Monday, November 16, 2009

Hitchens On Palin 2.0

Here's an excerpt from "Palin's Base Appeal," in the latest Newsweek:

The Palin problem, then, might be that she cynically incites a crowd that she has no real intention of pleasing. If she were ever to get herself to the nation's capital, the teabaggers would be just as much on the outside as they are now, and would simply have been the instruments that helped get her elected. In my own not-all-that-humble opinion, duping the hicks is a degree or two worse than condescending to them. It's also much more dangerous, because it meanwhile involves giving a sort of respectability to ideas that were discredited when William Jennings Bryan was last on the stump. The Weekly Standard (itself not exactly a prairie-based publication) might want to think twice before flirting with popular delusions and resentments that are as impossible to satisfy as the demand for a silver standard or a ban on the teaching of Darwin, and are for that very reason hard to tamp down. Many of Palin's admirers seem to expect that, on receipt of the Republican Party nomination, she would immediately embark on a crusade against Wall Street and the banks. This notion is stupid to much the same degree that it is irresponsible.

Then there's the question of character and personality. Decades ago, Walter Dean Burnham pointed out that right-wing populists tended to fail because they projected anger and therefore also attracted it. (He was one of the few on the left to predict that the genial Ronald Reagan would win for this very reason.) Let's admit that Sarah Palin is more attractive—some might even want to say more appealing—than much of her enraged core constituency. But then all we are considering is a point of packaging and marketing, where charm is supposed to make up for what education and experience have failed thus far to supply. We are further obliged to consider the question: exactly how charming is the Joan of Arc of the New Right, who also hears voices speaking to her of "spiritual warfare"?

I admit that I have winced at some of the lurid speculations about Governor Palin's family life, and thought them unkind and tasteless even as I lapped them up. She now claims that Levi Johnston is a fabricator when he describes a wildly dysfunctional Palin household. So then: what if she's right about him? It wasn't the liberal elite media who dug up this scapegrace and nudity artist. It was the Republican nominee for the vice presidency who hauled the lad before the cameras and forced us to look at him: a fit husband for her beloved daughter and an example to errant youth in general. Once again, one is compelled to ask which would be worse: a Sarah Palin who really meant what she merely seemed to say, or a Sarah Palin who would say anything at all for a cheap burst of applause.

This is not a small matter for the Republican Party. (And again: it was senior Republican operatives, and not jeering liberals, who told my Vanity Fair colleague Todd Purdum about the hectic atmosphere, of hysteria and collapsing scenery, that accompanied their lame attempt to present Sarah Palin as plausible during the last campaign.) The United States has to stand or fall by being the preeminent nation of science, modernity, technology, and higher education. Some of these needful phenomena, for historical reasons, will just happen to concentrate in big cities and in secular institutions and even—yes—on the dreaded East Coast. Modernity can be wrenching, as indeed can capitalism, and there will always be "out" groups who feel themselves disrespected or left behind. The task and duty of a serious politician, as Edmund Burke emphasized so well, is to reason with such people and not to act as their megaphone or ventriloquist. Sarah Palin appears to have no testable core conviction except the belief (which none of her defenders denies that she holds, or at least has held and not yet repudiated) that the end of days and the Second Coming will occur in her lifetime. This completes the already strong case for allowing her to pass the rest of her natural life span as a private citizen.

(h/t: Rogue Blogue | x-posted)

No comments: