Shaffer: Going rogue

On the eve of the release of Sarah Palin’s new book, the consensus is that she’s a nut.

I have a dirty secret. I’ve tried to hide it, tried to keep it in. But now I have to let it out.

I like Sarah Palin.

Don’t judge. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Honestly, I’m glad she’s not our vice president. I don’t think she should be in any high office, and I hope she never commands any weaponry more powerful than her beloved shotguns. I am often befuddled by her creative variations on standard English syntax, and seldom impressed by her mastery of international affairs. Then again, I can say most of those things about almost all politicians.

Sarah Palin is a microcosm for understanding everything that’s wrong with contemporary American politics. It’s obvious why John McCain picked her. “You think you’re so special just because you’re multiracial. Well, my running mate is entirely female! Beat that, Democrats!” It was a farce of political correct posturing so transparent that satire died in tandem with McCain’s credibility and chances.

Hopefully the whole ordeal exposed that bigoted condescension in which powerful people (usually white men) can now exploit minorities and women for their own purposes under the pretext of equality. McCain wanted the presidency. He thought a pretty lady might create the sensation — a key word in contemporary politics — necessary to get it, and competence became a secondary consideration. So he chose Palin. Perversely, this choice will actually hurt future female candidates, who will need to overcome the memories of Palin’s gaffes. By considering gender before competence, McCain inadvertently fostered chauvinism and ruined Palin’s career.

So, mostly, I pity Palin. She was exploited by the Republican Party. But its members weren’t the only bad guys. Many of us treated her horribly. This “us” is predominantly the socio-economically powerful, born and raised in progressive milieus, tending to blush and look away when anyone confesses to church attendance, using ‘mid-western’ pejoratively. That’s “us.”

It was our cruelty to her, and her dignity in facing us that made me like and admire Palin.

To read the blog posts and editorials we wrote, one would think that Sarah Palin divided her time between explaining away dinosaurs bones in schoolbooks, shopping at Walmart, banning same-sex eye contact, and pummeling pregnant teens. She was no real woman — rather, she was a self-hater who wished she were a man so she could do even more, if possible, to hurt women.

And, she attended church! A Christian church! Presumably agnostics, Muslims, and Unitarians walked the streets of Anchorage in terror, evading the hum of Palin’s gubernatorial snowmobile and cowering from her gubernatorial shotgun. Presumably. But I’ve had trouble finding factual evidence for this. I somehow missed it when she shoved religion down my throat.

I love good snark. But the Palin jokes weren’t even clever. They were the nasty, middlebrow jokes long told about blonds, Baptists, and minorities — jokes that dull people laugh at as a way of reinforcing their identity, showing that they’re with us.

A significant portion of the jokes were misogynistic. But, hey, misogyny is okay if the object thereof is a church attendee with a funny accent who is not on our side! Tough jokes about “us” are verbal violence; misogynist jokes about “them” are open-minded.

We showed our parochialism. Secular parochialism, upper-middle-class parochialism, cosmopolitan parochialism, academic parochialism, a general self-certain chauvinism. We heard that Palin goes to church, and we spread the lie that Palin had spent her years campaigning against evolution in schools among others.”

She became the other; she represented “them.” We closed our ears to her real words, too enamored of the solidarity — the sense of an “us”— that our cruel caricature provided.

It was disgusting and wrong. An open society should recognize the falsifiability of its premises. Our prejudices might be partly wrong, so we should respect “them,” our disputants — we might even learn something. Even were we totally right, cruelty toward those we consider backwards only promotes alienation, leading to reaction and hatred. It hurts everyone. We were cruel; Palin was charming and kind. We looked like the bad guys in the culture wars.

I have no interest in defending Sarah Palin and I certainly would not elect her. I only hope our reaction to her candidacy can tell us something about ourselves, our intolerance and our bigotry.

Maybe we should read Palin’s book when it comes out tomorrow. Most will be fluff, but there might be some real content. Maybe it will crush some of our parochialism. Maybe it will open our minds and broaden our sympathies, even help us to (horrors!) identify with someone from the “other side.”

But it would be unthinkably déclassé to be caught reading a book endorsed by Palin. So find a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, roll up some constricting jeans, stuff a pack of Parliaments in your chest pocket and find a seat in the Architecture building’s library. Then read.

That way, everyone will assume you’re being ironic.

Matthew Shaffer is a senior in Davenport College.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    Bravo, Matt. You keep getting better and better,

  • Alum

    I’m sure there’s some people whose view of Palin has been, as you say, misogynistic and bigoted. But I’d dare say that 95% of the criticism and mockery directed towards her is based on the fact that she’s an idiot, not the fact that she’s a woman or goes to church.

    Although, on the latter point, there’s nothing wrong with branding someone a religious nut when she says over and over again that God basically decides her political moves.

