Last week, I was having a conversation with an old friend and current Sarah Palin supporter (apparently the two aren’t always mutually exclusive) and ran into the trouble of trying to explain my aversion to the aspiring VP/lipsticked pitbull without coming off as a snarky coastal elitist. As the preceding comment might suggest, I don’t really think I succeeded. My friend, who lives in Florida, countered Palin’s lack of experience with Obama’s, and in explaining her rationale, defended Palin as a “real person,” complete with down-to-earth values I seem to have mysteriously overlooked. (I should probably note that a good deal of this friendship is premised on the mutual suspicion that the other person is an alien). While this argument led me to browse rental prices in Berlin, it also shed some light on the perverse logic of pro-Palinites, and the bizarre forms of liberal and Jacksonian elitism surfacing as a result of her candidacy.
In the current Weekly Standard, Steven Hayward posed the question, “If we implicitly think uncertified citizens are unfit for the highest offices, why do we trust those same citizens to select our highest officers through free elections?” Answering his own question, Hayward defends Palin’s right to lead through invoking John Adam’s notion of the “natural aristocrat,” leading one to conclude that Hayward thinks politics should be conducted as a meritocracy of charisma rather than through intelligence and policy. In Hayward’s political universe, I would imagine, a soused and chain-smoking Christopher Hitchens would occupy some sort of high-ranking position and policy meetings would be permanently replaced with FOX News fireside chats. (In all fairness, though, I would really enjoy seeing the results of sending Christopher Hitchens out as a diplomatic envoy). Even David Brooks, responding to Hayward in The New York Times, argued against the inanity of Hayward’s argument. Using the current administration as an example, Brooks observed that “it turns out that, governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.” Go figure. As evidenced by the wasteland of our economy, natural aristocrats (or even genetically appointed ones) don’t come equipped with prudence from birth.
But if you’re not David Brooks, and tend to come from a political mindset that favors wildly progressive notions like choice and health care, arguing against Sarah Palin with people who matter in terms of the election’s outcome is tricky business. For example, in last week’s Newsweek, Sam Harris launched a biting and hilarious attack on Palin, but this amounted to little more than a service for the choir. As Michael Schaffer noted in The New Republic, conservatives rely on anti-elitism elitism to defend themselves politically, framing moose hunting and snowmobile racing as ‘normal,’ and thus superior, activities. In short, through invoking a limited and fiercely lowest-common-denominator notion of democracy, Palin has enabled the exaltation of idiocy as a political value. How’s natural aristocracy working out for you now, John Adams?
FInally, here’s Matt Damon on Sarah Palin: “It’s like a really bad Disney movie. You know, “The Hockey Mom.’ Oh, I’m just a hockey mom from Alaska,’ and she’s the president. It’s like she’s facing down Vladimir Putin and using the folksy stuff she learned at the hockey rink. It’s absurd.”