Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Heartland's Professor Moriarty

We liberals have to get our story straight. The last time I looked, we took it for granted that Sarah Palin’s a moron. She wouldn’t have merited the slightest attention but for the Republicans’ astounding readiness to put her a heartbeat away from the presidency. Suddenly, she’s morphed into the Prof. Moriarty of the heartland. Marc Ambinder now warns that there’s method to what we used to regard as Palin’s random idiocies.


"If the primaries were this year, I suspect she'd be nominated," a senior adviser to one of Sarah Palin's potential rivals confides. It's easy to see why: no one who's thinking of running beats the enthusiasm she generates among Republican activists. But there is more to the case for Palin than just the confluence of her personality and a vacuum within the Republican Party: there is a method to her management of her public image. It strongly hints that she has pretty much decided to run for president in 2012, unless something knocks her out of the race; it is more organized and structured that [sic] it appears; and it is something that Republican insiders, in particular, will ignore at their peril."
The world’s most prolific Palin chronicler, Andrew Sullivan, does Ambinder one better. Andrew used to subject Palin to dismissive ridicule. Now her adroit demagoguery moves him to abject fear:

“But Palin is so, so much more than Bush - so much more charismatic, so much more shameless, so much more prepared to use proto-fascist memes to demonize elites and run rings around a tepid media unable to confront her with her lies. . . A racially and religiously pure mother figure, able to communicate sub-rationally and rationally in Twitter-length sound-bites, able to construct a series of soundbites without real scrutiny, a person who has so framed the debate that any media criticism strengthens rather than exposes her among the folk she connects with.  Know fear.”
Why does Palin become more popular the more contemptuously she’s treated by liberal opinion-makers? Andrew's reference to “proto-fascist memes to demonize elites” alludes to a tried and true liberal explanation: Palin’s political clout is just the latest expression of the “paranoid style in American politics.” She channels the resentment of people economically and culturally marginalized by a modern social system that distributes opportunities and social status on the basis of meritocratic credentials (high SAT scores, Ivy League educations, professional degrees, etc.). Relatively uncredentialed people tend to take it personally when an attractive public figure who speaks their language is ridiculed because she drops her G's. As long as Palin was merely a political bumpkin, her popularity was only mildly disturbing. But if she’s really, to quote Andrew (quoting Ambinder) a “’blend of Nixon and Buchanan’ with boobs,” the failure of elites to close ranks against her is an abdication of civic responsibility.

I’ll address the moral coherence of this theory in subsequent posts. Here I want to make a political point:  Could you devise a theory which, if acted upon, would tend to make Palin more, and liberal elites less, popular?

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