Behind the verbal dexterity and endearing moderateness that have earned him 30-plus-comment praise on the News’ Web site, Matthew Shaffer (“Going rogue,” Nov. 16) is secretly a tool of the vast right wing conspiracy — and so are we.
The problem is that neither he nor we realize it. The rhetoric of the Right has left the truth in a perpetual state of spin. There is no escape. There is no hope. The gyroscopic status quo prevails, and we are its minions.
Let me first say that I do have major misgivings about our treatment of Sarah Palin. We — the latte-drinking, grape-nut munching, Volvo-driving, French-loving liberals, the sons and daughters of Civilization — have gotten carried away with liberalism and carried away with rationalism. Even the multiculturalists among us think that multiculturalism is the end of history. And we’re proud of ourselves.
Let me also be clear that the misogyny directed at Sarah Palin was disgusting. We may think that we’ve moved beyond race and gender, but in the primeval caves of the symbolic scapegoat, they lurk. They come out at their convenience as the mercenaries of campaigns and culture wars. Our veil of equality and tolerance — a garment of self-empowerment — is too thin to weather conservative attack.
But to pity Sarah Palin is to shoot at an elephant that we’ve already poached. It is a shameless act of continued condescension.
And lest our arrogance cloud our common sense, it bears reminding that we are not the only players in this game. Politics takes two enemies to tango.
That is to say, we are the operatives of Palin bashing, but I’m not convinced we’re the ones who started it. Who did? Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and David Brooks. They, our American patriots, seized the idea of America from the jaws of the counterculture and its liberal legacy. They took back liberty and justice and brought them to middle America. Then, they dug into the Kansan topsoil and planted Sarah Palin.
Palin was the most recent product of a movement that began in the early 1990s when anti-choice advocates descended on Wichita and, with a decade of assistance from the right wing media, warped blue-collar Democratic populism into noble, authentic, defensive Americanism.
The result is that class, for today’s Right, is not socioeconomic but cultural. They define themselves in opposition to us — the pretentious, politically correct Ivy Leaguers who conspire to run this country. And they, too, are proud. It took a lot for Joe the Plumber to quit his day job.
Once constructed, our class differences are here to stay, by fault of the pundits, the demagogues and, critically, us. It’s everyone’s fault. And it’s no one’s fault. Identity is not agentive, but socially determined — by all of us.
Our thoughts about ourselves and our thoughts about the other comprise an ideological superstructure that is fed whenever we bash Palin — and whenever she bashes us. Every Tea Party, every Tina Fey impersonation, reinforces our, and their, perception of both us and them. With every missing participial “g” and every androgynous “ze,” the us and the them are, as French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu would say, “put in their place.”
Does postmodernist explanation imply universal exculpation?
Yes and no. Guilt and the offenses that merit it are relative to what we want to accomplish and whether we hold ourselves accountable for it. Let’s call the shots. To the extent that we care about the de facto disenfranchised who suffer from the twisted anti-spending sentiments of the pro-Palin poor, we are the ones who must kick our habits — and convince the other side that they should do the same. With the resolve of a maverick, we can subvert everyone. We and, in turn, they can bring change to this great nation.
Making fun is fun for all sides, but it’s a negative sum game. I suggest we sit down with Sarah Palin and have a sincere intellectual conversation. She may be unwilling — but she’s certainly capable. The real America is neither stupid nor naïve. Treating it as such only galvanizes its rhetorical militias, and blinds us to its political potency. Hockey moms can pack a punch, too, you know.
James Cersonsky is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.