Truly Remarkable Academic Insights on Sarah Palin

[David French]

It has often been said that today's

rank-and-file conservative is

"anti-elite." I've always been uncomfortable

with that characterization because — in

my experience — conservatives are quite

respectful of certain kinds of elites,

like elite soldiers, elite athletes,

and talented musicians and other

artists (provided those artists don't

believe that their abilities also provide them

with unique insight into, say,

health-care policy or war strategy).

The elite that conservatives tend

to disdain is the contemporary

intellectual (or academic) elite,

not because intellectual excellence

isn't obtainable or worth respecting

but because we look at what

passes for academic thinking

these days and, frankly, it's

remarkably unimpressive.

Nowhere is this high-minded mediocrity

on better display than in the

near-universal disdain for Sarah Palin.

And today's Inside Higher Ed provides

a tremendous gift, a near-perfect

example of condescending nothingness

masquerading as insight.

Called "Palintology," the column,

by Scott McLemee, begins:

Important as it was, the campaign of

Barack Obama was not the only

history-making element of the

2008 presidential election.

With Sarah Palin, we crossed another

epochal divide. The boundary

between reality television and

American politics (already somewhat

weakened by the continuous

"American Idol" plebiscite) finally collapsed.

Her campaign's basic formula was

familiar: members of an ordinary

middle-class family turn into

instantly recognizable national

celebrities while competing

for valuable prizes.

This is good stuff. Let's begin with

a shot at reality TV and then deliver

the ultimate insult: that Sarah Palin

is like one of "those people," you know,

a member of the "middle class"

desperate for fame. How her emphasis

on her humble roots is any different

from John Edwards's "son of a millworker"

schtick, or Joe Biden's emphasis

(sometimes false) on his blue-collar ancestry,

or even our own prep school- and

Ivy League-educated president's emphasis

on the challenges of his upbringing

is left unexplained. I guess

intelligent people should just know

that Sarah Palin's emphasis on her

"every(woman)" identity was

somehow worthy of contempt.

But that's not all, of course.

I love this part:

I'm not sure what Sarah Palin's

favorite work of postmodern theory

might be (all of them, probably)

but she seems to take her lead

from Jean Baudrillard's Seduction.

Other political figures use the media

as part of what JB calls "production."

That is, they generate signs and

images meant to create an effect

within politics. For the Baudrillardian

"seducer," by contrast, the power

to create fascination is

its own reward.

What is Joe Biden's favorite work

of postmodern theory?

Nancy Pelosi's? (I'm pretty sure that

Barack Obama has a favorite postmodern

theorist because he seems to be

that kind of guy.)

And as for the power to create

fascination being "its own reward": What

evidence is there that Sarah Palin enjoys

this more than, say, virtually any

other public figure?

Politicians are notoriously addicted

to crowds and the limelight.

But I suppose other politicians are

mostly motivated by a desire

to serve the public, generating

"signs and images" for

"political" ends — but not Sarah Palin.

She has to be more cynical,

more self-regarding, right?  

Watching Palin respond to questions

about her book Going Rogue

(or not respond to them, often enough)

is, from this perspective,

no laughing matter.

She grows ever more comfortable

talking about herself. 

Forgive me, but I thought the book

was an autobiography.  

Is this too cynical?

I fear it may not be cynical enough.

For it assumes that Palin will

eventually be integrated into

her party's apparatus and turned

into a mouthpiece of old-school

Republican electoral politics — a

basic platform of tax cuts for

the rich and unregulated handgun

ownership for everybody else. 

Yep, that is the "basic" Republican platform.

Tax cuts and guns. I thought we were

all about "guns and religion." Tax cuts

replaced religion?

I'll have to update my talking points.

Of course Republicans have nothing

at all to say about foreign policy,

health care, abortion, marriage,

banking regulation, energy policy,

or any other relevant topic — it all

goes back to the "basic platform.

" Lower taxes and Glocks.

At this point, the column takes a bit

of a turn, lionizing the publishers

of Going Rouge, a collection of critical

essays about Sarah Palin.

Why lionize them?

Because — hold on to your hats — they

don't have much a budget, so they're

creatively using the Internet

to publicize their book.

That's a novel idea.

Please, tell me more.

But one can only lionize marginal

left-wing publishers for so long

before returning to the bogey(woman)

of the moment. I loved this bit:

But she is busy demonstrating

a strong intuitive grasp of how

mass media can be used — among

other things, to change the subject.

An example is the item Palin

posted on Facebook in early

August: "The America I know and love

is not one in which my parents

or my baby with Down Syndrome

will have to stand in front of

Obama's 'death panel' so his

bureaucrats can decide,

based on a subjective judgment

of their 'level of productivity

in society,' whether they are

worthy of health care.

Such a system is downright evil."

This was fantasy. But it was

effective fantasy. To borrow again

from Baudrillard, it seduced — abolishing

reality and replacing it

with a delirious facsimile.

I hate to "borrow again from Baudrillard,"

but this is a rich irony — coming

from a writer who just reduced

the entirety of Republican thought to

"a basic platform of tax cuts for the rich

and unregulated handgun ownership

for everyone else." Who, exactly, is

"abolishing reality and replacing it

with a delirious facsimile"?

The column ends thus:

Well, consistency is, after all,

the hobgoblin of tiny minds.

Sarah Palin is playing the political game

on a much grander scale — with

rules she may be rewriting as she goes.

With a first printing of 1.5 million

copies of her book, I don't know that

the intervention of an upstart press

can pose much of a challenge.

But OR Books deserves credit for

trying. Someone has to speak up

for reality from time to time.

Otherwise it will just disappear.

Let's see . . . a politician rises from a

small town, governs a small

(by population) state, and then runs

for high office in part by emphasizing

their humble roots. Nope, that's

never been done before.

I guess she really is "rewriting

as she goes." Thanks, Mr. McLemee,

for speaking up for reality.

Link here

Sent from Kigali, Rwanda

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