Why I Despise Sarah Palin


By Joe Campbell
July 14th, 2009


 
One of my friends asked me this question. Actually, he accused me of despising her (which I admit to) and postulated that feminists and liberals hate her so much because she stands for “a sort of  ‘reincarnation’ of the traditional post-war female that scares the bejesus out of liberals for a variety of reasons.”

I can’t speak for every liberal, or every progressive, or every feminist – but I can speak for myself – and I tell you, it is not Palin’s  status as a reincarnation of the traditional post-war female (a description which I incidentally don’t find that fitting) that leads me to despise her. It is that she found herself to be a very capable demagogue. Frank Rich in The New York Times explained it well this Sunday:

The essence of Palinism is emotional, not ideological… The real wave she’s riding is a loud, resonant surge of resentment and victimization that’s larger than issues like abortion and gay civil rights.

Palin constantly positions herself as a victim of the conspiracies of the elite. As interviewers lob her softball after softball, she points out the few outliers and claims she is a victim of a giant conspiracy. As a local blogger files a frivolous ethics complaint, Palin claims she is being targeted for persecution by Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama. A similar logic of collective victomhood makes its way into every speech she gives; she constantly sets up a dynamic of “us” against “them” – the “Joe Sixpacks” versus “the Hollywood/NY elite” and the “real Americans” against those “who [see] America…as being so imperfect…that [they are] palling around with terrorists [who]…target their own country.” What this accomplishes is what Cass Sunstein in the Spectator describes as the dyanmic of self-reinforcing moral outrage:

Political extremism is often a product of group polarisation and social segregation is a useful tool for producing polarisation. In fact, a good way to create an extremist group, or a cult of any kind, is to separate members from the rest of society. The separation can occur physically or psychologically, by creating a sense of suspicion about non-members. With such separation, the information and views of those outside the group can be discredited, and hence nothing will disturb the process of polarisation as group members continue to talk.

Sunstein does not link this to Palin – but it is clear that she is playing with this exact dynamic. This stands in stark contrast to John McCain who, to his credit, realized how dangerous this dynamic was and tried to calm his crowds down; and it stands in contrast to Barack Obama who has deliberately taken an approach that minimizes this dynamic of escalating moral outrage – challenging his audiences when they seem to be dehumanizing the other side. Palin though escalated her rhetoric. Her crowds became more extreme – in the way that like-minded groups do, especially when united against a nefarious and dehumanized “them.”

Why do I despise Sarah Palin? Because she is a demagogue, and more important, because she is an effective one.

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9 Responses to “Why I Despise Sarah Palin”

  1. O'Neil Says:

    I thought I should point out that I agree with your analysis of Palin-as-demagogue – though only insofar as American politics has itself become about demagoguery in recent years. First it was Bush quietly playing the race card against McCain in the 2000 primary; then it was Republicans painting Democrats as soft on terror in ’04 while simultaneously saying it’s only a matter of “when.” Then it was Palin claiming that Obama “palled around with terrorists.”

    But I think the Dems have caught on too. They had been a party severely diluted after America banished big government in 1980 and then rejected health care reform in the early 90s. But Obama was successful in convincing people they needed to fear the entrenched Republican regime that had essentially owned Washington for a generation by 2008.

    The real losers are the American people because we’ve become too used to voting “against” a regime rather than “for” what it is we want.

  2. O'Neil Says:

    But… if you despise Sarah Palin for her demagoguery, then I think most other outspoken liberals despise her for a different reason.

    Expanding on my ‘reincarnation’ comment: I think many liberals hate her not for her politics but because she’s just got it too good (reminsicent of the post-war “myth”). Let’s review the seeds of jealousy:

    1) she’s a strikingly beautiful woman
    2) she is (was) unequivocally a self-made success as governor
    3) she has a husband who is not only supportive and loving, but is willing to take the lead in looking after their 5 children
    4) she has the strength of character to practice her pro-life stance in raising a special needs child rather than seek an abortion

    In short, if you’re a liberal, especially a feminist, you’ve been taught that the Palin kind of life, featuring the above, simply doesn’t happen. That’s why we need government interventionism. That’s why women need to forego the sort of personal contentment Palin has in order to advance their gender’s standing in the professional world. That’s why a foundation of moral relativism is acceptable.

    When faced with what really is possible, some people can’t help but pick up the nearest stone and throw it. If only to feel a little bit better about themselves.

  3. Youngin' Says:

    I can’t wait til all you old people are dead and gone and my generation can take the reins. I respect all that was done to raise the bar for women by the previous few generations but, Jesus, not everything needs to be seen through the lens of gender roles and biases. If she were ugly (and seriously people, peep the close up shots. A lot of that beauty queen look is bought at the makeup counter), male, and single I would still hate her for being an incompetent rable rouser who skates by on the political scene by playing to the deepest fears of the voting public. It is the same reason I hate many politicians. Somehow it is less sexist that I hate Rick Santorum for the same reasons?

  4. O'Neil Says:

    JC, I will leave it to you to reveal the irony of that last comment, if you want.

  5. Ellen Erkkila Says:

    I get a charge out of this woman claiming to be such a good and caring Mother !! Give me a break.. She either has her daughters holding the little guy or her husband. I don’t believe she is caring for this child. Having a special needs child is a full time job, which I don’t believe she is capable of fulfilling. Talk is cheap, and through my eyes all she is , is a attractive Bullshitter..

  6. Joe Campbell Says:

    @Youngin’ – Who are “all you old people” you refer to? In my experience, old people don’t consciously look at the world “through the lens of gender roles and biases” – they just hold the view that gender roles should stay the way they were when they were kids…

    But I suppose the real point is that O’Neil – who I’m guessing you’re referring to – probably isn’t quite as old as you think…Then again, you may be 14, in which case someone in their 20s could be considered “like totally old.”

    @Ellen Erikkila – I agree that Palin’s strength comes from the fact that she is an “attractive Bullshitter” – and she very well may be a bad mother. But you can’t – and don’t – know that. You can make that case that almost any parent in public life while they have kids is being “a bad parent” – but that’s not a road I’d feel comfortable going down.

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  8. detoxdiet Says:

    eventhough there are lots of criticisms against Sarah Palin, i still admire her. she also did a lot of things in the area of politics specially in Alaska.

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