The misunderestimation of Sarah Palin

In The Nation, Melissa Harris-Perry writes:

I assigned Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue in my course on women in contemporary US media and politics. I spent the week walking around town, riding the train and dashing through airports with the book tucked under my arm. “Isn’t she awesome?” gushed a waitress in a New Jersey restaurant. My seatmate on a flight to Louisiana smiled knowingly and whipped out her copy of Decision Points. On my way to California a guy in a University of Alaska sweatshirt nearly threw himself across the aisle to chat with me. It was a camaraderie with perfect strangers that I once evoked by wearing my Obama sweatshirt.

I expected my Princeton students—mostly young women, self-identified as liberal and feminist and actively engaged in local and national politics—to be critical of Palin. But although they found her authorial voice irritatingly self-assured and disagreed with her policy conclusions, they also found her surprisingly compelling. They thoughtfully drew parallels between her nontraditional (dare I say mavericky?) career choices and those of Hillary Clinton, whose Living History we read the same week.

I pushed my personal Palin test one step further by watching Sarah Palin’s Alaska with my 8-year-old daughter. My kid’s dislike of Palin is pure, instinctive and content-free. It’s not as though she has well-formed policy positions; she just knows that Palin was an opponent to be vanquished. Born in Hyde Park, my daughter learned to read “Obama” as her first word, because it was plastered on signs all over our neighborhood in 2004. My kid accompanied me to campaign events throughout 2008 and has heard many kitchen table commentaries railing against Palin and the Tea Party. But twenty minutes into the first episode, she was transfixed. She loved watching the baby bears. She was jealous that Palin had a studio in her house: “Mom, can’t you get one from MSNBC?” She cracked up with hand-clapping hysteria as the mountain-scaling Palin shouted, “I was never a gymnast or a cheerleader!” At the end my kid declared, “I know we don’t agree with her, but her life sure is interesting.”

Andrew Sullivan believes America won’t buy Palinism and in response to her Facebook mockery of Obama gaffes says: “A simple respect for the office she seeks would not reflect itself in these increasingly callow, sarcastic, cheap jibes at a sitting president.”

Really? Whoever is Obama’s opponent in 2012, I doubt they’ll refrain from taking cheap jibes at this president.

The “misunderstimation” of Palin has, I suspect, much more to do with the fact that those who view her with contempt have a hard time accepting the idea that they live in a country where she could be popular.

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10 thoughts on “The misunderestimation of Sarah Palin

  1. BillVZ

    At this time of the year who can not remember the YouTube clip of Sarah’s interview at the turkey slaughter depot?
    Still, despite these and the endless ‘comical’ gaffes she presents; from a populace perspective, as you say, her self assured mavericky presence is surprisingly compelling. She also has an appeal to both women and men with her family oriented, home spun Christian fundamentalism- “ya know we don’t talk much politics at our house.”
    Former presidents Ronald Reagan and of course, GW Bush shared similar traits which were loved my many.

    Sarah Palin as a viable political player should not be taken lightly and certainly should not be underestimated as to her future prospects of candidacy. A former Republican White House official now at the American Enterprise Institute had this to say about Palin: “She’s bright and she’s a blank page. She’s going places and it’s worth going there with her.” There are plenty of folks and dollars in the next two years to sent her her way. “Hey, I could beat Obama right now- I’ll just fill in the blank page”.
    Ronald Reagan, Arnold S. were both so popular they became governors of California. Reagan and GW both I never dreamed could be elected president of the U.S. Isn’t that one of the Americans legacy –anyone can become President? Perhaps Sarah Palin too?

  2. hquain

    To continue a bit along BillVZ’s lines: surely the great inside-politics attraction of Palin is precisely that she is a blank slate, upon whom the insiders can aspire to write. Like Reagan and W, there’s no chance that she can formulate or even understand anything remotely resembling policy. Eyes light up at this point: there will be (another) empty driver’s seat to occupy. Teams of fictionalizers can be counted on to provide a decider-visionary narrative, during and ever after, while they run the show. Or so goes what Paul Woodward has called ‘the charade of power’.

    It’s worth remembering that though we vote for a person, in the end we elect an enterprise, in which the person typically plays a marginal role, and of which we may know rather little, before, during, or after. When I voted for Obama, I elected Robert Gates, Rahm Emanuel, Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers, David Petraeus, and all the others. That’s why it feels like my vote was stolen.

    Something similar may well happen with respect to Palin, who like Reagan and Obama (and even W) has charisma of a sort or at least an aptitude for the public view. The right in the US seems more skilled than the center at getting away with this kind of thing. Off we go! — again.