  • not quite sure what author’s talking about

    There may have been a few idiots out there who made misogynistic jokes about Palin, but all of the wisecracks that I heard were about her religious beliefs (which are way out there and completely fair game) and her lack of understanding of foreign and domestic policy (i.e. “I can see Russia from my house”). Although the religious fanaticism added a different side to mockery of her candidacy, I don’t see anything misogynistic about the way she was portrayed by the media; for some historical perspective, look at Dan Quayle’s portrayal in SNL and the press 20 years ago. I’d say that the bulk of misogyny could be found in portrayals of Hillary Clinton and not Palin: Clinton was a very viable candidate and jokes about her way more often bordered on the chauvinistic.

    As someone who despises misogyny and believes in mocking candidates only based on the content of their character and their ideas, I’d say that pretty much all of the criticism of Palin was well-deserved. It’s simply not fair (and almost chauvinist) to claim – as the author does – that Palin is some kind of poor wronged creature when she simply received the exact same treatment that every other laughably qualified male candidate has received. Honestly, go back and look at criticism of Quayle and even Bush. Quayle isn’t known for any of his actions or ideas (and he was actually VP!), but rather for his infamous Potatoe. Similarly, Palin will be known for seeing Russia from her house. Now that’s equality.

  • Joe

    Matt, while I find your article almost thought provoking and I kind of want to agree with it because it provides a simple narrative to explain the Palin backlash, I just can’t. A huge part of the cultural backlash against Sarah Palin was because she engaged in culture war politics a lot herself. I’m not trying to say she started it, I could care less about that distinction, but she was the one talking about “real America” and the like. People tend to become defensive when they are told they are un-American, especially when the accusation comes from someone who cannot string together sentences and has very little grasp of domestic or international politics.

  • brilliant

    very, very witty and deeply insightful. impressive perspecuity for an undergraduate.

  • true true

    “But the Palin jokes weren’t even clever. They were the nasty, middlebrow jokes long told about blonds, Baptists, and minorities — jokes that dull people laugh at as a way of reinforcing their identity, showing that they’re with us.”

    Truth

  • @#3 and @#4

    #3 and #4: You both speak truth about Palin, but Schaffer explicitly agrees that Palin was incompeten. this wasn’t a defense of Palin’s policy

    the point is that this was all mixed with some really, really over-the-top nastiness which seemed more focused on her class, her demographic, and mean caricatures of Christians, more than on her policy…

    feel free to point out her flaws, but enough of that has been done already. I think its time we started recognizing some of our own flaws in the way we treated her.

    Who started the culture wars? I dunno–but there are bigots on both sides, something our side doesn’t usually recognize

  • So…

    This is just an excerpt from Continetti’s book, right?

  • tough truths

    I’ve been thinking this for a while, Matt, thanks for putting this out there publicly. You’ll get hell for it, obviously.

    @#8 I know you intended that as a pot shot, but I looked Continetti up…doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable. as much as I hate hannity, first half of this interview is good:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9kuoqOBw4M

  • Yale ’10

    Agree with #9 — also something I’ve said for a while. Glad someone wrote it! Well done Matt.

  • y11

    Wait, is this irony or satire?

  • Keep It Going

    Shaffer-

    I thought your piece was both thought provoking and funny, and I certainly agreed with most of your views on the Palin matter.

    However, I could not help but feel like you repeatedly offered up shots at Palin as an attempt to appease the reader, (and in a sense provide a defense for yourself), through implying that you in many ways share “our” beliefs about Palin, her incompetence, and your embarrassment for her, etc.

    I admire your willingness to write about Palin in the YDN. But in all honesty, if you’re going to go out on a limb and say something bold and contrarian, then embrace that role! By condescendingly declaring before reading her book that “most [of it] will be fluff,” or by spending an entire paragraph in the beginning of the piece detailing why you don’t have much respect for her as a politician, you seem to weakly offer up concessions to “us” both before and during your key arguments, which I thought held much weight.

    All in all, a good article. But next time you hit us with a piece that counters the majority’s view, man up and stick it to us all the way. Who cares if some people might disagree? You probably wouldn’t care much for their approval anyways.

    Looking forward to future articles,
    Not Your Typical Yale Partisan Democrat

  • Yale 80

    #3 — do you realize Palin never said she could see Russia from her house? That was Tina Fey, not Palin. Quayle actually did add an “e” to “potato.”

  • @#11

    As a summa cum laude English and Linguistics double major with substantial acquaintance with Poe (shall we talk Lethe?) I can assure you this is editorial has some irony and some satire and a lot of serious content.

  • Balzac

    No, Palin never said that she could see Alaska from her house, but she did say that the ability to see Russia from Alaska gave her foreign policy credibility, which is a complete joke, only sadly not intended as such.

    I find this article’s use of “us” to be ridiculous. It is so clearly referring to a “them.” And speaking of “reinforcing [one’s] identity,” defending Sarah Palin has certainly proven a popular way of doing so.

  • But?

    Matt,

    Thoughtful article. I was with you up until the last paragraph, where you made the same mistake you encourage your readers to avoid: you were judgmental.

    Did you really have to conclude your piece with dripping condescension? (“find a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, roll up some constricting jeans, stuff a pack of Parliaments in your chest pocket and find a seat in the Architecture building’s library.”)

