Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sarah Palin's importance greatly exaggerated

On the day after her new book release, as well as the day after her daughter got third place on Dancing With The Stars, it seems appropriate to discuss just why it is that former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is so gosh-darn intriguing to millions of Americans.

Of course, "intrigue" can mean different things to different people. There is a positive aspect to being intriguing and a negative one as well. Most Americans fall into the latter: more than half have an unfavorable view of her, and most believe the Tea Party endorsed conservative would be unfit to run the country, an office she has recently made clear she is considering pursuing.

Still, those who have a positive views of Palin do so with stark enthusiasm -- mimicking in some ways how liberals were excited over a senatorial candidate from Illinois in 2004. To truly understand that enthusiasm, from where it stems (and possibly, for us on the left, how to properly contain it), requires a deeper look at the half-term ex-Alaskan governor.

Conservatives see Palin as a powerful/protective mother figure -- indeed, she has embraced the title of "mama grizzly" that some have given to her. Her patriotism, her governing style, and her criticism of the Obama administration all fit this perspective: highly critical of anything left of her beliefs, she is unyielding in her remarks, even if they are sometimes (or more often than not, most times) based on fiction. Think of the mom you've seen during soccer/football/baseball games, who is screaming her head off in support for her son or daughter, who makes the T-shirt with her child's face on it, and who believes that every time her son/daughter falls down a foul should be called on the opposing team, even when her child simply tripped on their own shoelaces.

Palin's politics are much the same -- and the child in this analogy is the United States of America, at least when conservative principles are being applied to it. When Obama was campaigning for the presidency, making criticisms on the past eight years of Republican rule, it was Palin who led the charge of many within her party, making the case against Obama himself and not his policies. "Palling around with terrorists" became Palin's main talking point, encouraging her hard-right supporters to make similar assumptions about Obama's true allegiances based on false pretenses.

Palin's "protectorate mother" attitude appeals to her conservative followers, but it bewilders the heck out of progressives, who, according to neuro-political guru George Lakoff, base their ideology on the nurturant parent model of politics. "Progressive morality, like the nurturant parent model, is based on empathy and responsibility," Lakoff and his colleagues state in their 2006 book "Talking Points."

While Palin is able to come off as a nurturant parent to her base, her politics don't reflect such standards. She shuns anti-Christian belief structures, insisting that America is a Christian nation. She also believes in gutting government programs, including those that benefit the most disadvantaged of Americans, while supporting huge tax breaks to the wealthiest of wage earners.

Her attitude and her positions are exactly what the right is looking for. Conservatives are getting what they want out of any potential candidate: the unbending support of policy based on hard-right ideology and the assurances of protection from Washington liberals, a fear that is oftentimes exaggerated if it exists at all.

The rest of the country, however, is left dumbfounded by Palin. How is it that a supposedly "nurturant protector" can go against increasing aid to families that need health insurance? How can a person who is trying to behave as a sideline referee be austere in her defense of tax subsidies for the rich? How can such vile language emanate from a woman who is trying to come off to millions of Americans as a mother figure? (And is this behavior being repeated by her daughter Willow in an even more extreme way?)

This is why the rest of the American public (outside of the Tea Party faithful) can't get behind Sarah Palin: her contradictions and manipulation of facts outweigh the image she is trying to convey. While Americans don't want a government that creates a dependent class of people, they also don't want a government that is heartless and uncaring -- and through all the careful calculations, through the reality TV shows she puts her and her family through to gain more exposure, and through the Twitter and Facebook status updates where she puts her extremist views on display, Americans pointedly reject the notion that the country needs someone like her leading them, someone who is by all accounts focused solely on her own political advancement on the national stage.

But Palin is indeed charismatic: ignoring this point would be a mistake. She doesn't need any help working over a crowd, so long as it's full of her supporters. The base of conservative America follows her more intently than teenage girls follow the Jonas Brothers. And as the leader of the supposedly-leaderless Tea Party movement, the media tend to sensationalize her importance on the American political landscape.

Unfortunately for Palin, Americans don't support her views. More supported or wanted more out of the president's health care plan than felt it went too far, meaning that the majority of the citizenry was just as left or more so than the president on the issue. More are for tighter financial regulations on Wall Street. Most Americans support extending unemployment benefits to those who have been without work the longest.

Sarah Palin may seem like a popular woman, may have a strong hold on the media's attention span, but make no mistake: her views contradict the direction Americans want to take this country in. She's likely to receive a lot of attention this week due to her book and her daughter's third-place finish on Dancing With The Stars, but we shouldn't let that distract us from this known truth: America can't survive under the policies Palin is pushing.

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