Monday, July 6, 2009

Palin: Class and Gender

In the aftermath of Palin's resignation, we've been hearing all kinds of explanations for why she became a target of so much scorn and derision. The version that gets floated around quite a bit has been summarized by Ross Douthat in his article "Palin and Her Enemies": the anti-Palin sentiments "had everything to do with Palin’s gender and her social class." Is that true? Do we dislike Palin for being a female politician and not graduating from an Ivy League school? Do our inherent snobbism and chauvinism make us ridicule her and hate her?

My answer is no. The reasons for my dislike of her are exactly the same that made me feel horrified every time I remembered that George W. was the president of the United States. These two people - Palin and Bush Jr. - represent different genders and very different social backgrounds. What they have in common transcends gender and class boundaries. For me, they symbolize a very scary trend in our political, cultural, and social life: the cult of ignorance. The idea that a public figure, a politician has to be, first and foremost, a nice person you'd like to have a beer with has led us right into 2 Bush administrations. We will be reaping the results for decades to come, possibly even longer.

It's terrifying that somebody would come to a job interview (for any position but especially so for the job of a Vice-President of a huge country) and believe that it's ok to offer winks, giggles, and a barrage of platitudes instead of facts. It's scary that the opposing candidate would be vilified for being too smart and having too much knowledge. And didn't this happen both during the McCain/Palin and the first Bush campaign? Remember how the Conservatives criticized Al Gore for being too intellectual?

Douthat and Co would, of course, suggest that my dislike of Palin is motivated - at least in part - by my Ivy League education. But they would be wrong. I went to the same school as George W., which didn't prevent me from believing that he was the worst thing that could have happened to the American politics. As to despising everybody who didn't go to an Ivy League school, that's also rubbish. I proudly attended my first two graduation ceremonies from a less known university. That school gave me a real education and for that I will always be thankful. I didn't, however, attend my Yale graduation ceremony this year. In spite of its fame, the university didn't offer me the kind of intellectual and professional advancement I'd been hoping to get.

In the conclusion to his article, Douthat says: "Sarah Palin is beloved by millions because her rise suggested, however temporarily, that the old American aphorism about how anyone can grow up to be president might actually be true." I agree that it's a beautiful ideal that anybody should be able to become a President. Shouldn't we, however, add that anybody should be able to occupy any public or political position after studying and working a lot? And also after they demonstrate that they are qualified for the job? Surely, "the old American aphorism" doesn't suggest that we elect people to these important position without even considering their qualifications? Does "anyone" mean that it would be ok at some point to elect as president somebody who knows nothing whatsoever and can hardly read, just because they are a nice person? Or to prove that the aphorism is working?

Sarah Palin symbolizes the cult of ignorance carried to the extreme. The idea that somebody so unprepared would even be considered for the job is terrifying. People who support her don't stop to consider that if they demonstrated the same level of incompetence in their job interviews (whatever their profession is), they would not be able to make a living.


Tom Carter said...

Well, you might want to be a little careful about saying things like people shouldn't occupy public office until "after they demonstrate that they are qualified for the job." That could have and should have resulted in Barack Obama losing the election. :)

But in general, I agree with you. The system has always discouraged the best and the brightest from running for president, but it's worse now. The Republicans could have nominated Mitt Romney, for example, but his religion, which is irrelevant, probably kept him out. He certainly has the experience and everything else needed to win, and he would have beaten Obama easily in debates. The Republicans also lost a great opportunity a dozen years ago when Colin Powell declined to run because of family concerns and the demeaning nature of the process.

Clarissa said...

I can't agree more on Powell. He would have represented real hope for the Republicans.

As for Obama, it still remains to be seen how he does. I was a huge supporter but his comments on Latin America and more recently on Israel bother me a lot. I'm still very hopeful, though. The alternative, of course, was nonexistent.