    Your jab at so-called “hipsters” undermines your advocacy for an open mind. It’s a punchy closing line, but there are those of us who (gasp) wear constricting jeans and read German philosophy who actually like Palin. No irony intended.

  • RRD

    Excellent piece that correctly acknowledes Palin’s flaws while pointing out the much more serious flaws in the system that so seriously mistreated and underestimated her.

    My question is, why were the powers that be so cruel to an inexperienced VP candidate while so supportive of an equally unqualified Presidential candidate. Each day, Obama proves both why Palin should not (at this time) hold high office by proving he is incapable of living up to his duties.

  • Palin Fan ’12

    Yale Hipsters for Palin!

  • @#16

    Don’t you think it’s a bit judgmental to assume he was being judgmental? I know Shaffer–he’s read more German philosophy than anybody else I know, and he’s a bit hipsterish himself, so I think the joke was in good nature. You wouldn’t have assumed it were judgmental if this were on the pages of scene written by a typical liberal… It’s just a good-natured attempt to add some wit…

    Also @#14, why do you deny his right to use the “us”? He’s part of the Yale community. I find it refreshing when a writer is willing to admit some guilt in the things s/he criticizes, not take an adversarial stance, rather than only demonizing an imagined opposition, etc..

  • magnificent

    i am consistently blown away by this guy’s wit. this is really sophisticated humor, very funny insight. clear and clever writing too

  • yes yes yes

    “They were the nasty, middlebrow jokes long told about blonds, Baptists, and minorities — jokes that dull people laugh at as a way of reinforcing their identity, showing that they’re with us.

    A significant portion of the jokes were misogynistic.”

    yes yes yes

  • DTM

    This was great. Really fresh humor and insight thank you, matt.

    “We closed our ears to her real words, too enamored of the solidarity — the sense of an “us”— that our cruel caricature provided.” — a very significant observation of our times

  • Bort

    Palin is demonstrably an idiot. How exactly has she been mistreated? Has there ever been a political candidate as dumb as she is? I’d say she has been no worse treated than Hilary Clinton has been, and Palin has many more flaws. You can’t even begin to compare her to Obama. Obama has policy positions, and he understands those positions. Palin appears to have a solid grasp of very, very few issues. The problem with Palin is not just with her inexperience, but with her miniscule intellect, as well as with her incompetency in the elected positions she has held, to say nothing of her Rove-like smearing of her opposition and crony politics.

  • Recent Alum

    Sarah Palin is so much more respectable than the current President (to say nothing of Joe Biden) on so many levels that there is really nothing to be said to this column.

  • Bort

    Palin is demonstrably an idiot. How exactly has she been mistreated? Has there ever been a political candidate as dumb as she is? I’d say she has been no worse treated than Hilary Clinton has been, and Palin has many more flaws. You can’t even begin to compare her to Obama. Obama has policy positions, and he understands those positions. Palin appears to have a solid grasp of very, very few issues. The problem with Palin is not just with her inexperience, but with her miniscule intellect, as well as with her incompetency in the elected positions she has held, to say nothing of her Rove-like smearing of her opposition and crony politics.

  • much better

    way, way better than your last piece, Matt. last one had no point, this one does. much improved

  • I agree

    I found myself nodding in agreeement with this piece. I consider myself a leftist, but an old-guard leftist, and I’ve always been troubled by how self-proclaimed progressives these days spend more time beating up on middle-and-working-class culture and beliefs and less time actually trying to help out the poor and disadvantaged. the writer correctly points to disturbing bigotry.

  • again

    I hate to be repetitive, but I love these lines:

    “I love good snark. But the Palin jokes weren’t even clever. They were the nasty, middlebrow jokes long told about blonds, Baptists, and minorities — jokes that dull people laugh at as a way of reinforcing their identity, showing that they’re with us…

    She became the other; she represented “them.” We closed our ears to her real words, too enamored of the solidarity — the sense of an “us”— that our cruel caricature provided.”

    Very, very true, very good psychology. I hope this piece gets picked up outside YDN, a lot of people need to read it.

  • outer

    the writer is a secret hipster.

  • dmw

    Very nice column, Matt.

    I think, however, that in order to throw our cruelty into sharper relief, you paint a more flattering / innocent picture of Palin than may be deserved. Not sure I’d describe her as “charming and kind,” at least on the national stage. She was not above attacking Obama’s motives – “some candidates use change to promote their careers” comes to mind. So does that dig denigrating community organizers. So does the ‘palling around with terrorists’ smear. From early reports, it seems she’s not above (falsely) trashing people on the McCain team, either.

    But again, don’t mean for that to take away from your column’s larger point, which is less about Palin than about us. There is a lot of truth there, and good writing too.

  • yeah!!1

    I LOVE PALIN!!!!!!!!

  • divx

    I wasn’t sure about this piece until I learned that the author has read lots of German philosophy. I guess that means it’s pretty good.

  • Yalie 11

    Awesome article…thank you so much for saying this, it really needed to be said and I hope people take it seriously.

  • liberal open-mindedness