Category Archive 'Professor Bainbridge'

18 Jun 2011

Palin as Litmus Test

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The other day, Professor Bainbridge asked the philosophical question:

Why has liking Sarah Palin become a litmus test of one’s conservative bona fides?

It seems to me that I have a duty to respond to this one.

Sarah Palin’s unique combination of political star quality with her open and unabashed display of non-U (in the American sense) taste, life-style, and habits of speech; her lack of establishment affiliations and credentials; and her explicit challenge to the regime of political correctness and the national consensus of the community of fashion make Sarah Palin a potent symbolic emotional trigger in America’s contemporary regional and class conflicts and culture wars.

Her very presence on the national political scene constitutes a direct challenge to the hegemony of everything American U: to looking at the world from the 9th Avenue perspective of the New Yorker, to the definitional authority of the mainstream media, to the factual and moral consensus of the elite on everything from Global Warming to Gay Marriage.

The potential nomination for the presidency by a major party of somebody like Sarah Palin, her celebrity status, and her self-appointed role as national political authority constitutes not only a threat to the American establishment’s political power. It represents also a grave social insult.

The typical American haute bourgeoisie of 2012 would be as offended by the election of Sarah Palin as his counterpart in Philadelphia or Boston was in 1828 by the election of Andrew Jackson and as the Southern aristocracy was by the election of the frontier attorney referred to by his adversaries as “the Illinois ape.”

No one doubts the intelligence of President Lincoln today but, at the time, his intellect also was dismissed on the basis of his speaking with a regional accent different from that of the Eastern metropolitan elite.

They sang mockingly, at the time:

Jeff Davis rides a white horse,
And Lincoln rides a mule,
Jeff Davis is a gentleman,
And Lincoln is a fule.

In the American context, the disdain of the formally-educated elites for unpolished leaders with rustic accents is a very old story. And, in the contemporary context, the alleged intellectual inferiority and general unworthiness of political leaders with strongly conservative views is also getting to be an old story.

Ronald Reagan is remembered today as a great president. Some people would argue he was the greatest president of the last century. But the establishment elite held Ronald Reagan in little less contempt during his lifetime than it holds Sarah Palin today. Reagan was stupid, the left remarked constantly. He was a primitive, just a Hollywood actor (and of B movies at that), simplistic, incurious, banal, and naive.

The conservative thing to do is always to ignore the noises of the tribal culture of the establishment. The political and economic positions supported by conservative political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Sarah Palin are well-founded intellectually and are historically supported by considerable empirical evidence.

It is too soon to decide whether the Republican Party ought to choose Sarah Palin as its nominee next year. She has not made it clear, so far, whether she actually intends to seek its nomination.

Were she to try to run, I think she has exhibited both potential major strengths and weaknesses that give one hope for her possible success, but leave one also uncertain of her ability to succeed. If Sarah Palin fails to convince most of us that she can perform consistently at a higher level of eloquence, I’d say that she ought not to be the nominee.

Palin has already carved out for herself a useful, practically effective, and very prominent role as a political commentator. It is possible that remaining free to be herself and operating in that capacity would be more congenial to her and more compatible with her talents and inclinations than campaigning for the presidency.

In the final analysis, of course, if she were to be nominated and run against Barack Obama, she clearly comfortably passes Glenn Reynolds’ test for preferability to Barack Obama. Though I attended an Ivy League school, I grew up in the mountains of Pennsylvania hunting deer, and I retain enough of my native Alabama-of-the-North redneck identity to view the possible discomfiture of the American community of fashion by the election of Sarah Palin to the presidency with relish.

Republicans electing Sarah Palin would be in the position of Conan the Barbarian experiencing the Cimmerian best thing: “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.” Those lamentations would be louder, in the case of the election of Sarah Palin, than in any other case imaginable.

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