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November 22, 2009


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I agree with much that you write, particularly that Palin doesn't have much of a political future (unless the rampant misogyny among the media and "progressives" causes some sort of backlash). However, I would point out three things:

1) While I'm no Palin fan, any parent can have a child get pregnant at 17, no matter how attentive. It's as if teenagers are people with the ability to act separately from how their parents might want them to act or raise them to act. Not to mention the luck factor. Most of the women I know who got pregnant in high school didn't have worse parents or behave worse than their peers, they were just less lucky. It's one of those things that we blame parents (particularly mothers) for because it gives the appearance of control over teenagers and bad choices that we don't actually have.

2) Don't underestimate Oprah. While I don't think much of 2008 foray into politics, she played a small but significant role in humanizing George W. Bush before the 2000 election.

3) Don't underestimate the roles sexism and classism play in driving the Palin-palooza. A lot of the media and "progressive" blogger obsession is driven by pointing out how stupid and awful Sarah Palin is with a fervor that somehow never quite matched with people like Huckabee or McCain (who aren't any smarter or any more right, IMO).

Thanks, BDBlue... just to respond to your points:

1) I don't think Bristol Palin's situation makes Sarah Palin a "bad parent"... but at the same time, the suggestions (which Levi has made) that Palin was distant and somewhat unconcerned, I think, ought to matter. It's surely true that sexual experimentation by teens can lead to pregnancy (that's the argument for sex education, and birth control, among other things)... but as a kid raised by a single mom who couldn't always be around, I know there's a way to be in your kids lives that affects that behavior to other, safer choices. Mainly, though, my point is that there's a sort of convenient acceptance, on the right, of Palin's flaws as strengths; she's not a bad parent... but she's no poster child for the kind of family values agenda that the right pushes, either, and a more honest examination on the right would face up to that, and deal with it.

2) I don't underestimate Oprah, as I've written before: http://nycweboy.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/01/lets-see-if-you-believe-in-me.html

3) I think notions of sexism and classism abound - on the left, as you note... but also that Palin plays into a growing working class white resentment on the right, the anti-intellectual, anti "elite" lines of the populist radio hosts and Fox news... which is what's killing the Republicans, because they have an elite class too, and they need its ideas and leadership, especially now. What Palin represents most - the easy rhetoric of appealing to those resentments with no real deep thought or positive agenda to sell - is the center of the GOP meltdown. As much as some lefties should examine sexist, classist assumptions, not every criticism of her fits that bill, and without a similar examination of class and gender issues on the right... we're not necessarily doing enough to really change the thinking... or the conversation.

I'm going to have to disagree with your response on #3 here.

Though they certainly have as many, if not more, "elites" in their ranks than Democrats, Republicans often seem more able to portray themselves as non-elite, Bill Clinton vs George Bush I being the last example I can remember when the roles were reversed.

This "trailer trash" criticism abounding from folks like, oh, anyone on MSNBC, will not help the Democratic Party, nor liberals.

I'm happy to restate, as emphatically as anyone would like, that I agree: comments about "trailer trash" and other negative aspersions about Palin as lower class and therefore not worth respecting, are a big problem among some of the progressive elite. I've seen it, I've heard it, and I am appalled too. But both elements of the "class war" are problematic - the slurs about "trailer trash and rednecks", but also the "liberal elite" and such that are perpetuated on Fox news. Both are meant to label, classify, and dismiss others as "not like us", bad, and worthy of contempt. I, too, worry about a Democratic party that has in many ways lost sight of the needs of the working class; but it's just as fallacious to suggest that, merely by mouthing anti-elite, anti-intellectual sentiments about liberals who live on the coasts that the right has any better connection to, or understanding of, the needs of working class people. That's my point: class issues and gender expectations abound in our problematic discussions these days, and we need to unpack, and deconstruct, all of them if we plan to make progress. That's my notion of "progressive." And I'm sticking to it.

(Also, I do love getting a lively dialogue going.) :)

I can agree with you that the classist labels from either side of the aisle do little to actually solve anything.

My point is that there isn't a balance here, that the appearance of being anti-elite gains more traction with voters than does being anti-redneck or whatever you'd like to call it.

When you say we need to "unpack and deconstruct" them, what does that mean? How is that done in concrete terms. What's the plan for fighting such narratives?

Thanks for responding. I agree that the GOP have an elite and that their classist attacks on her (hello Peggy Noonan) are a problem for them as well. In fact, I'd say that Palin represents a direct threat to that elite and that the basis for a lot of her popularity is the anger and frustration the GOP base has with the GOP elite, mainly because while they're good at cultural posturing, their policies are hostile to working class interests. Now, I think Palin is a corporatist, too, but like Obama she hits enough cultural touchstones with the base that they don't see that.

I keep waiting, btw, for the left version of Palin. Someone who is interested in challenging the Democratic elite, hopefully on policy rather than "cultural" grounds (not that the "progressives" and "creative class" couldn't stand a little bit of a cultural challenge from the working class left).

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