyday folks? Therein lies an enormous difference ...

A key argument for Palin, in essence, is this: Washington and Wall Street are serving their own interests rather than those of the broad whole of the country, and the moment requires a vice president who will, Cincinnatus-like, help a new president come to the rescue. The problem with the argument is that Cincinnatus knew things. Palin sometimes seems an odd combination of Chauncey Gardiner from "Being There" and Marge from "Fargo."

Is this an elitist point of view? Perhaps, though it seems only reasonable and patriotic to hold candidates for high office to high standards. Elitism in this sense is not about educational or class credentials, not about where you went to school or whether you use "summer" as a verb. It is, rather, about the pursuit of excellence no matter where you started out in life. Jackson, Lincoln, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton were born to ordinary families, but they spent their lives doing extraordinary things, demonstrating an interest in, and a curiosity about, the world around them. This is much less evident in Palin's case. ...

We have been here before. In 1970 a Nebraska senator, Roman L. Hruska, was defending Richard Nixon's nomination of U.S. circuit Judge G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court. An underwhelming figure, Carswell was facing criticism that he was too "mediocre" for elevation. Hruska tried an interesting counterargument: "Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos." Fair enough, but it still seems sensible to aspire to surpass mediocrity rather than embrace it. ...

I could be wrong. Perhaps Sarah Palin will somehow emerge from the hurly-burly of history as a transformative figure who was underestimated in her time by journalists who could not see, or refused to acknowledge, her virtues. But do I think I am right in saying that Palin's populist view of high office—hey, Vice President Six-Pack, what should we do about Pakistan?—is dangerous? You betcha.
I am an elitist bastard and I approve this message.

I find it depressing, although not surprising, that so many people are taken in by this "hockey mom/Joe Six-pack" populist nonsense. Ask any of them whether, if their child were seriously ill, they would want it treated by an ordinary doctor or the best available and you know damned well what they would answer.

What is a little surprising is that, while in most other areas Americans extol striving to be "the best of the best" as a virtue, only in picking their leaders do they seem to believe that ordinariness - even mediocrity - is a better idea.
I think it is part of the American mythos -- the frontiersman alone against the wild, self-reliant and self-contained; the rag-tag Revolutionary militias fending off the greatest military power of the day; American democracy itself, with ordinary citizens deciding their own governance -- none of it literally true but it's powerful symbolism nonetheless. We tend to equate commonness with virtue, and so turn wily politicians into railsplitters and decide the leader of the free world by how easily we could see ourselves sharing a beer with him.
About having first-hand knowledge of ordinary Americans' lives, I have been trying to find out what experience Gov. Palin has with most of the USA. I understand that she has lived in small towns in Idaho and Alaska, and spent a college semester in Hawaii. But has she any knowledge of where most Americans live? Has she (other than recent campaigning) spent any time in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Pennsylvania? Does she know about life in suburbia or big cities? Maybe she does, but I haven't heard enough about her background to know.
I wouldn't mind some real populism, but I'm pissed over Palin's fake populism. Her version of "ordinary American" seems to consist exclusively of "Joe Sixpack" and "hockey moms," from what I've seen, with little to no awareness that we are just as much a nation of successful and educated professionals, many of whom are urban in life-style and cosmopolitan in outlook.

The Republicans did something interesting in choosing Palin as VP, because she can serve as a cipher for so much. The election is going to turn on which version voters prefer of what it means to be an American -- Palin's, or Obama's.
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