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.