  3. Ian Arbuckle

    The only reason a hick with a moronic mentality, and a quarter baked education like Palin is vying for any elitist position is because Americans are conditioned to frame politics into some kind of “B” rated Hollywood movie warp. Forget identifying with these personalities. The problem is not these pseudo-characters. They are the window dressing put out there for the dumb asses who cannot see the system behind them. Until Americans can see that these reality TV type personalities are all just hand puppets and until they can get over their schoolyard non-popularity contest thing, they cannot start taking responsibility for disassembling a system that requires their ignorance, fear, wars, usury and unsustainable global exploitation.

    Blue Vs. Red, Palin Vs. Obama, is a mugs game for the semi literate, while the elite, steal their money, repossess their home, gut their health insurance, asset strip their employment, consign their constitutional and human rights to the garbage dump, then board a luxury yacht free from any restriction with all that filthy lucre and flee to some gated sanctuary in a fiscal paradise.

    It is meaningful that this intellectual has to get the take from an 8 year old. The Americans only need cartoon personalities to blame for their own stupidity. They’ve been conditioned by “the Road Runner”, Meeep, Meeep….

    So anything is real and nothing is real all at the same time. Unfortunately the million and a half or so dead in Iraq and Afghanistan are not going to get up and order a new world from the Acme Supply Company. It is time to grow up.

  4. kagiso

    I find the parallels between another very badly underestimated woman very worrying. In completely different circumstances Margaret Thatcher managed to combine apparent non-political ordinariness with a touch of classy feminity. Like Palin, the men both badly underestimated Thatcher’s intelligence and determination. They also seemed unable to go for the jugular against somebody who was clearly ‘a lady’ in the same way they would have done for a man. In the whole of her career no man in UK politics was able to stand up to her effectively.

    Palin has the same teflon characteristics – you have been warned.

  5. Ian Arbuckle

    Sure kagiso,

    Magi, asides from Ray-gun, was the second worst thing that happened to actually thinking about and facing economic challenges of the capitalist system.

    “ordinariness and a touch of classy femininity” – Maggy- Mussolini with an over sized hand bag. Teflon characteristics, Palin – Mussolini in Stretch pants and a shotgun.

    Men underestimated Magi’s intelligence and determination, in Magi’s case she was a ball crusher who surrounded herself with castrati “yes men”. There are plenty of PTA ladies who know this age old stategy for retaining power, for power’s sake, very well. And the words Palin and intelligence are difficult to use in the same sentence, I’m sorry.

    Great statesmen or women should not be seen as having only one way of being tempered to the reality of their time and mankind namely “Going for the jugular”. Unfortunately people like Magi and Palin are so seduced by power and their own egos, and so far divorced from reality in their own delusion even though they are only puppets to a pyramid of self interest behind them, that at the cost of society at large’s interest, de- throning becomes the only possibility for redress.

    Warning taken, but I already new that Fascism has no gender bias.

  6. Ed

    A Palin presidency would most likely hasten the self-destruction of the murderous, rapacious U.S. global empire, so there may be a “positive” rresult of her election.

  7. Christopher Hoare

    Yes, Ed. I was also enjoying the responses and thinking that in due course al Qaeda in Yemen is going to reveal that they have been the operators behind Sarah Palin all along. It fits exactly with the thinking of the $4200 non-bomb attack on the Western suckers.

    It’s not only the gods who destroy by making their opponents mad. The best thing we can do is consider the clean-up measures the world will need when al Qaeda has succeeded.

  8. Alex Bell

    My dream team for the 2012 US elections is Palin for President, Petraeus for Vice President, and Beck for Secretary of State. It’s what your country deserves.

    Regards, Alex

  9. John Somebody

    Yes, Ed,
    I used to say, that when, as an Anarchist, I was really tempted to vote for Thatcher. And even to take to the streets, to canvass for her. That was after I was so impressed with how, starting with the Poll Tax, she managed to unite right wing Colonel Bagshot types, and young punks, taking to the streets, to shout, “Maggie Maggie Maggie”, with the reply from more snobs and lefties and Anarchists, shouting, “Out. Out. Out”. There seemed a real chance that people from across the social groups, would learn that the other side didn’t have horns and tails, after all. And maybe, they’d talk, paving the way out of political stagnation. Fat chance. She was so succesful at uniting the country against her, that she paved the way for something around 13 years of, Labour, and lackying to U.S. wars. Rivers of dissafected Tory Twits, turned against the “Iron Lady” to pull the Labour party even more towards the right wing.
    Maybe there is a phenomenon at work. Like when, “Only Nixon could have gone to China”. However, hoping that thugs like these might bring about change for the better, despite their intentions, only seems to result in more thuggery, no matter what the intentions of those who look on.
    The only alternative to a lack of genuine progress, is progress. So the only thing to do, is to put principles to the test, and stick by them, untill they’re proven to be wrong.

  10. Montana

    The half term governor is a “Dan Quayle” in heels. Since we already had an idiot “W” that caused our current economic debacle, America knows not to trust in fools who think they are brilliant. One of the reason for “W” failure was his drinking, Palin just has bad genes. If in 18 months the Economy improves the GOP does not have a prayer.

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